Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Can RPCV Influence Foreign Policy?

January 1, 2020

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

In 1992, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer  (PCV) serving as a Town Planner in Blantyre, Malawi.  This was a very tumultuous time in Malawi history…the end of an era.  PCVs are not supposed to be in ‘politically sensitive’ positions, but there I was, tasked with encouraging residents of ‘traditional housing areas’ (unplanned, squatter communities) to organize to develop recycling programs,  working on development control issues,  enforcing planning guidelines,  and making sure regular city services were provided.   I also was tasked with taking over records and rent collections for public housing in my geopolitical area—‘Local Authority,” from Malawi Housing Corporation.   I was told to do all this by the ODA—Overseas Development Assistance. This was the British equivalent to  USAID funding  Malawi government operations.

Lots was going on.  The ‘European Community’ was putting pressure on Hastings ‘Kamuzu’ Banda to allow for a free press and to schedule multi-party elections.  Corruption, of course, was endemic.  Just about everything I did was being sabotaged by a government employee who feared I would uncover a major corruption plan that worked very well for himself and a few friends.    Business people who had ties to the Malawi Congress Party constantly complained that I was meddling. 

I tried to get others to take responsibility for some of my more unpopular, but clearly legal, decisions, but I was the only one who really was not in danger of being ‘disappeared’.

‘.

What I really wanted to do was make a difference.  I had two plans that would have really helped low-income residents of the city townships set their communities on the road to sustainability:   One plan was to give them rate (real estate tax) rebates for planting fruit trees and buying energy-efficient ceramic lined cookstoves.  The other was for them getting titles—  recording their plot ownership—with nobody being allowed to own more than one plot in a Traditional Housing Area (to prevent people from becoming absentee landlords).

Unfortunately, there was no political will.   With the squeeze on for political reforms, foreign aid was frozen.  The Malawi Kwatcha was devalued by over 30% (although government high-level managers were immediately compensated with raises), causing a general strike.

 I was finally threatened by a Host Country National, who complained directly to Peace Corps, because I had demonstrated that I had the capacity to take down illegal developments.

30 years have passed.  I visited Malawi three years ago.  Not much has changed, and what has changed has increased social stratification. Yes, more people have access to credit, but deforestation and overfishing are really taking a toll.  Social indicators have barely improved, but even very poor rural people have access to cell phones..

I believe that once most PCVs have a base in the place where they are serving, they realize that good intentions are not enough.  In some cases,  teachers are really making a difference.  In other places, volunteers are being used as  ‘place fillers’ or technical support, and underlying issues are not being addressed.

I started thinking about this again, just recently, when Ambassador Daniel Foote, our man in Zambia, said what needed to be said:  This is an excerpt from a report on National Public Radio:   ”…..  it started last month with this court ruling where they sentenced two men to 15 years in prison for having sex with each other. The ambassador said he was “horrified” by Zambia’s jailing of same-sex couple Japhet Chataba and Steven Sambaand.  The Zambian government basically told him to mind his own business. And Ambassador Daniel Foote then unloaded. He released a diplomatic statement, that I have seen, you know, few as pointed as this one was.

And he said that the U.S. had saved more than 1 million lives in Zambia with just its HIV programs, and then he went on to accuse the government of being hypocritical, of outright stealing millions of dollars intended to go to important welfare programs. He said that while the corrupt officials doing that don’t even get a slap on the wrist, two men having sex get 15 years in jail. And then he said that everyone should just stop pretending that the U.S. and Zambia have cordial relations.”

 

Long story short,  “…..Zambian President Edgar Lungu was seething mad, and he essentially declared the ambassador persona non grata, and the U.S. had to pull him out of the country.” Oh, btw (from Wikipedia) In 1992, Foote became a Peace Corps volunteer in Sopachuy, Bolivia.

We do-gooders, American citizens,  naively believe our foreign policy upholds human rights and fights corruption. We also believe we are donating money so people can get on the road to both economic and environmental sustainability.  This would be laughable were it not so tragic.  How can Peace Corps Volunteers serve in countries with so little regard for basic human rights?  Certainly, our gay brothers and sisters are not safe.

We all come to consciousness about what is ‘right’, ‘fair’ and ‘tolerable’ in our own time.  Many of us do not remember legal racial discrimination, or that inter racial relationships were illegal in many parts of the USA.  Many of us have never heard the expression that “Rights are never given. They are always taken.”

Going back a bit further, in the USA many women (and people of color) could not get access to contraception without the permission of a husband, or credit without a man co-signing (I have personal experience with this).

Now, many of us might laugh at how stupid and unfair, even counterproductive such laws were.  They were developed by (white) men who wanted to legally restrict those not like themselves.

Is there not a PVC who has not said, “If only the policymakers acted with integrity”?

Being from Chicago, where we had a political machine for over 60 years, I’m in no position to say whether a country is more or less corrupt than where I live.  Because I’ve traveled, I’ve experienced being with people who live in communities that have benefited by the mindset that when wealth is shared and opportunities are equalized, everyone benefits.

How can we tell where the policies of equalization work?  We can look at the improvement of social indicators since the end of WWII, with the correlation of the introduction of Peace Corps Volunteers into countries.  Why is it literacy rates, improvements in infant and maternal mortality, flourishing communications infrastructure,  and access to credit in places like Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and Costa Rica have improved life outcomes in those countries, as well as economic growth, but Nigeria, Mauritania, Malawi, India, and Bangladesh still have such a high percentage of people living in poverty, with no in improvement in social indicators?  Obviously, it is not just a lack of political will, but being rewarded with foreign aid no matter how corrupt they are.  We used to justify this because they weren’t ‘communist’ countries, but what does that really mean?

I’ve joked that the Danes should be in charge of all foreign aid, because, according to Transparency International, Denmark is the least corrupt country on the planet. hpps://www.transparency.org/cpi2018

Is it really too much to ask for transparency, a free press, and respect for RULE OF LAW?  Shouldn’t foreign assistance of any kind ( that is not humanitarian or crisis aid) be linked to accountability and ‘best practice’?

What good does it do us as volunteers when we ignore human rights abuses?  We look disingenuous.

Obviously, the Trump Administration, with his bloviating over the corruption in  Ukraine, isn’t really concerned about corruption in other countries, or even are own when  ‘swamp dwellers’ as most of us would have identified them have been put in charge of government agencies and purses.  Isn’t it time that we, who have served,  address our responsibilities as global citizens?

I am sure most of us who are not involved in the sausage-making wonder on what basis it is that funding is offered to any foreign country. The late George Crile, in his book, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” described in well-researched detail who got what and why over  30 years ago.  Not much has changed:  From the Rapid City, South Dakota, Journal, we got  an interesting piece of information that  Crile addressed: https://rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/sd-republican-leader-receives-k-monthly-for-pro-saudi-arabia/article_b1352b18-3685-5515-b103-05f3536fcbbe.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=user-share&fbclid=IwAR0EnV8VdpFBTcT1uR3KjUDZxVu2_AVPMi5n_npBX9wKcvU5NOMXLYE8zQ8

Now, granted, Dan Lederman is not an elected official. He is merely a lobbyist for a foreign country and also happens to be the head of the GOP  in…South Dakota.  One has to wonder how he got connected to the Saudis, but never you mind.  This is how our foreign aid budget is allocated.   Can you say Quid Pro Quo?

