Advice to my 19-year-old Self: Monday Musings

As I look down at the skin discoloration and new freckles on my sun-damaged arms and hands, I silently berate myself for not having stayed out of the sun or, at the very least, worn some serious sunscreen when I was younger.  The harsh reality is, once you cross over that proverbial middle-aged number (I like to think of it as a moving target, but I know in my heart of hearts I have long since crossed it), all your old vices and bad habits come back to haunt you.

I remember back in the 1990’s there was a song by Baz Luhrmann called “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen”.  It was actually more of a speech put to music than a song (click here to listen). Nevertheless, it contained copious amounts of good advice given to a graduating class. It got me to musing, what kind of advice would my older-self give today to my younger-self?

The first one would be to wear sunscreen. Seriously!  I remember in the summer months (and spring and fall whenever possible) in my youth going to the beach or the pool daily and absolutely baking every piece of my legally allowable visible skin.  Sunscreen? That was for sissies. I would slather on a greasy mixture of baby oil and iodine (yes iodine to stain the skin darker) and bake front side and back side in 30-minute increments for hours.

I went on a girl’s trip to the Bahamas after high school graduation and proudly compared myself to the many local’s deep coco skin. I was darker than half of them. Hey 19- year-old self: Dark tans on white girls do not make you look sexy (no matter what Hawaiian Tropic tells you), it only helps insure a visit from the melanoma fairy later in life. Not to mention the loss of elasticity and wrinkles. Argh! Wrinkles!

Secondly, your parents are going to give you good advice. But only to a point. That is right, those annoying adult people who kept laying all those rules on you for all your teenage years?  They were giving you good advice.  They are two of the most important people in your life and will always be, even after they are gone. And they have already crossed over to their middle age. They get it. They lived it. Listen to their advice and respect them. However, do not let their advice rule your decisions completelyFor example,  I thought hs Kat w cameraabout a career in The Arts (read starving artist) when we had to declare a major for higher education. My father steered me towards business because he felt I would make more money and have more stability. Their job was to protect and help keep things secure and comfortable. If I wanted to do something completely adventurous or risky, they would not have been especially supportive. Hey 19-year-old self: Go with your gut. If you feel strongly about doing something outside the box, DO IT.

Third, do not be so shy and cautious! Okay, you are doing better these last few years since the painfully shy child you were in grade school. But I see it still holds you back.  Do not be frightened to be bold. Speak up, reach out, take risks. The greater the risks, the greater the rewards. Remember when you were a freshman in high school and you excelled in Spanish class? You had the opportunity to be a year-long exchange student in Bolivia or Chile or some other exotic South American country, but you opted out because of some unfounded fear. That would have been one of the most amazing experiences of your life. And now you would not be struggling to have command of the Spanish language.  Hey 19-year-old self, it is time to become fearless and forget that you were ever shy.

Fourth, do not get caught up with classmates or friends making fun of people or being unkind. We all have our personal handicaps.  We are all trying to find where we fit in and how this world works. You are no more superior than anyone else on this earth. You may have better skills or opportunities or even beauty, but that does not give you license to be unkind or intolerant. Be a uniter not a divider. 

Fifth, do not play with people’s hearts.  Several men will fall in love with yohs kat dallasu in the future. Some relationships will be beautiful and some not so much. Most of them will end in an unpleasant way. You, most likely, will be the one ending it. Once you know the relationship is not working, be honest and up front.  Do not play with his heart. He will love you and he deserves to be treated with respect.  Make an effort to remain friends, if you desire. If you once really loved one another, he will always have a special place in your heart after the dust settles.

Sixth, eat healthy, drink less alcohol and stay fit.  Sounds silly now, right? You look pretty damn good and you don’t have to worry about weight gain or any health issues.  Guess what? Metabolism changes. Health changes. Suddenly you wonder how cholesterol levels can possibly creep up. And where the heck did those 5 extra kilos come from?  Stay fit for life starting now and don’t miss health check ups. Hey 19-year-old self, you will thank me later.

Seventh, never say “That will never happen to me.” in your cocky littler manner. You have no idea what will or will not happen to you until you live your life.

Eighth, learn to be more patient.  In the upcoming decades you are going to see massive changes in the way we communicate, in the way you do your job, in the way the politics shift. Everything that touches your life will change. For the only constant is change (no, it is not a cliché). This is going to require a lot of patience on your part. You are going to have to relearn and reprogram your brain and your lifestyle. Be patient, with not only your learning process, but with others as well.  Learning new things will be fantastic and also frustrating.  Practice patience.

