Sunday, July 22, 2012

UPDATE – 15 July 2012

“My gynecologist likes me. He really really likes me!!”
This is what a young woman of 40 years screamed out very loud to me on a train, even though I sat right next to her. Everyone stared at us. But more on this later.

One of the strangest things you find in the UK and Ireland is that many bathroom and restroom sinks have two faucets—hot and cold. Apparently, according to London legend, in an earlier time (much earlier) the quality of cold water and hot water was not the same. If you had one mixed-water faucet with different temperature water, you might get less impure water when you wanted to drink, for instance. So they split the hot and cold to allow you to get separate clean, cold water regardless if the hot water or hot water tank had impurities or had become contaminated. This contaminated hot water, when in the mixer pipe, might contaminate water in the cold water pipe and that could lead to contamination back in the public water supply. So regulations were put in place preventing the mixing of taps. Add to that the fact that people in Britain love tradition or the fact that separate taps are cheaper than mixer taps which you find in the rest of Europe.  So even though Winston Churchill was fascinated at mixer taps during a visit to Russia in 1942, 70 years later the UK still has somewhere around 40% separate hot and cold taps.

As a newcomer to the UK you’ll notice various techniques employed to get the right temperature you want from 2 separate hot and cold taps. Here are my notes:

   1)      The Brrrrrrrrr – Just wash your hands in cold water for a quick wash. (This is what many Brits do. They are not bothered about cold water for quick washes.)

   2)      Out for a Swim – Plug the sink up and fill up the basin. Then alternate releasing cold and hot water into the basin, testing the water throughout, until you reach the desired temperature. Then wash. (This is also a British method. All of the remainder are mostly foreigner methods.)

   3)      Applause – Turn both faucets on and put one hand beneath each faucet. Quickly clap your hands together, rub, and then return them back to the each faucet and quickly clap them together again. Repeat as often as necessary, and sometimes repeat without rubbing.

   4)      I’ll take one Cold with a Side of Hot – put both hands under the cold water faucet. Occasionally reach your right hand to the right hot-water faucet and grab a bit of hot water and bring it back to the hand under the cold water faucet to slightly and briefly warm the water up. Repeat as often as necessary.

   5)      Sunny-side Up – This is the reverse of Cold with a Side of Hot. It’s good if you plan to moisturise your hands afterwards because the hot water really strips your hands of natural oils. You also need a tolerance for hot water.

   6)      Uneven Applause – This is the same as the Applause but you make one faucet run with less flow. So if you are a Sunny-side Up person, you might let more water run and less cold water run. With that balance of uneven flows you then try clapping the hands together. You can do the same in reverse, with more cold water flowing than hot water. Then Clap away!!

   7)      2nd Degree Burns – Flex your chest and turn on the hot water faucet!! Good luck.

All of these techniques reminds me how blessed it is to travel outside the UK and experience the mixed-temperature faucet in most other places. And this is exactly a joy I experienced when traveling from India to the US for a wedding of a dear beautiful friend, Rosa. After the wedding, on a train on the way to the JFK airport from New Haven, I stepped off the train briefly before it left to say goodbye to a friend. Upon my return to my seat, there sat a woman who was extra-friendly. I sat down across from her, next to her luggage which covered two seats next to me. She immediately began eyeing my plastic bag of two bagels.

“What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“That,” she points at my plastic bag.

“Those are bagels.”

“Are you gonna eat them?”

“Yes, I plan to, though I won’t eat them now.”

“Oh . . . so you’re gonna eat them?” she says sadly.

“Yes, I’m going to eat them,” wondering if she wants them.

“Oh,” she says not asking. “That’s good that you’re going to eat those bagels in the plastic bag.”

“Yeah,” I say sheepishly.

“What’s that?”

“They’re bagels.”

“No, not your food. What’s that?” she points to a half-eaten donut on the dirty floor.

“Oh, It’s just a donut.”

“Do you think it belongs to anyone?”

“No, someone probably just left it there.”


“I said someone probably left it there.”

“So no one owns it?”

“No, it’s on the floor.”

“Oh good.” She reaches and grabs the donut.

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, I’m really hungry.” She starts to move the donut toward her mouth.

“Don’t do that.”


“Because the donut has been on the floor.”

“Oh, I don’t mind.”

“Don’t eat that donut.”


“Because it’s not clean.”

“Oh it’s fine. See, I’ll just rub it against my jeans.” She rubs the donut against her jeans crumbling 1/5th of the remaining donut, leaving only 4/5ths of it to eat.

