Archive for January, 2016

The Blog About Going Back to Africa

January 29, 2016
a colorized version of G.P. Murdock's ethnic map of Africa

a colorized version of G.P. Murdock’s ethnic map of Africa

One of my friends said I had to write about this, as just arranging this trip has been an adventure.  I was  a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi in 1992.  I was a town planner. Peace Corps Volunteers are not supposed to be in politically sensitive positions, and I  actually tried getting another agency (NGO) to pick me up, but the times were  pretty tense, as the European Community was leaning heavily on Hastings Banda (Kamuzu) to allow multi-party elections and a free press.

My job was actually development control…and I was briefly given an assignment  financed by UN Development Programme to organize residents of traditional housing areas (that is, residents of urban communities which allowed  squatter housing, or housing that would not pass building codes) to  have control over their water supply…but that didn’t work out due to the Malawi Congress Party, as well as the Europeans leaning on Banda, and the funding was withdrawn in about four weeks.

In any case, I lived in Blantyre and  at one point, the  Government of Malawi —at least through the office of President and Cabinet, wanted me to take  an illegal action and confiscate some land people had title to.  So, it was stressful.  But now it is  over 20 years later, and I want to not only see how things are, but I want to visit some projects I’ve been supporting (Zambian Children’s Fund in Chishawasha, a bit outside of Lusaka), the Lilongwe SPCA, and the Malawi Children’s Village  outside Mangochi.  I will also visit several other projects, and Victoria Falls in southern Zambia.

 

I paid for the airfare ($1268.36, Emirates Air) back at the end of June, 2015. Yes, the airfare has gone down a bit over $200 since, because the price of fuel has fallen…but that could not be guaranteed, so I really didn’t overpay that much, and I spend the night in Dubai.

Doing research on getting transport had taken up a lot of time, as you can’t get any info  directly from the bus companies, or it contradicts what everyone posts on TripAdvisor and ThornTree/Lonely Planet.  That’s how it is. Unless you  join a formal tour company for a ‘safari’, which is extremely expensive these days, you have to be flexible about how you plan to get around. Thankfully, all the NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) now have websites, and their people are very helpful about telling you where to stay and how to get there.  I will get into the itinerary.

I knew I had to get a visa for Zambia ($70 plus the certified letter costs), and I actually was thinking of going to Hong Kong this time  because I didn’t want to have to get another Yellow Fever shot—which was required for some time for visas to either Zambia or Malawi.  A Yellow Fever shot (I’ve had 3) will make you quite sick, and is not cheap—you have to go to a  specific travel medical center to get one, and they not only charge about $150 for the shot, but  $$$ for ‘overhead’.  No thanks.

So I sent my passport off to the Zambian Embassy, and it took them  about  two weeks, or did it?  I sent it USPS certified mail, and I got a notice that it was returned, but since I was not home, I had to go to the post office and stand in line…and then, it turned out the   mail person had ‘forgotten’ to take it out of the bag, so they told me they would deliver it the next day…and did not, so I had to go back on Monday, now having no receipt because I had signed it over, and they found it.  It was very stressful.

So, I’m set, just have to pack, but I am on Facebook (Peace Corps Malawi feed) & someone posts last week : “has anyone tried to get a visa to Malawi now that the rules have changed?” What?  A visa had not been needed for Americans or Europeans  since independence, but now the reciprocal deal is  that if  your country charges their nationals for a visa, they charge you (&  the US charges about $160 to Malawians)…so I tried emailing the embassy in Washington, DC, and none of their email addresses are  good. I downloaded the  application forms, and left a message—and the embassy called me back!  They said I could NOT get a visa at the border, to send my passport Fed-Ex and they would  process it & send it back!  So, that was $100 + the $55 to get it there and back.  HOWEVER, I will point out that the official Malawian Tourism site—run by the government—still has the old, inaccurate information on it.  What are you going to do?   What ended up happening is that I sent it, tried to track it, it got to the embassy, and…sat there because of the huge blizzard.  Most embassy offcies were closed, but I left a message and they told me a few people had gone in and would send it back tomorrow.

I’ve budgeted about  $3000 total for this trip. Some places are set up to take credit cards, which is good, and food and transport are still inexpensive by American standards.This is a 20 day trip including  air transit days. Minus the air fare, that’s $86 a day.  Can I do it?  We’ll see.