Ninth, spend time around children and elderly. You don’t spend enough time around either. Start now. You will learn some amazing things from the raw truths spoken by both ends of the life-cycle spectrum.  Hey 19-year-old self, you won’t have kids of your own, but you will have plenty to love in India.

Tenth, travel every chance you can. HS kat in FranceGet out there and discover the world. It will expand your mind, make you more tolerant of different beliefs and thankful for what you have. And yes, you are off to a good start.

Eleventh, do not be so hard on yourself. You will meet plenty of people who will do that for you. You are smarter, cooler, prettier than you think. Just be happy in your  own skin. Hey 19-year old self, they are going to call you eccentric. Take it as a compliment. HS kat with mug

Lastly, get involved. Make a difference.  You have the power to make changes which will make our world better. Even if you don’t believe you can. You can.

You probably won’t take all this advice. I know you better by now than you know yourself. And trust me on the sunscreen!

Monday Musings. What woud you tell YOUR younger self?  Have a great week!

 

 

Political Carnage. Where Do We Go From Here? Monday Musings

I received two troubling private messages on social media within a week from one another. One was penned from a previous lover. It was brief and read exactly like this: “I can’t believe the girl I loved back in TX has drifted so far to the Left. If I didn’t have so many fond memories I would unfriend her.” Accompanied by not one, not two, but three sad face emojis.  Directed as if it were not to me, but to an imaginary third person about me.

Yes, it was a political statement from him. Argh, that dirty word, “politics”.   What rings so strange to me is this message was not something he would have said to me back when we were dating. Or at least I do not think he would have. I was in my 20’s living in small-town East Texas at the time and my “starter marriage” – as I like to call it – was falling apart.  Somehow after university I traded my party girl crown for the conservative little homemaker wife title.  It was a role I did not fake very well, although I did try for a few years. This guy saw these alternative facts about me immediately.  You see, it was the political-rave1980’s and it was the time of  gender-bending, make-up wearing men and legal Ecstasy and all night raves. Although this guy had a respectable day job, at night he was out playing. Next thing I knew, I was taken on an extreme carnival ride along with him. And I welcomed it. I was absolutely crazy about him.

Although we lived in the same city for only a short time, we managed to keep in touch and see one another on and off for many years.  He opened my mind about sex and bizarre behavior/opinions in a way that had not been awakened before from my conservative roots. He was outrageous. And the more outrageous behavior he displayed, the more I would mirror. For example, I remember one time we were having dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Dallas.  I ate an atomic hot chili pepper and the frightening results were immediate.  I was having trouble breathing and started sweating like a sinner in church. I stood up and dropped my dress in the restaurant (for effect) while he poured some water on me.  The diners looked on in troubled amazement, while we laughed. I am so glad I grew up in an era of no camera phones.

Truly at that time in my life….and even as the memories of him live on, he was the epitome of “cool”.  We kept in touch occasionally as time went on. Within the last year I was thrilled when I received a friend request from him, as he was not on social media for a long time.  Now this…threatened to be unfriended by one of the coolest people with whom I had shared intimate space. Wow.

To set the record straight (argh, politics), I consider myself to be a fairly moderate democrat.  I absolutely do not agree with the policies of the new administration, nor did I vote for the current POTUS. In fact, there are many times I am outraged and downright frightened by what is going on. Do I think Washington could be run better and cleaner? Absolutely. So I understand why people wanted change.  I have friends, family and clients who are hard-core republicans.  I respect people’s right to vote. And I am not here for name calling or to belittle them for decisions different from mine.  And I would certainly not unfriend someone for their views, unless they were attacking me for mine. The unfollow button is handy too for those ranters from the other side. As many of you know!

I have been around for a long time, voting in 10 US presidential elections (and countless other races).  It seems the best administrations have worked with a moderate, nearer to center congress who compromised to get business accomplished. I feel extremism does not work.  Left, right, Christian, Muslim, racial, whatever. Extremism is simply more divisive.  And the atmosphere feels pretty extreme currently. In fact, after seeing this chart of the USA Congressmen, it is frightening how extremely far away the red side has pulled from center. The most widely used measure of political polarization, a score of ideology based on voting developed by Kenneth Poole and Howard Rosenthal, has shown that the Republicans in the Senate and especially the House have drifted away from the center far more rapidly than Democrats.

political-moderate-chart

The other message came from a girlfriend who I have known for several years. I cherish her friendship.  Seems I have always agreed with her on most everything. And then she called me out on a post telling me I was sounding selfish regarding the Muslim ban because I was annoyed I had to change some travel plans to one of these countries. She felt that I would make a much better case posting about all of the people who are suffering because of the ban, rather than my unhappiness regarding my plans.  (After cooling off, I did see her point and ended up deleting the post).

