Absentee Colonialism: A Fable

Once upon a time, in the heart of your beloved country, there was a people that we now call the Others. History shows that this place had been their home since at least 1150 B.C. They lived here, loved here, built their communities here. This was home.

But your people needed a home, too. And so, about a hundred years ago, with the help of rich and powerful allies, you moved in. A more accurate term would be “occupy”. You occupied a land that had already been a home to the Others.

At various times, you’ve used warfare and violence to support your claim. Your military might, provided by allies, is unsurpassed. You’ve locked the Others into smaller and smaller areas, hoping they would just disappear. You’ve restricted their movements and their ability to earn a living. You’ve imprisoned them, and attempted to politically expunge them from the record of the world.

You’ve tried to portray their often violent protests regarding your home invasion, as outrageous, terrorist acts. How dare they be angry in any way? What gives them the right? This is your country, bought and paid for by powerful allies. Nothing else matters.

And yet the Palestinians persist. How annoying. How inconvenient.

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Another Feminist Wedge Issue

If you believe that women should have the same rights as men (and why anyone wouldn’t believe that is beyond me, since we’re not a subspecies), then you’re a feminist whether you admit it or not. I happen to be a feminist, loud and proud. But I’m willing to concede that the movement itself sometimes frustrates the hell out of me.

There is so much work to do that all sorts of side issues crop up that cause infighting and divisions. I think these wedge issues, while often very important in and of themselves, are counterproductive to the movement as a whole. We shouldn’t be fighting amongst ourselves. That gets us nowhere.

There are debates as to whether the transgender community should be included in the movement. There are debates as to whether men should be aggressively kept out of the movement or be allowed to participate. Some feminists treat stay at home mothers and sex workers as if they have sold out. Others feel that women of color have been marginalized in the movement for so long that they should be its only leaders now. We butt heads about abortion and the death penalty, too.

The newest wedge issue that I’ve noticed centers around the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Many view Palestinian women as some of the most oppressed women in the world, and they feel that if we don’t support all oppressed women, we don’t support women, full stop. Others feel that this issue is simply an attempt to exclude and alienate Jewish women.

I’m not expressing any opinion about any of the above topics in this post. But I will say this: any issue that excludes people from sitting at the table, or prevents anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, religion, career choices, or what have you, from showing up and speaking out, has no place in my feminism. We all need to come together and empower each other, and we do that by setting aside our prejudices and differences and looking at the bigger picture.

I recently wrote about the Seattle Womxn’s March, and what a joyful experience it was. I still believe that. But I must say that there was one moment of tension that I didn’t appreciate. One side of the Palestinian-Israeli debate was out there with a bullhorn, chanting their opinion. Many of us supported that opinion, and in another march I might have chanted along with them. But I could also see that it was making a lot of women in the crowd extremely tense. I felt like the situation took away from the march as a whole. For a few minutes there, I didn’t want to be where I was. And that’s the last thing any movement needs.

Should we ignore these issues entirely? Definitely not. They are important. But it’s absurd to expect every single one of us to agree on every single thing. So rather than have these issues fracture the entire movement, we should focus on having a core movement, and then also break out in focus groups to support or oppose these related topics as well. Otherwise, we’re cutting off our noses to spite our faces.

I don’t know about you, but I happen to like my nose.

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Weird Travel Syndromes

As an avid traveler, I’m not unaware of the inherent dangers of going to countries that aren’t your own. Getting caught up in political tensions. Breaking laws or making a cultural faux pas due to your own ignorance. Getting lost. The inability to communicate. Losing one’s passport. Misunderstandings. Being considered vulnerable and therefore getting targeted by criminals. I even knew someone once who got into a car accident in a third world country and wound up getting hepatitis from an unclean blood transfusion. Years later, she died as a result.

Travel is not for sissies. Do your homework. Take precautions.

But until today I didn’t realize that there were also mental health risks. The fear of losing one’s luggage is scary. But actually becoming psychotic? Yikes.

