Posts Tagged ‘economy’

Move on? Resist? What’s the Plan? 2017

February 24, 2017
Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi, in 1992,  the country was  undergoing a big shift. There had been a president, who had named himself  life president, and had served, at that time, 26 years:  Hastings ‘Kamuzu’ Banda.  He was s dictator:   he terrorized the country.  He was supported by the Europeans & the USA because he was NOT a communist, and  he  supported apartheid in South Africa. About the only good thing he did for the Malawians was build a  decent road infrastructure.  The school and health care systems were virtually nonexistent.  It was a country run by elites. who went for medical care out of the country.  Malawi was socially stratified:  if you had a decent job and were literate, most likely you employed an illiterate servant to clean your house & probably cook for you. There was no way to improve your lot unless you were (or are) particularly ingenious.

Of course, I worked with elites.  They  two I worked with were honest, and had integrity.  Things were the way they were.  Pick your battles. but I explained to them that  democracy did not bring good government, but representational government.

And here we are, over 30 years later, and our  representational electorate has elected  a guy who lied, who had no plan, who  disrespects women, minorities, the handicapped…. people who are not white Europeans.  It will be interesting to see how  his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law works with the white supremacist  Bannon, who is a close advisor.  Really interesting….but I think they are sell-outs. I have some friends who I really lost respect for.  It’s one thing to think your friends are  uninformed—but to see they voted for the white guy because they believed ‘fake news’ (what we used to call lies….as ‘toxic assets’ were liabilities) and just didn’t like  or trust Hillary.   Was it because she was a woman?  Doesn’t matter—she actually got the popular vote. She won!  But due to the political mumbo jumbo of the electoral college, these former friends who voted for Trump think—really, that HE won!  It’s like saying 5-3=10!  So this is the new reality.

I fear for the environment.  Even the Clean Air & Clean Water acts were signed by Nixon—a Republican.  It is proven that when you offer free birth control and family planning information—the unplanned birth rate goers down, and the community prospers….but our rulers  really have a mindset that women should be punished for having sex—the punishment being raising  children, and this will lead to a surplus in labor.  Our economy can no longer absorb uneducated people—as it can’t absorb the educated ones! What other explanation can you  come up with for  defunding  Planned Parenthood or making abortion illegal?  It’s not like the people who make these laws are fostering or adopting orphans or kids in the child care system.

I also think  the Democratic Congress made the banking industry more accountable. Trump thinks it is too much regulation.  Education would  fix this, as kids would understand more, but with DeVos, they have demonstrated that  making sure kids learn math & science is not a priority.  it’s up to us…in the states…to work this out.

So, as a result of all this, I am much more in touch with my elected officials.  I let them know how I feel about everything.

But  are there  citizen movements emerging to develop strategies to  change it all back….or…?

While   I have big issues with the Affordable Care Act, the problem is with insurance companies, and it is time for Single Payer.  If Trump wasn’t flitting off to Florida every week, there’d be plenty  of money  for  people of all ages to buy into Medicare. You wouldn’t have to—you could still pay for private insurance if you really believe you’d get a better deal….but, having had to  deal with  health insurance a lot recently (Bursitis, and I was bitten by a dog), I can tell you, the government couldn’t make a bigger mess out of what things should cost & how hospitals get paid than the insurance companies have!

If we are going to ‘resist’ and make things better, we must educate ourselves, so we have talking points.  I want everyone who wants to make a difference get  4 books and read them.