Thankfully, now that we have the internet, it is easier for all of us to get this information in a timely fashion.  But  I also know that because so many  PCVs returned disillusioned, and feel that we can’t overcome this, they’ve become less politically active.

I think the ideas of accountability and sustainability, as well as respect for human rights should now be part of the discussion. We are invited by host countries to serve. We’ve demonstrated our value.  Shouldn’t Peace Corps state that this is what we want in return?

Barcelona

November 17, 2019

 

Miro mosaic, LaRambla metro stop

I went to for a week of art.  Why Barcelona?  Miro,  Guadi, Salvador Dali.  So much art.

Barcelona is on the Mediterranian Sea, so the weather was mild.  Yes, I did need a coat for a few days, but it was nice. They have an excellent Metro system and also take tourism seriously. There are information stands all over.

I did some research planning  the trip.  I knew the city had a ‘Big Bus’, and many museums and tourist sites.  I knew I was interested in staying in a hostel.  I did research on Trivago, TripAdvisor, Bookings.com, and AirBNB. For the same hostel, AirBNB offered the best deal at $11 a night for Arc Hostel.  I chose this business partly based on price, but also location. It’s two blocks from the ArcdeTriomf Metro stop, and very close to ‘Catelyuna’ which is the center of town.  They had separate male and female dorms.

I did airfare research on several sites, but  AirfareWarch.com offered the best deal from Chicago:  $369 RT (with a stop in Paris). I also bought trip insurance including medical for $125. Expensive, yes, but yu need it.

Let me say a bit about Delta/Air France.  Going, to check a bag would have cost over $50.  Thus, people do stuff regulation bags overhead, and it inconveniences everyone, For some reason, there is no charge to check a bag on the return trip.

I flew AirFrance to Kenya  a little over 30 years ago, when dinner was served on china with actual silverware. Those days are gone. The way they board an airplane is ungepotched.  The logical thing to do would be to board the back of the plane first & work towards the front.  Ah, no,  First class always boards first, so we can all march past the people who paid more.  Not sure what kind of perk that is to those first-class passengers. Then, they board you by ‘zone’. Zone doesn’t mean the part of the plane, but apparently when you bought your ticket & for how much. I always try to board last, no matter what—-so everyone can take their coats off & get their carry-ons overhead & NOT BE BLOCKING THE AISLES…so much for logic.  In the end, the flight attendants have to help rearrange baggage, and it wastes time.

Also, on the return (Airbus 330), the entertainment electrical system apparently started melting, suddenly, 4 hours into the flight, everyone could smell the plastic burning.  The solution wasn’t to emergency land. It was to turn off the system. With 4 hours to go, lucky I brought a book and had a flashlight on my phone.  Food was decent but typical.

I mention this about the flights because if you go on a tour (I did this on my own) your travel days are included in the lengthe of the trip.

Anyways, using TripAdvisor, I booked several tours before actual travel, as I was told many tours do get filled up.  I booked a street tapas tour via AirBNB, that became complicated when they had no trouble taking my credit card for payment, but THEN wanted  a photocopy of my passport page—-which they rejected about a dozen times before accepting.  I don’t know how that makes anyone more secure. Who’d book a  tour to be a terrorist?  But the tour, by an independent contractor names Alessio, who was from Italy and living in Barcelona, was very good, and I think worth the money.  He took us to several bars off LaRambla that a new tourist would never have found on her own.

 

I booked the ‘BigBus’ and  the Casa Batilio (Gudi designed home for a client) via Viator, as well as the Erotic Museum.  I did not book a tour of the Park Guell (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Park_G%C3%BCell), which I probably should have. It’s an expensive tour, but otherwise, you would not know what you are looking at, and it is a  git of a hike off the main road and through the park. It is away from the center  of town.

I also did not prebook a ticket  for the Miro museum (https://www.fmirobcn.org/en/).  This was 1 of the main museums I wanted to visit, and early in the morning it is definitely not crowded.  wonderful exhibit.  This museum is in the Olympic Park, created for the 1992 OlyMiro Tapestrympics.  Not far, in the same vicinity, is the Museum of Contemporary Art of Catelyuna.  I got into that museum for free (senior citizen) and it was phenomenal. Great  traditonal as well as several galleries devoted to surrealism and the era of the Spanish Civil War. Very much worth the time even if you have to pay to get in.

I really am not much of a souvenir collector.  At the Miro museum, I was able to get a stereoscopic viewer of a selection of his art, but I could not get a similar ‘toy’ at the  Contemporary art museum, nor at any other museum.  Nor could I get socks.  As my sister said several years back, these museums really miss the boat on what they can sell. I’m sure they sell plenty of scarves, coffee cups (at E16—very expensive), and key chains, but Americans I think expect so much more.

Erotic Museum Barcelona

I also prepaid for the Erotic Art museum off La Rambla.  That, I think, was a bit overprices. I think I spent 1/2 hour there. It was interesting, but I had seen much of what they had in other venues.

I went to Park Guell—the park designed by Gaudi, but things are not labeled in the park.   You really have to have a guide to appreciate what yu are seeing, Also, it is extremely hilly compared to most of the city.

I was going to visit the Picasso Museum, but in the end, I didn’t. The reason is, it took me over an hour to find it—it is on a little alley s5reet, and you really have to ask locals where it is.  Shocking that there is no signeage.  I knew I was in the vicinity, then went down another alley, but turned around. It is across the ‘alley’ from the Museum of Modern Art, also a very small museum (smaller than my apartment if you can imagine), bu at E11, I thought Picasso was very expensive,. I believe the Art Institute has a better collection, as the museum is extremely small.  I did pay the E5 to go to the MEMA, which is how I discovered how small it was. They had an excellent exhibit by a hyper realistic artist of nudesd, but  still overpriced.

Galgo

I saw many dogs. It seems many people have large Yorkies, West Highland White Terriers, and a few other purebreds & mixed breeds. I saw  several galgos:

Barcelona is in Catalonia, a region of Spain, like Basque and Andalusia, and people are  ‘fighting’ for separatism.  As an analogy, it would be like if Texas or California wanted to be their own nation.  I am not sure of the particulars and was told by a guide that there are several political parties promoting separatism, both right wing & left wing.
What does that really mean?  Ther are signs all over that  people find racism abhorrent.   Does being right wing mean being ‘nationalistic’ about your own economy?

Evidence of support for seperatism

Because I was on vacation, and don’t read  understand Spanish (or Catelunian—the regional language), I didn’t get any news. When I returned, I looked up election results :https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2019/nov/10/spanish-general-election-2019-live-results

I’m not sure what this means to those not knowledgeable about specif8ic issues, but it appears that among those voting, most did want  a separate state.