I heard someone mention Paris Syndrome this morning. It intrigued me, so I looked it up in the Font of All Human Knowledge, also known as Wikipedia. Now, be advised that none of the syndromes I mention in this post can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But it fascinates me that they crop up enough to have actual names.

It seems that Paris Syndrome can occur when one visits that fair city and experiences extreme shock when it does not live up to expectations. I do remember that on my first visit, I was disappointed that all the food was not phenomenal, and surprised that most people on the streets were not wearing haute couture. But I got over it.

Not everyone does. Some people experience delusions, hallucinations, dizziness, tachycardia, and perspiration, among other things. It’s like culture shock, writ large. For some reason, it seems to happen to Japanese tourists more than any other group. I have no idea why.

From there, as often happens when surfing Wikipedia, I was led to an article about Jerusalem Syndrome. This one occurs when someone visits Jerusalem and experiences religious delusions. It used to be called “Jerusalem squabble poison”, and it has been occurring since the Middle Ages. Tour guides are trained to look out for it, in the hopes that they can nip it in the bud before the sufferer steals the hotel bed sheets, wraps himself up in them, and then delivers a nonsensical sermon at one of the holy places in the city. Good grief.

And then there’s Stendhal Syndrome. This one happens in Florence, Italy. It’s named after the first known victim, a writer from the early 1800’s. With this syndrome, one is apparently so overcome by the art of Florence, and the presence of the graves of notables such as Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo, that one experiences ecstasy, dizziness, and disorientation.

For the most part, these syndromes seem to resolve themselves when the tourist leaves the cities in question, but area hospitals are used to admitting patients with these symptoms. It’s enough to make you want to stay home.

Well, no it isn’t. But it certainly makes you think.

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Marriage Contracts

I was listening to Weekend Edition on NPR the other day, and they were discussing the fact that in Israel, a woman cannot get divorced without her husband’s permission. Even a secular woman in that country is bound by this ancient Jewish practice. So if you have a vindictive husband with nothing to lose (the very type you’d most want to leave), you could very well be stuck with him for life. That means that even if you don’t live together, his debts and problems will forever be yours. What a nightmare. That’s not marriage. That’s slavery.

I love it when people talk about the sanctity of marriage as if it were some sort of never-changing feature in life’s landscape. The fact is that more marriages end in divorce than live happily ever after. That has been the reality for many, many decades, and it obviously isn’t going to change. With that in mind, isn’t it high time we develop our laws to reflect this irrefutable evidence?

Divorce should be a much simpler, cut and dried procedure that doesn’t cost a fortune and doesn’t require lawyers. As a matter of fact, from a sociological standpoint it would make much more sense if the marriage contract were something that people had to renew every, say, five years. If it wasn’t working out, you simply let the contract expire.

“Oh, but then there would be no stability for the poor innocent children!” Gimme a break. There’s no stability for them now. If people don’t want to be together, they’ll find a way not to be together. Making divorce easier isn’t going to impact that. It will just mean the inevitable will come to pass in a more equitable, rapid, inexpensive and less stress-inducing manner.

Marriage was invented at a time when people weren’t expected to make it to age 40. It was a lovely, romantic construct that added to a stable society, and provided support for women at a time when they couldn’t work outside the home. But let’s face it, you can live with the devil himself for that short amount of time but it’s quite different when you tack on an additional 40 years to that proposition, and women these days can take care of themselves. This delightful tradition no longer suits the reality of the situation.

It’s high time we take the religious fantasy out of our legal system and deal with the practicalities at hand.

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[Image credit: buquedeideias.tumblr.com]

Foreign Travel Advice for Americans

Recently my amazing nephew contacted me for travel advice. I have been to 19 countries to date, so he figured I’d have some useful information. I’d forgotten what it was like, planning my first overseas trip. Those were the days. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years, but I’d like to think I’ve learned from them. I specify that this advice is for Americans, but that’s only because the links I provide are for American sites. But really, I think this would help any traveler.  Having said that, here are a few basic tips and links for the foreign travel newbie.

