Tag Archives: cultures

What I miss most about Britain

or… how America turned me into an activist.


I am often asked what I miss most about Britain, and have been since I first landed in the good old US of A. I knew I missed something big, but I could not put my finger on it. So, I often answered very flippantly: ‘Marmite‘,

or ‘Ribena

or, perhaps if I was talking to someone older and wiser: ‘my friends and family’.

I do of course miss those. Especially my friends and family, but that never quite summed up the ache in my heart. I wondered if it was bigger: public transport?

Again, I do miss that, but the answer isn’t satisfactory. Again, while I applaud and support the development of a wider public transport system I can be happy without it. There is something I find it difficult to be happy and content without, and that I have yet to find here in America:

Being trusted, protected and respected. And because of that, we are to some extent: humble.

Hmmm… let me elaborate with some examples:

In the UK, believe it or not, people do have a fairly strong personal moral codes, that encompass all the current political ‘hot topics’ from abortion, to homosexuality, to healthcare, to contraception. But that is the key: they are personal moral codes. That is: yes, contraception is as easy to get as candy – for everyone. The young, straight, gay, unmarried, old, married, male, female, rich, poor and all alike. That isn’t to say that everyone is encouraged to be ‘at it’ all the time: some people are indeed so, and some people are not. We are trusted to make my own decisions about our sexual relationships, and protected as much as possible from any consequences.

My personal story is that I decided sex before marriage was not the course for me. Then I decided to have sex before marriage, then I later changed my mind and stopped, after deciding through personal conversations with God, that it hadn’t been the best choice for me, and as my husband put it, He had ‘kicked my tail’ for it :). In England was respected for all these decisions (even though at very step of the way someone didn’t agree with them), and I was protected from any consequences. By the law, and by society (including by my parents). People are humble enough to accept that they do not know the right answer for individuals, or for society, or certainly for God, and so individuals are given all the tools they can be provided with make their own decisions, with minimal negative consequences.

I findthe moralizing and judging that goes on in America very difficult. When I expressed the view that contraception should be freely available to all, one outraged response was “Why should *I* pay for *you* to have sex??” – the implication being that sex before marriage (or sex at all – who knows) was not this person’s choice, so why should they financially support my choice if it was different? Because, here is the thing: we all make choices, and we all make choices that others disagree with and have to pay for. Whether it is the food we eat, the dangerous sports we play, the people we sleep with, the lack of exercise we undertake, the lack of sleep we get, the speed of our car, the stress of our job, our plans to travel, our decision to be married (or not): all of these are decisions that likely will affect our health and in the UK there is no moral judgement about which choices you make. Again, you are trusted to make your own decisions, and protected from them. I was so saddened today to read of doctors in America turning away patients over 200lbs: how can that be acceptable? How can you judge that you won’t help these people, but those with stressful jobs you will? Were any ‘decisions’ really made?? And if they were, who made the worse decisions? And can’t we be humble in recognizing our own mistakes and helping protect people from theirs?

This is how I arrived at my stance on abortion. Yes, personally I think it is wrong. I am: anti-abortion. But, I would never take away someone’s right to make that decision themselves: I am pro-choice. And I would never judge someone who had suffered through an abortion. Were you a friend who came t me in need, I would support, and respect you and care for you. I am anti-abortion for me. I am pro-choice for everyone. When does life ‘start’ – how should I know? How should anyone, except God, know? If you don’t believe in God then look to Scientists, or feelings, or some other deities. Either way: there is no answer. Be humble enough to know that you do not know, and trust yourself to follow your own moral / personal code, and respect other people enough to decide theirs.

I guess I miss this trust, respect, protection and humility and how it reflects on my faith as well. To me: faith is very personal decision. The cornerstone of my Christianity is a deeply personal relationship with God. I don’t think I have got it ‘right’ (other than that I love Him above all others, and am forever grateful He sent His only Son to die for my sins), but I don’t like (1) being told how to live my faith and life and (2) being judged and punished by anyone but God when it doesn’t conform to their perceptions of what my faith / life should be. My reading of the Bible is that it is outside the law: so the law should extend complete equality and a basic code of rights to all law abiding citizens, and one’s relationship to God is what decides how you choose live within that. Isn’t that ultimate freedom?

You know – I don’t agree that God asks for no contraception and no masturbation. But, I respect that some Christians do, and I will protect their right to execute these choices. I am humble enough to think: maybe they are right, but I trust myself to be guided in my own moral code (it of course, doesn’t have to be a religious code). I also *do* personally think that God asks us not to look at pornographic images, but I acknowledge I could be wrong, and respect people who do such, and certainly am humble enough NOT to judge them. Hence, much as I don’t really like the porn industry, I would not seek to punish people for accessing it. I might seek to educate and protect but as maybe I am wrong, and pornography is the healthiest thing for mankind: I would not deny others access.

I guess a good exemplary of this, is how the UK taught me about the whole creationism / evolution debate. We learned about evolution in Science. We learned about the support for evolution, and we learned about the phenomena evolution perhaps could not explain, and the criticisms leveled at evolution science. We were told that evolution was studied in Science because it was a Scientifically testable theory, but the completing theory was not, and so the alternative was mentioned in Science, but we would learn about that in Religion. Almost simultaneously, in Religious Studies, we were were taught about creationism and the arguments for / against, including again, the criticisms  leveled at evolution. (We were also taught some non-Christian but religious creation arguments). We were supplied with the facts, told that no one knows the answer, and trusted to make up our own mind. My ‘mind’ and opinion evolved (pardon the pun) over time, but it never caused me much distress. When we covered this topic in Bible group we listened to people defend and criticize the Biblical view of creation, and to people try to synthesize the two. All views were respected as potentially correct.

And through all this, I have friends who have made utterly different decisions to me: health wise, sex wise, religion wise. I love and respect them all: I don’t think either one of us is ‘better’ than the other. I do think those who do not believe that Jesus died for our sins are not going to heaven – and while this is sad, this does make me think I am better person, or that I have any right to tell them how to live their life (incidentally, much as they love me, many of them think I am gullible at best and a crazy ‘magical thinker’ at worst 🙂 ). We just all live our lives, respecting each other’s choices, and trying to protect our loved ones from any potential consequences of their decisions.

