Friday, June 30, 2017

Fleeing Forced Marriages--or not--in Germany: A Teacher's Perspective

The more terrifyingly out of control things get, the more young women seem to keep things to themselves, desperately hoping that the problem will, if not evaporate, become more bearable. At least, so it seems to me when I talk to those whose families insist that they marry. One, who just took an exam with me, casually mentioned her family wanting to take  a vacation in a country she fled as a child, where her parents were killed, a country currently enforcing Stone Age laws regarding women, and with a war in every corner. She seemed embarrassed to have raised the topic, especially after I and the other professor giving the exam reacted with horror. We waved our arms around begging her, "Don't go! It's your life!"

Most of the young women in danger of these marriages come from countries ending in -an. They are Muslim and grew up in Germany, or arrived before their teenage years and have gone to school with German girls who take for granted freedoms of which my Muslim students never dreamed. Some of the Muslim students shyly conform and I never hear from them. Some tell me in a resigned way and with a shrug that they're getting married, or just got married, and a few have desperately recounted their unwillingness to defy their families.

And no wonder. How many sixteen-to-twenty year old women have the emotional strength and financial resources to give up their families forever? Brave possible beatings or so-called honor killings if their hiding places are discovered?

I have yet to meet one. 

But I did, a few days ago, see a student who had been in our Masters program and done well, then disappeared. She vanished three or four years ago, and about a year after that, I happened to enter a shop one day and found her behind the counter with a man old enough to be her father--maybe her grandfather. On the tip of my tongue was the question, "Oh, is this your dad?" when she beat me to it: "This is my husband." 

Now she's back in my office, some years later. The husband is gone--the shop is gone--she has the young child and the husband's parting words were that she could return with him to that country ending in -an, where he would support her. Or she could be on her own and raise the child in Germany. 

She's staying. I applaud her! But how will she do it? Where are the support groups?

Here are some resources I'd like to provide, where you can ask questions, not be judged, and get, at the very least, a listening ear:

Founded by a Pakistani woman who refused a forced marriage and converted from Islam to Catholicism, this organization helps women and girls flee forced and abusive marriages. 

This Catholic organization helps women of all faiths to find safety.

That brilliant atheist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, runs this organization that helps to protect women and girls from genital cutting, forced marriages, and honor killings.

I'd like to keep a stack of copies of her book, The Caged Virgin (see chapter ten for practical tips on getting away from a forced marriage!) on my desk, and hand it out to any student I suspect of being on her way to one of those miserable marriages.  

But most of all, I would like for these young women to be able to say to themselves, "I want a life! I want to live, not be hustled into a marriage before I've finished high school or college. I want to choose my husband or partner, or I want to live alone, unmarried."

I want them to say "I" with an exclamation point, to feel that their feelings and wishes are important. I wish them courage. 

The student I just examined, the one going on the vacation from which I fear she may not come back, is focused on a sibling, and the sibling's safety. The sibling doesn't want to leave Germany either, but neither of them dares to sneak away from home, find a shelter or a job or a community. 

Guilt--that dreadful power of the weak over the strong ("I'm getting old! You can't leave me! I've got cancer. You can't leave me! I fed you and clothed you! You can't leave me. I took you in when you were an orphan. You can't leave me!") remains a powerful deterrent to the freedom these young women deserve--a freedom that should be their birthright. 

When I teach American literature, we often read Harriet Jacobs' harrowing narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, about her owner's sexual harassment and abuse, about her struggle to keep her children safe, about her dangerous escape to the North. Jacobs' memoir was published in 1861. Her goal, to inform Northern white women about the rape, abuse and torture routinely experienced by women like themselves who happened to be black, strengthened the abolitionist movement, and slavery was abolished in 1863.

 At least theoretically, at least in America, the land where, even under Trump, and even in a gun-mad world in which a movement devoted to Black lives mattering is essential, girls can't legally be thrown into marriage. 

My point: my German students read the book in a rage, wondering how such things were ever possible. The quieter students, the Muslim girls, many in hijab, read the book and I wonder what they are thinking. Are they making comparisons to their own lives? Are they just sliding the contents of the book into a mental drawer marked "school" and avoiding any conscious awareness of similarities to their own lives?

The problem comes down to the pronoun "I" and the sense that one has a right to use it--to be a person with needs of one's own. 

I write in a certain amount of despair myself, having not had that sense of a right to say "I" when I was a young woman. I didn't go into a forced marriage, but the West has its own problems with patriarchy and I fell down a rabbit hole with an authority figure I should have shrugged off much sooner than I did.