  1.  The First is, “Lies My Teacher Told me, ” by James Loewen  You really have to understand American History, first, or you will be ‘condemned to repeat it.  It’s outrageous, what we learned in school and  what we think is real;

2. “Charlie Wilson’s War,”  by  George Crile.  Aaron Sorkin made a pretty funny movie by manipulating facts.  All of what Charlie did, and why,  is sort of ‘funny’ in an ironic way.  It’s important to understands what he did and who influenced him, as he changed history.  You will learn  that he actually armed what became the Taliban, ISIS, and all the others who hate  freedom;

3.  You ought to read a book on economic history.  “The Big Short,” by Michael Lewis, again, was a funny movie.  Not so funny  is that is our history, and he documents it and writes about it in a way you can understand.  Bottom line:  because we are  an innumerate nation, and so few of our schools teach  people real math and budgeting, our neighbors trusted the banks—even thought the numbers were right in front of them. We all lost, big time.

If this seems too convoluted, get a copy of Robert Reich’s book, “Aftershock.”  We could have saved ourselves, but Hillary didn’t make it engaging enough (that, and the Russians and FBI director Comey put the final nails in her coffin);

4.  Finally, how do we actually  get the hearts & minds?  You have to read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point.”  We’re not going anywhere in a hurry unless we know the dynamics of social change.  In simple language,  this book tells us how it’s done.

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.

Bernie Sanders has to get into Specifics Fast

May 6, 2016

I have always admired and respected Bernie Sanders—an American who is not afraid to say he is a socialist.  Face it, Capitalism doesn’t work  unless the Keynesians tinker with it constantly, and we are now at the tipping point, where  not enough Americans are educated enough to not have more children than they can realistically support, nor get the jobs to support them.  Our educational system is concerned with statistics, not  actually teaching kids to think, and we keep teaching an American history that is a big lie….but whatever.  Land rents (property taxes) and energy costs are way too high, and we keep sending our tax  dollars to  poorly thought out, designed, and monitored development projects, as well as military foreign aid. Since WWII, we’ve stuck our noses  where  they don’t belong, ‘fighting communism’, and have made every situation worse…and we are no safer, no better off economically, However, a very few rich people have benefited. The media  is a strong booster for this system, and we are not skeptical enough.

I live in a relatively well-educated, open-minded community, and most of my friends and neighbors really believe that  nobody likes Clinton or Trump.  Well, I know a bunch of people  think of an old Jewish guy as a joke. And—because  he is rich (and got that way ripping people off), they believe  Trump would be a good president because he is not a professional politician, and he says what  scared, poor white people want to hear.

Well, there are a lot of them. The only way around this is for Bernie Sanders to  start talking specifics. What budgets would he ask the House Appropriations Committee to cut, and which  would he give to?   Who does he think will support him? We have to know this, or the rest of the election year will just be a bunch of empty words.

We have over spent on the military—with not much to show for it.  Military foreign aid—which is now being used against us, foreign embassies (which do  little to  help actual American citizens), law enforcement and the department of justice, the war on drugs, perks for congressmen, Homeland Security…we all see waste all around us.  We see  congressmen earmark money for special interests.

Politics is the art of compromise. I am somewhat disappointed that Obama didn’t get it all done.  However, considering  we’ve had a Republican Congress, we got more than we would have  had either McCain or Romney won.  I am really not a fan of Hillary Clinton.  I would have had more respect for her had she left Bill.  Thing is, if Bernie doesn’t  get the nomination, we will lose ground if we don’t vote for her.  We have a chance to keep making  progress here. Neither Trump nor any  of the Republicans car about any of us.  They just care about money.  Capitalism can’t survive any regression and like it or not, we have to play in this system.

Those With a Vested Interest in the Status Quo are Asking us to Reject Sanders as Viable

April 15, 2016

Steve Chapman, a member of the Chicago Tribune editorial board,  wrote an Op/Ed piece in the Sunday Chicago Tribune telling us to reject Bernie Sanders because he hasn’t articulated his  plan for how he was  going to fund free college tuition or single payer health care, or break up the big banks.

Funny….nobody ever asked Reagan  how he was going  fix our economic mess (we got  trickle down economics).  Nobody  is actually asking any of the  other  political candidates that much, because  they all want to maintain the status quo.  All the  current candidates except Sanders want to  either maintain the status quo or take us back to the good ol’ 1950’s, when women and minorities had to ask permission from white men to do everything…and pollution was really pretty bad.

