Friday, January 27, 2012

Buying into Boobs

I bought a pair of fake boobs.  Not the full, round, porn-star size--just the silicone inserts designed to make your boobs look like they once did.

Now, I had grandiose hopes for these quarter-boobs because when I lost a lot of weight, my bras not only became too big, my boobs took a dive, if you know what I mean, and my breasts were about the only thing I liked about my body prior to my massive change.  My boobs were not only bigger, they were...well, yeah.  All that.  For once, I had agreed with my husband that a part of my Physiognomy was pretty damn good, when on the whole, I tended to disagree with his positive assessment of me.

Don't get me wrong.  Since the weight loss, there has been no lack of amore in any area, and my husband would be appalled that I ordered fakies and tried to hide the purchase.  Since I am now admitting to the entire world that I have succumbed to our inane culture that puts boobs at the forefront of sexiness--at least in Sports Illustrated--I figure this proclamation of guilt is enough penance for the crime.  Then again, since my husband doesn't read my blog, I know I still will feel I have committed a sin of omission if I don't confess.  I can do this in several ways, the funniest by allowing him to discover my secret when we are being the most intimate.  "I can't believe you bought those!"  I'm betting both  my fake boobies that is what he'll say, followed by a chastisement about wasting money, to which I would usually respond, "Don't worry. I'll sell them on eBay."  But I doubt that is an option in this case.

The most pathetic part of trying on the boobs came with my realization that I was really stuffing my bra in the same way middle school and even some elementary school aged kids used to do with socks or paper towels.  This was before the current era of push-up and padded bras for twelve-year-olds.  In my day, girls who stuffed were publicly humiliated for doing so, especially if the ingredients happened to fall out.  Now, it's acceptable and encouraged to go for the busto at any life stage, and women over the age of consent who get boob jobs don't seem a bit embarrassed by the discovery.

We women are conditioned at an early age to believe our boobs are pretty important.  I recall in fifth grade, for example, one of the boys I had gone to school with since Kindergarten started singing, "You got them got them," to no tune or no one in particular, but so everyone could hear him.  So I started to wonder, "Have I got those boobies?"  I wore a training bra, but did that count?  Then there was my eighth-grade classmate who dated a not-so-great looking girl just because she had big ones. I thought mine were pretty big at the time, but apparently, they weren't.  I was also pretty shy and had strict parents, so dating anyone at the time was out of the question anyway. 

I could never pay for a real boob job, not only because I couldn't afford it, but because I would feel guilty about spending $10,000+ when there are people starving to death.  Besides that, women often get boob inflations to raise self esteem.  Do I really want my self esteem resting on an ample chest?  Don't get me wrong--I am not condemning anyone who reaches for that metaphorical basketball, and I am certainly not talking about breast cancer survivors.  I'm just saying for me, implants wouldn't be an option unless I had a mastectomy.  But then, I suspect boobs would be only one of my worries.  (Insert here a prayer for all people with cancer and serious illness.)  Besides that, my husband be seriously upset if I took that step towards even the basketball court.

So, after not much consideration, I've decided I will let my husband figure out the hard way that his wife has experienced yet another moment of insanity.  I will leave my silicone on the sink so everyone can have a good laugh.  And I will be appalled at the search terms which bring up this post.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Turning Point for the Suffragists: A Memorial Planning

Below is an email I received 
about a great endeavor!  
If you are interested in 
taking part, post a comment 
and I will get it in my 
moderator's box, or 
contact Turning Point 
through their website 
or Facebook page.

Did you that in the United States, there is not one 
memorial commemorating the struggle for a woman's 
right to vote? For almost 72 years, women like Elizabeth 
Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Clara Barton 
fought for women's rights, to include their right to vote.

In 1917 there was a turning point in the struggle for 

voting rights for women and it happened right here in 
our own backyard. Over 120 women were imprisoned 
in Occoquan, in what we know as the Lorton Prison. 
They were beaten, force fed, and stripped of their 
basic rights. The story broke across the country, 
and the suffering these women endured spurred 
the public to push for the passage of the 19th 
Amendment in July of 1920.

I am working with the Turning Point Suffragist 

Memorial organization to help track down the 
descendents of these women who suffered while 
imprisoned at Occoquan. We hope to collect stories, 
memorabilia, and written accounts that may 
exist and shed light on who these women were 
and their experiences. It's an exciting project, 
with many talented women working to make 
this memorial come to life.

Here's where you all come in: we need people to 

know about the organization and the memorial. 
And one of the best ways I know of is to spread 
the word far and wide. Please go to their 
Facebook page (search for Turning Point Suffragist 
Memorial) and LIKE IT! Talk to your friends, 
family and anyone you think would be interested. 
You can also visit their website below to find out 
how you can help financially. We have a huge 
fundraising goal this year, and sometimes simply 
spreading the word can help immensely!

Please visit their website at 
to learn more, or feel free to ask me how you 
can help bring this long overdue memorial to life.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Perps, Pedophiles and Rapists

I spent some of Friday morning reading about pedophiles.  Yeah, I know.  Disgusting, the very word, and most people wouldn't voluntarily delve into the details.  However, my studies, no matter how disturbing to some, were attempts to understand the criminal mind better--also a dark endeavor most would not attempt.  I've got my reasons, though, one of which is that I teach criminals, many of whom are sex offenders.  Though I am not a counselor, do not discuss students' crimes with them and stay far away from their personal issues, I do wonder what brought these otherwise normal, respectful people to the horrible place where they are now, emotionally and physically. 

Here's my disclaimer: I am far from insensitive to victims' and their loved ones' tragedies.  I've been on the receiving end of a violent, sexual crime, so I know what this can do to a person.  It has been about seven years since that happened to me, and I marvel at my own progress, including the found ability to be in a classroom with multiple sex offenders and other types of criminals.  I'm pretty awesome, aren't I?  I have had a lot of angels helping me along the way, though, and too many victims don't get what I have. 

