Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wondering Wednesday: The Things We Do

A new FB friend recently posted a picture from a book she is reading about a young African American student going through the process of integration into a white school. Integration has been on my mind lately as I listened to a podcast about integration and its positive impact on education for the African American community. I also read a lengthy piece in the New York Times about integration at an elementary school in Brooklyn. Something about my friend's photo and the ensuing conversation pricked my heart a bit.

My husband and I went house hunting for our first home in April 2013. We had saved money for eighteen months while living as expats in Riyadh. When looking for homes, we found many homes within our budget and size needs in a community that has a diverse population, a reputation for bad schools, and more crime than other areas. This community also has a reviving downtown with interesting restaurants, art galleries, and small local businesses. I will admit that the thought of living in that community made me uneasy. The first time I ever ventured there almost 10 years earlier, I didn't feel safe in the town and the thought of living there made me uneasy.

Just a few miles away, there was another town/village that was much more rural (more like my hometown in Wyoming) that was much less diverse, with much better schools. We found a home that we lived in this community and settled in.

In contrast, some friends of ours with a similar expat background and lifestyle, purchased a home in Cleveland in a struggling diverse area, with an up and coming art and music scene. They chose to send their daughters to struggling schools with the intention of being a positive influence to their community.

It feels easy to justify our decision to purchase a home in the less diverse neighborhood--using the excuse of schools. While that is initially true, perhaps I am being dishonest to myself about my own prejudices/fears. Whether I like it or not, I have unwittingly/wittingly contributed to segregation and poor education outcomes for African Americans. I exercised my white middle class privilege in choosing a better school for my children.

Coming to this realization is uncomfortable to me. I am not quite sure what to do about it. I think I need to do a better job of being more welcoming to the minorities in my school community. Certainly, in the future I can be more thoughtful about where we live and what responsibilities our family has to the greater community. I also need to educate myself about segregation and why segregated schools for African Americans do so badly.

What are your thoughts about this? 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Travel Tuesday: On Immigrants

Yesterday, my friend, Colin Ray posted the following on his FB page:

shares a Batha, Riyadh moment.
I find myself waiting for the tire alignment on the Subaru. I got a whole set of bushings, and now need to have wheels aligned. (Did you see how I did that, just casually mentioning "bushings" as if I have always known what they are? See also "aligned".)
My favorite felafel place has been shuttered, apparently for failing a health-sanitation inspection. This seems to happen a lot to my favorite places.
So I had to walk a bit further, to the foul (no, not "fool"!) place. Another customer in line struck up a conversation with me, albeit with difficulty since my Arabic is even more non-existent than his English. He asked where I was from - "Ameriki."
I could not at first even understand the food choices. He helped me order. Then I went to pay, but the place did not have change for a SAR 50. (About $15.). My fellow customer - his name was Sultan; he is Saudi, from the south, near to Yemen - insisted on paying for my dinner.
People sometimes ask why I feel so strongly about immigration issues. Part of it is probably because I (and most of my friends and colleagues) buy into the free-market idea of the benefit of mobile labor.
But the primary reason, I am sure, is that I have been an immigrant almost all my life. And this positive interaction typifies what I experience. At birth in the UK, I was granted UK citizenship, although my parents were just American students/visitors at the time. From 6 to 18 in Nigeria, I was generally shown overwhelming hospitality. Cameroon. Netherlands. Japan. Saudi Arabia. The same. (Yes. There are sometimes bad experiences. Life is like that.)
So . . . that is basically why I bristle at suggestions of targeting or blaming immigrants. I want them to have what I have experienced.

I loved Colin's comment and thoughts about being an immigrant. It was so powerful that I wanted to share my own thoughts and experiences.

I am not nor have I ever been an immigrant. But I have been an outsider and an expat in three different countries.

I know what it is like to:

  • not understand a word of the language being spoken around you.
  • not understand the rules and bureaucracy of  the country in which I reside.
  • not understand the cultural norms and unwritten rules for conduct.
  • have someone speak super slowly to me like I am stupid.
  • be criticized for being a foreigner.
  • struggle and grapple with a language that is not my native tongue.
  • worry if I will be a target of harassment or violence because of my nationality.
  • feel isolated and alone because I am an outsider.
  • experience and learn about a new country and culture.
  • visit a country in the middle of turmoil and revolution.
  • eat new and different food.
  • make friends from my new country.
  • be the recipient of kindness when my ignorance of the custom and cultures was obvious.
  • be generously taught and instructed in new customs.
  • be the recipient of gracious hospitality as a foreigner.
  • talk religion with people from a very different religious tradition than mine.
  • make friends with people from different countries and religions.
  • discuss politics across borders.
  • have a baby in a foreign country.
  • go without a car in a foreign country.
  • learn how to use public transportation like a boss in a different country.
  • invited friends from different countries and cultures to my home and share a meal together.

Life as an immigrant isn't easy. It doesn't come with a free ride or doors opening automatically for you. It can be incredibly isolating and lonely. It means overwhelmingly difficult work. It means swallowing pride and doing humble jobs.

I have friends who were highly trained and skilled workers in their home countries who immigrated to the United States for better opportunities for their children. Now they work at daycare centers, cleaning house, moving, mowing lawns, scrubbing dishes at restaurants, etc.