I saw a few protests, and there was evidence of activism everywhere—notably the ‘yellow ribbon’ for political prisoners.

I booked a day trip to the Pyrenees. I  think I was expecting more snow.  Everyone of these remote towns has a church.  We visited a town called Serat. Nobody was around. At a hostel, there was a sign that said, “If nobody answers, go back down the mountain and inquire at the grocery.”

The Pyrenees

One of the highlights was my visit to Figeroa, where the Dali Museum is.  They have a great ‘retrospective’ of his art except that virtually none is labeled. You will recognize most of it if you’ve seen his art in books.  In

Persistence of Memory, Dali’s most famous work

American museums, usually ther is a label stating the medium, the date completed, and possibly something about the donor.  Not so in the Dali Musuem.

Dali’s muse

Dali’s muse: Gala

I had a wonderful time, anf  it was a great trip. Even with the tours, all my expenses hovered around $50 a day. Very affordable.

What Ever Happened to Chemistry?

August 15, 2019

Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

So, I’m  on a few dating sites, including ‘Plenty of Fish’ and ‘Match’.  I bet I also appear on other sites these companies own.  I am on a few other obscure sites, like Elite Singles , but never, ever do I get responses from any men remotely suitable.  That said, I’ve had a few friends who met their husbands on dating sites, but they were younger than I am now.  From Match and POF, however , I’ve been getting responses from men who look at my posted photos, do not read my profile, and it’s  pretty much a waste of time. Why?

Often times, , even if they are younger than I am, they look like my father.  No thanks. Then, there are the guys who  clearly live over  an hour away, and haven’t put much thought into travel time.

I was an anthropology undergraduate, and what I learned about forming relationships—-especially romantic relationships—-is that personal attraction/’chemistry  is important, and you can’t determine that online .

So…. several very attractive men have told me distance is no object. Really?  You  know,  it is to me, I would be reluctant to schlep out to where you live, and that you might be hiding a wife or girlfriend.   But I do  tell them my zip code and 2 cross streets a block away, and suggest they get in the car and tell me how long it takes from where they live. They disappear…

Then, there are they guys who think being Christian (Catholic, even!) to my  Judaism/other, should not be a big deal.  What they do not understand about being an ‘other’ is that Jews don’t  prostelytize. I’m not religious at all, but  why wouuld I give pleasure to a man who supports  evangelism, and worse—- paying legal fees for a bunch of pedophiles?  That’s what identifying with a religion like that means to me.  Are they viewing me as an adventure?  So they can sin with me but ultimately settle down with a nice Christian/Catholic girl?  I’m 65…that’s a really big risk —to be vulnerable to such a man.

But we also have the guys who  tell me they are not religious…but they want to get to know me better before meeting in person.  Yet you ask, “In what way?” and they  don’t have a response.

One of my very dear friends describes me as ‘bitchy.’  Well, I’m not sweet and ladylike, that’s true. If I had been, I could have never accumulated any wealth, owned a home, or  trained dogs.  I’m a pretty tough broad.  That said, because am not ladylike, I learned to be a good lay.

I was a founder of one of the first community based recycling  centers in the USA.  I still source separate my garbage. I was also active implementing public school reform and community policing.  I’m pround of these accomplishments, and that I was a ‘judge of elections’ for years.

So, how much  history do these ‘nice guys’ need?  How many sibblings  I have doesn’t matter. That I have no debt except my home (I owe under $30,000) & pay off my credit cards  every month does matter…& I want to know this about them.  I want to know how old they were when they first had sex.  I want to know  their kinks, if they admit to any.  I don’t want to be tied up, spanked, or a few other things involving pain or force.  Have they ever seen an illustrated copy of the Kama Sutra? If sex isn’t important to them, what do they want?

In my profile, I stateI have lived with the same male roommate for over 18 years. He’s like a brother except he’s  more reliable and sober.  I rarely dine out alone, but I often go to movies and exhibits on my own amd I’ve traveled many times myself.   I don’t want to have to accomodate another person who has strong opinions about how to do things, not if I am relaxing.

I was wrongly arrested once, before we had community policing. It could happen again, but the  commander apologized and I had my arrest record expunged.  I’ve had  3 tickets in my life for moving violations.

In my 65  years, I’ve owned 8 dogs.  They mostly lived—-6 of them— to be old and unfortunately, I euthanized them when their quality of life became bad.  Nobody  lingered.  People who understand dogs understand that most people wait too long.  Now, 1 dogs is 8 and the other is 11.  I’ve made most of my living grooming and  training dogs, but I’ve also been a prudent investor.

I am a left over hippie.  I took  LSD, peyote, and mescaline in my younger days, and when marijuana is legal again, I will probbly keep a stash.  I rarely drink. Alcohol is not my drug of choice.

I am a Wobbly in arrears…Industrial Workers of the World, an anarco-sydicalist.  If you saw Warren Beatty’s move, “Reds,’ you  know a little of the history.  Yes, in my heart, I believe in small economies…but infrastructure doesn’t pay for itself.  Also, I’ve worked in  businesses that were run as ‘collectives’ by default because an owner  didn’t think having a manager was important.  Even if elected, somebody has to be the manager—the fall guy.

Finally, I have a portfolio of nudes of me: drawings, paintings, photography.  One of the photographers I worked for got me an assistantship to graduate school.  It’s a persona.  It was a job.  So this blog is about all I  can think of. I’m afraid  these do guys are not as adventurous  as they say they are or think they are.

I give as good as I get.  I am, actually, trying to scare off the ‘faint of heart’.  I hope this works.

Paris & NYC

March 19, 2018

Eiffel tower from below

On my ‘bucket list’ of destinations to see and experience,  Paris and the Eiffel Tower were big ones. I am in my 60s, and had only  been to Paris on a stopover from Bosnia.  I just never had the opportunity until Gate One offered this 6 day deal–airfare and hotel for about $700.  Huh?  How do they do it so cheap?  A bunch of  reasons:  One was to  offer  the deal in the OFF SEASON.  Not many people really want to go to Europe during cold weather, so this gives hotels and airlines the opportunity to fill  seats. Keep in mind that hotels and airline seats are what they call ‘perishable commodities’.  You can’t store them.  Also, we had a window of about a week to decide.  The tour operators need to know if there is interest.

I asked my friend, Gloria, to go with me.  We spent  four days in New York City, first.  I had never been to NYC, either.  We stayed at the Wellington, just  across the street from Carnegie Hall, in Midtown.  Perfect location.   A really nice, elegant place, but breakfast did not come with the room. Just  4 blocks from Central Park and  across the street from an L stop.  Because I had never been to NYC, I got  Big Bus ticket.  I think this is a good value because they take you all over, and if you have a guide-book,you get to see  for real what you read about.  The thing about NYC, however, unless you go for a specific purpose—like to see plays or  specific museum exhibits, you can see what you want to see in a day or 2. We did go to the Statue of Liberty and the  really nice Ellis Island museum (which I am sure that if Trump knew what the museum was about…he’d shut down), and we went to an over priced comedy club.  I wanted to go to the top of the Empire State Building, but not for $30!  Indeed…everything is expensive in Manhattan (as it is in Paris),  I guess I’m spoiled living in Chicago (I also don’t buy anything in the Loop). We walked around Greenwich village but all the cute shops are gone.  Real estate is just so expensive.    We took a city bus back from the Village to Midtown & really saw a lot.  The actual highlights of  NYC?  There is a subway food court off  58th ST. & 8th Ave, and we ate at a Japanese place, and the food was cheap and really good.  We also ate at a place called “IndieKitch” on 8th ave off 57th st.,   which offered Indian  fast food, and that was really good, too.