One of the first things I tried to do after my horrific experience, and after going through the denial, freaking-out, anger etc. stages, was try to comprehend what would lead a person to do such a reprehensible thing to another human being.  The answers came fairly easily in my case.  The perp had a history of alcohol and drug use so long, his brain was fried.  He had years of anger built up against women and, I am sure, was abused as a child.  I am also quite sure other factors figured in, but knowing the ones I do is enough for me to say, "Okay. I get it."

I used the oft-dreaded Wikipedia to begin my research.  I read the entry.  I looked at the links provided.  I utilized the bibliography.  I searched other websites.  I will not provide links here, other than to the site where I began.  If you want proof of what I say, I challenge you to explore in the same way I did.  And if you find anything I and the public should know, post a comment with a link to the source.  I'm not a pro, a criminal justice major or a psychologist.

Here's what I have learned about those who prey on children.  First, perps may or may not have been sexually abused themselves.  Second, perps have been exposed to serious violence as children, often directly, but often environmentally.  Third, their minds have been physically and psychologically altered in a way that most of us cannot even comprehend.  Fourth, they have anger and control issues way outside of what we'd consider "normal."  And, like other criminals, sex offenders have made significant psychological, physical and spiritual moves away from other human beings, so much so that they take their illness out on the most vulnerable.

Maybe all of this is a "no duh," but for me, putting the research together helped me synthesize and come to the conclusion that on some level, these people are brain damaged.  They may or may not qualify as mentally ill, but there is mental illness of some kind affecting them.  Some of these folks can be treated with medication and therapy.  Some can be treated but have things like personality disorders, a psychological sickness so serious, medication has not yet proven successful.  Some of these people have biological things going on that we can't figure out.  Science, unfortunately, hasn't advanced that far, and as long as we concentrate on developing things like technology instead of cures, our society is likely to suffer at the hands of a too-common, human illness.

My readings also reminded me that, even though we call all sex offenders against kids "pedophiles," there's a difference between someone who rapes a child and someone who is attracted to children.  Rapists usually have otherwise normal sexual drives.  They like adults.  And their rapes are similar to other rapes in which the victim is someone vulnerable, someone easily manipulated.  Child-centric crimes have little or even nothing to do with sexual desire. Just like other rapists, a criminal who rapes children has a goal or need to experience power, exercise control, express anger and/or get off on all of the above.  The victim isn't a sexual object, per se.  The victim is an outlet.

True pedophiles, on the other hand, sexually desire children.  Some pedophiles admit to having always lusted after children. Others discover it later.  Hormonal, chemical and environmental theories abound about the sources of these desires, but one thing is consistently believed true: pedophiles, like alcoholics, have their disease for life, even if they are not acting out, which is one reason why recidivism is so high among this population.

Does it bother me to work with sex offenders?  Not really, I guess because when I am teaching, I am there for the purpose of instructing, providing an academic skill that hopefully will lead them to better critical thinking skills, healthier interactions with other human beings and a means of non-violent self expression.  My job is mission-centric and important.

An officer asked me, one day, whether or not I thought I was making a difference. I responded with examples of academic success, but also, "At the very least, I am keeping them out of trouble for a few hours."  But it's more than that.  I can exercise real agape and real unconditional love in a safe setting.  And I can experience real forgiveness again and again.  It doesn't get any more fulfilling than that. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Valle de Bravo, Mexico, Part I: From the (edited) Hand-Written Journal of Me

I did edit this excerpt so it can be used later for educational purposes, meaning I skipped some things and changed the order and wording where they made absolutely no sense.  I fixed spelling errors, too.  No idea why I am noting these changes here because who really cares about documentation integrity when it's my freaking journal posted on a freaking blog?  Okay, I care because if I am going to call it a journal, technically, I should not edit it.  Then why not not call it a journal?  Because journals are so much more interesting than travel narratives--at least, I think so.

January 6-10, 2012

What a difference a day makes!  When we pulled into the bus station in the old town of Valle de Bravo yesterday, all I could think is, “Get me off this damn bus!”  The young Mexican couple sitting in front of me had been kissing the entire two hours, which would have been fine because I couldn’t see them, but I could hear the kissy noises.  It was annoying, and after two hours of it, enough was enough!  Also, two issues at the bus station: I had to pay for toilet paper, and there were no toilet seats. I remember this from my 1994 trip, but it still strikes me as odd.  
Writing this, I am sitting on the porch at about 7:15 a.m.  The sun is rising over the mountains.  I awoke to the sounds of roosters and barking dogs.  People think roosters only crow at sunrise, but that is far from true.  Those crowed all night.  I figured that out when at 2 a.m. I awoke to their calls.

I am wearing a t-shirt, thermal top and a sweater with a light pair of pants, and I am comfortable, feeling the morning sun on my face.  I would be cold except that the air is still.  Last night, I bundled under a sheet, two wool blankets and a comforter because there is no heat in the house or where I am sleeping.  I thought I would never get warm, but I did, even though it was only about forty degrees.

Farms surround this property on a hill.  I can hear a few cars or small trucks echoing through the main road running through the valley.  From below the yard, the turkeys gobble every time something catches their attention, much like how dogs bark.  Yesterday, as we drove through the gate, past their yard, the driver beeped the car horn on purpose, sending the birds into a gobbling frenzy.  Walking the property later, we gobbled at them for the pure pleasure of hearing them gobble back.

Yesterday around dinner, I was feeling very lonely, not understanding much of the Spanish being spoken between my friends and our hostess.  It’s easy to forget I am in Mexico because I am with friends, except when I can’t understand what is being said or struggle with the money conversion.  An American dollar exchanges for about 13 pesos, and my math skills have never been very good.

This property also has another house on it.  The front yard is full of avocado trees, which are harvested and bring in money at the market.  There is a dog next door, an overweight beagle who begs for attention and food.  The fat thing wanders through the grove eating avocados!  There is also a Chihuahua, which our hostess is not fond of, especially because yesterday, he peed on her drying laundry outside! 

