Archive for the ‘foreign policy’ Category

Vacations for Animal Lovers

May 13, 2016
Pariah dog sleeping at Ephasus in turkey

Pariah dog sleeping at Ephasus in turkey

My passion is  working with animals.  From  before I could read, I knew volume #7 of the Encyclopedia Britannica had the dog pictures.  I used to love  pulling it out and looking at the dog pictures.  Growing up, I lived in a very middle class suburban (Skokie) neighborhood, where, if people had dogs, they were behind fences.  If I saw someone walking a dog, I went crazy. Part of this obsession was because my parents wouldn’t let us have a dog until we were  mature enough to take care of one.  My father  owned his own business,and my mother  had four kids  under 7 years old. Looking back, I  totally understand the logic.  What happened, however, was that my sister and I  took every dog book we could find out of the library. We finally got  our first dogs when I was  nine-years-old.  We  taught that dog all sorts of things.  I took every opportunity I could find to work with dogs. I learned to groom dogs.  I have also titled my pet dogs in performance.  When you work with dogs, you learn your limits.  At one time, I wanted to own a kennel and have a bunch of my own dogs.  When I started working in kennels, I learned that it is  hard to give quality time to more than a few dogs. So many dogs need homes, and many without homes need advocates. What could I do?  If I fostered a dog, I would be cutting into the quality time I spend with my own dogs. and it would change the dynamic in our household.  So, I looked for opportunities where I could help others who  care for pets needing help.

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA. in Malawi

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA. in Malawi

There are many ways to help when you  can’t foster or adopt another pet.  Most shelter and rescues need help with accounting, marketing, and fund-raising, as well as recruiting  other volunteers.  Here in Chicago, I volunteer as a court advocate for  http://www.safehumanechicago.org  This means, when someone is charged with an animal related crime (neglect, cruelty, or dog fighting are the common ones), I go to court to make sure the judge knows that the community has an interest in this case.  Mostly, it is just being there.  We let the  prosecuting attorney know  we are there, and they make sure the judge knows we are there if the  courtroom is crowded. The police making the arrest also know that we are there.  This makes everyone take animal crime more seriously. Another thing I do is support pet rescues, especially pet rescues in  developing countries.  Now, due to the internet, where you can google ‘animal shelter/country, you can get linked up with  animal lovers in  most places.  In many places, you can even volunteer. I volunteered , via Cross Cultural Solutions, to work with a community based group in New Delhi, India, and some people told me about Frendicoes.  Friendicoes mostly does trap/neuter/release, and has a small shelter.  Virtually all the animals they have are pariah dogs and cats:  that is, they are true street  animals, and really not suited to be pets. Several years ago, I visited Turkey. Via networking, I was able to get in touch with  the people who run the Forest Sanctuary, outside Istanbul.  They had about 100 dogs at the time we visited.  Western Turkey is becoming very urbanized, but the Turks, for the most part, never  kept dogs in their homes.  Also, like impulsive people all over, many  buy dogs and tire of them.  Those involved in rescue are very pragmatic.  They do trap/neuter/release (and one reason for the  protest over loss of park land in Istanbul several years ago was not just  over loss of open space to a shopping mall…but loss of habitat for the street dogs and cats), but also care for  dogs at the Forest Sanctuary outside of the city. They work with a Dutch rescue, and ship many dogs suitable for homes to Holland. I’ve also  visited  ‘shelters’ in Hoi An, Viet Nam (http://www.vnanimalwelfare.org/category/slider/) , and both Lilongwe and Blantyre, in Malawi.  They all welcome volunteers.  Soi Dogs, in Thailand not only needs volunteers, but  people who can accompany a dog (as a courier)  from Thailand to the USA.  The Sighthound Underground and Galgos del Sol also need couriers, and you can volunteer to work in the Galgo kennel in Spain. There are also  animal shelters in more ‘vacation oriented’ places.  http://www.animal-kind.org  can put you in touch with  many shelters needing assistance.  So can Norah Livingstone: http://www.animalexperienceinternational.com/aboutus.html.  World Vets:  http://worldvets.org/volunteer/upcoming-projects/  has volunteer opportunities in  Central America and southern Asia.  If you are more the type who  just wants to observe, or maintain habitat, Earthwatch http://earthwatch.org/has programs, many involving habitat conservation or observation of animal behavior, overseen by scientists. Meeting  other animal lovers and sharing information is a great way to spend vacation time.

Is Social Security a Ponzi Scheme?