We then left for Paris via Icelandic Air.  Read the online reviews.  Bring snacks.   They charge 6 euros for a cup of oatmeal! A brief stop over at the airport in Reykavik (we got in around 3:00a.m., so missed the northern lights), and on to Paris. We got into Orly at about 9:30a.m.   We got our bags and….no immigration!  Just walk out!  We were a bit dismayed we didn’t get stamps in our passport.  This was, apparently, because we came from Iceland, where we DID get stamps.  Oh well.  A fellow tourist told us to take the Orly bus to the

Gar d’lest, train station across from Holiday inn in the 10th

Denfert-Rochereau metro stop, which  would have taken us all the way to Gare de ‘lest had we been better map readers—but we weren’t, so we changed trains at Gare du Nord  for no reason.  A little disoriented, and because the  sign was so hard to see, we walked around for about 20 minutes before we found the Holiday Inn, which was DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE  GAR DE L’EST!,  In any case, we got settled in.  Made arrangements for the  Hop on/Hop off bus (there are 2 companies, both  ok,tho we saw more red Big Busses), paid for the ‘skip the line’ to the Eiffel Tower for the next afternoon (I wanted to see the sunset over the city, but even at 5p.m. we were still too early ), and went to dinner at a local cafe, where I had a wonderful chicken in mushroom cream sauce for about 15 Euros.

Holiday Inn, 10th, cross from Gar de l’est

The Holiday Inn came with an excellent breakfast buffet, which included cheese, bacon, sausage, yogurt, fresh fruit, and  of course, croissants, so we scarfed some for late as we went around.  Paris is expensive. From taking the bus, we got a feel for where everything was, and most places are easy to get to via the metro.  However, there  are at least 10 metro lines.They are  by color &  number on  the map,but you really have to kinow the difference between pink, rouge, lavender, and magenta.  No joke.  But in any case, we got  to see Notre Dame, which is falling apart, and  lots of interesting sites, then went  in the afternoon to the Eiffel Tower, which had huge long lines. Then, I reread our tickets, and we were to meet our  guide at a souvenir shop 2 blocks east. That was fine, and  she took about a dozen of us back to the tower where we had to pass through  what they call ‘airport style security’—where your bad is checked for metal (guide told us that  no  metal—knives, keys, locks, etc,. were allowed)& they wand you.

View of Seine from Eiffel Tower

So, even with ‘skip the line’, it takes about 1/2 hour to get in. But it’s worth paying an additional $30 or so.  Really.    The guide told us some interesting facts and then set us loose.  I had wanted to eat at the tower, but a friend told me that the Jules Verne Restaurant was really over prices…and indeed…all the little restaurants were. A slice of pizza was 12 Euros (about $15). Gloria had wanted a glass of champagne—20 euros.  Not worth it. So we took photos and walked around.  It was the  one sunny day we had in Paris…the rest were rainy.  Just  what you’d expect of Paris in the Springtime!

Another tourist told us the Louvre was actually free—it’s the galleries that are 15 Euros each.  The Louvre is open

Me at the Eiffel tower—on top!

until 9 on Friday nights. so, there was no line, and we did get it, but it was about  8 by then. Gloria looked into it, I went to the gift shop and got a s little view slide toy with the ‘highlights of the Louvre’.

Gloria wanted to try a walking tour early Saturday, so we met up at Musee D’orsay late in the morning. This was where all the impressionist are.  I could have easily spent a few more hours there.  It was crowded (and I think about 15 euros to get in), but there was no line, and you could move around. We then went to l’Orangerie, where the Monet water lilies are.  I didn’t know that this building was built for Monet, and we’ve all seen  those water lilies. Well, there are six giant murals in  two rooms, and frankly, you can see  that he could not see.  Giant size blurs. His smaller paintings are better.  We saw some  great paintings in the rest of the museum.   I bought water lily socks and an interesting book of  paintings.  Then we went back to the hotel and decided to walk to the canal, which is about 1/2 mile away from the hotel. There are cute shops there, too, but all expensive.  We stopped at a small bistro and had crepes, which were wonderful.  We then got a little lost, but  got back to the hotel and had seen a lot of Paris.

On the first Sunday of the month, the museums are free. I wanted to go to the Rodin museum, which is not far from Musee D’Orsay, in a mansion. Riordan was really not that prolific  You get to see the Thinker & The Kiss, and a few of his other works, but the museum is mostly his studies of what he planned to do, as well as what some of his students/apprentices did. Still, I felt it was worth seeing.

We had dinner at the Strassbourgiouse which was steps from he hotel, splitting a salad, crepe, and dessert.  We left Monday morning, early.

Paris is just like you see in the photos:  all old buildings  seven stories or less, with wrought iron work, cobblestone streets, and rain.

Now, the trip  got stressful. We got to Orly 3 hours early, and Icelandic did not have a check in desk—not until 11, for a flight at 1…and the people in front of us, well, 1 had to  get rid of some of the junk in her luggage, as she was overweight, and another couple was at the wrong airport.  We were lucky  security is more ‘relaxed’ at Orly—we didn’t have to take off our shoes.  We got to Reykjavik, and Gloria was flagged for additional screening. it’s apparently a statistical thing. We then went to the gate for our flight, were there weren’t enough chairs, and the  sign said B0ARDING NOW…but we actually stood in line for about 1/2 hour more until the FIRST CLASS PASSENGERS  were boarded…and then, it was a free for all. it’s as if Icelandic has never boarded a flight.

We returned from Europe to JFK, and, knowing there might be delays, as well has having to take a shuttle from JFK to LaGuardia, we booked the  early March 6 flight –Tuesday morning…. back to Chicago.  However,  we got to LaGuardia about 7:30p.m..  on Monday, March 5. We attempted to fly ‘stand-by’ but were told—twice—that  we would be charged  an additional $99 each to change our booking.  In fact, the  9:00 p.m. flight did not leave until after 10:00 p.m.,  We also attempted to check in our baggage and they would not let us do it.  This does not make any sense. We  were  not only freeing up our seats for you to resell the next morning, your unsold  seats on that Monday evening flight were wasted You can not recover that in any way.  We ended up spending the night in arrivals sleeping on the floor.  We ultimately,  around 2:00 a.m. ,slept in wheel chairs & were chased out of those at 4:00 a.m.   Not that anyone needed the chairs.  Just policy.  LaGuardia was under construction. We could have  walked to another terminal, but   we didn’t want to do that & possibly miss the morning flight, and obviously it didn’t make sense to  go into the city for a room.

