Sunday, July 31, 2016

Swedish Beaches, But No Melting Pot

White sands, blue waters, huge numbers of blond, blue-eyed children, a dock from which one can dive, beach grass, beach plums--the scene could be Nantucket, except for the stocky, gray-haired old lady and her white-bearded husband relaxing in their beach chairs, he with a pipe protruding from his mouth, she throwing off the Ikea towel draped over her, revealing pendulous breasts. She ambles down to the water and swims. 
Plenty of Swedish beaches and pools advertise naked swimming. This isn't one of them, and topless does not count. 
I lie on the beach thinking about swimming, but too lazy to move until a need to relieve myself prevents my nap.  Following the direction pointed to by the sign reading "Toalett," I end up on a parallel path, where I hear a language I know isn't Swedish, and see girls who appear to be ten or eleven in hijabs, long sleeved shirts and long pants, chatting with a man, probably their dad. The three of them seem to be moving a branch somewhere. They see me in a shirt and bare legs and the conversation stops. I retreat and finally find the toalett.
When I am back on the beach, the little girls are squatting by the waves, gazing with apparent longing at the water, throwing a few pebbles in, the younger edging her feet almost to the water's edge. I know those kids would love to go swimming. 
Behind me, partly hidden by beach grass, their mother, also in a hijab and long-sleeved shirt and long dark pants, stands, her face grim. What must she think? The dangerous neighborhoods in Malmö and other Swedish cities we visited are not safe for Western women, who have been stoned. And here her children sit among the heathen, these half-naked blond heathen. 
I think of a young, bright student of mine who took my class on race and racism in American life. She discussed her own experiences as an immigrant: "Before 9/11, when people asked where I was from, I had to draw them a map of Afghanistan. After, I never had to draw the map."
A year after my class, she came to visit, this time in hijab, her body covered in black cloth. She wanted to go to New York--she knew I came from there. Did I know cheap places to stay? What sights should she see?" Halfway through my enthusiastic description, she burst into tears and admitted that her family wanted her to marry. But she wanted to travel.
"Are you being threatened? Coerced?"
"No--" she looked away. "It's more like I'd break my father's heart if I don't." Her father always told her, "We live in Germany, but we're not German."
She asked me to send her a reading list. I did. I saw her on the street months later, hugely pregnant, not looking happy. She had a B.A. in a science. 
There is no women's center at my university--at least none addressing these women. There are no conversations. There seems nothing for me to do apart from ask questions--the ones I felt too stunned to ask this girl--What about your own heart? What about what you want? What about your longing to travel, what about that career you wanted?
 I have suggested to students like her that they read Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Sometimes I say, "You may not agree with her, but she's important, so you should know about her." Will the mullahs come after me?  
And who will help these women? They live in Germany. They live in Sweden. They live in France. They live elsewhere in Western Europe But their families, their fathers, warn them not to belong to these places. Their fathers are full of fear.  
I want to talk to the fathers, the mothers, the daughters--without being stoned. Any suggestions?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Breast Cancer: Chemotherapy Ten Side Effects They Won't Mention

You don't really want to read the medical side effects--trust me: what's left of your hair (now military) will march off all by itself--no need to scare it. 

But here's what they don't tell you

(1) You meet lots of nice bald ladies, who tell you about their side effects, or reassure you that you need not worry about the ones the doctors fear.

(2) The technie who hooks you up to the IV drip will have a poker face. You will ask, "After this, can I go home and cook dinner?"
"Sure," he will say, "If ya could cook before."

(3) When you think you're all done, he'll return with a hypodermic, the one you have to shove into your own belly. He's very careful. After he thinks you know what you're doing, he'll explain. Pointing to the ten drops in the hypodermic, he'll say, "If that breaks, it's 1700 euros."

(4) You won't mention that once half a drop sort of started oozing before you got the needle completely in.

(5)  You'll gain weight even while you feel nauseous. Unless you follow the Mom Belly Diet. Good thing I started that before my diagnosis.

(6)  Your tumor might seem larger before it seems smaller. You can make them measure it via ultrasound. They might tell you they're watching a different tumor--the one they expected to shrink. Which it is! They're so happy!

(7) But this tumor? The one that's bigger under my fingers? Wave of hand. That's just a lymph node. They're slicing that out anyway. Later, when you get your lumpectomy.

(8) You'll feel twenty-five years older than you did before you started chemo.