It appears that  the United States of America is still in debt to the Chinese, and  since we have a deficit, we can’t really add any new  programs—or—as they’d say, ‘entitlements’, and these  smug elitists even call Social Security—which we’ve  all paid into, entitlements.  However, the many double dippers  who work for the government—who collect a pension from  one job, but take another…that’s ok with them.

Now Bernie isn’t saying everyone who wants a college education will go to Harvard…but how is it that , say, Germany, provides free college education?  Or, that horrible socialist country, England, manages to provide free health care?

Could it be that those countries don’t give as much foreign military aid  to countries  as we do?  That they don’t incarcerate as many non-violent  criminals as we do?  What is going on?  Thankfully, due to the internet,it is easier for Americans to find out what our government budgets for …stuff.  It’s complicated, but anyone with a half way decent high school education should be able to  find out what we budget for foreign aid.    We don’t even get  goodwill for it.  I have alluded to George Crile’s book, “Charlie Wilson’s War”, in the past.  That book shows exactly how billions get spent by a few congressmen when nobody is paying attention.

Chapman uses Politifact to show that  we spend ‘only’  38% more than the Swiss do on health care.  Only 38% ?  That’s a huge  per centage.  Chapman also defends fracking for  making fossil fuels available cheaply…never mind what fracking is doing to  potable water supplies (or creating earthquakes).   I can’t believe  ANYONE would defend fracking unless they hold stock in a company which does it!  He also scoffs at raising the income tax rats for the uber-wealthy—when they were  actually very high during the Eisenhower years. True,what kept our  economy  ‘working’ was that women, blacks, and other minorities  would legally not need to be paid as much as white men, but let’s not quibble.   And lets not quibble that land rents—in proportion to income, were much lower.   As for regulating banks—we’re heading, again, towards credit default swaps as they are still not illegal—and who knows how many mutual funds contain them?

Here’s the thing—and this is important:  Sanders is speaking to concerns that many of us have.  And—even if he doesn’t win the nomination, he’s brought our concerns to the  table.  They  may be part of the Democratic Party platform. We all  know that  no matter what a president says, there’s still  Congress to contend with.  Thankfully—due to the internet and social media, we  are able to reach more like minded people. We won’t have Cruz doing away with the EPA, or making abortion illegal.  There are too many of us who  don’t want to go back.

You Can Affect Public Policy

April 7, 2016

In my city (Chicago), an activist ( Cari Meyers/The Puppy Mill Project) managed to get support of some politicians (Susana Mendoza, City Clerk, and John Fritchy, Cook County Board Member)  and they managed,  a  little over a year ago, to  have a law passed banning the sales  of commercially bred puppies in city pet shops.  That is the gist of the law.  I am not sure if it is worded that…if a pet shop sells puppies and kittens, they must be sourced from bona fide shelters and rescues, or  if it just says….they can’t be bought from puppy mills.

I didn’t think I would see this come to pass in my lifetime, and many  humane activists were thrilled.  However, the law has been challenged in court and is not being enforced.  Is it the wording?  Because….there is no  definition of what a puppy mill is.  Most of us feel  a puppy mill  is anyone breeding pets just for resale, and not for the betterment of a breed or to improve a bloodline.  Some feel it is over  a certain # of breeding animals on site.

The reality is that the pet shops claim they are buying  animals from families, not commercial breeders (you’d really have to go into their records to check….and really, what kind of family is always having baby animals for sale if it is not a BUSINESS?).   1 huge lying scofflaw, Lane Boron,  has the audacity to be posting he has for sale a French Bulldog puppy from a rescue, neutering included.  Couldn’t possibly be true.