The discussion was actually a long and somewhat heated (more on her end, I think) online conversation. She, feeling I was showing examples of not caring about what was happening and not standing up for what I believed (paraphrased).  I was surprised, as she has no idea the organizations I financially support for my causes or the emails I have sent and calls I have made to make sure my voice is heard by my representatives.  Isn’t that what moderates do? They plod along and, in time, get their work done, not typically making giant visible waves, but making a difference. It is not sign of weakness.  It is a different means to an end.  However, I am not going to defend my politics here or criticize others. That is not what this post is about.

Ultimately, both of these messages I received made me terribly sad. A certain sadness that has hung around for a while.  Regardless of their political leanings I want them both in my life.  Two people I adore who feel they are not sure they  want to be my friend any longer….one because I am left of center, and one because I am too right of left. Isn’t it ironic how it is all in one’s perspective? Perhaps they were in a bad mood that day. Perhaps they were attacked for something political recently. Perhaps they are just as damn tired of the US Government debacle as I am.  Or perhaps they just don’t like me. <insert sad emoji>

I feel like this new world order is tearing people apart. Families, friends, clients, acquaintances. I hear it over and over.  And it seems there is no end to it. This is the real carnage. No compromises, angry words, zero respect and relationships left in the dust.  Where do we go from here? Monday Musings.

 

 

 

 

How Lonely is Fame? Holiday Musings

I remember when I was younger and my mom would be saddened because a movie star died.  It is not that she ever knew them or they were friends or anything, but yet she always had a brief sadness at their passing.  “Sexy Rock Hudson died. I cannot believe he was gay.” “Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire were the best dancers of my era, I cannot believe he is gone.” “Judy Garland had so much ahead of her; dying at just 47.  I cannot believe she took her own life.” She would say after each new passing was announced by the media.  In my childlike way I did not completely understand it. Everyone dies. And we go through stages of grief when our loved ones leave us.  But what about someone we did not know?

Now that I have grown beyond the age of my mother when she lamented these deaths, I understand her brief sadness each time it happened and her desire to relive those movies. It transports us back in time. 2016 seems like a long year of losing too many iconic artists…Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson, Carrie Fischer, David Bowie, Prince, George Michael and many more entertainers.

Most of these stars were pop cultural figures in my coming-of-age era and, in their way, helped form who I am today.   I loved Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I remember my teacher in grade school reading this story out loud to the class. I would fantasize that this chocolate factory really existed. I would have given anything to find a golden ticket in my chocolate bar.  Gene Wilder played a perfect eccentric chocolate factory owner. And who didn’t want Mrs. Brady to be their mom? She was so “groovy”!  I never missed an episode of the Brady Bunch. And any young girl who saw the original Star Wars series wanted to be Princess Leia. She was a role model as a female science fiction superhero.

However,  is was the musicians who forced me to reach into the depths of my soul to find the outrageous part of me.  When we are in our teens, coming of age, we tend to question everything about tradition and reach out to new ideas.  Trying to find who we are; experimenting. I cannot think of a better trio of gender-bending, sexually charged men than Prince, David Bowie and George Michael. We were young, the next generation, and these musicians helped create much of pop music for the next several decades.  The Fred Astaires and Glen Millers of the Depression era kids  and the hippie icons of the baby boomers had morphed into make-up wearing, costumed men who tackled all kinds of taboo subjects with their music and lifestyles…steamy sex…drugs…homosexuality…. bisexuality. All the while sending a message that is was okay for this experimentation.  Some radio stations would not play certain songs. And that simply fueled fans like me to want more.

Each time a new death of a musical icon was announced this year, I consumed their art in a VH-1 marathon music bender.   All so young. Taken from this earth long before their story was complete. Lives marred by drugs, disorders, secrets and fame.  And it got me to musing. How lonely is fame? I am not talking 15 minutes of fame from some viral video. I am not talking about a local TV anchor posing for a few pics with viewers when out to dinner. I am not even talking reality star fame.

What do you do with adoration beyond comprehension? One which imprisons you?  Lady Gaga said in a recent interview, “I don’t think I could think of a single thing that’s more isolating than being famous.”  The kind of fame that haunted(s) icons in their height like Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Shahrukh Khan (yes, it is Bollywood, but trust me he is big-time) and the list goes on. The paparazzi get bolder and the gossip magazines will pay more for photos and the fans demand more news. It is vicious cycle. One which creates so much isolation for the person living it.