January 24, 2014

Well,  I  guess, if you consider the way the system works is that we take resources from  one group of people to  enrich another group of people, it is. Since most employees pay in, and not all who pay in live long enough to collect, it could be.    Should this be an issue?  It’s not like it’s a secret that it works on actuarial tables.

We are an urban society.  People no longer live on farms where they grow their own food, or with extended families.  We age and get to a point where we can not work.  In an ideal world, we would have all learned to budget and save money for a  future when we could not work.    We all would have made enough money  working at jobs top do so. We would not have had more children than we could support. We would have made enough to save for retirement.    We could have relied on our living expenses not rising—especuially land rents. Most of us have  learned that we should have  at least  six months of living expenses saved up  for an emergency.  Currently, many of our federally elected officials, not necessarily numerate themselves, who also get  pensions (http://www.factcheck.org/2007/12/congressional-pensions/)  have decided that it is more important to give military foreign aid  to foreign dictators, as well has support a bloated military budget (I do not begrudge soldiers, but  their paraphernalia  and ‘research’), than it is  to fund social security and medicare. Also, while they are complaining about the costs of all this–particularly medicare and medicaid, they do nothing to stop waste and fraud.

When  the Social Security system was initiated during the depression of the 1930’s,  urbanization  had started, and  many old people were losing their farms and  familial support networks.  Most people would NOT  save for retirement if not forced, nor could they make informed investment decisions.  We still are reluctant to even inform ourselves about budgeting, planning, and investing, and more reluctant to delay gratification.  I  continue to be shocked by people under  40 smoking cigarettes, and  people who carry a balance on their credit cards and can’t tell you what they bought.

Now, we hear from the media that the system is unsustainable.   A media controlled by old white men!  The issues are  that our population is not growing—we are not a population pyramid in this country, with many young people.  We are a population column.  At least that’s what they try to have us believe!  It’s too expensive to raise  more than  two kids for most couples.  In fact, most of the urban  world, better educated than  rural people, are choosing to  have smaller families.   The idea that the population is not growing to freed into Social Security is not  the problem, however—just an interesting and  goofy way of framing it.

The problem is that not all wages are subject to Social Security taxes.  The system is  never updated with the cost of living and inflation rxcept for pay-outs.   Were all income taxed, including capital gains, we’d be in fantastic shape.  In fact, if we didn’t allow the politicians to spend out tax dollars on military foreign aid, subsidies to  corporations, including farms, and wars—then claim we have a deficit—we’d be in phenomenal shape.  Also, since we are funding the system with inflated dollars, and salaries are more inflated than they were  when the system started,  were the system equitable,  there would be a huge surplus.  The irony is that the blowhards in Congress—who  do not pay into the system  once they are elected—but  get DEFINED PENSIONS, are telling us what to believe.  Chutzpah!

There is  one more issue: the many  dimwits with no skills, no entrepreneurial mindset, who’ve reached  almost old age, or  have spawned dimwit kids, who go on SSI.  Nobody counted on so many people gaming the system.  The fact of the matter is that if we didn’t pay these people to watch TV, drink,  smoke, and live on junk food, they’d be criminals—robbing us, or we wouldn’t be able to walk dow  a city sidewalk for the beggars.  It’s almost that way in my neighborhood now.    That’s why we have a welfare system–to prevent more of them from being  drains and endangering our lives. Some are good at gaming the system, and get physicians to cooperate. The rest become thugs.

Don’t let them get away with calling Social Security an entitlement.  If Congress can manage to  tax the interest your ‘earnings’ on a  savings account that is now  paying interest of .01%, they can manage to  make all wages/income subject to Social Security.

Say NO to bombing Syria

September 6, 2013

This is going to be quick.  I’ve had a really busy week.  My co-worker broker her wrist & can’t groom dogs….so I am   doing more than double what I usually do…& got a new tenant (and arranged to have trees trimmed so they don’t fall on the house,  donated a bunch of  linens & blankets to a ‘free store’ for the very poor,  arranging to help a local animal shelter…. etc, etc…& am lax on training my own dog…)..

I am shocked that John Kerry, a Viet Nam vet,  thinks bombing Syria is  a logical response to  Assad gassing his people.  I am shocked that President Obama  also thinks this is  logical—-when the rest of the world clearly thinks it’s NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS—OR— KNOWS RUSSIA & CHINA WILL RESPOND THEIR OWN WAY.  They  haven’t thought this through.

