Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve Rituals

On the Millennium new year's eve of 1999-2000, I was determined to have good luck so I tried to perform every ritual I could find. 2008 wasn't particularly lucky for me and my loved ones so maybe I'll try to recreate it again...

Here's a list that I'm compiling. Feel free to share yours!

* Drinking champagne at midnight
* Kissing a loved one at midnight
* Eating twelve grapes at midnight and making a wish after each of them
* Wearing yellow underwear at midnight
* Turning your underwear inside out at midnight
* Walking around the house with a suitcase to travel in the new year
* Wearing polka dots to bring good luck
* Setting off fireworks and banging pots and pans at midnight
* Have large denomination $ in your pocket at midnight to get money in the new year.
* Throwing water out of the windows to wash away evil spirits at midnight
* Throwing flowers in the water as an offering to the Brazilian goddess of love.
* Eating Collard Greens for money on new year's day
* Eating Hoppin' Johns for luck on new year's day

Friday, December 19, 2008

In action in Uganda

In June, I presented at a conference in Uganda supported by the RAISE Initiative. I was just checking out their website and found these photos of me "In action" - thought I would share them. See - from running around in landcruisers and interviewing women in war zones, I've turned into a convention-eer. But what a nice convention it was by the shores of Lake Victoria.

For any JSI alum reading this, yes, that is Steve Kinzett that I'm hanging out with.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gotan Project in Amsterdam

I first heard of Gotan Project when I was visiting a journalist in Pretoria, South Africa. She was from Uruguay and she was playing it while we had dinner with her. I had Bajofonda Tango cd at home and immediately rushed to get the Gotan Project. I've been listening to them ever since. About a month and a half ago, I was in line to buy tickets to see Stereolab when I saw that Gotan was coming to town. I bought a ticket for 30 euros. I love Amsterdam's music scene. You can get into some amazing venues and see great music for really not that much money. Here they are performing my favorite song which they rocked tonight. enjoy!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Over sensitive? Or insensitive?

Following is the invitation that was sent out in my organization inviting us to the Xmas party. The party was held last year in the cafeteria of the building and we were all invited to bring our iPods for music. While we always pinch pennies around here - the other branches of our organization have their parties in pubs or outside the organization or have a luncheon.

I was completely offended and annoyed by this invite and am going to boycott the party. Am I over-sensitive and surly? Or are they insensitive? I invite you to weigh in at the comments section...

The Management Team of (MY ORGANIZATION) would like to invite you all for the yearly Christmas Party. But this is not all.. the MT would also like to invite you to join our effort to get ready for the New Year.

How? After five years our office is getting messy, with (empty?) boxes on top of cupboards, old and teared posters, never used shadow archives, and other stuff.
Therefore we feel it is time for a big clean up. We will start this exercise as of 14 o'clock and hope all will join to take out everything that is not useful anymore.
Facilities will place containers on each floor to collect our junk. Around 17.30 our office should be tidy so we can start the Christmas Party, where our caterer will serve drinks and bites in junk-style..

RSVP: Please inform Service point before Friday December 12th if you join the Christmas Party.

Hope to see you all there!
Best wishes,
The Management Team

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dusseldorf Weihnachtmark

In order to get into the Christmas spirit, I traveled to Dusseldorf, Germany this past weekend to visit the Christmas Market (or Weihnachtmarkt). Dusseldorf is about 2 and 1/2 hours from Amsterdam so it was an easy trip there. Holland's main Christmas type celebration is Sinterklaas (with my pal, Zwarte Piet)which isn't as big on the decorations that recall "Christmas" to Americans. In fact, the decorations tend to be black men scaling walls with sacks over their shoulders and tall bony bishops. Don't even get me started on the special that I saw with a Miley Cyrus type girl singing a song with six back up dancer Zwarte Piets doing "egyptian" style moves.

Back to Germany! A friend once told me that all Christmases are based off the German model. And going to the Weihnachtmark definitely puts you in a "Holly Jolly" mood! We drank copious amounts of Gluhewein (a hot spiced red wine), ate bratwurst, roasted chestnuts, Flamkuchen (a cheesy pizza type thing with bacon and onion!), crepes, chocolate, and more gluhewein. While you gorge yourself, you can wander from decorated square to decorated square and look at handmade angel chimes, candles, sheepskins, tree decorations, angels, jewelry, and all manner of gifts. In the old town market, the altstadt, they had displays of traditional crafts with wood workers, ironsmiths, candlestick makers, and glassblowers making and displaying their wares. But back to the food.... the point of the market is definitely the food. We ate our way across the market and back and still managed to find room for more!

It wasn't super cold, which was a bit of a relief, as I've been recovering from the flu, but we had a lovely time wandering around for two days. I'm definitely in the Christmas mood now - and not feeling overwhelmed or negative like I often do in the US where I'm overwhelmed by adverts telling me to BUY BUY BUY! Support the economy! Get a diamond from your boyfriend because if he doesn't buy you one, he doesn't love you! Shop til you drop! I guess I prefer to eat til I pop!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Banishing a Bad Mood

Have you ever just been overtaken by irritation, anger, snappishness and the like? I once walked into my friend Alec's office and noticed that he seemed like he was in a bad mood. I said "I sense an air of pissiness about you" and it sent him into a totally terrible mood. Today, I don't know what happened - I had a great weekend seeing my friend Dumiak at the Dusseldorf Christmas market and chatting with my friend Jen over dinner. It's Monday morning. I woke up late, I rushed to work, I couldn't get motivated to do anything and suddenly - I was in a bad mood. Every email is infuriating me. Every minute late people are to talk to me is a minute too much (coming from someone who is chronically late, this is rich).

I don't want to talk to anyone. I don't want to be bothered. I want to sit on the couch and knit or pet Simon. I want to lay in bed and sleep. I certainly don't want to struggle with my colleagues at work and attend meetings and push along my dreary work. It's an uphill struggle every day anyway, and it doesn't help when a bad mood has perched itself on my shoulders and is threatening to make me lose my temper and say or do something I might regret. I still have four hours left in the day and numerous minefields to avoid.

So - according to the internet, here are some ways to banish my bad mood. I would appreciate any readers sending suggestions of their own as well.

Step 1: Decode Your Mood
Sometimes you know exactly what’s upsetting you. Or do you? Figure out what’s wrong.

Step 2: Calm Down
Start by taking a few deep breaths to get your emotions under control. Then choose one or more of the following techniques to help clear your mind.

Focus on Breathing
Take 10 deep breaths. Breathing may help restore the balance between the parasympathetic (or restorative) and sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous systems, buffering your body’s natural reaction to stressful situations.

Make a Pie Chart
Draw a circle and create slices of a pie chart to represent all the things that are upsetting you. Include everything you can think of, even if it’s as mundane as the nonstop rain outside. The act of presenting your concerns visually clarifies things making the problems easier to identify and therefore to manage.

Find a Quiet Place
Ideally, go someplace where you can have privacy to shut down the stimulation to your brain. If you’re at a busy place, like your office or a restaurant, he suggests, head to the bathroom and take a few minutes for yourself. If you’re at home, go to your bedroom or a place that feels comforting.

Distract Yourself
Read a favorite funny website, play with your dog, fold laundry, or wash dishes for a few minutes. Diversions allow your emotions to calm down. And because your brain keeps processing the problem even when you’re not consciously thinking about it, you’ll be better able to deal with the issue once you return to it.

Get Some Exercise
If possible, go out for a brisk walk, or do some stretches or yoga poses. Just 10 minutes of an active and distracting activity breaks the flow of rumination and lifts people’s moods. This leads them to think more clearly.