Sure, everything is a trade-off.  Fame has it perks. For one, anything money can buy.  Jets, mansions, golden toilets, drugs. Whatever your heart desires. But can you imagine the pressure?  You are only as famous as your last great (fill in the blank….song, movie, photo, painting, performance, stage show, game winning goal, etc.). So once you are on the pinnacle, it takes even more creative genius to top your last fantastic piece.  Add to that the people who want to be your “friend” but are only in it to ride your coattails.  Your entourage of sorts.  Ready to take your money or expose you in some way. After a while, it may difficult to trust anyone.  And not know if any one is actually a “friend” anymore,

But wait, there is more to this fantastic ride of fame.  You can’t leave your house without a flood of flashes and cell phones in your face. Casual undisturbed dinner at your favorite restaurant down the street? Shopping for a pair of shoes? Going to a festival? No, forget it. All these normal things most people enjoy with anonymity just do not exist in a famous person’s world.  I have seen fans who are so bold, they will crush towards stars grabbing at them, even cutting pieces of clothing or hair, if their body-guard is not close by.  I can sympathize as to how frightening that must be.

 

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It is no wonder famous people turn to drugs (legal and illegal) and alcohol and isolationist behavior to cope. These struggles are real.  It can bring out the best of creativity, but also the worst in mental health. It makes me ponder the age-old question. Do you want to be rich and famous or have enough income to live on and be inconspicuous?

Holiday Musings. Have a fantastic future ahead, wherever your path takes you.

 

Is Life Near the Equator Spinning Out of Control? Monday Musings

Last week a friend of mine (we will call her Carla) came to a holiday fundraiser in my adopted home town in Costa Rica and later spent the night at my place.  Before she left the next morning, we enjoyed some Costa Rican coffee on the terrace and recapped the prior evening.

Carla had moved to Costa Rica from the USA with her husband approximately a decade ago. They were divorced fairly recently.  I do not know the gory details, nor do I necessarily care. Sometimes plans do not work out and it is time to make a life change.

At the event, I introduced her to a gringo friend of mine and they appeared to easily glide into a flirtatious conversation.  There are several explanations of where the word “gringo” originated. Some research says it started in Spain simply to describe non-Spanish speaking Europeans of white skin.  It was introduced to the Castilian dictionary in the latter 1700’s. gravity-gringo Another theory I have read is the word was created during the Mexican-American War. The soldiers from the USA wore green uniforms and the Mexicans would yell at them “green-go” using the English version to let them know they were not welcome in Mexico.  I have visited Spanish-speaking countries where the term is used derogatorily or as a racial slur. But in Costa Rica, is it typically used as a neutral label to describe a light-skinned expats (and tourists) from places like Canada, the USA, non-Spanish Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africans of Dutch/British decent, etc. And a native Costa Rican is a called a Tico or Tica.  A cute nickname used exclusively for Costa Ricans, but not for other Latinos.

As we sipped our coffee the next morning, I learned that Carla and my gringo friend had already accepted a Facebook friendship andgravity-facebook exchanged a bit of chatter that morning.  She asked me about his dating habits….Is he involved with anyone? Is he a bit of whore? The sort of things you question (regardless of age or experience) when you experience a potentially budding crush.   I told her I really did not know him that well, but he seemed extremely cool and authentic. And age appropriate, I added. We talked about how men can wear their wrinkles as a badge of honor. It means their years in the sun made them appear “outdoorsy and adventurous”. For some it also translates into wealth or wisdom. But for a woman? Her wrinkles are often viewed as an uncomplimentary reminder of ageing.

The coffee conversation naturally steered itself towards the odd dating situation for an over-40-year-old expat woman in small town Costa Rica.  Carla is not the first to lament this issue. I have had several strong, independent and attractive gravity-surferssingle girlfriends permanently depart this lovely region to find more depth in the dating pool.  We live in a touristy beach area with great surf and several Spanish schools.  So it is not unusual to find surfing/Spanish students and bachelor party revelers flowing though the region.  They are easy targets for one-night stands; away from home and ready to play.   There are also plenty of young Tico guys looking for a wealthy female “sponsor” and lover.  But if a gringa is looking for a permanent or semi-permanent resident, self sufficient and age-appropriate man (I am giving it is +/- 8-10 year window), it is challenging to find one here. I am not saying it can’t happen, but…..

Many gringo men immigrate here with a wife/significant other. So that takes them out of the dating pool. The ones who come alone are sometimes running from something in their home country…for example: a crazy ex-wife, tax evasion, depression, etc. Which can make ones definition of “normal” a random shade of gray.  But in all fairness, some guys just want a new adventure and retired with a whole bunch of cash.  Carla and I hypothesized these men who are alone are not necessarily looking for that age-appropriate strong or independently thinking gringa woman. In fact, many of them loved a woman like that in their previous life back home.  They are often looking for a young, hot woman. One who confirms their sexuality and makes them feel completely loved regardless of their shortcomings.  Of course this is an age-old trend everywhere in the world.  Wife number one dies or divorces; wife number two (or three) is a much younger trophy.

