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https://blog.internations.org/2017/07/the-greatest-reasons-to-love-life-abroad/

Thanks to Internations. org – it was fun!

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There is a strident section of US society vehemently against abortion. They tend to be right leaning, conservative Christians. This piece though is not so much about the splutterings of people denouncing the right for women to choose whether to have a baby or not, no matter what the circumstances of conception. It is about those same people shaming teenage girls who have become pregnant.

To have or not to have a baby. Either choice is brave. More often than not the boy man involved has negligible responsibility for the outcome of their actions. His life will continue uninterrupted. But for the young woman it is a decision that will impact the rest of her life, regardless of which decision she makes.

There are of course many of those against abortion who do not fall into the category of sanctimonious prig. Who support their daughters, their nieces, their young congregants through a confused and difficult time. Who respond to a perceived shame, which can taunt and haunt the girl, with calm kindness. Who offer practical as well as spiritual guidance. I might not agree with their stance on abortion but I admire their compassion, resilience and continued beliefs.

No, my contempt is reserved for those, of any faith, who condemn a girl whether pregnant through carelessness or callousness, who decides to keep the baby then is rejected by those very same so-called believers. Adults who turn their back, who refuse to accept any responsibility for the situation. And many of these people, whether individually or through institutions and churches, do have a responsibility. I rarely advocate others taking the blame for circumstances in which we might find ourselves. But in instances like this, blame can almost certainly be spread around.

What has riled me into writing? It is the report in the New York Times about a young woman of 18 not allowed to graduate from her Christian academy with her peers, because she is pregnant. She has also been ejected from her role on the student council. She is being supported by her parents, one of whom was on the school board but has since resigned in disgust at their stand. She is also being supported by the anti-abortion group, Students for Life, whose president was quoted as saying, “There has got to be a way to treat a young woman who becomes pregnant in a graceful and loving way.”

I was curious about the syllabus of the Heritage Academy, the school in question, and so tried a number of times to get an answer to a simple question. “Does your school teach sex education?” An answer was not forthcoming and my calls and messages have not been returned, which can only lead me to believe the response would have been ‘no’.

The Heritage Academy website proudly trumpets, “Our intent is to honor Christ in every facet of our program.” They demand a signed pledge from parents to that very effect and, here’s the kicker, “….to resolve problems in accord with Scriptural principles (Matthew 18:15), avoiding gossip and contentiousness (Ephesians 4:31; Proverbs 17:14), to be forgiving (Colossians 3:13)….”

I had to look that up and in my bible it reads, “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also (do) ye.”

When will the communities who espouse such rigid strictures – that of ignorance and abstinence – and enmesh their children and charges in them, learn the world is not black and white? To recognize hypocrisy is an ugly and futile endeavour. There are no winners. Least of all the young women who might find themselves pregnant, and often alone and ostracized by the very people who are meant to be nurturing them.

Students of Heritage Academy also have to sign a pledge. It is a high-minded document – I have no idea if it is legally binding – which demands “guarding my mind against immorality, impurity, rebellion, selfishness, carnality and violence”. Do students entering in lower grades even know what half those words mean?

Demanding abstinence or, as some coyly call it, chastity, is an ineffective, idealistic form of birth control. It is a fact of teenage life – hormones rage. Missteps and mistakes are sometimes made. They are though less likely to be made if comprehensive sex education is given at the appropriate times, in the appropriate manner and to both boys and girls.

We all have a right to our own opinions, but if that view blinds us into turning our backs on pregnant girls, then shame on us all. As always there is a truth to axioms. It takes a village to raise a child.

It takes two to make a baby, it should take at least two to teach it to tango.

I Am Not Your Friend!

May 15, 2017 — 1 Comment

I did the recycle run yesterday. It involves a 15 minute drive up the freeway before reaching the outer limits of my comfort zone – I’m a Downtown kind of woman! Heading north on Main Street I passed Ebenezer United Methodist Church, whose billboard proclaimed “A Mother is Your First Best and Forever Friend”. It reminded me it was Mother’s Day in America.

