Monday, May 23, 2016

(...take a deep breath) AH! Smell that?

Herewith three vignettes about memories evoked by a smell.
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I am in 10th grade in high school. This school is new to me, having recently been in a school system in another country. I have never been in an American high school before.
 As best I can, I settle into the routine. First, the relatively long bus ride. Just enough time to check out a couple of guys who get on the bus after me. They're cute.

Then school. We all hurry inside. And make our way to lockers, then homerooms. Soon the school bell sounds and we dutifully rise and "pledge allegiance to the flag." This is new to me, but I get the hang of it. And now classes begin. I have the usual round of classes--English, history (Pennsylvania history, I think), math (I get a pass on algebra having taken that in my prior school--not that it did any good--so business math for me), phys ed, and Latin. Of course, Latin. I don't remember much from that year but I remember Latin--oh, I suppose a bit of the language seeped through to me (I know many of the Latin words that helped shape the English language). But I do remember how to wolf whistle. Yup--learned that in Latin.

The one break during the day is lunch. And with it, foods that, though not unfamiliar, were not the common fare I had eaten in boarding school. You could tell by the smell what was for lunch that day. Barbecue sandwiches, pork and sauerkraut, hot dogs. I don't recall all, but even now--the smell of barbecue or sauerkraut transports me back to 10th grade.

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As I enter the large room, I can immediately smell the touch of mold, mingled with lingering bath soap, laundry soap, perfume. And occasionally a whiff of food--probably from a covered dish supper. There is also the smell of books, and well-worn wood. The whole room is over-heated but that gives it a welcoming feel--like being enfolded in the arms of a grandparent who loves you and hugs you tight.

The room is dimly lit, and very quiet. There is a light buzz of voices, but mostly whispering. As I sit down, I look around.  There are some of my uncles and aunts, and my cousins. Probably my Pappap as well. Grandma must have been there, but I don't remember that.

I am in the small church where my mother grew up.  And now today, when I enter a small country church, all those smells hit me, and I am once again in that church from my childhood.

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Late at night the plane landed. I had flown from the U.S. to London, then had a long lay-over at Heathrow (I over-estimated how much time I would need to connect planes).  Since the plane departed a bit later than scheduled, I missed the opportunity to see the sun set over the Sahara.  

With the usual delay in deplaning, my anticipation builds. I am going to see my daughter who is in a four month internship working on an art project.  The coolness of the airplane begins to dissipate. And as the cabin door opens, it becomes clear that the weather is not the same as Pennsylvania in November (from where I had departed), nor London. In fact, it is down-right steamy.

As I step off the plane, and down the ladder (no connecting tunnels at this airport),  I am immediately hit with a wave of intense humidity. And that smell.

I breathe deeply--wood fire smoke mingled with sweat of humanity. I take another deep breath--hold it, and then say (in my mind at least) -- AFRICA. After a more than 40 year absence, I am back.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

The Power of the Word

Yup!  The topic for this post is superstition...and when I prepared the prompt (for our group of Comeback Bloggers) it was Friday the 13th. So superstition seemed like an obvious topic.

Then I got to thinking...what would I write about on this topic.

I am basically NOT a superstitious person.  As Ginger (one of our intrepid bloggers) said: the typical superstitions--"don't open an umbrella in a house, don't get out and about too much on Friday the 13th lest harm should befall you; watch out if a black cat crosses your path, cross your fingers for good luck, and don't break any mirrors"--are silly. 

Indeed.

Of course, we could all expand the list above...all based on various origins and "explainable" within a context.  But even other examples of superstition do not move me. After all, the whole point of superstitions is that something has some power over you--it predicts disaster or bad luck.  Except for those superstitions that bring you good luck.

So, what was I going to write about?  Then I recalled--there is one thing that I think of as predictive: the spoken word.

Let me explain--there are times when I absolutely will not voice a thought because of my deep-seated sense that SAYING something makes it a reality.  Maybe I have this sense because I am basically an intuitive person. I can look down the road and envision what could happen.  Thus by extension maybe my saying "it" causes the event to happen.

Understandably most of the examples that I could give you involve some level of disaster. So all the more reason not to voice them--does saying word call forth the event?  Maybe not, but I am still sufficiently "superstitious" of the possibility that I keep mum.



Sunday, May 08, 2016

“African flowers”

Almost a decade ago, I visited Ghana where my daughter was working in an internship.  Everywhere we went the Ghanaians we encountered were welcoming enthusiastic people. They constantly asked—so, do you like Ghana? Well, yes.

I was struck with a booming trade economy…street side. As we rode in the unusual taxis in Accra, we saw street side markets. We witnessed sellers going door to door…except that the doors were the car doors. Everything imaginable thing being sold by vendors walking up and down the median strip in highways. And to give the customer whatever purchase, a plastic bag is produced.



