Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Walk the Talk

Well, no comments on the earlier post but as a good Libra and a good teacher, I try to see other sides to an argument.

It is interesting to me that the US where so many feel that the culture is not supportive of children (based on the unhelpful and downright rude comments that so many families, large or small, built through biology or adoption, religious or secular, uni-racial, or trans-racial/transcultural recieve -- and if you don't believe me just read mommy blogs for a while), there is actually an amazing infrastructure of schools, agencies, social workers, and laws devoted to children's welfare. Whereas, so many countries where the prevailing "talk" of the culture is very pro-child (entire buses try to soothe a crying child, children are always greeted with a smile, and the conventional wisdom is that children are a blessing from God), the actual infrastructure devoted to children's welfare is very weak.

Is it that the poorer countries are mired in too much poverty to accommodate children's needs? Yet, so much can be done with so little: promotion of breastfeeding, vaccination, mosquito netting, free compulsory education, etc. And in so many poorer countries, the corrupt elites siphon off so much money into their own pockets. . . and in many countries, adoption of orphans isn't even an option for locals or foreigners. What keeps them from walking their talk about the blessing of children?

And in the US, where we do do so much for children at the individual, community, and societal level, why is the "talk" about kids so negative?

And, just to make it interesting, why is it that countries that do even more for kids, lengthy maternity leaves, universal health care, subsidized schooling, stipends for child, have much lower birthrates?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Immediate Interests

The subtitle of this blog, "one mother's global interests" was an impulsive choice; one that I am still not sure of. It sounds a bit pretentious but it does try to capture something about how living in the developing world spurred me to become a mother, and then how motherhood deepened my interest in global issues such as poverty, development, war and peace.

Today, however, I want to write about one of my immediate interests, my baby Butter. (Much could be written on how people chose pseudonyms for themselves and their children in the blogosphere!). Butter is a 15 month-old baby boy. Sometimes we call him, "Mr. Intensity." He was our most difficult infant. A big crier who responded best not to more nursing (my default solution) but to tight swaddling and long walks outdoors. Many people who know me in real life have commented on how skinny I am. I tell them that Butter is a baby who came with his own built-in exercise program.

Butter prefers to nap in my arms which is how I came to blogging. Since daytime TV is a complete wasteland, I soon swapped my computer chair with the rocker. Checking emails and message boards, however, can only fill up so much time. As Butter's naps got longer, I started to read blogs to fill the time. First just my friends' blogs, Heather and Kim, then as a member of the Middle Eastern Studies Association, I thought I should read the blog of our president, Juan Cole. One blog led to another and soon I had my own personal blogroll to read each morning, starting with the political blogs, then the academic ones, then the mommy blogs. So, its only appropriate that Butter is the first of my three children to earn a post of his own.

Butter was an early walker and is now a tremendous climber. Its a miracle that he hasn't had a trip to the ER yet. He's fearless. He loves water. My husband starting taking him in the shower when Butter was just six weeks old. He never cried in the shower, so we knew he must like it. (Butter is not a baby who hesitates to show his displeasure). Now, he will stand or sit in the bottom of the shower and play happily while an adult showers. Its not unheard of for him to have two showers and a bath a day. He is amazing in the pool. He jumps right in and instinctively blows bubbles when his head goes under water. He does not get his love of water from me. I'm more catlike. Its all I can do to take a shower every two or three days!

Although Butter cried more, he also laughs more than any baby we have had. He has a beautiful smile complete with dimples! And he has learned how to use them to his best advantage.

He loves anything electronic. He has already mastered the TV, answering machine, and both my printers. If I sit down to nurse him in the rocker in front of the computer and the screen is dark, he reaches out to hit the keyboard and bring the computer to life before settling down to nurse. (Yes, we are still nursing at 15 months. I can't imagine how to mother a toddler without nursing! Don't worry sometime before he heads off to college we'll stop.)

