Day 6: Proekt 365

Day 6: Proekt 365 Who doesn't love a good Swedish Chef impersonation?

Day 6: Proekt 365
Who doesn’t love the Swedish Chef?

To know my husband is to know that he has a silly streak. He also loves the Swedish Chef and can do a fairly perfect impersonation of that most incomprehensible of Muppets.

Several years ago when I was in Amsterdam on business, the local supermarkets were running a special deal on Muppet hand puppets. Upon discovering that one particular hand puppet available to patrons for a mere €1 was indeed the Swedish Chef, I made damn sure I picked one up for him before heading back to Helsinki.

Since then, whenever our friends’ children are around, he can be seen entertaining both them and the adults with his perfect re-enactments of ‘you put de chicken in de pot’ and flinging food or pots and kitchen utensils around carelessly whilst muttering the various ‘bork bork borks’ and whatnot. It’s lovely and sweet and unbelievably silly.

Imagine our delight when The Cuban received the gift above from three of his adoring fans. Friends of ours were visiting the US and stumbled across this precious ornament, and of course, snagged it for the one person they can count on to do a perfect impression of the Swedish Chef.

The perfect gift from folks (big and small) who get him.

This year, every gift we received was like that. (Ginormous coffee cups, anyone?) Meaningful because of some ‘thing’ we share with the gift-givers and a little indication that we are loved and appreciated for who we are by those in our lives.

Absolutely perfect.

(Y’all know who you are and we love and thank you!)

What we are taught, part 2

Over breakfast one morning when I was maybe 14 or 15 years old, my grandfather advised me to ‘keep [my] knees together’. To this day, I have no idea what prompted this seemingly random statement.

As an awkward adolescent sitting at breakfast in a restaurant with her family, I was mortified. From the faces of everyone except my grandfather and the choked chortling coming from the wait staff, it’s one of my most vivid memories of my grandfather and one I’d rather not recall quite so easily. The message, however, was as clear then as it is now: my own actions as a girl or woman will be interpreted by others and either invite judgements of virtue or exploitation and I alone hold responsibility over whatever happens. In other words, what happens to me (sexually) is my ‘fault’.

Horseshit, I say, now as I did then. I am of course responsible for the choices I make and decisions I take. But, I am not an object.

Nearly 30 years later and armed with a firm understanding of feminism, sexual justice, and the notion that there is no justification for the subjugation or exploitation of anyone, it’s discouraging to hear what is passing as a project aimed at today’s youth in West Virginia.

Labelled Project Future Two-a-Days, the ‘social media and drug education’ programme launched in August is aimed at high school athletes and guiding them on ‘avoiding trouble on the internet‘. Basically, it teaches young athletes how not to tweet, text or post to social media any evidence which might incriminate them or lead to criminal charges against them.

That is, things happen when you add drugs, alcohol, smartphones and raging hormones. Don’t share it via social media and here’s how you can avoid getting caught.

Maybe, in all this training, we can insert a little bit of guidance on not sexually assaulting young girls? Maybe a little something about ‘consensual sex’ and its meaning? And, hey, whilst we’re at it, maybe we could talk about safer sex? Since the programme mentions drug education, maybe we can also add a little about responsible drinking and drugs behaviour as well?

But, no, the idea is to not get caught — not to not do it in the first place. That it is designed for young male athletes is rather shocking.

News this week has showcased yet another town’s lovely treatment of a pair of young girls who were raped (at a star football player’s home and by him and his friends), one girl being left for dead on her lawn in freezing temps. Despite both physical and digital evidence, despite eye witness accounts from the younger girl and several of the other boys there, and despite what appears to be confessions from the two boys who assaulted the girls, the charges were mysteriously dropped. Instead, the two girls — one 13 and another 14 — were blamed for what happened to them and much of the town stands firmly behind the boys who perpetrated rape whilst publicly shaming the girls.

‘They asked for it’. ‘They deserved it’. ‘Matt 1: Daisy 0’ read one viscious t-shirt — Matt being the star football player, Daisy being the girl left for dead. That t-shirt was worn by another girl.