“It’s just that---“ She starts to eat the donut. This is when I realised that something isn’t quite right.

“MMM, this donut is sooo good. Do you want some?”

“No . . . . . . . I have these . . . bagels.”

“MMMMmmm, do you want some? I’m gonna finish it up.”

“No thank you.”

“Mmmm, mmmm, MMMM. That was so good. Now I need to get some water. In my house I have this machine that turns any drink into mineral water, sparkling water or water beer. Do you want some? It’s soo good. I’m glad I brought some. I’m going to have some to wash down the donut if I could just find it in this big suitcase somewhere, but you’ll see. IT’s really good. The cover of the bottle says water beer but it’s really just water. Do you want some water? I can give you some. Why haven’t you eaten your bagels, you look really hungry. You remind me of my doctors. You try to tell me not to do stuff. I can’t figure out why my gynecologist tries to --- I have a gynecologist you likes me. I mean my gynecologist likes me. He really REALLY likes me.” She is speaking very loudly at this point and people are listening to our conversation to determine if I am her pimp, kidnapper, or gynecologist who she is trying to get away from by alerting others. Luckily she starts talking to other people around her who have no patience for her. In fact one woman across the walking aisle from us offered to give me “safe haven” saying “I know she needs help but I just can’t take it. You can sit here if you want.” “No, it’s fine,” I declined. It seemed rude, and I thought my friend would quiet down. But she never did, so I never slept.

She had a knack for repeating things she said. She would repeat them over and over, but not in a demented way where you don’t realise you said. She repeated in a manner like a kid who is waiting for confirmation that you heard and affirmation of the good job she has done.

During the ride there was a baby in a chair behind me. She LOVED the baby. At one point, a banker dressed in a suit wanted to sit down next to me, but she didn’t realise she should move her suitcase, so I had to ask her if she could take her suitcase of the chair. She complied very willingly, and he sat down next to me also facing her on the left side of the walking aisle. So whenever she wanted to lean over and talk to the baby, she would get up and lean her body over the business man who I’m sure could not read his newspaper when she leaned against him, but she seemed not to realise that she was pressing on him. I kept praying the businessman wouldn’t hit her because he didn’t really want to engage her in conversation and she usually had to ask him a question 2 to 3 times before he answered.

“What do you do?”

“I’m just wondering because the way you dressed. What do you do?”

Finally, she taps the banker several times. “What do you do?”

“ . . . . . I’m a banker,” he says in soft, inconspicuous tones.

“Oh,” she says. He’s happy because he thinks it’s over.

“Where do you work?”

“Excuse me, where do you work?”

“ . . . . at a bank,” he muffles.

“Oh, that’s nice. So you’re a banker and you work at a bank?”

No response. “So you work at a bank?” No response.
She taps him again (I want to burst out laughing during this). “So you work at a bank? Which bank?”

He muffles some name of a bank I don’t know, but she catches wind of the cute baby behind the banker and myself.

“Oh what a cute baby,” she exclaims rushing over to us and leaning on the business man who has this 40-year-old woman pressed against him and she talks to the baby.

“How old is the baby?”

“Two,” the mother says.

“TWO! I can’t believe it. That’s AMAZING!! Hey, everyone, this baby is two. That is soooo cool. Can she do anything?”

“She can count pennies.”

“She can COUNT pennies!!! WHAT? That is so great!! She can count PENNIES!!””

The mother corrects, “She can count pennies but she doesn’t know what she is really doing. She just says 1-2-3 over and over as she picks up new pennies.”

“She can COUNT. And she can count PENNIES!!! That is aMAzing.” She sits back down and the business man can now see his newspaper. She says to me, “Can you believe that baby is only 2 and can count pennies! I can’t believe. Gosh, only 2 years old. Who would have thought she would be counting pennies at two. Did you?”

“No I don’t think I would have thought it.”

“Well, I could count pennies, quarters, dimes, and nickels and even bills when I was a month old. When I was 3 weeks to a month old, I was counting pennies and dimes and nickels. She’s not the only one. I could count it all. Yeah, I counted quarters up to a hundred when I was a month and a half. I could count pennies, too, and more when I was 3 weeks to a month and a half. I was VERY good with numbers, very good. I started when I was about a month old.”

Now, I’m pretty slow, of course, so I start doing the math because something doesn’t sound right. How could she count at any of those ages, much less count money, much less talk. So I got really confused and then began to realise something wasn’t right with her story. But I didn’t refute it. So since we didn’t understand each other we decided to go back to more comfortable topics .  . . like her gynecologist who was now a woman.

