Culchurly Sensitive?

“Sensitive. That killed me. That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a goddamn toilet seat.”
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Joni came home from school saying “I told my classmates they look like Smurfs, and they told me I look like Godzilla…” Which is what happens when you do your growing early, while living in a continent of short people.

On fictional characters, we discovered while we were in the UK this time that it isn’t The Done Thing to let one’s children read the original versions of Noddy these days, owing to the Black character Mr Golly. I get that it’s a stereotype, and I get the desire to promote helpful images. Which I guess is why I’m not sure whether removing a character who is a gainfully employed and integrated member of his community and replacing him with, er, well, nothing at all would be seen as progress, especially since the only human-looking characters left in the series are now 100% white. And I’m even less certain how many more black engineers, scientists, PhD holders, lawyers, judges, members of the house of Lords, (should I continue..?) there are in the UK as a result. It does rather look like fiddling with silly details in order to have done something, while carefully avoiding the real issues of racism.

Last weekend I went on a regional Scout leadership training. They split us into patrols and had each patrol represent a country. I think it would be reasonable to say that cultural sensitivity hasn’t yet reached Argentina as a concept, and some of the ultra stereotyped portrayals made even me wince and probably would have had someone arrested had the event occurred in the UK. So, here’s the question. In these circumstances where do I aim my cultural sensitivity? Do we say that here this counts as humour, so to be culturally sensitive is to understand it within that category. Or do we say actually your culture needs to change, on behalf of the other cultures being trashed by your bad jokes about famines and suicide bombers? When does tolerance become tyranny?

And as for teaching our own kids about culture, I asked Joni and Danny the other day if they had heard of Shakespeare. “Oh yes” says Danny. “He’s the one who writes stories about naughty pets… like when Lula (the dog) is being naughty and Daddy says ‘Out damned Spot, out I say...'” I give up.

How lovely on the mountains

How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him
Who brings good news,good news,
Announcing peace proclaiming
News of happiness.
Our God reigns our God reigns!

OK, so it’s been a while. We went to England. We did a lot of things, saw a lot of people. Most of it was fun. Some of it was challenging. And some of it was fun and challenging at the same time. We enjoying meeting up with family and friends, some of whom we’ve known for ever, and others whom we were privileged to get to know for the first time.

The journey back was long but uneventful, thanks for all those prayers. The cheapest route is three times round the world. So we went from London to Sao Paolo. Then from Sao Paolo to Tucuman, that’s in Argentina, a bit north from us. But we didn’t get to stay in Argentina. Because then we were off to Santiago, Chile. And finally back to Cordoba, which is our nearest international airport some 200 kms from home. It did mean that we got to fly over the Andes, twice, which is always a treat, even if it is for the second time in one afternoon.

How lovely on the mountains….

Not quite sure where the announcing peace part fits in, but arriving home in San Francisco was a real mixed bag and we were way too tired to handle it. On the positive front, the house was still standing, and had even undergone a superficial effort at cleaning and tidy up. The rest was a voyage of discovery; mostly us discovering things that had been broken, lost, ill-treated, misused or lent out without permission, and the girls trying to bat away any shred of responsibility via a myriad of lies. And there is probably still more discovering to be done, since the game so far has been for them not to volunteer any information until they are left without any other exit strategy. I did have a light-dawning moment when I found myself thinking “It couldn’t have been any worse if we’d left Joni and Danny in charge… Ah, yes, right…” It’s quite easy to forget that chronological age and ability to function don’t always correspond, especially when they look like adults.

So, we are busy arriving, fire fighting, finding and fixing things, practising principles of restorative justice where possible, and organising kids to start school in a few days with all attendant bureaucracy, somewhat complicated by relentless 40 degree heat and stupid levels of humidity. Fortunately, we are still blessed with our big paddling pool in the patio, and the shady green plaza over the road. Our God reigns after all.

Danny leads the way in mindfulness exercises…

Reading is not walking on the words…

“Reading is not walking on the words; it’s grasping the soul of them.”
Paulo Freire

I got a phone call from Joni’s school to find out whether anyone was coming to collect him.  This was a surprise since Joni has been going to and from school by himself for the last three years without anyone minding.  So I said that Joni normally comes home on his own and indeed that I was a bit surprised that he hadn’t arrived yet;

“But it’s raining…”

But as far as I’ve been advised, the human body doesn’t actually dissolve in water.  And the Chevrolet Corsa has a design feature that puts the air filter as low to the road as possible, and San Francisco city centre floods within a few minutes of any downpour, the combination of which means that the time we would be least likely to use the car is when it’s raining.

