Monthly Archives: October 2013

Arrived safely in San Pedro Sula, Honduras

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After getting up at 3 am this morning to catch a 7 am flight from Chicago O’hare, it feels good to have arrived at the girls home Our Little Roses without any incident at all.

What can I say about the journey? I flew on a mini plane from Miami to San Pedro. It was awesome to hear so many people speaking Spanish in Miami airport, although I used vosotros (which means “you all” but is only used in Spain) and the server in the bar didn’t understand me (“Tenéis café?” [blank stare]).

San Pedro airport was tiny, and after the immigration desk, we had to put our bags through another security check (for drugs and guns). I started sweating because I realised that I had a big tupperware box of white powder in my pack. I love to use bicarbonate of soda as a cheap eco-friendly shampoo and deodorant, but if the security had delayed me to investigate the fine white powder, then I would have been very embarrassed. Luckily I smuggled it through…

My first impressions of the city are that it is very green, and very humid. The buildings don’t seem to be more than two storeys, as if they are cowering under the shadow of the lush green mountains. I have seen a lot of shacks as shops by the side of the road. And I’ve learned that rule number one of car journeys in Honduras is: “Wear a bra”.

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Having morals in an immoral blogging world

My mother always told me I could be whatever I wanted “but just never, ever, EVER be a struggling artist“.

20 years later, and I’ve finally started my own blog, after working with some great people on joint/group ventures. I have to say I think it’s going well, mainly because I enjoy it, and not because I want to make money. I’m kind of indifferent to whether “people” read it or not, because I’ve never been “popular”. For me, the important thing is that I have a space to organize my thoughts, because that is what I like about writing my posts. I get to talk/write myself through a topic, and then I happen to post it online. I’m often quite shocked when someone actually takes the time to contact me and say “Wow. You wrote about something that is happening to me at the moment”. It makes me suspect I’m not the only malcontent out there.

The problem is, I’ve never been good at “selling”, and the amount of enthusiasm/lying I think that that entails, and I don’t seem to want to do anything that “makes money”. At this point in my life, I have no interest in compromising my beliefs, and I’m resigning myself to the fact that I will probably never have the income necessary in order to obtain a mortgage and keep my hypothetical baby in reusable environmentally friendly nappies. I believe in consuming (buying) less, trying to gain confidence without accessories like clothes and make up (#holygrail), paying farmers a decent wage, supporting local businesses (as opposed to chains), as well as trying to take care of the environment through eating food that can be efficiently produced (e.g. not meat, especially not beef).

The people I know who make money through blogging sell stuff. They advertise food, or holidays. And the rest of us? We pay WordPress to share photos on a pretty little page, or rant online like I am now. We pay for domains, or we buy themes (usually designed and sold by partner companies), so we’re the consumers. We are the serpent eating it’s own tail. The first person to *like* my blog was someone who (if you can judge a person by THEIR blog) I imagine would call Fundamentalist Christians “fluffy liberals”, so I assume that the person only *followed* me because they wanted more people to *follow* them, not because they had read my articles. I wonder if there are more writers than there are readers. Seems likely.

Magazines are produced by the delicate balance between reader and advertiser, allowing the company to put out product, but that’s also a tricky area, as shown by the image below:

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If you haven’t come across Feministing before, I would recommend you take a look. However, as you can see from the above screen dump (hate that term. Fugly), their top story is Kristen Schaal on The Daily Show and her mocking “Sexy Halloween”, yet the advertising banner is for Halloween costumes and depicts a woman wearing a skin tight cat suit. A feminist magazine sells advertising space to a company that sells things it rails against; the juxtaposition speaks volumes.

Recently, I read an NPR article about college majors correlated to graduate earnings. If you read the article, you can see that the most lucrative profession is Petroleum Engineer, which to some people is kind of placed into the same brackets as Arms Dealer or Colonialist, as the US’s policy towards South American countries and their natural resources is nothing short of robbery. In many countries in South America, Hugo Chavez is seen as a hero for overthrowing the oppression and tyranny of how the US conducts it’s petroleum related affairs.

So, in conclusion, I want to be part of the solution and not a part of the problem. I want to make people smile but make them think too. I want to be a force for good and not of evil. I can only sell things that I believe in, like books, volunteering in the community, and ethical consumption. I want my blog to bring me into contact with people from backgrounds different to mine and help me learn a new perspective on things that I thought I already knew about. Every day is a school day!

Cosmopolitan: The Universal Language of Female Oppression and it’s Antidote

I grew up reading Cosmopolitan from an early (and probably far too young) age, and never questioned that every issue could potentially hold “The Secret to What Men Really Want” (now in my mid-twenties, I’ve performed extensive research, and can now generalize all of male kind into liking: sex, naked ladies, oral sex, cuddles, beer, and a nice hot dinner which they may or may not cook themselves. Mystery solved!).