“Yeah, I don’t know why my gynecologist doesn’t like it when I eat two double flame-broiled blood-beef chili-onion ringed, extra-oil-fried burgers followed by extra-oil fried French fries, chili potato chips and 2 shakes.”

“It’s not healthy?”

“It’s not, but I just don’t get it. She and my cardiologist and my therapist. They always complain and say you shouldn’t eat that. My gynecologist got very mad at me. REALLY mad. I told her I ate two double flame-broiled blood-beef chili-onion ringed, extra-oil-fried burgers followed by extra-oil fried French fries, chili potato chips and 2 shakes and she flips out. I was like “GOSH.” Why does she have to be so mean and flip out? I don’t get it.  It was just two burgers and two shakes. What’s the big deal? I don’t get it. Why are they so mean? Do you know? Why do they get mad?”

“I think it’s because they care about you.” And in that moment, our conversation slightly changed.

“Oh they care about me? You think they care about me?”

“Yes, they do it because they care about you.”

“Oh, wow. I never thought about that. They care about me? You know, you’re right. I think they do it because they care about me. You know, they must really, really care about me if they really complain to me about what I eat. Wow. I think they REALLY REALLY care about me. My cardiologist must really care about me. I think I must be my cardiologist’s favorite  . . favorite .  . . “


“Patient. I must be my cardiologist’s favourite patient. He must really care about me. My gynecologist must really care about me. I think she likes me. I think my gynecologist really really likes me. Gosh, I never thought about it before. They must really care about me. I must be my therapist’s favourite patient. DO you think they care about me?”

“I think they do.”

“Wow, you must really care about me, too. I think my therapist and gynecologist really care about me. I think I must be their favourite person. When they see me coming down the street, they get really excited and because I’m their favourite patient. Wow, they must really care about me. Are you going to eat those bagels?”

“Here you can have it.”

“Are you sure? I can have it.”

“Yes, I’m not that hungry.”

“Wow, thanks, mister. I’m going to save them for later and eat them when I get to New York when I’m with my mom. I’m going to save it for later because I already ate that donut off the floor. It was a good donut. Do you want some money? How much do you want for it?”

“OH, no. I don’t need any money for it. IT’s a gift. Don’t worry about it.”

“What. You don’t want money?”


“Wow, you know what? You’re really nice. You’re a really nice person. Has anyone ever told you that?”

“A few people.”

“Well, you’re a really nice person. Do you want some money?”

“No, it’s fine.”

After that we talked some more which mainly consisted of her talking. She took 2 walks to the food compartment of the train because she thought she missed her stop even though we were getting off at the same place. Each time she said she saw her gynecologist up there. I wondered whether or not the gynecologist was really there. But when we got off at Grand Central Station, sure enough, her mother was there to pick up. And I was glad.

It’s strange how a really friendly person, in that part of the world, can be seen as mentally disabled in some way. I’d love it if friendly was the norm. I wasn’t sure what was exactly wrong with her, but the fact that she was seeing so many professionals and was taking 6 pills a day (diabetes, seizures, etc. I didn’t tell that part of the story) was a bit worrying. The woman with the baby thanked me when we landed. I didn’t think I did anything special and told her she was really nice with my friend. The woman with the baby said her own sister is handicapped. And that’s when I learned the word to use was handicapped. Regardless, she made me laugh a lot, and her mother was there to pick her up. I was really glad.

As for me, I’m having a good week. I just got back from a weekend at Oxford in which I watched my good friend James’s choir, the Oxford Gospel Choir, perform their end-of-the-year-before-summer-break concert with the ACM choir directed by Mark Di-Lesser, a judge on the UK “The Voice.” And his choir, the ACM gospel choir, was a finalist in “Last Choir Standing.” We had a good time, and it’s interesting to hear a British choir do American Black gospel music.

Last weekend I spent running around with one of my favourite people, Grace Kwak. With Grace, we just laugh all the time. It’s always a good time. She is the one that got me to move to London (thanks, Grace ;-). She pops in every 4 months or so to see London shows. So we went to the Globe Theatre and saw “Taming of the Shrew” and we also did a Globe Tour with afternoon tea. The next day we saw “Top Hat” with songs like “Cheek to Cheek” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Piccolino,” and “Top Hat,” “No Strings,” and “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.” It was cool. I haven’t seen a very old musical from the 30’s in a very long time. So it was nice to go back and see that and hear them try to talk like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It was great music (Irving Berlin) and good dancing. So we had a great time. One of the women I was with, Ramona, sometimes would ask “When is the song going to be over?” She is more of a Katy Perry fan, I was told.