Blow Off Steam
Call a patient friend. Be sure to tell her you’re not trying to fix anything — you just want a listener. Talking through your concerns makes them seem more manageable. But once you’ve vented, it’s important to let it go.

Step 3: Create a Strategy
Talk to a Problem-Solver
People often think they should be able to handle problems on their own, and they don’t want to burden others. But it’s easier to strategize with support. Discuss things you can do to feel better as well as fix the problem.

Make a List
It should include things that will make you feel better, like sending flowers to your husband, calling Dad’s doctor to discuss his progress, or going to the gym at lunchtime. Lists force you to structure your concerns and help you move into problem-solving mode. Number the items in the order that you want to accomplish them.

Visualize Your Ideal
Take a few minutes to close your eyes and picture what you want in the moment, as if it’s actually happening. This visualization technique is basically a form of rehearsal. For instance, after you and your sister argue, imagine the two of you having a great time over dinner at your favorite restaurant. The memories of the fight will be replaced by a positive picture of harmony and fun.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Blackface Holiday

I'm full of guest bloggers these days... my creativity is dried up but I'm loving what my friends have to say. Feast upon my friend Black and (a)Broad's thoughts on the Sinterklaas and Swarte Piet festival this year...

A Dutch Holiday in Black Face

Aaaahhhhh. That glorious time of year is once again upon us. Pepernoten (tiny spiced cookies) are strewn all over the place, random shoes seem to walk themselves into stores where they wait to be filled with wat lekkers (usually pepernoten or candy) or a small gift. Talk of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas or Santa Claus, but also eponymous for the celebration itself) fills the air as do threats from parents of ne’er-do-well kiddies that old St. Nick won’t bring them anything if their misbehavior continues. Sinterklaas has just traveled by steamboat all the way from Spain with his white horse Amerigo and his helper Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). For your average Dutch person, Sinterklaas is unthinkable without Black Pete – skipping about, entertaining the little ones, and throwing out wat lekkers – dressed up in medieval Turkish or Moorish costume, black curly wig, face painted with thick black paint, and bright red lipstick.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

View of the US elections from Iraq

A note from a friend posted in Iraq about the election:

I woke at 3am in the bitter cold (I think it dropped to about 45 degrees that night) because my heater wasn't working. That adage about the desert getting cold at night isn't just a myth. Shivering and exhausted I flipped on the tv to watch the first returns come in. Armed Forces Networks has 9 channels and so ABC, CBS, FOX and MSNBC were all on.

In all of these letters, I've stayed as far away from discussing politics as possible. But a ton of people have asked what it was like to watch it from here and what was the reaction of Iraqis and my fellow Marines. Moreover, I think this past Presidential election does have relevance to my experience here. Firstly, because so many of my Iraqi counterparts themselves have asked me about it and its impact on what happens to US forces in Iraq. Secondly though because of how many of my fellow Marines reacted and for me its connection to why I joined the Marines. It is no secret that most of those in military are more conservative, and so were hoping John McCain would win. I on the other hand (I'm sure this is a huge shock for everyone) lean politically liberal and had voted for Barak Obama.

So it was a pretty lonely experience to be rooting for the Democratic candidate amid a sea of people cheering for the Republican… While Marines do whatever the President (Whoever that is) orders them to do, the culture since I joined back in 1991 has been one of very open anti-Democrat and pro-Republican bias. Mocking and ridiculing Democrats is openly socially acceptable, while doing so against Republicans is very frowned upon. That is not to say everyone in the Marines and military is a Republican, or that there are no Democrats. But it has been rare until very recently in my 17 years in the Marines to hear open expressions of Democratic support, but very common for such support for Republicans. I think most Marines just swallowed their dissappointement and decided to go on and do what they've always done, serve the Commander in Chief, no matter what party he is. On this massive Marine Corps base here in Al Anbar, you wouldn't really know an election took place other than it appearing on the TVs hanging in all the chow-halls. No one realIy talked about it or anything (except for the occasional contractor wearing an "Obama for President" shirt the day or two after the election. I should point out, that none of my commanders have ever discriminated against me at all for my (usually well known) political divergence from the social norm.

Recent events in Iraq, in the United States and across the world, especially under the little-liked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, have for the first time since I joined, provoked and created a space for open political disagreement within military social circles though. This includes reconsideration by many troops that support for Republicans isn't as implicitly part of the definition of military service as many had believed in the past. Nevertheless, the significant majority of the military remains strongly conservative in political outlook and by wide margins support Republicans rather than Democrats. So, I didn't exactly have anyone with whom I wanted to watch the election returns, even if I expected to be happy about how it turned out.

Despite intellectually knowing that Obama had the upper hand going into election day, considering how the Democrats had become famous for bungling sure opportunities, I was quite nervous even as the returns rolled in through the early morning. Then of course, they called Virginia for Obama just before 7am. I would like to think that it was my personal vote that put him over the top there. And with Virginia, Obama crossed the threshold and was declared the next President of the United States. I just sat there stunned at the edge of my bed.

I sat there, soaking it in, flipping among the different channels to make sure MSNBC didn't just get trigger happy (remembering that such things actually have happened in very recent elections). Nope, it was true. However it was when they reported that hundreds of people had gathered right outside the White House to dance, sing, wave American flags and celebrate that I began to cry though. I was thinking that this is in part why I and many others were here in the Marines, in Iraq.

When we join the Marines, we swear an oath to, "support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, against all enemies, foreign and domestic." We don't swear allegiance to any man, even the President, even to the Presidency itself. We follow only the President's legal orders as we are loyal in the end not to the President, only to the document which gives both the President and us legitimacy. It directs us to follow ALL of his legal orders, even if we disagree with his politics and policies. He is our Commander in Chief, but he, like all of us, is not above the Constitution. That there can peacefully be such a radical change from the Bush administration to the Obama administration… overnight, in one fell swoop…. That the system can work that way, that well, that peacefully, is why so many of us joined… because only in that kind of system can we all have the freedom to live and believe, and be as we would like.

OK, California just declared otherwise with regards to gays and lesbians. But that means for the second reason on this election day, Dr. Martin Luther King's declaration is awesomely prescient and appropriate that, "the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice."

And of course this also is emblematic as to why this election is so relevant to motivations that drove so many of us choose to join the military. It is pride in the meaning of our country. When I say that, it isn't some knee-jerk, nationalism. It is not a mindless assumption of "my country, right or wrong" and that we are great, just because we are the strongest and wealthiest. It is instead a pride in the character and nature of our country. Pride in—among other reasons—that bedrock aspect of our culture that is a distinctly American belief in progress.

My friend who is Swiss, and others in the past as well, have noted to me this obsession with progress as being different than European cultures. And I have especially noted the striking contrast with Arab cultures. Embedded in the very Constitution that defines our country—which explicitly set out a path to alter it for the better as our society evolves—is a belief in progress. Around the world, Americans are viewed negatively for many reasons, we are often viewed as arrogant, ignorant, clumsy. But we are also perceived as almost absurdly reverent in our belief that progress is always possible. That no problem is insolvable, no conflict intractable, no destruction final, no barrier insurmountable. My Bosnian friend calls it naively optimistic. And deeply embedded in American culture is that belief. And Barak Obama's victory is—I think—the epitome of that ideal. In fact, for this reason, more than one fellow Marine told me since the election that although they voted for McCain, now that they think about it, they are happy Obama won.

