Archive for May, 2010

I am not starstruck: why you don’t see Salukis on the street

May 23, 2010

A friend of mine, a fellow dog groomer, opened a small shop in what is known as a fashionable part of town.  I helped her move some stuff, so she invited me out for coffee.  I hesitated, because I had my dogs—a Saluki and a Whippet—in the car.  Well, my friend knew of an outdoor cafe a block from her store, so I got the blanket out of the trunk (for the dogs to lay on), and we walked over to a little place & sat down and ordered coffee.

We had been there a few minutes, just chatting, when  a voice I recognized said, “Excuse me, what kind of dog is that?”  The voice belonged to…let’s just say a well known talk show host/actress/producer…also known for collecting dogs.  She is a jet setter, owns several homes, and has someone managing her ‘kennel’.   I am not sure how many dogs she has right now.  I know it’s more than two, because I know who grooms those dogs.  In grooming, it is a small world.

What are the odds?  Well, she owns a condo not far from where we were having coffee.  She also had another  celebrity with her.  He just smiled.

I hesitated.  I always do when  anyone asks me about Dazzle, my Saluki.  Too many people get dogs because they like how the dog looks, without any regard to the dog’s temperament or personality.  This happened to Afghan Hounds in the late 1960s and through the 1970s.  So many dogs  emotionally and physically abused by total idiots who wanted a ‘cool dog’.  Ugh!

So I lied.  I said, “He’s a  greyhound mix.”

My friend, who turned out to be starstruck, said, “Oh, Robyn!  He is not a mix! He’s a Saluki!”

I just felt sick.  When someone famous wants your breed, it can be the start of the ruination of it.

The celebrity said, “Why didn’t you want to  say what kind of dog  this is?”

I took a deep breath , hesitated to collect my thoughts, and said, “When I first became interested in dogs, I was not attracted to this breed.  But I work with dogs, and got to know a lot of dogs, and spend time with purebred dogs, and the more I learned about this breed, the more I saw that this breed suited me.  But they are not for everyone.  They tend to be aloof. They are not cuddly. They are quiet, often shy.  They love their people.  They don’t like crowds, or many other dogs, but they  like other sighthounds like themselves.”

“You work with dogs, ” she said.

“Yes, we are groomers.  My friend here owns a small shop  a few blocks away.

“Your groomer, Billy, used to work for me!”  my friend added.

There was a moment of awkward silence.

“I have several dogs,” the celebrity said.

“Yes, we know,” my friend and I said in unison.  Then we laughed.

I could see the celebrity was somewhat speechless.

“I don’t often bring the dogs out in public because I know he is really a traffic stopper.  But he is more than that to me.  The breed is more than that to me. They  don’t all have such pretty heads. They aren’t all well-behaved in public.  But they  all are very sensitive, and most of us who become owners have owned Afghan Hounds or another sighthound, and we know what we are getting into.  When people choose a dog for a pet because they like how the dog looks, without researching how the breed is as a pet, many  end up unwanted, and irresponsible breeders  add to the number of unwanted pets.  I don’t want to be any part of that.  In fact, I know you are a supporter of  an animal shelter in this area, and have gotten several purebred dogs from that shelter.  I also know you weren’t told the complete truth about how they got those puppies.  Were it not for ethical hobby breeders, there would be no purebred dogs. , and when ethical breeders accidentally sell  their dogs to people who have lied to them, and try to get the dogs back before they are surrendered to shelters, and the shelters refuse to give the puppies back to the breeders willing to be responsible for them, because the shelter  decision makers know they can get publicity placing those dogs with a celebrity…it is not rescue. Those shelters are as bad as puppy mills.”

“Thank you for the information,” the celebrity said, and walked away.

I was shaking with  outrage, and my friend said, “Good for you for telling her the truth.”

“I don’t think I will ever take Dazzle out in public ever again,”  I said. ” Too risky.”