The cost of living here is higher for locals, but for us, a huge meal of soup, tacos al pastor and nopal con queso that fed three of us in Mexico City was a bargain at twelve American dollars.  Even the fancier buffet with my two friends’ alcoholic drinks at the city’s rooftop hotel restaurant only cost about twenty American dollars.  The cabs here are also cheaper.  For a couple of American dollars and a tip, we could go a few neighborhoods over, and the two-hour ride from Mexico City to Valle de Bravo only cost about ten dollars. 

For dinner last night, our hostess prepared lentil with nopal soup, and we put frijoles, sour cream, vegetarian chorizo and lettuce on crisp corn flour tortillas.  This morning, we are having mini enchiladas soaked in red sauce, topped with chorizo, grated cheese and onion, with frijoles on the side.  I am going to get spoiled here. 

Processing with Gratitude

Ever notice the first week coming back from a trip is a real winner, sarcastically speaking?  I just love transitions--not.  Okay, so I am not complaining, but...yeah.  I am complaining, a little, post-work week, and since I am now well rested and have more time, I thought I would write about everything going on, which, come to think of it, means I am actually processing, not complaining, and I can take this time to process because I got a great night's sleep and now have time to catch up on work and de-stressing, for which I am grateful.  So yay, and thank you, life.

Hmmmm.  Funny.  I feel I am processed enough just after writing that.  Gratitude changes everything.

Time to get on with the day. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What kind of nation are we? I know. I've asked that before.

I was appalled when I read this article documenting how thousands of prisoners are in solitary confinement for years and how many of them are mentally ill.  Sue me for copyright infringement, but here's the whole article, followed by a way to advocate a turn-around.

I don't care what a person has done to warrant a jail sentence.  Long-term solitary confinement is torture.