The upshot of this is that Christians are not really hated in England. I was shocked when people in America seemed to get angry or passionately against Christians. How can you be so against peaceful (now… history is a bit different, tiz true) people, who are told to – above all else – love each other. Then I totally saw why: some Christians are trying to force a life on people, based on a belief system these people don’t have! Good grief! I would hate Catholics if they took my contraception away! I would equally have hated atheists if they had insisted I had sex before marriage (returned to. Ahem.). And, I think some Christians are trying to impinge on my personal relationship to God, by telling me how to live out that relationship, when the only voice I want to hear about that comes from God Himself. Not saying I will get it right… but I have no reason to think you will do a better job, either.

A more succinct summary of my views.

So, that is what I miss in the UK. I miss freedom to practice my faith in my way. I miss respect for my religious choices. I miss respect for my non religious choices. I miss a law system in which I am afforded equality and power and protection from the consequences of choices – be they mistakes or not – and a society that trusts me to make my own decisions within that.

I think my most passionate wish at the moment is that my child be bought up to respect and trust other people’s decisions, and to never judge law-abiding others as ‘wrong’, or deny them equality for these decisions. And to feel free to make his own decisions about his life, and his body and his views as he feels is right for him.

Image credits:

http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/gb.html

http://nannyknowsbest.blogspot.com/2011/05/dangers-of-marmite.html

http://offriendsfoodandfun.blogspot.com/2010/08/homemade-snake-bite-d.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-decker_bus

Happy 4th July!!

Time to appease the American right and wish y’all a happy American Independence Day! Some people are thoughtful and ask if I ‘mind’ being invited to a July 4th party. Not at all! To be honest, America is such a powerful nation, which Brits think of as quite advanced, that the English can quite easily forget the fact that America was ever a colony of England. Plus, our attitude towards the colonial past is generally one of awkwardness and embarrassment, and the modern take on our overseas territories is “take a vote… if you want independence… it is yours!” so there is no worries about those who defeated us in the past and separated off, as we tend to think “Yeah.. probably shouldn’t have fought that anyway…”. BNP withstanding. Plus, ya know, aside of worrying about their poor human rights record, it did Britain pretty well that America gained freedom; German doesn’t suit us 😉

Terrible pre-4th July decision to cut my own bangs 😦

That being said: I have not celebrated July 4th before. It is the day before my birthday; on my first year in the US I went camping for a long weekend, for said birthday, and forgot about it. For my second year, I was deep in grant writing mode – trying to catch up from the wedding – and similarly forgot (I think I only realised when I rocked up to an empty office). For this, my third, year I am a PERMANENT RESIDENT (which is about as close to a citizen as I will ever chose to get myself) and I was going to celebrate. We didn’t have any invites in Houston (sob) so no parties… so I insisted on a parade. Wes was wary about the quality of a small-town parade, but I explained that we don’t really have parades at all in England, so it would all be new an exciting to me.

Fire trucks!

Apparently I got the true experience: the mayor in a posh car, marching bands, annoyed looking children failing to complete some focused activity adequately enough for the parents (this time: skipping), mediocre fire trucks, stacks of cars of varying interest (CHECK OUT THE LINE OF DELOREANS IN THE GALLERY), political parties handing out propaganda and some poorly decorated floats. Oh! And stacks and stacks of candy which parade participants lob at the crowd. I think this is the main point of parades actually… so much candy.

The main problem was that the candy and beads were mostly aimed at children… and I didn’t have a child (apparently it is bad form to knock children out of the way for candy). Next year my pretty…. next year.

Oh, but next year I want to be IN the parade. I am serious. It is a new goal. And I also want to wave a Union Jack for a joke… but Texans have too many guns 😦

Tonight: Fireworks. Whoop!
Tomorrow: My last birthday without a stinkin’ child getting all the limelight: double whoop!

A trio of thanksgivings, a triad of pies and a trillion things to be grateful for

Pies for Thanksgiving

The festive season is here, its advent marked by Thanksgiving. A full holiday in the US, and much more like a UK-Christmas than Christmas. I am feeling full, blessed and nostalgic, which I think is the point of this time of year and marks the end of a psychological evolution in me, which I  can illustrate through my three thanksgivings. It also marks the start of my love for pie (the psychological and pie developments may be interlinked), and I share 2 recipes and 1 drool-worthy picture below. Finally, I do as I am supposed to, and muse on what (or whom) I am grateful for in my life today.

So, 2 years and 2 months ago (give or take) I arrived in the US as somewhat of a mess. 6 months previously I had been all lined up to complete a postdoc with a wonderful woman at Oxford University. Then I dated a Yank (actually, a Brit transplanted to Yank-dom some 25 years previously) and got a job offer at Yale. Then David Allison, in the space of a single phone-call, convinced me to chuck that in to come to UAB. What can I say? He was charismatic. And I am extremely impulsive. Said boyfriend-of-questionable-Yankdom hit the roof and said: it’s him or me (it’s OK, he doesn’t read this blog). I now kind of understand his reasons, which I will not share out of respect. But back then – I didn’t, so I didn’t believe the Yank-wannabe, so I just blithely signed the documents for UAB and sported their sweatshirt for the remainder of my PhD. Which, strangely enough, I am wearing as  I type now. But I digress from my digression. Mr Failed-Brit was deeply unimpressed. To the extent that he started cheating on me, fairly obviously, which I did not admit to anyone else, except myself. Occasionally. (But everyone knew anyway).

This lead to a rockstar FIT about 3 weeks before departure in which I announced there was NO WAY I was going to UAB, and this Allison-bloke (of whom I had miraculously never heard) and this nice Arnett-woman (who had offered to mentor me) could stick their data and their postdoc where the sun don’t shine (which is a difficult place to find, indeed, in Alabama). My ex-officemate  heard the howls from literally across the office hallway and talked some sense into me, with a cunning mixture of humour, and gentle pressing on my academic ambition. So, I boarded the plane, bawled my eyes out within 20 minutes of being seated, explained the situation to the hostess and got a swanky upgrade to Business Class.

