What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

night and day.

So today was a very interesting day in a lot of ways again, as have the last couple been.  I've been working non-stop now that I'm nannying and have some really exciting projects I'm getting into.  Yesterday was the epitome.  Nannying all day and then getting in the door and to work.  Dealing with everything from early child development, to rape in the military, to a piece I wrote for the metroOccupied newspaper, to Women in Sierra Leone, to Sustaining Occupy's future, etc.  So much to do and getting pretty tired.  Haven't been able to run at all really, but I guess walking everywhere with the little'n counts for something.  Not to mention that it was sweltering hot today.

Anyway, so there are two things of interest today:  One, I taught the little'n a new word it seems.  So on my phone I have pictures of a baby duck and chicken that were incubated here and were living in the bathtub.  She asks to see them almost every time I take out my phone.  Now of course in between the two sets of pictures I have of them are a bunch of pictures protesting in times square and against police violence in the Bronx.  She asked "what is that" when I first showed them to her and had to cycle through the protesting pics.  "oh, that's protesting".  She never really said anything, but each time would just say, "protesting" as we went from one set of duck and chick to the next.  Until today!  We were getting ready to go out and she says: "aren't we going to protesting?" I laugh of course and she then proceeds to say it over and over and over again every time we get ready to leave the house!!  I couldn't stop laughing!!  Best thing though... I told mom, and mom is all for it!!  sweet!!

Of course the second juxtaposition today was running from my nannying gig to an event in a home with a picture of the owner shaking hands with Obama at some swanky soiree with more fancy cheeses than I could eat in a week - and I can eat a lot!  It was a book launch that involved a legal organization that I am now close to a few people at.  I mean, it was the type of day that throws the contradictions in your life in so many directions.  On the subway ride I'm working on women's education in Sierra Leone, then I'm in Bed-Stuy as a white male nanny looking after a small white girl in a predominantly black neighborhood.  I of course have just broken back above the two digit dollar amount for cash on hand and am completely broke.  Yet, then there I am standing next to people that stand next to the president, in a building that looks like it, and with cheese that smells like it.

To go from such poverty and segregation, to such prosperity and privilege in a matter of a few minutes is so odd.  I mean, who am I when I'm in Bed-Stuy?  And then who am I when I'm in that room.  I'm both poor and I'm rich.  I will never be able to fit in.  In my mind and my upbringing I am always privileged, and it has nothing to do with money and such, it is about where I grew up, who I am, and the color of my skin.  I am a white suburban guy that expects to be listened to, and is used to being heard.  I go to African-American neighborhoods, I pledge in an African-American fraternity, I even if I have no money at all, I am still privileged without wanting to know it.  And this is right, and I can FEEL it.  I always believe.  This is the one thing that I don't feel from many people I talk to in marginalized communities, they don't believe, they don't trust in the future.  I don't mean this to beat them down, but they have been shit on for years and don't necessarily believe that is going to change for the most part - they hope maybe, but to believe in your core is different.  In my soul I know I'll be ok.  I believe I will make a difference in the world, I believe that I will find a way through, that I will make it work.  I am educated, I am experienced, I have talents, I will be fine.  The way I grew up gave me this belief.  So many others didn't have this luxury.  They are intelligent, experienced, have talents, but they get stopped and frisked every day, they passed over for jobs, end up in substandard schools, and are more readily institutionally pushed into jails and homes.  I felt this conflict today as I switched back and forth between my lives.       

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Educating Women and Girls in Sierra Leone.

So today was Africa day.  Earlier this week Yapo sent me a whole bunch of info on a possible funding stream through the UK government that he wants to apply for.  It's a stretch at best.  All of a sudden we are going to switch gears and apply for funding for a girls/women's education program.  We have till June 8th to get in a concept proposal.  Now believe me, I am ALL for this type of work.  It was something always in the back of my head while I was there.  Both education and gender issues are very important to me.  But as I was there talking to people and assessing the root causes of many issues I was hearing about, it all seemed to come back to income and capacity to sustain one's self and family first.