I voted for Barak Obama because I like his policies more than John McCain's. But I think for millions of Americans (75% of whom apparently are happy he will be President, according to one poll, even if only 53% voted for him), it isn't even about him as an individual. Less than 100 years ago, neither he, nor Hillary Clinton nor Sarah Palin could vote everywhere in our country. He won on the ticket of the Democratic Party that was the party of slavery. It was the party of President Woodrow Wilson who banned all blacks from working in the federal government. And the state that put him over the top, was Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy. Even if he had lost, Sarah Palin would have become Vice –President. I wouldn't have been happy because of the policies she would have advocated. But at the same time, I would have been proud. Here was our female Vice-President, running on the ticket of the party that since the 1960s has used the term "feminist" (which my understanding is someone who wants equal rights for women) as an epithet. We move along in fits and starts, but we constantly push ourselves farther along.

It turns out actually, that I had any number of friends (many of whom I don't think even know each other) who were among those that poured into the streets of our capital on election night. They began walking, then flooding down across Lafayette Park onto Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. At first they just strolled and stumbled, then they ran. Apparently they spontaneously came from all across the city by the tens that grew into hundreds. Of course, they were chanting for the new President Obama… and were taunting outgoing President Bush. But they were also there, proudly waving American flags, and then began singing the national anthem. Yes, they were celebrating President Obama, but they were celebrating just as much or more, that affirmation that Robert Kennedy so powerfully stated forty years ago to students struggling against South Africa's Apartheid Regime, "Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny."

Just a couple of days ago I was speaking with an Iraqi Lieutenant about their upcoming elections in January and he remarked about how corrupt the Iraqi government was and that he wanted a "great democracy like America's." I tried to explain that it has taken us quite a while to get to where we are, and it hasn't been easy and it still isn't perfect. Two years ago, a Democratic Congressman from Louisiana was found with like $80,000 cash in his freezer, which most likely were bribes from a Nigerian politician. And just this past month the sitting senior Republican Senator from Alaska was convicted of seven counts of bribery.

Then, exposing that American, optimistic naïveté, I noted that democracy is not a place to arrive at, but a path to travel. While the Iraqis are barely at the beginning of the road, they have at least found where it starts and are standing on it for the first time in their 5,000 years of history. We in America, with Barak Obama's election, have looked up, realized how different the landscape is around us and proudly noticed how amazingly far we have traveled… even in just the past 40 years.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

International Day against Violence Against Women

Note: I wrote this for the org that I work for but they chose not to run it today so I run it myself with no mentions of who I work for.

Don’t let women suffer in silence!
The International campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence begins on November 25 and provides an opportunity for everyone to come together to speak out against sexual violence. Where I work is on the frontlines since we work where armed conflicts, breakdown of societies, disintegration of families and communities and disruption of services leave women and girls vulnerable to rape and domestic violence.

From the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Papua New Guinea, my colleagues witness and treat the consequences of sexual violence including sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion. Our mental health programs also help women with psychological trauma including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or even suicide attempts. The women that we treat are only the tip of the iceberg. Sexual violence is underreported globally and many women suffer in silence because of the stigma around rape and the lack of healthcare services.

Dying from shame In western countries, women who have been raped can get healthcare at almost any clinic. Still, women don’t always go for fear of what people will think of them. This is also true in conflict zones. Many women jeopardize their health and do not seek urgently needed healthcare. Survivors would rather die than have their “shame” known. In the refugee camps in Chad, only 1 woman out of 215 interviewed by my colleague admitted that she had been raped - although many women talked about the problem. After the interview, our staff gave them the opportunity to speak with our mental health counsellors where more women acknowledged that they had been raped. Only then were they able to talk about this painful subject and start their healing process.

Demanding to be heard Not all rape survivors want to keep quiet, however. In the DRC( where sexual violence is reaching epidemic proportions), Women realise that by going to a healthcare clinic, the community will know that they are rape survivors. Yet, they try to get care, sometimes traveling for days to get to the few medical facilities that provide it.

Hardly available In most countries, it is still difficult for rape survivors to get specialized medical care. In Lae, Papua New Guinea, there are legal services available for survivors, but almost no healthcare. In July 2008, I visited our Women and Children’s Support Centre where in 6 months our team provided health and psychosocial services for over 1,000 men, women, and children. I am helping the team to advocate with the ministry of health to provide specialized health services throughout the country. In Colombia, violence against women occurs frequently, but only 20% of survivors seek medical care. Our teams in Colombia treat survivors of sexual violence and also urge authorities to insure there are health services available for all survivors.

Despite the many obstacles facing them, women all over the world struggle and fight to maintain their dignity after sexual assault. Join me for the next 16 days, in making sure that they do not suffer in silence.

More information about what other NGOs are saying:
Christian Aid
Care International
UN Campaign to End Violence Against Women

25 November 2008

Sunday, November 09, 2008


This just in - Barack Obama has announced that he has compiled a list of 200 Bush Presidential Orders that he will reverse!!!

First up, will be ending the horrific Global Gag Rule which has stopped U.S. aid to going to foreign NGOs that use funding from any other source to: perform abortions in cases other than a threat to the woman’s life, rape or incest; provide counseling and referral for abortion; or lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their country.

Called the "gag" rule because it stifles free speech and public debate on abortion-related issues, the policy forces a cruel choice on foreign NGOs: accept U.S. assistance to provide essential health services – but with restrictions that may jeopardize the health of many patients – or reject the policy and lose vital U.S. funds, contraceptive supplies and technical assistance.

When I worked for a USAID contractor, JSI back in 1999- 2003, I watched as the Bush policies decimated work that we were doing to promote safe sex, get women badly needed access to family planning, and forced organizations struggling to do good work in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to make hard choices.

I almost cried when I realized that this horrific misogynistic, anti feminist Bush era is over. Goodbye to:
U.S. trying to undermine international agreement on women such as the UN Commission on the Status of Women in March 2005 where the US stood alone in trying to undermine international consensus at the United Nations. The U.S. delegation spent a full week focused on its anti-abortion amendment to the one-page reaffirmation of Beijing. In spite of vigorous lobbying on the part of the U.S. delegation, countries of the world stood firm in rejecting the U.S. language.

In March 2004, the USA was the only one of 38 country delegations to oppose a declaration to ensure greater access to reproductive health services, greater efforts at HIV/AIDS prevention, and the protection of reproductive rights for all.

In December 2002—the Bush administration had made clear its radical shift in policy by refusing to reaffirm the importance of progress on women's health and rights. The U.S. delegation dominated negotiations with an agenda that ignored the health needs of women and girls over the objections of every other country present. It incorrectly claimed the terms "reproductive health services" and "reproductive rights" "promote abortion." Adhering to a narrow and unproven "abstinence-only until marriage" policy, it also tried to remove all language citing "consistent condom use" as a viable way of preventing HIV infection. In the end, the U.S. position was defeated by a vote of 32-1.

Trying to block WHO's efforts to decrease unsafe abortion
At a time when 68,000 women die annually from the consequences of unsafe abortion and countless others are left with lifelong health problems, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stood alone in trying to block the addition of early pregnancy termination pills to the World Health Organization's (WHO) essential medicines list.

Putting anti-feminists in charge of gender equality in Iraq
On September 27, 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that a portion of a $10 million grant to train and educate 150 women leaders in Iraq would be awarded to the Independent Women's Forum (IWF). Co-founded by Lynne Cheney, National Review editor and former Heritage Foundation Vice President for Government Relations Kate O'Beirne, and others, the IWF is an ultra-conservative organization with an explicitly anti-feminist track record. Although the organization is supposed to be promoting equality and democracy for Iraqi women, it has in fact opposed several key efforts to promote gender equality in the United States, including the Women's Educational Equity Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and Title IX, the landmark federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. Internationally, IWF has opposed key provisions of the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), including women's right to equal pay for equal work, paid maternity leave and child care facilities for working mothers, and minimum quotas that would ensure women's representation at all levels of government.