Through Asian Eyes

May 14, 2010

“What is zat ?”  I hear my roommate call to me from the pantry.  I know exactly what he is talking about.  It’s a Tupperware container filled with a noodle casserole.  My tenants left it in the freezer.  I know it’s edible.  I used to be embarrassed by my picky eating habits. Then, I became a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Now, if it isn’t moving, I’ll at least taste it.

My roommate really isn’t so bad.  He’ll try  most things.  But of course, he likes slimy, rubbery textured stuff, & I go for the crispy.  We have our ‘cultural differences’.  You haven’t lived until you’ve seen someone eat soup with a fork. Guess that’s why the Japanese are so thin.

His secretary described him to me as quiet & I wondered if we are talking about the same guy.  He has no problem expressing an opinion.  When he could barely speak English, I had gone to pick him up, and I was describing the   unexpected roadblocks around Northwestern University, and I guess I was getting agitated.  He interrupted me and said, “You are about to start yelling in five minutes.”

What? I do believe I was, and I just burst out laughing.

When Kunihiro came to live with me, I could understand his English, and  tried to  learn more about his interests.  You learn a language faster when you want to speak about what interests you.  I learned he was interested in  space, science fiction, cars, and computers.  I also learned that he was very tolerant.

He told me that he found Americans, “…loud, rude, fat, and you spit when you speak.”  Guilty!

What really got him going was how I took care of my car... or didn’t.   I knew I had a leak somewhere, and he  told me because I had not taken care of it in a timely fashion, I destroyed the car.  He  made it clear to me that I  didn’t deserve to own a car.  He loves his car.  He makes sure his car is always in tip top shape.

I helped him buy his first car, which I now own.  He needed a car to get to work, so I took him to Carmax.  I told him, “”It’s a little more expensive, but they have a fixed price, It’s no haggle.  They also guarantee the car for 30 days.  They’ll also pro9bably give you credit. ”  Which they did.  He has since bought 2 more cars from Carmax (the 2nd car was stolen off our parking pad in the middle of the night. They  ultimately found the chassis. So, he had to buy  the 3rd car).

Kunihiro  used to ask me about ‘The God.”  I don’t know what to say, as I am agnostic.  I tried to explain it as good marketing—better marketing than the science community does.  He told me that it seemed to him that the  overly religious people did more sinning (cheating on spouses, sexually abusing children, lying, cheating) than the nonreligious do.  Hmm…he has a point—but the perception could be due to media reports.

He is generally very thrifty, but that could be because he’s a guy—and an engineer.  Or it could be just him.

Every day is an adventure to him.   Our thought process and actions are an endless topic of conversation.  He is  very amused by all the scams people get away with.  I just remind him that this is what we call a ‘free country’ and  if it’s not specifically illegal—it’s legal.

The Ironies of Peace Corps

May 5, 2010

I was kicked out of Peace Corps.    Or, rather, my  position was closed early.  This happened because I was caught  DOING MY JOB.  No kidding.

I’ve been thinking of addressing this for  a long time.  It was a “bittersweet” experience, as they say.  I has been planning  to write about this, and  a recent college graduate  who has been thinking of  joining Peace Corp, thinking about an assignment in southern Africa,  was wondering about the experience.

Peace Corps is NOT in the  development business.  In fact, there is really no articulated mission statement that Peace Corps  promotes.  All they really use are sound bites and promotional slogans (“The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love,”  “Life is Calling, ”  that kind of thing).  In fact,  during out very brief stateside training for ombudsmen (none of us were teachers in my group, we were either medical professionals,  accountant/business development  specialists, or technical assistance providers), we were told that  when Peace Corps was sending  the first volunteers in the 1960s, volunteers were given ‘anti Communist’ (with a capital ‘C’) training, but told virtually nothing about  the  recent history of the country they were going to.  It was up to volunteers to learn on their own—and it still is.

This wouldn’t matter at all except that VSO—Volunteer Service Overseas—the European equivalent of Peace Corps, and the Japanese Volunteer  ARE  development volunteers, and see themselves  as such.  More sophisticated?  Less naive?  A more articulated mission?

