Monthly Archives: September 2011

Start an Internet Revolution

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Recently, I have been rewatching “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” tv series and despite my inherent love for all things Joss Whedon the show is clearly dated.  In the late 90’s the internet was in its early stages, cell phones were the size of a small dog, and card catalogs were the search engine of choice.  Technology has changed our way of life in the past 10-15 years and an anonymous online community came into existence that can be both a positive, sharing environment or a negative, trolling opportunity.

I normally avoid internet trolls by not posting on websites that draw negativity; unfortunately that leaves me out of the conversation on worthwhile topics but it does maintain my sanity so it’s a trade-off.  I knew it was only a matter of time before I was trolled because of my “crazy”, liberal beliefs and lo and behold it happened.  I was attacked on a blog I frequent for a comment I made discussing victim-blaming.  Essentially the troll took the opportunity to claim that I was uninformed and that victim-blaming was acceptable if the victim deserved it.

The accepted opinion is that by acknowledging trolls we feed their negativity but I believe the reason trolls exist on the internet is because they can cloak themselves in relative anonymity and spread hate without the repercussions that a face to face discussion would incur.  There are few consequences for internet trolls, which is why cyber-bullying is the outlet of choice for school age bullies.

I have to wonder if this is what we want for ourselves and our society? A construct that allows unfiltered animosity to soak into our collective unconscious and influence future generations.  When I was a kid I was able to leave the mean girls and bullies at school and they didn’t follow me home via text messages, skype, or facebook.  These days there is no escape from bullies who employ technology to fight their battle for them.  As an adult, I can take on internet trolls without a blow to my self-esteem or belief system but trolls can be devastating for someone whose self-worth is built on what others think of them.

I wonder how a Buffy  would handle high school in the new millennium with the interwebs posing a greater threat than the creepy crawlies of the night?  I like to think that she would kick-ass in cyberspace with a witty retort (e.g. “You need to show this bully that you’re not gonna take any more of his sh— guuuff. Uh, any guff.”) and a visit from Mr. Pointy.  Which is why I suggest we start a revolution, Buffy-style.  One that says we will fight back and draw back the veil on cyber-bullying and hate speech in order to maintain a healthy online experience and community.  That is not to suggest that constructive debate or oppositional beliefs are prohibited but that hate speech is rejected and we will stand up to those who employ it.  So join me, stand up, and fight back against internet bullies, Buffy-style.

Image Credit: Nicole Kaufman

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The Shitenge Project: Jewelry

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As you may recall I am currently a) trying to figure out how to integrate a plethora of shitenges into my daily life and b) looking for ways to amuse myself between freelance projects, thus The Shitenge Project was born.

While I have yet to figure out how to use a sewing machine without a tutor I decided for my second project to try a hand-stitch jewelry design.  I used to create jewelry so I had beads at the ready.  I selected a large chunky bead that I didn’t mind covering with fabric, a funky wooden bead, ribbon, and jewelry wire for the necklace.

I started by cutting two strips of material approximately twice the width of the large chunky beads (if I was really meticulous I would have measured the width of the chunky bead and then doubled it but instead I eyeballed it).  I didn’t measure the length but instead fit the necklace and bracelet to my wrist and neck.

Next, I sewed the sides of the fabric together to make a tube.  If I were an actual seamstress, I might own something called a loop turner, but instead I used “found” objects (aka a mechanical pencil/cuticle stick/small tree branch) to laboriously flip the material inside out.  Once I flipped the fabric tube, I ran a piece of ribbon through the tube (for the necklace) and inserted my chunky beads.  After placing a chunky bead inside I slipped a funky wooden bead on the outside of the tube until I hit my desired length.  Rather than sewing the ends closed, I took a bit of flexible jewelry wire and wrapped it around the ends to hold the beads in place.  I then cut and tied the ribbon to my desired length and voila, my necklace was complete.  I used the same method for the bracelet but instead of using flexible jewelry wire and ribbon I simply fit the bracelet to my wrist, tied the ends together, and cut off the excess material.

Ta-da! The finished product: A funky fabric bracelet and necklace.  This was really simple and would be a great project for an old necklace that needs to be revitalized for yourself or a child.  The best part is that if it gets dirty or you get bored of the design you can slip off the material and make a new necklace/bracelet in minutes.

Please leave any ideas for future shitenge projects in the comments section but please remember I’m a novice seamstress!

Clothing Optional Morality

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Title: Traditional Attire of the Himba and Herero

Location: Near Brandberg Mountain in Damaraland, Namibia (taken in March 2011)

History: The Himba (shown left), descendants of the Otjiherero, maintained their nomadic lifestyle and traditional garb throughout the centuries.  The Herero (shown right), on the other hand, splintered from the Himba approximately 150 years ago and moved Southward while the Himba remained in Northern Namibia, near the border of Angola.

Traditionally, Himba men and women go topless, cover their bodies in ochre to protect their skin from the Namibian sun, and wear a loincloth of animal skins.  During the 19th century, the Herero, influenced by German missionaries who considered their traditional attire (similar to the Himba’s attire) immoral, adopted a distinctive style of dress.  The dress, reminiscent of the Victorian style, falls to the ankles and is comprised of long sleeves and a bodice that buttons at the neck.  Under the dress, women wear six to eight petticoats to add fullness to the skirts and often accessorize the outfit with a shawl.  The headpiece is fashioned to resemble cattle horns as the Herero tribes are well known for cattle ranching.