Bye Bye Bush - women of the world, breathe a bit easier... Barack Obama has got it, baby!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What it was like to be in DC last night

From my fabulous friend Alec, who marched upon the White house Last night...

What an incredible night last night! My friend Neil and I were watching the returns at his apartment but we soon realized we had to be out somewhere. We ended up at a bar called JRs, where quite a crowd had gathered. A huge cheer went through the bar when CNN called Virginia for Obama (in the frenzy I missed the Ohio call!), followed soon by the west coast states which wrapped up the election. Watching the concession and acceptance speeches with everybody at the bar yelling and clapping made it almost seem like we were there too. Afterwards we walked up 17th Street where lots of people were out, standing on corners cheering on the people in their cars honking their horns as they drove by. Attracted by lots of noise, we walked over to 16th and U Street where the corner was being taken over by revelers. I pity the people driving around at that time * though none of them seemed to mind too much.

We noticed that the police had closed U Street for a few blocks so we walked over to 14th and U where a street party was in progress (this corner is the historic center of the African American community in DC, an area destroyed by riots in the 60s and only recently revitalized - it was really cool to be there as we elected our first black president). There were people dancing all over the street, and even on top of a bus shelter. Several drum circles provided the beat, and everybody was smiling and cheering and chanting and giving high fives to everybody else. It was such a diverse crowd of old and young (well OK mostly young people!) and every color imaginable * it was exhilarating. Fireworks exploded over our heads to even more cheers and chants of *Obama* and *Yes We Can* and *USA!*.

The crowd started moving down the street, and before we knew it we were along for the march down 16th Street to the White House. The police closed the southbound lane for the parade, with drums and whistles and even people clanging on pots and pans to keep up our spirits (as if we needed it!), interspersed with the drivers stuck in the northbound lane honking and waving out their car windows. We all waved and screamed and cheered right back. Neil and I kept wondering if the cops would really let us all march right to the White House but soon enough the crowd was
spilling through Lafayette Park and joining the people already on Pennsylvania Ave. More dancing and cheering and chanting (including the ever-popular Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Goodbye! directed right at the White House * take that Bush!). I*ve never experienced anything like that before * it sounds really corny but everybody was so happy and hopeful and excited for the future for the first time in ages. It was really inspiring and made me feel so lucky to live in our capitol. I wish you
all could have been there to experience it too!

Proud to be an American

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy… tonight is your answer."

President-Elect Barack Obama

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day!

It's election day finally! Our long national nightmare is almost over! I cast my ballot via email. It's amazing that little ole Sumter South Carolina had the ability to do that! I filled it out, scanned it, and emailed it (from Kenya, no less!) and cast my ballot for you know who. My 81 year old father, who I think voted for Truman in his first election and who fondly remembers Franklin Roosevelt, thought long and hard and ended up voting for Obama. My sister will wait in line in South Carolina and cast her ballot today. I hope she's wearing comfortable shoes and shares with us the stories of the crazies that I'm sure will be there. I'm sad that I'm watching this historic election from afar. I had big plans to return to South Carolina and train to be a poll monitor because I saw some serious shenanigans in the 2004 election when I came down to South Carolina to vote. But unfortunately, my leave time was spent on more intimate family matters. The US electoral system will have to get on without me.

It's amazing to see how the Netherlands (and I suppose the rest of the world) is watching the US on this election day. There are numerous parties being held all over the city. I saw and ad for one at the Hilton for 20 euros which promises Special VIP guests, Large Screen TV coverage, all American snacks buffet and breakfast complete with weak American coffee and chicken wings? Fried cheese? Nachos? One wonders what Dutch think American snacks are. The Democrats Abroad have rented out Boom Chicago's space, an American improv comedy show. The Hotel Arena near my apartment is promising D-Rashid and Sander Hucke as DJs. Will they be spinning Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi? Chances are it will be the same old Euro-House music that you always here. At the Kriterion, a cool indie movie house near my apartment, CNN Internaitonal will be on the big screen and US expert Dr. Ronald Holzhacker will be talking. About what? About how the media pundits always get it wrong and screw up the West Coast voter turnout? Numerous expats are also having parties. The problem is the six hour time difference (and nine hours for California). We'll have to stay up all night to see what happens. there can't possibly be that many Americans abroad that we could sustain this number of parties in Amsterdam! Say what you will about America but I can't imagine any other country that the world will be watching so closely on their election day.

But I'm SO nervous. I can't decide what to do. Perhaps I should sit at home quietly agonizing and celebrating every new revelation alone with my bottle of Ravenswood Zinfandel that Cat brought me. Should I crash a party? Just go to bed and wake up to find out who the new president is like I used to do as a kid? I'm so scared that some lunatic is going to do something to ruin this election. That there will be riots and voter fraud and bad things will happen. I'm afraid the Republicans will pull some shenanigans and disenfranchise the poor and black voters (I saw that going on in South Carolina in 2004). I'm worried that the bigots and the idiots will ruin it for everyone. (NOTE: Both Republicans and Dems have their share of idiots and bigots). The same people that road rage others off the highway, think its funny to hang effigies of Obama or Sarah Palin in their yards at halloween, and shout Kill Him! or archly raise questions about Palin's gynecological history are evenly spread throughout both parties. The crazy fringe.

But I'm still so afraid! That's what it means to be a liberal in the USA. You can't believe that anyone else believes in what you believe. You've been depressed and intimidated into having a cynical view of the USA. I'm sick of hearing Europeans say that the US is too racist to elect a black man. It was news that a hungarian descended immigrant was elected to be president of france! Imagine if they were to elect an Algerian! And CANADIANS! Boy I'm tired of Canadians slagging us off. Some doofus in a "I love Hockey" t shirt boldly proclaimed "I Hate Americans" to me yesterday. Note to Canadians: People think you are American. Get used to it and quit your whining. You just elected a conservative government.

But in my heart of hearts, I believe in the USA and I believe in Americans. Even the 2000 elections were peaceful compared to elections in other countries. Sure they were stolen but we moved on as a country. People will wait in line patiently. There is great hope and anticipation. The apathy is gone. Millions will turn out. Others will be couch potatos and just sit at home and watch cable tv but still, people I know all over the US are getting out the vote, calling, canvassing, engaging others in discusison. The system will work, won't it? Won't it?

I hope so. I hope I hope i hope I hope i hope. I believe that we're finally going to get a good leader that will help us through these troubled times. And I hope and believe that things will change. And that the US will show its true colors. I hope.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Perfection in Kenya

* Driving across the Rift Valley eating mango frozen yogurt
* Lunch at Drifters watching the Storks fish and the Egyptian geese argue
* Tea at Elsamere watching the sunset over Lake Naivasha
* Waking up to hippos grazing on the lawn outside my cottage
* Sunset boat ride around Lake Naivasha
* Breakfast in the garden
* Walking with the giraffes and zebras in Crater Lake
* Drinking pineapple juice on an overhang watching Crater Lake
* Hiking into a crater
* Sunset on the escarpment

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Traveling Blues

I'm headed to Nairobi to do a training. I'll be there a week. This is probably the first time I've been rather dreading traveling. I"m pretty exhausted from the PNG to South Carolina trip and although I've flown to Berlin adn London since returning, they were short but grueling trips. Could it be that I've lost my travel gene?