Ah, the ubiquity of plastic bags.  Hence, the title—African flowers. When the plastic bags drift away, having been carelessly cast aside, they float about. And then they catch in the branches of trees—there they stay and earn the name of “African flowers.”

Clearly, while the invention of plastic has produced many helpful products, plastic has also become a curse. And it is threatening the future of our planet…as well as threatening the present of our planet.

A recent story caught my eye, and left me gob-smacked. Sperm whales have been washing up on beaches in the North Sea. The article that appeared in National Geographic  revealed the cause of their deaths of some of these animals. “After a necropsy of the whales in Germany, researchers found that four of the giant marine animals had large amounts of plastic waste in their stomachs.   As the story notes, among those items were plastic fishing nets, plastic parts of auto engines, bits of broken plastic items.

So, this is the “fouling the nest” issue that makes me crazy. PLASTIC.

So, what do I do? Eschewing plastic altogether is not possible, and maybe not desirable.  Of course, like many people we use reusable bags for grocery shopping.

Another way to do something is recycle. My husband and I have been recycling plastics, glass bottles, cans AND newspapers since 1970! We began recycling before our first child, our son, was born—and, yes, we began with an eye to the future this child might inherit. In those days, recycling meant collecting the items and once a month trudging them to some nearby location where volunteers from civic-minded organizations collected all the items.

Eventually local government based programs became the norm, which also meant everyone had to do what we had been doing for years. Only difference now was that the recycle truck came through the neighborhood to pick things up.

And there’s one other way I try to do a small bit to help. I pick up trash in most public spaces. On my daily walks with the dog through our nearby cemetery, occasionally I spot discarded bottles, cans and other trash. I usually pick up an item or two and dispose them in the big trash bins provided. Why can’t everyone do that?

I have even been known to pick up trash in women’s bathrooms in public spaces. I work on a corollary assumption to the “broken window” theory. I reason that if people see trash on the floor they are more likely to drop trash. So, I pick up the paper towels and discarded unused toilet paper. Then, of course, I wash my hands.

Just today, I spotted a plastic bag floating along, so I picked it up, tucked it in my pocket and brought it home to our plastic bag collection for recycling. As I did that small task, I thought—one less African flower.


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Want to know more about plastic bags and what some countries are going? Check out this website: http://www.earth-policy.org/press_room/C68/plastic_bags_fact_sheet .
The photo of plastic bags above comes from this website.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

All Fall Down


I have now started this blog post three times...it's not that I have writer's block (I don't). And it's not that I had something in mind when I shared the prompt of "falling" (I didn't).

It's just that thus far I have read the falling entries of some fellow bloggers...and I almost feel as though I have little left to say.

So what I’ve settled on for the prompt of “falling” is to recount two personal experiences.

It is no wonder that fear of falling is one that many people have. And, for some of us that fear is coupled with a fear of heights.  Stands to reason—when you are somewhere high, falling seems so much more likely.

But some times, we fall in the most prosaic of ways.

I did. While I have fallen more that twice, two stories will have to do.

Since I recently wrote about a portion of my childhood, you know I went to boarding school. By the time I was ready to enter Form 1 (roughly equivalent to 7th grade) I was attending a government run boarding school in Bulawayo.  This was my first steps into “adulthood.”  Not really, of course but it seemed like it. Each of the dorms in which we slept were somewhat self-governed. And to head up the internal governing of each dorm was a head prefect—a girl elected by her dorm classmates.  By some fluke, that girl was me…for a short while.

We all made our own beds, tidied our own space, stored our clothing in footlockers.  And on Saturdays we changed the sheets.  One such day, with the beds stripped, we got to being the children we were. We were giggling and bouncing. Jumping on the beds. Until.

Until one of the beds broke. The metal springs simply gave way, and crashed to the floor.  When the house matron came around to investigate, she zeroed in on me. I have no idea if I was really to blame, but as head prefect, I was the one who was blamed.

What I remember most clearly is the house matron’s verdict: You’re demoted.

I was stunned. How could something my fellow classmates picked me for be taken away? And how was I the only one to blame when it was a group activity?  Never mind—I alone was the one who fell from grace.

The second story about falling happened just last Hallowe’en. In our township, there is a designated night for “Trick or Treat”.  With the doorbell ringing periodically, my husband and I switch off between one of us answering the door, and the other keeping the dog calm.

Since my husband had answered the door several times in a row, when the doorbell rang again—I jumped up and said: I’ll get this one.  I went hurrying to the door and—yes—caught my foot on an end table. In an instant, I was falling, completely unable to stop. I fell SPLAT into the entry way of our house. The front door was open with only the glass storm door between me and the outside. There stood a young child and her horrified mother.

While I was lying face down, my husband rushed to me and asked if I was OK—my only response was: just get the door.