How many times will this happen? How many times has it happened and gone unreported?

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network provides a depressing answer to that last question: out of every 100 rapes, 54 go unreported. Only three out of every 100 rapists will spend a single day in jail for the crime(s) they commit. Three. I think we can agree that that is appalling.

From RAINN (http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates). Sources:  1.  Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010; 2. FBI, Uniform Crime Reports: 2006-2010; 3. National Center for Policy Analysis, Crime and Punishment in America, 1999; 4. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006; 5. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006.

From RAINN (http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates).
Sources:
1. Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010; 2. FBI, Uniform Crime Reports: 2006-2010; 3. National Center for Policy Analysis, Crime and Punishment in America, 1999; 4. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006; 5. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006.

There is no justice figures like these. Whilst these are figures for all rapes regardless of age, given the reluctance of most kids to talk about sex let alone sexual violence and drugs and alcohol with their parents, it’s easy to imagine that most instances of rape in adolescents go unreported to anyone. But, by all means, let’s start programmes which teach young men how to get away with sexually assaulting young girls.

Gloria Steinem may have been speaking on a seemingly unrelated issue when she recently said that we need to ‘change the culture‘. But, that seems precisely what we need to do. Rather than teaching boys and young men how not to get caught and to not post videos or pictures of their friends raping young girls, we have the tools and responsibility to teach them how to respect young girls and how NOT to rape young girls. We should spend a little energy and time imparting upon them that girls and women are not simply sexual objects — young girls are equally important and valuable — intellectually, socially and culturally. Let’s provide young people with healthy notions of relationships of all types.

And, while we’re at it, let’s teach young girls (and young boys) that have been sexually assaulted that they won’t be blamed for the heinous acts perpetrated against them. They will not be shamed by their community simply because the popular, well-connected individual is the guilty party. It is not their fault when a violent crime is committed against them.

The only way we can change the culture of rape and the culture of objectification is to call it what it is and hold those accountable for turning a blind eye. And, we commit further crimes when we blame those against whom such crimes have been perpetrated.

Thirty years on from that mortifying breakfast and I am realising nothing has really changed. But, that doesn’t mean it can’t.

Crushing hope

The worst crime we adults commit is not murder or theft or the bodily harm of another. It’s crushing the hope and dreams of children, particularly those who look to us as members of their immediate and extended families and to whom they look as role models and guides.

It’s tragic enough when adults lose all hope of a better tomorrow; but, destroying that belief in a better life, a promise of tomorrow among children is unconscionable.

This weekend, we caught a documentary from Appalachia which leaves little room for hope—for parents or their children. Oxyana, a brilliant crowd-funded documentary directed by Sean Dunne, is gut-wrenching in its honest talks and unfiltered intimacy with residents of Oceana, West Virginia, a small town nestled deep in the Appalachian mountains. It is a film which provides very little in the way of hope.

Oceana has been renamed ‘Oxyana’—an indication of just how much of the town has been impacted by oxycontin dependency. Members of the community recount how Oceana was a different place a mere 12 to 15 years ago before oxycontin was commonly prescribed to residents for pain and ‘anxiety’. Now, oxy dependence is epidemic. Person after person tells of their own oxycontin dependence, or the horror of watching their family and friends fall into prescription pill addiction. As one interviewee recounts, no one in the town has been spared the loss of at least one person close to them to overdose. Indeed, one such individual who appears on camera and is incredibly lucid and open about his use and distribution recounts how his own father committed suicide after first killing his wife and other son over what appears to be the mother’s prescription drugs. It’s a rather chilling moment in the film for obvious reasons.

The town’s dentist weeps as he talks of his own girls growing up in a town amongst good people who have no hope. His girls’ friends have lost parents to overdose. And, yet, he remains in the town and tries to hold on to hope for himself and for his girls. A physician from the local hospital explains rather dispassionately of the number of overdose deaths they encounter in the hospital each day (not week) and how 50% of all babies born in the hospital are on methadone to combat the dependency with which they are born.