Nice upgrade not withstanding I arrived in AL not entirely sure I wanted to be here. Heck – I didn’t. By the time thanksgiving rolled around, said not-quite-a-Brit-not-quite-a-Yank had moved in with another woman, still come and visited me (I don’t think that woman knew), been dumped by me, got together with said woman officially while texting / emailing me how we were meant to be, and 1 day before told me that I had harmed his children’s mental health by dumping him, and I could make it better by taking him back (while he was with the woman? That bit I never figured out). Luckily my best friend of much ferocity and protectiveness, Clio, was out for thanksgiving and banned  me from Skype and the telephone. She also set me up with an awesome thanksgiving and I will ALWAYS love her for picking me up and keeping me going.

Mess with my friend, and you'll feel the rough end of this Starbucks, alright?

But, thanksgiving number 1 was marked by a distinct decision to be as British as possible. To cook things in the British way, with another Brit, and experience thanksgiving as a transient piece of fun that wasn’t going to be part of my life anymore.

Thanksgiving no 1

I stayed another year. I got to have thanksgiving part 2. This was spent at the Chinese Buffet, with my boyfriend, and then driving to Tuscaloosa for a very messy night. It was great, but I call it ‘The Lost Thanksgiving’. I had no idea where my future was, and I was scared.

Thanksgiving no 2 did give rise to the best photo ever, however

This year, times have changed. I got married. I fell in love with UAB. I fell in love with the American academic system and how it pushes and challenges you. The opportunities that are here. While I will always love genetic psychiatry, and I hope it will have a place in my research future, I also love lipoproteins and insulin resistance and specifically gene-nutrient interactions (both with genes mediating dietary influences, and diets mediating gene expression). My postdoc mentors taught me about integrity and thus I learned to trust myself and my decisions. I prayed a lot. I didn’t so much accept that I might stay here, but actively pursued doing so, and looked forward to it. I embraced that America, and American traditions will be a big part of my life.

My previous opinion on pie. Note the inverse correlation between my disgust for pie, and my BMI

That is not to say that this has not happened without hardship. I have faced that so much of who I am, and my culture, and my heritage is recessing into the past. It is just not going to be a part of me. Yes, I can occasionally cook British food but it is just that: occasional. An event. I have lost the British way of celebrating Christmas… I don’t dress as I do in London (quite frankly, sick of the back handed comments, or of plotting my route to my desk to avoid them)… it has made it especially hard to lose my name upon getting married. Husband said he ‘didn’t mind at all’ what name I used, so I hyphenated. I was upset to find out he won’t take on the hyphenated name (as is fairly common in Europe) and sick to my stomach to find he expects the children to have his name.  So, not only am I going to be removed from my heritage a lot, but removed from my children too! It never occurred to me it would be a problem – but he just says ‘you came here… you take on American ways’ (AL-ians do often conform to the stereotype of not exactly embracing women’s lib), but it is so hard to do it all the time and lose more and more of myself. I already knew that I would raise my children the US way (it’s not like I am going to make them stand out) – even though so many things just don’t seem right to me…

Anyway, I had a very American thanksgiving and it marked my joyful willingness to embrace many aspects of this culture as part of my own. And it was very wonderful. I spent time with very close friends / pseudo family and felt safe, loved and grateful. I am honored to have been part of such a happy occasion, and will always be grateful to my hosts for making me feel so included for one of the first times since I arrived here. Which is all anyone can ask for, right? That and pie.

The boy bakes a mean pie

This year, I embraced the quintessentially American PIE (not crumble… or tart…. or pastry but PIE). And not mince pies neither. With help (and ensuing hilarity) from the hubby, we made pear pie, and plum-frangipani pie (OK, the last one was not very American as every American I know (with the exception of Stella) shocked my multi-cultural foodie soul by saying ‘what is frangipani?’ over and over again).

Frangipani! Yum!

Here is where I got the recipe:

http://www.passionateaboutbaking.com/2011/07/baking-vanilla-almond-frangipane-plum-tart-the-last-of-the-plums-well-almost.html

Even if you don’t make the pie, check out this blog for some of the most gorgeous food-porn photography. Passionate about baking: I am your slave. It was good – I would have sweetened the base slightly, with Demerara sugar, as that part was quite bland. But otherwise the tartish plums worked well with the sweet (but not overly so)  frangipani. With the addition of some homemade leaves:

Leaves. Not 'eyes' (Wesley) or 'sausages' (Hemant) but autumnal leaves. Got it?

it also looked pretty stunning.

Imagine the leaves on this, and it glazed with melted apricot jam. Drool.

Then came the pear pie. This was easy peasy.

Ingredients

1 Pilsbury pastry case

6 firm slightly underripe pears

1.5 tsp cinnamon

.5 tsp all spice

1/2 cup white sugar

3 tbsp lemon juice

Basically: Line pie tin with crust

Get husband to peel and slice pears. Toss pears in other ingredients. Layer in pie crust and bake. Devour

Don't you just want to sink your teeth in?

And then, Stella brought over a pie for the college football! She made an Amish funeral pie, and it was my p0st-workout carb up with a large dollop of fat-free Greek Yogurt. And it was delicious. Think sweet raisins, with a tart filling, and then an addictive bite with the nuts.