By Anita Kumar, Published: January 7
RICHMOND — At Red Onion State Prison, built on a mountaintop in a remote pocket of southwest Virginia, more than two-thirds of the inmates live in solitary confinement.
In a state where about 1 in 20 prisoners are held in solitary, Red Onion, a so-called supermax prison, isolates more inmates than any other facility, keeping more than 500 of its nearly 750 charges alone for 23 hours a day in cells the size of a doctor’s exam room.
Virginia, one of 44 states that use solitary confinement, has 1,800 people in isolation, a sizable share of the estimated 25,000 people in solitary in the nation’s state and federal prisons.
As more becomes known about the effects of isolation — on inmate health, public safety and prison budgets — some states have begun to reconsider the practice, among them Texas, which, like Virginia, is known as a law-and-order state.
Mississippi, New York and Texas have begun to scale back the use of solitary confinement under pressure from prison watchdogs.
Now critics have set their sights on Virginia, where lawyers and inmates say some of the state’s 40,000 prisoners, including some with mental-health issues, have been kept in isolation for years, in one case for 14 years.
The Legal Aid Justice Center, which represents 12 inmates in isolation in Virginia, has requested an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, which recently launched a probe into a 1,550-bed Pennsylvania prison where inmates complain of long periods of isolation and a lack of mental-health treatment.
Virginia officials were reluctant to answer questions from The Washington Post about the practice of solitary confinement. In some instances, they provided contradictory information to The Post and legislators; at other times, they declined to talk about the use of solitary confinement.
“I’m very concerned about taking away people’s socialization,’’ said Del. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who will be sworn in as a state senator this week. “If they ­haven’t interacted with people for long periods of time, it’s not going to make them behave better.”
Ebbin is one in a group of legislators who have been visiting prisons, including Red Onion, to examine how their most violent inmates are treated. Del. Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington), who is leading the effort, said he will urge the General Assembly to study ways to limit the use of solitary confinement and offer more treatment before inmates are released.
A prison agency spokesman said that inmates are given breaks from “segregation” — the term the state uses to refer to solitary confinement — every 30 days or that their cases are reviewed regularly. But inmates and attorneys say prisons sometimes skip the review.
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), a former state attorney general who has pumped more money and staff into helping prisoners reenter society, said in a recent interview that he was unaware of the complaints.
“People behind bars have civil rights,’’ McDonnell said. “At the same time, we have a duty to promote public safety. If people show, even in prison, that they can’t get along with other prisoners, then they are treated accordingly.”
Suicide attempts
Malcolm Springs, 24, who is serving time in Red Onion for rape and abduction, said his mental-health problems have grown worse since he was put in isolation for assaulting an officer five years ago.
He has tried to kill himself multiple times and has been moved back and forth from Marion Correctional Center, a prison psychiatric hospital, where he was housed in segregation, according to prison officials and his attorney.
“In segregation, all I could do is think about my life, what I have been through, how people treat me here,’’ Springs said in a phone interview. “If I was in population, maybe I wouldn’t be as depressed.’’
Abigail Turner, litigation director at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, said eight of the organization’s 12 clients in isolation in Virginia prisons have serious mental illnesses for which they receive inadequate treatment.
Harold W. Clarke, director of the Virginia Department of Corrections, declined to comment. Agency spokesman Larry Traylor said inmates are kept in isolation for disciplinary problems — such as assaulting another inmate, starting a riot or having weapons or drugs — or for administrative reasons to protect them.
Traylor acknowledged that an inmate in certain types of solitary could “potentially be assigned there for years according to their risk assessment.’’ But he said Red Onion operates in accordance with national standards and is accredited by the American Correctional Association.
Although solitary confinement has long been a tool of prison discipline (and a staple of pop culture depictions of prison life), the use of solitary became increasingly common in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, many legal and medical experts have argued that inmates in isolation for long periods suffer from higher suicide rates, increased depression, decreased brain function and hallucinations.
“They should be trying to get them back in the general population,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project in Washington. “Sometimes, these are difficult situations, but it only compounds the problem if you never get out of there.”
In Virginia, many of those in isolation are at Red Onion, where two inmates were killed in the past two years by fellow prisoners.
Virginia opened Red Onion — deep in coal country and about 400 miles from Richmond — a dozen years ago as part of a major prison-building effort after the abolishment of parole and the lengthening of prison sentences. Like many other supermax prisons, Red Onion was designed to confine — but not necessarily rehabilitate — the most-dangerous criminals.
As of October, 505 of 745 inmates at Red Onion were in solitary, according to the state. When legislators toured Red Onion on Sept. 1, prison officials told them that 173 inmates in solitary there were considered mentally ill.
State officials said they do not keep statistics on the length of isolation stays, but they told Hope in a recent memo that Red Onion inmates have been isolated from two weeks to almost seven years, with an average stay of 2.7 years.
Inmates in solitary for disciplinary purposes are held for 30 days before receiving a 15-day break if they have additional isolation time to serve, Traylor said. Those isolated for administrative reasons have their cases reviewed every seven days for the first 60 days and every 90 days after that, he said.
Dennis Webb, 47, has been in solitary for more than 14 years. He is serving a 75-year sentence for armed robbery and malicious wounding. After stabbing a warden, he received an additional 30-year sentence.
Webb was found to have mental illnesses as a child, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, although for many years the state listed him as needing no treatment, Turner said.
At Red Onion, he was given written questions to answer as part of a program designed to alter his thinking and behavior. After the paperwork was done, he spoke to a counselor through the door.
23 hours a day
Prisoners held in isolation spend 23 hours a day alone in an at-least-80-square-foot cell with a bed, prison officials say.
They eat alone and have no group activities. They are moved in shackles and handcuffs. Their only interactions with other people occur when prison employees slide meal trays through a shutter on the cell door or crouch down to speak through the slot.
Three times a week, they can shower. Five times a week, they are moved for recreation to a 96-square-foot cell with metal wiring.
Prison officials declined to provide The Post access to Red Onion, citing state policy. But Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) said she saw a “sense of loss’’ in inmates’s eyes when she toured the prisons.
“They are turned back into society with no benefit of transition. Are we doing anything to help them transition?’’ she said.
James Reinhard, who was mental-health commissioner under Democratic governors Timothy M. Kaine and Mark R. Warner, said those with significant and chronic illnesses have been put behind bars ever since the nation began moving away from long stays at psychiatric hospitals in the 1960s. “It’s out of sight, out of mind,’’ he said. “I don’t think society has a lot of sympathy for them.’’
Traylor said the state does not know how many inmates are released from isolation into society or the portion of the budget spent on mental health. He told Hope that 30 mental-health counselors lost their jobs in 2002 because of budget cuts but that those positions have since been restored. Six positions were cut in 2008.
The American Bar Association calls for an end to solitary confinement for the mentally ill and one-year maximum stays for other inmates. In October, a U.N. expert on torture urged all countries to limit solitary confinement to rare cases and to ban it for the mentally ill.
Lawsuits have been brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and others in a half-dozen states — including Wisconsin, Connecticut and California — because of worries about isolation’s effect on the mentally ill.
Springs, who has been in and out of prison since he was 13, was initially sentenced for nine felonies, including carjacking, sodomy and abduction of two 19-year-olds in Hampton Roads in 2004. His mental-health problems — including bipolar disorder, depression and borderline personality — are related in part to childhood abuse.
He said he is frustrated that he does not receive the treatment he needs. Usually, a nurse and counselor come to his cell and ask him how he is doing — through the shutter in the door.
“I can’t have treatment because I’m in segregation,’’ he said. “All I can do is sit and think.’’
Prolonged solitary confinement desecrates a person’s inherent God-given dignity and denies the essential human need for spiritual community.  The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is working to end prolonged solitary confinement in Virginia and you can help by signing their Statement Against Prolonged Solitary Confinement and then spreading the word.  If NRCAT reaches 500 signatures in Virginia, NRCAT will send the statement and the signatures to our governor, state legislators and department of corrections officials.
Prisoners in solitary confinement are held alone in a windowless cell for 23 hours per day and exercise alone for the remaining hour.  As a result, inmates experience paranoia, delusions, and other long-term mental effects. Experts estimate that at least 36,000 people in the U.S. criminal justice system are currently held in solitary confinement. 

You can learn more about NRCAT’s state campaigns to end solitary confinement and access other resources at

Sen. Ebbin, Delegates Herring and Hope Introduce Bill to Study Limiting the Use of Segregation in Virginia’s Prisons

Richmond – Today, State Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), and Delegates Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) and Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington County) introduced legislation to study the use of solitary confinement and whether it is feasible to limit its use for long periods of time, especially for those with mental illness, and whether it can be done safely.

The legislators recently toured the Red Onion State Prison where several hundred prisoners, many with a serious mental illness, are locked in segregation for years at a time. Prisoners in segregation at Red Onion spend 23 hours a day alone in an at-least-80-square-foot cell. Many of these prisoners in segregation will eventually be released directly back into the community.

State Senator Ebbin said, “We need an objective review of Virginia’s current policies on solitary confinement.” He added, “While the safety of our corrections officers and the general prison population is paramount, we cannot assume that all those without human contact for years are ready to be released directly into the community upon completion of their sentence.”