Big problem is  I am taking a lot of stuff to leave there. About  five  pounds of fabric to be made into clothes,  about 10 pounds of books  as gifts, and other odds & ends.  I never anticipate bringing that much stuff back, but if i can find  bone or malachite jewelry—or bowls, that would be nice.

So, this will be the last blog for a while.I will be spending all my energy getting around.

 

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A ‘New’ Economy

January 22, 2016
Topiary and horticulture are skills that you can make a living doing!

Topiary and horticulture are skills that you can make a living doing!

Many of ‘middle class’ working people have  heard stories from older relatives, not just about walking miles to school, but sleeping  with 5 siblings in 1 bed, right?  That their parents were poor, and their clothes were all hand-me-downs, but  everyone struggled.  They all went to school and kept going to school or learned a skill.

The ‘new’ poor are different.  It continues to shock me that a woman would trust a man to support her, and have three kids and have the  sire (dad) end up in jail, dead, or just leave with no obligation.  Now, I know I, personally, come from a family of women who  made it a point to  learn about birth spacing and birth control, and many women do not, and our school systems (particularly the religious ones) do not inform girls of their options.  But the result is another generation of poor people.  Who benefits?  The retail industry, which pays low wages.

Or, how about the woman who had 1 child.  she was doing ok until that 1 child became a drug addict or otherwise invalid, but she bore a child, and now the grandmother has to support them all?    Nobody says to the young mother, “Find a way to bring in some cash.”  No, what  grandma says is that she’ll apply for a housing voucher and get them all a bigger place to live.

Then, we all end up resenting them, not the overpaid people who set up these systems.

Lots of people are down on public education.  Teachers are poorly trained, they don’t have enough resources.  In urban schools, classes are not just overcrowded, but the odds are that  some students will have learning ‘disabilities’ or be disruptive, and slow the whole class down.  Couple that dynamic with  poor acoustics and cold schools…it’s amazing kids learn to read and write.

We are in crisis, and have to come up with more alternatives to educate our citizens.  Really, kids should learn basics of math/reading/writing by the time they are in 6th grade—that’s about age  11 or 12.  Actually, with the internet, there are so many more options and ways of learning kids can be exposed to.    This has to be, because once they start ‘maturing’ and hormones take over, that’s another distraction.   Also, can you imagine growing up in the foster  care system, having your life disrupted every few weeks or months?

Girl Scouts helped me so much.  I learned about cooperation, planning, and raising money for projects.  We have to support more of that.

This is also why we have to support public education.  If our kids are not  exposed to  all the ‘actors’ in their economy, we can’t come up with realistic solutions to community problem.

Yet, our politicians keep bloviating, and are making the teachers unions the devil.  Face it, there are  very few advocacy groups for children’s’ education.

I hope readers will share this on Facebook and start a public discussion on this. I don’t have kids, but these are future citizens/decision makers  I am worried about.

If I won the lottery…

January 15, 2016

Dash&meNov14There was recently a lottery prize that was worth over a billion dollars (or whatever it is after taxes….a lot of zeroes).  I don’t play the lottery.  I am not a gambler. I like to think I take calculated risks.  However, what would I  do if I had the  money  Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have?

1.  Pay off my mortgage and make a few cosmetic repairs to my house. It’s over 100 years old.  It’s not really laid out well, but it is in an excellent location, being steps from public transportation and Lake Michigan;

2. Set up a fund for the youngsters in my extended family to either pay for school or a business venture.  However…not to pay for something  frivolous. They’d have to submit a plan.  You can study philosophy or art history after you can earn a living doing something (more on that later…);

3.Set up a fund to assist OPEN  ADMISSIONS ANIMAL SHELTERS so they could care for all pets, not pick and choose who gets saved. That said, this fund would also fund humane education which would teach people interested about animal behavior and husbandry, pet training and grooming, but also on  affecting social policy, so we  could address the mindset that just because you have  just one dog (or cat, or whatever) to breed, it doesn’t mean you should not be responsible for the offspring.   I’d work to  create a fund to  make it a state law that says that if you advertise baby animals for sale,  humane people visit you to collect a ‘humane fee’, and so we have your contact info  (meanwhile chipping the animals for sale…) …so if the pets you sell  are given up, you either take them back or pay a humane group to take care of your responsibility;

4. Potable water is a huge problem in much of the world.  There are many reasons for this:  population growth, deforestation…and fracking.  I’d not only fund getting the word out, but I’d sink wells or develop rain water catchment systems in areas where the population agreed to make girls education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) a priority, and fund  that.  Too many resources have gone into boys…and look what a mess men have made of everything;