Background: I decided to share this photo to illustrate how Western beliefs influence African culture.  German missionaries are an inextricable link in the Herero tribe’s cultural shift from their historical traditional attire to clothing, which is designed to cover their breasts and body in order to alleviate immorality, sin, lust, and desire.

Unfortunately, women’s bodies and attire (or lack thereof) remains linked to morality and is viewed as a corrupting force throughout Western society.  In fact, a New Jersey court recently ruled that topless sunbathing is “inherently indecent and immoral.”  While a man can walk around shirtless (in a variety of public arenas), women cannot expect the same constitutional right to equality because they are a threat to “the public’s moral sensibilities.”

Although I am not personally inclined to walk around topless, I am an ardent believer in providing equal rights to women.  Women’s breasts are inextricably linked to our sexuality and have thus become a topic of “morality” and a form of repression.  As many conservative Americans are fighting “the threat of Sharia law” (Islamic religious law) one might think that our courts would not be so quick to make rulings based on moral decisions rather than the American Constitution.

Where Were You When… The Twin Towers Fell

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Join me for the Where Were You When? Series and share your story about how major world events impacted your life.  

Image Credit: Where Were You? Events That Changed The World 26-episode series graphic
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A decade ago I was a new college graduate, renting a room from a family friend, and embarking on a new career path.  I was fortunate; when the hijacked planes hit the Pentagon and the Towers, I was surrounded by great friends who helped shoulder the grief, shock, and distress with good old-fashioned escapism.  A lot of people have exceptional stories about how the Twin Tower attacks greatly impacted their lives and while my life didn’t change drastically that day, the events opened my eyes to the perceptions that people around the globe hold of Americans.

In the days that followed, the aftermath of the attacks didn’t alter my life largely; things slowly returned to normal, and television returned to regularly scheduled programming.  However, America’s role as a world player became more explicit and how we were represented as a government, nation, and people became increasingly clear.  I realized that the actions of a few individuals could skew the perceptions of many, thus, it did not take long to make the conscious decision that I wanted to be a part of changing that perception.

I chose to make a difference through service; I volunteered with refugee agencies, increased my knowledge on human rights issues, and 2 1/2 years ago I became a Peace Corps volunteer in Namibia.  I used the opportunity to promote a better understanding of Americans to Africans and share my experiences of African cultures and people with Americans.  While the tragedy of the terror attacks still weighs heavy on the nation’s collective mind, I hope that one thing that we can take away from this event is that personal interactions, open-mindedness, and embracing different religions is vital to win the “war on terror”.

For another perspective on this day and a new entry into the “Where Were You When?” series visit Kenya’s Expat Extraordinaire blog Yet Another 9/11 Tribute at So Long And Thanks For All The Fish.  If you’d like to be a part of this series please drop me a comment so I can share your blog here as well.

The Gods Must Be Crazy

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There are few things in this world that I crave.  When I moved overseas I knew that I would have to do without the basic amenities and foods that I’d grown used to in America however, when I left Africa I didn’t know that I’d be leaving behind one of the few things I crave, Coca-Cola.  Although Coca-Cola is one of the few truly American products that has become a global phenomenon I don’t drink American Coca-Cola products because nutrasweet/aspartame tastes like cancer and sadness.  However, Coca-Cola, produced in South Africa, remains a throw back to the original Coca-Cola sweetened with cane sugar and bottled in classic glass bottles.

When I moved back to Texas earlier this year, I knew that I would no longer enjoy the pleasures of an ice-cold Coke but resigned myself to the silver lining of saving myself 150 calories a day.  Little did I know that the  Coca-Cola gods polar bears were listening to my prayers and the pure sweet goodness of glass bottled Coca-Cola dropped from the sky appeared at my local Costco.

While I admittedly love Coca-Cola’s  African product I have to ask at what cost does Coca-Cola do business in Africa?
-Yes, they do promote corporate social investment and implement community initiatives in Africa.
-Yes, they  maintain a water initiative to provide clean water sources, hygiene education, and sanitation services across Africa.
-Yes, they support HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention, access to education, job creation, and humanitarian assistance.

But is that enough or should we expect more?  Coca-Cola currently operates its Southern Africa base in Swaziland, which is wrestling with economic crisis and protests to overturn the monarchy in favor of democracy.  Swaziland appeals to Coca-Cola as it is Africa’s third-largest sugar producer and they court King Mswati with annual pilgrimages to Coke’s global headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.  The King, whose fortune is built on partnerships with multi-national corporations, is known to have a personal fortune of more than $200 million while 70% of his subjects live on less than a dollar a day, more than 40% of the workforce are unemployed, and more than 25% of the population lives with HIV/AIDS.

Where does corporate responsibility end and politics begin? Should Coca-Cola be in business with a despot or is this the cost of doing business in Africa?  Where does personal responsibility begin and business ethics end?