This is the school where not a single member of staff has asked whether Danny is even still alive, let alone how he is doing since he moved schools, despite the fact that several parents of his former classmates have asked after him.  So I find the cynical side of me isn’t sure how far school is really concerned about Joni’s well-being, and how far they are just fulfilling some sort of “duty of care”, which ironically often seems to mean more or less the opposite of actually caring.

Meanwhile, at another school across town.  We put up our big paddling pool the other weekend (which is why it has been raining ever since) and Danny spent most of a bank holiday in it, ending up with a pink nose and shoulders as a result.  He went in to school the day after and told his teacher how he got sun-burnt;

“I’m red now, but soon I will turn brown, like him”, pointing to his class-mate.  We love Danny’s school.  It is a warm, friendly establishment, in the middle of an estate with some significant issues; San Francisco police have a satellite specialist domestic violence unit just across the square from the school entrance.  This gives the school an undeserved low reputation, and the score of white skinned, blonde haired pupils currently stands at one, so to him it’s just quite normal that everyone else is browner than he is.  As his teacher said, he wasn’t even being derrogatory, just practical.

Meanwhile at yet another educational establishment some six hours away, I took the first of my university subject exams at the national university of Rio Cuarto last week.  Pedagogy was the subject with the biggest pile of reading so it is good to have it out of the way, leaving four subjects to go.  They said;

“It’s clear that you know what you know, we can see you’ve done the reading, and that you’re able make conceptual links between the material but it would have been good if you had gone into a bit more depth”.  I didn’t tell them that I’d told them everything I know, and that I didn’t have any more depth available to go into.  For the next two subjects I have to present written projects, and then the last two are back to traditional wade through pile of reading followed by exam format.  The staff were very good to me, they reminded me of the teaching staff on my MSc at Manchester, and with similar standpoints on disability politics too.  It’s a shame Rio Cuarto is so far away as I’d have liked to get to know them better, especially since they’re also participating in some relatively sparky stuff with disabled people setting up workers’ cooperatives in the south of the province, which might have been fun to get involved with.   Would it even be possible in oh-so-conservative San Francisco…

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

– Paulo Freire

 

Bizarre world

My preferred search engine is Duck Duck Go, but I don’t like it when I’m looking for images so sometimes I still have to use Google.  So I was on Google image search looking for clip art for “family”.  It plays a little game of word association across the top of the page…

If you want to further refine your search, you have different options for family, cartoon, cute, mixed race etc., ending in the option “trump”.  I couldn’t figure out what that was doing there, and it didn’t have an icon to give me a clue, so I clicked on it to see, and it took me to pictures of one president (who presumably hasn’t been photographed enough for Google to have an icon in their library).  Then you can play the game again, so on the Google image page featuring Trump and his family, if you slide your gaze to the right, the (presumably negatively) associated options are “black” and “lion”…

Sadly I didn’t have time to play any more, but who knows where this might end.

Meanwhile in our own small, but sometimes equally strange corner…

Joni, expressing a true Argentinean’s confusion at the British habit of putting apple into savoury dishes (pork casserole, nothing the matter with that says the cook): “There I was enjoying a nice meal, when suddenly I came across a fruit salad…”

Danny educating me on trucks that transform into robots:  “Girls don’t like trucks”.  To which I said “But I’m a girl and I like trucks”.  “No,” he asserts confidently, “Girls like pretty things, not cool things…”

The doctor cometh

I went to get my Pap test done like a responsible woman (that´s the Smear if you´re English, Pap in the rest of the world, based on the work of one Greek doctor George Papanicolaou (1883–1962)).

The gynacologist said “How long has your neck been like that?”  So I said “like what?” And she sent me to the endocrynologist.

The endocrynologist said “Enlarged tyroid” and sent me for ultrasounding and a bunch of other tests.

The urine test showed up as having an infection, and I said “oh yes that´s happened before” so they sent me to the urologist.

