Friday, July 29, 2011

Amerasians: 'Dust of Life'

Korea, 1979, 1981
'Amerasians' refers to the offspring of foreigners and women in Asia. 'Dust of life' refers to someone of no importance. Generally, the word 'Amerasians' speaks to the illegitimate children of soldiers - US soldiers - who've been stationed or experienced their "R & R" in Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations. Often without citizenship in their native lands, ignored by the country of their fathers, theirs is a tragic story with debates political, personal and cultural that continue to the present (see clip below from the documentary, "Left By Ship").

We all know that traveling is an education sometimes better than college. Not having gone to university after high school, I took many short-term clerical jobs before getting hired by now defunct Eastern Airlines in 1975. Living in Miami, feeling at loose ends and looking for a 'greater purpose in life' (whatever!), I learned about a volunteer organization called Americans for International Aid that used airline employees traveling on free humanitarian passes to bring back to the US kids adopted by Americans. I was so excited, I telephoned the founder, Jodie Darragh, immediately and within weeks I was on my way to Seoul with three other volunteers courtesy of Korean Airlines. Here was a sense of purpose, using my travel passes to help new parents save money by bringing their children back for them and at the same time bring needed supplies to those still waiting. It was the start of what one might call a compulsion that continues till this day.

With Fr. Keane in Bupyeong, Korea, 1979
Back then, often on trips to Korea, I delivered clothing and other donations to orphanages in the countryside. On several trips I took a bus up to Father Keane's St. Vincent's Home for Amerasian Children (see photos left) in Bu-Pyung, just outside of Inchon, sometimes staying over at the orphanage. What's an Amerasian? In the US we are so used to people coming in all colors and sizes that often differences go unnoticed. In Korea, sometimes people would stop ME to take a photo because I have blond hair and blue eyes in a country where everyone has brown hair and brown eyes. That's OK for me, I'm a foreigner, but not for someone who lives in Korea.

These Amerasian children were born to Korean mothers and most often American soldiers. Poor girls from the villages sometimes became 'wives,' cooking and cleaning for soldiers during their post, using the money to take care of not just themselves but their families. When the GIs were transferred they often left illegitimate children behind. Not recognized as "Korean," stigmatized socially, educationally and economically, especially if their father's were African American, these children were essentially stateless. Like most Asian societies, in Korea your father's lineage plays a key role in mapping out your life opportunities. Abandoned by their fathers, the future for these children was bleak. As a mother now myself, I cannot imagine how the mothers of these children must have agonized over leaving them at St. Vincents, hoping that in Fr. Keane's care they would have a better opportunities in the future.

Many Amerasians were adopted by families in the US - an option but not a solution in and of itself. Along with Jodie Darragh - a mother, airline employee and adoptive parent - Fr. Keane was instrumental in lobbying Congress for passage of the Amerasian Act in 1982. This Act allowed Amerasians from Vietnam, Korea, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, without their mothers or their siblings, to come to the United States to live with American sponsor families. However, as the Vietnamese government would not cooperate with this Act, thousands of Amerasian children abandoned at the end of the Vietnam War were not effected.

As a result, in 1987, Congress adopted the Amerasian Homecoming Act that focused primarily on Vietnamese Amerasian children. This new law did permit mothers and other immediate family members to relocate to America (in Vietnam, Amerasians went from pariah status to 'gold children') with the Amerasian children. Between 1987 and 1994, roughly 25,000 Vietnamese Amerasians, by then 12-25 years of age, and another 60,000 to 70,000 family members immigrated to the United States, with the majority settling in California.

Amerasians from Thailand, Korea, Vietnam and Laos who could somehow document their paternity - for some it could be simply their appearance -  were allowed now to 'come home.'  Those in the Philippines, where the US had been a military presence for 100 years, were excluded. When the US closed Clark and Subac Bay US Naval bases in the Philippines in 1992, thousands of Amerasians were left behind.

Below is a clip from Left By Ship, a newly released documentary about children left behind in the Philippines. For more information on the Amerasian Act, the Amerasian Homecoming Act and stories of resettlement in America, read:

Surviving Twice: Amerasian Children of the Vietnam War by Trin Yarborough

Dust of Life: America's Children Abandoned in Vietnam by Robert S. McKelvey

For a cultural/social view of an Amerasian daughter returning to Vietnam to meet her biological mother, an incredible look cross cultural values and the misunderstandings that can arise, view Daughter from Danang.

For a response to this film from a Vietnamese Amerasian adopted by an American family and for current information on the topic, visit the blog, 'Ethnically Incorrect Daughter' by Sumeia Williams.