Possibly, bombing the airports and  seaports might affect something, but  strategic bombing strikes on civilians…what?  What is the expected outcome if we aren’t moving towards regime change?    &  how do ‘we’ (meaning the USA) know the rebels will treat the citizenry of
Syria any better than Assad?    How do we know that after our air strikes,  Assad won’t resume gas attacks?  Iraq has said they will attack Israel if we attack Syria.  Then what?

& while we’re at it—yes, the gas attacks are  horrible…but why is it ok for North Korea to starve it’s citizenry to death? Why do we still have the embargo against Cuba, which provides  medical care for all  its citizens, but get along fine with  England, another socialist country?

I am really   overjoyed that people are  contacting their  congress people in record numbers to ask questions…and we can  now see that Obama is not as progressive as his base  hoped him to be.

Bernie Sanders  of Vermont  has a current  running response on  http://www.youtube.com that I hope you will check out.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9xEuFcx0cY   I hope I can rant  on something else next week.

Start the year off right—support education of girls

January 3, 2013

I first because interested in development issues, and why  some countries are so poor, when I  took my first strip to Africa in the 1980’s.

Now, the issues is confused (I won’t say complicated) because you can’t just invest in education, as Julius Nyerere did in Tanzania.  You really have to invest in infrastructure for economic development, too.

I noticed the contrast between Tanzania & Kenya.  Years later, I witnessed the contrast between Thailand and Cambodia.

But I don’t want to make this too complicated.  I support several groups that  educate orphans in Africa, and there are a few I do not support.  However, it’s up to YOU to decide who is effective, and who is not.

Women’s Global Education Fund.  Google them. This was started by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Senegal & Kenya, and wanted to provide further educational opportunities  to girls who completed primary school.  The   American supporters are mostly in the metro Chicago Area, and hold a could of fund raisers every year. They do a great job, & provide scholarships to several girls every year.l  I like them, but they are  actually barely making a dent int he problem….unless they  would insist the girls return to their communities and educate more girls. They are not at that point yet.

Zambian Children’s Fund. Google them.  This  orphanage and school is in Lusaka Zambia and was started by an American woman, Kathe Padilla, who had visited there.  She pretty much single-handedly  got land, built a school and small home, and got  Americans to support the project.  But she also recognized that  the project had to be supported by the local community, so she worked to get their support, and after about 10 years, managed to get a local board to sustain the project, which also turned in to a vocational school and several income generating projects.  I’ve been sending them kids clothing, books, and  first aid supplies for years, and am happy to see them  thriving.

Malawi Children’s Village, in Mangochi, Malawi .Google them:  this project was started by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers a little over 20 years ago, initially envisioned as an orphanage. However, the people in the local community wanted to keep their extended families together, & asked for help with a school and water wells.  Because of this local community support, they  have a library, a vocational school, and every child who advances a grade in school has his or her school fees paid.  We will see in the next several years what the economic impact on the region actually is.

Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy in South Africa. Google it. It’s a paradox, really.  Oprah grew up poor, had a child as a teenager (it died), furthered her education  and was in the right place at the right time. I know she genuinely wants to give back, but now that she’s an elite, her thinking has become slightly clouded.
She picks and chooses the girls who attend this  school, thereby creating a class of elites. I doubt any of the girls who graduate will be as altruistic, but time will tell.

Link Community Development.  This is a nonprofit that started in Scotland.  The Sottish, via the African Inland Church, have always supported education in Africa.  However , he problem remains that  educational policy in most of Africa is very  bad.  It actually prevents leaders from emerging unless they have political connections. Link actually addresses issues of curriculum…in Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Malawi. I can’t imagine a less sexy but more important aspect of education than curriculum development. It’s just going to take a very long time to collect the data on the impact they  are making.  The problem with LINK, is that  they are not addressing  the problem of who co0ntrols the  educational system in each country, and the issues of  social status, and who is allowed to advance in school, what ethnic groups keep their children out of Western education.  Who makes sure the curriculum is not biased towards a Eurocentric/developed world view of what is important? Elizabeth Marshal Thomas addressed this very issue in her ethnography. Warrior Herdsmen, published in 1965.  Curriculum doesn’t matter at all if traditional people who can support themselves don’t trust what is offered, or find it irrelevant.

Now, you can send money and you can go visit  some of the schools and projects, but first…do you know how science and math are being taught in YOUR local school?  In Chicago, we have several charter schools and technical (Chicago Public Schools) that address math, science, and computer skills. We have The Young Women’s leadership Charter School,  in Chicago.  I suspect it isn’t an urgent issue to many of us if we don’t have kids in schools, but think:  if kids don’t learn life skills, they becomes thugs and a drain on society.  it is also statistically proven that when you educate girls, they have a profound impact on their communities…much greater than men have, because women do educate kids. Think about it.

