On ‘Choice’

Choice by Karen E. Bender

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This was my first read during women’s history month, and with the full awareness that we are increasingly edging our way towards a reality in which choice no longer exists.

I absolutely think everyone — and I do mean everyone — should read this book. Make it mandatory reading in sex education classes as a minimum.

It’s no secret that I am staunchly and firmly pro-choice. And my life has largely been possible because I’ve been free to make decisions regarding my own desire to reproduce. Had I not had some options open to me, it’s very much unlikely that I’d have gone to graduate school or landed in Moscow or met The Cuban. What an astounding reality and one I’m so grateful I don’t have to contemplate for long.

I’ll never question any choices any other woman makes regarding what she chooses to do with her own body. Those are decisions she must live with as I live with my own decisions. And I will never stop fighting for the young women who follow me so that they will have all of the choices they need available to them.

Abortion should be legal, and safe and rare. And the only way that becomes a reality is if we stop trying to regulate women’s bodies. And my favourite bumper sticker is still this:

‘How can you trust me with a baby if you can’t even trust me with a choice?’

My body, my choice. Full stop.

#womenshistorymonth



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The Queen of Cheek (2006 to 2020)

I’d like to tell you a story.

Just about 14 years ago at a BBQ at the US embassy compound, we met a darling little bundle of fur. I say ‘met’, when really she chose us as she stepped out from amongst her litter mates towards The Cuban and I. You cannot image how impossibly tiny she was, nor how utterly adorable all whiskers and fluffy kitten fur. That day, the three of us—this tiny kitten, my husband and I—made a pact, one which we could not envision being more synchronised nor more loving than it has since remained.

This tiny kitten became known as Cheeky Che Fufu, The Princess of Darkness. In those initial days when she became a central member in our family, she proved to be the cheekiest of cats, capable of being a little shit whilst also insanely endearing and lovable. From wiping out on my desk head-first into a very full cup of coffee which went e v e r y w h e r e and took ages to clean up, to her nightly habit of turbo kitty-ing around our tiny Zelenograd flat in the outskirts of Moscow, to sitting outside our bedroom door crying in the most mournful way until one of us (read: me) would crawl out of bed, open the door and allow her to nestle in with us as she purred loudly and happily and drifted off to sleep, to being utterly obsessed with my toes, many of those habits endured until very recently despite two countries and four homes later. She was queenly even as a kitten, and quickly gained loyal subjects to dote upon and worship her. We imagine she had some sort of connections to the Egyptian cats from centuries past given her ability to rule whatever room she entered.

She loved bird watching, but only from inside her home or the safety of her balcony. She loved very cold water, best delivered via the tap from the bathroom sink or via a tiny syringe leftover from some weird illness that remained unexplained. She loved pooing and digging FOR-EV-ER despite the cleanest of litter boxes, and then rocketing out of it to tear around her home leaving a trail of tiny little bits of litter all over the place, which I swear will never disappear. She loved butter, served on a plastic spoon intended for tiny toddlers. She loved licking yogurt containers. She loved her brush, but only once a day. She loved greeting us as we returned home, even if we were gone but a short while. She loved temptations. Of all sorts. She loved Pollito, who only joined us recently, but complemented her stateliness with his own clownish antics. And, she loved us, individually, showing us both in ways unique to her and to each of us.

And, good grief we love her. Still. Always.

In the end, kitty breast cancer proved too powerful a force to hold off forever. We used to joke about cloning her. Now we know that there can be only and precisely one Cheeky Che Fufu. And, what a mighty hole she has left in our hearts today.

We must extend our thanks to all those who loved this most amazing feline. And, we know there are many of you out there. To give you an idea of just how incredible this precious girl was, the vets’ office was utterly silent as we left this afternoon.

So, here’s to the Queen of Cheek. Long may her memory reign.

Eight is great

Eight years ago on this day, I married my best friend. And, I swear, it was not only the best thing I ever did, but it keeps getting better with each passing year.

This past year has not been easy for us. But, those difficulties stemmed not from our marriage or relationship, and related entirely and simply to life and it’s various unexpected curve balls. With each new challenge and disappointment and heartbreak we faced, we did so together. And, we got through them, together, lending and borrowing one another’s strengths at various moments and as needed. At times, just having good long cries, of sadness, of rage and of frustration.

But, alongside the pain comes the joy. Tiny shared moments of hilarity that mean nothing to the casual observer, which come from nowhere and are priceless to us. At least to me. In the 14 years we’ve been together (which is a ‘holy shit’ realisation for both of us!), we seem to laugh more and smile more sometimes through tears. There are more days when our cheeks hurt from laughing together. And, that is priceless.

The music that brought us together originally still plays, although it’s character and the range of notes and genres and musicians have expanded exponentially. And, we continue to learn from one another, sometimes in ways neither of us expect. Each day, I look at this man who brings out the very best in me and wonder how we came to meet, given all the individual decisions we had to take independently to stand on the same spot in Moscow at that precise moment in 2005. A moment from which this blog takes its name. And, I cannot help but cry happy, joyful tears that serendipity and timing aligned so perfectly to allow our love to ignite initially and then flourish further.

My step-son, when he first spent a significant amount of time with us on our own reflected that The Cuban and I have many synchronised thingies. We do. And, their number has expanded to such a degree that we are indeed becoming more alike as time passes. I don’t mind at all, since to me The Cuban — my husband — is the best humanity has to offer.

So, here’s to the day upon which we legally wed. But, more importantly, here’s to us, and years and years to come of more synchronicity.