From India: The 'Sex Factor'

On a visit to Kolkata, India, to volunteer with Empower the Children, I saw this sign. What they - -the Student Welfare Society - call 'the sex factor' involves "matters of human life" such as "education, work, mentality, beautiness (sic), job, attitude, welth (sic), attitude, love, tenasity (sic), personality development, etc." Yes,  to give women rights equal to men we need to address issues surrounding individual self-esteem, emotions and personal strength, too long suppressed by patriarchy, along with education and work.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Israelis and Palestinians: civil disobedience at the beach

Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times
Palestinian women and girls from the West Bank at the beach in Tel Aviv, after a group of Israeli women snuck them into the country for a daylong excursion.
 Just yesterday, in Palstinian Children's Relief Fund: politics aside, I wrote of a visit to the West Bank with a Palestinian friend in 1978. In today's New York Times is a story by Ethan Bonner of civil disobedience: Israeli women 'smuggled' Palestinian women from their land-locked, guarded territories to the beach - for the first time EVER to enjoy the sand and surf.  Said one Israeli woman, Ms. Aharoni, when asked her thoughts, “For 44 years, we have occupied another country. I am 53, which means most of my life I have been an occupier. I don’t want to be an occupier. I am engaged in an illegal act of disobedience. I am not Rosa Parks, but I admire her, because she had the courage to break a law that was not right.” The New York Times reports that in a newspaper article the women wrote:

“We cannot assent to the legality of the Law of Entry into Israel, which allows every Israeli and every Jew to move freely in all regions between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River while depriving Palestinians of this same right. They are not permitted free movement within the occupied territories nor are they allowed into the towns and cities across the green line, where their families, their nation, and their traditions are deeply rooted. They and we, all ordinary citizens, took this step with a clear and resolute mind. In this way we were privileged to experience one of the most beautiful and exciting days of our lives, to meet and befriend our brave Palestinian neighbors, and together with them, to be free women, if only for one day.”

Their story of moving incognito through the check-point is reminiscent of BZ Goldberg's journey in the documentary Promises when he takes an elderly Palestinian grandmother and her grandson from the refugee camp (once a collection of tents, now a permanent closed urban settlement), through a check-point, to visit the ruins of their ancestral home. It had been 40 years since the grandmother has seen her former village, now a rocky field, but she could still recognize the patch of land where her house once stood - and she still had the key to her front door. As is true too of the women in this article, both Jewish and Arab children in the film had seen their share of family members imprisoned or childhood friends killed. In both that film and this article, Jewish people are shown taking a small, personal step to reach out, make friends and literally lend a hand to their Palestinian friends and neighbors in gestures of humanity and goodwill. Yes indeed, politics aside.

For the full article, continue below or click here.
And for another look at the Palestinian conflict read Israelis and Palestinians: Soldiers, Children and War.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Visiting the West Bank

In front of the Dome of the Rock, 1978
In 1978, I first visited the Occupied West Bank of Israel. At the same time, Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat, US president Jimmy Carter and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin were conducting negotiations at Camp David in advance of the Peace Accords They were signed on September 17 of that year. Their meetings were an extraordinary event, but I will admit my knowledge of happenings in the Middle East more or less stopped at the founding of Israel and the PLO, the latter having the words 'terrorist' attached, symbolized in newspapers by their leader Yasser Arafat. The wars, the refugee camps, the bombings, of these I knew few details. I was a stewardess, a high school graduate, I had only traveled to Europe. My education in world politics, poverty and power had yet to begin.

In that year, 1978, I was living in Washington, DC, and befriended a Jordanian neighbor in my apartment building. Through him, I met a Palestinian woman and we became good friends. She invited me to travel with her to the West Bank to visit her family. We flew into Amman, Jordan, on Alia, the Royal Jordanian Airlines. Upon arrival, we were met by Jordanian officials as my friend had good government connections: she worked for the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, DC, and her husband was with the Qatar Consulate. A chauffeured government car took us to the border of Jordan and the West Bank where we walked across the Jordan River via the Allenby Bridge, also known as the King Hussein Bridge, into Jericho.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Kenya: Spurred by Hunger and Drought, a Return to Traditional Farming


A manioc plant in bloom
Photo - Damouns: A manioc plant in bloom
Everyday, the news is filled with sad, heart-wrenching stories of famine in East Africa, brought on by the worst drought in that region in 60 years.  On Sunday I posted photos of the world's largest refugee camp. Now feeding four times more people than it was designed to care for, Dadaab, in Eastern Kenya, is featured in Time LightBox's photo essay entitled, Haven and Hell. Mothers are forced to abandon dying babies so that their other children may survive as they walk to refugee camps. Some news organizations blame globalization while others target foreign aid policies (and see below).

Drought in Africa is news, but not new. As a third grader 1962 at St. Rose School in Baltimore, I went door-to-door in my neighborhood collecting money for famine victims in the Republic of Biafra, a secessionist state of West Africa in existence from May 30, 1967 to January 15, 1970. Then, clearly, politics, war and a reliance on imports starved that nation's citizens.

How can the people of Africa cease dependency on foreign aid and foreign imports and abate the severity of cyclical droughts? Worldcrunch reported recently, via Le Monde, that Kenyans are turning to a simple, traditional root vegetable - manioc. In the article, "Where Corn Won't Grow: As Drought Deepens, Kenyans Turn To Manioc For Survival," some Kenyan farmers are returning to crops their parents' used to survive, ones that need less rainfall and fewer pesticides to grow. 