Delegate Herring said, “Public safety is our first concern so that our community is safe and prosperous. Having a system that releases felons straight from solitary confinement to our streets without the benefit of appropriate mental health care poses a danger to everyone.” Del. Herring added, “In addition to this broken system, working to integrate the population and treat these individuals while still incarcerated has proven to save the public money. Would we not rather want to increase public safety and save money so that can be then used for many other needs?” Delegate Hope said, “It’s alarming that prisoners can go from several years segregated in a small cell with very little human contact directly into the outside world.” Del. Hope concluded, “Many of these prisoners have a very serious mental illness or become seriously mentally ill primarily to their segregation. With a trend in other States moving away from this kind of confinement, maybe it’s time we took a hard look at what Virginia is doing and see if we can do it better in a safe and more humane way.”
Patrick A. Hope is a Member of the Virginia General Assembly as the Delegate from the 47th District representing part of Arlington County. He serves on the House Courts of Justice Committee and House Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Mexico Journal--unedited from hand-written notebook, parts I and II

Mexico City, Part I
January 4 - 6, 2012

What can I say about the city?  In the Zucuro, the center, there seems to be a constant flow of people, like in any city.  Still it doesn't feel like NYC--not quite so many people or maybe it's just spread out more.  Downtown, there are high class shops like Manhattan.  There are several ornate cathedrals constructed in the 1500-1600's well kept and being renovated.  The architecutal & art are detailed & amazing. Inside, in spite of tourists like us, you can hear people saying the rosary.  The words echo off the high ceilings.

The people here are warm and friendly or they don't seem to notice us even though we're obviously gringos and minorities.  Even when we go to the open markets, the people are courteous and patient with my poor Spanish skills.  There are ingeginous women sitting on the ground, weaving colorful bracelets, belts, hats & other garments.  The elderly people are so cute & appear content.

I am writing this on a bus to Valle de Bravo where Jorge's aunt Paty lives.  We will spend the rest of our time in that area.  Jorge says it's tranquil and rural as opposed to Mexico City where it's easy to get sensory overload.  The bus is hot and airless, which is uncomfortable, but the seats are soft & wide.  Our luggage doesn't fit in the overhead storage, so I'm in the seat next to the luggage.  It's a good thing the bus isn't crowded.  If all the seats were crowded, I don't know what we'd do.

Near the bus station, there are many slums.  The buildings are peeling cement & have a lot of graffiti.  Clotheslines are strung across porches & due to the dump that closed recently, the trash has piled up.  It's going to take awhile for it to be cleare, the schedule is so far behind.  Still, many of the building are painted in bright blues, corals & pinks.

As we leave the city, we see many modern condos & apartment buildings.  These are the wealthier sections.  Like any other city, there are good & bad sections.  We walked through a lower class neighborhoods & were safe.  There is one neighborhood where a cult has started.  The member pray to a saint that supposedly gives good luck to drug dealers.  The churches do not recognize this cult & condemn it.  Though it would have been interesting to see, it would not be safe so we stayed away.

I have to take a  break from writing now b/c I'm getting bus sick.  : )

Mexico City, Part II

The bus ride took about 2 hours.  Slowly, the inner city became the outer city, became the suburbs, became the farms, where dilapaded buildings of brick or cinder blocks are topped by tin or terra rooves.  Some of the buildings--you wonder how they even stand, but smoke comes through the chimneys and men roam the fields with lamas, horses cows and/or chickens.

I am reminded that while in the city, a group of young girls and a boy approached me & said they were doing a project for English class.  They asked if I would answer some questions.  I was so flattered and said "Yes!  In fact, I'm an English teacher!"  They introduced themselves and asked me what my favorite place in Mexico was to which I replied, "So!"  Then they asked me what I thought of Mexico and I said, "I love it!  I love the history and the people and the art."  They asked me what I knew about Mexican culture.  This made me nervous b/c I felt a little on the spot.  So I told them I knew about El Dia de las Muertas (I don't even know if I said it right).  I know about a few other things, too, but I couldn't get it out!  Through all of this, one girl was taking a video of it with her little camera.  I must have sounded like an idiot. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Related Immigration Item

Welcoming the Stranger: Looking at Immigration Issues Through the Lens of Faith
Speaker: Kathryn M. Doan, Executive Director of Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition
Lewinsville Presbyterian Church, 1724 Chain Bridge Road, McLean, VA 22101, 703-356-7200

2012 Salzman Lecture, January 22, 2012, 6:00 p.m.-refreshments in St. Andrews Hall; 6:30-8:00 p.m.–lecture in the Sanctuary

For over a decade, CAIR (Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights) Coalition,, has worked collaboratively with community groups, pro bono attorneys, volunteers and immigrants from the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland to ensure that all immigrants are treated with fairness, dignity and respect for their human and civil rights.
Our speaker will provide a brief overview of U.S. Immigration history to put the current political debate in it’s historical context and will pay particular attention to the impact of the government’s current “enforcement only” policy that has led to a record number of detained immigrants with devastating effects on immigrant families and communities and will conclude with how communities of faith are responding to these issues.

Kathryn M. Doan has served as the executive director of the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition since 2008. Prior to assuming her position with CAIR Coalition, Ms. Doan was the Deputy Director of the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) in Washington, DC where she also managed the agency’s Immigration Legal Services and Community Support Services programs. Ms. Doan is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC where she serves on the Board of Deacons.   

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Emails to my family while I was in Mexico

These were the start of a kind of journal I was keeping.  I have more hand-written items, but I am not up to transcribing.  Working in short bursts with plenty of hydration and rest between.

Jan. 5 Mexico City
>>Helloooo beautiful family!  First, let me tell you how much I miss you.  I am thinking about you all the time, especially as I shop.  Girls, there are so many cute things here that I wish I could get you, but they will not fit in my suitcase.  David, since you are a pain and do not want anything, I am going to get you at least one t-shirt.  So there.

There will probably be mistakes in this email because the keyboard in
Mexico is different from ours.  Who knew??  I never even thought of
that.  Neither Jorge nor I could figure out how to get the @ off the
keyboard, so we had to literally copy the symbol from somewhere else
and paste it in.  Very bizarre.  I need to take a pic of the keyboard
so you know what I am talking about.

Mexico City is awesome.  You guys would hate it after about an hour,
however.  It is not quite as busy as New York, but we are staying in
the center where there is a skating rink and constant festival-like
activity.  The guys who run this stuff bellow into microphones all
day--no exaggeration.  Also, like I told you,Daddy, there is a
blinkling wreath right outside our window and the beds are harder than
the ones in our camping cabins.  Last night, to drown out the noise,
David turned on a white noise recording of a campfire.  It was
hilarious because through the curtains, the light looked like a fire
and the beds felt like we were sleeping on the ground.  At least there
are no cockroaches. It is actually a gorgeous place, antique, like
many of the buildings here.

