For those of you who were at my reading last night at Kaffee Burger, many thanks for the support and the laughter.
But things were a bit more serious on the other side of town at The American Academy. US Attorney General, Eric Holder, was seeking Europe's support in closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Concretely, the Obama administration wants Europe to take in some of the detainees currently being held there.
It's asking a lot, for sure. But not just because Europe was against Gitmo from the very beginning, protesting the illegality of the joint long before the use of torture was confirmed.
It's asking a lot of Europe because the Obama Administration doesn't want to prosecute those responsible for torturing Gitmo detainees (read suspects). America is asking a continent that hunts down and prosecutes former heads of state at The Hague, a continent that is still convicting criminals of WWII (who say they were also "just following orders"), to overlook this absence of justice.
Whether or not this administration opened Gitmo, it is this administration's responsibility to see that justice is served.
It's the right thing to close Gitmo. But walking the walk means bringing the guilty to justice.
***Another thought a few hours later: I'm guessing that Barack Obama the man, the lawyer, the admirer and teacher of the American constitution is probably often at conflict with the president of the US. If his administration were to prosecute Rumsfeld, Cheney and others, he could certainly forget about passing any piece of legislation with the votes of Republicans in Congress (and probably even some Democrats). Hmm, are true politics compatible with a higher ground?
Not that I could afford to buy a ticket right now anyway, but there is a warning for those of us here in Europe to avoid travel to the United States. Although I'm in a culture that carves pigs out of marzipan for good luck charms called Glückschwein, the only thing that comes to mind right now when someone mentions a pig, is the Swine Flu that is spreading across the world at an alarming rate.
But what's spreading even faster are conspiracy theories about the virus' origin and the fact that a vaccine is already available. Whether questioning a profit motive for the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the vaccine or suspecting a government distraction from the financial crisis, the theories run the gamut.
I'm not one to automatically dismiss conspiracy theories because they force us to question everything, including the theories themselves. That, I think, is ultimately not a bad thing. And let's be serious, eight years of Bush, a war fought with bogus intentions, a quickly forgotten Anthrax scare, a government that lied about political prisoners and torture (the list can so go on) has led many people--regardless of nationality--to be downright paranoid about the truth in any piece of information released by government entities.
The problem is, people are really dying and as the virus spreads to random areas of the world, the conspiracy theories become either much harder to fathom or more likely to be true.
What do you think?
Like many parents, mine spent a pretty penny on braces so that I could have perfect teeth. I wore braces for six years and was so happy to have all that metal out of my mouth that I chucked the retainer in a drawer somewhere.
Shortly after college, a gap began forming between my two front teeth. It was so slight that I didn't worry about it. But it grew over time and I can now probably fit about three to four dimes in there. It bothers me but a very close friend of mine, who is Taiwanese, said to me today, "Oh, is that not considered beautiful here? I can never keep track?"
"What do you mean?" I asked her.
"What Europeans think is beautiful or not, I have no idea. Kaila's ears (her daughter)stick out and that is considered beautiful in Taiwan. There, people are proud when their kids have ears that stick out. But when she was a baby and I took her to a German pediatrician for the first time, he told me that our insurance would cover an operation to basically pin back her ears. He called it a 'cosmetic deformity'."
"Really?" I said? "The insurance would pay for that? I don't get it?"
"Because," she said, "it could lead to psychological distress for her to grow up with ears like that. Even Sven (her German husband) thinks we should have them fixed."
I can hardly imagine this because Kaila is one of the most beautiful and perfect children I have ever seen.
"So do you want to do it?" I asked. "You know, the surgery to change her ears?"
"No," she gasped. "There is nothing to fix. Besides, she might want to live in Taiwan one day."
I was sitting in my yoga center's cafe waiting for my class to begin when another woman sat down at my table. It's common in Europe for people to share a table even if they are not together, especially in an overcrowded cafe. I have started to get used to this custom but I still have the need to have a conversation with the person sitting so close to me.
The silence between us made me uncomfortable so I commented on the woman's tattoos, colorful scenes of a rain forest with very green frogs, multicolored parrots and intricately detailed ferns.
"The color is amazing," I said. "Do you have to use a special cream or something to keep the color so intense?"
"No," she said. "But it would never work on your skin."
"Ok," I said.
"I can't tell you how many times I've had to tell dark people in my shop that they simply won't get this kind of color definition. But do they listen? No. So I give them a color tattoo and the colors turn muddy because they've been mixed in with the brown skin and then they're disappointed. That's why I tell them to stick to black, you know, like just black. You're not exactly pitch black but you still wouldn't get this color."