5.  I’d also fund a ‘No Birth Bonus Scheme’ in  these locations—paying women to not have more than 2 children.  There is NOT enough water to go around.  I’m not talking sterilization or abortion, I’m talking women making a choice  about resources;

6.  I’d put together a venture capital firm to help inventors with prototypes and patents for appropriate technology and pharmaceuticals;

7.  I’d create a fund so my neighbors could make their housing more energy-efficient and get off the grid;

8.  I’d pay a personal trainer to boss me back into shape.  I am actually pretty strong, but you never push yourself as much as a trainer does;

9.  I’d set up a fund for people with autism to take advantage of the new technologies available which make communication easier.

10.  I’d also set up a  fund for kids aging out of the foster care system, for them to get at least associates degrees or start a business. These are the forgotten in our communities…and often, they are destined to be poor, with  compromised social skills.

I am not much for luxury items.  For me, it’s important to have a functional kitchen, and I love my deep bathtub, but jewels and fancy clothes?  Not me.  I have a travel jones.

So, that’s what I’d do with a windfall.  What would YOU do?

 

 

The California Girl

January 8, 2016

I come from long lived people.
Well, not my mother’s father.  He died in his fifties of kidney disease, years before there was dialysis, or transplants.  I still don’t understand how healthy people suddenly get a malady, but I know it happens.  I believe that with my grandfather, he was probably exposed to solvents, because he was a metal recycler.  But who knows.

My mother died of lung cancer  in her mid forties. No mystery there.  She had smoked for  about 30 years.

My father’s father died  of leukemia in his mid seventies.  However, my grandmother lived into her early nineties, or so I believe.  My father cut her off for nastiness, and she never bothered to maintain a relationship with any of her grandchildren.  Her son, my father, is now  89.

Back on my mother’s side, her mother, my grandmother, lived into her mid nineties, even  surviving a bout of late onset breast cancer (in her  late eighties).  He sister also lived to her late eighties, although she chose to be an invalid for the last  twenty or so years of her life.  She really didn’t want to move or have physical therapy.  She just wanted to watch TV.

I mention all of this because I am now in my sixties, and I lost a dear friend just over a year ago, also in her early sixties. It happened so fast, and she knew it would.

Ch. Scenario Razzle Dazzle, JC as a young dog

Ch. Scenario Razzle Dazzle, JC as a young dog

We had met about  fifteen years earlier at the International Dog Show in Chicago—one of the last benched shows. I  was at the bench, with Dazzle, my Saluki, whom his breeder bemusedly told me I could show.  Janie also had a Saluki.  She was not showing  her dog, but we talked a little, and she  gave me her number and told me to call her if I wanted to get together.

I blogged about her last year.  I never thought she’d get her dog under control, as he was  quite lag and exuberant.  I don’t think Janie was even  five feet tall.  She had  grown up in California,  was a nurse, and had come to the Chicago area  because her husband had gotten a job.  Fred was her second husband.  She had married young, had a daughter, and the first husband ended up in jail.

Janie had had another  Saluki, Zephyr, and  she was just enchanted by the breed.  I am not sure how she found the breeder of the third and fourth Salukis (they were never healthy…never gained weight, and never got along), but  she was always trying to find a veterinarian who could find out  why  they never thrived.  I felt so bad for her, when first Reggie died.  She had

Reggie Wondergem, doing the scent articles at an obedience trial.

Reggie Wondergem, doing the scent articles at an obedience trial.

worked with him, to engage his brain, as well as to title him (he was probably the only Saluki attaining a U.D. in the last decade), then Khan, then Ivory.  But she planned next to get  a Saluki  from both obedience and conformation lines, and she got Ari.

Janie did dog boarding in her house, and some grooming as well.  She took on some tough cases: poorly bred  puppy mill dogs that people had bought or rescued.  She really educated herself about dog behavior, and helped a lot of her clients, and made a decent living.  I really admired her and how she ran her business and kept learning about dogs.  That’s what we had in common.  At one point, before we really knew each other,we were thinking of going into business together, but she didn’t trust the people I was buying the business from, and I understood. It was a stressful time for us, but we  got through it.

We had other interests.  Investing, lure coursing.  We both commiserated about trying to refinance our homes( being  independent contractors). Even though she had enough money to pay off her mortgage, no bank would lend to her because both she and her husband were self-employed.  Go figure (especially when they were financing people who clearly weren’t creditable!).