One good thing is that security in the city is beefed up.  There are
cops everywhere, and everythig is very peaceful.  The freaky thing is
that all the cops carry machine guns.  The other thing that is kind of
unsettling is you see a lot of people wearing surgical masks.  Joege
said they do that in big cities in China and other places to stop the
spread of sickness.  Also, there are a lot of allergens here, and
there is smog, so for people with asthma, the air is difficult to
breath.  I can not believe it--the altitude has not bothered me at
all!  The weather is like our fall--cool at night in early morning,
around 70 during the day.

Girls, David and I have been playing punch buggy here.  There are
millions of them, including taxi-punch-buggies!  We call them

I am going to try to upload pics on Facebook once we get reliable
internet.  The service here is not reliable.  And of course, I am
going to call you soon, anyway, but I might forget to tell you all

Girls, I hope you are being good and are not stressing Daddy out!
Daddy, I hope you are being patient with the girls.  Cosmo, I hope you
are eating.  Sallie, I hope you are not humping anyones leg.  Shiba, I
hope you are not giving the Inu Bark too much.  And fish, I hope you
are not slimy.

Okay, will call you in a little while.  Love you to pieces!

Jan. 5 Mexico City

Okay, so I tell you guys to check your emil and you don't.  Fine.  I
will just sit here in this little booth in the hotel and type to
myself.  Hmph!

Actually, I would call you back but I have to get my calling card
working.  Apparently, you need to get an 800 number within Mexdico and
direct calls through there.  Not sure how to do that but Jorge is
going to help me later.

We just got back from walking around the downtown area.  There is a
huge carnival and fair going on in celebration of the Epiphany, which
is when the Three Wisemen finally found Jesus (January 8, I think).
Anyway, this feast is called Little Christmas.  Not only are there
celebrations but kids put out their shoes and parents leave candy and
treats, kind of like Christmas but I guess there's no Santa.  The
carnival is WAY LOUD.  There is music everywhere, lights, all kinds of
different foods (pork rinds as big as pizza--no lie), rides, games,
etc.  It actually put all of us on overload so we got out of there and
went and had ice cream instead.  : )

There were some other things I wanted to tell you about the city, but
I forgot last time.  The first thing is, you see PDAs
everywhere--public displays of affection.  People, especially older
teens through younger adults, kissing.  It reminds me of movies of
France or Italy--very romantic.  On the other hand, they don't have
"adult stores" here.  They have "sex shops."  No lie--it's written on
the signs like that.  Girls, you probably know this, but a sex shop
sells sexual videos and lingerie and other things you will never see
until you are 35 years old, if I can help it.

The markets here are pretty incredible.  You know how we have farmers
markets?  Well that's how it is here all the time.  A loit of people
don't go to grocery stores.  They go to these markets that have all
fresh produce, meat and dairy.  They pharmacies are separate, and they
are not like CVS.  You have to ask for what you want and the staff get
the things for you.  The last pharmacy we were at, all the merchandise
was in glass cases, like the jewelry section of Wal-mart.

I am probably boring you,. but....TOO BAD!  LOL!  That is my job as
your mother and your wife (you know which is which, I hope).

Anytway, I am going to try one more time to get into my comcast email
which is probably a nightmare.  I don´'t know what's wrong with it.  I
just know this keyboard is driving me NUTS.  The apostrophe, quotes
and a bunch of other things are all in different places and some of
them I don't even know how to use. I hope we can get a quick tutorial
from Jorge's aunt tomorrow.

Okay, that is all for now.  I love you and miss you.
On Sat, Jan 7, 2012 at 1:04 PM, Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt
Valle de Bravo, Mexico

Hello dear family! I am in an internet cafe where I hope I can open my students´ papers!  The people here told ushow to do the @ which is helpful, but the keyboard is still a pain.  Also, I have not figured out how to make the text larger and of course, I do not have my glasses so everything is a bit blurry.  It is interesting in here, though, because there are headphones which I actually do not need because everything is in Spanish and, because I do not understand most of it, I can ignore it.  I wish I could do that at home, eh?  Or maybe YOU wish I could do that at home.
This little town is kind of amazing.  I don´t know quite how to describe it--third world with modernity cree´ping in.  Some of the shops offer traditional clothing, some contemporary.  The restaurants are outside with only a few inside.  The shops are tiny, not fancy and feel exotic.  Everything is made of stucco or celement with terra cotta roofs.  Streets are cobblestone.  There are many young people walking around and working in the shops.  I am definiately a minority here.  I have no idea where spell check is here, so there will be many misspellings in this email.  Spell check is picking up all my words as errors because it is looking for Spanish!
Jorge´s aunt Patty is riot.  She is part witch, part hippie, part new age, part conspiracy theorist.  She is a very education lady and used to be a therapist and a book distributor to colleges.  She makes us lauygh our butts off with her abrupt ways and isn´t afraid to cuss or tell it like it is (or at least how she perceives it is).
Girls, you would love her house!  It is Spanish colnial looking but totally updated.  The turkeys gobble all the time and answer you if you gobble back.  Chickens and roosters surround the place and there is a cat with Cosmo´s disposition who curled up on my lap last night.  There is also a fat beagle named Bruno who eats avocados from the trees in the front yard.  He is adorable but a begger!
Anyway, I really have to try to get to my class.  Honey, thank you for sending me emails.  Imagine if I let them collect the whole time???  Gitls, be good and be nice to Daddy.  I miss you all very much and am thinking of this as school to help me cope with being homesick.  It is sometimes difficult not speaking the language well--it makes you feel very alone and stupid, but if you do not make yourself try, you will never learn.
I will try to get the phone card working, but if I cannot, I will use David´s phone and try to call between 7 and 8 p.m.  We are an hour behind, so I guess that is 8 or 9 your time.
Love you all so much, and kiss the pets for me, especially Inu because I know she loves it so much!