Obviously, we need a better law.  But before I get into what a better law might be, let me tell you how I found all this out.  I kept contacting Susana Mendoza, as it is her office which is supposed to send out inspectors to  shut these businesses down.  However, she would not take the report directly at her office. She insisted I call 311, the city  information/non-emergency line.  So…that’s what I did. the operators had no idea what I was talking about, and they  asked for all sorts of information (name of business, address,and phone number) and… a couple of weeks later I got a call from Chicago Animal Care  and Control.  Seems the city sent the complaint to them.  This was NOT a cruelty complaint, as I explained to the  CACC inspector who called. This was a BUSINESS VIOLATION complaint.    He told me, however, he was  going to inspect, but he didn’t know what the law was. So, I again, called   Susana Mendoza’s office, and  one of her staff people  filled me in on status.  Well, that’s fine, but we have another problem—being the city workers don’t know their jobs. The staff person told me to call my alderman. Really?  Like he gives a rat’s ass?  He doesn’t even own a pet.

Dash was returned to his breeder, Linda Larsen, because he chased the cat. I was lucky to get him. This is us at an obedience trial.

Dash was returned to his breeder, Linda Larsen, because he chased the cat. I was lucky to get him. This is us at an obedience trial.

So, we are in limbo on this….but this  is how the whole issue of puppy mills stands right now:  more and more pet shops around the country are seeing  that the activists are right.   I know this because I  susbscribe to several pet industry publications.  Pet stores might be able to source  healthy,well bred puppies from Hunte Corp, but bottom line is, no matter how physiologically healthy these pups are, they  are stressed out, not socialized, and they are still being sold as livestock to anyone with a credit card.  Ethical hobby breeders who love their dogs  do not sell for resale. It doesn’t happen.  In fact, there are many breeders who are  thisclose to being puppy mills, as they are commercial breeders….but they  would never think of selling for resale: they still want to meet the buyers—even if it is just over the internet—and they still want the dog back no matter how old it is if the buyer no longer wants it.  AND—-many of the  puppy mills are closing.  The breeders are retiring, they are being raided (even though we have yet to have a president appoint a USDA director who will enforce the laws we have), and, thanks to  social media, we can  probably get them closed down in the next several years.

What we are not addressing are the  breeders taking their place:  the backyard breeders which are  smaller puppy mills. They are all over  Craigslist, E-Bay, Amazon, and a few other selling sites.  Sometimes they post in  newspapers, but the internet is the new way to sell.  We have to get  them. Their dogs may or may not be  better cared for, but, because of their selling practices, these are the dogs that end up in animal shelters.  If we want this to be a NO-KILL NATION, we have to make sure there are fewer dogs.  To do that, we have to let these breeders know that we are on to them, and we intend to make them responsible.

So, I am drafting a law.  However, I have to get  politicians to  promote this law, and I have to get  activists—or at least people concerned about  humane treatment of animals and pet surplus—to  advocate for this law.

I am not a political science major, but I have seen what social media has  done in the past several years.  Sea World  is  going to stop breeding whales (and may shut down altogether) due to negative publicity.  Ringling Brothers circus is retiring its elephants,  people know it is gauche to wear fur, to buy products tested on animals, and  to give a live animal as a gift.  More people understand that people who   are habitually violent most likely started by being cruel to animals and they see the link.  Because so many of us have posted about these issues on Facebook, we are getting across.

A Corporation Comes Calling

March 25, 2016
You'd be lucky to find a pet groomer who can still do a classic Poodle trim.

You’d be lucky to find a pet groomer who can still do a classic Poodle trim.

I wanted  to blog about something else this week, but I got contacted by  a recruiter who had seen my resume on an internet site.  Now, he thinks he needs another dog groomer at the business he manages (for the corporation), but when I asked him how far ahead his groomers were  booked….he wouldn’t give me a straight answer.