And now, like so many old people, I hope to prevent the young from making that particular mistake. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Clinically Tested: Palbociclib and Me

I've never been in a clinical trial before, but I vividly remember the Gray's Anatomy episode in which Meredith--wanting to help Adele, who has Alzheimer's--manages to make sure Adele gets the real McCoy, not the saline solution. I got handed a bottle with a number on it--I have my very own four-digit number for the duration of the trial, so that neither I nor the doctors know whether I am getting the real thing. 
Except that I obviously am: I didn't bother with Dr. Google until the nurse called to let me know my white blood cell count was "too low" to continue this week, and my count was fine before. I hadn't noticed any side effects apart from the usual, the fatigue I can't quite shake, although my new hair did seem to be growing more slowly . . . I'd gone from fuzz to something approaching Jimi Hendrix within weeks, and now there was nothing going on up there.
I'm not supposed to eat grapefruit. I don't. But I crave oranges and consume them frequently. 
I'm wondering whether the statistics that seem to tell the tale are correct in my case. Statistically speaking (but I had to read How To Lie With Statistics in sixth grade) I am in exactly the category likelier to survive longer without a recurrence of cancer if I continue with the clinical trial. But now that I think about the situation, I've felt tireder ever since I began what must be Palbociclib.
Anyone out there experienced with this medicine? 
P.S. Eight days after I posted this, my white count is still too low to resume the stuff. Hmmmm

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Breast Cancer: One Year Out and Happy Anniversary

I just noticed I'd posted exactly one year ago that I'd been diagnosed with breast cancer and that the diagnosis had initially been missed. The doctor who missed it also missed another diagnosis about a month ago, this time for a cracked rib. I'm not giving her a third shot. Fortunately, the mop-up squad identified and fixed things, before my cancer spread.
Looking back on the year of three operations (first, the port insertion, second, the lumpectomy, and third, the follow-up to get the few bad cancer cells out from the margins), chemotherapy (sixteen of 'em) and radiation (twenty-eight of those) I can heartily attest to being glad to be done with cancer. Except for the pills--the pills, the pills, the pills! The ones I have to take plus the ones from the clinical trial, plus the three-month check-ups and yes, they will probably be mammograms, and probably my insurance doesn't pay for the three-way mammo or the MRI, but maybe I'll get that anyway as part of my clinical trial. I'm almost certain I'm getting the placebo, since I've experienced no side effects and this pill is the one pill I've ever taken in my life that produces zero side effects, but I like the idea of the free bone scans and blood tests. Maybe they'll make up, in diagnostic power, for what I won't be getting if I can't get that MRI or three-way mammo. I can't say I've gotten a bad deal here in Germany: every few months I got a bill for either seventy or ninety euros. If I'd been in New York, I probably would have had to sell my apartment plus borrow my way into the middle of my dotage, I should live so long. Neither Trumpcare nor Obamacare would have taken care of me. A New York friend cautioned me, just as I was starting chemo, to make sure I asked for and purchased that Emend pill, even though it was either fifty or seventy-five bucks--it was really worth it, stopping the nausea. Here in Germany, I got the Emend as part of a packet of pills my doctors told me I had to take, and I paid little for them--they must have been in those occasional bills for seventy or ninety, usually bills that arrived after ten chemos or ten radiations. I've heard the mastectomy rate is as high as it is in the States because radiation is so expensive. In Russia there's no radiation, so they just chop. Germany has been good to me, very good, in the health care department. Have I learned that cancer is a journey? No, it is a massive bother and no fun at all. Have I been spiritually enhanced? Are you kidding? Have I had "preventative" mastectomies so that I won't have to worry about cancer returning? I keep asking myself who would do that--who'd voluntarily lose sexy nipple sensation? A woman who was the tenth in her family to get cancer, and who had the BRCA gene, did so, and I can completely understand. But I've heard so many tales of women just having their breasts hacked off even if they're not (yet) cancerous, sometimes even cutting off a healthy breast when there's no BRCA gene. Then there are the non-reconstructionists, the Flat-is Fab crowd, the gals with the tattoos across their empty chests. Brrrrrr. To me, that's sad. If I'd lost a breast to a mastectomy, I'd want at least the feeling I had one, yes, even without sensation. I can't help but think the Flat-is-Fab crowd is in angry denial. I bet I'll get a couple of angry reactions to this post, but they'd be welcome. Happy Anniversary.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Moment In Patriarchy-Land: Sunny Days in Berchtesgaden