But it gets worse.

So…people started arriving to check in for  morning flights about 4:00 a.m.  There wasn’t a line, so we, again, attempted to check in about 4:30.  Your staff would not allow us to do this and made us wait an additional 10 minutes.

What I’ve seen happening more & more…due to ‘policy’—is airline staff making people wait until they are ‘ready’, a long line  happens, things get  bogged down due to  issues over luggage, then there is a crowd at TSA security screening, and everyone is frazzled & flights leave late. Makes no sense.

I’ve traveled internationally and have never had this happen even on an African airline.   “It doesn’t make any sense, it’s just our policy,”  is why Northwest folded.

So, except for the airline travel, it was a great trip.

Book Review: The Marriage Bureau for Rich People, by Farahad Zama

December 9, 2017

I  live in a culturally mixed community, and have many friends who are either from  the Middle East and India, or their parents are.  If you’ve seen the movies, “Meet the Patels,”  or “The Big Sick,”  you know that  parents are heavily involved in choosing mates for their children. Their parents did it for them, it worked, and ‘love matches’—that is, children finding their own spouses, is strongly discouraged.  Marriage is not so much about love as  maintaining communities. Obviously, it  does happen that people meet  and fall in love, and  that’s why there are ….stories.

This delightful, charming book is about a re8ired man who decides to start a match making  service, and  the nuances involved in helping people find partners.  It might help to know something about the caste system in  India, but Zama  describes this  well enough that you get  a good idea  of what people consider, and how they go about finding partners.

This is a great story.  Zama is not overly wordy, and the story is tight.  He describes his characters well.  The Ali family, Muslims, hire Aruna, a Hindu girl, to assist with office work.  She is supporting her parents and younger sister because her father’s  pension got screwed up and he can’t work because his health is poor (this is so very typical in  India).  Aruna is educated, and was supposed to marry, but her dowry was used to pay her father’s medical bills. This  dowry issue is still very much a fact in India.   As a subplot, the Alis’ have 1 son, who is an activist,  and this distresses his parents.  The dialogue is very  interesting, and  you get a better understanding of  how life in modern India is for educated people.

For  people who want a  nice read, who are considering a trip to India,  I’d  recommend  going on Amazon and searching for this book.

Hong Kong: A Great Trip for a Single Woman, but not as Quaint as I Expected

March 3, 2017

Hong Long is a 'high density city. I don't think you are allowed to put ip a building that is under 50 stories.

Hong Long is a ‘high density city. I don’t think you are allowed to put up a building that is under 50 stories.

I was in Hong Kong recently.  It was on my bucket list.  I didn’t have  a lot of vacation time (as I want to take another trip this year), and several people suggested that  five days in HK would be more than enough time.

I got a round trip airfare for under $600 from Chicago.  How did I do that?  If you make  one stop, it reduces the fee by a lot.  Going, my stop was Vancouver (I only had about an hour between planes). Returning, it was in Toronto.

Several websites had suggested getting an ‘Octopus’ card at the airport.  The initial fee is high (HK $50 for the card, and  a minimum of $100 for use), but not only is it good for the airport bus to wherever you want to go, it’s also good for city buses,  the MTR,and the express train back to the airport…& they refund your balance at the end!  It’s great!

Lodging was under $50 per night including tax.  I used Booking.com , Tripadvisor, and Trivago to do the research.

ChunKing Mansion is NOT a mansion. it is a large building with many small hotels.

ChunKing Mansion is NOT a mansion. it is a large building with many small hotels.

ChunKing Mansion is NOT a mansion.   I stayed at the Everest in Chunking Mansions.  This is an excellent location, right on Nathan Rd, across the street from the Peninsula, an iconic hotel. Very spartan lodgings, a towel was included, and toilet paper, but no soap! It was perfect for one, but would have been cramped for two, and the bathroom was very small.  Had I not traveled in Africa, I might have been shocked at how spartan it was, but you  aren’t planning on spending that much time in your room, are you?  It’s just to sleep, drop your stuff, and shower, right?  I probably should have checked out more places in Chunking Mansion, as it is a large building divided into several sections (and it is not a ‘mansion’, but  a complex of dorm like rooms),  but…although my room was very clean, it was not cleaned the whole time of my stay, and the building is sort of ‘earthy’.  That is,  a bunch of  Asian men from India & Pakistan (they seem to be an interesting mix of Sikhs, Hindus, and Moslems)  sublease the ‘hotels’, and on the first floor, they run  little kiosks  and  food stalls.  This would be a very interesting  study  for  an urban anthropologist, as they are  on the edge of a section of  HK where the subcontinentals live.

The whole area is considered Kowloon, but it is the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR stop.  Right outside the door.

Tsui Tsim Tsai MTR entrance...ther are about 6 for this 1 stop!

Tsui Tsim Tsai MTR entrance…ther are about 6 for this 1 stop!

Extremely convenient…if the  actual train wasn’t  about 1/2 mile away underground!  Actually, the MTR system is very clean, people are around who speak English and are very helpful, but it would probably take about a week to learn the system. Just as in the USA, where one subway stop has multiple  entrances and exits, it’s the same with the Metro Transit Railway of HK.

So, what did I  do on this trip?  I got on the Big Bus, which allows you to hop on & off, to see the main attractions.  I  heartily recommend it, because it goes to just about everywhere, or close by.  They have several routes, and if you buy a 48 hour pass,  it gets you ‘express’ into some attractions.  I took it around for a look/see first, then again to where I wanted to stop.  My first stop was the town of Stanley.

I was disappointed.  Most of what you want to see is along the water, and it’s a row of small shops selling mostly touristy types of things (although there was a dog groomer down there).  There are also several restaurants.  The thing is, where the bus lets you off is a modern mall, with a McDonald’s and an H & M, and I was picturing something more quaint and rural.  It’s picturesque, very hilly (HK is the land of escalators), but not what I expected.  Same with Aberdeen, which many guidebooks describe as a quaint fishing village,  and suggest stopping for a fish lunch—which I was looking forward to.  Maybe 20 year s ago.  It is a harbor filled with small fishing boats, and  these days, women give tourists rides in the boats…but HK come right up to the harbor.

Everyone  says you have to go to Central for the elevators on the sidewalks.  Well, that would be fine if you had something to do in this section of town.  If you don’t, it’s like being in a crowded outdoor mall.