Butter is a much wanted third child. I have been stunned by the number of people who have asked me, "so, what's it like having three?" And when I respond with "oh, its wonderful, lots of fun, much easier than just having one." They have come back with jaw-dropping statements like "oh, I just wondered, I was the third child and always thought that might have led to my parents' divorce." Or, "I was the third child and only girl and my brothers always told me that I ruined their lives." Then the "Lives" column of the New York Times Magazine this week is all about a woman's two unwanted pregnancies, one that ended in abortion, one in an unexpected third child. The author describes a secret society of women who approach her with their own stories of unwanted third children. Again, my jaw drops.

In Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, and from immigrants in the US from Thailand, Mexico, Turkey, and Bangladesh, and thankfully, from my own mother, I have heard again and again that all babies are blessings, a sign of joy in the universe, and a gift not to be refused. Baby Butter didn't disrupt my "perfect family" of one boy and one girl, as some people have implied. We consider him the exclamation point in our lives, the spicy jalapeno on the family sandwich, the cherry on top!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Mountain Voices

I just discovered this site courtesy of a fellow professor who teaches comtemporary world issues (I teach a section of the course too). The site is Mountain Voices. It contains a wealth of summary information from ten regions (mountainous regions) of the world as well as transcripts of interviews with a wide variety of local people from each region. Ethiopia is one of the regions covered. Since I have recently discovered . . . um, okay, become obsessed with the world of ethiopia adoption on-line, I was particularly fascinated with the section on the Ethiopian Highlands. Mountain Voices does a good job of illustrating the complexities of life in rural areas that are experiencing environmental and social stresses without either over-romanticizing "traditional" culture or dismissing its value. They are able to do this by relying on the voices of ordinary people in the region.
This project is part of Panos' Oral Testimony Programme, which aims to amplify the voices of those at the heart of development: people who are disadvantaged by poverty, gender, lack of education and other inequalities. Collecting and disseminating oral testimonies allows the least vocal and least powerful members of society to speak for themselves, rather than through outsiders or "experts".

And these "ordinary" voices are powerful!

Although international adoption is not mentioned, the detailed information about daily life, cultural change, marriage, agriculture, poverty and disease gave me some insight into the conditions that might lead children into orphanages and eventually international adoption.

I have not conducted research in any of the areas of the world covered by Mountain Voices but the voices they highlight "rang true" with my own experiences working with villagers in a marginal agricultural zones within a developing country. Mountain Voices is a great resource for students and anyone else eager for a glimpse of the dynamics and challenges of everyday life in distant regions of the world.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Royalty Check!

Talk about a pick-me up! Just a received a royalty check in the mail from proquest, the good folks in Michigan who distribute dissertations. Now, its a very small check to be sure but the thought that fourteen people paid money last year to get a copy of my dissertation is very energizing!

Its almost enough to get me working on my original goal for this summer which was to get an agent to help me package the dissertation for trade publication!

Would you pay money to read about an young American anthropologist who lives with a Sufi sheikh and his family and learns about gender, community, ritual, family, and the power of stories?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

True Romance

Mary from Owlhaven has a new post up at Larger Families titled Watermelon, Coffee and Waikiki and its about the little things that spouses do for each other and how that, more than grand gestures and expensive get-aways, nurture the relationship. In that same vein, I have to relate the sexiest thing that my husband said to me last night. As he got into bed at 1:30 (I had fallen asleep with the baby around 10:30), he said, "I stayed up and finished up all the laundry, I cleaned the cat box, and swept up the mess the baby made with the cat food."

Oh my, words to set the pulse racing. Talk about a turn on! At one point, just a bit later, I almost said to him, "tell me again about the laundry and the cat box . . ."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Look before you leap:Invisible Adjunct

This post is for my neighbor Lance and my former student Luke and any one else who is brave enough (foolhardy enough?) to be working towards a career in the academy.