I do not wish to take on the UMC or any other religious entity but I can’t quite swallow the sentiment. I am not my daughter or my son’s best friend. I never have been, nor will I ever be. I am their mother.

I am the woman who loves them unconditionally. Who will fight for them till the end of my sentient life. I know their faults – as they, as adults, know mine. I will disagree with them, and sometimes I will tell them. Sometimes I will sit back, as I have done all their lives, and allow them to make mistakes – often with my heart in my mouth. But we learn from those errors of judgement – whether on a climbing frame, with a college course or with the boy/girl friend. We have to trust our children, no matter how young, or old.

I loved my mother but she was not my best friend. I did not tell her everything – dear God, if I had it might well have sent her to an early grave. My withholding of all the facts kept her alive until she was 92. That does not imply I led, or lead, a secretive life – rather that I chose judiciously what to share.

In the same manner, I do not want to know every detail of my children’s lives. I am happy to be shielded from some of their missteps. To learn of them years later, often over a glass of wine when their sentence might start, “Do you remember when I did / fell / jumped ……?” I shake my head and say “No, you didn’t tell me that. Thank you!”

So who are our best friends, if not our mothers?

As I age I find myself glancing at the obituary pages – now cloyingly called in the Houston Chronicle, ‘Life Tributes’. Sometimes a name or a face jumps up at me and I read the announcement. In America they can run to many column inches. Every relation is listed. No British reserve here. But what strikes me often is when someone has written the deceased was the best friend of his/her spouse. And again I struggle.

I adore my husband – I have done for nearly 40 years, but he is not my best friend. He is my lover. I can understand when a husband and wife die within days or weeks of each other. There is an intangible thread that links two people after a long marriage or relationship. Serious and important issues are always discussed. But do I tell him everything? Absolutely not. That reticence is sometimes for his peace of mind, sometimes for mine. He never asks me the price of a pair of impossible-to-walk-in shoes I have bought, though he and I both know I will never wear them. Unless asked point blank I rarely disclose how much the latest vet’s bill has been. He would never demur on any cost for our pets but it might irk him, so what would be gained? I am equally sure he does not tell me everything, and for that I am grateful.

I would though tell my ‘best’ friend. Whether it is indignation over something, or fear, or pride or happiness. Over coffee. Over wine or if truly joyful or desperately worried, over the phone – sometimes in tears. A friend is a safe escape valve with whom one can vent, so, if necessary, a matter can later be discussed calmly with a spouse.

A friend listens to our wildest rants, to our closest fears, and keeps our deepest secrets – most of which do see the light of day, but long after any fallout or dismay can be felt. They see us at our worst, and still care. Close as they are, they are better able to forget seeing us ugly with bloodshot eyes from a crying jag because haemorrhoids are making life hell, or kids are driving us demented with rage or worry. They are better able to listen, sometimes advise, when a child or spouse is about do something utterly insane or inane.

I have a friend who tells me when I am being unreasonable – and I take it, but I wouldn’t from my spouse. Or my children. She sits on my shoulder, every now and then, as I am about to let rip with a viciousness more often than not wholly unjustified. She accepts my foibles without having to live with them. We tell our best friend things that are too awful to voice – our deepest fears, but which sometimes need a voice so we are able to move past them without embroiling those we love most in the world.

If there were ‘a day’ for friends I would celebrate the joy of having special friends around the world who have made my life so much easier, calmer, more fun with their non-judgmental acceptance of me, and honesty with me.

But as I reflect on Mother’s Day, I rejoice in having had the privilege of having children. I take great pleasure in the fact they both have special friends – but I am not her.

The Demon Drink

March 7, 2017 — 3 Comments

Washington Post columnist, Esther J Cepeda wrote a piece, Teens exposed to more alcohol-related ads, decrying the preponderance of said marketing tactics particularly on less well-known sites which, as Dr David H Jernigan, lead author on a new study from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, noted are therefore “less regulated”. The article essentially said it was difficult to monitor and control what adolescents see online, but also that a lack of parental engagement must bear some of the responsibility for hazardous drinking practices.