My husband and I spent a comfortable night in the busy, friendly sort of Bavarian inn where there's no soap in the bathroom and no internet in the room--the rooms are opened with actually keys--but the smiles are friendly, the service fast. The innkeeper--who gave me the cutest excuse, namely, "Oh, we only have internet here in the dining area, because otherwise we never see our guests! First it was TV, and now it's WLAN"--isn't a hundred and two. The password he just gave me indicates he's about my age. He hadn't gotten around to checking us in last night, and did so as he handed us our boiled eggs. 
"Ah, Sie Sind Der Professor!" he said, lingering on each syllable, eyes round, turning to my husband with the most ingratiating smile I have ever seen. He all but bowed and I just know he was wondering where he'd put his white gloves. It had been a long time, he told us, since they had a professor there! A real professor!
He nodded at me, the little woman.
If I'd have mentioned that by the way, I'm a professor too, the poor man would have dropped the coffeepot he was holding.
After he wandered back to the kitchen, my husband said, "See! That's how professors used to be treated. Back in the nineteen-sixties."
The Austrians at the next table were clamoring about how they couldn't wait to see the Eagle's Nest--Hitler's hideaway in bad days gone by. 
Last night we sat on a balcony at the home of friends, enjoying the sight of snow-capped Alps, green valleys, forests, sheep munching their way through the green. It's glorious. I mean, you don't say "pretty," when you're looking at Berchtesgaden. It's on-beyond-breathtaking; it's epic gorgeous everywhere you look. 
Enough to have made me wonder, this morning, in my coffeed-up state, if it's remotely possible that Hitler had a sense of beauty. You wouldn't think so, from looking at his early drawings, about which a friend once remarked: "Right away, you see there's no love in those lines. He doesn't love what he's drawing. That's why you look at the picture and feel bored." She's right. He must have picked the place strategically, not from a love of the mountains, rearing up like ancient guardians, and the lovely Bavarian houses with the wood-paneled balconies, the roses creeping up the sides, the windowboxes exploding with floral color. I never come here without a sense of unbearable contrast: the loveliness of the place and the evil genius, the canker in the rose, who held court for too long, long enough to create a tourist industry decades later. As we sat on the balcony with our friends last night, the light fading, two small electric lights appeared on a mountain peak at some distance. I asked whether that were a hiker's hut.
"Oh, no, that's the Eagle's Nest!" said our host. "It's a restaurant now."
"Some day," I said, "Mara-a-Lago will be America's Eagle's Nest." Tourists will come--I can see a cross between the mad king Ludwig's castle and the beach. Yes, bad guys make good tourism--'tis the way of the world. 
But our jovial innkeeper isn't a bad guy. Just a guy who doesn't think. The one thing he has in common with Trump, probably.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Ultimate Anti-Cancer Meatball

You like flavor? Spice? Yum!


Shallots (as many as you feel like)
Fresh ginger root (at least a thumb-sized piece)
Fresh garlic (enough cloves to sink a battleship)
Red onion (one, small)
Fresh turmeric (also a thumb-sized piece. More if you like)
Fresh parsley (a bunch)

About a kilo (around 2 lbs) of ground pork. Or ground any meat you like. 
Two eggs
A cup of water. 

1. Chop the shallots. Put in a large pan sizzling with about two tablespoons of either olive oil or plant oil. Gently cook.
2. Chop garlic; add to shallots and stir.
3. Chop ginger root; add to mix and stir
4. Chop red onion; add to mix and stir
5. Chop turmeric; add to mix and stir 

When the spices have  been nicely sautéed--crisp but not burned, for as long as you like, set aside. Add two eggs and the water to the ground pork and mix very well. Add in the sautéed spices. Mix well. Add salt and pepper. If you like add curry powder. Mix well. 

Chop the parsley and add to the meat (don't sauté the parsley!)
Mix meat mixture again. Put in a tight container or in a freezer bag, tightly closed, for several hours in the fridge. 

An hour before you want to eat, make jasmine rice. Form the meat mixture into meatballs. Drop into very hot vegetable oil and brown nicely on both sides. 
These are great with rice and a vegetable. We had sliced carrots with mint and cumin. Enjoy!
Why anti-cancer? The ginger, the garlic, the turmeric, the onion! You could add cilantro, too! Wash it all down with a glass of red wine. That'll either prevent or provoke the growth of cancer cells, depending upon which authority you read that day.