Of course, that fall was foolish and painful. I thought I must have broken some bones, but somehow I had not. Oh, I had a fat lip from banging my face. And a few weeks after, my one shoulder began to stiffen. I sought the help of a physical therapist who put me through a series of exercises (which I still do).

Now as a woman of a certain age, no longer a school girl, I understand that falling is a hazard.  And, I try to walk very carefully. 



Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Boycott

More aptly, I should title this blog “The Latest Boycott.”

At the outset, I need to say I am not opposed to boycotts.  It is a time honored way of seeking to bring about change. I have boycotted companies in the past—in particular grapes and Nestlé.
Grapes—the grape boycott was organized in part by Cesar Chavez.  This quote from Wikipedia gives you a quick summary of the grape boycott:

“The Delano grape strike was a labor strike by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and the United Farm Workers against grape growers in California. The strike began on September 8, 1965, and lasted more than five years. Due largely to a consumer boycott of non-union grapes, the strike ended with a significant victory for the United Farm Workers as well as its first contract with the growers.”  (See the whole entry here--https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delano_grape_strike)

You can see both the time frame and the reason for the grape boycott. Workers who did the back-breaking field work were paid an inadequate wage. Additionally, the workers were denied the right to organize a union to represent their interests.

The outcome was that the primary company which had been denying worker rights and paying such poor wages finally relented.  Workers were given the right to vote for representation, and thus the United Farm Workers was established.

This was for me a simple straightforward boycott.  Company X engaged in practices that resulted in harm to workers. Consumers joined a nationwide boycott, and eventually workers won representation and saw their working conditions and wages increase.

Nestlé--The second boycott in which I took part was the Nestlé boycott. In this instance, the main issue was that Nestlé, which made infant formula, began an aggressive campaign to get mothers to eschew breast-feeding and instead switch to formula. There is, of course, nothing at all wrong with feeding an infant formula. There are various occasions in which that is the only option available.

What Nestlé did that was objectionable was to mount a widespread “educational” campaign combined with offering free starter samples.  And the marketing program was not just carried out in those countries where women have the means to buy sufficient formula AND have access to clean safe water.  Formula was touted in developing countries where women had traditionally breast-fed their children.  Child advocacy groups began to assess the impact of the Nestlé campaign, and concluded that in fact the formula campaign might have been the cause of rising infant deaths. (Read the whole description here-- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nestlé_boycott)

Thus began the effort to boycott Nestlé. I joined that boycott too—OK, so I wouldn’t buy chocolate bars or chocolate mix, or whatever products were marketed under the Nestlé name.

But here’s where things got complicated. Like so much business in today’s global economy, Nestlé is not a stand-alone company. It is in fact part of a huge conglomerate. You can read the whole list here-- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nestlé_brands. 

Get the picture?  Now, that list is a picture of today’s Nestlé network. But it was no less complicated when the boycott began back in the late 1970s.  Did I stick with my boycott?  Well, yes and no. As much as I could I avoided Nestlé products, but given its tentacles in so many areas, it eventually became impossible to carry out.

However, the outcome of the publicity and attendant boycott was that Nestlé changed its aggressive marketing practices…for a time.  In fact, the practice has not ended completely. And there are on-going efforts to have Nestlé not falsely market formula to women in developing countries without making it possible for the use of formula to be safe and adequate for developing infants.

And now, to the present.  The Target boycott.  Here’s one I will NOT be participating in.  What is different?  Well, I suspect you can sort that out.  Suffice it to say, that with grapes and with Nestlé, people’s lives were being hurt by the company practices.

Not so with the Target boycott. In fact, what Target has done—announce an open bathroom policy for transgendered people—has made it possible for some people to live safer lives.

The people boycotting have made various astounding assertions about how THEY will be harmed by this open bathroom policy. I have even read statements that some people plan to be “packing” when they enter a bathroom.  Just in case they encounter a transgendered person. Just so they can “blow them away.”  REALLY? How insane is that.

Perhaps you have discerned the distinction I draw between the two examples of boycotts in which I participated, and this last boycott.  In the case of grapes or Nestlé, my lifestyle was not being harmed. Even though I was not personally affected by what the grape companies or Nestlé was doing, I joined to bring about social change that would make someone else’s life better. 

It seems to me the Target boycott is all about the people who are mounting the boycott feeling that THEY are the ones suffering.  Frankly, that just puzzles me no end.  The transgendered person—who uses the bathroom of birth gender NOW—can be threatened and harmed by being in the “correct” bathroom.  And Target’s policy change will “fix” that.  EXCEPT.  Except if some person decides that he or she should NOT be using that bathroom and takes it out on the transgendered person.

Despite all these words I have used to get to this point—this whole boycott leaves me SPEECHLESS.