Lastly we did a Sunday jazz brunch at Royal Albert Hall. Once again, Grace was attentive to everything I said, and reminded me that it would be good to talk to the pianist of the group that we heard. I completely forgot but they performed lovely music. It was the French chanson-jazz style. And I love accordion music. I have a friend that gave me a kid-baby accordion to get started learning. You can’t play all the notes on it but you can get started learning.


So I live in London which some friends of mine still don’t understand or know, but I don’t know how much more I can say it. J I moved here New Year’s 2012 to work with a small technology group to do global education work around the world focusing in internet and computer technologies.

In British English, the word “village” has no connection to development at all; it only refers to the size of the town. So here, we use the term “village” to refer to a small town, whereas in the U.S. you would only use village to refer to small towns in other (non-U.S.) countries that might not have running water or electricity. However here, many small towns are called villages or hamlets (depending on the size).

London is a town of about 8 million. And though news journalists refer to the UK government as London (the same way you refer to the Russian government as Moscow or the Israeli government as Jerusalem), in the UK the journalists refer to the UK government as Westminster because the seat of government, the House of Parliament, and the queen’s palace, Buckingham Palace, are in the borough of Westminster, not in the specific city of London.

It’s a cosmopolitan city unlike any I’ve seen. At my work, they call it the capital of capitals. With 8 million people, one third is foreign born (just like in New York City). Compare that to a rate of 8% foreign-born for the entire UK. English is not the first language of about 22% of Londoners which increases to 42% of London children. London itself has 2 universities in the top 20 universities in the world—Imperial College and University College.

The business here, too, is international. According to the Economist who interviewed a senior banker with New York and London experience, 80% of the dealmakers and 90% of the deals on Wall Street are American. In London, however, 65% of the dealmakers are foreign and 90% of the deals have an international element. But it doesn’t just attract the rich; it attracts the poor as well.

London has grown from a small city to a city of villages. The actual city of London is only one square mile (I said this in the last update). All of the surrounding villages continued to grow and grow and connect and then voila---London. And the collection of villages is often ethnically aligned. My first three months, I lived in temporary housing in Bayswater which has a high percentage of Arabs. The Koreans can be found in New Malden. There are many Portuguese in Stockwell. There are Turks, Kurds, and Turkish Cypriots in Hackney, Islington, and Haringey. Wembly and Southall have many Indians. The first Jamaican-British person I met lives in Brixton where there are many more. My Nigerians are in Peckham. You can find Bangladeshis and Pakistanis in Newham and Tower Hamlets. And the list goes on including Jewish people which I’ve seen in a certain part of town.

It’s strange though. Even though it’s bustling now, it hasn’t always been. It’s had a long history since it was established in 43 AD by the Romans

Today, it is growing again, and as it continues to grow it attracts global events. We just finished Wimbledon here. To explain a little bit about how big this 8 million-person city is, instead of naming the tennis open, the UK Open, it’s called Wimbledon which refers to the neighbourhood or village of London that houses the matches. It’s the same with football/soccer. Arsenal and Chelsea are neighbourhoods/villages of London. Some cities would not be able to emotionally, financially, and motivationally support multiple teams in the same city but you can do that in London. And few people seem to care that there is not a team that bears the name “London.” Now we are preparing for the 2012 Summer Olympics and the city is already packed with people. I can’t tell if this is normal for this time or if it is just the influx of people for the Olympics.

The Olympics are projected to cost 9.3 billion pounds over an estimated 2.4 billion pounds. We have built a village to house the athletes, and a housing block for the press. There is even a huge art piece, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, but, as with all global sports event hosted by one city, it’s not certain how the structures and space can be used AFTER the Olympics.

London faces all the normal issues of a global city of its size in a country like the UK. We face health issues including a declining happiness even though there is a high standard of living. We deal with things like silicone implants that have gone wrong. People complain about the health care and health system here, too (this is no way means that the UK system, the National Health System, is inferior or worse at providing for most people than a system like the US does; I think many US politicians during the health care debates of 2009 misrepresented failures of NHS as if they were characteristic or typical; one thing I’ve learned about trying to decide whether I should pay money to a health insurer for private health care---most British people I’ve met with are agreed that there is no difference in the quality of care; there is a slight difference in the speed of care depending on what you want done, but not the quality). There is an immigration issue as with most big cities and the government has recently ordered many illegal immigrants to go back home. The tough part is they don’t know how many there are exactly, how many have complied, and how many are still here. There is the problem of poor primary and secondary education. They also have a free school movement which is like the public charter school movement in the U.S. Teachers want to strike here as do other unionized groups. There is inequality and scandal. It’s all quite familiar especially because I live in London. I think other parts of the UK are less US-leaning (hyper-consumerist leaning).