I told him—straight out—that his corporation had fired me for doing what his manager told me to do, and I doubted his corporation would allow him to hire me even part-time.  It was though he was not listening to what I was saying.  I also told him that if I worked part-time, I knew I would not make commission, and he ignored that, too.  He out and out told me I had to work weekends to make commission, and I told him I  was showing my dogs in  performance. Then, the conversation switched to  the fact that he also needed to hire a dog trainer, and blah blah blah…long story short, once I built up my classes, i would make $20 an hour.

I told him  that I wanted to go to classes myself, so that would not work. Then he told me about another location, close to where I live, that needed a grooming manager, as they had no groomer at all.

I know these guys answer to corporate. Corporate sets the prices you can charge.  That’s only  part of it.  There  is nothing to prevent them from hiring more people than needed so nobody makes commission, and their base pay is $12 an hour. Even some Walmarts are now paying that for non-skilled workers, so how can anyone think that’s fair?  Because you don’t need a college degree?  What is it that causes so many of them to re-arrange their policies and still disrespect the people making them money?

But I’ve also gotten religion in these past several years,  having worked at pet shops selling animals.  I  want to ask, between the time you order  guinea pigs, gerbils, mice and bunnies (never mind the herps and birds) and the time they get to the  shop floor, how many die of stress  or injuries, and what happens to the unsold animals?  Are they children of a lesser God?  Deserving less concern?  Do I want to  work for a corporation that exists on the premise that they are selling  love, but don’t really care if pet animals are mistreated?

I was in Viet Nam a few years ago. Communist country, right?  We’ve told ourselves so many lies about Viet Nam, but what I witnesses was that so many people were entrepreneurs.  So many. I am sure there are factories in Viet Nam, but in so many cities, what I saw were  so many vendors.  They sold cloth, and notions, and clothing,  dishes, cookware, electronics, had little tearooms,  restaurants, herbal stores,beauty salons…. whatever.  I’m sure  very few of them were making any real money, but they had cell phones, and TVs…and their time was their own.  That’s so important.  They didn’t have bosses telling them to do crazy stuff, belittling them, and lying about it.  This is why groomers have said, “Take this job and shove it.”  They make less on their own, but their time is their own.

Until the corporations start treating their groomers and dog trainers at least as good as they treat all the people making rules for them…and paying them justly, they are going to continue to beg for groomers, and keep training people who don’t have a clue, don’t have an aesthetic eye,  or don’t have any interest in animal behavior.  What a business model!

Book Review: Without Sin, by Spencer Klaw

March 18, 2016

I became interested in the Oneida community when I was in high school, in the late 1960s’s.   I  read a  popular book on sex, and  the physician who wrote it suggested, for the inexperienced, they find members of the Oneida community to initiate them. Of course, they no longer existed.  However,  it got me curious  about the community, as I was interested in Utopian communities.

The Oneidans were a ‘intentional community’ practicing  Christian communalism.  They were organized as a commune, shared labor and  learned different tasks.  They were led by the eccentric , John Humphrey Noyes, who had, in retrospect, a very convoluted Christian view.   They were concentrated around Putney and Oneida , New York.

The most interesting thing about them, I think, was their conscious feminism and advocacy for women. Marriage was allowed, but monogamy was discouraged.  But more, since in the 1860s, there really wasn’t much  birth control available, men were encouraged to practice sexual continence  (not ejaculate), and, as a result, the community controlled its fertility, and there were very few unplanned pregnancies.

Using the writings and letters of Noyes, as well as other members, Klaw has put together a very good description and history  of the community.  They are remembered for ‘free love’, but, in fact,  sex was relatively discreet.  Indeed, the leader, Noyes, seems to have been having more sex than anyone.  That the community  existed for over 30 year (from 1848) and became quite wealthy due to their work and enterprises, is really the remarkable thing.    This is attributed to both the shared labor aspect, as well as the equality of women in  learning job tasks.

They became quite wealthy,and their  best known enterprises were Coates & Clark thread, and Oneida Silverware.   But this was after they had been established for several decades. At the disbanding of the community, these enterprises became corporations.