Book Review: Travel as a Politcal Act, by Rick Steves

July 12, 2012

In 2005, I took a ‘package tour’ to Morocco with a company I had used before, to travel to Thailand. The Thai trip was the best vacation I ever had, because they guides were phenomenal.  So, based on that experience, I booked this particular tour.  Well, while the guide as  ok, he really discouraged  the participants from checking things out on our own.  I wanted to  visit a small market outside a bazaar, and he would not let me. Not only that, he  steered us to some less than ethical carpet and leather  dealers.  I was very discouraged.  Why didn’t I just  go out on my own instead of booking a tour?  I didn’t have that much time, and the travel arrangements  in country can be daunting.

Not all ‘package tours’ are like this. You can now check Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor and get good information.  Sometimes it’s the luck of the draw.

If you haven’t heard of Rick Steves, you don’t watch public television, nor are you interested in travel.  The guy is a genius. He turned his love of travel into  a great business, informing people, mostly interested in Europe, about how to find not just cheap places to stay and  interesting things to see and do, but how to really get the most out of their travel experience.

Published in 2009, with what I think of as a somewhat controversial title, I was immediately intrigues because….I don’t think of Rick Steves as the type to court controversy.  He doesn’t want to scare people.  He wants them to be adventurous.

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, myself, I feel travel is a political act if  you really try to take advantage of every opportunity.    I am recomending this book because  it’s a little class in  what kinds of things you should consider about your own values, and the  cultures you will experience while traveling. There are 9 chapters, and all are about places and issues that  are ‘oblique’ or ‘counter’ to  our  national mindset…particular his chapter on how Europeans  deal with drug abuse.

One thing that most Americans don’t understand is how heavily influenced our government policies are NOT by  us citizens, but by  organizations with an economic interest.

I also know that the economic interests use media in a more sophisticated manner than most people  realize.  We are   so subtly influenced about what is right and what is fair than we care to admit.

This book would be a great gift for anyone contemplating travel. It is  well written, easy to understand, has great photos, and gives great information in a very compact place.

T. E. Lawrence, The novel Exodus, and the history of Israel & the Middle East.

January 12, 2011

This is an update to a blog I  wrote on T.E. Lawrence last year.  I have since read another biography  of  him that  was  better footnoted  regarding the actual dynamics of what occured  during his service (during World War 1), and, at the same time, I was reading Leon Uris’ book , Exodus, which is a historical novel.

Have you ever taken a survey and been asked, “If you could meet any person  from history, who would it be?”  I never had a good answer for that until I read a biography (and since have read several) of T.E. Lawrence—-Lawrence of Arabia.

What an interesting man!  He was always haunted that his parents never married (his mother was the nanny his father ran off with—& had 4 more children with), and pursued a liberal arts education, dabbled in publishing, was an accomplished artist/illustrator, and  due to luck, fell into an early archeology gig in the Middle East.  He learned Arabic, because he wanted to know the people he was living among.

To know his story, is to know why things are such a disaster in the Middle East (for those of us in America, anyways).  He joined the British military  at the start of World War I  to serve his country.  He had extensive experience by then in the Middle East—what was then the Ottoman Empire, and he aimed to bring  the people of the region to cooperate with the British. Why?  He was convinced (misled?) that after the was over, & the region won from the Turks, that the Arabs would be allowed to govern themselves.  From reading several sources, it is somewhat unclear whether it was  the military, or the foreign office who misled Lawrence into believing that Feisal Hussein would be ruling what would become Syria.  For some reason,  2 well placed elitists, Sykes in Britain, & Picot in France, put together an agreement that after the war was over, France would have a stake in the middle east. There is no indication that the French shed any blood…it was an agreement between colonialists who felt that the Arabs were too immature as a race to govern themselves.

Due to the Sykes-Pickot agreement with France, the British handed over what was Syria & Lebanon to the French…for no good reason.  Then they proceeded to divide up the rest of the region artificially  partly to placate Lawrence and hand out spoils to his Arab friends.  Persia was divided into Iraq & Iran, India was carved up.  Afghanistan, which had never been a real place except to say it was the land surrounded by so many other lands, was  instituted as a ‘country’ as we know it.  It was never governable as a region.