The urologist sent me for more ultrasounding and a further bunch of tests and diagnosed a prolapsed bladder.  (I didn´t enjoy that second pregnancy).

He said, “it´s a minor op” and sent me for a yet another bunch of pre-op tests.

The cardiologist performed an ECG and said “this isn´t right” and hooked me up to a thing with a lot of wires that I had to wear for 24 hours.

The cardiologist said “You have a minor insufficiency, but it´s practically normal in human beings.  It doesn´t need treatment, come back in a year” and sent me back to the urologist.

Meanwhile, the endocrinologist sent me away for six months.  The bloods show that the tyroid is functioning normally.  There is a big cyst attached to the outside but there don´t appear to be any indicators that it needs operating on.

Yesterday the urologist put my bladder back in its place and attached it with barbed wire (or that´s what it feels like today anyway).

On Saturday and on Sunday they do no work at all, so it was on a Monday morning that the gas man came to call…. Flanders and Swann

The moral of the story:- Beware of the Pap….  It came back just fine by the way.

The computer programmer chronicles

8.10pm, Hazel and Martin are working together in the kitchen.

  • H: I need to go and get Joni in a couple of minutes. (He’s out at Friend’s house a couple of blocks away)
  • M: He should be here by now, I told him to be home by eight.
  • H: He’s probably forgotton, I’ll go and get him.

8.15pm, Hazel puts cake in the oven.

  • H: Right, I’m off to get Joni.

8.17pm, Hazel arrives at Friend’s house.

  • Friend’s Mother: But Joni’s not here, he left like maybe an hour ago and he said he was going home.

8.18pm, Hazel has minor fit, this is the first time Joni has ever not been where he was supposed to be, and he knows that he isn’t allowed to go anywhere else unless he comes home and checks in first.  Friend’s mother also has minor fit, she has no reason to imagine that Joni might have been going anywhere other than home.

8.20pm, Hazel goes home to make sure that Joni isn’t asleep in his bed or anywhere else that we hadn’t thought about, and to figure out who to start calling next.

8.22pm, Joni is found at home, alive and well and in the office playing computer games.

  • H (as relief turns to desire to kill someone):  Joni couldn’t you at least tell someone you were home, I went round to (Friend’s) house looking for you and when you weren’t there I didn’t know where to look for you, and now his mum is all worried about you too.  Next time can you make sure you tell someone that you’re in before you start playing computer games.
  • Joni.  But I did.  I saw Daddy.  I spoke to him and he spoke to me.  I found a cockroach in my room and the girls were both screaming and Daddy came to see what the noise was about.  He definitely knew I was home!

8.25pm, Joni and Martin despatch to Friend’s house to reassure Friend’s mother that everything is OK.  The one-way streets mean it’s five blocks to drive, but three to walk.  I have no idea why they took the car.

8.26 and a half pm, Friend’s mother arrives.  She walked so she missed Joni and Martin who were on their way to her house by car.  Hazel apologises for her inconvenience.  She’s fine, she leaves.

8.30 pm, Joni and Martin return complaining that there wasn’t anyone home at Friend’s house.  Hazel explains that this is because Friend’s parent was in our house.

9.15pm, Everyone’s finished showering and we’re sitting at the table over the evening meal.

  • Joni: Daddy I can’t believe that you didn’t remember that you’d seen me when I came in.
  • M: I know I saw you, but you didn’t tell me you were back. Next time you need to tell me that you’re back so I can tick it off on my mental check-list.

11.15pm,  Joni is going round the house repeating”I know I saw you but you didn’t tell me you were back” and bursting into peals of laughter.

When I next come up for air I’m going to start a survivors’ self-help group for computer programmers’ wives.  In the meantime I’m thinking about swopping some of the males in my life for something less high maintenance.  Possibly a rabbit.

When you go out into the world…

Electronic enemies are no fun.  When I walked away from my computer, the blog entry was three-quarters written.  Yes I should have saved it as draft, but even Microsoft Word manages to hold onto a recovery version for cases of emergency.  So I´m morosely chomping down a pot of dried fruit, and coming to terms with the fact that it matters not one jot whether this is  the fault of the computer or WordPress, since I´m never going to have the enjoyment of taking revenge on either of them.   Tis mine to avenge saith the Lord…

This week with my English students I´ve been doing discussions on giving and receiving advice, using this as a conversation starter;-

“All I really needed to know I learned in Kindergarten:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

― Robert Fulghum

Sometimes life in our house is fluffy and kindergarten.  Othertimes it´s sex, lies and videotape.  Or more likely whatsapp in this day and age.  We can´t write too much about sex, lies and whatsapp in fairness to the youth of the household.  It´s not always easy, we´re writing the script on the hoof.  So are they.