Traditional crops
Manioc is a staple of many traditional societies around the world, from the Runa of the Ecuadorian rain forest to the highland people of Mt. Hagen in Papua New Guinea. Unfortunately, since the introduction of corn in Kenya, manioc was seen as a 'poor man's crop.' (I suppose it is possible then to add 'culture' to the above reasons for famine.) With that stigma, most Kenyans turned away from manioc and other traditional foods and planted corn. Besides their dependency on corn, in one Kenyan village today seventy percent of the people depend on humanitarian aid from either the government or international organizations.

Now, some are turning back to ways of their forefathers. Besides manioc, sorghum, another crop that requires little water, is making a comeback. They have also formed co-operative farming initiatives that give money back for surplus.

The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute reports that some 3000 Kenyan farmers are able to sell their harvest to local breweries. “Students take HIV prevention classes at University,” says KARI’s John Wadua. “They should teach the same about food security.”

In the documentary film, Stolen Childhoods (see clip here), Nobel Peace Prize winner from Kenya, environmentalist and human rights campaigner Wangari Maathai addresses the plight of child laborers on coffee plantations. Maathai states that before the Europeans arrived, children did not starve, their families where able to feed and care for them - why now?  Coffee was introduced as an export crop, but when the price fell on the world market, 'structural; readjustment' policies became necessary for Kenya to pay back it's debts to the World Bank. This meant cutting social welfare programs and education, sending many poor children to work. Now, another foreign crop, corn, is threatening the welfare of poor people who are turning to the ways of their ancestors for survival. 

To read the article in English from Worldcrunch click here.
To read the original article in French from Le Monde by Sébastien Hervieu, click here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Kenya: "Haven and Hell"

Beautiful photos, terrible story, from  Time Light Box. Photos from a the world's largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Eastern Kenya.

For more photos and the full story click here.

Haven and Hell: The World’s Largest Refugee Camp

Jehad Nga for TIME
A sandstorm blows through Ifo Camp where new arrivals live. 30,000 people are estimated to have arrived at the camp in June, a steep climb from the average of 5,000 last year. Dadaab, Eastern Kenya, July 18, 2011.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bhutan Suggests to UN How to Measure Happiness

Lhatu Wangchuk
Lhatu Wangchuk admits his vision of a "happiness indicator' is Utopian, but should be worked on

Is GDP as a measure of happiness or well being an ethnocentric notion based on Western capitalist ideals of material wealth and progress? From BBC UN correspondent, Barbara Plett, I learned that in the UN, Bhutan is introducing a different kind of  'happiness measure.' Bhutan is a small kingdom in the Himalayas (think Shangri-la!) situated between Nepal and China.  Seventy-five percent of the population of 709,000  are Lamaistic Buddhist and 25% are Indian- and Nepalese-influenced Hindus.

The Bhutanese do not think that measuring GDP is an accurate way to measure well-being cross-culturally. Bhutan has lobbied the UN General Assembly to adopt 'happiness" as a development  indicator and now has the support of 66 nations including the UK. The Bhutanese use Gross National Happiness to define quality of life, seen as a balance between the material and the spiritual. According to Bhutan's ambassador Lhatu Wangchuk, "Our initial idea was to bring the concept of happiness to the consciousness of the UN membership… because we know that GDP indicators are inadequate to address human needs." He further qualifies "that wars and disputes do not indicate happiness or otherwise. They are caused by the egos and interests of leaders." Interesting perspective, I hope it takes hold: perhaps after academics have found a way to quantify the spiritual . . .  

For the full article from BBC news click  here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Afghanistan: Women Leaders and Gender Equality

From the UNDP, the need for women leaders in Afghanistan. Women leaders are needed to address the particular issues of gender inequality in Afghanistan regarding health, education and social welfare. As stated here, "Between 70 and 80 percent of women experience early marriages, 87 percent face physical, psychological and/or sexual abuse, and Afghan women are more likely to die during childbirth than women in any other country." For more on childbirth risks read, Birth Education in Afghanistan.

Women leaders are key to Afghanistan’s progress, says UNDP

14 July 2011
General Shafiqa Quraishi, Director of Gender, Human, and Child Rights, Ministry of the Interior (Photo: UNDP)
Kabul– Women’s empowerment and full participation in the future of Afghanistan was top of the agenda during a visit to the country this week by Rebeca Grynspan, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UN Development Programme (UNDP) Associate Administrator.

Grynspan’s first stop was at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs where she discussed UNDP’s role and actions in promoting women’s rights with a group of female leaders, including parliamentarians, police officers and members of Afghanistan’s academia and civil society. “Gender equality is not just the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do,” said Grynspan at the meeting. “Evidence consistently shows that where women are given opportunities, societies develop more rapidly.”

Soldiers, Children and War

From the Guardian UK, a  story of jailed Palestinian minors. For a good look at the impact of children throwing rocks at soldiers on their communities, including the background of these uprisings and the viewpoint of Palestinians involved, I recommend Promises and Gaza Strip. I use both films in my cultural anthropology classes at Western Connecticut State University. As an American, I remember my own education into the Israeli/Palestinian conflicts when I traveled to the West Bank with a Palestinian friend in 1978. Before that visit, I only knew that 'PLO' meant terrorist: I did not understand the complexities of the 'occupation.' My view was of course shaped by the family with whom I stayed and was certainly a story of confinement. The first movie here, Promises, is directed by BZ Goldberg and tells the story of Palestinian and Israeli youth living no more than 20 minutes from each other but existing as if on different planets. Gaza Strip is by American documentary film maker James Longley, filmed in 2001. These are just two of the many moving documentaries available about this critical situation: check them out, see all perspectives, get informed.

