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Adding Insult to Injury



Adding Insult to Injury

He waited there

in all black

With a copy of Burrough’s Naked Lunch.

He didn’t read it.

It was a prop.

I, in my best work dress, came in

With every pay stub for the past six months

In chronological order,

Proof of insurance, day care bills,

Government assistance,

My lease, birth certificates, social security cards,

And a host of other documents

That I was threatened to have.

When we were brought in

to see the magistrate

She complimented him

For showing up.

She asked him about his unemployment issues

Then likened him to her own son

Who had to move back home with her.

She opened our case folder

With the big red “Domestic Violence”

Stamp across it.

“I really sympathize with your situation.”

She said to him.

“I hope it gets better for you soon.”

She didn’t look at my folders

Painstakingly gathered and formed

By my O/CD and fear

That I didn’t have every required document.

Finally she looked at me.

And awarded me

$50 a month for our two baby girls.





I’m going to tell you something that I have learned to keep a secret for a very long time now.  In 1997, I was in a college class called, “Personal Transformation.”  (Probably the best class ever invented) and we were talking about our childhoods –specifically overcoming things and letting go.  The question was, “When was the first time you remember someone ‘raining on your parade?”  This was eventually followed with horrible stories of abuse, neglect, pain and problems that made me want to hide under my desk and crawl out of the room.  Even though I was 27 years old, each story seemed unimaginable to me.

The only thing I could think of was in fifth grade when it came time to separate our music class into band, choir and general music, I wanted to play the drums.  I wanted to play them so bad, but my parents wouldn’t let me and I had to chose choir.  This was the worst thing I could think of.  This is when I learned to keep my ideal childhood a secret.  Of course things weren’t perfect.  I’m sure some things were unfair and mistakes were made.  I remember my dad lost his temper with me once.  But my childhood  kind of resembled The Wonderyears.  I had good friends, we played outside a lot, my family took big vacations, and we always ate dinner together at 6pm.

But, the most memorable part of my childhood was our cottage.  We had a little cottage up on the shores of Lake Erie, and it is where we spent practically every day of our summer vacation.  I swam everyday, played in the sand, rowed the rowboat, had lots of kids to play with, climbed trees, explored, had picnics and bon fires, it was just pure fun for a kid.  In the same little cove as us, were aunts and uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles, my grandparents, and neighbors who had been there forever.

My little brother was known for eating breakfast at our house, then going to my grandma’s and eating there, and then going to my great-uncle’s, and then starting all over for lunch.  Sometimes the men would go fishing, the women would make potato salad, corn on the cob and deviled eggs.  Then they would take the picnic tables and actually line them up on the little road between the cottages and we would all eat together.  Sometimes, my dad would get out the ice cream maker.  All the kids would take turns turning until we thought our arms would fall off.

There was no phone.  We never watched TV.  My grandparent’s might have their small black and white on an Indians game but that was the extent of it –background noise to their card playing.  When we slept the adults would gather outside and talk, drink a little, play cards, whatever.  It was soothing to listen to.  If my parents had to go home, they could leave us behind if we begged, because there were 10 other adults around and it was really no big deal.

Now, as Bill Cosby would say, “I told you that story, to tell you this one.”  I had such an amazing day yesterday that I actually got chills.

Yesterday, I asked my neighbor Fred if he happened to go to the store any time this whole weekend, could he take us.  I didn’t realize I was out of bread and jelly.  I had just been to the store, but didn’t know.  I had read Rumi and Raine a Frances book about bread and jam and I guess Rumi took it seriously all week, because I had two loaves of bread on Monday.  Anyway, I thought if he were free at anytime, just let me know.  He IMed back, “I’ll be there in 5 minutes.”

Then, when he gets there his friend Pierre (also from Norway) comes out of the car.  He says, “I’m back!  –For good.  I’m going to be your neighbor!”  Yeah!  Then we go do a little shopping.  We go out for pizza, and since we had just had pizza, the girls and I decide to split some spaghetti and salad.  Well, they were out of meatballs so Fred talks us into Carbonara.  I had never had it before –he has a way of getting me to try new things that I end up loving and craving –this is definitely on the list.  Then we talk about all these things, having barbeques, hanging out, they’ll watch the girls if I want “me time.”  My head starts swimming with possibilities.