But let me give you an example to explain a bit how the UK is slightly less consumerist as the U.S. Let’s use an example from entertainment. In the U.S. if a TV show is produced and in the first season it does well, they continue for the next season. In the second season, if there are even more viewers, they go for a 3rd. After the third season, it’s been declared a hit with the highest ratings of all times. They decide to do a 4th. This process continues until the ratings drop again, and then they finally decide to cancel due to poor ratings. Occasionally, they end before this happens perhaps because the actors together decide not to do it anymore or the main actor decides not to do it anymore, perhaps in consultation with the producers and creators. Now let’s travel to the UK. In the UK, a TV producer starts a new show, and it has amazing reviews and becomes the number 2 show on UK TV that season. The producers don’t have a team to make a decision about whether or not to go on because the producers and creators and writers know the story is not finished. So they do a 2nd season. The second season goes on air and the show becomes the number 1 show on TV that year. There is no huddle to decide whether or not to continue the show (and of course not, the ratings are good). They simply decide that the show is over. Why? It’s over because the story has come to an end, according to the writers and creator and producer. And that’s how that works here. Of course, you could have a similar situation like the business-minded TV decisions of the US, but it is less likely in the UK. And you are more likely to see someone ending a show when it naturally ends. So you are less likely to have those types of situations like Matrix II and Matrix III when you can tell that the writers did not have in mind the complexities of Matrix II and Matrix III when they wrote the first Matrix. Those complexities were an after-thought brought in when they decided to make another movie (I’m guess and this could be wrong). But it happens in US movies and TV and you say to yourself “What? Why did she do that? I don’t think she would have ever done that if she were real. That’s not like her.” And perhaps it’s true. But they have to keep writing and keep creating and keep making it interesting with no turns and twists and sometimes, in the US, this manifests in making the characters do extraordinary things or putting them in extraordinary circumstances.


I just got back from a trip that kept me away from home for over a month. I spent the first week in the Lake District of England with my cousin Eka. I met her brother, also my cousin, for the first time, and her new boyfriend that I had heard so much about. I was pleasantly surprised. He’s a really good man compared to all the others I had heard about. I also met her two friends. Together the 6 of us rented out a flat near the shores of Lake Windermere for the week. We visited the home of 18th – 19th century English Romantic Poet and National Poet Laureate William Wordsworth, friend to poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth wrote famous poems such as “Daffodils” and “Tintern Abbey” and volumes such as “Lyrical Ballads” (jointly published) and “The Prelude.”

Wordsworth was one of a group of poets who lived and wrote poems around and about the lakes in the Lake District. It seemed like an ideal life except for the issue of mice or rats. I don’t like them and I have trouble believing their natural habitat is the human home. But hey, that’s just my opinion. Luckily I don’t face that in my current London home, though it is a problem in the city. The trip with family was really great, and I just enjoyed the chance to relax even though I had a lot of reading material related to international development issues such as governance, democracy, energy, internet access, and employment. J

What wasn’t so great was that I packed for India which was experiencing 40-45 degree weather (Celsius) each day in Delhi. We had a few good days of weather in London so I thought “summer’s here.” I thought wrong. When I got to the Lake District I was introduced to the fact that the UK is one of those countries where you always need a jacket . . . year-round. And it rains . . .  and rains . . .  and rains . . . a lot. So though we took a row boat out on the lake, it was a cold row (I relaxed while Mark and Tom, the boyfriend, rowed). I was freezing in the Lake District. Luckily Tom had a few jumpers (jerseys, sweaters depending on which English you speak) for me to wear and Mark had a jacket he didn’t like (yay!!) so those were my best friends on the trip. It was a wonderful hanging out with all of them; Tom’s great; Mark is sweet; and I loved Eka’s two friends.