I am really concerned with the rhetoric about immigrants that I hear from my fellow American citizens. The words from our president elect about immigrants are deeply distressing and alarming. With the exception of Native Americans, every single American citizen is a product of immigration. They came to the U.S. for the same reasons immigrants coming to the States today, for opportunities, safety, religious freedom, and for a dream of a better life.

Our immigration system does not function well. The laws are complicated and confusing. Immigrating legally requires money, access to lawyers, and extreme patience. I want to see immigration reform to make it easier for people to get work visas so they can work legally and pay taxes. Improved immigration laws would also likely reduce the human traffickers that prey on the vulnerable and feed into sex slavery, slavery on big farms, and abuse in other industries.

I think that immigrants in the United States need to follow our laws (even when they conflict with their religious or personal beliefs), learn English, and pay taxes.

I think we in the U.S. need to deport immigrants who have committed crimes in their home countries or on American soil, provide English courses for free, crack down on employers who knowingly employ illegal immigrants, crack down on organizations that traffic immigrants.

Most of all, I want Americans to stop being so darn nationalistic. Immigrants bring vibrancy, energy, and new ideas to our country. Extend hospitality and friendship to immigrants. I think doing so makes us a better, stronger nation.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Mothering Monday: Self-Care

I am just starting to climb out of the hole of depression. In October, I started seeing a therapist. Through our sessions, I started to see that over the past year, I haven't been taking care of myself in the way that a woman needs so that she is fully functional in her life.

Apparently, when I don't take care of myself, I stop feeling pleasure in life. I stop enjoying food, cooking, creating, parenting, and living. It is an odd feeling really, when you can't experience simple pleasures like the delightful sweet tart bite of a blueberry in your mouth, or the soothing spray of a hot shower on your tense shoulders, or the shiver of delight from a loving touch, or your heart singing from listening to your favorite song. A world without being able to experience simple pleasures is such a bummer.

I have been slowing down lately, taking time to read silly novels without guilt. We have relied on processed food to make meal time easier. I took a week off from mom duty and visited two sisters and my parents. I bought some clothes, scrapbook supplies, and even some music. I have been going to bed early and resting as long as I can. I have delegated more and done less. Brent and I have gone out on more dates--just taking off and enjoying time together. I did a lot of soul-searching about my discontent and made some future goals that inspire and encourage me. I am also trying to consciously think and articulate gratitude.

I am starting to feel joy in things again. The fall leaves and the light this autumn have made me smile over and over again. My kids are cute and wonderful again. I am not all the way back to where I want to be, but I am not feeling dark and awful. I still don't enjoy cooking or food--which is super weird, I really don't understand why. Writing remains difficult as I am not flooded with ideas or thoughts. But I am not worried as I know this is just a dry season. It will work out.

I really want to thank all of my family, friends, and readers who took the time to reach out to me. You made me feel valuable and loved. You helped me get the courage to take the steps I needed to get better. You showed me that I am not alone--even when many of you live far away from me. I feel remarkably blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Day America Lost

On November 9, 2016, I awoke to the news that Trump had won the presidency. Stunned and sickened, I have been in the throes of deep grieving, unable to comprehend how our country fell so far.

This has been the worst election cycle I have ever witnessed or experienced. The majority of the Republican candidates running in the primary were terrible. When Trump won against his opponents, I couldn't believe that people were really voting for such a gimp.

I disagreed profoundly with many of the campaign promises of Hillary Clinton. I think she is deeply entrenched in the trenches of very corrupt political practices. I couldn't vote for her either, so I opted to vote third party. I knew New York would go to Hillary Clinton, so I felt safe in voting third party.
If worse came to worse, I determined that I could live with a Clinton presidency because, while I think she is corrupt, I didn't anticipate things changing much for the worse.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think Trump could actually succeed. Surely the people of America would see what a dangerously unhinged man he is. Surely the people of America could see his unbridled temper and outrageous outbursts as liabilities in working with other nations or handling nuclear codes. Surely people could see that the way he shut down opponents and fought with the media did not bode well for the cherished right of free speech. Surely people would hear alarm bells regarding his rhetoric about Muslims and immigrants. Surely men and women would be horrified as he admitted to sexual assault.

I expected and hoped too much. I believed in the decency of Americans. I understand deeply all the problems with a Clinton presidency. But there were alternatives; there were other candidates to select. I hoped and prayed that people would make a principled choice and choose from the third party options.

But the people of America chose a man who has all the hallmarks of enacting a regime like unto Hitler's. All these people I believed and hoped were good and decent people chose a man who openly advocated for racism, sexism, sexual abuse and assault, religious persecution, and everything that is the antithesis of what is good and right about America.\

Meanwhile the pleas from all these "good people" to unite and be kind make me want to throw up. I don't want to unite with them. I don't want to be aligned with anything they voted for. I don't stand with them. I can't respect them. They have shattered all my beliefs and cherished hopes for this nation. Everything that liberals and democrats said about Republicans is true. I learned yesterday that I am not safe with any of those people. I cannot pray for them. I cannot pray for that man who will take the highest office of the United States. I don't know if I can forgive or accept what has happened to our country.

May God preserve us. I don't think He will protect us from what we justly deserve.