After dinner, we all had a few groceries to pick up, and let me tell you, 5 adults to 2 children is the most amazing ratio!  I never had it so easy in a grocery store!  Both men pushed the carts, so the girls just thought that was awesome, because they knew how to play and make them giggle, and race around.  Fred’s girlfriend Boo is the one who takes the girls swimming everyday, and she did my laundry when my nanny was gone.  Well she’s also a masseuse, and when I was getting the beginnings of a migraine last night, she came over with Pierre’s girlfriend and they gave me a massage, during which, I seriously began to wonder and question how did my life get so good?

And then this morning I realized, this is kind of like my cottage summers, except my house is the a supreme cottage, but the sense of community, exploration, comfortableness, perpetual summer…I’m kind of reliving it as an adult, and giving such an amazing gift to my girls.

Some thoughts about immigration


I have taught about the Immigration Period in America for several years now. I know what the push and pull factors are as to why people immigrate, and I know the various stages that they and their later generations experience after immigration. In fact, I have not only taught this, I have researched this. Last month, however, was the beginning of my first-hand experience. I mean I lived in Thailand before, but it was temporary, and I was only responsible for myself. This is a HUGE jump from that.

Exactly one hundred years ago, from the same month I immigrated, my then seventeen year-old Great-grandmother and her mother boarded the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse with a hundreds of other Bohemians fleeing ethnic cleansing, and took the14 day trip from Bremen, Germany to Ellis Island. She moved to Cleveland because her step-father was here, as was a very large Slovak-Catholic community. She knew eight languages, but English wasn’t one of them. One-hundred years later, I boarded a plane with my two very young daughters, and flew 26 hours to Bangkok and then moved on to Khon Kaen, because I had a teaching position at a university waiting, and friends all around –even in the same city.

I find it so interesting what Americans think of immigration, and how they truly don’t understand it. I find it interesting that they get mad that immigrants are there, that they don’t speak English, that they “take our jobs” (that one always makes me laugh), that they aren’t Christian, and that they wear their clothes and eat their food. I think so many forget that they are products of immigrants.

I had always read that immigrants are the brave risk-takers. That is who almost all of us are descendants of –brave risk-takers. What happened to that? When did we not become accepting of that, and why? It’s not easy to learn another language. Most second generation and third generations Americans don’t know more than one language. Studying 2 years in high school doesn’t count, because you don’t use it daily; you don’t dream in it; it’s not the same.

I picked Thailand because I used to be fluent in Thai. Notice, I said “used to be.” I used to have entire 3-day workshops, in Thai. But after ten years, I find myself asking students, “What the word for ‘see’ again?” No one here gets mad or frustrated with me when I can’t speak Thai. No one says, “Wait, you live and work here, why don’t you speak Thai?” In fact, if I say “hello” or some other phrase, I get praised for what I know. When I taught in America, a lot of my students, who were studying English full-time, would get bothered and harassed for not knowing English.

As far as taking jobs, I can guarantee that no Mexican fruit picker, no Chinese scientist and no Indian doctor is taking any jobs from any Americans. In fact, in the professional world, they have to jump through hoops to have the privilege of working in the U.S. On the other hand, in Asia, being a native-speaker, almost assures you of a teaching position. I don’t know any Americans who come to Asia to be doctors, scientist, or manual laborers. If they did, they would probably get that position easily too. Accountants –maybe not.

Which leads me to an even bigger point. So many Americans want to put these big walls up. Place military and police around our borders to stop people from coming in, and yet, they have become blind to people who are leaving. Foreigners know about the “brain drain.” I had never heard of it. I thought I had this brilliant idea on how to take care of my family. Turns out, 16 of my friends had this idea first. They are all teachers.

So why are so many teachers fleeing to Asia and the Middle-East for jobs? Well, you can live on what you make. As a single mother, and as a highly-evaluated teacher with 20 years experience, I still qualified for government assistance. It’s understood that teachers certainly don’t get into to the field for the money. They don’t expect to drive BMWs, or eat steak everyday. They do expect, and should expect to be able to feed their families and own a car. They shouldn’t have to make a choice between paying for that used car or buying groceries. I’ve had friends with higher qualifications than me, working part time so they could stay in the system, because if they got out of the system, they would have to make those choices. When you need daycare until a child is 12, and 50% of your income goes to that, how do you survive? By the way, contrary to popular belief, it is most often not the single mother’s fault she is a single mother. She is the responsible one trying to take care of her kids and doing what she has to do. Just a reminder there.