In the final moments of this compelling documentary, a young woman, herself dependent upon oxycontin for pain and ‘anxiety’ talks of how she just wants a better life for her daughter, for herself. It’s when talking of her daughter that she truly breaks down.

The cycle of poverty, joblessness, and a life in which dope offers an escape from the physical and mental pain provides very little in the way of hope. Dope and a sense of overwhelming despair largely resulting from poverty and hopelessness have a vice-like grip on this small mountain community. If an individual doesn’t work in the mines, they are most likely already dependent upon on oxy. And, so, the cycle continues.

Diane Sawyer, a native of Kentucky, also used the power of journalism in a documentary ‘A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains‘ to bring to the masses the crushing weight of poverty which is characteristic for more than a half million residents of Appalachia and which for most of the rest of America is unimaginable. That she focused on the lives of children in incredibly desperate situations added yet a further blow.

Drug use and dysfunction feature in this second narrative prominently. But, mostly, crushing poverty provides little in the way of hope for a brighter future for any of the children. ‘Faith’ helps one cling to the idea that the future will be better — for her and her troubled mother. Yet, watching, hope is largely absent. As a young girl describes the only two contents of their fridge at times being mayo and ranch, you want to weep. At least I did.

What have we done to leave these communities in such situations? What have done that a physician describes the current generation as the ‘lost generation’? Are they well and truly lost? Or have we and with us they simply lost all hope?

We have failed these communities and more importantly those individuals who despair in such situations. Whilst we have the tools to help them medically, what will we do to assist them medically or socially? Because they are nestled away in an isolated community, will we continue to turn a blind eye and ignore their pain and suffering and relegate it as their problem alone? What message does that convey to the children who live in such situations?

And, what hope are we offering them, any of them? Or, have we simply crushed all hope for Oceana?

Fact: Child brides exist

A particularly gruesome headline can bring attention to issues which otherwise garner far too little coverage. This morning, one such headline has been on my mind:

Bride, 8, dies of injuries on wedding night in Yemen

There is some question regarding the veracity of the reporting in the wake of regional outrage. True or not, child brides as young as 8 years old exist in many parts of the world. Very few of those lives spark any interest at all and never appear in headlines until tragedy (of another sort) strikes.

Girls Not Brides estimates that each year 14 million girls are wed before they turn 18, the age which is internationally recognised as the point at which a girl transitions to womanhood. One in seven of those 14 million girls marry before reaching the age of 15.

It isn’t just that girls under 18 marry, which is troubling. It’s that the majority of those young girls are forced to do so, and more often than not are greeted with husbands who are much, much older. A rather chilling collection of photographs and a short film (below) by Stephanie Sinclair vividly illustrate the reality of child marriage for many young girls across cultures.

In addition to the horror of rape, many girls who are married off far, far too young face a host of risks to their health and well-being. Most likely already living in poverty, they are more likely to experience complications due to pregnancy and childbirth given their age, and they are at risk for sexually transmitted infections including HIV. Unable to emotionally and physically deal with married life, domestic abuse and violence are also likely making the transition from girl to woman a living nightmare.

For some young brides in Afghanistan and India, their situation is so unimaginably horrendous that self-immolation is preferable to returning to abusive, much older husbands.

Whether the headline of a single 8-year-old Yemeni girl is fact or fiction, the International Centre for Research on Women estimates that child marriage will be a reality for more than 142 million girls over the next decade globally if current trends persist. No continent is immune to this reality, and no single culture, religion, or ethnicity is ‘to blame’. It happens everywhere.

Whether that headline is true or not, hundreds of thousands of young girls have suffered emotionally and physically as a child bride on their wedding nights. Some wedding gift, eh?

Suffer the Little Children

It’s hard to imagine life in Syria today. Harder still to imagine that fleeing to Iraq would be preferable to remaining in Syria.