Education is free through sixth grade and then following that everyone must pay for middle school and high school tuition if they attend. Yet still there are many children that may have to drop out even of primary school, or work before and after, just to help their families stay afloat.  Seven and eight year olds working dawn till dusk and then trying to do homework with no electricity.  12 and 15 year old kids working before and after school to be able just to go to middle school and high school because their families can't afford it.   

It is a huge problem with roots that go far deeper than pedagogy, curriculum, or a teacher; its systemic and courses through the whole of society.  So no matter how important education is to me to, getting girls to school is far more complex.  Both the national and local economy has to provide economic opportunities allowing households enough to be able to have extra money to send kids to school with.  This is of course a simplified picture of the country's issues.  Woman are far more likely not to be in school as early pregnancy, stereotypes, cultural issues, and trafficking issues all play in in very different ways than with boys.  On the whole Sierra Leone is a long way away from sorting out this issue (nevermind us in two weeks) as getting these kids in school is SO much bigger than one or two development programs. 

Not only that, but our focus has been on hybrid styled non-profit revenue generating business models that give back to the community and local populace through jobs and public works.  Education is a change of gears and thinking for us.  One I'd like to do, but am not sure I can get my head around in two weeks that quickly.  (help is always greatly appreciated!).  As it is though, I've got time to think about it and plenty of time with a young impressionable little lady to brainstorm with! 

Of course on a side note we also have to be able to qualify for the funding stream.  That is where a good deal of my attention went today.  I know that on US government funded projects the principle organization should have three years of solid revenue, which we do not.  So if the UK is similar, we may not even be eligible unless we apply through another organization.  Which we then have to find and convince to do this in two weeks.  Sigh....  So yeah, what all this Africa work really needs is a concerted, undistracted effort at picking a project, designing it, and making it happen.  We are a ways away from there right now.  Like another entire person (yes, please join!).  But, no matter, I just want so badly to make something work.  It has been too long in the works.  A plan and funding is all we need.  It has to happen. 


So here I am, an economic minded anthropological historian type with sociologist tendencies and political interests. Degree-ed up, experienced up, and now nannyed up!!  I kind of dig it though!  Not bad.  I mean the last few days I have been inundated into a world of domestic servitude, illegal immigrants, black economics, and underemployability.  I am of course not the typical nanny.  I am a white male legally capable of working here.  And while it may be easy to find one or two of those characteristics in a nanny, all three is tough!  People immediately assume I'm the father.  Which makes it tough to get into the nanny gossip at the playground, but I'm working my way in!  It's truly interesting.  Hearing how the whole game works, how different families are, and how far money goes in our world is always incredible.

Here we are living in the "great" United States of America, where - as is being reinforced - the disparity amongst us all economically starts at such a young age with childcare!  When I was living in the Czech Republic they had three years of paid maternity/paternity leave.  The pay itself decreased each year, but still the state paid for people to take the time to raise their children.  When the time was up (and you could go back early) you got a similar level job with your same company.  Here in the US you get six weeks unpaid time and then it's straight back to work and to be made to feel bad about it.

What do you do with the children though once you are back to work?  Well, if you have the cash you hire a nanny.  If you don't have that much you send them to daycare, but, if like most of us you can't do much more than pay your bills and eat, you're pretty much screwed.  Or I should say, your children are pretty much screwed.  If you want to raise them yourself you can't work.  If you need to work to eat and don't get any state support to take care of your kids, to bad.  You are forced to make decisions between putting food on the kid's tables or raising them yourself.  Which I think is a bit hypocritical given so much rhetoric about the importance of the nuclear family. 