Why did the  community fold if things were  going so well?  Several reasons: 1.  John Humphrey  Noyes was the undisputed leader, and his word was law.    He was  ultimately threatened with  being charged with sexual crimes and fled the country, moving to Canada.  He never was charged, but leadership after he left becamse hotly disputed.; 2.  It was a religious  commune, and  they discouraged people not fully committed to Christ from joining ; 3.  They  would not work with other communes; 4.  When Noyes left, new leadership  emerged and  members started thinking   about whether they wanted traditional marriage or  how they had been living, and the younger people chose traditional marriage.

In any case, the  commune ‘devolved’ to a corporation, and was in decline for a couple of years until John Noyes son, Pierpont, was able to take the reins  of the silverware company, which exists in some form to this day.

This is a well researched book, and would be  of interest to anyone interested in communes.

 

I always like to include the wikipedia  post because  it is concise and  generally  well documented. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oneida_Community

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.

 

 

 

The Warm Heart of Africa & ‘Big Heads’

February 26, 2016
miles from anywher you'd call anywhere, except right on Lake Malawi

Lufua Village miles from anywhere you’d call anywhere, except right on Lake Malawi

I am starting this blog post with a link to an excellent article that Alexander  published…you can see how many years ago.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1991/12/16/an-ideal-state

For those new to me, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer Urban Planner in Blantyre, Malawi in 1992.  I joke that I undeveloped the country, but my main job was development control, and helping the country modernize their  procedures.  I failed at almost everything because there was no political will.  Worse, there was a drought, and these were the last ruling days of Hastings ‘Kamuzu’ Banda.

When you are a Peace Corps Volunteer, you develop a fondness for your country.  Thus, I supported Malawi Children’s Village, and have been in touch with humane societies in Lilongwe and  Blantyre.  In future blogs, I will do more of a description of these organizations.

I don’t think there is one of us who doesn’t feel that they want to leave the world a better place.  I was a founding board member of Uptown Recycling Station in Chicago in 1984—one of the first community based recycling organizations in the country, and this effort kickstarted an industry.  So, you do what you can…and this  was the reason I  returned to Malawi, and also spent time in Zambia—-to see if my  support  has been making a difference.  I am happy to say it has. So, it was worth the effort just for those reasons.

As far as this being a vacation…I can hardly call it that.  Let’s start with the currency issue.   You can see the difference.  In America, we go to the bank & just assume we are not being given counterfeit bills.  But that was not the problem, I learned.  The unofficial policy in both Zambia and Malawi was not to change  $100 bills that were older than 2013.  I even had trouble at the banks, and the American Embassy was of no help.  As I explained to  my African friends, nobody in the USA uses $100 bills.  They could see how crisp the bills were.  I told them only gamblers, dope dealers, & people buying & selling cars use $100 bills. the rest of us use credit cards.  I thought the reason for this  discrimination was counterfeit bills coming in from South Africa. Ah, no:  the reason is….the Asians (Indian/Pakistani)  population hoards them, and if they dear a devaluation, floods the market and causes rapid  inflation…so by banning the  street or bank conversion, they are forced to bank them.  So I had to be very frugal, and use credit cards where ever I could—which was difficult.  Nobody takes a credit card outside of the big cities.  In the past,  the currency discrimination was against ‘small heads’ (bills  minted in  the 1980s) vs the ‘large heads’.  Now, they want to see that mylar stip and the liberty bell in gold.