Jan. 9 Valle de Bravo

Omg I am sick hon.  I think it is the band.  Keep having dry heaves.  I might have to go to a doc if it does not stop hurting.  Right now I cannot even get water down.  Jorge's aunt is keeping a good eye out for me though and if I need to see a doctor she knows someone.  I will try to call you later.  Davidd and Jorge went on a hike and David has the phone.  I love you.

Note:  I did go to a doc that day and went home the next day, January 10.

What I Learned in Mexico

Six days in Mexico: two in Mexico City, four in Valle de Bravo before I had to take a quick and early trip home.  My lap band didn't respond well to the elevation and dietary change. 

Here's a VERY unedited chat conversation I had with my sister-in-law this morning, via Facebook.  And then I have to lie down.  Three days of no eating and drinking have taken a bit of a toll, but I'm on the mend.  More later, with pics.


welcome ok?
Hey! Yeah, just not very lively.
You know how it feels when your electrolytes are all screwy.
we're getting snow today...girls are at school, but j has a snow day. He has huge midterms next wee.
Did you have a good trip for the time you were gone?
Yay for snow!! I missed the half inch we've had all winter. Not that I minded being in 70 degree weather, of course. The time I did have there was great!
Did a LOT in a short period of time.
Did you feel immersed
VERY much so. LOL!
Wait till you see some of the pics.
Of course, I hadn't planned on studying the Mexican medical system.
THAT musta been an eye opener...
did you end up in ER? What WAS the prob anyhow?
It was weird because the regional hospital in the little town where we were staying looked like a modern place...all clean and everything.
But then...
I go in and see the doc. He's a GastroEnt. Talks to Jorge about my symptoms...
feels my stomach...
says he can do an endoscopy in his office at 3 p.m.
It's 2 p.m.
and says Youre pregantn!
He doesn't take my name, my history, weight, vitals, anything. No paperwork.
Jorge's translating and I'm saying NO! I am not having an endosopy! That's like an OP procedure where I come from!
So the doc gives me a pain killer shot in the ass which numbs my ass and my face but not my stomach
and a bunch of RXs which actually DO help the pain.
what a paperwork nightmare that will be
so was it just all irritated from the food?
or Montezuma revenge?
Jorge's Dad is a doc so Jorge called him. His dad said do not go ANYWHERE for treatment except this hospital in Mexico City which was two hours away. Obviously, insurance was an issue and there was no guarantee anything would work and I had no intention of getting a procedure done. Was best to come home. Basically, the altitude and spices inflamed me so much I couldn't even swallow water. I was dry heaving everything--VERY painful and scary.
musta been a tenuous flight, then, feeling like that!
It wasn't too painful so long as I didn't try to do anything silly like take a sip of water. I managed to get down some dramamine by swallowing it with this gel the doc gave me to calm the spasms which got me through twelve hours of taxis and plane rides. The taxi was actually very interesting. Saw a LOT.
not all good tho' i am guessing..
------------------------------------------You know how when you drive to east Bum-fuck Maine, out in the real boonies where people live in run down trailers and on farms? That's kind of how these little villages are.
it was like that in Jamaice on our honeymoon...resort was rolling in the amenities, then off-site you see folk living in corrugated metal shacks w/o running water.
Exactly. Except we were staying with Jorge's aunt who lives on a lovely property in a modest, restored house. It was interesting though because we could hear the farming neighbors because she's in a valley. The music was always playing, you'd hear kids and husbands and wives out working together and they generally seemed happy. There's a real sense of community there that we don't feel in the U.S.
And we assume that because people are living in concrete block houses that are falling down that they are miserable.
They don't have certain advantages but they have things we do not have and things we, as a cultural, miss out on.
Agreed. We have, as a culture, been blinded by greed, and the desire to outdo our neighbor.
If we spent more time with our families, and less in the rat race, wed be better long as prices were commensurate with doing so..that's a whole other problem/issue
Here's another thing--the kids work with their families. At first, I looked at this as child labor. The reality is, these kids grow up learning skills, responsibility and a work ethic. They are with other kids, too and have a chance to play under community oversight. They still go to school, for the most part (no so in more remote places, I am sure) but what they learn is valuable.
In more remote places, living off the land is trying when there is a poor season. There are a lot of indigineous people who bring their wears to the market. We bough flowers from a lady who must have been 80 years old, walking around with this huge pack of thick lillies on her back. She was amazing. They use homeopathic remedies and live long lives.
Family life has been over run here by too much academia (not that academics are bad, mind you) but common sense life skills are missed by some many kids who are in day care all day. They need to lear to budget, to pay bills, that they cant have everything thry want, that want is sometimes a good thing as it serves as a motivator. Poorer communities learn they are all responsible for the good of their whole, and everyone needs to contribute each in teir own way to the common goal.
thats it..lets move to a farming co-op!
What I found disturbing as I was driving home in the taxi is that as you enter the city, all these billboards show ads with white people and watered down Mexican people. The majority of the Mexican people are of native decent and they are not white. In fact, the majority of the world is not white. It's like there's a stigma in being native and brown which is very sad to me because these native people are beautiful.
What's funny is that a co-op here means living with neo-hippies! LOL!
very sad that society is making them feel less than perfect, somehow less desirable/acceptable in the world, because of their skin.. age old problem, huh?
Yes, it is. Same thing with age. These elderly people are part of the community and they are respected. Becuause of that, they are taken care of and, when able, contribute out of necessity, physically and otherwise, but they have a sense of purpose. It's a more simple sense than we have and I think it's because there's not only a connection between one another, there's a connection between them and the land.
We bought gorgeous hot plates woven from pine needles. A man was making them right in front of us. Women were weaving right there in the markeplace.
here we just shuttle our elderly off to die... no respect, in many cases almost a sense of embarrassment that gramma is losing her faculties, that grampa might say something let's remove them to someplace theycan be with their kind"