Amish funeral pie

Amish funeral pie a la Stella

So what am I grateful for? I am grateful for many, many things. But, mostly for people. For Wes, who is kind and caring and good at teaching me what true selflessness is. Who is a steadfast and loyal husband, and full of many jokes. Who loves me, and professes his love, through my best and worst. Who counter balances my impulsive ‘let’s do it’ with a considered ‘let’s plan for it’. For Matthew who far more often than me, stands up for what he believes in, and remains true to his values. For Clio, who is going through the worst time, but displays awe-inspiring strength and is still the girl I have the most fun with (and is really my one-true love). For Stella, who not only bakes great pies, but has given me my drive and ambition back, and shown me that it is OK to stand up and go ‘no… I have thought about it, and decided to do it MY way. And if you don’t like that, that’s OK, but I respectfully disagree’. And who also taught me to set goals and strive for them, and be pleased when I reach them, but not lose my sense of self worth if I don’t smash every one. For Donna and David who have been supportive, kind and caring mentors through a tough transition. Who have helped me exceed any expectations I had for my postdoc, and who remain unbelievably dedicated to my future happiness. For David who challenges all my preconceptions of myself, and Donna who stands behind me while I smash them. To all of David’s family who genuinely treat me as one of their own, when the very worst thing to me is that mine are so far away. For my (old) family who are very brave and supportive about me being so far away and for my (new) family who are so welcoming (I got called Auntie Lekki – woo-hoo). And for Walter, Dinah and Bobby. Who keep me warm at night (occasionally because they have peed on the bedsheets, but mostly because they are snuggle bunnies). And that names just a few.

Right! That’s thanksgiving  done. Onto Christmas (the VERY BEST holiday of all).

Check it out - a homemade advent calendar. More Christmas crafts to come.

A few thoughts on the new immigration law….

It is a sad day for me. There are so many things I love about Alabama, I even wrote a post defending it against the popularized view. But slowly, I have been faced more and more with the stereotypes, and I have had to give in. I no longer want to live here, and I certainly don’t want to raise children here. I have met many wonderful people here, and I have learned many wonderful things from them. But this new immigration law was the final straw, and here is why:

The new law states that if there is “reasonable suspicion” about someone legal status to be here, the police can stop them and request they show their immigration status, and can hold them “without bond”. All non US citizens are required to carry their immigration papers with them, at ALL times, by law. This overrides the previous requirement that we carried our passport; now we have to carry forms such as our DS-2019, which can only be replaced twice EVER.

Clearly this is deeply impractical (I go hiking in Alabama for several days and I know it is going to rain and I am supposed to carry this with me, when it will likely get damaged? I go to a music festival and I am expected to carry around several flimsy pieces of paper?), but I *guess* this could be circumvented if the US produced some card like the US State ID that was more practical. But, it is not about practicality to me. It is about making anyone who looks, or sounds ‘different’ a second class citizen.

Let me explain. Currently, in the UK and the US there are laws to protect individuals from law enforcers discriminating against them because of how they look, or how they speak (and actually for many other reasons, including in the UK, their sexuality and religion… the US is not universally quite so… enlightened). You cannot be stopped and searched, or detained for these reasons (hence in high areas of knife crime in the UK, where stop and search is legalized, law enforcers are legally bound to stop and search a racial distribution approximately equivalent to the racial distribution of the area. I don’t believe that has ever caused any problems). You are basically protected from the following scenarios:

“A policeman pulls over a pretty girl to tell her she needs to fix the tail light on her car. He likes her cute foreign accent. He asks her on a date. She says no. He takes offense and decides to make her life difficult. He asks her to show her papers… she can’t, so he detains her for 24 hours. Perhaps when she realizes what is happening, she will change her mind about that date?”.

“A policelady’s husband comes home, furious. An man of Indian descent has smashed into his car and didn’t have car insurance, so could not cover the damages. The police were called but the Indian man was here illegally, and so could not be prosecuted. He drove away (something similar actually happened to my husband with a different racial group). The car needs some $5,000 worth of repairs and the policewoman finds this out at she leaves the house to go to work. 10 minutes later she sees a group of young Indian men standing on the street. Her blood boils. Why are they just hanging around? Don’t they have jobs to go to? One of them drops a piece of litter. Ah ha! She pulls over and starts giving them a hard time, and asks them to prove their right to be there. She detains them for 24 hours. That will teach them a lesson”.

Whether these are far-fetched or not, the problem is that US citizens who are white, and sound American, are protected from this. Foreigners (and, admittedly any US citizen who does not) are not. Therefore, all legal immigrants have lost what I think of as a basic human right: To be free from persecution due to the colour of their skin or any other factors reflecting their origin. Why would I stay in state that mandates persecution because of how you look? We have become second class citizens, and why the heck would I stay in a place that has legally made me so? Why the heck would I stay in a place that does that to anyone?

What has disgusted me most of all, is the response of some Alabamians. Here are some examples:

-“Well, I don’t know why you worry, it’s not going to affect you [because you are white, blonde and female]”

They don’t realise that, in eyes, that makes it effing WORSE.

-“But our state really needs help with this issue”.

Then put something across the board. Instead of police being called when there is “reasonable suspicion” if someone wants to enter high school, make it a law that EVERYONE has to prove citizenship when they enroll. Make it that when the police come to the scene of a crime, everyone has to show ID that shows their citizenship. Yes, it would be a hassle, but if your so desperate to save help your state, you can do it. You are supposed to do it anyway, I believe, although the police have no enforcement method. And even more importantly, I strongly believe in the following quotation:

Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power” ~Benjamin Franklin. Often interpreted as:

“They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”

-But, we need to save our state from The Mexicans. We need to keep ‘The illegals’ out.

I don’t think I even need to discuss these ones. If my child openly used language like that, without seeing anything wrong with it. I would think I had failed as a parent.

I will concede that this is not even the worst of the law. It is just what touched me. The law also says you can be prosecuted for transporting or helping an illegal immigrant. So, if a young child gets very sick, you can be prosecuted for giving him or her acute care. The cries of ‘oh, but you won’t be’ leave me cold in a state who is happy to sanction such actions by law.

How disappointing Alabama. And how tired I am of seeing people who are wary, or unsure, of me and my friends because many of us are foreign. How sad I am to go out and about in Alabama and find such insular people that they have never really interacted with ‘foreigners’. It may well not be their fault, but perhaps that just makes it all the sadder.It seems clear to me that Alabama needs much more integration. It breaks my heart what a segregated society it is (seriously, different racial groups hang out in different areas; I have had places described to me as ‘the black area’. I am not sure I have ever even seen an African-American in Whole Foods). Laws like this are only taking away an enriched and enlightened life from you and your children.