But also, in the rest of the world, teachers are highly-respected. I don’t know how or when teachers became the bad guys in America in the past few decades, and specifically in the past year, but that alone is not worth the very little pay you receive. Yes, there are bad teachers. There are bad EVERYTHING. People often forget that. There are bad doctors, engineers, mothers, politicians. There are amazing teachers too. If you close your eyes right now, you can think of that one teacher who just really changed your life. Maybe they showed you something you didn’t think was possible, maybe they explained things in a way you could finally understand, maybe they prompted an epiphany, maybe they inspired you to do something you hadn’t even thought of. You know right now who that teacher is. In fact, you might have more than one. What other profession has that effect on people –that is why the rest of the world respects them so much, as they would their own parents. Oh, wait, we have a problem with that too. Ahh, now I see the connection.

But as for immigrants not “Becoming American,” eating our food, dressing the same, and all of that, many first-generations do. And to a much greater extent than an American would. If I want to find an American here, all I have to do is go to the nearest KFC. They are the ones who ordered mashed potatoes with their chicken. I won’t find them at the corner noodle stand. If I go to their house, I might find soy sauce, but probably not fish sauce. Their eggs will be in the refrigerator with the bread, and the rice cooker will be put away in a cupboard to be used once in a while. (I say this because in Asia, people leave their eggs out, they don’t often eat bread, and the rice cooker is always out and on). And yet the host country residents are usually very interested in what we are eating, how we made it, and can they try.

Nor will I find foreigners wearing silk on Tuesday, denim on Friday, or padded bras on any day. Children will wear uniforms, but foreign children are not expected to have uniform hair cuts like the nationals. In fact, there are a lot of “rules” we just don’t have to follow. There are other “rules” we have to be constantly aware of, so I guess it balances out.

And then Christmas comes around, and you think, “What do you mean I have to work on Christmas?” Christmas is not a holiday in a Buddhist country, just like Eid and Chinese New Years are not holidays in our country. It was a process for our forefathers to create our holidays, and an even bigger process for our mass media outlets to blow them completely out of proportion. America is made up of Eastern Europeans, who, as a culture, think 3 Kings Day is just as important as Christmas, and people from the UK who like Boxing day even more than Christmas. How did those two days get left out? And then when you think that there are more Irish in America than in Ireland, why do they not know that Saint Patrick’s day is quiet saints day that involves going to church and having dinner with your family, not drinking green beer at 5am?

I think the biggest difference is communication. Yes, the world is becoming more globalized and therefore much smaller. But also, with the internet, skype, and cell phones, we can talk to our loved ones anytime. There are no letters that take weeks anymore, there are no final good-byes. My great-grandmother got to go back and visit her home village 62 years after she immigrated. Who was even left? The whole world is becoming Western. Maybe it’s not so bad to try to hold on to your culture a bit before the KFCs take over the world. And maybe it’s not so bad if I try to have the most American house in Khon Kaen.

Man Up!


There’s a double standard that is both blatant and hidden.  What’s amazing is that it is still exists.  I was flipping stations the other day and I saw an ad for movie called, “Freshman Father.”  A boy being responsible for the baby he produced seems to be such a rare event it needs to be documented.   How many freshman mothers are there?  Any movies that aren’t negative about it?  Men get praised by society for being responsible, for women it just seems expected.  Being a single mother comes with a stigma –bad choice of men, irresponsible, etc.  Being a single father is a badge of pride, “look what I can do!” (most likely, with a lot of help from his own mother).

It’s understood, that given the same circumstances, women make less money than men, but the burden of responsibility and finances somehow always seems to fall more heavily on the women, especially in a separated situation.  Who is responsible for doctors, medicines, shoes, school fees, lunches?  Who is most likely going to fall below the poverty level?

What’s even more interesting is how this has become so accepted in American life that no one complains or argues.  It’s just how it is.  My friend asked her lawyer why she had to pay the full expenses for her divorce when she was not at fault and didn’t even want the divorce in the first place.  The lawyer replied, “because you are the responsible one.”  And then added, “I see it all the time.”

There is this epidemic of American men thinking they can just walk away.  “I don’t want to be married anymore, here –it’s all your problem now.”  They would say to their wives if they had the guts to actually talk to them.  No apologies, no regrets, no conscience.  Their children may go so long without seeing them that they don’t even know them.  Often, these fathers not only don’t own up to their financial responsibilities, but also don’t even wonder what their own children look like, or how they are doing.

There are two little facts that might surprise you.  In 2008, 42% of all American babies were born to single mothers.  For some women, it may be their choice, and for some children, the fathers may be very involved.  And I am not implying that marriage is the answer, but lack of commitment is becoming the norm and not the exception.  The other little tidbit is that the number one reason for the deaths of American pregnant women is their mate.  Why do so many men resort to murder as the answer for wanting to remain single?