Being a child and experiencing either is unimaginable.

Yet, Save the Children estimates that as many as 1 million Syrian children are now living as refugees. One million.

War and conflict are tragic enough. But, robbing children of their childhood and all the attendant delights of youth is simply criminal. I cannot imagine a more helpless feeling than being a parent to a child living in a war zone or fleeing from conditions which are nightmarish at best and a living horror at worst.

How do you explain it? How do you try to shield your child from the reality of war without deceiving them into a false sense of security? How do you instill hope whilst living in conditions which leave little room for belief in a brighter future?

Children under Fire, Save the Children’s report documenting the reality in which children now exist as a result of the civil war raging in Syria, is gut-wrenching.

By their estimates, more than 2 million children in Syria now need some sort of assistance. Figures from a study conducted by Bahcesehir University in Turkey which is referenced throughout the report suggest that three out of every four Syrian children have lost at least one loved one because of the conflict. Three of every four. Many children have lost multiple family members. Many of those children have watched as those loved ones died.

In their own words, children describe the horror of constant shelling and gunfire, as well as living in houses which are shelled whilst they sit inside. They describe running for their lives through neighbourhoods they used to run around in for play. They describe the loss of their schools, either to serve as shelter to the millions displaced within Syria or which have since been burned to the ground. They describe watching friends and family members being shot in front of them. One child’s mother recalled the first word spoken by her young child, born into a world lived only in a state of war: ‘explosion’. That was the first word a mother’s child ever uttered.

Malnutrition is now the norm. Children go un-vaccinated because the manufacturing of medicines has declined if not completely ceased (along with all manufacturing in the country) or because it is impossible to get through the multitude of checkpoints set up by various factions within the country. Thus, the likelihood of epidemics are all the more real. When children do get sick, it is either impossible to reach a clinic or hospital due to the continued threat of sniper-fire or bombings or the impossibility of simply getting through or there is nowhere to go because most if not all hospitals and clinics have been destroyed in a particular area.

Young girls now face the threat of sexual violence as well as the violence of war, and are thus kept indoors for weeks on end. Young boys, some as young as 8 years old, are being recruited as child soldiers and have been used as ‘human shields’.

Suffer the little children. ‘Suffer’ seems insufficient to describe the hell that is life in Syria today.

The easiest way to end the suffering is to end the conflict in Syria. As the US and others in the West beat the drums of war, peace looks unlikely any time in the near future. But, what of the children now? And, how to help even if we cannot physically be there?

In addition to prevailing upon our own leaders for peaceful solutions rather than violent retaliations, we can take steps to help in the seemingly smallest of ways.

As Syrians flee for refugee camps and as winter approaches, many of those fleeing have nothing but the clothes on their backs. One charity which is specifically designed for the crafty amongst us and focuses on helping children in need is asking for a very simple show of support and kindness—send knit or crochet squares.

LILY—or, Love in the Language of Yarn—is calling upon the community of knitters and hookers (not those hookers) to spend a bit of time busting their healthy yarn hordes to make squares, which are then pieced together and given to child refugees. As a knitter, I love this idea. As a humanitarian, it is so elegantly simple and yet necessary. As winter approaches and warm shelter, let alone a warm blanket, is often non-existent, I’ll gladly use some of my time and precious yarn stash to make as many squares as possible.

It may not be much, but it is something.

If we cannot give them security and safety, perhaps we can at least give them warmth.

Some of the squares I'll be sending in the hopes that they bring some 'security' to Syria's forgotten children living as refugees.

Some of the squares I’ll be sending in the hopes that they bring some ‘security’ to Syria’s forgotten children living as refugees.

Water, water everywhere; not a drop to drink or use…

Not long ago, I was musing about how fortunate and privileged we are in our comfortable life here in the uber-developed North. Today, I’m realising just how incredibly privileged we are and how a mere 8-hour disruption is, well, disruptive to our normal routine and cushioned life.

First-world fortunate, indeed.