I nodded. For the record, I have no tattoos and have no interest in getting one.
"I mean," she continued, "Yellow, like a bright yellow would look fantastic on your skin. You people look great in bright colors! But it's just not gonna happen, you know. Ok, yeah, if I could first bleach your skin then tattoo it yellow, ok, if that were like, possible. But sorry, it's just not gonna happen."
In German, there is an expression that translates as "it serves you right." Selber Schuld.
Next time I'll just sit in silence.
Regardless of how much (or how little) money our parents had, growing up in America with Haitian parents involved regular visits to the money transfer to send cash to a Tante Marie or an Oncle Claude or the cousin of a cousin we only knew from pictures. Haitrexco slips poked out of my mother's purse, which she kept in bulk, just in case she needed to quickly send money back home.
It's what immigrants in America do. They earn not just for their immediate families but for the relatives they have left behind. According to this article in The Washington Post, immigrants in America send $69 billion per year to their families outside of the US. Haitians send about $1.7 billion back home but with the current economic crisis and soaring unemployment, families aren't in the position to send what they once could, if anything at all.
Hillary Clinton, who visited Haiti yesterday, wants to propose allowing illegal Haitians in America provisionary visa status so that they can continue working to send money back home. Another plan is to allow for duty free exports of Haitian garments so that vendors have a chance at earning something.
From what I can see here, the measures seem like steps in the right direction. Obviously, the American government wants to ward off a major influx of Haitians coming by boat but I have to say that I like the attention to fair trade. How often is it reported that poverty in developing countries could be virtually wiped out if people in those countries weren't exploited by unfair trade policies?
For you experts and sympathizers of Haiti and the Caribbean. . .is the new Obama/Clinton policy on Haiti a step in the right direction? Or are there some trap doors I'm not seeing?
I'll never forget when an African college professor of mine scolded the white women in my literature seminar. The women, from mostly wealthy backgrounds, were criticizing the practice of female circumcision. I also expressed disgust and horror and got my own dose of our professor's reprimanding. This was back in 1992.
Our professor, a well-respected, well-published wise woman from Nigeria, told us we were being ignorant and biased. She said we weren't in the position to judge a tradition that comes from cultures so different from our own privileged western one.
Mind you, I attended a very liberal, very feminist oriented college so this came off as betrayal from a female professor. But in those days, politically correct behavior was the law of the land. And this particular professor was hired after a sit-in demanding more racial diversity in hiring practices had shut down the campus.
So when this African professor told white women that it was not fair of them to criticize the unnecessary, cruel, sexist and barbaric practice of mutilating young women, they felt silent, because they were unsure of which sin was greater?
Today I read that ten villages in Niger denounced female circumcision. I thought back to that professor. Did she change her perspective over time? Does she now feel a sense of relief that the denunciation is not only coming from the west?
Maybe now she doesn't have to use culture as an excuse.
"Isn't this gorgeous weather?" My German neighbor stops to chat with me while walking her dog. "Especially with everything in full bloom."
Watery-eyed and in mid sneeze I reply, "Yeah, it's pretty but--aaaaccchhhchoooo! It gets my ahhh, (sniffle), allergies going."
"You have allgergies?" she asks.
"You have allergies?" I stare blankely. "Why do you have allergies? I thought dark people never get allergies?"
"What?" I ask her. (But thinking WTF!)
"I thought you were immune to everything. A dark person with allergies, now that's a new one." She chuckles and shakes her head. "Now I've heard everything."
I am too congested to comment. Enlightenment, anyone? Where do you think she got this?
Photo: Free Photo
This morning my son was playing a hand-rhyme game. My husband smiled upon hearing it and he joined in with my son.
Once again, a memory of my husband's childhood was re-visited by our son and they were bonded by the tradition.
As an ex-pat parent, this happens a little differently. I find out the songs my kids are learning in daycare and I ask for the German text or I look it up on the Internet. Sometimes I simply ask a German relative (often my mother-in-law) to review the text, rhyme or idiom with me.
I sometimes feel like a stranger amongst all these German boys in my house. I teach my kids the English songs and rhymes that I know, but they aren't as fresh in my mind because I don't hear them anywhere. This was one of the reasons we joined an English speaking playgroup near us. But it's not the same as having a child come home singing songs you remember from your childhood.
Plus, all the American songs I learned as a kid didn't resonate with my parents because they were immigrants, too. Believe me, my mother is not going to remember the words to "I'm a Little Teapot" if my son asks, because she had a hard enough time remembering the words when I was a kid.
Being an ex-pat parent requires a double, active effort, if you're interested in maintaining any part of your culture.