When she was diagnosed with lung cancer, I couldn’t believe it.  She hadn’t smoked in 30 years.   Nor could I believe she was having such a hard time getting treated.  Apparently, she was stage  four when she was diagnosed.  I wondered how that could be, that she had no symptoms for so long, then suddenly a small cough.  In less than six months, she was gone. She knew she might have a stroke, from the  medicines she was taking, and she did,and I am horrified that her last week on earth was so frightening.

Janie was  very disgusted with  the political system, and  has thinking of moving to Canada. As it was, her husband wanted to move back to California, and he did.

Janie did not have a funeral.  She was not religious.   I believe she was cremated, but she had so many friends.  They all asked about her when I  saw them at our dog training club.  I miss her very much. U guess that is the true memorial.

 

It’s Only Dog Hair

January 1, 2016
The trim is a 'Town and Country'. I wanted to do a classic 'Dutch', but the owner was a retired groomer , herself, and this was what she wanted. Note the balance, that her pants are not 'falling off'.

The trim is a ‘Town and Country’. I wanted to do a classic ‘Dutch’, but the owner was a retired groomer , herself, and this was what she wanted. Note the balance, that her pants are not ‘falling off’.

Saul Bellow wrote a book that  became a best seller, called “The Adventures of Augie March.” It’s about a working class Jewish kid trying to make his way in the world.  He has no education, gets involved with seedy individuals, and tries a lot of jobs. One of the jobs is as a dog bather for dog groomers.  I believe the book takes place in the early part of the last century.  All the dogs were poodles.  He  is ambivalent about the job.

Being a dog groomer, I never forget that part of the book, because I work for a lot of businesses owned by non-dog groomers…or  people who have had any experience in  the pet industry, like ever working in a kennel or assisting a groomer or veterinarian, and they think they are doing me a favor by hiring dog bathers.

Unless I train the bather, what I get is some kid with no  aspirations  to make an actual living, who thinks he loves dogs, but clearly doesn’t like the job task, who slows me down and usually does a half-assed job,  At my most recent job,  due partly to lack of proper equipment, they even  re-matted the dogs while drying them. Why?  Because my managers really didn’t care  whether these guys acted with integrity or not….and they were not brushing out most of the dogs.

I’ve written before about how non-dog groomers, or people whose only experience with dogs was actually in dog grooming school (“because they loved dogs”) are running businesses offering dog grooming, This was the case of one of my most recent jobs.  One of the guys who is a manager actually told me his parents ran a commercial breeding kennel (what we know as a puppy mill).  Yes, he has his own personal dogs whom he adores….but you  have a desensitization when you think it is ok to breed pets as livestock.  The other manager was trained by a very well known groomer, and is a very good scissor artist.    However, neither guy has worked in as many places, for as many mentors as I have.  Nor will they get their hands wet.  They are excellent groomers and horrible managers.

So, you couple these excellent groomers/horrible managers, with an investor/owner who really doesn’t have a clue about who has integrity, or that it matters, and you get….a real communication disconnect about what is needed to  make the business run efficiently, and why integrity matters.

I came on because the managers  got married and went on a vacation, leaving no experienced groomer, but a lot of work.  Had they really cared, they would have done this in January or February, when business  is slow (lots of people don’t get their dogs groomed in the winter—cold is the excuse…), not September, but no matter.  The investor owner pleaded with me, I came on part-time, saw they had full time, told the owner that there would be a lot of complaints as the managers LEFT NO GROOMING INSTRUCTIONS ON ANY CLIENTS, and his  other groomer was too inexperienced.

We muddled through. The guys returned, and suddenly, the efficiencies I had instituted so we could get through the day were  ignored.  Matted dogs were, again, being sent for bathing, and, and WE were expected to demat these dogs (even though, when the owner hired me, he told me the dogs would be brushed out for me).  Dogs were not towel dried properly, and so they stayed wet forever.  But more, I was being treated like…a necessary evil.  The guys  didn’t work with us.  One ‘managed’ the front, the other would come in late &  be constantly taking breaks to talk on his cell phone, or go out for a smoke or whatever.

I come in at  8:00 a.m., ready to start work immediately, and I  generally work until we are finished.  One is constantly warning  me to NOT cut any hair on the face before the dog is bathed, and not cut off any hair on the legs.  They do not clean ears. They forget to clip toenails, they  decided that because too many dogs are   frantic and  scraping their nails on the tub grates of the drying table (frantic—yes…now why would that be?), we are to cut nails after the bath.  If we get blood on the dog, we will rewash it.