For the complete article, "Israel has detained 835 Palestinian minors in five years, says report", read below (after Gaza Strip video) or click here.

Israel has detained 835 Palestinian minors in five years, says report

A nine-year-old boy who was blindfolded and interrogated was among the children held for throwing rocks at soldiers
    Palestinian youths clash with Israeli police 28/2/2010
    Palestinian youths throw stones during clashes with Israeli police officers in Jerusalem's Old City last year. Photograph: Dan Balilty/AP
    Over the past five years, Israel's military has detained more than 800 Palestinian youths and children for pelting Israeli soldiers with rocks, and has interrogated and jailed many of them, a human rights group said in a report. Drawing on military statistics and interviews, Israeli rights group B'Tselem counted 835 minors taken into custody from 2005 to early 2011, including 34 children who were 13 or younger. In one case, B'Tselem cited the case of an eight-year-old who was seized in the West Bank in February. Soldiers released the boy after realising he was not the child they were after: they wanted his nine-year-old brother. They then handcuffed the nine-year-old, blindfolded him and took him to a detention centre where he was interrogated and held for five hours, according to the report. He was released after it was determined that he was a minor. An Israeli military spokeswoman said around 160 civilians and soldiers had been hurt in violent attacks by minors. Of those, 10 were wounded by projectiles, but the spokeswoman, speaking of condition of anonymity, said she did not know the extent of their injuries. B'Tselem said night raids, handcuffing, blindfolds, interrogations and the denial of access to lawyers for children for hours at a time were frequently disproportionate.

Sierra Leone: Free Health Care Lowers Infant Mortality

From the New York Times, In Sierra Leone, New Hope for Children and Pregnant Women. It is difficult to believe the doctor deficit suffered by some nations: here, there are four gynecologists in the entire country. That statistic reminds me of a trip in 2005 to Bangladesh on a cleft lip and palate surgical mission. In a country of 150 million people, there were eight surgeons specializing in plastic surgery and all lived in the capital city of Dhaka. The founder of returned from a fact finding/teaching trip to Kenya recently and reported that there were four cardiac surgeons in the entire nation. Devastated by ten years of war, in Sierra Leone the free medical care is heavily subsidized by foreign donors. Other African nations also offer free health services to their citizens. Health outcomes are improving, but connections between services and outcomes and long term prospects for continued free care face obstacles (bombing of health care facilities deemed symbols of government authority in Sierra Leone, eventual end of foreign support). In addition, there is the prospect of meeting demand for free services when faced with a dearth of qualified medical professionals.

For the entire article, read on or click here.

In Sierra Leone, New Hope for Children and Pregnant Women

Sven Torfinn for The New York Times
Clinics like this one in Tumbu have been jammed since Sierra Leone ended some fees in 2010. More Photos »

July 17, 2011

In Sierra Leone, New Hope for Children and Pregnant Women

WATERLOO, Sierra Leone — The paramedic’s eyes were bloodshot, his features drawn. Pregnant women jammed into the darkened concrete bunker, just as they had yesterday and would tomorrow. The increase in patients had been fivefold, or tenfold. The exhausted paramedic had lost count in a blur of uninterrupted examinations and deliveries. The word was out: it was no longer necessary to give birth at home and risk losing a baby or dying in childbirth. Hadiatou Kamara, 18, waited in the crowd. She had already lost a baby boy and girl. “They both died,” she said quietly.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Belarus: Social Media and Post-Soviet Protests

I found this an interesting, perhaps 'postmodern,' take on people and protests. From the New York Times, Sound of Post-Soviet Protest: Claps and Beeps.

 I love emerging culture!

Andrei Liankevich for The New York Times
Participants gathered for an innovative antigovernment protest involving cellphones this week in Minsk, Belarus. As political opposition withers, activists seek alternatives to chants and placards. 

July 14, 2011

Sound of Post-Soviet Protest: Claps and Beeps

MINSK, Belarus — At the time appointed for Wednesday evening’s antigovernment protest here in the capital of Belarus, scores of burly plainclothes officers were waiting in Yakub Kolas Square. Their job was to prevent it from happening. But it was difficult for them to know who, among the skateboarders, young urban professionals and stolid-looking grandmothers, was taking part. The park benches filled up, and then the stone curbs, but the activists — following instructions posted on an Internet site — were not actually doing anything. At 8 p.m., their phones buzzed or beeped or played music. That was the whole protest. Plainclothes officers with camcorders meticulously filmed the face of every person in the park and forced a few demonstrators, struggling and shouting, into buses. But the sixth of the weekly “clapping protests” had eliminated clapping, which presented both the police and activists with some tough questions. Can you really detain people because their phones are beeping? And when you cannot tell who is protesting, is it still a protest?