Israel was developed. and there is a lot of evidence that the people Lawrence worked with had no problem with this part of Palestine being handed over to the Jews.  After all, there was TransJordan, and they thought there would be access to the Mediterranean Sea via Syria & Lebanon.  &—had that happened, that would have been the end of it. Peace in the Middle East. But the British handed over the area to France, and they were not going to let the  people their govern themselves.  What is also interesting to me is that while Uris’ book is a historicalnovel, and generally accurate, he really misinterprets the agreement that the Zionists came to with Feisal Hussain.  The Arabs sold the Jews  most of the land they bought—& willingly.  Of course, they did so thinking they would have Lebanon & Syria immediately.

You would think that the British would be embarrassed by this history, but  they’ve decided to forget their role in the  horror.

For some reason, the American government does not hold the British or French responsible any longer.  For all the money we’ve poured into the region, not only in terms of energy development, but  to keep them from killing each other (don’t get me started on lives —but people join the military on their own), we could be energy independent by now, and  we could also have universal health care like the British, French, & so many other countries.  Nobody knows why there’s a deficit. Hello!

You  would think someone in the State Department would have the integrity to say to the Israelis, “Look, what you have here is not a democracy, and you keep encroaching on the land of others. Why should we keep paying for this?  No more money!.  & you—the Egyptians—start collecting your property taxes. All along the Nile are little cities and towns with unfinished buildings.  Luxor  is shocking.  You allow this. You don’t tell the building owners to pay their taxes, that they’ve left the buildings unfinished long enough.  You send your physicians to the rest of Africa and import them from Malaysia.  No more money”.

Oh, what happened to Lawrence?  He was so embarrassed and demoralized by what his government had done to his friends, the Arabs, that he declined to work for the government.  He rejoined the  military  a couple of times as an enlisted man.  He actually did some inventing while serving.  He translated the Odyssey (and his translation is still widely read).  He wrote “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” and became a legend due to promoter Lowell Thomas.  He was ultimately killed in a motorcycle  accident in his early 40’s.

&—I think we all know how the Middle East turned out.

I Am Not A Very Good Anti-War Activist

October 26, 2010

Do you remember the Viet Nam War? It was the first war ‘televised’.  Little did we know how  news editors  manipulated images and feeds from the U.S. government to shape public opinion about the war.

For those of you too young to remember the Viet Nam War… Viet Nam had been a French colony, and when the French were edged out by the Viet Namese, the French actually convinced the U.S. government that  the country would go COMMUNIST unless we Americans aided the loyal opposition.

We had no idea how organized they were, or if they had real support throughout the country, but  it appeared they had support of the southerners, and so, there became a North Viet Nam and a South Viet Nam.  With no proof of anything, a few  key players convinced our politicians, and  our State Department thaw—with military support from the U.S., ‘we’ could win  what was actually a civil war, and prevent the whole Indochinese region from….’going communist’.

I got to thinking about this because I was listening to This American Life and the  very compelling  story, Iraq  After Us.  Here is the link, so you can listen yourself:  http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/416/iraq-after-us

We Americans are s arrogant. We are so cock-sure we are right and moral and  infallible.  We do a piss-pour job educating ourselves—and we admit it—but get into a frenzy when out politicians—most of whom are NOT deep thinkers and whom we don’t trust, convince us that we and our way of life are under attack, and we must kill them before they kill us.

So…what do we do?  We send muddled thinking volunteers who fall for this propaganda to get themselves either killed or mutilated, or mentally screwed.  We didn’t learn from the Viet Nam experience  (the fact is, that many of those who remember it are not respected.  We are written off as old and out of touch), and  the media plays into this.  Every soldier is a hero.  It isn’t their fault things go wrong.  They couldn’t get jobs and had families to support AND—they are protecting our way of life.

Our way of life?  You mean the right to go bankrupt when you  are unlucky enough to contract a chronic illness?  Or to be paying off school loans on a degree you were led to believe would always  guarantee you a job?  I don’t get it.  I really don’t.

What has actually happened is that people of marginal intelligence are being taken out of the gene pool …and the people left  to breed in the U.S, are …for the most part…draining our society, not contributing.   This is what the statistical evidence clearly bears out.

There used to be a group called The Coalition for New Priorities that demonstrated clear, statistical evidence that for the money we spent on wars & the military, we could be energy self-sufficient with much less pollution, and we could all have  access to free health care.  The current main stream politicians call them ….socialists.  I was hoping with Barack Obama we’d come close to addressing this, but someone has convinced him that pouring money down the corrupt manhole that is Afghanistan will lead to them being able to govern their own country—as a country—and for a variety of reasons (mostly economic, but also cultural) that will never happen.