Reaching India was a shock. The heat in Delhi made Phoenix seem light and refreshing. It was almost unbearable. I arrived there on a Saturday being required to work on a weekend (ridiculous) to help train someone who was to teach a pilot class of our new curriculum. So it was a work trip, but I viewed it as my service trip for the year because my best friend wouldn’t respond to me about doing a service trip in Cuba this year. So for my job, I had worked on a curriculum for about 6 months (probably much less in reality) and we were now testing it out with two classes: a class of adult business-related people in the morning for 4 hours, and after a 1 hour lunch break, another class of university-age students. I was usually working during the lunch hour answering questions and helping people; this was possible because most days lunch arrived late. So I was working for about 9 hours a day. Now, I did not want to go on this trip and saw it as a waste because I didn’t want to travel to observe someone teaching for two weeks especially if another colleague was going and could do the observation. But here I was traveling to India to sit in a classroom for 2 weeks and arriving in India early on a weekend to spend two days teaching someone to teach the material. This teacher was someone from the training centre that would possibly teach the material for us in India and elsewhere.

To make a long story short, I didn’t meet with the person on Saturday or Sunday, and I was asked to teach the material for 2 weeks. Thus started the best 3 weeks of my job since I began in January. I have two titles: instructional designer and training development specialist, though my manager doesn’t acknowledge the second for some reason (internal confusion with this role). So he actually wasn’t happy that I was enjoying the “training” part but was thankful I was there to handle it since no one else felt comfortable with the material. But it was just lovely because I was able to stand up during the day (I hate desk jobs) and interact with people (I dislike jobs that do not have interaction with others) much more than I have been doing in 6 months.

It was aMAzing. I’ve included some pictures for you to see, but I actually became friends with my students. They went from being a group of people who were moving in slow motion due to the heat, intermittently swiping their foreheads and languishing in their chairs, to friends who invited me to events, had conversations with me, and hosted me at their homes. On the last day of the two weeks, the entire group of students in the Student Class gave me a white kurta (Indian top), white pants, and fancy cream shoes! They also gave me a super-large card signed by all of them (those that hadn’t left the course early). The Business Class students were less attached; however one woman from that class (she is a teacher at the training centre) and another teacher from the training centre who was not in the class, gave me a homemade gift bag with a Ganesh statue and 3 cards. One of the cards was homemade and included a picture of them and a picture of me which they got from Facebook. They were very sweet. I think what really amazed me was that I naturally expected that the second card was from a different or larger group of people, but it was still from the same two teachers. So then I thought the 3rd card was from someone else—no, it was still from the same two people. And that is different from my culture in which you would only give someone one card, not three. So I thought it was quite funny and very sweet.

The final week was spent training a bunch of instructors who flew into Delhi to learn the material so they could then train other instructors and start teaching the material itself. They also treated me quite well. They took me for a night out in Old Delhi (which reminds me of Old Istanbul or Old Marrakech) and I got to eat at a famous (only seats maybe 25 people) parantha street shop. I got parantha made with cashews. It was amazing. I wasn’t supposed to eat street food, but it turned out ok. I mean, I never had a solid bowel movement my entire time in India but I also didn’t have recurring bowel movements each day. So what does that say? (Don’t ask me)

All in all it was a good trip. The pilot went well in that it pointed out large problems with the material. This made some people think it was not a success or the training of instructors wasn’t successful but that’s not true. It served its purpose to illuminate the problems, and the instructors were introduced enough to the material to go back and learn it. I had a really good time, and my weekends were free for travel which is what I tried to do. I also tried to go for a swim each night if I got home in time and if there were no functions or events going on at the pool.

India is a strange, complex, and amazing country. As is always the case, when you first travel to a country you can write and talk volumes about it and its people because you know and understand it from your visit. But after being there for a few years you have less to say because you understand it less. After being there 5-10 years you realise you have nothing to say because you now know you don’t really know. Well, I was only there for 3 weeks, so I “know” a lot. Ha ha!

India is a country of over 1.2 billion people according to the 2011 census data, second only to China. But with China’s one-child rule, growing concern with overpopulation, and older-aged population, India’s population is expected to overtake China’s population making India the largest country in the world by 2030. The linguistic, genetic, and general cultural diversity of India is staggering. They have over 2,000 distinct ethnic groups and every major religion represented. I saw Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim, and Baha’i temples. I even saw a Catholic cathedral. They have four language families (Austro-Asiatic, Dravidian, Indo-European, and Tibeto-Burman) plus two other languages (Nihali and Burushaski). Have you ever been told that “everyone speaks English” in a country to which you are about to visit and you arrive and you talk to people who don’t speak English? No? This always happens to me. And it makes sense in India. I think most people speak at least one of the two languages—Hindi or English. But you can find people throughout the country who might not know either. I had students in my class that struggled to speak English back to me.

What I wasn’t prepared for was this recurring conversation. I would meet someone who looked like she was from a different country.

“Where are you from?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean ‘where are you from?’ What place?”