The bottom line is that it did not always used to be like this.  My grandfather (and much of his generation) raised a family on a single income with a stay at home mom.  This is not longer possible for current generations.  He was able to earn a solid middle class wage, own a home, go on vacations, and support a wife and three kids.  I think of myself and my generation now and wonder how we could ever do that.  We have a trillion dollars in student debt, and if we can even get a decent job, real wages haven't gone up since the 1970's.  If I want to own a home in the new york metropolitan area my combined household income needs to be at least 100,000 dollars for just small apartments in outer boroughs or shacks in deepest darkest suburbia.  Add in existing debts such as the student one, the burgeoning credit card issues so many have as they try to tie up loose ends.  Couple this with the continuing innovation and addition of goods such as TV's and computers needed for daily existence (just to find jobs and stay informed on a level playing field), and you've got this massive consumerist and competitive culture that just has us all just trying keep up with.  We can no longer raise a family on a single income, and are in fact struggling to manage it with two.

So if that's the case, who looks after our kids when we are off at work?  I remember when they called us latch key kids when I was growing up.  Kids who had keys to the home so they could let themselves in when they got home from school.  But this isn't what I'm referring to at all.  We're talking about the first three or so years of life as babies and toddlers before there's any school to go to.  When we learn to eat, crawl, walk, play, talk, and think coherently amongst a host of other things.  Bottom line is that this is the gaping hole in our child development/care system in the US, and it is the most vulnerable time in a child's life.

In many European countries they have ways to try to allow mothers and fathers to be able to be active parts of this development every day and all day.  Here so many people aren't and in my opinion, the child and society suffer the most.  As one nanny said today, "in my country (from northern europe) we don't have any problems with bullying.  Here, in my kickboxing and grappling gym, we've got kids from 5 years and up coming in to learn to be able to stand up to bullys." Our society in America has a huge problem with this. She speculated as to why (she's been here 6 years, studying and nannying), claiming she though it was because these kids weren't actually being cared for, weren't being given attention and consistent familial attention. This of course is a long standing view of mine as well.

Capitalism, while it pretty much commodifies everything, does not create a market or allow for a financial value to be put on personal domestic care and housework within our own families. Yes of course, you can pay someone else to care for your kids. But not get paid to care for your own kids.  It was stated on several occasions today that almost all nanny's end up putting their kids in day care so they can care for other people's kids. There is something inherently wrong about that. No one gets to be raised by their own parents unless they are so wealthy as to not have to work.  But even then, there is an entirely different category of people with so much money they just can't be bothered.  They hire a nanny even though they don't work!  It was this demographic that the one nanny was so worried about.  The kids that lack any disciplining or sense of value.  She sighted one incredibly rich family in Manhattan she'd worked for that had one child that was so out of control he had thrown a rock at the nanny's face, shattering the eye socket (without remorse or punishment).  The same child had also apparently thrown his aunts dog in a pool, and when told that he couldn't do that because it couldn't swim and would drown, that he then went back later at night when no one was around and did it again - killing the dog.  His punishment?  He had to say he was sorry to his Aunt.  Nothing more.

She continued to discuss this as a pattern.  The raising of children with little coherent or consistent disciplinary structure as a huge root of many issues.  That when these kids break things there is no sense of lose, or repercussions, for they are simply replaced without a learning or value lesson being imposed at all. 

The fact is, that we have transformed our society's child raising ways over the last several decades into one that is not beneficial to either children or our societies.  Parents and children detaching from each other at six weeks.  Day care and nannying, where caregivers turn over monthly if not weekly.  And this is of course only for those who can afford it.  Otherwise, its grandparents, friends, neighbors, parents who forgo work and income, or who knows what to look after children.  This of course opens a while different pot of familial and marital struggles over family dynamics, finances, etc. 

It seems like such a simple concept to me.  Take care of your children: schooling, housing and food, love and discipline, whatever.  But that is not what our society here does.  We leave everyone to their own accord, while still forcing everyone collectively to deal with the consequences.  Children not raised with care and concerted concern can easily become burdens upon all of society if, or as, they lash out.

I am only two days into it.  But just seeing the market for the industry and how it seems to work on so many different levels, it reaffirms my worries about this country.  Take care of your young, poor, and sick and you will maintain a civilized society capable of great things.  We used to be able to do this to some extent a couple generations ago.  And while our methods haven't changed, our surroundings and economics has.  We haven't changed with it and we're getting further into trouble.