One of my earliest memories has to do with olfaction. The faint hint of whisky on my mother’s breath as she bent to kiss me goodnight before she prepared for bed. I rarely remember stirring, so it was the sense of smell – the oldest sense – that was awakened. I don’t like the taste of whisky, but the smell is immediately comforting.

In my childhood, alcohol was all around me. On a hot day, my parents might have a beer at lunchtime on the weekends, or maybe a gin and tonic. Malarial prophylactic of the tastiest kind, and lime is of course good for scurvy! When the sun went down their chosen tipple was whisky. I would sometimes wake to little black and white plastic Scottie dogs, or a black horse, on my bedside table – testament a new bottle had been opened.

I am quite sure there were times when alcohol was over-imbibed. Why else would my father swing from a rotating fan in the mess at Poona? A decision which greatly increased his bar bill. But alcohol never adversely impacted my childhood, though I remember being soundly chastised for drinking the dregs from a glass littering the verandah after a curry lunch party. It tasted nasty and I didn’t do it again.

Fast forward a few years to my teens. I was thirteen or fourteen, when I was occasionally allowed a Dubonnet on ice – a drink my father considered suitable for “a young lady”. If we happened to be in Europe I was offered a small glass of wine.

As a result I grew up with a sense of perspective about alcohol – it was not demonised. Did I over-indulge sometimes? Absolutely. Why else would I dance on the bar at Brahms and Liszt? Though being young and with reasonably good legs in those days, I had no additions to my bar tab. Does it still happen? On rare occasions. Though I have given up dancing on bars. Can I stop drinking when I choose? Yes.

I am currently on a period of abstention. I have set no time limit. It is merely something I do every now and then, normally for a few months, to prove to myself that I can. Do I miss it? Not particularly. But I am sure I will have a glass of wine sometime in the future.

Did my children grow up with alcohol around them? I’m sure, if you’ve read this far, you know the answer. And yes, they too were allowed a drink before their majority.

The ages of majority, of license and of consent are three different things. Often, a moving number dependent on where one is living. For example, in the US the age of license for driving is 16, as is the age of consent (except in Delaware where it’s 18, with a proviso that sex is okay for 16 and 17 year olds if their partner is under 30!). The age of majority is 18, when young men and women can vote or ship off and fight for their country. But the age of license, which is essentially granting permission, as applied to alcohol is 21. It is a law which has been around in most states for about 25 years, but which has done little to reduce the number of teens drinking – breaking the law and risking a record.

The US shares that particular law with countries like Indonesia, Mongolia and a few others. Do I think it’s a ridiculous law? Yes. I am not advocating we encourage teens to drink excessively, but to simply demand abstention in either sex or alcohol is a short-sighted, unrealistic view, and one which does little to educate. The allure of the forbidden is strong, but the success of a drip-drip process of age-appropriate education is stronger.

Research by WHO (World Health Organization) has found that whilst “drinking occasions” amongst 15 and 16 year olds in Europe are greater, the levels of dangerous intoxication are less than in America. A startling US statistic reveals that “90% of all alcohol consumed by underage drinkers is consumed during binge drinking.” Aaron White of the Duke University psychiatry department reports, “teens who drink excessively can face long-term cognitive consequences”.

I would argue it is the word ‘excessive’ and not the word ‘alcohol’ on which we need to focus. Adolescents, and neurologically adolescence lasts until 25, are able to drink far greater amounts than their elders – one of life’s ironies. An immediate consequence of binge drinking can sadly be death – either by alcohol poisoning or drunk driving; another is blacking out which can mean advantages can be taken.

We, the parents and adults, are to blame. We are not doing our young people any favours. We send them off to university or into adult life ill equipped to deal with dangled temptations. Just Say No or banning alcohol, or sex, doesn’t work. Education does. We should be educating our teens that alcohol is a depressant which slows down the brain. That their reasoning capabilities disappear with each shot, each glass, each pint and, literally before they know it, they black out.