She says something I don’t recognize which surprises me because I thought I knew all the countries in Asia.

“Where is that?”

She giggles. “In India.”

“Oh yeah, right. I knew that.”

One woman actually explained it to me. A lot of these people that I thought were Chinese or Burmese were from border regions of the country. I immediately rushed to find a map and was dumfounded at what I saw—India borders countries: Pakistan, Tibet/China, Nepal, Myanmar (Burma), Bangladesh, and Bhutan. It also has maritime borders with Sri Lanka (and some would say the Nicobar islands of Indonesia). And lastly due to border disputes, it possibly borders Afghanistan through the “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir” region. I knew some of these borders, but not all. I also didn’t realise it had a piece in the northeast that barely squeezes through Nepal and Bangladesh to allow it to connect with Bhutan and Burma. It’s a really big country and a hugely diverse one and has had border disputes and wars with Pakistan and China through its history. In New Delhi, I didn’t realise how close we were to the borders of Nepal, Pakistan, and China.

I could talk for hours about it (remember I’ve only been here a short time—ha!) but I’ll just mention a trip I took one weekend to Varanasi. Varanasi  is a holy city. I didn’t realise before going that it is the place that the original Buddha (Prince Siddhartha who was Nepalese) preached his first public lecture, meditated for 5 months, and was cremated. It’s a national heritage site, and there so many temples there in that site. Across from the temples was a museum and what was special to me was that out of all the artifacts they had (from roughly 200 B.C.E. to the medieval period), everything was from that town and that town only. I had never seen a museum like that in my life.

However the main attraction of the town was the activity about the Ganges River. Yes, the town was on the banks of the Ganges and there were dusk and dawn boat tours. The dusk tours were timed so that they ended at the start of the daily night festival where Hindu priests or adherents performed a ceremony with fire. It was quite amazing to watch. It looked like a Hindu carnival or festival which concluded with a fire show. And it was beautiful watching from the boat. However the morning was the most spectacularly strange part of it. I’ll tell you about that in a moment.

Prior to doing the dusk boat tour we had walked along the banks and watched the many cremation ceremonies taking place. According to the locals, 200-250 cremations occur there in Varanasi a day. I actually watched one; I watched a dead body being walked around, kissed, and burned. I smelled burning human flesh. I’m not sure what it smells like, but it’s strange. Cremation is a part of Hindu culture; I didn’t see any cemeteries there while traveling. However not everyone is fit for cremation. For example, often lepers are not cremated. So in the water you will find the ashes of hundreds of millions of people, I suppose, not that you will necessarily see it, but people put the ashes in the water. In the morning during the dawn boat tour we saw what else happens in the water.

It was quite strange to sit in a row boat where the rower rowed you past people who were bathing. It felt like we were invading their privacy; however, they were used to it. Some people swam in the water. Others bathed in the water, some used soap, most didn’t. Some people washed pots and pans in the water, some washed their clothes in the water. Some dumped ashes in the water, occasionally a body was dumped in the water (I never saw this). Some people drank the water, some urinated or defecated in the water. And the most amazing thing? Some people fished in the water. I met an Australian friend who couldn’t believe things lived in the water, but they did. I saw fish jump. I also saw a dead fish and . . . dead body floating right next to my row boat. It looked like a mummy. It was quite strange.

I wish I had a few days with you because there is so much more I want to say about Varanasi and India in general, but suffice it to say it is unlike any place I have ever been to. I was immediately hit in the face with the obviousness of the number of different lives one could live there. I was following Prime Minister Singh’s comments at the Rio20 summit and I liked what he said, to be honest. I have been having a very tough time at work explaining that I think our small project was low impact but people have trouble hearing what I’m saying. And then, there, amid all the talk of financial stability in Europe and climate change, Prime Minister Singh said eradicating poverty was the number one priority for his country and government. I loved that. I loved that he said “eradicating.” I love that he laid that as the foundation against which all other acts of the government must be judged against.

India has the largest middle class in the world. At Company all we talk about is emerging country and emerging markets of which India is sometimes considered chief. But what I don’t hear anyone saying is that just as India’s GNI and GDP are growing so is its inequality, and this is worrying to me. You see, India also has the largest poor class in the world depending on how you define it. I have no desire to see India grow in the same way as the US with the same kind of inequitable growth. I want something better for India. And India scares me because I think its potential inequality is even greater than that in the UK and the US. So it’s an even scarier situation. Just because a project sounds good, it doesn’t mean it’s actually positive. It might be neutral or worse yet, unintentionally negative. And I fear that our project has gone into the land of unintended negative consequences, a project that helps people--yes—but only serves to help increase growth among those that are part of the growth, doing nothing for those that are left behind, marginalized, not included. In other words it exacerbates the growing inequality instead of fighting it. This is my worry. And judging from the students in my pilot classes, I’m pretty sure they would have been fine without the course and would have, if needed, found another class to learn how to create a website, for instance.