I am a proud recipent of a Ph.D. in anthropology. I worked hard for it. I always thought that I approached graduate school and the academic workplace with clear eyes but there were a series of hard realizations along the way. First, it was watching the way that hiring committees work -- the very arbitrary way that hiring decisions happen (mainly in response to departmental politics). Then it was learning that only one-third of those who get tenure-track positions actually get tenure. Then it was watching a professor in our department who was unanimously approved for tenure by the department get axed by the Dean.

I learned an immense amount in graduate school and worked with amazing professors. I was fortuate enough to have an advisor who was a true mentor. I had TAships, a private research assistantship, scholarships, and grants. But grad school took a long time. I watched older friends who had put off children during graduate school and early in their academic career struggle with infertility. Then I had children. Then I started teaching as an adjunct. I enjoyed it and I was good at it (I have teaching awards to prove it). But the pay was very low. I had an opportunity to have a position tailored for me at the small, rural liberal arts college I attend. I declined. I realized that I was now "place-bound" a fancy term for academics who can't or don't want to do a national job search and take a job where ever one appears. But I finished my dissertation and continued to teach as an adjunct, hoping that the low pay and poor treatment might some day be transformed into a real teaching position.

Then I discovered Invisible Adjunct. Its an inactive blog. But over a three week period I read every post and every comment and explored every link. Finally, I realized what a dead-end academia is for so many people (and me as well). Please pay attention to the "Academic Job Market section. Here is a brief selection from the first post in that section:

"Still, I have a mournful affection for students who remain confident of their ability to beat the odds. The young feel invincible and full of potential. And many universities view their naiveté and energy as an exploitable resource. The majority of graduate students exist to provide cheap labor for undesirable undergraduate courses and students for high-prestige graduate programs taught by tenured professors. It seems like the undergraduates are the only ones who don't know this, and they get angry when you tell them.
-- Thomas H. Benton, If You Must Go to Grad School...

In his "So You Want to Go to Grad School?" column (which I [Invisible Adjunct] blogged about here), Thomas H. Benton made a compelling case against graduate school in the humanities. He now offers words of wisdom for those who insist on following this very risky pursuit. It's important to note that Benton is not encouraging and endorsing the graduate school option. "I believe that most would not choose to go," he writes, "if they were properly informed about the risks (the most notable of which is a strong probability of never landing a tenure-track job)."
I agree. Though aspiring graduate students will readily acknowledge that they
realize the job market is "tight," many have no idea of just how grim is the situation in many fields in the humanities.

Yes, its a bit like wanting to go to Hollywood and write screenplays, maybe even more risky and less likely, and certainly less well-paid. My advice? Go to Invisible Adjunct, read the Academic Job Market section, follow the links to every Thomas H. Benton article in the Chronicle of Higher Education and then chart your future.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A dollar for community

Need a lift? A kick in the butt? Umm . . . not going to find it here. I'm still not quite up for that. But go read Chris at The Big Yellow House. Life is like baseball, got to keep swinging! I should be ready to step up to the plate again soon. But not today.

I caught most of Nightline last night on ABC. Songs for the Children about the devestation of AIDs in Africa and the way that antiretroviral drugs can keep children alive and more importantly, parents with HIV alive to raise their children. The piece featured Alicia Keyes and the charity Keep A Child Alive. One dollar a day is enough to pay for a daily dose of antiretroviral drugs, the drugs that turn AIDs from a killer into a chronic, managable condition. I can do a dollar a day and I bet that so can you!

Grief is numbing but I'm finding small ways to re-engage with the world. My father's death is saddening but it was not a tragedy. The way that AIDs destroys communities by killing those in their twenties and thirties and forties, those who are raising children and aiding parents, those who teach and nurse and farm and work and produce; that is what sets the AIDs epidemic apart from other epidemics (whose vicitims are generally drawn from the margins of the very young and very old) and makes it a threat not just to individuals but to whole communities. Being at home and witnessing the outpouring of dinners, flowers, cards, calls, and visits around my father's death reinforced my belief in the power of community. I'm grateful now to have a small way to support communities in Africa who are facing such a dire threat as the hollowing out of society that AIDs can inflict.