In fact,  a high per centage of PCV  return to go to graduate school,  their own personal missions more defined, and with a more sophisticated view of what it means to volunteer and provide value as a human being to other humans.

Because I had  gone on a safari in Tanzania about 15 years before  volunteering, and had  gone to college  because of what I wanted to learn about the world, I did have a clearer view of my own role.  I was not going to  bring enlightenment or change things.  I kept telling my counterparts (I had 2 junior counterparts, and one at my  government grade level—unusual, as most volunteers  have just 1) that it was their country.  I could offer the pros and cons on decisions, but  ultimately—they had to make the decisions.  That said, it was because my  ‘grade level’ counterpart left unexpectedly for ‘further training’ in Israel, I was thrust into the politically sensitive position.

Peace Corps Volunteers are not supposed to be in politically sensitive positions, but  that’s what I was assigned:  to be a town planner  in the largest city   in Malawi:  Blantyre.  Briefly, I uncovered some major corruption that involved waste of water infrastructure.  It was affecting  economic development (job creation).  I got threatened by a Host Country National because I  sort of exposed his scam, and he happened to be a government employee.  He actually called the  Peace Corps Country Director, and threatened my life.  So, they sent me home. Only a few people knew the reason I was being sent home.  I has seen 3 medical personnel who had come in with me—quit—due to frustration at not having any resources, and no counterparts to train.  What kept me going was my counterparts.  They knew what was going on, but it would have been their lives on the line.  It was easier for ME  to say, “ The emperor isn’t wearing anything!”

I wrote about this for a paper I delivered to the African Studies Assoc. in the 1990s.  The German aid organization, GTZ, had donated the water infrastructure for both Blantyre  and Lilongwe, and there was plenty  available for  residential housing  AND  industrial development.  I mean, there was, before the Asians (mostly from West India) built their lavish housing over it.  I asked the British ODA (Overseas Development Authority—their USAID), who had been administering the town planning departments for Malawi, why they had allowed this…& never got a straight answer.  While they were ‘coordinating’ services for the Government of Malawi, it was inferred that the Asian business people had paid off the Malawi Congress Party.  But since this is inferred information, & there are no real records, it’s hard to tell.

So, in the process of looking for infrastructure maps, and not approving  illegal development plans, I sort of stumbled over how this worked—or didn’t— for the citizens of Malawi.

My  local alumni group, the Chicago Area Peace Corps Assoc. does not keep Returned Volunteers.  It is mostly a networking group for  recently RETURNED volunteers, those looking for jobs, or life partners.  They can be very insensitive to cultural differences, and I shudder to think how they  acted in the countries they served in.  For example, they  planned a volunteering event not only with a religious based organization, but on a Jewish Holiday.

It was another irony.  Most  Peace Corps Volunteers are Christian.   We nonChristians are used to accommodating the rest of the world.  A fellow Jew emailed me about how they planned a volunteer event on the first night of Passover, and it started a whole big defensive thing including the   politically correct responses as well as some rude ones.  Well, what can you expect?

I found, when I served, that  most PCV did not have a view of  contributing to the betterment of the world, but  were looking for adventure, or a spouse.  Peace Corps Volunteers are regularly assualted, raped, sometimes killed.  Granted, the ‘Third World’ is NOT a safe place, but Peace Corps Staff tends to brush off the negatyive.

The prospective volunteer asked if I’d do it again.  I told her that if I could swing it economically, I would.  Where else are you going to get an all-expense paid trip to live overseas, complete with health insurance—if you have virtually no overseas living experience. There are companies that ‘acculturate’ corporate employees who  are being ‘assigned overseas, but generally, they live in middle class enclaves with servants. There is nothing like living in  the communities, living with regular people , bargaining at the market.  You learn about yourself and your role in community affairs. You learn what works and what doesn’t.  Well, you can if you want to.  Or you can insulate yourself and hang with ‘ex-pats’ and ignore your hosts.