When I landed in Spain 3 years ago, I knew no Spanish whatsoever, but I was able to read and understand Cosmo in a foreign language. Why? Because the vocabulary used by the magazine is so narrow, and their topics so repetitive, that you literally don’t need it to be written in your mother tongue, or even a language you have a basic grasp of. It put me in mind of how “Newspeak” in George Orwell’s dystopian 1984 is used to condense language, with the aim of constraining human thought.

So, with that in mind, it made me chortle this week to read The Vagenda’s heartening story on women who comment disdainfully on Cosmo’s facebook posts. Sometimes The Vagenda helps me to stop contemplating putting my head in the oven. That, and the fact that my oven is electric, so I wouldn’t die by asphyxiation, I’d just get really hot. Vagenda: Saving lives.

In my teens, I worked as a sales assistant in a “corner shop”, bagging groceries, cleaning and restocking, as well as flicking through at least 80% of the magazines on the shelves. I have to say, even the trashy boys magazines were much more preferable to me than the girls gossip mags. I don’t need to be exposed to advertising to get the latest “fashion” clothes, nor do I need to see bits of non-airbrushed female celebs highlighted for my supposed schadenfreudic delight. I’m indifferent to their physical imperfections. I do, however, want jokes, survival tips, film and technology reviews, instead of boring crap about how to catch a man. I’ve broken enough hearts to know that men don’t really care about whether you have this seasons “must have” high heels.

While I was in France this summer, I did manage to get hold of some Feminist mags. At first I thought “Well, this is thin”, but then I realized that they had NO ADVERTS. NONE. Zero. No wonder creams, no clothing, no tampax (mooncup all the way, sisters). I can’t WAIT for women’s magazines to catch up with what modern women want. How about a bit of male objectification, or profiling successful female role models? How about some jokes? How about some reviews of proper books, not just books for girls?

 

My Cat From Hell UK

So, if you haven’t seen My Cat From Hell, you’re missing out. This is a TV show where Cat Behaviorist Jackson Galaxy visits various families to help with problematic feline-human relationships.

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While the tone of this post may be a tad facetious, I truly love this show. I’m sure it would be incredibly popular in the UK.

Here’s some essential show vocab:

cat guardian: not owner. You never own a cat.

catio: enclosed space in your garden where the cat can play but not escape

smurgling: that thing they do with their paws. Yeah, that’s right. It has a name.

 

Anna Rexia: The costume is not the problem

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Halloween. That time of year when it is well within a woman’s right to dress as revealingly and raunchily as she likes (see the Sexy Halloween sketch). Sigh.

If you read the internet comments below news articles, you might get the sneaking suspicion that some people trawl the internet just LOOKING for things to get offended by.

In case you didn’t know, Halloween is a big pagan celebration where we all dress up as what we fear. Zombies symbolise the disenfranchised working class, vampires are a metaphor for how the aristocracy prey on the proletariat, and witches symbolise how society is afraid of old women who are unfettered by husbands and who are a threat to the status quo. 

Luckily, with the advent of the internet, people who feel strongly about something can all group together and MOB RULE stores into not selling images that are dangerous. Because obviously, stores selling things is the problem, not the people who buy them or the culture  that has shaped our idea of what is “normal”.

Dressing as a cartoon anorexic is *bad*, but you can still dress as any of these cheeky chappies:

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But wait a minute. Doesn’t humour help us to laugh at what would otherwise be taboo? Is the real problem here that women, judged much more harshly than their male counterparts, aren’t allowed to use dark humour? Men seem to use dark humour all the time, yet it appears that a woman moving toward that role is “heartless” towards a sensitive issue. 

Here is where this article becomes a little *schizophrenic* (see final paragraph when I talk about warping of medical terminology to describe things inaccurately). Anorexia is a terrible disease that affects thousands of women and a lot of men too. Not to mention the families of sufferers, powerlessly watching their loved ones battle with a terrible affliction that doctors still don’t have many answers for. Anyone who is affected by this issue has bigger things to worry about than just another poor taste Halloween costume. 

In researching this issue, I came across this blog:

http://gemmalouiseellis.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/the-after-effects-of-a-trigger/

I dare anyone, a.n.y.o.n.e., to watch that video, and read that brave person’s story, and not feel incredibly compassionate for her situation. She lives with this illness EVERY SINGLE DAY. And while she did post something about how this costume belittles her daily struggle with an eating disorder, once the costume is off the shelf, then the job of “The Offended” is done…

Or not. The world is still that same beautiful and terrible place where our language reflects our deepest fears. You might not notice it, but a lot of things that people say trivialise mental illnesses/conditions and perpetuate ignorance. Instead of saying that “you like to be tidy“, you say “I’m a bit OCD“. Instead of saying you’re “full of energy” or busy you say “hyper” or “manic”. Instead of finding it hard to empathise, it’s “autism”. Instead of having a bad temper or being violent, someone is a “psycho”. *We don’t say something completely changes very quickly, we say “schizophrenic”, and a lot of the time what we really mean is to refer to “split personalities”, which is actually a very rare condition and makes a tiny percentage of schizophrenia sufferers. But my point is, technical terms slip into common usage and their meaning becomes warped.