On the plus side, 8 hours uninterrupted to sleep, read, or watch movies is a nice pleasure. If only Simon were with me!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Life is Life

Sometimes I just love Dutch tv. The commercials that I don't understand. The earnest talk show hosts I don't understand. The silly game shows I don't understand.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Art in Amsterdam

I've decided to take an art workshop. It's not quite lessons - I'm not sure what its going to be like. My first time was this morning. I cycled over to the studio on CzarPeterLaan at 10am and knocked on the window to be let in. We drank tea, looked at teh photo I had brought of something I felt close to, discussed supplies, talked about what would be the best way to render it, and then another person showed up so we drank tea, ate strawberry cake, and talked about religion and healthcare.

After a very pleasant three hours, I cycled in the stiff wind to the supply shop and bought some paper, some pastels, and (since I was near the market) some apples and asters.

I didn't once touch an art supply to try to draw anyting - I just talked about it a lot. This could be the perfect new pastime for me! I like talking about knitting. I like talking about taking tango lessons. I like talking about going to the gym. I like talking about playing my flute. I like talking about taking long bike rides. When it comes down to actually doing it - sometimes the reality is not as nice as the fantasy. So maybe my new art workshop will involve me talking about painting and drawing alot without having to actually produce anything that will not live up to my fantasies of my own art.

Virtual Reality - better than the real thing.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

In Memory of my friend

On Tuesday, I found out that a man I knew died. His name was Sunny. That was his nickname but it was also a lovely descriptor of his personality. he was a law student and an intern in our department for a few months to help us analyze the years and years worth of data about raped women we had from Darfur.

Every day he came in filled with enthusiasm and humor and a laid back attitude. He took things in stride. He found the flaw in our database for Papua New Guinea and fixed it without so much as a how-de-do. He loved to go out for drinks and chat. he made friends with everyone he met, I think. He was a computer engineer before he decided to turn his life towards the law. He planned to be the Secretary-General fo the United Nations. He was 28 years old.

He also had terrible food allergies and we got an email from our Canadian office saying that he was out with friends and succumbed to an allergy attack. Even though an epi-pen was used, he failed to revive. Although its shocking and hard to hear that he died, at least he died doing the things he loved - working hard, talking politics, surrounded by friends, and living his life to the fullest.

We had a lovely evening one night when he came over with two other friends from work. He put together my bookcase while the ladies swilled wine and chatted. He was always surrounded by ladies! We went out for tapas and heatedly discussed US politics. The next day he asked me if I was upset with him because it had gotten so heated. I didn't even remember it but he was that kind of sensitive person. He left us to go work with the Indian Supreme Court and return back to India where he hadn't been since he was a child.

He was a lovely man and the world is a poorer place without him. We'll miss you, Sunny, Rest in Peace.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Scheveningen Kite Festival

I spent Saturday afternoon at the Kite Festival in the world's most difficult Dutch word to pronounce city of Scheveningen. Doesn't look that hard to pronounce, does it? Well its got one of those guttaral throat sounds in it.

Here's a little video of kite flying bliss on a sunny Saturday Afternoon.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Culture Clash

After almost six weeks in South Carolina, being back in Amsterdam has been a bit of a shock. First of all, it was about 98 degrees when I left Charlotte on September 7th and it was about 62 when I got here on September 11th. It's full on autumn. The trees are changing colors. Everyone is wearing scarves. I wake up cold everymorning - which I did in SC but that was because the air conditioning was on too high.

And then I am having a bit of a culture clash trying to readjust to some of the Dutch things that I had forgotten about. I met up with my friends Susannah, Naomi, and Emma for drinks and Jamaican food. Afterwards we went out with her friends and ended up in a Blues band. When I tried to tell the bassplayer that I enjoyed the show he cursed at me in Dutch and told me that he was on break. I got elbowed in the Albert Heijn. I was almost run over by a taxi as I rode my bike.

Monday and Tuesday were hard at work. I tried to keep my head down on Monday and just work but the organization's debate culture was alive and well and I soon found myself arguing over things I really don't care about. Back to just trying to make it through the day.

Monday night I cut Simon's claws and I cut one too close and he bled ALL OVER the apartment. I have bloody paw prints on everything. I didn't sleep at all because I was trying to stem the bleeding. I ended up having to dip his paw in flour after all my attempts to bandage it failed. Bandaging a cats foot is not as easy as one would think. One big shake and bandages fly off. He's fine now and I'm still traumatized.

So - let's see. I've been back since Thursday night and I've been a wreck. Hm. Let's hope things get better. Today's plan of attack includes eating a lot of chocolate, buying cheap flowers to brighten up the apartment (pink dahlias and white chrysanthemums), listening to cheerful music loudly (including Laid by James, Barracuda by Heart, Wonderboy by Tenacious D and Dancing Queen by Abba), and watching Mad Men (a show I became obsessed with in the States). Going to bed early and going for walks at lunchtime to eat soup seem to help too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lessons Learned from Airports

Hotdogs, normally a food that costs very little in the hotdog vendor stands of the world, are abnormally high priced in airports. Fruit is rare. Bars never print the cost of their overpriced draft beers on the menu. Starbucks is always busy.

The majority of American businessmen traveling appear to be in the IT biz, love those bluetooth gizmos that make them look like the Borg, and wear unflattering pleated pants and dumpy shoes. Some could be attractive but their uniform of American Male geekdom destroys any sex appeal at all. Business suits and polished shoes, and a nice haircut can still make a man devastatingly attractive even if he isn't classically handsome. The tv show "Mad Men"is a perfect example of that.

You can really tell alot about a region by the quality of the bookstores in their airport. American airports usually have crap bookstores: Charlotte Airport has tons of political books mostly slamming Barack Obama or Democrats or Liberals, books on how we are winning the war in Iraq, business management guides for dummies. The Columbia airport has lots of Christian and inspirational reading alongside the rightwing tripe, the Detroit airport has a pretty good bookstore with decent fiction and a travel section, the Chicago Airport has almost no books for sale at all. I couldn't find any books and only fashion magazines for sale in Miami. National Airport in Washington DC has a great local independent bookstore and even the newsstands have tons of political books from the left and the right. In contrast, the Amsterdam airport has a large bookshop with books in Dutch and English - heavily focused on sex. Even little London City Airport has a good bookstore with tons of fiction and non fiction.

Southern security guards are more polite than those of the Northern states. No two airports in the US have the same policy about shoes or your boarding pass.

I still get a warm fuzzy feeling when the border officials say "Welcome Home" when I go through immigration.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Family Photos

My father's father and my grandfather, Julius "Stub" Martin in the Army back in Papua New Guinea during WWII.

Mom and Dad in London in 1963

Alyson and I looking a bit like ruffians probaby in the early 70s.

Matching lederhosen dresses. Parents must love to laugh hysterically at their offspring.

Matching band uniforms, Sumter High School Marching Gamecocks, circa 1984!

70s Family at the World Famous Iris Gardens in Sumter, SC

Me in 2nd Grade

My first passport photo!

My mother rockin' a great hairdo. Obviously before she had children and time to do her hair!

Mom, about age 12 in her school photo.

My father on his first tour of duty to England in 1950.

My dad's glamour photo. Why don't they airbrush up our photos like that nowadays?

The first official family portrait from Mons, Belgium where Alyson and I grew up.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Omnivore 100

So there's this thing going around on the food blogs that I've become obsessed with about the top 100 things that every omnivore should eat (at least once). The ones in italics are ones that I've tried already. I'm at 67% - some are never going to happen (whole insects) and others are just waiting for the opportunity (3 course meal at 3 star Michelin restaurant).