What has changed in 23 years?  Literacy is up by  about 25 % for both men and women, and AIDS is down (though  there is a cohort of people—-probably age 35+—which is missing,  Both countries are now very young), and people seem to think that the economy is much better and growing.  This is a subsistence agriculture country.  Into the 1800s (we have to go this far back for you to understand Africa) Malawi was sparsely populated. The Ngoni had gone from  south Africa up to the Congo, then back down  through Zambia and  into Malawi, the Chewa were there, and the Yao came in from Mozambique, mostly to  escape the slave trade….but due to tsetse fly,  people couldn’t farm all over. The soil wouldn’t support it, anyways. For  centuries, these people raised millet as their staple, a  drought resistant grain. When the Europeans came in, they supported the planting of maize over millet, and maize is not drought tolerantThe drought issue  could be cyclical, but  for the past  30 or so years, the problem has been  deforestation.  Most of this is caused not by slash & burn agriculture, but  harvesting wood for charcoal for cooking.

Starvation  is still a huge issue, especially in the rural areas, but  actually, Malawi is very densely populated and some what urban.  What I  did notice is that  virtually everyone was wearing shoes—even if it was cheap BATA  or Chinese jellies ( in the early 1990s, only about  30% of people wore shoes) and virtually every woman gets her hair done, whether it be relaxed, or, mostly, extensions or wigs.  When I served, no woman  got her hair done—less than 5%.  Again, these are women with no electricity or running water. Another surprise:  everyone had a cell phone. No joke. I was in a way off the road in Lufua village.  I had to take a truck to get there, and  people had cell phones. They buy battery packs in markets to charge them.

More people are running ‘matolas’ (Toyota 4 x4) and minibuses, so  Stagecoach, the  old buses  imported from Blantyre, Scotland, are gone. They used to run on a schedule.  Now, the vehicle goes when full. Finally, Whitex, the  regional cloth looms, is gone.  They produced unique designs. Now, all the cloth is wax print & faux wax print from Mali, Tanzania…and India or China.

I will write more about  my experience in next week’s blog post.

 

 

The 2nd Blog About Going Back to Africa

February 4, 2016

I’ve been doing research almost every day on transport, say, from Mua mission to Mangochi (in Malawi), and places to stay.  Google ‘Lilongwe to Lusaka by bus.’   You can get Lusaka to lilongwe, but not the reverse. Traveling in inland Africa  is so …difficult. Roads are bad, transport is badly regulated, bus companies go out of business or  radically change their routes.

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

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

I paid for the airfare back in June 2015.  I did this after Zambia removed the requirement for a Yellow Fever shot. Having had 3…I would have gone to Hong Kong or  Costa Rica if the requirement was still in place (no word on Zika—now in the news…).

I sent my passport to the Zambian embassy for a visa in October of 2015—before the ‘holiday rush’, and checked the Malawian embassy website—still no visa needed. Apparently the requirements changed  just after I checked the website.  From $0 to $100.  How did I find out? By checking the Peace Corps Malawi Facebook page…someone just happened to post asking if anyone had trouble getting a visa!   This was now the middle of January, 2016.   So, I checked the embassy website again, and sure enough, yes, a visa is now needed. Why?  It’s only fair:  they charge  now for whatever country  charges their ‘nationals’ for a visa, and the USA charges $161.

So, I emailed the embassy.  All the emails bounced back. So I called…and they graciously returned my call, and told me, as the website says, they could get it done in 5 days…and to Fed Ex my passport.  I asked if I could get one at the border, and they said I couldn’t.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but I could picture having to get off a bus at the Zambian/Malawi border, and being asked for $100 & to fill out forms, and a bus not waiting,  and being stuck.

So, I got the application, flight info, photos, passport together and Fed Exed it.  This was on Jan.19.  It got to the Embassy on Jan. 20.  On Jan 28, I called to ask how things were going. Not well. Seems that—due to the blizzard that hit Washington, DC earlier in the week, the embassy had been closed, because the roads had not been cleared (let alone the sidewalks).  But, I was assured that  the passport would be sent out  on Friday, Jan.29.  But it wasn’t.  I checked the  Fed Ex tracking number—for the return envelope I had sent, and it was still sitting there!