View from Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

View from Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

My last  tourist site of the day was the tram to Victoria Peak. I was really looking forward to this:  going up to the  top and watching the lights at sunset come on in the city. I live in Chicago, and I have brought many people to the top of the Hancock Center to watch sunset over the city, and sometimes, fireworks.  So, that was the plan.  But this  actually  is what happened:  even with express passes, it took us 45 minutes to get on the tram.  It was really crowded.  Someone told me it was because of Chinese New Year, but whatever.  I know some people waited in line over an hour just for tickets, and had to wait much longer to get on.  So, it’s 3 minutes to the top, and at the top….is a mall.  I kid you not. Right when you get out, there are all these  vendors of touristy things, and they follow you around, because it looks like  one big store….but it is actually about  eight vendors!   You walk around, and it struck me there was a Swatch Watch store at the top, and two ice cream places…and a Starbuck’s.  I was expecting a park.  It was about 3:00 or so, and I saw all these people waiting in line to get back on the tram to go down.  The last Big Bus  leaves at 6:30, so if you missed that, you’d have to get on the MTR…not a far walk, but….I decided to walk down the peak.  I don’t know what I was thinking, but you spiral down, of course, about  3 miles. I wanted to catch a bus, but I got about 1/4 the way down, and  I notices there was a traffic jam going up the peak, and no traffic coming down. About 1/2 way down, I met a Chinese man (Mr. Hu) who was walking down the peak…he was going to the MTR, but  didn’t want to take a cab, and he pointed out to me that nothing was coming down (and also, there was a hospital near the top, so there might have been an accident), and so, we walked and walked.  Finally, we got close to Central, and he flagged a cab to take us to the MTR. The cabbie  tried to take us on a circuitous route (Mr. Hu thought it was because we were speaking English), but  he went with me on the MTR all the way back to  Tsim Sha Tsui, which was very kind of him.  It wasn’t really that long a MTR ride, but I got to see how vast the underground was. Very bright, very clean.

Ocean Park

Ocean Park

The next day, I took the Big Bus and got off at Ocean Park.  Ocean Park is sort of like Sea World and an amusement park. They do some research there,  and  promote environmental education and recycling, and there are a few rides.  I was going to go to Disneyland, but all the  guide sites  said Ocean Park was iconic & not to be missed.  I had to wait in line  about 45 minutes for a ticket to get in. The park is divided into  two sections because of geography  You can take a skyway ride to the section of the park you are not in. There are several other rides, including a roller coaster, which is described as a ‘mine train’ but isn’t.  There is a small  zoo, with both  red pandas and a giant panda, and a  display about how goldfish breeding has evolved.  I can see how a family could spend the day there.  I spend about  three hours.  Of course, there is a huge gift shop, but it sells the usual souvenir stuff:  T-shirts, water globes,  key chains,and stuffed animals.  They really missed the boat:  no dog squeaky toys or chopsticks,

Water between 'Central' and 'Kowloon"

Water between ‘Central’ and ‘Kowloon”

Day  three, in the morning, I wanted to go to the HK Art Museum, but it was closed for renovation.  The cultural center  didn’t have anything going on. Both of these are along the promenade.  So, I decided on a  tour of Kowloon, and took the Big Bus first to the Jade Market, and later, to the  Ladies market.

I felt both were disappointing.  The Jade market is under a big tent, and there  has to be  over 100 vendors.  Many have  small antiques and other jewelry.  If you don’t really know jade, you don’t know if you are looking at plastic or glass.  Bargaining is suggested, but so many young  people come from the rest of southeast Asia, and are willing to over pay, so I didn’t buy anything.

Same with the Ladies market.  Most guidebooks  describe  the ladies’ market as selling toys, clothing, sportswear….but  the irony is…you can get most of the stuff more cheaply in the USA….especially if you live in a ‘major market ‘ (or a community with a large Chinatown).  In fact, the Fodor’s guidebook suggested a  store called ‘Me and George’ for vintage clothing.  I actually found the store, but  it was mostly men’s stuff just crammed in, with  one rack of women’s blouses that were way out of style, and a rack of skirts.  It was a big disappointment.  I probably spent about  two hours at the Ladies Market, and I bought 2 sets of chopsticks.

In the evening, I was interested in taking a dinner cruise during the light show, but the people at the tourist office told me I would have to take a cab to another pier, and the  fee for a dinner cruise was in the $80 range.    Not worth it.  Several online sites suggested a place called Mak’s  for noodles, and there was  a Mak’s in the Ocean Pier Mall.

I have to say  a bit about this mall. First of all, I  missed seeing Mak’s several times, even though it was on the main floor, because they have  one small sign and they are behind  the ‘Greyhound Cafe’ (not sure why it is named that).  People come to HK to shop, and the whole first floor of this mall, aside from a few upscale restaurants, was boutiques offering baby clothes:  Baby Dior, Baby Channel. Stuff, you know, like Beyonce and the Khardasians would buy…not normal people.

Second floor was adult designer stuff…including Stella MacCartney.   & more jewelry. Really really expensive stuff.  Third floor was all electronics.  It just boggled my mind.

In any case, I had dinner at Mak’s, which was just noodles with a wonton…for $13.  Not bad, but really, not worth going our of your way for.

Day four, I took a day cruise,where you can see all the tall buildings along the harbor.  That was nice.  In the afternoon, I shopped  a little west of where I was staying.  The prices were a bit lower, but I saw nothing I had to have.  The guide books suggested  the bird market and the Goldfish markets, but I would have had to do more walking, and seeing animals just to see them isn’t my thing.  I wanted to go to the tea museum, but several people told me it was very small, and  due to construction  in the area, could have been difficult to get to.  So, in the evening, I went to the Promenade along the  harbor, where  some awful musicians played until the official music and ‘light show’ started.

The light show….I was expecting fireworks after all, this is China), but what is was was a few green lasers.  What was really interesting is that all the buildings in Central facing the promenade are all lit up.  That was sort of cool.

Clan housing in a more rural part of Hong Kong

Clan housing in a more rural part of Hong Kong

On Day five, I took a totally different tour  to the area known as ‘new territories’, with a guide and several other people. Apparently, when the British came to HK, they needed some land designated for  agriculture, and  made a deal with the clans in this very rural area  to allow them to keep their land, but not sell it for development.  So, they are allowed to build three story buildings.  They had to live in the buildings, and, traditionally, their children would live in that upper two floors….but real estate  appreciated so much in value that, although  one family member still has to live in the building, most are rented out, and it is the only low density housing (if you can call it that) in the region.  Indeed, I don’t think I saw a building under 50 stories, and most were over 100.  Also, the guide told us that most of it was public housing, and most apartments are about 400 square meters.  Very small. But also,  most  people don’t have children…it’s too expensive.

Other impressions of Hong Kong?  Yes, people come to shop, and I was shocked by the number of designer watch stores.   Tag Heur, Phillipe Pateke, Swatch, Rolex…Rolex stores across from each other!  People still seem to think a wrist watch is status.  I can’t believe that  so many people buy watches that it pays to have so many.   And…jewelry  stores.  In the windows, many (there is a chain that is on every block, and I am not exaggerating), they have  solid gold ‘character’ tchotchkes. Ugly, but  people collect these things…and remember, gold is portable.  Also, in HK, there  is Watson’s, sort of a drugstore with a wider variety of non-prescription drugs than our American stores (I went in for Nyquil, got Melatonin), and several stores specializing in cosmetics.  I also  stopped at several groceries, some offering good deals.