1. Venison: prepared it for the first in college when my boyfriend bought me some venison that he had killed. Turned me vegetarian.
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros: LOVE them from the Austin Grill in DC.
4. Steak tartare : the best steak tartare I had was in Brussels after a month in the Congo. We had it prepared in front of us by an old Belgian waiter and drank it with a bottle of Saint-Emilion.
5. Crocodile: First time I had it was in a fancy restaurant as carpaccio in a mall in Pretoria, South Africa. I ate Gator in South Carolina several times.
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue: I even have my own fondue pot!
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush: but eggplant doesn't like me.
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich: strawberry jelly, por favor.
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart: the best ones are in Copenhagen.
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (raspberries, cherries, crab apple)
19. Steamed pork buns : Dim Sum! Still looking for a good one though.
20. Pistachio ice cream : My favorite. I've always associated it with father's though as this was my father's favorite flavor in Belgium.
21. Heirloom tomatoes :and I've grown them!
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras :Oh god... what made me a omnivore again after 10 years vegetarianism.
24. Rice and beans :Best are blackeyed peas cooked with jalapenos, onions, tomatos, and butter and cajun seasoning with jasmine rice!
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters : Roasted, raw, fried. I love them! Bowen's Island, Felix's in New Orleans! Central Station Oyster Bar in NYC! Fried in a curry!
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl : had clam chosder in Boston but not in a sourdough bowl.
33. Salted lassi : but my favorite is Masala lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat : ate it in Port Antonio, Jamaica the first time.
42. Whole insects : that's never going to happen.
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more: Not yet... give me some time.
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel : I'm in holland - its almost the national dish.
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut : HOT DOUGHNUTS NOW!
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi : the best hangover cure!
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini : with blue cheese stuffed martinis at Le Bar in DC is good.
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst: BERLIN, Salute!
65. Durian : in San Francisco with my friend Colin.
66. Frogs’ legs : in Haiti with Antoine!
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake :elephant ears and funnel cake at the Sumter County Fair, Beignets in Cafe du MOnde in New Orleans and churros in Mexico City and Madrid!
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain : I prefer the soft plantains fried with fried eggs and black beans and sour cream... yum.
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum ecstasy!
82. Eggs Benedict: Corinne Risler makes some of the best of them! But I was introduced to them at Polly's Cafe and I like them better with smoked salmon to replace the canadian bacon.
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant : NOT YET!
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare: in a ragout in Rome.
87. Goulash: I even learned how to make it from a Hungarian woman in my kitchen!
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab: The first time I had one, I ate it fried in a croissant. I didn't bite hard enough and the crab dangled from my mouth like a bug in my cat's mouth.
93. Harissa
94. Catfish
:I'm from South Carolina, bien sur!
95. Mole poblano :in Oaxaca!
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake :Boa constrictor in Central African Republic. Rattlesnake in South Carolina. In retrospect, they are very similar locales.

I'm thinking about starting a food blog but I need some help in learning how to photograph food to make it look as beautiful as some of the others. Maybe we could have a collaborative food blog where those of us who love to cook add new recipes that we've tried!

Monday, September 01, 2008


Nostalgia: a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.

Alyson and I spent the day today in our house in Sumter, trying to make sure anything valuable is put away or brought to Columbia. It was in the 90s and it was hot and dusty. I came across some boxes of photos that I haven't seen in ages. I sat through and thumbed through them tonight and I am going to try to scan some of them electronically in the next few days and post them here. Our beautiful house in Sumter was the setting for so many of them and so many fabulous memories.

* Prom photos from 1982 (Mike), 1983 (Kenny), and 1984 (Mortie) - Mostly posed by the stairs in the living room. My hair stayed remarkably small considering it was the 80s but I have a dress copied from Princess Diana's wedding dress that my mother labored over and sewed for me. Usually she sewed in the sunroom and there was nothing she couldn't make - EXCEPT a bathing suit. We tried that several times and it never quite worked out right. I wish I had paid more attention to the sewing. I can cut out the pattern (my job) but could never thread the bobbin.

* Band uniform photos. I think these should be burned. Posed by the sunroom in the living room. At least I didn't wear braces like Alyson but I do see some monster zits on my face. Alyson also has piano recital photos. I played flute and piccolo - don't see any photos from symphonic band - just marching band.

* Photos of me and my friends from high school and college - rugby shirts, t shirts with sayings, dropped waist dresses, lots of teal. Playing cards, playing scrabble, playing drinking games in the den, draping ourselves across cars in the driveway, and posing in front of the front door in Sumter.

* The house after Hurricane Hugo - my favorite dogwood tree ripped up by the roots, the roof in shambles. Photos of Alyson and I playing in that tree. I remember pretending I was a gymnast in the Olympics.

* Gatherings with Grandma Sis and British relatives when they came to visit in the back yard (before its renovation into a Charleston gated garden) and on the side sunporch patio before we realized it was way too hot to ever sit there in the sun in the summer.

* Dinner with the Winsteads, the British Wives' Club, and other friends of my parents. Usually in the dining room. Often, Alyson and I were banned from the grownup parties and sent upstairs. We would try to wheedle ice cream out of our parents by sending notes down tied to the cat's collar.

* Christmas presents opened and displayed - usually done in the living room with a tree in the sunroom or living room and all of us in bathrobes in front of the fireplace in the living room.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Obama's good choice

A reason to like Obama's choice in running mate:

From The New Republic:
[Pundit's] assessments [of Joe Biden's accomplishments] have strangely overlooked what's arguably Biden's signature accomplishment in domestic policy: the Violence Against Women's Act. And that's no small thing. [NOTE: I met with his office on this bill in 2006 before I left DC so that's why I'm interested!]
It may be hard to remember now, but widespread awareness of domestic violence--and how to deal with it--is a relatively new phenomenon. As late as the early 1990s, many communities had no domestic violence shelters at all, while those that did couldn't fund them adequately. And neither law enforcement nor the judicial system were prepared to deal with the special nature of domestic violence. If a woman who’d been battered or raped went to the police, she was frequently lucky if she got sympathy--let alone experts trained in how to handle such cases, go after perpetrators, and counsel the victims. “At that time there were no victim rights and [somebody] had to witness an act of violence in order to prosecute it,” says Judy Ellis, now executive director of First Step, a domestic violence program based in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. “The criminal justice system lacked information and training on the dynamics of domestic violence and its effects on the family.”

VAWA changed all of that. It cracked down on interstate stalking, set standards for the collection and use of evidence in abuse cases, and set up a national domestic violence hotline. No less important, VAWA poured money into local communities for the creation of new prevention and treatment initiatives. In Detroit, according to Ellis, a VAWA grant allowed local authorities to hire prosecutors, police officers. and counselors specifically trained to deal with domestic violence. It also paid for outreach programs into non-English speaking communities, where many victims had no idea of their rights--or the resources now available to them.