The story:

A few months ago, some maintenance men with clipboards and tape measures traipsed through our flat looking at the pipes in our kitchen and bathroom to determine how sound they were. They went to each and every flat in the building and we knew they would be carrying out this inspection well in advance. After the inspection, the decision was taken to replace the building’s entire plumbing and drainage system. Thus, the next few months will see loads of renovations taking place throughout our normally quiet and convenient life. All of the pipes and plumbing fixtures in our four-story, four-entrance apartment block will be replaced with shiny new pipes and fixtures. It all appears to be very well organised and orchestrated. And, we are given updates through our mail slots of impending disruptions and what to expect with plenty of notice.

Rather impressive, really.

The problem is that occasionally over the next several months, we will have no water nor drainage in our flat. Given that both my husband and I work from home, logistically, this is not quite ideal. A bloody nuisance when you think about all the various ‘functions’ which require drainage or running water.

Today — the first of those several days  — I’m truly astounded by how many tasks and ‘things’ require water and/or drains. And, I am so, so, so happy that it is for only 8 hours.

This also has me thinking about those who have no running water. And, those who have no drainage systems or modern plumbing.

UNICEF’s US-based website lists the following in relation to world wide stats on safe water and sanitation:

Water is life. Yet 768 million people do not have access to safe, clean drinking water, and 2.5 billion people live without proper sanitation. When water is unsafe and sanitation non-existent, water can kill.

Across the globe, nearly 4,000 children die each day from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation facilities.

That’s quite staggering to me. The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) lists diarrhoea as the leading cause of illness and death. Furthermore, 88% of diarrhoeal deaths are due to inadequate access to sanitation facilities, together with the inadequate availability of water for hygiene and unsafe drinking water.

Water is life, indeed.

To understand the importance of having clean and safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and just how much water we use along with how easily available it is to us in the developed North, take a day to make note of your daily water use. It’s eye-opening to say the least.

All the various, seemingly meaningless tasks which at some point require running (or at least clean) water and functioning drains add up and add up quickly.

We stocked up on bottles and buckets of water yesterday evening and also put out a few refuse buckets for the kitchen and bathroom sinks, mostly to remind us not to use the drains. Despite having spent a fair amount of time either traveling in places where water was a luxury or inconsistently available, numerous camping expeditions when it was all about humping water in and out in my backpack, and the completely unpredictable water cut-offs in Moscow and on holiday in Cuba, I’m still struggling with this inconvenience. Because, honestly, for us in our relatively posh life in Finland, this 8-hour disruption is a mere inconvenience rather than a daily fact of life.

And, I am extremely grateful!

UN Water estimates that each person—each individual human living on this giant rock racing through the universe—needs 20-50 litres of water each day to meet their basic needs for drinking cooking, and cleaning. Here in Finland, particularly in Helsinki, those 20-50 litres can be accessed quite easily by opening up any number of water taps in our flat.

From brushing our teeth, to using the toilet, washing our hands, making coffee, rinsing our coffee cups or spoons to get the bits of grounds off of them, drinking water because we’re simply thirsty, to showering, and all of the various things we do throughout the day which mean opening up the water tap, water most definitely is life.

And, I’m looking forward to opening up those lovely, luscious water taps at 16.00 (or in an hour and 40 minutes).

Image from Save the Children Australia

Image from Save the Children Australia

What We Are Taught

Perhaps the best quote ever on racism and how it is perpetuated comes from Denis Leary:

“Racism isn’t born, folks. It’s taught. I have a 2 yr old son. Know what he hates? Naps. End of list.” – Me, 1992. True now as it was then.

Certainly, none of us are conscious or cognizant of the moment we learned to distinguish ‘difference’ between us and whatever ‘other’ there is. But, taught we were. As an anthropologist, this makes sense to me. As an individual, it annoys the hell out of me.