It was very crowded where I was. A zillion tourists, mostly from South Korea, Japan, the Mainland,  Malaysia,  New Zealand and Australia.  Every young person was either glued to a cell phone,presumably following a tour, or taking a selfie with a selfie stick. I have never seen so many.  Nobody watches where they are going.

I am glad I went, but now that I’ve seen it, on to another adventure.

Are all experiences better shared?

June 17, 2016

I am not the most sociable person, but for a long time, If I wanted to do something, I  often asked a friend to join me.  More and more, I  feel it is better to  just do what I want to do—alone.

My friend Mimi has a personality ‘thing’ where she is annoyed by people making superfluous noise.  Noises like  slurping the end of a drink through a straw, or crinkling a candy wrapper.  Especially in a movie theatre.  She makes more  noise complaining about these people than the people actually make.  It’s irritating. It’s also irritating trying to go anywhere with her because she is compelled to  schmooze with  absolutely any stranger. She thinks  that by ‘networking’ this way  that she will ultimately get more business.  She doesn’t, but this is how she is. so, we can’t get anywhere in a timely fashion, because she is always stopping to talk and joke.

My friend Patty is very interesting, and has a lot of interests, and she can be very funny, but she also has  two annoying habits;  she will  agonize over buying something, buy it, and immediately regret the purchase.  Also, she can’t have a good time without alcohol.  I didn’t realize this until I traveled with her. I bought a bottle of local liqueur as a souvenir, and she drank it without asking.  Oh sure, she promised to replace it, and didn’t. When she drinks, she can be nasty and confrontational.

Then there is Lena.   She is always complaining about my car.  It is a mess. I often have my dogs in the car.   Also, Lena likes to have a window open.  My last car was in an accident, and the windows would not always close, so I didn’t open them. The sun roof was not good enough for her.  She’s like a dog—who wants to stick her face out the window.  Always complaining, but  she doesn’t drive and was getting a free ride. We both like art, but we can’t go to an art fair together, because Lena has to stop and peruse everything—even though she is not going to buy.  This is how her Asperger’s is manifested.

Kate is always late, but insists on  picking me up and driving…then really not knowing how to get where we are going.  Also, even if we discuss the plan before hand, if we go to a movie, she always wants to spend more money…by either going out to eat or shopping  for stuff she really doesn’t need.  I had to stop doing anything with her that wasn’t at my house or her house.

the interesting thing is…..these women, while pet lovers, don’t share my interests in dogs, or in Africana.  Those people who do shave my interests, don’t live close enough by for me to develop a  ‘social intimacy’ with. so, will all our friends in the future be on Facebook or other social media?  I wonder.

 

Book Review: Charlie Wilson’s War, by George Crile.

June 3, 2016

The movie (created by people I would call the ‘dream team’:   director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts), came out in 2007… about 9 years ago.  This is the Wikipedia link to the review:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Wilson%27s_War

I came across the book (which I didn’t know existed) while traveling.  Crile was an amazing writer.  This is an absurd, almost unbelievable story. It’s actually a story about how ‘democracy’ works.

Do you remember where you were in the late 1980s?  I was in undergraduate school, working part-time grooming dogs,  and modeling for artists.  I had had a roommate who had volunteered with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.  Related to that, I had an FBI file.  That’s another story, which I blogged about previously: https://disparateinterests.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/how-i-got-my-fbi-file/ .

The reason  my roommate volunteered to work for the Sandinistas was because of our ‘covert’ was in Nicaragua.  President Reagan wanted to  help the ‘contras’—a really ragtag group of’ anti-communists’ with no real strategy to govern the country, fight communism.  Unfortunately for them, in spite of  Reagan and the CIA pouring money into training and paying soldiers, they  really weren’t getting support of the Nicaraguans.   They did not exist at all, but were a contrivance.  Apparently, not only were there  several other political parties besides the  Sandinistas, the Nicaraguans did not fear communism or socialism the way we Americans had been led to.

This only matters because the war was not ‘covert’:  the news media knew of it, as did many Americans, who  pressured Congress to cut off funding.  We all knew Reagan was not a deep thinker, and he allowed key players  in the Republican Party to set policy.  What this has to do with the story of Charlie Wilson, and the war in Afghanistan (also covert—and a secret to us), is that, at one point,  Oliver North/the Reagan Administration asked the CIA and the Appropriations committee to hide money for the Contras in funds earmarked for the mujahedeen in Afghanistan.  :”Wait!” you  shout.  “The mujahedeen?  Aren’t they the people  waging  jihad against us now?  Haven’t they been since…?”  Yep, You got it.

The movie  was written  as a comedy.  Charlie Wilson was a playboy congressman from Texas, whose constituents didn’t ask much from him.  Having served in the navy, and grown up during the cold war, he was  strongly anti-communist.  On the advice of a vivacious socialite, Joanne Herring, who had met the  president of Pakistan ( Zia ul-Haq…who had his predecessor assassinate…), Charlie, who sat on the Appropriations Committee in  the House of Representatives,  got money  appropriated for arms for people in  Afghanistan fighting Russians/Soviets.  The Russians were in Afghanistan to prop up a  socialist government.  As we believed at the time—and it could have possibly been true—according to the domino theory:  if the USSR got a foothold in  south Asia, they could dominate the world.  The reality was—and is—that Afghanistan —as a country—is a contrivance.  It is a geographic parcel of land within a border.  It will probably never be a country with a viable economy.  It is a failed state without ever really being a state.

Who writes our history?  Is it what we get in primary school history books?  Is it journalists who write news  reports and turn them into books?  No matter. At the time the CIA was  buying and providing arms for the Afghan rebels, I was a student working part time.  What I DO remember is that very suddenly, the Soviet Union fell into chaos, and the Berlin wall came down.  I don’t think many Americans understood why this happened.  All we really knew of the Soviet Union was that it was a dictatorship with no press freedom, and only of consequence to us insofar as their influence on other countries.  Crile  gives us a better understanding  of what really happened.

We have to  understand what we  did in the rest of the world.  While the do-gooders took to the Afghanis, who were not united in any way, and have proven to not be unitable, what the do-gooders did—with out tax money, was ignore their human rights record, ignore how they treated  each other—let alone women, and gave them the power to  terrorize us after they finished with the Russians.  As I write this, in early 2016, we have Syrian refugees fleeing the middle East, and a bunch of right-wing politicians calling them all terrorists…meanwhile ignoring the fact that  they supported the cause of all this.

Worse, the front-runner, Hillary Clinton,  the former Secretary of State, continued to allow the Pakistanis to hold us hostage, along with President Obama, so we could kill off Osama bin Ladin and temporarily slow down jihad leaders.  We are not going to stop how foreign aid is doled out unless we  organize for a radical shift in leadership (which is another reason I support Bernie Sanders). The   countries receiving it hire lobbyists, and the  companies manufacturing weapons also have a huge stake in  continuing the status quo.

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.

A Trip to Africa Changed my Life: a continuation of the blogs on Malawi/Zambia 2016

March 11, 2016

busstation LuWhat does being a  developed country mean?  Why are some counties so poor, and others, which started on the road to development at the same time, doing so well?