(9) Everyone will tell you this is temporary

(10) It isn't.  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sorrow and The Murder of Quandeel Baloch

Quandeel Baloch, known for defying conservative Pakistan society by posting sexy photos and videos of herself, has been strangled to death by her by her brother in central Pakistan. Another honor killing. 
So many of these "honor killings" occur when the victim is sleeping. Her father, her brother, sometimes both parents, strangle or stifle the young woman before she can wake up. So many victims trust their families never to harm them, even as they fear for their lives, or even as some part of them lulls them into acceptance of this tragic fate.
What is the brother feeling as he squeezes the life out of his sister? Can I assume that he feels nothing more than a sense that he is administering a just punishment? Does he love his sister? Did he ever love his sister? What was it like for him, growing up with this sister? Are there photographs of the two of them? Does he remember playing with her, laughing with her? Does he try to erase these memories, if he has them? Did he never see her? Was she never more than a shadowy presence in a headscarf, silent and serving meals, cleaning, until she ran away? Is he now--was he before--a man dead to feeling, because feeling is excruciating? Is he so poor, working so hard, that feeling has always been a rare luxury? Was it a thrill to him to kill his sister? 
The Guardian of 17 July 2016 reports as follows:

Her brother, Waseem Azeem, was arrested on Sunday. Police presented Azeem before the media in Multan, where he confessed to killing her. He said people had taunted him over the photos and that he found the social embarrassment unbearable.
“Yes of course, I strangled her,” he said.
“She was on the ground floor while our parents were asleep on the rooftop. It was around 10.45pm when I gave her a tablet ... and then killed her.”
Azeem said he acted alone and was “not embarrassed at all over what I did.”
“I was determined either to kill myself or kill her,” he said as he was being led away.

So he drugged her, put his hands around her neck, and pressed very hard. Does he feel more like a man now? Is a lack of "embarrassment" his true feeling? Is he genuinely proud? Is he crying when no one is looking? Does his sister haunt him in his dreams? I think of Bill Sykes killing Nancy in Oliver Twist: her eyes follow him everywhere. 
 I want to know what these men feel. Or if they feel. I want them to feel something different from what they probably feel--I want them to feel regret, remorse, sorrow--what I am feeling as I watch CNN reports. What would this young woman have felt about her life twenty years hence, had she been allowed to live? Maybe she'd look back and laugh and think, "I was a jackass." Maybe she'd still be posting selfies, after a dose of Botox. Maybe she'd follow that young whore-old nun trajectory. Maybe she'd be a writer.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Ten Things You'll Want to Know About Coping with Estrogen-Positive Breast Cancer Chemotherapy

(1) Diet: no more grapefruit, no more wine, no fresh ginger on treatment days.

(2) After the first chemo, you'll feel as though you were walking through Jell-O. I asked if they'd given me a sedative. No, they hadn't.

(3) A glass of prune juice really helps with the inevitable constipation. If you find the stuff sickly sweet, as I do, try half water and half prune juice, and add a little fresh lemon juice. Glug down far more water than you like to drink: a liter and a half--over seven cups a day, for Americans.

(4) What was I writing? What was that name? How old am I? Chemo-brain starts right after the first chemotherapy.

(5) Before you get the chemo, you get the port implanted under your skin above your healthy breast. It looks like a fuse, or like one of those wierd bolts Frankenstein has sticking out of his head--but can be concealed with a good sports bra, if you're in the mood for sports. Getting your port surgically inserted is as much fun as going to the dentist to have a tooth pulled, only moreso. But you'll be okay right after.

(6) You'll be in the mood for sports sometimes. Other days, you'll be lying on the sofa feeling that I-Can't-Get-Myself-To-Water-The-Plants feeling--the way you felt during the first three months of pregnancy.

(7) Estrogen, until now your friend, has become your enemy. Why am I sweating? What's that chin hair? How come I'm not thinking about sex right now? Welcome to the land of the Hot Flash--you'll cope by opening the fridge door and sticking your face in (a good way) or screeching at your loved ones (not). 

(8) Eighteen days in, you'll need that wig. It will have the consistency of hay and to you it will scream "wig!" but if your co-workers aren't looking for a wig, they'll see a new haircut. Accept compliments gracefully, even though the wig feels like having a spaghetti grabber clamped to each temple. 

(9) You'll have to swallow lots of pills in the four days after your chemo. They'll forget to tell you to put on sunscreen. Slather it, and wear a hat. Otherwise the cortisone will make you burn. Even with no sun, you'll get bright red patches on your cheeks--you'll be able to pass as a lupus patient. 

(10) You'll have to give yourself a shot the day after the chemo. Yes, every time. Tell yourself diabetics and hemophiliacs do this every day. It will be over in a minute. Don't worry about the instructions, which say to push the needle in "until you hear a click." A gigantic spring will sproing out as soon as the needle's really in. You'll find taking the needle out much easier than putting it in.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Easy Summer Avocado-Shrimp Dinner

When you're in the mood for lukewarm--not piping hot--this dish is for you! You'll need:

2 packs of frozen prawns
Many cloves of garlic (I use at least eight)
Two (or more) ripe avocados--I prefer the green ("Florida" or "Dominican") but the Hass kind is fine, too.
Olive oil
Juice of two fresh lemons
Fresh ground pepper
Fresh ground sea salt
Garlic powder 
A platter

Dump the frozen shrimp in a colander and run cold water over it; allow to defrost. Go right ahead and use fresh shrimp if you'd prefer. Defrosting takes a few hours. Let the shrimp drain as much as possible; they should be fairly dry when you toss them in the pan. 