  • First and foremost, before deciding what country to visit, check out the US Department of State’s website to find out just what you’re getting yourself into. They have up to date country specific information. Getting kidnapped or stumbling into a war zone will definitely put a damper on your travel plans. Some countries are very safe except in certain regions. Know your geography and avoid hot spots. Nothing can guarantee your safety 100 percent, but it would be foolish to not make an effort to mitigate your risks at the very least.
  • Once you’ve decided upon a country (or countries), make the effort to educate yourself about them in advance. At a bare minimum, get a CURRENT guidebook. My absolute favorites are the Lonely Planet Guides, or, if you’re traveling in Europe, Rick Steves has some great books as well. But read those guides in advance, because there’s nothing more annoying than getting back home and discovering that there was something really cool that you could have done while there that you didn’t know about. If you are lucky enough to be in a foreign country for a long time and language will be an issue, I also highly recommend the Berlitz phrasebooks.
  • My favorite site for finding the cheapest airfare is kayak.com. They compare hundreds of sites. It’s always cheaper if you buy your tickets well in advance and travel mid-week, and your guidebooks will tell you what is low, shoulder and high season for your destination. That will impact your price, too.
  • Read up on the history and culture, too. Learn about their art, their music, their archeology, their architecture, their food. It will only make your experience richer. And if you can ask the locals educated questions, it will show people that you respect their country and want to know what it’s all about. It’s a great way to make lifelong friends.
  • Whatever you do, do NOT wait until the last minute to get your passport. It will always take longer than you think and trust me, you don’t need that type of stress.
  • Many countries require inoculations. Check with your local purveyor of overseas immunizations to see what’s required. And some things aren’t required, they’re just recommended. If that’s the case, get them, too, because once you get some exotic disease, there’s no turning back. Also, have your doctor prescribe a strong diarrhea medicine to take with you just in case. The prescription kind is more effective than anything you can get over the counter. You won’t regret having it.
  • If you have any valuable electronics that you’re planning to bring with you and they’re not obviously old and ratty, take them to your local customs and border protection office and fill out form 4457, “Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad” or risk having people assume you bought them in country and face having to pay a duty fee at customs. This goes for cameras, cell phones, laptops, etc.
  • Make three photocopies of your passport, credit cards, identification, and any other documentation (like those customs receipts I mentioned above). Keep one copy in your checked baggage, one in your carry on baggage, and one copy with a trusted friend or family member whom you’d be able to reach by phone if necessary. Also include your name and address not only on your luggage tags, but also on a 3×5 card taped INSIDE your luggage in case those tags get ripped off.
  • Create an in case of emergency card for your wallet which includes your name, date of birth, medical allergies, blood type, medical conditions, physician’s name and phone number, emergency contact name and how this person is related to you, plus their phone numbers.
  • Make it a point to get about 100 dollars in the local currency, because there’s nothing worse than arriving in a foreign country after a long exhausting flight only to find that all the money exchange places are closed and your taxi driver only accepts cash. Thomas Cook is a great resource for advance currency exchange. The rest of the time, in this day and age, (unless you’re going to the back of beyond) you’ll be able to survive by using a credit card. But make sure you have a card that does not charge foreign exchange fees, because if you get home and discover you’ve been charged 10 dollars per transaction, you will have a heart attack. As of this writing, Capital One credit cards do not charge foreign exchange fees, but double check, because that could change.
  • Once you’ve decided which credit cards to take, call the companies and tell them in which countries you’ll be traveling and when. Otherwise they may think it’s suspicious activity and block it, and that’s a nightmare to untangle long distance. Also, they then WILL be able to block suspicious activity. For example, I bought a souvenir in Turkey, and within 24 hours, some loser in Israel had stolen my identity, and since I’d given the credit card company my itinerary, they were able to block the Israel transactions before I was wiped out, but didn’t block my Turkey transactions. Also, confirm the pin numbers for your credit cards before you go.
  • A lot of travel sites will suggest that you get a money belt to avoid pickpockets. I have always found this to be an unnecessary expense. Instead, I do the following: Carry a small amount of cash and one credit card in your wallet. Put that wallet in a fanny pack, keep the pouch portion of the fanny pack in the front at all times, and walk with your hand resting on top of it. Then, Take a sock, cut off some of the length, then use the toe part as a home made pouch. Put additional money and your passport and another credit card in it, then pin it to the inside of your pants with a couple safety pins. If you need to access these funds, you just step into the nearest bathroom, and there you have it.
  • This will be evidence of my anal retentive personality, but over the years I’ve created a master packing list (which can be found here). Whenever I’ve discovered that I’ve forgotten something, I add it to the list for the next time. When I’m about to take a trip, I copy that list, then remove the items that don’t apply to this particular trip (like winter coats for trips to the tropics, for example) and then I have a pretty comprehensive list of what to pack. But don’t overdo it. Travel as lightly as you can. Lugging a lot of unnecessary crap will just make your trip a lot less enjoyable, especially now that airlines are charging luggage fees. If you absolutely need something that you’ve forgotten to pack, you can always buy it in country. If it’s not available in country, that means an entire country has learned to live without it, and that means you can, too.