Whilst I don’t agree with targetting young people with advertisements for alcohol, perhaps we should use them to start the conversation. Like most things a sense of proportion, or perspective, is often only gained with age. We can though give that process a head start, through education and sensible laws.

And now it’s time for the demon drink – ginger beer!

Christmas Winds!

December 21, 2016 — 11 Comments

The Christmas winds, barreling east from Africa, are bringing squalls and as I dodge great splodges of rain I hope for calmer weather when Jake’s Place fills with visitors in a few days. Christmas in the Caribbean sounds exotic, and much of it is, but whilst we don’t have to worry about hurricanes, or polar vortexes, at this time of year, we do want sunshine for friends who have chosen to share the festivities with us.

The last few days have been spent gussying the house up, making the tree and reminiscing as I hang ornaments reminding me of past Christmases. Camels, monkeys and elephants share branch space with more traditional baubles.

Not having children present this year, I have not put out the elf on whose blackboard the days are marked down until Santa magically appears. Not down the chimney but instead, as I explained to my grandchildren last year, on top of the gallery where he ties the reindeer to the defunct satellite dish so they don’t blow away in the aforementioned winds. That jolly fellow in the red suit then shimmies down and clambers in the open window to deposits his goodies. Spending just enough time to swig the rum, this is the Caribbean afterall, munch a mince pie, of course remembering to take the carrots aloft for the patiently waiting Rudolph and his cohorts.

As I listen to carols and sip sherry – another family tradition – I think that Christmas can be a strangely complicated time for many of us. Whether home or abroad. A nostalgic time. A time when thoughts drift back to childhood, either our own or our children’s. And when those children are grown and not sharing the season with us, whether due to distance, work or commitments to others, it is easy to fall into a malaise longing for things past.

A sentimental time – perhaps especially for those not spending it in their home country for the first time. The unfamiliar jostling the familiar. Perhaps the first warm Christmas, or conversely the first laden with snow – finally one that fits cards showing winterscapes with Breughel-like scenes.

Nostalgia though can be confused with homesickness. I think the trick to Christmas either spent abroad or away from home for the first time, for whatever reason, is to start new traditions. – whether we are the ones away or the ones still at home. Create new norms to each new situation. It doesn’t mean turning our backs on the old forever, it just requires a little adaptability. A different take on a familiar event. Watching, sometimes from afar, grown children with their own family merging traditions as well as forging new ones, gives me real joy.

More often than not, I ‘dress’ the house alone now, so when my husband or guests arrive on island all is ready, and as I listen to my favourite carolers I feel a sense of freedom. I have no one to answer too, to cajole into helping me. No eye-rolling teenager, or spouse grumpy because the lights wont work.

Nonetheless, there is a poignancy to the preparations. We relocated internationally a number of times when our children were young, with each place requiring slight adaptations, and of course assurances Santa would find them in their new abode – whether he had to row along a klong, find us in a high-rise or squeeze down a chimney. Memories pop up with each ornament. The elephant decorations came from Thailand, the monkeys from West Africa. The slightly wonky Santa face was the first decoration my son made, oh so many years ago. It has travelled many miles.

When both my grown children were with us last year, with their respective partners and our grandchildren, we reverted to their childhood traditions – though with Mimosas instead of OJ. My daughter took her usual position at the tree doling out presents. My son pretended indifference, except when watching his nieces, but actually enjoyed the roles into which we all naturally fell.

This year will be different again. And that, to me, is what makes Christmas such fun. Old and new customs melding to add to the memories – the odd culinary disaster becoming ever enlarged as it is recounted year after year.

So for those having a different kind of Christmas this year, remember wherever you are is home for the time being, and revel in the newness rather than succumbing to saccharine sentimentality. Santa will find you.

And now I must go and rehang the camel – those darn Trade Winds! May your day be filled with warmth of both hearth and heart as you recall old memories and create new ones.

Merry Christmas!