However, when I observe these cases happening in Costa Rica (and probably many places in Latin America) it seems to have a slightly different twist.  The younger Tica woman is almost always from a lower socioeconomic status than the gringo. And although she may not be extremely attractive (but most are), she is sexually exciting and happy to please her man.  Many of these women have not had role models to teach them worldly lessons, and they may not have had access to higher education. Some also have children from a previous lover or husband.  So they have a way of latching on (or “falling in love” as it were) in a mothering kind of way.  Washing his clothes, cooking amazing meals, cleaning his home, taking care of day-to-day dealings in Spanish and of course, having uninhibited sex with him as often as he desires (or when the little blue pill kicks in).

And yes, sometimes part of the equation is attempting to get pregnant so she will be on his eternal payroll.  For a lot of women, this is the ticket out of poverty, or at least a difficult life barely living paycheck to paycheck. I cannot blame them for that opportunity. And why wouldn’t many men want a tiger in bed and a live-in “assistant” in the home?  Plus it is a great way to learn Spanish, if he has any interest in cultural immersion. That being said, I know a lot of Latina women who do NOT AT ALL fit this mold. However, there are many who do. I understand the mutual benefits, but it leaves a gaping hole in the dating pool.

Carla and I shared stories of plenty of people we knew here in these types of relationships. And she blamed it on being so close to the equator.  I sat there nodding my head and then stopped. Whoa, what? The equator?? What did that have to do with this conversation?  Obviously the earth is wider and warmer at the equator. but is there more to it? The equatorial bulge is created by the Earth’s rotation. As lines of latitude increase in size, a point has to travel faster to complete a revolution in the same amount of time. gravity-spinning-earthThe rotational speed, or spin, at the Arctic Circle is slower than the spin at the Tropic of Cancer, because the circumference of the Arctic Circle is much smaller and a point doesn’t have to travel as far to complete a revolution. The spin at the Tropic of Cancer is much slower than the spin at the Equator. Near the poles, the Earth’s rotational speed, or spin, is near zero. At the Equator, the spin is about 1,670 kilometers per hour (1,038 miles per hour)!

That means we are spinning much faster here in Costa Rica than our gringo friends way up in North America or Europe or down under in Australia. We are closer to the sun and our gravitational pull is less. Meaning you weigh less at the equator than the poles. And it affects our tides and sea levels. Scientists and celestial students have hypothesized all these factors have an effect on animal behavior.  But does it? Or are we simply spinning out of control?

Monday musings. Have a fantastic holiday week ahead.

Photo credits: MasculineProfiles.com, SpanishatHome.com, Facebook, RioDia, Tico Times, Clarita’s Jaco, Thunderboltkids.co.za

How Many Slaves Work for you? Monday Musings

I recently returned to my home in Costa Rica from an extended 3 month “epic” road trip.  When you live a traveling lifestyle and keep multiple homes in foreign countries, you have to be organized and detail oriented. Otherwise you might forget to shut off one SIM card while it continues to suck money from your prepaid account you’re not using. Or you might forget to remove your car out of insurance “storage” and get into a fender bender on day one of your return. Or the online electric bill from your other home was overlooked and you come back to no electricity and a freezer full of rotten, thawed food.  Yep, that one smells like a week old murder scene.   Quite unpleasant!

If this lifestyle sounds glamorous, do not let it fool you.  Homes are modest, luxury goods and services  are sacrificed. Embracing a lifestyle with less “stuff” and more experiences is the key to making it a success, not necessarily a large bank account.   However, with careful planning and investing, and a desire to change your life, just about anyone can do it. But then, a “how to live your life as an expat” is an entirely different blog post.

The evening of my return to our Costa Rican home, I was catching up on some news on CNN International.   After spending time in an angry and divided political situation in the USA it was refreshing to see news about the rest of the world. Often I find the USA to be so ego-centric and self-absorbed; one never gets to hear what is happening elsewhere. It is no wonder many people cannot find Mauritius on a map or tell you who the president is of South Africa or that a cyclone is hitting the coast of India. Unless one goes looking for other news on the internet, there is very little of it in mainstream or traditional USA media.

I was catching up on Asia news and a public service announcement ran about a non-profit organization called SlaveryFootprint.org. I recall being beyond exhausted after the stress of months of ongoing travel and work.  I didn’t catch exactly what they do, but the main gist of the message intrigued me. Something must have reached down into my psyche. I jotted down their URL and vowed I would not lose the scrap of paper in my cluttered mess of unpacked (but not yet put away) supplies.