Once the shrimp are ready to go:

Juice the lemons; set aside.
Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a pan. Slice the garlic--not too thin--and sauté it, letting it get a little brown. While you're gently stirring the garlic, add salt, pepper, and garlic powder to the shrimp. Dump shrimp in pan--stir fry briefly. Better undercooked than rubbery overcooked.

Slice open avocados; with a melon baller or a teaspoon, place pieces of avocado on tray.  Pour on half the lemon juice; add salt and pepper. Pour shrimp on top of avocado pieces. Pour rest of lemon juice on shrimp.

Happy eating! The dish is good with a salad on the side, Basmati rice and a dry white wine.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Patriotism of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I feel honored to be an American--a feeling I have not experienced for years now--because of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's assessment of Donald Trump.  He is "a faker" she said, with "an ego." She thinks it's time for us all to "move to New Zealand." In the event of Trump's election, she adds,
 “For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be — I don’t even want to contemplate that,” Justice Ginsburg said in an interview on Friday with The New York Times
Her honesty, her gutsiness, has not received the high praise that it deserves, judging by most of the comments on her interview in The New York Times. Fear is palpable: everyone is afraid to say what they really think of Donald Trump. Donald Trump has been allowed to get away with calling Justice Ginsburg's remarks "a disgrace," and slandering her--saying her brain is gone. For shame! Where are the rest of the Supreme Court justices? What is the matter with you all, powerful politicians, powerful judges? Stand up and shout that Donald Trump is unfit to be president--pernicious in every way to America, to American values. That he has gotten so far so fast is a sign of national deterioration, of fear, of inertia.
I call on everyone who is anyone to denounce Trump in no uncertain terms--and to praise Ruth Bader Ginsburg's bravery, honor, and patriotism. Evil, Saint Augustine reminds us, is "the absence of good," and in America's hour of need, the good must speak their minds--not shamefully declare that Justice Ginsburg has "gone too far." America, get off your couches! America, march in the streets! America, in the Senate and in the House, stand up and denounce this petty dictator, this narcissistic clown, this nihilist. America, take pride in running out of town this cheap bully, Donald Trump, before it is too late.
Postscript: it's a sad day in America when Justice Ginsburg apologizes to a man whose presence in a presidential race would have rendered our Founding Fathers apoplectic. Had Ginsburg spoken as she did about any other presidential candidate in my lifetime--and I was born during the Eisenhower administration--I'd have considered her remarks inappropriate. But these are hardly ordinary times, and Trump is a poisonous snake. What a shame that noone supported Ginsburg's denunciation.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Dependence Day, 2016

Since I live in Germany, nobody's waving flags, setting off fireworks, or enjoying backyard barbecues today. Should they be doing so in the USA? I've never felt less sanguine about the survival of America's separation from Great Britain. We no longer have anything like the democracy Jefferson and the Founding Fathers envisioned: we have a plutocracy, and the very real prospect of Donald Trump uniting Americans in hatred of immigrants, Muslims, and anyone whom he personally dislikes. I'm sure he has the pull to hammer Hillary Clinton on her emails and bludgeon the FBI into making her life difficult; I'll bet she's got the moxie to give Trump and the FBI a run for their money. Money. That is what government depends on, in ways unimaginable to the Founding Fathers.
Neither Clinton nor Trump could survive as politicians without the massive funds they've accumulated. The dregs of democracy that still remain--we citizens do all get to vote--depend heavily on the messages paid for by the candidates. It never occurred to me, growing up, that I'd prefer to hide under a rock than celebrate on Independence Day. In the hall of the academic building in which I teach, a colleague was trying to remember the lyrics to "You're A Grand Old Flag," and as we attempted to sing it--followed by "God Bless America," another colleague in a sentimental mood hummed a few bars--after which we dispersed, ashamed of the line, "symbol of the laaaaa-aaaand we love!"
"That's the bathos of it," said my colleague.
Every time Trump yelps that he wants to "make America great again," that "bad things are happening," that "we have no choice," I daydream about crowds descending on the stage, waving banners that say, "Blessed are the Peacemakers!" and inciting audiences to remember that:
(1) What we want is to make America good again. Not "great." 
(2)  Good things are happening--will happen--when we know that we always have choices, and we always have hope.
(3) The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.