More Children, Less Equality?

From the New York Times, an article about womens' education levels and family size. The question, does childbearing interfere with education, or does education reduce childbearing? No easy answer here. Further, it is difficult to compare statistics when comparing outcomes in 'Northern' nations like Norway and 'Southern' nations like Niger. Read also, Germany's Gender Divide for more insight on childbearing, workplace success and female education. Interesting comparison to this report.

Schools or Playgrounds?

July 14, 2011

Joel E. Cohen is professor of populations and head of the Laboratory of Populations at the Rockefeller University and Columbia University. He is an applied mathematician and author of “How Many People Can the Earth Support?” Most people care about education and childbearing because both affect women's well-being and prospects in life. Economists, policy makers and politicians care because education and childbearing shape economic development and population growth. Around 1979, demographers discovered that women with more schooling had fewer children and their children had better survived rates. A woman's childbearing was statistically more closely correlated with her schooling than with the socioeconomic status of her husband or family.
The fall in a country's childbearing may have little to do with schooling or literacy of women or men.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

India: earth mothers nurture biodiversity

From the Times of India, traditional biodiverse farming by women, without chemical fertilizers - may get a 'heritage' tag in India. The crops are so far drought resistant. Similar styles of farming planting diverse crops was traditionally practiced by Native Americans in the Southwest US with great success. Perhaps we should not have fooled with Mother Nature, introducing mono-crops, genetically altered seeds and cancer causing fertilizers, weed and insect killers? What's not mentioned is that this type of farming may also contribute to lowered levels of birth defects, cancer and higher levels of nutrition.

For more on the power of women and gardens to nurture and aid their families, both nutritionally and economically, read Mothers' Gardens in Bangladesh

Earth mothers nurture biodiversity

HYDERABAD: About 100 kms from Hyderabad, is a farmland where scores of women farmers have been toiling for the last many years, sowing the seeds of traditional farming and reaping the rich dividend of biodiverse crops. Spread over an area of about 60,000 hectares with an almost equal number of farmers working on it from 39 villages of Zaheerabad in Medak district, is this unique farm where 80 to 100 crops are grown through the year, around 25 crops per acre of land.

The result is a lush farmland, that has not seen a single dry spell in the last many years and is now a strong case study being considered by the state government for the tag of a Biodiversity Heritage Site for the crucial reason that not only have these women nurtured lives dependent on this farmland but also conserved a form a traditional farming that has been forgotten in the wave of high-tech farming that has swept across the state.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Food as Culture

My recommendation for steamed hard shell crabs in Baltimore
Last week I was visiting family in Baltimore and was literally ecstatic over a meal of Old Bay steamed hard shell crabs. I sat with my friend Lou at a paper covered picnic table (in a restaurant of course) with two dozen jumbo sized crabs strewn in the middle. I closed my eyes and smiled and just breathed in the steaming hot, spicy, salty smell. It brought back summer memories of backyard feasts in my childhood row house, of outings in Ocean City and of any and all get-togethers with family and friends all times of year.

With a wooden mallet, a plastic knife and a bottle of beer by my side, I dug in, enjoying every morsel, slurp and bite. This place, Mr. Bill's on Eastern Avenue, even had a few old Baltimore Colts at the next table. Tom Matte, former running back in the Johny Unitas days, stopped by and said hello. How I remember when the Colts played at the old Memorial Stadium before the Ravens came to town. How authentic were my childhood memories, now retrieved. I was finally sated when my mouth had that numbed feeling brought on by hot spice and salt and I was covered in Old Bay to my elbows.

In Nigeria, maggots, yummy!
I started this piece thinking about food, then culture, then how culture shapes what one considers food, good food. I mean, what does 'delicious' really mean? When I left Baltimore in the 1970s, I didn't realize what an odd treasure I had consumed all of my life, how steamed hard shell crabs, crab cakes, soft-shell crab sandwiches on white bread with mayo, lettuce and tomatoes, had given me a multi-sensory cultural anchor. As a kid, I spent hours under my father's and my Uncle Tommy's tutelage learning how to peel off a shell, clean out the guts, crack a claw, and finesse a back fin, meat intact. Being neither Irish nor Italian like all my other Catholic friends, I thought I had missed out in the ethnic food department; I now realize regional foods too give one a sense of identity.

In my travels (and that's where I am heading here), I've somewhat-savored interesting ethnic and regional specialties in the countries I've visited. Sometimes I enjoyed the most amazing meals (lamb in Jordan, morning glories in Cambodia, everything in France), other times I just watched, or, in the case of the man here eating maggots, I took a picture. I have eaten turtle (the whole little critter with shell), fried cow intestines, goat, roasted whole guinea pig, pig hearts, fried chicken brains, sheep brains, wild ibex, yak butter, buffalo milk, any number of fermented drinks (I don't want to know!) and one quick shot of buffalo bile. While truly I am not a very adventurous eater, I seldom say 'no' when offered food.