Nor does the Detroit story seem to be atypical. Here’s how one New York domestic violence attorney, Liberty Aldrich, described the transformation in an article she wrote for the Nation back in 2000:

When I worked at Mississippi Legal Services before VAWA, I interviewed police to find out if they had any special programs for domestic violence victims. Not a single department did, although one sheriff volunteered that he always took into account the differences between blacks and whites in such cases--black families are used to violence, he said.
Police and prosecutors now have a tougher time getting away with attitudes like that. In New York City, for example, there have been significant developments, directly and indirectly generated by VAWA. Over the past five years, a domestic violence officer has been installed in every New York police precinct. The Brooklyn district attorney received almost $1 million in VAWA money to develop a coordinated boroughwide response to domestic violence. And the Queens district attorney just announced that a domestic violence bureau is being developed with VAWA funds to insure that all prosecutors dealing with these cases have received special training.
So what did Biden have to do with all of that? Everything. Biden had been promoting a domestic violence bill starting in the early 1990s, and although it didn’t go far at first, he kept at it, finally getting his chance in 1994, once Bill Clinton became president and began pushing for a crime bill. Even then, it was a tough sell. Critics, led by Republican Senator Robert Dole, thought the '94 crime bill was bloated with unnecessary spending and demanded cuts from it--including the $1.6 billion over six years set aside for VAWA. But Biden held firm and, eventually, got his way. “You can sponsor a bill, but if you just sponsor a bill and let it sit there, that’s nothing,” says Pat Reuss, a longtime activist who was one of the measure's chief advocates in Washington. “He shepherded it. He made sure it happened. He assigned staff to it, gave them carte blanche to do with they needed, they spent days and nights on it.”

And Biden’s stewardship didn’t end with the bill’s passage. In 1996, when President Clinton signed the welfare reform bill, Biden made sure that victims of domestic violence got an extra six months to exhaust welfare benefits. When the law was up for reauthorization in 2000, he won even more funding for it. Although the courts would end up striking down one part of VAWA’s legal reforms, and although it would occasionally rankle right-wingers, the program’s bipartisan support grew over the years. In 2006, President bush signed its second reauthorization.

Advocates have claimed VAWA cut down on domestic violence by 25 percent. And while that figure seems suspiciously high--precise estimates are hard to come by--advocates seem to agree universally about VAWA’s importance and Biden’s role in it. “If I were to choose the single most important event leading to broad based awareness and change regarding domestic and sexual violence against women,” says Ellis, “it would be Senator Biden’s Violence Against Women Act of 1994.” Reuss offers a similar assessment: “In Congress, it was singularly because of him.”

Does VAWA alone make up for Biden's votes on the war and bankruptcy bills? Maybe not. But it's certainly a big point in his favor--one that deserves to get a little more attention.

--Jonathan Cohn

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Two sides of South Carolina

Last night, I met up with an old friend with whom I worked at a restaurant (Motor Supply Company) and a health food store (Rosewood Market) in South Carolina in the early 90s, right after college. It was great catching up with her but it was also really interesting to walk down memory lane a bit. I was a bit early to meet with her and didn't have anything to read with me so decided to walk around Five Points to look at my old haunts. Frighteningly enough, in one of the restaurants I worked, I saw two waiters who worked there when I worked there (from 1989- 1993) and in a bar that I also worked, I saw two of the regulars that always hung out there.

My friend and I went to see a band called Grey Egg, composed of some of the people who work at Rosewood Market. The lead singer is a Women's Studies professor at USC too, I think. There were lots of familiar faces in the band and in the audience. It shed a different perspective on the familiar faces I had seen in my old haunts. It reminded me of how out of step I often felt while living in South Carolina. Whereas in DC, what you do for a living identifies who you are as a person, in South Carolina - what you do for a living can be your passion but it can also be the economic way that you feed yourself while you pursue your real passion. So many of the people I knew in SC when I lived here were musicians, artists, writers, and just creative people. The restaurant business was how we all made our living and some of us branched off to working in the macrobiotic deli or organic produce department of the local healthfood store. But in general, we were all in our early 20s, staying up all night drinking and talking and dancing and bouncing around. In the morning, we shook off our hangovers and went to work to serve rich beautiful people their chicken salad croissant or their macrobiotic special of the day.

But there were also people who had hopped off the consumerist capitalist machine that drives the day to day American life. Many of my old friends who are in their 40s now and still performing in bands and being creative and living their life without fretting about how the next step in their life will impact their career climb like I am. It was a welcome reminder that the South and the US is not so bad after the past three weeks where I pass the same chain restaurants every day on my way up and down the highway to the hospital and the rehab facility to visit my father. I haven't walked further than down the hallway to the vending machine to get a coke since I got here!

Then this morning, while I was emailing at work about responding to the Sudanese press about confidentiality for rape survivors, I got an essay from a friend written by a homeschooled child about her day taking care of her Evangelical family. Its pretty easy in the secular world that I travel in to forget just how important religion is to many people in the US. The South has always been considered the Bible Belt. I have a lot of respect for people of faith - I have several friends who are religious, attend church regularly, and I also worked for a faith-based organization, Witness for Peace when I first left graduate school. Since I've been back in South Carolina for the past three weeks, I've witnessed our presidential candidates go to the largest Evangelical church in the US to pass a test of fire about their beliefs so they can woo the religious vote. Every day when I walk through the lobby of the Palmetto Heart Hospital to visit my father, I pass piles of New Testaments on the tables in the lounge. While there is the politically correct "Meditation Centre" in the hospital - presumably to cater to the ever growing population of Hindus and Muslims living in Columbia - all the literature and sign up lists were from Southern Baptist ministers. My father had at least four visitors of devout African-American women ministers coming by to visit him. Many of the cashiers, security guards, and nursing technicians wish me a "blessed day" when I talk to them. There are hundreds of churches in various old buildings all over town. I pass the "Church of the Spiritual Guidance" in what appears to be an old insurance company building on the corner of Main and Sunset every day.

I myself went to many religious "teen activities" growing up in South Carolina. I have very vivid memories of one particular "teen activity". They told us that we were going to watch a movie and there would be free popcorn (I'm a sucker for popcorn). Instead, it was a movie about the apocalypse and the rapture and how all of us secular non believers would be left on hell on earth. A particularly striking scene was a guillotine that the nonbelievers were executed at. The condemned was forced to wait for the blade face up and the point of view of the camera was of the condemned's view of the blade slicing down upon them. Then after freaking us all out (I was 12), they invited us to come up to the altar and embrace Jesus as our saviour. I hid in the bathroom until it was over.

In many ways, the Netherlands is not so very different from South Carolina. There are free spirited thinkers who resist the capitalist imperative and there are strongly religious conservatives co-existing side by side in both places. The conservatives in Holland aren't a part of the accepted script about Dutch tolerance and the free thinking artists and leftists of South Carolina aren't part of the accepted script about life in the Bible Belt.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Alyson and Dad's House in Columbia

Here's the house that Dad and Alyson are renting in Columbia. It's near Sunset Drive and Main Street in Earlwood, a nice little neighborhood. I'm staying in the office/guestroom with the crazy orange cat named George.

Photos from South Carolina

Just saw this guys photography in the Starbucks in the Vista (boy has that place changed since my days slaving away at Motor Supply Co. Bistro) and I liked a few of his things.

This is the Congaree Swamp near Sumter where I grew up.

This photo is lovely - I once went down here for an afternoon with a boyfriend I had named Shrimper.

The Gervais Street Bridge that leads from West Columbia (where we once saw the Ku Klux Klan recruiting at the Kmart) to the Vista (where I worked for some time and the site of many a debauched evening). Some will remember my infamous vomiting episode on this bridge after the famous snow storm of 1988.

The State House in Autumn SANS the confederate flag on top, thank god.

Shrimp Boats in Mt Pleasant. I have fabulous memories of eating fresh shrimp, ice cold budweiser, and dancing to the English Beat with Mike Dumiak and Bill McIntosh and his wife to be, Holly. What an amazing weekend.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Kudzu - a poem

... Up telephone poles,

Which rear, half out of leavage
As though they would shriek
Like things smothered by their own
Green, mindless, unkillable ghosts.
In Georgia, the legend says
That you must close your windows

At night to keep it out of the house
The glass is tinged with green, even so,

As the tendrils crawl over the fields.
The night the Kudzu has
Your pasture, you sleep like the dead.
Silence has grown oriental
And you cannot step upon the ground...