Thankfully, tomorrow morning I can just go with the flow. Germans and Americans will be hiding Easter Eggs in their yards. Nothing to memorize there.
My children are home from daycare this week and I'm experiencing that "Oh-my-god-what-the-hell-was-I-thinking-when-I-had-kids" as I listen to tantrums, fighting, complaining, whining, sniffling, screaming for the sake of screaming and a noise level that is surely a form of torture in some political prison camp somewhere.
Oddly, I have yet to meet a German mother who actually admits to thinking such thoughts. There is crazy pressure put on mothers here if they go back to work too soon, or put their kids in synthetic fibers or don't give their kids organic food. They tend not to yell at their kids (in public), spanking is a serious crime and never, ever, has a German woman admitted to me, "Yeah, well, I love em' but there are some days. . ."
It's not that I sit around wishing my children away. But dayum, sometimes it's just nice to honestly commiserate with another mom. I've found my German counterparts simply resign themselves to a very specific mother role and sometimes they overplay the part.
Take our visit today to the doctor's office as an example, (yes, my children tend to get sick during holiday breaks) I noticed all the mothers wearing what looked like gardening clothes. Seriously, one woman had shoes that I swear I saw on a geriatric ad. Don't get me wrong, I believe in comfort clothing and being practical, especially with kids. But do mothers have to look like they're about to clean out the garage?
One German mom that I know told me recently that "German mothers are probably the least attractive women in the world." Seriously, this came out of her mouth. I refrained from comment and then she continued, "But we prioritize. You know, we focus more attention on our kids and not ourselves. That's what motherhood is about."
"Well," I said, "I think there ought to be some kind of balance, don't you? I mean, don't you think you'll end up being resentful if you don't do anything for you? You know, like buying yourself a cute pair of boots, or having some fun with girlfriends?" (I didn't go there with the career topic, that is a whole other post about why most German moms don't work).
"Of course, I just mean that children need their mothers."
"Absolutely," I said. "But mothers also need daycare!"
I have to agree with the judge on this one.
I don't have issues with Madonna adopting an African child. She has done a lot for the nation of Malawi and certainly a lot more for poor children than most of her critics have.
But in this case, the judge here is saying, "Wait, there are residency requirements before a child can be adopted. Why shouldn't Madonna have to follow them?" I agree.
What does Madonna really know about Malawi? Does she know what it is like to live there? When her already adopted Malawian son one day asks her about his background there, how much can she share with him?
I am not against trans cultural adoptions. But I do think parents taking a child out of his/her surroundings and putting him/her into a completely new environment should be done with more consideration about the upheaval the child is facing by 1) coming into a new family 2) coming into a new culture.
The little girl Madonna wants to adopt is three years-old. My twins are three and I see how much of who they are is already developed and how rooted they are in the surroundings they have known for the last three years.
That said, kids are flexible and resilient. I simply think Madonna should be more global-minded about the responsibility she is taking on. She should, in my opinion, move to Malawi for the time period the judge is demanding (at least 18 months) and really experience the country, the language, its people and traditions, before she takes a child from that culture and shows her a new world. She owes it to the child.
Photo: Pan African Newswire
I don't know how many posts about gun violence I'll have to write in my blog. I only started this adventure in December of 2008 and, so far, this is my second entry about a person randomly shooting strangers as they assumed to live their lives the way we all do: They got up in the morning, they left their homes, they walked down the street, they entered a public building.
What is particularly disturbing about this case, in which immigrants were taking an American citizenship test when they were killed, is that the victims were walking down new streets, avenues toward a better life. They were securing a future in a country which, despite all of its faults and contradictions, is still a nation proud to be built by immigrants. A country whose leader is a child of a Kenyan immigrant. A country that is still one of the strongest upholders of personal freedoms, including the pursuit of happiness.
The freedom to be killed while you sit in a public space is not a liberty America or any country should be proud of.
Yesterday in London, all hell broke loose when protesters smashed in windows at the Bank of England and fought with riot police. They are not images foreign to any G-X summit, but this year, there is a different venom in the air.
Since George W. Bush announced that American banks needed to be "bailed out" I have long wondered when I might start seeing videos like this in America, on Wall Street? I am in no way condoning violence but I do ask myself how much more regular citizens are going to put up with before there is some sort of a revolution?
When one considers the let-them-eat-cake behavior of American banks, it's amazing that people can peacefully walk anywhere in downtown Manhattan? In London, bankers were told not to wear suits, to keep their identity on the down low.
I won't be surprised to see more images similar to those in this BBC video, but I wonder if it is merely G-X protests hyped by the economic crisis or is it the beginning of a revolution?