Of course, in addition to my Baltimore blue crab mania, I grew up loving pig tails in sauerkraut, pickled pigs feet, fried tomatoes and raw oysters and clams (not so unusual?). Here's where I tie all of this into humanitarian aid: food is a cultural construction. We grow up and get enculturated as anthropologists like to say, learning from our friends and family what is appropriate to eat. We eat food in particular contexts, creating memories linked to people, places and holidays, all easily conjured by smell or taste or even texture. Think of grilled hamburgers in summer or a roast turkey on Thanksgiving.

When we (in the West) give to those in need we must be culturally sensitive, even when giving food. If soy beans are seen as cattle food not a high protein substitute for meat, think twice before assuming someone will immediately take to your gift . . . especially when replacing a food crop item (like soy beans for corn). Or, if an economic incentive means cutting back on foodstuffs and growing an export crop like coffee or bananas, be sure people can still produce what they need to survive (culturally and nutritionally) should the mono-crop market fail.

Many wiser anthropologists, economists and development experts have written on this topic. I am simply bringing the message home. Food is cultural, it is part of our rituals, it is an element of our identities.

Don't assume that what makes sense is what should be done. Working with/within a peoples own cultural norms always gives the best results. After all, while food is cultural, hunger and scarcity are often economic and political, even when exacerbated by war and drought. For more on food and nutrition, see Children's health: good business, better nutrition. 

For more on the cultural, economic and political aspects of food and hunger, check out these books available on Amazon:
Everyone Eats: understanding food and culture by E. N. Anderson
Ending Hunger in Our Lifetime: Food Security and Globalization
World Hunger by Liz Young

That said, if you are ever in Baltimore . . . dive into the local culture and visit Mr. Bill's!
200 Eastern Boulevard
Essex, MD 21221-6903
(410) 687-5994

Or, if you are in Nigeria, check out the local markets (below).

Fresh fried maggots on a skewer in Nigeria

You cannot get fish much fresher than this in the market!

Germany's Gender Divide

What a surprise: despite Chancellor Angela Merkel, only 14% of German women with one child return to the workforce. While NGOs and development experts work tirelessly in India and Africa to educate women towards empowerment, it appears that in the West, even educated women find tradition the road most traveled: at 2%, Germany has the same number of women in executive positions as India. This is quite below Sweden's 17% and the USA and Britain's 14%. Once again, one can change laws, make proclamations and open doors to reform, but in the end it is people, men and women, who must change their thoughts and behaviors - their culture. Here, many men (and women) still prefer mothers in the homeroom, not the boardroom. For the entire article, read below or click here, Women nudged out of German workforce.

June 28, 2011

Women Nudged Out of German Workforce

COLOGNE — Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, does not lack pluck: it rebounded from two world wars, digested reunification and has now powered ahead of neighbors still reeling from the financial crisis. It overhauled a rigid labor market and raised the retirement age to 67 with little fuss. Most recently, it simply decided to abandon nuclear power. With this boldness at the top comes obedience at the bottom — 82 million Germans will wait at a pedestrian red light, even with no car in sight.

Nigeria: pidgin and culture

Nations throughout the world whose histories included trade with Europeans developed pidgin languages, a way to communicate that utilized combination of words from many languages. As traders and invaders shaped each resource filled country in its own way, pidgin languages emerged as unique, home-grown forms of communication, still used in homes and villages worldwide. For example, each of the 10 islands of Cape Verde, populated by the descendants of Portuguese traders and African slaves, speaks a different kind of pidgin. The practice of two languages: a formal language in school/work and an informal language at home, as with pidgin, is called diglossia. In Haiti, French is the language of school, business and government, but pidgin is the language in the batey. In Papua New Guinea, an island nation located north of Australia, over 700 languages are spoken, but pidgin is the lingua franca.

Depending on the nation, a person can catch words and phrases that seem so close to one's own European language that is almost possible to make out what is being said. In New Giunea pidgin, 'to bring' is bringim.' The word for 'British' is 'bilong ol Englan.' The 'save`' means 'to know,' 'forget' is 'lusim tink' and 'to watch' is 'lukluk.' Despite this, pidgin is not a haphazard collection of words and sounds, but a language with its own tenses, grammar, pronouns, etc. - that is, it is possible to speak pidgin incorrectly.

All societies use verbal and non-verbal communication to convey cultural meaning. When speaking, besides the words themselves, we use particular forms of language and slang in different contexts to give subtext to our interactions. When I hear students on a university campus here in the US screaming, 'hey bitch, where you goin'?! I smile and know right away that that is a communication between friends, not foes. However, if I were to walk the streets of southwest Baltimore at midnight and hear those words, I would most probably surmise a different meaning, then run.

Getting back to pidgin, I recently saw the following article about the success of a pidgin radio station in Lagos, Nigeria. Language, especially for peoples whose social-cultural interactions are more verbal than textual, is inventive and constantly changing (think hip hop and urban slang). As the article describes, Lagos is a huge, chaotic city - pidgin is helping uneducated, illiterate, less socially and economically powerful people communicate and understand their socio-political world. Much like Cockney slang in England or urban slang in the US, pidgin is clever, spontaneous and useful. Speakers can invent new phrases, invert meanings and generally show creativity in conveying information. But does it give people any leverage into better jobs or other lucrative prospects? We'll have to wait and see (think multi-millionaire rap and hip hops artists?). For the full article Nigeria;s pidgin radio station takes off click here.