I was being paid a decent hourly wage, but not great. No tips, I was not allowed to  interact with clients.  We were demating too many long-haired dogs.  I told both the owner and the manager that we should be telling people, the interval between groomings is too long and we are stressing out your dog.  That’s tactful, isn’t it?  Nobody is blamed for not brushing their dog. We know it is not a matter of money…it is they just don’t know and nobody has told them.

But they—owner and manager— refuse. THEY are not doing the  work, we are.  Yes, one of the managers will help if  a dog is very  horribly matted, but for the most part, another groomer and I do the work.   It is tedious, and in the end, doesn’t solve the problem. It is not fair to the dog, but nobody but me cares.

The icing on the cake was Christmas week. We had been slow the two weeks before, and I had been taking days off because there wasn’t really enough work, and I knew my co-workers needed the pay.  But X-mas week, we were grooming 30+ dogs a day.

What the manager would do would put the name of the dog on the board, the time in and out, and the ‘instructions’, which, for the most part, was one word:  “Cut”.  Sometimes it would say “long trim”.  On one dog, ‘Joey’, it said ‘E’. E is a long, attachment blade.  It leaves the hair about 2 inches long.  So, I did our regular pattern, and suddenly, Carlos/manager walks into the room (his partner is talking on his cell phone), lots of yelling in Spanish:  “What did YOU do?  You cut off the topknot!  Didn’t you see it was long?” and  what ensued was Carlos telling me the owner wanted a big head, she complained that while he was gone, we made the dog look like a monkey, why didn’t I ask…and all I could think was, You mean, when you left on vacation  and there were no grooming instructions on any dog…? 

You really can’t guilt me when you  make a mistake.  I  am amused, but I don’t feel bad.  And you know what?  The owner  came, picked up the dog, said it looked great, and left. No complaints.

As an aside, this happened to me about  25 years ago. I was working in a shop, and I had instructions to scissor a Cocker Spaniel.  Ugh!  but I got the dog fluff dried and  did it, and my co-workers were telling me how great  the dog looked, and my boss came into the room and yelled, “You made  him a half an inch too short!”  At first, I thought he was joking, but he was  distressed because  he  KNEW the owner would complain.  Now really, do you think any of these owners know how long their dog’s hair is?  But sure enough, she  called (maid picked the dog up, of course…) and  complained.  I told him I thought   it was a good time for me to tell him I was joining Peace Corps and would be leaving in  a month.

What did me in  on my  current job was that, as busy as we were, trying to  be efficient, the manager, not caring,  sent a matted Doodle to be bathed.  The bather knew the dog was felted and should be shaved, but he does what he is told.  It took him over 1/2 hour to dry the dog, and I was wondering what was going on, as I had not  touched the dog before the bath.  He finally finished drying the dog, and I told him to put the dog on my table. The dog was a solid mat.  I looked at  the bather, and he rolled his eyes and said, “I know…”  So, I went to Carlos and said, “I’ll have to take a thinning shears, and I don’t think there will be that much left.  He’s really badly matted.” So, Carlos now  has heard the dog is badly matted from 2 people.  He said, “Just give the dog a sanitary trim, and we’ll brush over the top and send him home.”  I know why he said this.  It’s Christmas, they probably want to take pictures, and don’t want the dog shaved.  So, I do the sanitary and nails, and Carlos comes in  and starts brushing over the top  of this dog.  I  was not going to  do that.  It wouldn’t have done anything.   The dog was matted at the skin.  Brushing was not making the dog look better as it was already fluffed out.  I was thinking  of who all would be ready for me to  finish grooming, as there were  at least five wet dogs  back there, and suddenly Carlos barks, “You are one of the  most annoying people.  I am not paying you to stand around, just leave!”

I almost laughed, but I did smile, I said Ok, and left.  I had been working since  8:00 a.m. and it  was now 2:30.  He knows i don’t waste time, don’t go out for a smoke, don’t stand around.  If there is no dog to work on, I clean the place, as there is always dog hair all over.   Why would I waste time brushing a matted dog over  the top of its mats when it wasn’t going to look any different?  He  knows I don’t stand around or waste time.  But if that’s how it is, that’s how it is.  I  had gotten another  part-time job two weeks before.  I can start later in the morning, I do my own bathing, it’s not a frenzy, I can have a relationship with clients…and I get tips.  This is why  shops have trouble getting talented groomers.