Later that week I searched for this organization.  Before reading much regarding their goals and objectives, I took their slavery survey to see how many slaves work for me. Hmmmm, I thought to myself, I don’t have any slaves working for me. This should be easy. I filled in numbers and refined details when I had the opportunity on each particular question.  Where do I live in the world? How many rooms? Eating habits? Electronics? Cosmetics? Precious stones and metals? Leather goods? Clothes?  Sporting goods? Ever paid for sex? (NO!) After a quick calculation the magic number of 52 flashed up on my computer screen.

child-slave-shine

FIFTY-TWO SLAVES? How could that be?? I do not live an extravagant life. I do not have a lot of clothes or shoes or handbags anymore and I never buy expensive jewelry.  So how could I have so many slaves working for me?

I went to their story and learned a bit more about what they do and who is considered a slave. I had read about the sex slave trade when I spent some extended time in Thailand years ago.  And I had seen the film Blood Diamond. I have also seen young children working in India on my frequent visits there.  But to realize the magnitude of modern-day slavery happening  in every country in today’s world. Frankly it sends cold chills up my spine.

From their site: “Slavery is when someone is deceived or coerced into a situation they didn’t agree to for someone else’s profit. Victims are forced to work under the threat of violence for little or no pay. They are prevented from walking away. Today over 29 million people live under these conditions. While many are forced into the sex industry, the majority is exploited for manual economic labor in the private sector.” 55% of them are women. An astounding 26% are children.

The supply chain looks something like this:  Raw Materials -> Manufacturer -> Brand -> End User. Today’s supply chain enslaves more humans than any other in history.  Your cotton shirt raw materials picked by slaves in Uzbekistan. Your sporting goods made in a sweat shop in China by a poor woman working 21 hours per day, 7 ways a week.
The snazzy new tablet in your hands needs coltan, the tableteffective capacitor. It is mined in the Congo, by – you guessed it – slaves.  And perhaps one of the most difficult for me to consider is cosmetics.child-slave-lipstick Who knew almost all of these items have mica in them? Mica gives lipsticks, nail polish, lotions, powders (and even automotive paint) their sparkle. It is mined almost exclusively in India.  And sadly, greedy Indian mining companies embrace the amount of free labor offered from poverty-stricken families with too many mouths to feed.  Those who will sell a daughter for as little as $100.

Can you imagine being a poor adult man tricked into believing you were going to work for a fishing company and thinking you could finally support your family? It is the  story of a fisherman in Cambodia.  Instead, he was violently forced to  work 20 hours a day, living in deplorable and unsanitary conditions on a fishing boat for seven years for NO pay. Or the boy in Ghana whose mother cannot afford his school fees? So she allowed him to go with a stranger making false promises about money only; to find her little boy was sold into slavery. And she would never see him again. This happens every day. child-slave-7

The truth is, it is difficult to have a slave-free life in this world today. But there are organizations like this one who are making a difference.  Don’t be guilty. Be a game changer.  You can advocate, you can donate, you can purchase products from companies who are known not to have slavery in their supply chain.  Every human being who is enslaved deserves to live with dignity.

How many slaves work for you? Monday musings.  Have a good week. Let’s make the world a better place.

Were the Elections Rigged? Monday Musings

Several years ago I was thrilled to check off  a place on my bucket list I have always wished to see: Kenya!  On this trip I not only experienced luxury tented safaris, I was also able to spend some time in a couple of local Masai Mara villages.

 

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The Masai Mara National Reserve is in the southern part of Kenya bordering Tanzania. And it is quite a magical place; furnishing  you with nature up close and personal, gorgeous landscapes and stars that can be seen into eternity.  The luxury tented camps offer a throwback to the classic exquisite grandeur from movies like “Out of Africa”.  They deliver all the modern amenities like warm running water, electricity, luxurious bedding, swimming pools, and endless first class service. And as a bonus you get to hear lions roar in the night.

We had a cinematographer and professional photographer on our tour.  And it was an honor to mirror some of his wildlife photography work he was creating to ultimately publish a coffee table book from various African safaris.

The first time (or second or third time, frankly) you see an elephant or giraffe in the wild you scramble for your camera with overzealous excitement.  Then you come to realize they are all over the reserve. And by day 3 or 4 you think, oh, another elephant….Whatever. Then you hope for the cats….Cheetahs, Lions, Leopards.  Then you wish for a kill.  I was fortunate to see it all over the course of 12 perfect days. It is an incredible way to lose yourself in nature, as there is not much of a way to stay connected. And it is also a great way to learn patience. Waiting on animals for you to click the ultimate photo can take hours. My experience became even more interesting as the time passed….