Nigeria's pidgin radio station takes off

Lively new Lagos broadcaster promotes Nigeria's rough, witty "broken English."

LAGOS, Nigeria — In this African megacity's rusty yellow taxis, sweaty roadside markets and hustlers’ hangouts, a different kind of radio station can be heard. This is Wazobia — the only Nigerian station to broadcast fully in pidgin, the country’s fast and inventive “broken English.” The station has been a hit since going on air in 2007.

Wazobia DJs greet listeners by asking "how de body?" or "how you dey?" Rapid news bulletins describe Somali pirates as "no go 'gree people," meaning those who are hostile or won’t agree. One report said that a local bus crash resulted in "12 people dem get visa to see Baba" (12 people getting a visa to see God). Many Nigerians consider this their lingua franca, especially in the mostly Christian southern states. Spoken at breakneck speed and constantly toying with English and local languages, pidgin certainly seems a fitting medium for Africa’s most populous country, a chaotic nation that struggles to contain 150 million people, 250 ethnic groups and over 36 billion barrels of oil.
“Pidgin reflects the Nigerian character ... it’s very dynamic.” Christine Ofulue, linguist at National Open University of Nigeria
“Nigerians have found a station that goes down well with them ... in a language they understand,” says Diplomatic OPJ, a Wazobia DJ who does the evening rush hour show. He adds that the station now has regional wings in Abuja, the capital, and Port Harcourt, in the oil-rich delta. "With pidgin, our listeners feel free. We can’t make mistakes when we talk pidgin, because it’s a language that has no dictionary," OPJ said. "So we get everyone calling in — market traders, street hawkers, people who are illiterate.”
English, Nigeria's official language, and the main indigenous tongues of Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo are often neglected by a crumbling education system. Despite Nigeria’s vast natural resources, and its position as sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest economy, endemic corruption leaves most people without even basic services. More than 80 percent of the population live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank. “The government is not doing many things to encourage the teaching of languages in schools,” says Harrison Rotimi Adeniyi, head of African Languages at Lagos State University. “[Many university students] are neither proficient in English nor their local languages.”

Nigerian pidgin is thought to have emerged nearly 600 years ago, when European traders reached the country’s coast and met African chiefs. Both parties needed a form of broken English to negotiate sales of palm oil and slaves. Pidgin is now estimated to be used by tens of millions of Nigerians. Variants are spoken in nearby Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone. “Pidgin reflects the Nigerian character ... it’s very dynamic,” says Christine Ofulue, a linguist at the National Open University of Nigeria. “It develops and builds vocabulary very quickly. There is a lot of wordplay.”

Pidgin’s humor and inventiveness do, indeed, seem at home in Lagos, which vies with Cairo as Africa's largest city, and which is home to some 15 million people living by their wits. Jobless youths charge commuters for driving down their streets and pounce in gridlock traffic to forcefully wash cars. During this year’s voter registration drive, they bagged the first places in the lines at dawn and sold them as people arrived. However, as well as raising a smile, pidgin newscasts might also be helping Nigerians to become more politically aware. “My own mother does not understand what the government are saying,” OPJ said, referring to political speeches that are typically in traditional English. "Wazobia helps her understand."

Fela Kuti, Nigeria’s most famous musician, also understood the power of pidgin. Kuti's afrobeat songs, which decried the corrupt dictators of the 1970s and 1980s, used pidgin lyrics to spread a message to the masses about leaders who "passy passy" cash. Some Nigerian academics are thus calling for pidgin to be made an official language. “We want to change the perception that this is a bastardisation of English,” says Ofulue, one of a small team of academics who are putting together the first pidgin dictionary and orthography. “This is a language in its own right ... it has its own systems. It has all the tenses and pronouns.” For most Nigerians, pidgin is still looked down on as the medium of the uneducated. Fluent English means better job prospects — especially as Nigeria hopes to follow India’s example and tap into the lucrative market for call centers.

However, for OPJ, pidgin has catapulted his career to new heights. He spent 16 years speaking the "Queen’s English" at state-owned radio stations and gained relatively little renown. At this interview at a burger bar in Lagos, he is recognized by many and high-fives passing fans. “Every day at my old station, after my broadcast, they would play the tapes back and my boss would say: ‘You misused this adjective, your pronunciation was wrong.' It was called ‘radio cleaning,’” he recalls. “But, in just 18 months at Wazobia, I’ve become more popular and famous than during my 16 years elsewhere.”

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bangladesh: gender violence - again.

Another case of acid violence in Bangladesh. Why? Complex socio-cultural (psychological?) reasons.  A beautiful young wife, mother, Fulbright scholar -  burned, blinded by her husband. Read Rumana Manzur's story from Global Post. Read about ways to help through the Acid Survivors Foundation; for another look at gender inequality and violence in South Asia read Social injustice: gender violence in Asia.