During the  Dubya Bush administration—during the war on Iraq (remember—weapons of mass destruction) we gave something like $280.000 A WEEK to Achmed Chalabi) for intelligence .  It all turned out to be bogus. A bunch of lies.  Gee, I wonder who he knew & was able to convince the United States Government to pay him. Who authorized that?  Don’t you wonder?  He was not an American citizen.  He just thought he had a good chance of being president of Iraq.  Iraq—part of greater Persia & the Ottoman empire—was not a COUNTRY until the British made it so after World War 1.   It was, essentially,  no mans land, a bunch of city states.  It defies any sort of logic that we would still be  dying to prop up an idea in our minds that this could be an actual country…just to make it easier to  get their oil to drive our vehicles when we could have poured the same amount of money into research to have Prius type hybrids a decade earlier.

I have recently had to make a very poor compromise in voting choices to  keep the conservative Republicans from  turning back the clock on some of the good government changes that have occurred under Obama.  I should have voted for the Green Party candidates, but I felt I had to vote for the body politic & not risk going back to 8 more years of utter stupidity.

Thankfully, with the internet, it is easier to nag our politicians.  I urge anyone reading this to click the link above & listen to what we’ve done NOT TO A COUNTRY—but to innocent people for a half-baked idea.  We should all be embarrassed.  I sure am.

So the rich are giving money away…

September 8, 2010

So Warren Buffet & Bill & Melinda Gates are   convincing the  uber-rich to  ‘share the wealth’ & level the playing field …as we say.  Too bad we can’t convince them to be Peace Corps Volunteers (or VSO) for about a year or so.  You really learn so much when you live in a community in a developing (read: Third World Country) community for a few months.

I know what it’s like to be middle class and have a handle on how the world would be better.  I gave up my life to experience how people really live.  It’s a tragedy.

For one thing—-fresh water  availability is at a global crisis.  One reason is deforestation & climate change—& the reason for this is  too many people chasing too few resources (the water) in any given location that is habitable.     & in most places, the reason this is happening is that women search for fire wood for cooking fuel.  No joke.   In some cases, solar cookers are helpful. In many cases in Africa, they  don’t like the texture of baked or dry food.   They like their foods fried in oil.  Energy Efficient, ceramic lined cookstoves (what we in the U.S, might call ‘bar-b-que grills) might help alleviate the fuel shortage. This also addresses deforestation & water conservation, and the alleviation of flooding.   However, currently, there is no political will locally to encourage this?  Why? The MEN who make the rules just don’t care…. So—& this is going to take at least s decade—

We have to convince  people to  want to understand what  is destroying their environment(s) and what THEY CAN DO to make where they live sustainable.

Plus, cooking for a crowd is expensive.    We have to convince men to not only want smaller families, but to do what they need to do to  have smaller families.  Birth control  alone is not the answer.  Educating women—-when they are girls, about environmental and social realities—is the  fundamental answer.  That’s right: providing appropriate environmental education—-combined with skill training to make value-added products— to girls and women, empowering women….-is the solution. That means training teachers—& grandmothers (the most influential people in any community) how to convey information to young girls.

This means supplying educational materials to these people, and a way  for the teacher/trainers to live, & giving them social status. We sure can’t do this from the U.S., where we are still—-after over 50 years (we policy makers first noticed this when the  Soviet Union…you remember them…right?  Launched Sputnik)…scientifically illiterate.  Maybe we can get  Germans & Japanese to volunteer to live in these God-forsaken places.

At the same time, we have to convince political leaders that they will look really really good if they promote sustainable energy solutions.  I urge  anyone reading this to  go visit Malaysia & Thailand.   In less than 50 years, these 2 jungle like countries are modern places. They have transportation and communications infrastructure.  They have high literacy rates.  Most people have access to modern health care methods.  They even (this is no joke) have dog groomers!  Funny?  This is an indication that people have expendable income.

Unfortunately, what is going to happen is…the rich are going to give their money to other rich people:  people who manage arts and cultural institutions. Are they NOT deserving?  I am not saying that. What I am saying is, however…if they want to keep the arts alive in perpetuity, they must  make sure all people on this earth are economically secure enough to not become refugees or start wars.