These were  the questions I had when I traveled to Africa (Tanzania) for the first time, in 1985.  At the time, Tanzania had a 90+% literacy rate. So, why were there no roads, and if there was nothing to buy, why was inflation so  bad?
Being so inspired to learn the answer,  having seen people working incredibly hard with nothing to show for it, I returned to America, took College Level Examination Program Exams( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/College_Level_Examination_Program ),  enrolled in college, and started studying Africa area studies and international development.

The indicators of ‘development’ are : a literate populace,  access to health care and communication, infrastructure to aid economic vitality, a low infant mortality rate, and an ability  for adults to return to their communities the economic investment made in them.  So, how is it that Malaysia and Thailand seem to be doing much better than, say …Greece?  Or so many countries in Africa?

central malawi2The short answer is political will.  The answer gets more complicated  because of  western (oh, hell, American and the European)aid, which  keeps  people engaged in corruption and malfeasance in power.  These are sovereign states.  We have an embarrassing track record of intervening—in fact, in assassinating, elected leaders whom  WE (face it—our tax dollars at work) felt were governing not in OUR interests.    Yet, for all the meddling we’ve done, and the billions USAID has given, we don’t have  much to show for it. We don’t have to go back forever, but just to after the end of World War II.

But this is not what this blog is about. What I learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer is that  direct aid to communities, which you can  hold accountable, spurs more development than anything USAID or ODA have ever done.

I had been donating to several groups, and I wanted to see, with my own eyes, how they were doing.  Actually,  I wanted to see what they were doing with my donations.

Zambian Children's Fund Chishawasha School outside Lusaka

Zambian Children’s Fund Chishawasha School outside Lusaka

The first  place I visited was the Chishawasha primary school  in Chishawasha, just north of Lusaka.  Kathe Padilla had seen the poverty in the region, and  also knew how AIDS had devastated families. So, she worked with a local chief to get land set aside for  housing for orphans,  and a school.  Somewhat resembling the SOS Children’s Village model, where a house mother stays with a cohort,  with the assistance of the Glassco Foundation of Canada (http://glasscofoundation.org/ZambiaMainframe.php?page=OrphanageProject.htm),  Kathe had a compound, and a primary school built.  I have been sending books, art supplies, and other miscellaneous items to Kathe, who is in Tempe, Arizona, and she sends a container about once a year.  There are supporters in other parts of the ISA and Canada.  The school is a good size, and they even have a computer lab.  Kathe is also working with the extended families of the orphans on other income generating projects.  I am lucky enough to live in Chicago, and get just about everything I send  for free.  It  costs me about $100 a cubic meter to send the boxes to Kathe and the Zambian Children’s Fund by UPS.  I actually used to send  books to Malawi via M bag, but that program no longer exists.  In any case, I was

Buildings on the Chishawasha campus

Buildings on the Chishawasha campus

delighted to see that housing in such great shape and so modern, and the compound so  beautiful.  http://www.zambianchildrensfund.org/  Also, they have so many  helpful projects to help the community with economic development.

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA

I then went to Malawi, and I had planned to  volunteer with the Lilongwe SPCA (http://www.lilongwespca.org/ ). However, they had just moved, and  they were still a ‘work in progress’.  One way they support themselves is by running a veterinary clinic. Thy were quite busy the day I was there.  The number of pets they have for adoption at any one time varies.  They’ve had a litter of pups for  a couple of months, and they all seem to be well socialized. The kittens they had really needed more human interaction.  I had learned about  them via  http://www.Animal-Kind.org and was able to make several donations to them via Animal-Kind. They’ve unfortunately, had a communication breakdown, but they do get a lot of local support, particularly from expats, but also, from many local Malawians.  At their new  grounds, they will be able to have many more activities, including dog training classes, and they do educational workshops all over the country.  I felt my donations were well used.  Their   new compound is so large, they will be able to house volunteers who might come from outside the country.

mcv1Finally, I went to Malawi Children’s Village in Mangochi (http://malawichildrensvillage.org/about/).  I had been supporting MCV since  inception, with cash donations and  sending books M-bag.  I was a bit disappointed to learn that the books were packed up because they were in the process of moving the library from  one  room to another, but Vincent, the assistant manager, took  us (I arrived as  a few other people were there) on  a tour  of  the grounds.  They now have a secondary school, and  vocational training in bricklaying, carpentry, vehicle repair, and  a sewing/fashion workshop.  They produce a lot of nice items there, and I was able to purchase trousers and several small bags.  They also have made uniforms for local school children.  Attached to the compound is the Open Arms orphanage, which serves infants to age 2—until they are healthy enough to

Open Arms Orphanage at Mangochi

Open Arms Orphanage at Mangochi

return to their extended families.  Many of the babies have AIDS.  In fact, as I served in Peace Corps, there was a 20—90% incidence of HIV, depending on how close you lived to the road.  What kind of difference would this make?  During times of drought and starvation, girls will prostitute themselves for food, and truckers  take advantage of being away from home.  One must keep in mind that this is a somewhat polygamous society, so there  never really was a stigma regarding multiple partners (in spite of the influence of Christianity…and for the most part, both Zambia and Malawi are  very Christian nations:  you pick and choose what works for you…and of course, Jesus forgives your sins…). Malawi Children’s Village is very well-known now, at least in central Malawi, and I found it very gratifying to see how effective the programs are.

Lilongwe bus station

Lilongwe bus station

Partly due to culture, partly due to religious faith, and partly due to access, Malawi is a very poor country.  It is difficult for me to say that  Zambians  are better off, but being closer to Zimbabwe, which  is closer to South Africa, and being a larger country, there are more of the trappings of development  (at least in terms of infrastructure) in  Zambia than there are in Malawi.  I noticed more water pumps closer to the roads in Malawi than there were 20 years ago, and there is a much greater middle class population—-at least in both Blantyre and Lilongwe.  More people are wearing shoes, everyone has a cell phone, and all the women either are relaxing their hair, having extensions put on, or are wearing wigs.  Yet,  literacy has barely improved, there is still very little access to health care, and  rally, people ar  very cynical about their governments.  This is true of both countries.

Hippo in the Zambezi River

Hippo in the Zambezi River

There is  too much cronyism and corruption in both countries. When beneficial laws are passed, they are not enforced.  Except for  the hippos I saw in the Zambesi River, and the monkeys in the park, I saw no other wildlife.  This is a tragedy.  Wildlife tourism is a major foreign exchange earner for both countries.  People who come to see wildlife  support a lot of jobs in the hospitality industry.  If word gets out that there is no wildlife to be seen,  people with money will stop coming to  these countries, and there is virtually no other industries that can  be competitively developed to  support all these people.  We —in America—think we have a refugee problem now?  If we don’t do  something to cause the non-profits now supporting wildlife and environmental conservation to  develop more effective strategies for  educating Africans about the importance of their wildlife heritage, and influencing politicians, we are going to be facing another crisis.