Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Petunia is back in Paradise

Hello everyone, there's been a bit of a lapse since the last posting, but never fear, Petunia is back in Paradise. I have spent lots of time on planes and in airports during the past month, and instead of doing something productive, for my own amusement I decided to tally up the number of countries I've visited each year over the past few years. Had to consult the passport for a few of them. So here's the list, not including the US:
2003: 7
2004: 9
2005: 6
2006: 6
2007: 5
and for this year, 2008, I've been to 4 so far, and it's only been 1 month!!! Don't even start asking how many hours I've spent traveling.

It's strange, Juba actually feels like home now - I felt like I was coming back to my life. Actually having someone to come back to also helps, but I missed my friends, my clothes (was wearing my Mom's clothes for most of my vacation), and the now-familiar sights and sounds. There's also a ton of work to be done, and thankfully I have the energy to push out a lot of the planning necessary for the beginning of the year's activities, of which there are millions.

Juba is no longer the "lush" and "green" place I described in my first post. The dry season has arrived in all its dusty glory and everything is covered with a fine coat of reddish silt. To examine the contents of this substance is not something I'm prepared to do, as it's probably a nasty mixture of dirt, maram, sand, sediment from burning garbage, ash from burning the grasses by the side of the road, and a good measure of feces that I will have to pretend I'm not breathing in for the next few months until the rainy season returns (May? June? we'll see). To drive around Juba is like driving through a dust storm, and it gets particularly tricky at night when it's like driving through fog there's so much dust in the air. Luckily, the tarmac road which connects the ministries is halfway done. So the MPs can race around and everyone in town who doesn't actually know how to drive or deal with vehicles moving faster than 30 kph just gets into accidents. Joy. Maybe someone should look into installing speed bumps...

Much love and here's to a happy AND HEALTHY 2008!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Race vs. Gender in US Politics

This Op-Ed column in the New York Times today by Gloria Steinem is particularly poignant and good for deepening the healthy debate going on in the US right now about gender and race. At least someone in the media finally said it.
Also, I want to state for the record that I haven't made up my mind about the Democratic Party candidates. However, since I'm registered to vote in New York as independent, I can't vote in the primaries. Which bothers me this time around, but at this point it's too late and I would have to vote absentee anyway.
January 8, 2008
New York Times
Op-Ed Contributor
Women Are Never Front-Runners
THE woman in question became a lawyer after some years as a community organizer, married a corporate lawyer and is the mother of two little girls, ages 9 and 6. Herself the daughter of a white American mother and a black African father — in this race-conscious country, she is considered black — she served as a state legislator for eight years, and became an inspirational voice for national unity. Be honest: Do you think this is the biography of someone who could be elected to the United States Senate? After less than one term there, do you believe she could be a viable candidate to head the most powerful nation on earth? If you answered no to either question, you're not alone. Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. This country is way down the list of countries electing women and, according to one study, it polarizes gender roles more than the average democracy. That's why the Iowa primary was following our historical pattern of making change. Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter). If the lawyer described above had been just as charismatic but named, say, Achola Obama instead of Barack Obama, her goose would have been cooked long ago. Indeed, neither she nor Hillary Clinton could have used Mr. Obama's public style — or Bill Clinton's either — without being considered too emotional by Washington pundits. So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects "only" the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more "masculine" for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren't too many of them); and because there is still no "right" way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what. I'm not advocating a competition for who has it toughest. The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together. That's why Senators Clinton and Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed when united and were damaged by division; we should remember that. I'm supporting Senator Clinton because like Senator Obama she has community organizing experience, but she also has more years in the Senate, an unprecedented eight years of on-the-job training in the White House, no masculinity to prove, the potential to tap a huge reservoir of this country's talent by her example, and now even the courage to break the no-tears rule. I'm not opposing Mr. Obama; if he's the nominee, I'll volunteer. Indeed, if you look at votes during their two-year overlap in the Senate, they were the same more than 90 percent of the time. Besides, to clean up the mess left by President Bush, we may need two terms of President Clinton and two of President Obama. But what worries me is that he is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex. What worries me is that she is accused of "playing the gender card" when citing the old boys' club, while he is seen as unifying by citing civil rights confrontations. What worries me is that male Iowa voters were seen as gender-free when supporting their own, while female voters were seen as biased if they did and disloyal if they didn't. What worries me is that reporters ignore Mr. Obama's dependence on the old — for instance, the frequent campaign comparisons to John F. Kennedy, though Senator Edward Kennedy is supporting Senator Clinton — while not challenging the slander that her progressive policies are part of the Washington status quo. What worries me is that some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system; thus Iowa women over 50 and 60, who disproportionately supported Senator Clinton, proved once again that women are the one group that grows more radical with age. This country can no longer afford to choose our leaders from a talent pool limited by sex, race, money, powerful fathers and paper degrees. It's time to take equal pride in breaking all the barriers. We have to be able to say: "I'm supporting her because she'll be a great president and because she's a woman." Gloria Steinem is a co-founder of the Women's Media Center.