So, if you feel even the smallest bit offended by the Anna Rexia costume, then start thinking about the language you use on a daily basis. Because when we joke about being “locked in the loony bin“, it’s too close to the truth; mental health centres are often the places where we leave the people who are “broken” for various reasons. But the power of the human mind/nature is that we can rebuild what is damaged, and people with mental illnesses can recover, despite the stigma that society piles on them, on top of their condition.

Russell Brand and Revolution: A call to *books*

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So, Russell Brand got a grilling from Jeremy Paxman last night, as the comedian/actor is about his guest editing a political magazine called The New Statesman. In the interview, he talked about why he didn’t vote in our current “broken” system, but he also did a very interesting thing. He said:

“I have more impact at Westham United, cheering them on, and they lost to city. Sad.”

One of the most unpopular things that I have ever said is “I hate football”. Not American football (which deserves a whole separate post), but good, old-fashioned f.o.o.t.b.a.l.l., which has nothing to do with a word beginning in S and rhyming with “rocker” (we invented English so the F-word is ours. Sorry NFL fans!)

Human beings seem to have this tribal need to form groups, to wear different coloured shirts, and shout a lot at each other, whether it’s at the stadium, or simply in the pub watching the game on TV. “We won!” they shout. “We lost” they cry. Yet who is really winning in this situation?

At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I believe that without watching football, without that “opiate of the masses” used to fill time, people would be less distracted from what is really going on in our world today. Spectator sports like football, meaningless soap operas, facebook; I’m not sure it they were “designed” to with the idea of distracting us from the political system, but that is their current role. We are our own worst enemies. We chain ourselves in our ignorance.

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The fatal flaw of democracy is that people are so easily tricked and manipulated. Elections and political posturing are seeming endless popularity contests, and whoever can lie most convincingly is deemed the winner. How politics and democratic institutions work is not taught in state schools in any meaningful way. If our leaders wanted an informed population, they would be teaching children from as young as 10 about parliament and how our government functions. But they don’t. Leaving us with an electorate who has a binary understanding of how the system works, often voting “red” or voting “blue” based on an inherited allegiance, rather an assessment of the policies and how they affect us today. You support “City” because your father did, and you vote for party X for the same reason.

It’s depressing to read the news because you feel like you can do nothing about it. The environment, global hunger, the powerless “underclass” in our own so-called rich countries… “I can’t even get my bank to refund the ridiculous charges. How am I supposed to do anything about this?” we think.

But there is an answer. Reading. Libraries. And talking. But not about footballl.

Universities do not hold the key to knowledge. What they hold is books, and what they organise is times for people to talk about those books and learn from each other, which they call “tutorials”. Professors need money to eat, so they don’t put their lectures online for free (unless they are like drug dealers giving free samples but then no more.)

It wasn’t so long ago that “the powers that be” did not want a literate population. If people could read for themselves, then they could start interpreting the Bible (the rule book at that time) for themselves, and that was dangerous. But now we have come full circle. Literacy levels are higher than ever before, yet we spend all our time feeding our own vanity on social networks, or filling our minds with the televisorial equivalent of junk food

So, if you didn’t get the opportunity to go to university, read. And if you went to university, read. Read as much as you can, because by reading you can learn more about the world than you can by your own personal experience; the act of reading allows you to contemplate both sides of an argument, walk a day in someone else’s shoes, and to learn how to make up your own mind without relying on someone else to form an opinion FOR you.

Honduras: too unsafe to visit?

Here’s a map of Central America:

HONDURAS

Honduras is the pink country, and I’m going to San Pedro Sula, which is it’s second biggest city.

The media have dubbed Honduras  the “murder capital of the world”, yet it would appear that the violence that contributes to the statistics is mainly between rival gangs.

That being said, I‘ve made a promise to my boyfriend to “be safe”, so I won’t be travelling through the country, and will be staying in Our Little Roses home for girls, and following their safety precautions (like only travelling through the city using their driver etc), as violence is concentrated in the cities, and the home borders a neighbourhood called El Bordo. However, I do hope to meet some interesting locals through Couchsurfing.com as I would in any other place in the world. I realise that on all of my previous travels I have been incredibly lucky, as sometimes I made mistakes and been lax about my safety, but was always able to extricate myself. This trip, I won’t be taking any chances, and hopefully that will make me even safer than I have been while living, working, and travelling in big cities in Europe.