My anthropology professor said that it takes an average of six to eight adults to raise a child.  African tribal cultures really understood this, and all aunts and uncles were called “mommy” and “daddy.”  But here in our overly independent society, very often, one parent is the only one responsible which is a huge burden to that parent and a huge disservice to their children.

What’s at stake are the children and the following generations.  Who are the role models for the little boys?  Who are the ideals for the little girls?  Who are the real fathers and not the sperm donors?

My Brother’s Keeper


Who is responsible for another?  I mean if Darwin is right, then should we just allow the weak to fall away?  Is it their choice to remain weak, or are the stronger responsible for all? You and I all know the great exceptions to the rules:  The star athlete who came from single, alcoholic mother and lived in the projects until he was able to get out with a huge Nike contract and a starting position on a professional team.  The circumstances were grim beyond belief, but he manages raise above the rest, because he chose to work hard and not sink like those around him.  Maybe he even gave a hand to a few who he trusted to step up with him.

There are “average” people in these situations too, people who rose out of a bad situation and became better for it.  Because really, you become stronger from the things you go through, you completely crumble, or some just continue on, unchanged.  The teenage mothers who go on to have teenage mothers who know how to live on and work “the system.”  They don’t leave their block, they don’t contribute, they just appear and disappear in numbers.  These are the ones who sink to the bottom.

I have been a Peace Corps Volunteer, an Americorps volunteer, an inner-city school teacher and a social worker.  I was under the silly impression that I could change things, make things better.  I have tried to give that hand up to many people in different situations, but there are some who are just not interested.  Change can be scary, leaving a comfort zone –no matter how uncomfortable- can be scary. Succeeding can be scary.  We see this resistance all the time.  The new Jamie Oliver show “Food Revolution” has illustrated it better than anyone can.  “You are unhealthy.  You are going to die.  I will buy you fresh food.  I will show you how to cook it.  I will educate you about nutrition.”  And, of course, behind his back, they are still eating fast food.

We know these people who have 1, 2, 3, heart attacks, and still eat lunch at McDonald’s, the smoker diagnosed with lung cancer who just can’t quit, or the student who gets a full scholarship, drinks too much at spring break and jumps off a hotel balcony, or the high school drop-out whose big accomplishment is to make it on the public-assisted housing list.  Please don’t get me wrong.  These programs have their places, but there are people who don’t use it as a stepping stone or a hand up, but as an entitlement.

But this is what I am struggling with.  I know two people.  One is a 30 year-old woman who had twin babies and developed pre-eclapsia.  She was in the ICU for 3 months, and in a coma for about 30 days.  This woman is a researcher working on a cure for AIDS and helping under-developed countries with women’s health issues and she speaks at least three languages fluently.  She is a very health-conscious person who eats well and exercises regularly.  I also know a 26 year-old man who was brought into the hospital with what they thought was meningitis, but it turned out to be a horrible infection created by something as small and simple as a toothache, or a cold.  When he came in the hospital he was lice and flea infested and his leg was gangrene.  He needed to be completely shaved and the leg will soon be amputated.  He had open-heart surgery.  He did not graduate, has never worked in his life, and spent his time sitting in his mother’s condemned home playing video games.

They both made choices in their lives.  And they will continue to make decisions.  The woman is undergoing intensive therapy that she is determined to progress at because she has two babies, and her research waiting for her.  It is my educated estimate that this is

not a life-changing event for the man.  He will not change anything, and will probably have similar problems until he dies, so goes my opening question.

Who is responsible?  I can only do so much for anyone.  “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” added to “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, if you teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime.”  This is my dilemma.  You can teach a man to fish, but eventually, you have to wash your hands of it.

Now, with that said, as a teacher, can I stop teaching to the lowest level student in the room, and really push the highest?  Wouldn’t that be better for society as a whole?  Geniuses do not need to be lost in the shuffle because we want everyone to be equal.  We are not equal.  Maybe if we cater more towards the motivated, others will become motivated, rather than catering to the non-motivated encouraging others to allow themselves to be lazy.  As a teacher, as an aunt, as a friend, what is my responsibility?



Grace was overcome with regrets and disappointments.  The rain outside was pounding on the windows.  It wouldn’t even snow.  Why, why couldn’t things ever just work the way she wanted them to –just once.  Just once, couldn’t she have something –anything that she really wanted?  Feeling sorry for herself began to swallow her up, suffocate her.