Brats Abroad

August 22, 2016 — 1 Comment

Never having been an athlete, or anything talented enough to represent my country in the world arena, I can only imagine the privilege and honour.

I did though grow up abroad and was raised with an inherent understanding that, while I might have considered myself African or Asian in outlook at times, I was actually Anglo-Australian. I was a guest in another country and therefore my behaviour reflected not only on myself and my parents but also my passport country. I also understood, when I reached my teens, that undisciplined behavior could result in my father’s work permit being rescinded. Was it an onerous charge? No, of course not. It was considered accepting the responsibility which accompanies privilege.

Back in those dark old days I and my friends were unflatteringly known, and it has to be said in the main unfairly, as expat brats. Ruth Hill Useem’s descriptor, TCK (Third Culture Kid), used to described children brought up in a society or culture not their own, was used only in the hallowed halls of academia.

There were of course some who did deserve the monicker, but it must be remembered they were children. Closer inspection usually found a parent who had embraced a sense of entitlement which spilled over to their offspring. A dismal lack of parenting which resulted in unpleasant and unruly children which often led to arrogant teens.

Not so Ryan Lochte. At 32, one would have hoped the American swimmer had outgrown any inclination for misbehaviour of any kind, anywhere. He has represented his country at four Olympic games, and has garnered through hard work and dedication an impressive array of hardware – individual and team. What an accomplishment. How sad to tarnish such a panoply of gold, silver and bronze.

I can only imagine the adrenaline rush of competing in front of the world, and the accompanying drop after the event. Winning or losing. That does not however excuse his appalling actions in Rio. Or that of Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz or Jimmy Feigen – his three cohorts ranging in age from 20 to 26. Vandalising and pissing not only on the walls of a petrol station but on their host country, not to mention their home country. Their utter lack of respect for anything, not least themselves, is worthy of all the public condemnation and disgust being heaped on them.

Speedo have dropped their sponsorship of Lochte, rescinding $50,000 of his fee which will instead go to Save the Children in Brazil. Jimmy Feigen reached a deal wherein he donated $11,000 to one of Rio’s favelas. Little is being said about the other two. I assume other sponsoring organisations will also decide not to link their products with this quartet of crass and callow youths and men.

Their story is reminiscent of another young American, Michael Fay, who back in 1994 as a privileged 18 year old expatriate living in Singapore was sentenced to six lashes and four months imprisonment for spray painting a judge’s car. His punishment caused an outcry in the United States, garnering even the attention of then President Clinton. Lashing may seem barbaric to those of us coddled in western mores, but the reality is that when a guest in a foreign country we are beholden to their laws. Fay was indeed an expat brat.

The vast majority of young men and women who go abroad whether for sport, academics, or for the sheer joy of travel are respectful. Do accept the responsibility of privilege. Learn through their exposure to different cultures. But as always it is the shenanigans of a few who have sullied – certainly for the US team – what turned out to be a relatively incident-free Olympic Games.

Perhaps for Ryan Lochte, the pressure to compete with someone as successful as Michael Phelps, was too much. Perhaps the knowledge that his swimming days were possibly over was too much. Whatever the underlying reasons he has certainly damaged his chances of representing his country again, and he led three others into the same quagmire.

How sad for him. How sad for his parents to whom he also lied. How sad for all of them. But Lochte and his fellow vandals deserve the label – Brats Abroad!

Absorbing Cultures

January 15, 2016 — 1 Comment

Culture, a word with various meanings. My copy of the Shorter OED, once we get past the cultivation of bugs in petri dishes, defines it as, “the training and refinement of mind, tastes, and manners; the condition of being thus trained and refined; the intellectual side of civilization.” No mention of “ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society”, which is how an online dictionary interprets the word.

For those of us who have spent large swathes of our lives roaming the globe, living in other cultures, there is often a subliminal absorption of those cultures. Foreign words become part of our family lexicon, not through affectation as some of our more sedentary friends and family might assume, but because they are an audible part of our life wherever we happen to be living. I grew up with words like cukup and tidak, Malay words for Continue Reading…