And you are losing some of the very brightest and best people. I know excellent scientists who are (American and) leaving because they don’t want to raise their children in such a climate. I know some amazing Scientists who don’t even want to move here because of it. You are shooting yourselves in the foot.

When I first commented on the segregation between blacks and whites here, I was once asked “well, whose fault do you think that is?” and I replied that I thought it was the fault of both blacks and whites. I now do not agree. The attitudes and responses I see from white Southern people (and yes, sorry, you have all been from The South), that I so far have not seen from black people, lay the blame squarely on one side of the divide.

I would say I have met some Southerners who are very sorry that this has been passed, and some who agree that a universal law (i.e. ALL show citizenship, regardless of race) is absolutely the only way forward, and some who simply want to reasonably discuss and learn. And I love these people. But that is not the majority. Let us not forget that I left my old church because at Bible study group, people went on a rant about foreigners and when someone said ‘but many of them are here legally’ I genuinely heard the response:

“Oh you don’t know. You don’t have to smell their cooking. They are not in your backyard”.

Sad.

I don't approve of this cartoon. But Alabama, this is how you are forcing the rest of the world to see you. http://theperplexedobserver.tumblr.com/post/6800089685/interfaith-march-planned-against-alabama

Writing with cultural sensitivity

It has been said that obesity is the last form of acceptable social prejudice. I disagree; it is indeed a largely tolerated form of prejudice but there are others, and I would like to write today about prejudice against the Southern States of the US. In large parts of the developed and Western world (and outside) prejudice has come to mean more than hating on a group because of the characteristics of that group (be it blacks, women, gays or whomever). Sure, hate and negative assumptions are indeed a serious form of prejudice that many, if not most, people are united in eradicating. But to me, living in London in the last decade prejudice or racism has also come to mean something else – it has come to mean making generalizations about a group of people, that even if they can be backed up by hard data and statistics, are made in a crude, offensive to that group, or culturally insensitive manner. Some people think this attitude has gone too far, but I am glad it was drummed into me that this attitude and manner of speaking about others is the right thing to do.

To be honest, my opinion is that I don’t think this extra layer to prejudice / racism is as prevalent in the South as it was in London. I have experienced many people for whom the concept of racism is still largely only tied to hate or erroneous / unfair generalizations and is not so concerned with speaking in a way that doesn’t offend a group of people, or be disrespectful to aspects of their culture we may not immediately consider: such as food choices. Not ubiquitously, but more prevalently than some of more urban / cosmopolitan / racially integrated areas. However, I find non Southerners writing about ‘Southern attitudes’ in a frankly equally unacceptable manner. Because people know I live in Alabama, I find sweeping statements about the ‘inbred racist backwards Southerners’ bandied about in public arenas with little regard for the sensibilities and sensitivities of Southerners. And I find it upsetting and offensive. If you want to write about Southern attitudes to race or homosexuality or religion I would ask that you do not do so without careful thought, as carefully that you might write about other groups of individuals, and do not act in a manner you may well accuse Southerners of acting in. Instead, please:

-Remember the history of the Southern states

-Respect the more prevalent Christian views – whether you share their views on Christianity or not

-Not make statements about racism or attitudes as if what you are saying reflects the attitudes of all Southern people, when in reality there is a huge mix of opinions

-Consider whether your own opinions and expectations of Southerners / the South have coloured how you interpret things

-Remember that racism / prejudice *in all forms* exists in every society (The BNP got a seat in parliament recently, right?)

-Consider whether even though a view or an attitude has been shown to be more prevalent in the Southern states, it could still offend a lot of people if it was written about in a crude and insensitive manner

-Remember that every culture and every society has something we can learn from. There are an awful lot of great things I have learned from living in Alabama, and being exposed to Southern attitudes, about treating fellow humans better.

Of course, acknowledging differences in opinion, or differences in attitude prevalence is OK.  Noting that some views, that you may not agree with are more common, or more likely to be accepted here is OK to me. Sharing first hand observations and opinions, thoughts and interpretations can be enlightening. If it is done nicely and sensitively and respectfully. Please think about how you would feel if somewhat wrote what you are saying about your culture, or highlighted the perceived shortcomings of your culture in such a manner. Otherwise, if you are talking about prejudice / racism – well, in my humble opinion, its just hypocritical.

Why I am sorta anti-drug

Well, that was just for the sake of a catchy title; I should more accurately say: “Why I am pro reducing (not eliminating) some prescription medications where possible”. Partly because I am British and we fear many drugs (except birth control which we apparently hand out like tic tacs) and their effects. We have a (possibly overblown) fear about medicated personalities and tolerance and addiction and about, quite frankly, not manning up and dealing with the fact that sometimes life is tough and it is not always going to be a level playing field.

This is the scenario that has lead to my latest blog outburst:

So, my sleep schedule has been a little messed up. It started last Saturday after a slightly emotionally-charged (but fully resolved) day. I got up from bed at midnight and listened to some podcasts online, watched a trashy chick flick and fell asleep somewhere between 3 and 4, getting up ~8 am for church. I was a little tired, but it didn’t stop me doing everything I needed to do that day, pretty cheerfully, and having guests over the evening to sample the champagne for the wedding. And sample we, or at least, I, did. Amazingly I slept very well that night 😉

Monday – no sleep. Nothing was bothering me, nor making me anxious. I just felt excited and spent the night watching trashy movies, catching up with friends in England, snuggling my cats and yes, looking at the odd wedding website. I fell asleep at about 6.30 and had to get up at 8.30 / 9.00 for work. There were no serious effects… apart from skipping my workout (heavy lifting on no sleep? Nay!) there was nothing other than a little tiredness. Here is my email about the day:

“I am shattered! All achey and tired, but OK really 🙂  Little difficult to concentrate but AM doing a very boring grant review. Meeting with Donna in 40 mins, I am going to ask for some help with my job apps and if I can apply for a new grant – I need to be faculty for it, and Donna may well agree to that (without the accompanying salary hike) for a year. Exciting!