  • Give your loved ones your itinerary so they can contact you in an emergency, but also register your itinerary on line with the State Department. If you do nothing else, do that, because if things turn unexpectedly ugly, for example, if war is declared, you want the good guys to know where you are.
  • If you’re driving yourself to the airport, make sure you get gas for your vehicle, top off your fluids, and get air in your tires the day before. Nothing is worse than missing your flight because of a flat tire. That would spell the destruction of your holiday.
  • If there’s any way to get a ride to the airport, do so, because long term parking fees are obscene. If you have absolutely no choice, research the park and ride shuttle companies near your airport, and then make reservations to leave your car with them. Slightly cheaper, at least.
  • It is recommended that you arrive at the airport two hours early for international flights, but don’t assume that is the rule of thumb on the way back. If I hadn’t arrived 4 hours early to the airport in Istanbul, I’d still be sitting in that airport right now.
  • Upon your return, pack all your souvenirs and receipts separately for customs. They always appreciate it when you make life easier for them.
  • For the love of god, if you have even the tiniest brain in your head, DO NOT SMUGGLE ANYTHING into or out of a foreign country!!!!!!! Go to youtube and look up any episode of “Locked Up Abroad” if you want to see how incredibly stupid it is to take that sort of risk. Don’t want to wind up in a foreign prison? Simple. Respect the laws of the country that you’re in.
  • If you’re going to be renting a car, get an international driver’s license from AAA, and print out the international traffic signs so you know what they mean. You can find them on Google. The life you save could be your own. Check to see if your auto insurance will cover your rental, because if it does, it will be a lot cheaper than taking out the rental agency’s insurance. They won’t like it if you waive their insurance, but you are within your rights to do so. But make sure you’re covered.
  • If you have a student ID, bring it with you. You never know when you can take advantage of a student discount.
  • Check to see if the country of your choice requires visas. If you can obtain them in advance, do so.
  • If you are bringing anything irreplaceable with you, such as glasses, camera, etc, put that in your carry on luggage. Do not check it. Murphy’s law dictates that it will disappear. Also, bring a copy of your glasses prescription in case they get broken during your travels.
  • Put a temporary hold on your mail, and if possible, get someone to occasionally go by and check on your house. Put timers on your lights so that your place will appear inhabited. Turn off your water heater and unplug everything you can. Adjust your thermostat.
  • It makes me sick to have to say this, but if you are an unmarried woman and will be traveling in a conservative country, go to the flea market and buy yourself some wedding rings. You will be treated with much more respect. And unfortunately, as liberated as you may be, there are places in the world where a woman should just not go alone, especially at night. Research the countries customs and beliefs, and whether you agree with them or not, take them seriously.
  • Also, if you are traveling to a country where Americans are not appreciated which is pretty much everywhere these days, you may want to consider getting Canadian flag patches to sew on your backpacks and Canadian flag luggage tags. Everybody loves Canadians. And although they put out a quality product, American Tourister is probably not the brand of luggage you want to use in this day and age.
  • Make sure you keep  your prescription medication in its prescription packaging. And if it’s anything that has any type of street value, do not leave it in the hotel for the maids.
  • If you are going to an area known for malaria, you need mosquito repellant with DEET. The best for anti-malaria is Sawyer Controlled Release DEET formula.
  • When you know the exchange rate, calculate things out so you know what equals a dollar, 5 dollars, 10 dollars, etc, and write them down on a 3×5 card so you can quickly know how expensive things are.
  • A note about reservations: It’s good to have reservations at the beginning of your trip when you’re tired, and at the end of your trip when you’ve got to make sure nothing goes wrong, or if you’re arriving in a city late at night. But if you are brave, you can often get a better deal by finding places as you travel around so you can be more flexible. On the other hand, youth hostels, which I HIGHLY recommend if you are not completely wedded to the concept of privacy, often require reservations. Print out your reservation documentation. Don’t be surprised if reservations get lost, or if your room turns out not to be available or if you’re suddenly charged a higher rate. It happens ALL THE TIME. Stand your ground. Have your documentation. Be polite, but don’t take any crap.
  • If you’re bringing anything that requires a charger, make sure you purchase adapters if the country in question uses a different currency or plug.
  • Bring a small box of powdered detergent so you can do hand wash in the hotel sinks. That way you can pack fewer clothes. And pack lighter weight things, such as khakis instead of blue jeans, because they dry faster. You can always layer if need be.
  • Bring extra batteries, but know that the airlines will require that you pack them separately from the devices. In fact, it’s a good idea to check out your airline’s luggage policies in general.
  • Remove perishables from your fridge and take out your garbage so you don’t come home to a  stinky house.
  • The more you plan on the front end, the more you’ll be able to relax and have fun when you’re there, so make a to do list and cover all the bases. Enjoy your trip!