Being a citizen of one single country my entire life, I have only seen the election process from my home country of the USA.  Sure, I have seen video of new democratic voting systems, such as in Iraq.  However, I never saw any actual polling place in person besides my home country.  As it turned out, my timing in Kenya was perfect.

The general elections were held on 4 March 2013. … The presidential elections were ultimately a contest between Uhuru Kenyatta of the National Alliance (TNA) and Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), with incumbent President Mwai Kibaki having served two terms and not being eligible for re-election.

On election day I asked our guide, Mithu, if he would take me to their polling station in the Masai Mara so I could see what it was like inside.  This was their first election after Kenya’s new constitution and I felt it would be fascinating to see this process of electing a president on the African continent.   Mithu laughed thinking I was kidding with him.   I loved when mithuhe laughed because he had a beautiful smile and black-as-night skin which made a stunning contrast. I tried my best to make him laugh or smile whenever possible because he lit up a room. ..or tent, in this case. But this time I was not kidding. And once we established that, he honored my request.

He drove me to the polling station that afternoon across the African plains in our safari jeep. I thought to myself, who passes elephants and giraffes and zebras on their way to vote? This was truly extaordinary. We arrived after a 20 minute bumpy, dusty journey.  Mithu exchanged a few words with the guard holding a machine gun and then they gave me the motion to enter the small bare-bones, colorless cinder block building. And just like that I was across the threshold into the secret realm of voting, reserved only for Kenyans.

I was taken aback for a moment when a man working there said “Hello Miss Evans”.  I did not recognize him and I was pretty certain no one knew me at the Masai Mara polling station. Or ANY  Kenyan polling station. Then I realized he worked at our safari camp.  I explained to him I was interested in seeing their voting process.  It was a slow time at the station, so he took his time and showed me the ballot.  I was astounded to see over 20 candidates. I had chatted with many locals (I do not know of any citizens anywhere in the world who do not like to talk about their upcoming elections) and found that the race would come down to Kenyatta or Odinga.  From the folks I visited with, Kenyatta and his family pedigree was the better choice (his father Jomo was the first Kenyan president).

So I cast my “vote” for Kenyatta.  Of course, I was told that the ballot card would not go in the giant plastic tub where the rest of the voting community had placed their cards.  But for a split second I though I saw a wink and a quick smile.  But I cannot be sure.  I was ushered to the next2013-03-04-16-14-13 table where a lady took the cap off a special indelible marker and covered my left hand pinky nail with black ink to symbolize that I had voted in the election. The team bid me a fond farewell in English and Swahili “kwaheri na asante” and sent me out past the machine gun guy.  Although I could not take a photo inside, I did get a snap of my black colored pinky nail at the exit.

Voting results in many countries can take days or weeks to be finalized. However, the announcement was finally made several days later that Uhuru Kenyatta would be the next president of Kenya.  Shortly after the announcement, Raila Odinga cried foul and announced to the media the election was rigged.  Mr. Odinga’s lawyers claimed there was a conspiracy. They had argued that because Mr. Kenyatta skirted a runoff by such a small margin,

kat-and-candidates

Visiting with some of the candidates

(some 8,000 votes out of more than 12 million), the errors that had been discovered were enough to mandate a new election.  Ultimately the Kenyan Supreme Court ruled on 30 March that the election was indeed fair and they would not have a re-election.

 

However, it did get me musing. Especially after all the election questioning that had happened with the USA election of 2016.  Was it possible? Was my vote one of those 8,000 mystery votes that made it into a plastic tub illegally? Did I actually vote in Kenya? Is it possible there are sketchy polling places everywhere in the world? I will never know. However, I had that indelible ink on my pinky finger for months until it gew out….reminding me of a democratic system in a country far away from my homeland…and an indelible place in my heart for Kenya forever..

Monday Musings. Have a great week ahead.

 

 

 

 

The Orphan Who Changed my Life: Monday Musings

I volunteer for a foundation that helps orphans in India called The Miracle Foundation.  I have been going to India since 2005 on “ambassador” trips to work as a volunteer at various orphanages for a week or so.  We have varied targeted projects when we are there.  Usually we are a group or 10-12, mostly folks from the USA, since the foundation is headquartered in Austin, Texas, USA.

Some of the people on these trips are first timers. And many return again and again.  The experience is tragically difficult and absolutely life-changing at the same time.  India has a way of assaulting your senses the moment you arrive.  I have traveled all over the world and have never experienced someplace so “foreign”.