Hopefully I will sleep like a baby tonight :)”

I don’t think this sounds like someone at the end of their tether. We had guests over that night, I worked after until about midnight, then fell asleep at 3 am (after, yes, more trashy movies. I am the master of these mwah ha ha).

Next, again, about  a 3 am sleep, maybe 4, but I just didn’t feel tired. I mentioned it to people in the UK and as long as I was still at work (I was), not unhappy (I wasn’t), not unduly tired (I wasn’t) and not missing out on anything in life (heck I was still zumba-ing and doing my weekly HIIT sprints with no problem) they found it funny and cute, and were surprised I had not expected it before.

“You’re getting MARRIED in 2 weeks, we’d be worried if you were blase”.

Have wine and a hot bath / don’t work or talk to anyone after 10 / watch the wedding scene in 16 candles with cocoa were the pieces of advice I received; until I  mentioned it to my PCP. I sorta wanted her to smile and giggle and perhaps have some lifestyle-advice gem I had missed (try a cooler room, don’t be hungry, stablize blood sugar with a light snack… anything). As I clearly wasn’t bothered by it, (in fact, I secretly liked the fact that it made me feel ‘bridal’) I was shocked when she prescribed a benzodiazepine.

I took it that night, fell asleep in 30 mins, slept through my alarm, was groggy the next day and dissolved both  asleep, and into tears, at my desk. Ick! I told my fiance – he said I needed Ambien, a different type of pill. Many of my friends (US friends) had warned me about this, and advised against it. I said that I didn’t think I did – I didn’t think I needed pills at all. He said, I just needed to take it earlier in the evening.

Anyway, I didn’t take it the next night, but my not sleeping sorta bothered my finace and even though he went to sleep ~2 am at 3 am I took 1/2 a dose and dozed off, because I was worried if I didn’t sleep and he found out I hadn’t taken it, he would get frustrated. The next day, I said that I didn’t think I needed anything, but he was fairly insistent I did, and that I needed Ambien and I was scared about an argument / lecture if I didn’t sleep again so I took the tablet at 9, as he suggested, fell asleep at 9.30 and then apparently had the weirdest 1 & 1/2 hours of my life – which I don’t remember. Falling asleep on the floor 1/2 undressed; sleeping sitting up, sleep walking, drinking frikkin’ coca-cola (full fat, this has upset me most), standing in front of doors asleep, crying in my sleep. I woke up then and watched Grey’s Anatomy (NOT my choice 🙂 ) and Michael McIntyre (absolutely my choice) quite happily for a while and fell asleep.

I. Don’t. Want. To. Take. Drugs. That. Affect. My. Personality.

Wait for it. See? My personality is to get hyper and excited about things, and then I crash out when it all gets too much. It may not be ‘ideal’ but it doesn’t affect my life, and anyone who has CHOSEN to be in my life has CHOSEN to put up with that. I always say when I am dating someone “the door is open. I am not doing to force / persuade / emotionally blackmail you into going out with me. If I try and change it will end up being temporary and it won’t be ME. I am who I am, and you don’t have to sign up to that”. Most do; I remember only 1 who didn’t. But sleeplessness nights and being excited and running on a lot of energy has been a feature of my life, periodically: when I first went to Cambridge; when I wrote my PhD thesis in 10 days; when I first moved to Alabama. It is who I am and it doesn’t bother me.

So, I mentioned on facebook that I had a benzodiazepine. A lot of my friends wrote back and said “don’t take it girl! It’s not that bad yet” (one who is a surgeon said that she had even been tempted in her time when she was working on frequent boats of 3 hours of sleep, but had never succumbed)” and an American commented “I am annoyed your friends have that attitude. They don’t know you, and they don’t know the detriment to your life of not sleeping for a few nights”.

Thing is, they do. They know both of those. They know me, they know I am excitable and they love it about me. They celebrate differences in people and support them through and downsides. They know, in my life, I have skipped sleep for a while and been just fine. They have sometimes supported me through it with girlie nights and trashy magazines. They know that I do just fine (heck, I write a thesis that doesn’t need corrections… go figure). They know that if I am not unhappy about it, then all I need is a ‘dear dear’ and an encouragement that this is justification to break the diet and have some cheesecake.

The American who said that, my GP, my fiance – these are the people who do not know me, and do not know how I personally cope with not sleeping for a few nights. These are the people who have not sat down and honestly talked me through whether I have anxiety (I don’t, except now about my last post). That have not asked how my work is doing (quite well thanks, had some good meetings and wrote up a paper). That have not asked if I am too tired to do some healthful exercise (nope, I kicked ass in kickboxing!). These are the people who, in my mind, want to stop me being me.

A while ago I was diagnosed with an infected wisdom tooth just before I was flying. It was a misdiagnosis – it was actually inflamed from slight impaction, but that is what you get with free medical care I guess. Oh no, wait, I paid for it here. My mistake. They have me Percoset for the pain – and it certainly killed the pain. But (shhhhh) so did aspirin and paracetamol. Why shhhh? Because I took the Percoset. It made life so good! It reduced my everyday little worries, it made me calmer, more focused, more attentive, easier to be around. I thought it was great, until my bottle ran out. I asked my (then) boyfriend if I should go and get beta blockers, or anti depressants, or a mild anti anxiety drug to mimic the effects of Percoset in every day life. I knew I wanted to marry him when he looked at me, in the car, at the intersection of Highlands and Clairmont and said  “No baby. You go up and down, but that is you. Your friends and I love you, you don’t need a drug to change that”. He captured exactly how I felt deep down and what I wanted to hear. It breaks my heart that that it not the sentiment I feel anymore, and that I feel my personality is a ‘problem’ to be ‘solved’, without a real discussion of if I am happy with that, and without trying alternatives to manage, rather than change me.

I cling on to my friend David’s words. When I was still settling in to UAB, and wondering if I needed to be more ‘Southern’ in my dress, attitude and so on I asked his opinion. He said “You’re wonderful. Don’t ever change. Be you – but be it knowingly”. It was about a year ago, but these words still help me sleep at night (except this week it would seem 😉 ).