I know. It's sinful what we do here in our country because we think independence is some sign of strength. Fact is, we disconnect from each other and the land.Don't get me wrong--there was some begging in the city by addicts and the really down and out, but not nearly as much as we see right here in D.C. our nation's capital.
And the slums were slums and the crime was crime, but there was also a huge police presence. Many with machine guns, which was rather intimidating, but those were mostly around the banks. There is a silent class warfare going on which is an age old problem. The only difference here is ours takes place on Wall Street.
because we are "civilized" right? lol
LOL! Yeah. Civilized.
meaning we don't call it what it is. We would rather look down on people and pretend "they" are different from us when it comes down to people being people.
we kill our old, we kill our babies, we kill our brother man...hmmm real civilized, huh?
we haven't learned much in 2000 years have we.
Yup. I think we could all use a trip to a Mexican village.
and all in the name of progress
cool. when are we going?
Seriously, you might consider arranging something through your church.
(By the way, if you don't mind, I am going to blog this conversation. I'm too tired to get on my own soapbox.)
ever see the movie Saving Grace with Tim Conte? Awesom. The pope is disillusioned with things, feels he isnt getting close to the people, so one day he finds himself outside the Vatican gates, and leaves to find this remote village that a little girl had written him from.
he arrives there and gets down to the peoples level and sees where they are coming from, and it changes movie
Never saw it, but I'd like to see it happen in real life. Also would like to have these fat assed politicos spend a week living like these natives not to learn pity but to learn how we are all the same on a basic level but have divorced ourselves from ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually.
I went to Mexico to learn more about the language of the people and the culture and I got to do it in under a week.
And I totally understand why my students have ended up where they have. They somehow ended up disconnected when they have moved to this country. The family and self fell apart.
the lure of the Great OZ America, where the streets are paved with gold and everyone lives like kings..but only if you inherit it!
And I know now what it feels like to be a minority, to be afraid to speak another language, afraid of being misunderstood and not accepted. To be scared as hell being thrown into an institution I had no idea how to navigate and could not have done so without help from natives of the country. My students don't have that help. What they meet with is discrimination which makes them more fearful.
The wizard behind the curtain is a fraud.
Can you imagine what it must be like to not know English and get sick? To try to get your kids through school when you can't communicate? The shame of not knowing the language which causes fear of learning and many times the incapacity to learn? Shit, it's hard learning another language, especially as you get older and your memory sucks. I struggle now recalling English words, never mind new words in Spanish!
thats're ready to be shelved in anursing home!
We blame our Hispanic immigrants but don't realize many of them are trying. Some are succeeding, but some of them are not. So they stick to their own communities where they feel safer. We lure them here with jobs, let them stay illegally and then treat them like shit. We lie to them that this is a better place with a better lifestyle and then blame them for not assimilating.
We buy their criminals' drugs and give their criminals guns.
I'm not saying they don't have any responsibililty but we do have the education which we misuse.
so whats the solution.? I dont think that we necessarily lure them, but the pull is irrisistible i am sure. what responsibilty do we have? Do we allow all in and then allow all to be on the public dime? Where do we decide who is worthy, who is not, who gets services etc? There has to be some plan that would work better than the current one.
do we close the borderes to all but those who come legally? Thats your fathers answer.
Do we ...what?
I think we need to stop the influx because we can't handle it, treat the people who are here better than we do, stop looking down our noses and start working with those whom have worked their butts off for us, establish a good work program that protects our migrant workers, our constuction workers, our laborers who have done so much for us and work with our Mexican neighbors towards a sollution. The current president of Mexico has cracked down on cartels and crime and it's obvious.
so..what? Close the borders for now..focus on what is going on here
And we have to work more closely with El Salvador. I can't believe the risks my students and their families have taken to get here--the desert crossers, people fleeing from cartels...
Yes, close the borders for now but reunite families.
Let's clean up our mess!
there are those who wish to come to our country to succeed, but there are also a fair number who come to exploit, and abuse/bilk the system, too. Welfare needs to be overhauled to allow better work program options etc, so that folks can learn skills and are able to gain independence.
Actually, illegal immigrants don't qualify for public assistance and they can't work here legally.
It's a myth that they are living off the system. Many pay taxes and they certainly pay things like sales tax.
everyone ends up down and out at some point and everyone may need a helping hand now and then but some have made it a lifestyle, and some are just soo downtrodden by te sysytem and the prejudice that they are paralyzed by it.
Welfare in general needs an overhaul.
i knew folks who were living together as husband and wife who didnt marry cuz their total welfare was more if she was a single mom head of household.. they lived better than we do.
Yup. And these are citizens.
those are the bilkers we need to re evaluate. Dont get me wrong folks still need help, but i mean, c'mon! sometimes the illegals are better "citizens" than the citizens.
because they know their status is questinable.
People need help. We all do at some point. It's easier to judge than give assistance, though, isn't it?
they obviously need to keep below the radar.
people are real good at judging, agreed..a little more help would go a long way.
The longer they have to keep under the radar, the more prone they are to taking risks, the more they become separated from society and family support.
people need, even more than just help, aid/teaching, so they can help themselves...teach a man to fish..ya know?
You are the bomb for having this conversation with me, Chris.
I have a problem now.
My intestines are demanding attention.
oh no..
Yeah. Not a very good smell, but at least it's not coming up anymnore.
see.. we catholics arent evil ya know!
you really like the movie i mentioned
I know. Catholics also have a history of service and compassion. It's always easier to see the worst in everyone and to generalize. And now, if I don't get to the bathroom, there's going to be a stain on my seat.
Love ya! More later.
catch ya later, and we can continue to save the world, one post at a time
Chat Conversation End