ALL: Kudzu by James Dickey
Photo by Jack Anthony

Scenes from the South

A few pleasant memories from an unpleasant time in the South:

* Sitting on the back porch listening to the sounds of a hot summer night while drinking cold beers and listening to music with friends. I never could afford a place with a back porch or even a front porch outside of the South.

* Buying fresh tomatos and peaches from an old black man from John's Island at the gas station on Main Street.

* Watching a man cut his son's hair on his front porch. For some reason, cutting your hair outside on the front porch sitting on a hard back chair strikes me as so very deeply southern that it makes me nostalgic. My sister cut my hair for me once when I lived on Kiawah Avenue and worked at the Rosewood Market.

* Intense lightning and thunderstorms that turn the night sky purple and toss the crepe myrtles around resulting in carpets of small pink blossoms all over the driveway. Torrents of tropical rain that leave the air clear and crisp the next morning.

* The park completely choked by kudzu at the turn onto Sunset Drive. While kudzu is the scourge of the South, its so beautifully densely green and lush. Combine that with the smell of gardenias and honeysuckle and its like Proust's madeleine.

* Tomato sandwiches on white bread with hellman's mayonaise, a little salt, and fat slices of aforementioned John's Island tomatos. Must be eaten over the sink.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Scenes from Sicko

Last night, I watched a prisoner who is on the intensive care unit that my father is on, being led on his physical therapy prescribed walk down the hall with his IV pole and his ankles shackled together. The respiratory therapist sitting with me mentioned "The Corrections officers are hard core. They'll keep a prisoner shackled who are on ventilators".

Friday, August 01, 2008

SICKO: the South Carolina version

On Tuesday night, the air conditioning at the hospital in Columbia where my father is currently went out for 12 hours. The temperature was over 96 degrees (36 degrees for you non Farenheit speakers)and it rose to almost 90 inside the hospital (34). I brought a fan from home and we stripped him down and kept cold wet face cloths on him and put him under the fan. The nurses told me that there used to be fans in the hospital but they were nowhere to be found nowadays.

While I was surprised that there was no back up system for the a/c dying in the middle of the brutally hot July-August months, I wasn't that perturbed until I read the news media spin where the spokesperson from the hospital said it was uncomfortable but nothing to worry about and praised the staff for bringing fans to the patients. I was in that hospital with frantic families from all over the city bringing fans in. The CVS next to the hospital was selling out. In the hospitals that I routinely visit in Africa and Asia, there are usually no air conditioning for anyone. There aren't even fans usually. But there are open windows to catch breezes. In the hermetically sealed highrises that are the modern US hospital, there's no opportunity to open the windows and cool yourself down. It was a good 20 degrees warmer in the hospital than it was when I went outside. Some patients had families take them out into the cool evening air. Since my dad was on an IV and oxygen, we weren't able to do that. To my sister's undying embarrassment (you are such a radical! she says), I decided to write a letter to the editor in the local newspaper in response to this article.

Regarding Dr. Caughman Taylor's statement about the air conditioning breakdown at Palmetto Health Richland that "It was not a safety issue; it was an inconvenience", I beg to differ. My 80 year old father was hospitalized when the air conditioning went out on Tuesday night. For the elderly, extreme heat is a serious life threatening condition. They are often the first to die when there is no air conditioning as we saw in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and in heat waves in the mid West. It was family members that brought in fans and window units for their loved ones, not the staff. Staff complained that they were unable to access or find fans that used to be plentiful and spoke about equipment malfunctioning in the emergency room due to the excessive heat. While they were also suffering from the extreme heat in the hospital, they did the best that they could to provide care. CEO Singerling said that "practice makes perfect" so I hope the Palmetto Health Richland has found those fans and are prepared to have emergency plans for seniors and others with respiratory problems in case of another unexpected air conditioning malfunction during the hottest months of the year.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

World's Longest Flight

I'm currently on the way from Papua New Guinea to South Carolina. I wonder if I'm the first person ever to travel from PNG to SC. I doubt it. I find South Carolinians in the oddest of places. I left Lae at 5pm on Tuesday night and flew to Port Moresby (1 hour) on Air Niugini. I left Port MOresby at 11am on Wednesday morning and flew to Brisbane (3 hours) on Air Niguini. I flew from Brisbane to Singapore (8 hours)on Qantas. I flew from Singapore to Amsterdam on KLM (13 hours) and I'm awaiting my KLM flight from Amsterdam to Detroit (10 hours) that then transfers to Charlotte (3 hours) where Alyson's friend Michele will pick me up and drive me to Columbia (1 1/2 hours).

Air Niugini B+
Qantas A

I've been mostly in center seats the entire way. On the Air Niguini flight from Lae, I saw an amazing rainbow. On the Air Niugini flight to Australia, I noticed that we had jungle survival gear on board (it was labeled so). On the Singapore flight, an older man fainted or collapsed in the aisle causing quite a stir 4 hours in. He recovered and is fine according to the flight attendants. What awaits me as I cross the Atlantic?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Things about my father

Lived in Turkey, Lived in Greece, Lived in Taiwan, Lived in London, Lived in Wyoming (probably the roughest of them all since it was 1964). Lived in Belgium. Lived in South Carolina which he loved the most since there was no snow shoveling required, unlike Iowa where he grew up.

Loves cats. We've had a few: A siamese cat my mother and father had in Taiwan who used to swim in the bathtub. Iargo, a black cat that he rescued in Belgium. When he was run over by a car, we buried in the woods where the bluebells bloom. Sheba - another Siamese. I used to dress her in ballerina clothes. Spike- the tabby cat who loved my dad. When he was ill and old, my father chopped cantalope and shrimp for him to eat. Dante - my cat that went to live with my dad when I went to Guatemala. They were two grey haired old men together. And now George - the cat my father was destined to have. A sweet orange cat who won't take no for an answer.

Worked in a bowling alley in Los Angeles. Picked apples in Washington State. Worked in a motel in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Joined the Air Force to see the world (and avoid being drafted into Korea).

Loved my mother. Madly. Was a total ass to her on their first date (or so the mythology goes) but knew from the moment that he saw her that he was going to marry her. Met her on his birthday, October 27, got engaged on Valentine's Day, and married in July 27th. Engraved her wedding ring with WAML - meaning with all my love.

An amazing dancer- loved to dance and when we went to Guatemala, I was ready to leave the disco before he was. The same thing happened to us in Swindon, he made up muchlater than the young kids.

Voracious reader - read Ulysses for the nasty bits. Loves police procedural novels and we share a passion for fantasy novels like the Diana Gabaldon ones.

Loves the Sioux. Growing up wanted to be a Sioux indian chief. His stepmother was a pottawattame indian from Missouri. He grew up in Iowa and Minnesota.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

First impressions of Papua New Guinea

I'm currently in Lae, Papua New Guinea - a port town and the second largest city in PNG (as its abbreviated). Calling it a city, however is a bit presumptious. There don't appear to be any buildings taller than 3 stories and its quite spread out. I'm posting a few photos from todays "Fun Run" that I participated in where we walked through the city dressed in green and yellow teeshirts with thousands of others. More impressions to come later.

Photos from the "FUN RUN":

The military men join in running in cadence and singing.

Orange boots keep the mud out!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dutch Immersion: Bike Prison

I stupidly parked my bike in an illegal spot last Wednesday. This morning, Corinne and I traveled out to Sloterdijk to AFAC, the "bike prison" to retrieve my little Gazelle. Here's some photos from our trip.