Friday, June 28, 2013

dancing tea

we are moving. our house is  under construction. we are way behind schedule and over budget. we are traveling, for work and pleasure, oh yeah,  working and -to top it all off- the kids are on vacation.

I barely have time to think, let a lone write. So as a weekend adieu here goeth a video of the famous   bangladeshi rainbow tea. or as I like to call it, the  dancing tea.

Drinking this, even though I asked them to take the top layer of milk out, cost me a night of romance with the toilet, missing a major workshop and a week on antibiotics. But I think it was worth it 'cause I find it fascinating. I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

You are my wild, photo post

Catskills, NY

PS the title is totally 'stolen' from a much beloved site 'you are my wild' were 14 photographers document their children. LOVE the title as I feel captures "it" so well.

PPS yes, we do feed him. Regularly.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Monday, June 3, 2013

What if I told you that what happened to those girls in Ohio is normal….

The news that Amanda Berry together with  two other girls had escaped filled our hearts and our tv sets with joy. We couldn’t get enough of the happy images  from the reunion, the neighbours’ welcome, the police tape confirming they have been found, the unlikely hero of the day recounting his story. It didn’t matter if like me you’d never heard of her before, we all rejoiced  in the miracle that was her freedom. That after ten long years, when all but a slimmer of hope had been lost, these girls were reunited with their families and given the chance to rebuild their lives.

While the networks struggled to  get as many gory details as possible, most of us shied away thinking “We know enough. We know too much. We don’t need to know anymore. Let their secrets be theirs to keep.  Give them that”

Together with the celebration came disbelief that a human could treat another human being with such utter cruelty and disregard. Not only was he capable of treating another human this way, he was able to do this to someone the age of his own daughter, a friend of his daughter no less. You would have thought this would have made it harder for him to dehumanized them. That he would have been forced to relate to their parents’ agony. That he would have at least heard his own child’s cries.

And what made it even harder for me to comprehend was that he was able to maintain this unimaginable degree of cruelty for ten long years. For three thousand, six hundred and fifty days and nights he hurt them, intentionally, he blocked out their cries, their pleas, their  pain and their suffering while managing to maintain a functioning life. Going to work, attending barbecues with the neighbours, talking on the phone with his daughter.

It is, to me , unimaginable.

Fast forward to my recent mission to Bangladesh. The monsoon came early this  season, as did typhoon Mahasen and hurricanes that ravished my adopted home. Every morning I rose with the sun due to jet lag, and was able to take up an old beloved habit of mine, to read the newspaper, the actual physical paper, while slowly sipping my morning coffee.

The paper was riddled with stories stemming from the Rana Plaza collapse. Hartals or general strikes turned our mission into a maze as we had to keep retracing our steps in order to find a way forward. But regardless of where we went we went we were met with the same stories.

Bangladesh has one of the highest most pervasive levels of gender based violence in the world. Like in many other countries, women here are second class citizens. Their traditional beautiful clothing nothing but a local version of the burka which seeks  to cover any trace of a woman’s attributes, and with this, sexualizing her even more.  A woman without a scarf to cover her breasts  is “asking for it”. Actually, even a woman covered should expect to be harassed, at work, on her way to school, any public space is a battle ground for her honour. And should  she fall prey to other’s desires,  then her only hope is that the aggressor will take her and make her his own, to rape and torture and beat till death do them part, death arriving often through his own hand or that of his family. The alternative, a woman with no man and no honour, is empty of value in this society. Stories of girls as young as seven turning to sex work as a result of rape, with no honour this being the only livelihood alternative available to them.  Neither the law, the police nor her family can or will save her.

Every day, every single one of them, I read the paper to find at least one story of a woman murdered in her own home. Every single meeting riddled with stories about this underlying violence. Every transfer from one location to another through slow heavy traffic I was approached by street beggars. And while I still felt shame towards their poverty due to my unearned privilege, in their faces I kept seeing the man that could walk any day into the brothel. The man that beats his wife. The man that harasses a coworker. 50% of men in Bangladesh think it is normal to beat a woman, so at least half the times I was right. Internal and international trafficking stories also made the news regularly, both for being caught at the border trying to get away, but also for being abused in far away lands. Promises of gold and myrtle turned into chains and dark brothels. Women that went unpaid for their 15 hour days, for years, with only scars to bring back home with them to their families. And shame. More women behind locks at the mercy of men, sometimes at the mercy of other women just as eager to unleash their rage on them, eager to feel more powerful than ‘someone’, even if that someone is a nobody. Even the shelters built to protect them are filled with echoes of abuse.

Bangladesh is not alone. What these three girls in Ohio went through is not an exception. There are currently 2.5 million(1,2) trafficked women and children around the world which today, as we sip the coffee, continue to suffer Amanda’s  fate with no hope in sight.  There are many countries where -by law- the husband is free to do with the wife as he sees fit. Some of these things happen in our own backyards, in the case of Amanda literally, but also metaphorically,  making news out of things that elsewhere are considered normal, like a father killing his own daughter to protect his honour. What kind of honour is this that would make a father strangle or drown his own helpless child. Sometimes the crime being no more than a sustained gaze at another man. Acid attacks, rape in high schools, rape friendly pages on Facebook, rape in the military, the most honourable institution of all, the ones we trust with our lives and our freedom... it is everywhere. The extent and pervasiveness of it is overwhelming. Although one in four women in the developed world will suffer some kind of sexual abuse, I have at least the law on my side. If not in reality, at least in principle. Steubenville taught us that. I can only begin to imagine the constant sense of terror a woman in a country such as Bangladesh must feel, having to protect this so-called honour with her life, because it is the only thing worthy in her. But the millions spent every year on defense are not aimed at this type of terror. A burnt bus being more worthy of Allied Forces response than thousands of voiceless women tortured behind locked doors.

What does it say about us that we know what happened to Amanda berry is considered normal and we don’t intervene? What does it say about us that we consider apartheid unforgivable yet a country like Saudi Arabia can be considered an ally?

This utter unimaginable cruelty and terror is so widespread and so little is done to respond to it that we might as well accept human beings are cruel, and that what happened to Amanda Berry is normal. And this leaves me with a sense of infinite despair.


(1)" It is very difficult to assess the real size of human trafficking because the crime takes place underground, and is often not identified or misidentified. However, a conservative estimate of the crime puts the number of victims at any one time at 2.5 million." ..."Victims of trafficking can be any age, and any gender. However, a disproportionate number of women are involved in human trafficking both as victims and as culprits."... " We also know that it affects every region of the world and generates tens of billions of dollars in profits for criminals each year." United Nations office of Drugs & Crime

(2) The Polaris Project estimates there are  100,000 children in the sex trade in the United States each year.