Now, I’m frantic.  I can’t get on the plane without a passport.  I called my credit card company, Chase Freedom, because they insure  for ‘trip interruption ‘ when you pay on their card (my airfare).  Ah, no…they never heard of anything like this, but this wasn’t weather related as far as they were concerned. So, then I called the travel insurance company, WorldNomads.net, to see if I was covered.  No, If it is not explicitly listed  in their causes, no.  I am not covered.  I call Emirates asking about penalties for rebooking.
They tell me to call the travel agent to see about fees.  What to do?

I decided to call FEdEx and arrange a pickup at the Embassy for Monday morning. I even offered to pay overnight express.  Funny thing—they say the Embassy has already paid it on my tracking  number!  They just have not set it out!

Here’s the thing:  if your envelop is not ready to go, the Fed Ex driver will not wait.  Due to the embassy people being behind on everything, they  did not see that it was not picked up on Friday, then on Monday, they had a question about the address (I had it sent to a local receiver  due to my running around), but it finally got out Monday night.

So I have a few other questions & continue to email contacts in Malawi. What denomination bills should I get, as the exchange rate is Mkw 726.38 to  $1 USD…and do I need to bring my heavy  electric converter to recharge my cell phone.

You Can’t Miss it!

Since roads are often unmarked (but everyone knows what they are…)

Here’s an example of  directions I got for  Chishawasha Children’s Home outside Lusaka:

From Kathe Padilla: You will probably need to take a bus from the main bus station downtown out Great North road.  About 5 K out of Lusaka (going North) there is a
Police Checkpoint, where all the automobiles and trucks are checked.  A bus may or may not get checked, I am not sure.  Three K beyond that check point
on the left hand side is a large sign for the Chishawasha Children’s Home of Zambia.  It is quite a few years old by now, so it is looking old (presuming
it has not been re-painted since I was there in July of 2015).  Take that road (a dirt road named Minestone road, but there is no sign for the road) and walk
about 4 tenths of a kilometer and you will see the gate, which says Chishawasha Children’s Home and the school itself is visible from the road. FYI the school
is pink)  Go to the guard and tell them that Aunt Kathe invited you to come visit and the guard can direct you to the administration building.  You will want to
talk to Mary or Carol.
Another way of arriving at the same place is:  about 7 K from Lusaka (again on Great North Road a few K past the police checkpoint) there will be a large billboard sign on
the right side of the street for “Spinalong”.  When you see that sign look down the road (going North) toward the left side of the road and pick out the
tallest tree on the horizon.  That tree is located just at the road where you will need to stop (you should see the CCHZ sign before the bus stops).  Againwalk 4 tenths of a K and you will see the CCHZ gate.
Good luck.  It really is quite easy to find.
And….
Directions on getting to  Friendly Gecko Rest House, outside Senga Bay, in Malawi:
Public transport is pretty straight forward from Lilongwe to Salima, and you can get minibuses from the main bus station.  From Salima, you will want to take a minibus, truck, or whatever transport you find towards Senga Bay, but make sure to let them know you want to get out at the Lifuwu turn-off (parachute battalion)If you get lucky, you’ll find a truck going directly to Lifuwu.  If not, when you get to the turn-off you can hire either a bicycle taxi or a motorcycle to bring you to the village.  When you arrive, you can ask anyone where the azungu cottage is, or pay your taxi a little extra to get you to our guesthouse.
And here are directions to Malawi Children’s Village:
I asked:
I plan to  come from the north—from Mua Mission.  If you are closer to Monkey Bay, there is no reason for me to go all the way into Mangochi—especially if I  catch a matola. So—-once I get to Mua, should I take  M10 towards Malemba?”  Then, towards Mzima Bay, or south then towards Club Makolola?
Response: We are south of Monkeybay Mangochi road.  From Club Makokola we are almost 3 kilometers going south.  When you catch Matola just tell them you are dropping at MCV.  Everybody knows this place.  We are looking forward to meeting you soon.