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Where is China, Greenland and the Whole of Africa?

Since I haven’t been able to afford international travel in the past several years, I travel vicariously by checking out the countries of origin of the people who visit my blog. WordPress is even kind enough to provide a nifty little world map, with the countries that have visited colored in for me.

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When I get a new country visitor, I’m always so excited. I imagine someone from Bangladesh, for example, sitting at their computer on the other side of the world, looking at something I’ve written. What is that person like, I wonder. What does the room in which they’re sitting look like? What sounds are they hearing out their window? What drew them to my blog? Did I make them think about something in a different way? If it’s a country that I know very little about, I rush off to Google and learn a thing or two.

It’s a particular thrill when it’s a little tiny country, because I figure the odds are a lot longer that someone there would visit. I’d love to get Andorra or Lichtenstein, for example.

I’ve had visitors from 49 countries so far. In addition to the countries visible on the list from my screengrab picture above are Switzerland, Chile, Singapore, Austria, Greece, Ukraine, Slovenia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Finland, Mauritius, Israel, Guatemala, Iceland, Thailand, Croatia, Turkey, Viet Nam, France, Lithuania, Nepal and Brunei Darussalam.

I was particularly excited when I got my first visitor from the Russian Federation, because that REALLY added color to my map! What I can’t figure out, though, is why I haven’t sparked any interest at all from any nation on the African continent. What does a girl have to do? I’d also love to get Greenland and China. I’ll really know I’ve arrived, though, when I get someone from North Korea. But I won’t hold my breath.

So if you are a new visitor, welcome! I am waving hello to you from another part of the planet, and I’m really glad you’re here! Come back soon and bring your friends!