On ‘The New Jim Crow’, by Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Michelle Alexander is a voice we need to listen to more. Not for pithy soundbites, but for reasoned, careful and critical perspectives on who we are, what our past and present can tell us and where we have gone horribly wrong. It will not be an easy lesson, but it will be a necessary one.

The New Jim Crow isn’t necessarily ‘new’ information to me. It’s clear just by reading the news and examining life in the US today that the unequal treatment of black and brown men by law enforcement and criminal justice systems proliferates. White men commit a crime and are given laughable ‘sentences’, if any sentence is handed down at all (e.g., Brock Turner, Jeffrey Epstein, etc). Black or brown men are accused of committing similar crimes, even if very little or no evidence exists, and given harsh sentences (e.g., Brian Banks). Whilst my own radar tends to pick up and focus more on cases involving sexual assault, the War on Drugs and its tendrils that weed in and out of various parts of society provides far, far too many examples of the uneven application of the law, and sadly the inability of the law to provide justice in many cases.

Mass incarceration stems not from an inherent quality in black and brown communities, but from perceptions and the specific focus placed on those communities by law enforcement and criminal justice systems. Drug use rates have remained relatively steady amongst various sub-groups for decades in the US, whereby white folks tend to use various drugs more (not less) than black and brown populations. Crime rates are tied to poverty, not race, contrary to popular perceptions and media portrayals. Yet, up to 90% of traffic stops in some parts of the US involve cars driven by black men. Law enforcement resources are placed in black and brown communities to ‘police’ for drugs and crime. In areas where both white and black individuals peddle drugs on street corners, blacks are stopped and searched (and ultimately) arrested more than whites. Hence, the perception that communities of colour are involved in more crime, simply because they are stopped more often and at higher rates than whites. It’s a systemic pattern and it has unreal and lasting consequences for those communities already burdened by being poor or less advantaged.

Perhaps one of the more tragic aspects of the War on Drugs is the long-term, lasting consequences for those caught in its web. Once arrested, rather than convicted, job prospects become less likely. Hiring discrimination persists amongst those who have faced charges (not necessarily convictions) related to drugs crimes, often for life. And, this discrimination is not only legal, it may stem from any actual wrongdoing. Public housing, education including acceptance to a university to securing financial aid to attend, social benefits, military service. All of these various means to improve one’s position and escape a cycle of poverty (and ‘crime’) are cut off from those who have sometimes done nothing more than smoke a joint. They are not violent offenders nor are they trafficking or dealing drugs. They have simply been caught with something less dangerous than drunk driving. Yet, the sentences are harsher and the consequences last a life-time. And, disproportionately, these consequences affect young, black and brown men.

It’s hard not to feel a bit hopeless after reading The New Jim Crow; as a book, it offers very little hope. However, knowledge is power, and understanding the pervasiveness of a racialised social control measure such as mass incarceration and the role of the War on Drugs in creating it can help us to finally address the nation’s troubled history vis-a-vis race. By addressing this trouble history, the aim is not to attain colourblindness, but to become colour conscious. From slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration, the connections are clear. Ignoring them will not eliminate our race-related tensions. Throwing shade on those historic tensions and the various systemic biases related to them, whether intentional or not, will help to finally reach something akin to genuine equity and justice.

This book deserves widespread distribution and careful thought and discussion, not simply for the brilliant and thorough research of crime statistics and legal decisions for much of the last 150 years in the United States. But, because it allows us to understand our collective social flaws and provides hope that we can actually address these issues, if only to tackle the hard tasks. At a time when we see those racial tensions intensifying thanks to an administration hell-bent on demonising the other, this may be the hardest task of all. But, it is also incredibly necessary for the future for all of us.





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On ‘No Friend But the Mountains’ by Behrouz Boochani

No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus PrisonNo Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn’t really sure what I thought about this book until I finished it. This book was certainly not an easy read; but, it is a necessary read.

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurd originally from Iran, has been detained on Manus Island off the coast of Australia since 2013. Six years, without any indication of when he may be freed.

He is neither a refugee nor a migrant. He is neither here nor there, but trapped in legal limbo, imprisoned without a charge or end date in sight. His only crime was seeking refuge from a life largely untenable in his homeland. No trial, no hearing, no consideration preceded his detention.

He is sadly not alone.

This book does not provide a justification for why he left Iran, risking his life along the route and now ‘living’ in conditions we can only imagine because of his writing. He dwells not on why he left Iran, but on the ‘life’ he and those like him now live day in and day out on Manus. His reasons for seeking refuge are not the issue; the conditions under which he and others like him must exist are.

What makes this work even more impressive is that he wrote it entirely on a mobile phone from Manus Island.

As we in the West demonise those who seek refuge, we justify the conditions under which we detain them when the flee unimaginable suffering and conditions of systemic violence. We do not consider how bad it must be if individuals will leave their homes with only what they wear or what they can carry in order to seek something better. Nor do we consider the toil of confinement or the inhumanity of how we discuss and treat those individuals seeking refuge when they exist in limbo. As discussions about the detention of children reach a fevered pitch in the US, Boochani’s work provides not just the meaning of indefinite detention on the psyche of an adult man, but a critical examination of it from inside. And, it leaves me shuddering. Imagine, then, what such confinement and conditions mean to a child, separated from their parents and left to fend for themselves or rely on other children for their care.

This work is important. And, we should all be shamed by it so long as we allow such practices to continue, regardless of country of origin or country of destination or country of detention.

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