I really love my life. I used to smoke marijuana (in the UK only) until (1) it made me feel queezy and (2) it made me paranoid. But, I was always against it being smoked as part of everyday life. Sure, add it to your occasional party arsenal if you so like. But, if I needed or wanted it every day I would think there was something wrong with my life, and rather than change my mental response to what is my daily life, I’d rather improve the actual life. If my job is boring, I don’t want weed to make it tolerable – I want to change it so that it is and I am LUCKY to be in a position of privilege to be able to do this (which is why I don’t judge others). If I think life it better through a slightly stoned haze, I’d rather change things to recreate that level of enjoyment myself. If I need it in the evenings, because I am bored – I’d rather get a new hobby (maybe that’s why I grow orchids, play video games, write books, weight lift etc etc 🙂 ). If it is because I am stressed at work, I’d rather sort that out differently.

I don’t want to be divorced from my life. I don’t want to miss out on this final 2 weeks of excitement. It’s a once in a lifetime thing. As Daddy said today “If you get tired, the adrenaline will see you though the wedding day and you’ll sleep like a baby for the next week. It’s just two weeks Lek”. I don’t want to be put to sleep ‘like a good little girl’ (unless my life is feeling some detriment from insomnia) while my fiance can keep whatever sleep schedule he likes (he frequently goes to bed at 2 am and naps during the day). I don’t want people to give me something that changes my behaviour without sitting down and talking to me, and deciding if it is the best thing for me, and if I am happy for that. From the bottom of my heart – thanks to Mum, Dad, Stella and Ryan for doing so.

Questions:

My experience (subjective) is that I am in a state where 40% of the men I interact with are medicated / offered medication for ADD / ADHD (although this is definitely a sampling bias), and would like to offer me ADD medication. If this number is on the increase, in 11% time, will we soon medicate the non-ADD people as abnormal? And when will we stop telling people they are ‘not OK’ for who they are? And that they have the power to change who they are, of they want? And that they are capable of adapting their  lifestyle without a pill, sometimes?

I am not against medication per se, not even psychological medication – I have even advised people to take it. This is just a bad experience, and reveals some underlying attitudes that I would like people to consider and challenge in the light of their potential consequences.

Thank you for listening. You did better than my PCP 🙂

Get with the program Jefferson County

So, I am just about at my wits’ end. Here is my situation: I am getting married in 2 1/2 weeks. Therefore I need to sort out contraception.

Yes, I said it, out aloud. I am from a culture that talks about these things since we are about 10. Admittedly, school tries to keep things very serious and biological and then we usually giggle and throw prophylactics at each other screaming “you’ve got cooties now! Gross” and behave in other age-appropriate manners. Well… maybe that was just me, but we do at least talk about it.

Now, while it is not a topic of general conversation “Hi, my name is Sarah, and I have a diagphram – do you know where the brown sugar is?” it is not a ‘problem’ topic. Because, see, contraception is everywhere. A slightly tongue-in-cheek and light hearted history of the British Attitude to contraception goes:

Britain: “Gasp! The rest of Europe is so open sexually. They are so immoral! Look at all these naked people on TV / CD covers etc! We disapprove! Now shush about the topic, lest its sordid implications corrupt our beautiful pure youth”.

Rest of Europe: “Your beautiful pure youth have horrendously high rates of unplanned pregnancy and STDs”

Brtain: “Hmmm. This is true. But what can we do?!?”

Rest of Europe: “Well… you could educate them about sex and contraception and the physical and emotional health issues that go along with it. And try… you know… to be a little more open about it”

Britain: “Interesting suggestion. But… but if we do that – people might start having sex! And we don’t want that! We are a terribly prudish and stand-offish race! And we will stay this way to keep a chaste youth.”

Rest of Europe: “Right. But… uh… as you have an 11-year old mother, and a cute 13-year old, who looks about 8, but claims to have fathered a child with a 15-year old girl, that two other children (but which we mean under 16 years) claim to have fathered too, perhaps your approach isn’t working?”

Britain:”It is not! We agree, but if we start being open about sex, and teaching kids about it, and giving them access to contraception, they will start doing IT. We are repeatedly telling them how to say no, and how not to have sex.”.

Rest of Europe: “You have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe. I think they already are”.

So, I believe I have witnessed a bit of an about turn wrt contraception in the UK, in my lifetime. From ‘don’t do’ to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ to ‘you don’t have to do, but here’s what to do if you do’.  As my friend (American) put it: “Britain gives contraceptives out like tic tacs”. It’s sorta true. I has heinously bad period pains from the age of 12  onwards. Think: vomiting so hard I pulled my tummy muscles and then passing out into my own vomit. Lovely. Think: when I was snowboarding with a broken arm I refused to believe it was broken as it wasn’t as bad as period pains. Even when I was pushing my whole body weight with said arm. Nice. So, my PCP put me on the contraceptive pill at about 14. I went with my Dad. It was OK. 22% awkward, but OK.

Eventually,  I used to get my refills at my local walk-in clinic as it was closer to the bus stop. I would toddle along, they would take my blood pressure, ask a few questions, then hand me 6-months worth of free pills. And charge me nothing for the pleasure. Then they would offer me condoms, and I would say ‘thank you very much, but I am not having sex. Really’. It was an anonymous service so I didn’t have to lie, but they would always say “hey – take some anyway. You never know”. And I would say “I do know!” and they would give them to me anyway, in a nice unmarked brown paper bag (because brown bags never look suspicious and remind people of hidden porn / alcohol) and throw in a load of femidoms, dental dams, information leaflets and so on. “Have them anyway… Give them to your friends” was the advice.  Frequently I would arrive home with my bounty and my Ma would eye it suspiciously and say “Do we need to talk?”. Which we didn’t, but to be fair it did open the door for me to be able to talk (however awkwardly / angrily / sullenly) with her about this through those difficult teenage years.