Here, on the other hand, is something of the former.  Really it´s for Granny.  Danny´s new best friend is a little mare called Flor (Spanish for flower) who arrived at the riding school a couple of weeks ago.  We are grateful we live in Argentina, because there´s no way we could afford for him to do this in England.

When he was last out of school the other day I went along to his classroom to see what was keeping him, and found him galloping around the furniture showing his teacher the things he´s learning at riding school.

Human plants

  • Danny: I don´t want to pick up my room
  • Hazel: Danny I don´t care whether you want to do it or not
  • Danny:  But you should care.  Go on, try and care…

Getting back into routine this week has been a something of a challenge after two weeks of not getting up as 6.15 in the morning.  The fact that it doesn´t get light until nearly 8 doesn´t exactly help either.  But everyone´s gone back into school fine, and tomorrow´s Friday.

Martin downloaded an app for identifying photos of plants on his mobile phone, so obviously the first thing we did was to run through some mugshots of the family;-

Joni came out as a wandering Jew, which might explain his inability to sit on a chair for two minutes without rocking.

Danny is apparently a Darjeeling banana, we have often called him a banana so I guess it´s now scientifically proven.

And Martin and I were both identified as tropicana roses.  The roses between the thorns.  Or maybe just lined from age and weather.

A dog makes a house a home

Without a dog, you’d never have anyone demonstrate how important it is to stop every day and smell the roses… and then lift your leg on them.
                                                                               W. Bruce Cameron

We sadly had to say goodbye to our dog Cami a couple of weeks ago.  She was 14 which was a good age for a street mutt, especially one who got into as many scrapes as she did.

I said we’d get a new dog, but I wasn’t in a big hurry.  But the kids were, and on Monday afternoon I arrived home to find that Boyfriend (Teen´s) had adopted on our behalf a rescue pup from the “protectora de animales”  (local pound).   In this land where scratching one´s nose in public normally requires twenty pieces of paper completed in triplicate and counter-signed by a notary, there appear to be remarkably few checks as to who can adopt a dog or where they might be taking it.   By the time I got home, it was installed, named, fed, was playing with the kids on the patio, and had very clearly moved in.  Had I had a say, we might have chosen something slightly older and better house trained.  Other than that, she´s pretty much what we could have gone for.

Approximately three months old, going by the name of Lula,     breed indeterminate MBM (medium brown mutt), short haired (hooray), plays nicely with the kids apart from the needle sharp puppy teeth, sleeps at night after the initial protests at being abandoned, and generally appears healthy and well adapted. 

It isn´t always apparent that she isn´t actually allowed on the sofa…

A few things that happened since I last blogged

We held a Scout locro making (traditional stew) weekend fundraiser, which generated sufficient cash from which we can pay our subscription to remain afiliated to (and more importantly, insured by) the Scout association in Argentina.  Boring but essential.

Danny´s celebrated his 7th birthday and we organised a party at home for his friends.

Hazel got into a protracted situation with the tax office whereby they froze my account. In other cultures this might be considered a counterproductive move on their part since I had to go and beg to be allowed to pay them.  In an unrelated incident it transpires that from now on all payments have to be made electronically.  Unfortunately, while my UK visa card works everywhere including the wee butcher over the road from our house, apparently the tax office isn´t yet so technologically advanced.  So now I have to go and open, and pay for every month because they aren´t free here, an Argentinean bank account for absolutely no purpose other than to pay the tax office.  Apparently this comes under the heading of improving customer convenience. Government institutions the world over…

We held our first Scout weekend camp of the year in the local site of El Matrero.  It was cold and sunny and everyone had a good time.

Hazel preached a couple of times.  Martin preached a couple of times too, but he´s more of a professional than I am, so I make more fuss about preparing.  Last Sunday´s was quite sweet I thought.  The feedback suggested people were listening too, always encouraging.

And Martin got back on a horse for the first time in many years.