What are wars about?  Resources…plain & simple.  Who gets to manage scarce resources.  We are still no ‘getting it’.  We in the U.S.A. are still taught that if we can pay for resources, we deserve them. What about the others who can’t? We will pray to GOD in churches for their salvation.  I am not joking.

Every now & then, when people learn that I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, they express their altruism  and ask what they can do to ‘level the playing field.’ I always mention recycling.  I mention  supporting groups that provide direct aid to communities overseas.  Now, I am telling all the do-gooders & potential do-gooders to copy my blog & send it on to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as Millenium Challenge. Ask them to address the crisis problems…

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.

You’ve won a 2 week an all-expense paid trip to scenic Bosnia!

December 31, 2009

I was an election supervisor in Bosnia.    I happened to be ‘in the right place at the right time’ and was asked to apply for the position.  Here is how it happened.

I was doing some program development for CHP International in 1996 when we got a broadcast fax asking for people with both election supervisory  experience and experience in a crisis situation overseas—-& Howard Raik, my ‘boss’, laughed ans said, “Robyn! That’s you!”

Guilty.  I have been a judge of election in the City of Chicago  for over 20 years, and, due to my experience in Malawi, I was uniquely qualified.

I didn’t know if I wanted to do it.  I mean, there was a war going on.  But Howard said I had to apply.  It would be a trip of a lifetime.  Really?

The Chicago Tribune even interviewed a few of us:  “Yes, I am from Chicago, and I am here to see that you have a free and fair election.”  Right….  & as the Chicago Board of Elections  said, “If there’s anything they will be able to recognize, it’s fraud…”

So I did. The organization looking was the United Nations, & I would be a UN Volunteer.  I would be working for the Organization for the Security  and Cooperation in Europe.  They were really looking for lawyers, but they couldn’t get enough volunteers. As the news  of  bombings was reported, the lawyers were  dropping out.

I was also grooming dogs at the time. It was September. Although September is not a busy time, the person I was grooming dogs for gave me grief  because she wanted me available. She did not want to tell her clients they had to wait because I was  working on a democracy issue in Bosnia.

I barely knew where Bosnia was.  I knew where Yogoslavia was, but at the time, there was still confusion of what would be called what.  Not only that, I could not find much on the internet.  It was 1996, and any info available was rudimentary.

‘They’ called me a week ahead of time, told me to go to O’Hare airport, and gave me the flight number. They told me my name was on the list—just bring my passport.  I had an electronic ticket.  We flue to Paris, and someone held up a sign after we cleared immigration there, and led us to another flight—to Split, Croatia. From there, we were assigned, and those going to Banja Luka (the capital or the Republic of Srbska in Bosnia-Hersegovia) got on another bus, and  after what seemed about  two hours (it was actually more like 6 hours, but I was sleeping), we got to our next staging area.

The OSCE with UN soldiers began out preliminary  training. We were given  first aid kits, radios (which never worked), election supplies, and our per diems in German Marks.  I am no mathematical whiz, but you learn to calculate values quickly, because we paid for living expenses in Marks & were given change  in Dinars.

We were  introduced to our interpreters & drivers, & they took us to apartments that were rented for us.  Banja Luka is a good size city, so I really lucked out.  There was a lot to see and do in the city, and we were free to walk around—as so much area was paved.  Many people who volunteered were in more rural areas. They could not go out of their hotels because so much of the area was mined.

The first actual day we  were in Bosnia, we went for preliminary training. We were told how we would be trained, how we would get election supplies, where we would be assigned, and what our actual duties were.  This session did not last more than a few hours.

We went out to eat, sometimes joined by our interpretors & drivers, every night.  Someone had told me that the Serbs always smoked, even during dinner.  It was true. Cigarette smoke was all over.

The next day, we went for  ‘land mine training.’  Much of the world’s governments have banned the  manufacture and use of land mines—but  not the Untied States—because we have manufacturers here.  The problem with landmines is that they are rarely mapped:  ‘fighters’ just sprinkle them around. They are not collected after the war is over, & so many innocent civilians lose limbs.  We were all given maps of the country which showed where landmines were laid down, and shown the pins of landmines.  These devices are very small—the size of poker chips—& you’d never see the pins, once they are buried.

The next  day, we met our counterparts & saw where  we’d be working the election.  I was assigned to Celinac, a rural community in the mountains.    We were also given some training on using the radios. The problem was, however, that  the radio signals don’t go through mountains, and so they didn’t work.

That night, there was a demonstration in downtown Banja Luka.  We did not know the details. It was not to advocate boycotting the elections, and it was peaceful, but the tension was palpable.