The many, many, many reactions to the unfortunate death of Trayvon Martin as well as the outcome of the trial which attempted to exact justice for his killing have reinforced the notion that we have a serious racism issue which persists in the United States. It isn’t just that George Zimmerman walked free and a young, black man died entirely too young. It’s more that a) I’m not surprised that Trayvon was shot and killed; b) I’m not that surprised by the outcome of the trial; and c) I’m not surprised that so many utterly hateful comments, posts, analyses and rants have appeared since the jury reached its verdict.

Incredibly saddened, yes. Surprised, no. And, that just makes me angry.

And, then, there is Jane Elliott. A third-grade teacher from an all-white town in Iowa in 1968 struggling to process the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. also struggled with what she viewed as racially charged coverage of a national tragedy. In attempting to deal with her own grief and confusion over those events in 1968, she designed an experiment to teach her students the meaning of discrimination and bigotry.

What happened over the next two days surprised her and also provided a valuable lesson her students would carry with them throughout their lives.

As documented by Frontline in a special 14 years after her students were subjected to the blue-eyed/brown-eyed experiment, the lessons learned and the feelings each student felt when they were a part of the ‘inferior’ group have stayed with them into adulthood. That is, Mrs. Elliott was able to capture the feelings of helplessness those who are discriminated against feel on a daily basis. And, in turn, her students learned to empathise with that and learn to not discriminate in the process.

For anyone who hasn’t watched the programme, watch it. Now. Share it. And, repeat. The lessons from 1968 are still very much needed today.

What’s perhaps further important to note about that experiment is discussed in the full-length programme. Results of tests taken before, during and after the experiment document ever-so-eloquently just how profound an impact discrimination can have on individuals. Those who are part of the ‘privileged’ group perform better on tests whilst those who are discriminated against perform poorly.

Imagine waking up every single day of your life and knowing that you are looked down upon, expected to perform poorly or somehow viewed as ‘different’ (and most definitely not equal nor entitled to the same opportunities) by others around you. And, imagine having that view reinforced again and again and again throughout your life from the time you are born until you die.

The heartbreaking fact of life in the US today is that we do not imagine. If we did, things would be very different. Whether it be based on race, class, sex, religion, sexual orientation or whatever, we look at members of ‘the other’ differently and make assumptions about those individuals based on what we think we know about them and how we expect them to behave. In many aspects, this inventory of characteristics now includes political leaning. (I recognise my own prejudice here and I am trying to work on it.) And, largely, we support our own prejudices with whatever spurious evidence we can. Rather than ask ourselves the difficult questions, we continue to make assumptions we are comfortable with and life continues in much the same fashion. Discrimination and bigotry persist.

Perhaps the most eloquent and gut-wrenching reminder of just how far we have yet to go in removing discrimination and prejudice from our own society came from a piece posted to New York Magazine’s website by Questlove. It’s a powerful essay on just what it means to be a black man in America today. Even one who has ‘made it’ is not entirely accepted or exempted from the painful stigma of discrimination, and as you read his piece, you know that he understands this all too well. The entire piece is well worth a read, but he ends with this, talking with a friend after just hearing the verdict in the Zimmerman trial:

It hurts to hear it, and I say, “I’m not surprised, but who wants to be reminded?” What fat person wants to hear that they aren’t pleasing to the eye? Or what addict wants to hear they are a constant F-up? Who wants to be reminded that — shrug — that’s just the way it is?

I guess I’m struggling to get at least 1 percent of this feeling back, from all this protective numbness I’ve built around me, to keep me from feeling. Because, at the end of the day, I’m still human.

…Right?

Imagine what it takes for an individual to even ask if they are ‘human’.

We are all ‘humans’. Whatever outward characteristics we are pigeon-holed into, whatever consequences of our individual genetic make-up have created that uniqueness that is ‘me’, we are all humans. But, we are taught how to interpret those visible signals. And, yes, we are taught that there are less worthy humans.

Here’s hoping that we can all one day enjoy interpreting those signals as positive and worthy and equally valuable in their uniqueness. Or, at the very least, perhaps we can simply teach that to those around us and to future generations.

Maybe, then, we’ll all just hate naps.