The sights of color and filth, the smells of curry and sweat, urine and flowers, the stifling heat and smog from burning trash which wraps itself around you like a boa constrictor and takes the life out of you certain times of year.  The cacophony of sounds screaming all around you all day long….the call to prayer at the mosque, the children cheering during a cricket match, the constant horns on rickshaws and automobiles raging all day and night. And the crows. I find the crows haunting.

India punches you in the gut and then wraps her arms around you in a loving embrace.  Oh India, you gawd awful seductress.

On one particular trip, we were at an orphanage in a remote area of one of the poorest states in the country.  So far from civilization that most Indians are shocked when I tell them not only do I know of it, I have been there.

Our assignment on this trip was to paint the children’s home with focus on their bedrooms. You see, in most Indian orphanages it feels more like a jail than img_2162a home.  There is little color, little air circulation, and sometimes little hope.  The house mothers are even called wardens at the government homes. Fortunately for a home under The Miracle Foundation’s care, there is a lot of  hope and happiness.   Our job on this trip was to make it feel like a true “home” with colorful paint and hand prints of all the kids on the walls painted to turn into butterflies.

Each volunteer had their own “family” of children for the week. They varied in age and sex so it felt like a family…usually made up of approximately 8-10 children. This group would help us with each of our projects throughout the week.

There was one gorgeous little girl of about 10-12 years old who stole away my heart.  We were connected from day one. She had coco skin, deep soulful black eyes and an incorrigible little smile.  The entire week she would run to me when we arrived each morning from our little girl-with-hoopnearby hotel.

She would put my arm around her and melt her little body into mine.  “Auntie, Auntie, COME” she would call out and take me off to see something. A drawing or a trick or her bed or some kind of small accomplishment of which she was proud.  She learned to master the hula hoop from me with rapid ease.

We got on with our projects all throughout the week, painting walls, painting hands and virtually painting their names across our hearts. There was also plenty of time for play. Time for games and crafts and even a field trip.   It was exhausting and exhilarating.   They blossomed under our love. And we, of course, grew extremely attached to them.

On the last night the kids performed on “stage” for us and then it turned into a Bollywood dance party.  We were so proud of them, our hearts swelling with adoration. After the show, they came out to get all of the volunteers to dance with them.  Holding hands, swinging them around, laughing, singing, dancing.  The evenings do cool off and you can see the stars forever.   The breeze kisses your skin and the earth feels like it sends vibrations through you from the ground. This exceptionally img_2210magical feeling of India is something I have never felt anywhere else in the world.  It is like an out of body experience.  It is so hard to describe, like the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes on that extraordinary day.

The last night is always the trickiest.  That inevitable goodbye happens without knowing if you will return to see them again.  The children asked us to promise we willimg_2214 back next year.  But how can you make such a promise when you live on the other side of the world? One never knows where life will take you.  And then your tears start to mix with theirs as you cry for happiness that it happened, yet sadness because it is over.

Keep in mind, most of these children are orphans. Unwanted! The “untouchables” in their culture. We constantly reminded them how important they were by giving them hugs and kisses and holding their hands.  Remember, all they own are a change of clothes (when one outfit is on, one is being hand washed by a house mother and sun dried in the courtyard), a school uniform, books for school and a plate for meals.  Most other things are shared.  The girls have little bits of jewelry made of plastic or a cheap metal. Because let’s face it, what is an Indian girl without bangles???

On that magical last night after dances and endless hugs, my girl pulled me aside from the madness. I crouched down to talk to her and she made me open up my hand and put it in front of her.  She tugged the little heart off her plastic beaded necklace and placed it in the palm of my hand. She closed my fingers around it and put her little hand over my fist and said, “Auntie, auntie, so you will never forget me.” I was choked with emotion in a way no other child had ever made me feel. Like I would EVER forget her??  I hugged her close and whispered in her ear a “thank you” which came out like a croak, I was so overwhelmed with sentiment.2013-03-11-11-01-51  When someone who owns NOTHING gives you something, your paradigms shift in the most powerful way.  That day I realized she did not have “nothing”, she was filled with love. And she passed on the best lesson I could ever learn.

It got me musing today….wondering where is that beautiful little girl?  Her particular home is not under the same partnership with the foundation, so they no longer take volunteers to work there. But maybe I can return on my own one day? She is a teenager now.  Is she still filled with love?  Is she happy and healthy? Do her deep soulful eyes still have the sparkle of hope? Does she know I often think of her? Did I help change her life as much as she did mine?  I hope so.

Monday Musings. Make this life count. Have a great week ahead.