At some point I went on a health kick (an unempirical health kick) and decided the pill wasn’t good for me. And a vane-kick when I decided it made me fat. I was coming off this darn thing dammit. I went to my doctor. She talked me through about 20 other options both for contraception and for the period pains. She fitted me with an IUS (a super expensive intra-uterine device) within 2 weeks (I had to wait for some tests to come back first, which were done that day). For free. She gave me a load of free counseling. She gave me a load of condoms. Nice expensive ones as I am allergic to latex. I think I sold them 🙂

When it came time to have the IUS out I was in the UK. I was there for a period of 2 weeks and decided to remember this about 2 days before I left. Now in the UK there are walk-in clinics in every county and every county has both weekend and evening ones. If you cannot make any of those, GPs are obliged to see you. So, I call a walk-in clinic and explain the problem – they tell me they are full for 2 days, but give the numbers of others – all within easy distance. The others are full, or the times don’t suit me (why? Honestly? Because I am catching up with friends). So my local GP has to see me. They do. They next day. They whip it out for free, and offer me a new one. I decline, and they say “are you sure? The pain might come back”. I tell them I will sort it out in the US and they say they don’t think they is a good idea. This shocked me, and I ignored it. They offered me 6 months of the pill. I turned it down as I was not having sex (we’re British, no sex please. Oh, apart from all those pregnant teenagers). She really wanted to know if I was *sure* and then let me go with a promise to come back and see her when I was next back from the US.

Fast forward to my return to Alabama. Boyfriend proposes. I gaily accept. Hoorah. I plan a wedding. Double hoorah.  3 weeks before the wedding I think I should sort out contraception. I call my GP here and am told she is not accepting new patients. I tell them I not a new patient and they don’t care and I get a random GP. That’s cool, I don’t really care who does this. I go see her the next day. I am impressed – she is on time (rare in the NHS, and certainly better than the 2-4 hour wait at walk in clinics in England) and I pay a slightly annoying, but affordable $20. I tell her the situation and that I would like to avoid hormones.  I don’t want to use condoms. She says “OK, you need a diaphram. You need an OB/GYN. You can see one in 6 weeks”. I point out this might be shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. She says there is nothing she can do. So I say “OK, how about I use hormones for a short while?”. “Not a good idea” she says, and has no other suggestions. I am floored. I glare at her. She says that there isn’t time for me to use hormones. This is actually incorrect. They (depending on the method) can be used from Day 1 – Day 5 of your cycle. She has my cycle dates and Day 1 is next week. I start to throw a shit-fit. She has no other suggestions (lower , localized hormones? Femidom? Even frikkin’ fertility tracking? Anyone?). She takes my blood pressure and says that because it is elevated, I can’t have hormones as it is dangerous. Again, this is factually incorrect. Raised bp is one long-term risk factor; I am not overweight, I don’t smoke, there is no history of thrombosis and I have a successful history of taking the pill. And bp fluctuates. And she was STRESSING me out. And I hadn’t slept much, if at all, for 3 out of the last 4 nights [because, duh, I am excited to GET MARRIED and planning a wedding and submitting a grant and seeing my very best friend in just 12 days]. Really? She says. And 2 nanoseconds later I am leaving her office, slightly dazed and confused, with a prescription for a benzodiazepine, and a refill, and no follow-up.

THAT is giving things away like tic-tacs.

I could have an IUD – not recommended given my medical history, but an option. In 6 weeks. And it’ll cost around $500 all- in- all. Because I really have that when I am postdoc, my fiance is a student and we’re planning a wedding (did I mention the wedding? Might have done. Little bit excited). No, it is not covered by insurance (but, if you were wondering… Viagra is. Yes, you did read that correctly. Wonder what the gender is of the people who make that decision? Perhaps the women are all off having babies). But anyway, it is OK, because if I can’t afford an IUD an abortion can be as low as $400.

Problem solved.

So, I return to my office, very upset. My office mate gives me the planned parenthood number and I call them the next day. “Yes, the Alabama clinics don’t prescribe contraception”. Oh. Really? That’s good planning there. My office mate suggests the student health centre, which for $30 are seeing me tomorrow, which is pretty impressive, and I hope it is a good score for UAB (who have been universally wonderful to me so far) and I hope it works out.

The thing is: contraception is so free and widely available in the UK not just because it is a health issue, but because it is an equality issue too. For two reasons:

(1) The UK believes women have the right to regulate their fertility as much as men. That is, they have the right to go out and have meaningless one night stands without consequences (it can be consequence free for men who abscond into the night).

(2) The burden of contraception usually falls on the woman – although it does not have to, it usually does. We want to help balance this out by givign her the ability not to pay (when she is already paying for feminine products) and not to have to take time out of work.

I have already lost $20 and a few hours from work. I will now have to lose more time and more money. My fiance’s response? He wants to be supportive. He volunteered: “If I’m not at work, I’ll come with you”. Because work is optional for me. I don’t blame him at all, but I see no reason not to see that statement as indicative of underlying attitudes. If I get pregnant, well, no one is going to force him off work… (that is not his attitude, just a statement).

And my honest thoughts? “Fuck it (pardon the pun). I don’t see my fiance really busting a gut to sort this out. Why should I? I want kids in the next year (he doesn’t for a couple of years, we agreed to compromise and try in a years time when we are financially better off, settled into marriage, knowledgeable about where my career will take us… all good reasons)… But perhaps I will tap out and see what happens, ‘coz quite frankly my grant not going in, not having a dress to wear, not getting these papers in, missing collecting my friends from the airport – well none of them are as important to me as not having a child when I’m married, that I want”. I am not going to do it. If possible, I would like to bring a child into the world with planning. But, it’s tempting.

Sort it out Jefferson. Educate your medical practitioners on more methods. Free up medical practitioners to give people contraception. Get evening clinics. Get anonymous clinics. Try to talk people reluctant to use the best methods of contraception for them (like me) into doing so. Push alternatives. And don’t just whack them out on anti-anxiety drugs.

Just a thought. (A frustrated one – I think the drugs must have worn off. Perhaps my GP can give me something else to keep me quiet).