Not one thing in itself was too much to handle.  The four of them were trying to live on her very meager teacher’s salary which put them $27,000 below the poverty level.  Even if her salary were doubled, they’d be below the poverty line, but it would feel so much better.  The only man in the whole neighborhood who had a job was her boss, and he was oblivious to the world around him, which is why he overlooked her for a higher position and hired a younger outsider, whose wife is a doctor.  He had no interest in uplifting those around him.  He probably thought that even though Grace was more qualified, other teachers would be upset.

By itself, that wasn’t that bad, but this was going to be her daughter, Amelia’s third Christmas with no toys and no Santa, and at her age she understands what Christmas is.  Before, they could just pass it off as just another day.  But this year, her grandparents and aunts and uncles are going to ask “What did Santa bring you?”  And she’s not going to understand the question.

No one even came to baby Autumn’s first birthday.  It was as if she were no big deal at all.  Grace’s husband lost his job when she was still pregnant with Autumn and it took him almost a year before he would finally agree to get public assistance.  The electricity had been cut off three times, once for a week, before they could get the money to get it back on.  The phone had been cut once, and the gas twice before he could admit they needed help.

Maybe if her sister-in-laws weren’t so clueless, she could have had a normal, joyous baby-shower before Amelia was born.  Grace told them that she just wanted a small wedding, nothing special.  She didn’t even want a bridal shower, but asked them to put all their effort into the baby shower.  No one had told her that she couldn’t get married, but fifteen doctors had told her she could never get pregnant.  If they had planned a baby shower half as good as the ones she had planned for them, she would have been happy, but only two people from work came and she got absolutely nothing form the registry.  Why couldn’t her babies be showered like all of the babies she had showered?

Maybe if her maid-of-honor had planned her baby shower, it would have been spectacular, but after the wedding, she was never to be seen from, or heard from again –unless she needed a job reference from some far off place.

Why didn’t Grace pick Jamie to stand up for her at her wedding?  Who cares if everybody thought it was weird that he was a guy?  Her husband didn’t care, and Jamie is still her friend –not that he would have held a spectacular baby shower or anything –but he certainly would have come if he had been invited.  He did buy the most spectacular gift (later): the crib and mattress.

Grace thought back to the thousands of dollars that she spent on other people’s kids, and still for the third year, she couldn’t buy her own children Christmas or birthday presents.  It felt so unfair.  Grace’s mother-in-law had a habit of sending great presents –about a month late.  But this year, she completely forgot baby Autumn’s first birthday altogether.

All Grace wanted was to put presents under the tree for her two perfect little girls; presents that she picked out and bought.  Not a lot, just one or two.  She just wanted to see their faces when they realized that it was not just another day.

Grace, herself, hadn’t received a present so many years, it didn’t even matter anymore.  It didn’t matter that she only had two pair of thread-bare underwear.  It didn’t matter that she sewed up the holes in her socks.  The greatest present she could have would be the one she could bring to her girls.  The one they would remember.  It wouldn’t be this year, but she could hope for next year.

She got the girls tucked into bed and sat on her broken couch to find something that would distract her.  Flipping through the stations, she saw that The Grapes of Wrath would be on PBS, maybe that would do it.



“I had only been four days in Iraq” Jamie began, “when I was walking back to my barracks one night and was suddenly surprised by a group of guys surrounding me saying things like, ‘I’m getting’ a piece of that…we’re ALL getting a piece of that, aren’t we?’  I wanted to laugh it off and just keep walking because they had to just be messing around, and I kept thinking that until I was pinned on the ground as each man took his ugly turn while the rest were holding me down and egging him on until I finally passed out.  Broken, bruised, and barely able to function, I practically crawled to my supervisor’s place and explained the whole thing, but in a whirlwind, he had me ‘escorted’ to a storage facility and locked in there with armed guards carrying uzis.  After about three days, one guard, Ali had a nice face, and seemed to feel for me, so when I begged him for the opportunity to at least call my father, he handed me his own cell phone.  From the moment of my call to my father contacting our senator, to the senator gathering a rescue crew to save me took about five more days to the best of my estimation, but when I got back to the U.S. I couldn’t even bring them up on charges because there was some clause in the fine print of my contract.”

After hearing this, the Congress was asked to vote over not giving contracts to companies who have these clauses, THIRTY (Republican) Senators voted against it, because regulating business is such a ‘Liberal’ idea.

Asidewalk chalk