Rumana Manzur beaten, blinded by husband
Denise Ryan, Postmedia News: Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rumana Manzur, 33, a Fulbright scholar from Bangladesh completing a master's degree at UBC, was savagely beaten and blinded in Bangladesh by her husband.
Rumana Manzur, 33, a Fulbright scholar from Bangladesh completing a master's degree at UBC, was savagely beaten and blinded in Bangladesh by her husband.
Photo Credit: Handout, Special to the Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER — Family and friends of a celebrated University of British Columbia scholar who was savagely beaten and blinded in Bangladesh by her husband are calling for justice. Rumana Manzur, 33, was a Fulbright scholar from Bangladesh, completing a master's degree at UBC. In May, she returned to Bangladesh to visit her five-year-old daughter and husband. Shortly after her return, Manzur's husband attacked her. Syeed Hasan allegedly gouged her eyes out with his fingers and chewed part of her nose off in front of their young daughter, during a bitter argument over her education.
Manzur was slated to return to UBC in August to complete a thesis on climate change.

Marleen deRuiter, a St. John's College residence roommate of Manzur's, described her as very devout, cheerful, caring and a doting mother who called her daughter every day in Bangladesh. "She is very, very upset that she will never see her daughter again and there is a possibility that her husband will get away with it," said deRuiter. Saif Islam, a UBC student who works on behalf of Bangladeshi students at UBC, has been in contact with Manzur's family. Islam said that Manzur's husband attempted to evade the police, then defended his actions by accusing Manzur of having an affair. Manzur appeared on Bangladeshi television from her hospital bed to defend herself against her husband's accusations and plead for justice.
The accusations of an affair have outraged her family and friends, and Islam published an open letter from Bangladeshi families in Vancouver condemning the "baseless" assault on her character.

Islam said her husband, who is unemployed, attacked and blinded her to prevent her from continuing her education. Manzur's plight has drawn public protests in Bangladesh, where she was also a professor at the University of Dhaka.
"After protests in Bangladesh, and from St. John's College, he admitted he made up (the accusations of infidelity)," said Islam. "After assaulting her physically, he assaulted her character." Islam, a PhD student studying domestic violence and women's networks in Bangladesh, said that country only recently passed a law protecting women from domestic violence.
"I have not seen any good enforcement of the law," he said. "I just saw her on TV. Her eyes were covered, part of her nose was taken off by her husband and there are bandages and bruises all over her face and hands." Manzur's parents had her moved briefly to a hospital in India to see if her vision could be saved, but doctors said the damage was too severe, said Islam. Islam and deRuiter say they hope to find a way to get Manzur some treatment in North America to see if her vision can be restored.

UBC president Stephen Toope issued a written statement on Manzur's behalf, stating in part, "This tragic occasion is a poignant marker of the need to work to protect the fundamental human right of all women to pursue education. The allegations that her commitment to her studies was a factor in the attack are of grave concern."
Toope said he has contacted Manzur's parents to offer help and support.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

USA: Land of Opportunity? Chinese, 'yes (maybe)'; Mexicans, (maybe) 'no'

From Worldcrunch, China's 'Born in the USA' Frenzy. Interesting, especially when placed next to Better Lives for Mexicans Cut Allure of Going North from the New York Times. More to come . . .
by: admin

By Zhang Yan
When Liu Li boarded a plane for the United States, she had a little bit of makeup on, was wearing a loose dress, and had her hair up. She tried to hold her handbag in front of her belly in a natural way, just as the middleman had taught her. She was trying to look as calm as any wealthy Chinese lady would look when travelling abroad. But Liu Li couldn’t help feeling terribly nervous: she was six months pregnant when she left for the United States, where she wanted to give birth to an American citizen.

Mongolian herders in China: rights, progress and social identity

Like many pastoral peoples around the world, herders in Mongolia struggle to maintain their ethnic identity and lifestyle while the world around both changes and encroaches on their traditional lands. This article in the New York Times, Ethnic Protests in China have Lengthy Roots, updates their economic and political situation. Will their survival depend on being 'less Mongolian' and 'more 'Han Chinese'? Such disparate peoples as the Tinkers of Ireland, the !Kung of the Kalahari Desert and the Bedouin in Israel, Jordan and Egypt have struggled to maintain economic solvency and social, familial and religious traditions as minority peoples in the nations in which they reside. The Mongolians also find their livelihood threatened by a recent rise in average temperatures (see video above). While policies enacted by the Chinese to settle the traditionally nomadic Mongolians have led to educational opportunities, this move had also contributed to increased levels of poverty, environmental degradation and a loss of social traditions, including their language.

For a look at the link between language and culture, try Pidgin and culture in Nigeria.
To read about other indigenous peoples and the environmental, social and economic impact of 'progress,' try:

The Irish Tinkers: the urbanization of an itinerant people by George Gmelch
Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers: studies of the !Kung San and their neighbors by Richard Lee
Writing Women's Worlds: Bedouin stories by Lila Abu-Lughod

Sim Chi Yin for The New York Times
“We feel lost without our herds and the grassland,” said Uyung, left, with her husband, Suyaltu, at the small canteen they run in a town in Damao Banner, China.