The following day, we got more training on the logistics of how the election—to be held over  2 weekend days, would  be handled.  There were about  20 political parties on the ballot.  All  with ‘socialist’ something in their names.  We met with some of the ‘party regulars’ who would be allowed to oberve.  I sort of joked about how they coulkdn’t say anything, & said, “NO Kibbitzing,” and they totally understood what I meant.

I asked my interpreter how people could tell which party from which, and she told me that  party people went out and visited.  Another thing to keep in mind was that in many places, unless people had satellite dishes, they did not get TV or radio. They were eager for information.

But what I was most curious about was that all urban housing in Banja Luka had been  ‘public’ housing—owned by the (former) government of Yugoslavia.  If you wanted to own property, you  could own rural property, but—to prevent speculation & inflated ‘land rents’—the government owned the land.  Most people don’t realize that this is how many urban areas around the world are.  You can get a 99 year lease, and build on a plot, & this would be your hedge against inflation.  Our capitalist government isn’t too keen on that idea—-although  anyone who has bought a condominium on Native American land owns this way.

I had brought craft materials with me.  I was sure I would find a woman’s group, and, as it happened, my interpreter knew of one.  Everyone I was staying with had laughed at me for bringing the stuff: buttons, beads, embroidery thread—but the women’s group was overjoyed to have the stuff. I bought doilies and a lace curtain from them.  They were also selling sweaters, but they weren’t ‘me’.  Iwas able to inform the others in my group, and they  also went to the women’s center to buy  crafts.

In any case, the election was held over the weekend.  Any place in the world, it starts out the same.  You get up early & set up the election ‘station’  people are assigned job tasks.  My ‘job’ was just to observe & answer questions.  We actually had soldiers in uniform—with guns, thanks to the UN, from the Swiss Army.  Yes—there  actually is a Swiss Army, and they wear a sort of purple  camouflage pattern.

It was amzing how orderly things were, and also how a turnout we got.  In the end, it was over 90%.  Problems? In that part of the world, with a high degree of macho, many men wanted to vote for their wives.  Even though they had been told that this would not be allowed, several still tried, and it was up to me to tell them that that era was over.

Sunday was a miserable, drizzly, chilly day, and things were going vey slowly.  I realized that the problem was that, with so many ‘scoalist parties’, people could not find their party on the ballot.   We has an oversize sample ballot in the hallway, and what I did was tell people to  look at that oversize sample ballot, & either count from the top how far down their party was, or how far up their party was from the bottom, so when they got in the room to vote, they would be able to find their party easily, and  things would go more quickly.  & it did.  At one point, we ran out of the spray used to  spray fingers to indicate people had voted so they would not vote elsewhere).  I told the  Bosnians to just fill the bottle with water.  It was 3:p.m. Sunday afternoon.  We realy had to go through the motions at that point.

Everything went smoothly.  After the polls closed, with soldiers still out in the hall, we counted the ballots.  Over 90% had voted for 1 party. Amazing.  There were election supplies left over:  tape, pens,pencils, mainly office supplies.  I knew they’d be trashed if I brought them back to OSCE, so I just handed them out.

The party regulars had planed a dinner party for after the counting was over:  pickles,  roasted lamb, and lots of slivovitz and vodka.  We all were really tired & wanted to get  back to Banja Luka, but they insisted, so we sat down for about 1/2 hour & ate & drank.

We were given Monday off, but debriefed on Tuesday. Everything went very well. Then, OSCE & the army guys wanted the left over supplies back. As most of us were Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, we told them we had all given the stuff away.  Also, being Americans, we wanted souvenirs.  I took photos, but  that wasn’t enough.  One of our group had T-shirts made, with the OSCE (organization for security & cooperation in Europe) logo, but with the  words “Operation for Spreading Confusion in Europe” under it.  But the best thing I got was the OFFICIAL SWISS ARMY KNIFE—and it is even inscribed “Peace keeping forces Bosnia-Herzegovina 1996” The best souvenir.  I was only able to get one. they ran out.

To get out of Bosnia—we had to  go to Croatia, and that was an over 10 hour bus ride.  Bosnia had been trashed. There was evidence of the war everywhere.

We flew to Paris and had a 4 hour layover.  I badly wanted to see the Eiffel Tower.  I was advised to not even try, because the  metro system was slow, but I did, and I got within a mile of it, and it was great, and I returned to the airport and flew home.

The end.  Nobody in America really cared.