Even though I call it developing countries, in my work group it’s called emerging markets because we think of these places as markets for our products. Because we’re profit-driven we don’t think so much about stagnating markets or diverging countries within the developing world, only the emerging ones. And so in some instance, we’re just trying to jump on a moving train. However, I don’t like the direction the train is moving in some of these emerging countries with unequal growth and widening inequality. I’d rather steer the train in a better direction or start our own train. No one in my area seems to understand this; if they do, they aren’t moved or they are on the philanthropic side of the firm. It is much harder work with a lower probability of success to do the high-risk high-reward (reward for the “other”) high-impact work of helping people who are not being helped, without resources, and would not be helped if you don’t help them. It’s easier and more likely to succeed if you go into a market or area where there are other people to provide what you provide (low impact) but at least you can say that you had the superficial impact of  providing it (even though you know, there is no difference if you were there or not). Does that make sense? Imagine a person in a small village suffering from a headache. I decide I’m going to make headache medicine. He buys my medicine. My superficial impact is that his headache symptoms were alleviated. That’s my biochemical top-level impact. But that’s only what I added to the situation (value-added is a common phrase in many organisations I’m finding). I judge impact not by the addition but by the difference. If I did not make the headache medicine and sell it to him, what would have happened? If he was simply able to buy another headache medicine from someone else, that Is very low real impact (or no real impact in this case). It’s much harder to do real high-impact work; if it wasn’t hard, everyone would be doing it. Often you are alone, you’re a pioneer. But when you’ve made a road or a path, other innovators will follow and you will have created an access pipeline for the group you targeted and helped. It’s much harder work, harder to get right and do well, but easier to measure impact if you are one of the few or the only one working in that area or with that people. And even though it is much harder work, in general, it’s much better work, a far, far better work.


And so I struggle with my job. My manager asked me once if I was comfortable being the one on the team that challenges everyone else. I told him it’s an interesting question because there is a type of person who prefers to have people around her who agree with her. And there’s another type who is comfortable being the only one of a certain opinion. I told him I’m usually the latter as long as there are some small victories. The problem with my job is that 90% of the decisions made are in a direction other than that voiced by me. This are in two general areas—education and development.

For many reasons my project changed before I arrived. However none of this was communicated to me before coming. So I was in for a surprise. The biggest change is that though I’m an instructional designer, I would not be designing the material. An outside firm was contracted to do the work. I would just review their work. Well, the problem with that is that the firm is more traditional on the pedagogical/educational spectrum. I’m much more progressive pedagogically and always looking to see what the latest research says about how people learn or pulling it real experiences from the classroom. So we often clash professionally and I would have designed the curriculum differently. So usually if we disagree on something we go with them, even though I represent my company. If different reviewers from my company disagree, we don’t go with my choice we go with the choice of the program manager for that course. So I don’t really have a place where my progressive stance can be supported and adopted in any considerable way.

The other area in which I disagree is a fundamental one—development. I come from international development and took the job because I thought we were doing development and that I would be working partly in the philanthropic arm of the company (I’m not at all; I was even told that we might move there when I came, but this also isn’t true). Being in the normal part of the company we are not shielded from company profit goals even though we work on a project that is not directly related to profit. So there is natural tension there, even if it is felt most greatly by me (an assumption). I remember meeting with a vice president who explicated how good we were at community engagement but not so good at profit. Someone asked if there wasn’t another way to measure impact, but the problem is that the vice president has to answer to other people. So it’s a sticky situation. As it stands, the project doesn’t seem designed from my development perspective which is to help the people who need the most help, the people with the least resources who would not be helped if we weren’t there (high impact). In fact it seems designed with more of a visibility and product-adoption mentality so that we help people but mostly people who would have been ok without our help anyway. India is 60% rural – 40% urban (some say 55/45 now), so by targeting urban we are missing the rural. And by targeting tier 1 cities we miss tier 2 and 3 cities. It’s sad, but even our courses have pre-requisites that eliminate all people who don’t have the entry level knowledge. I am trying to change this but it’s hard. Here are some of the changes that occurred before I arrived.

·         I was told I was to work only in Africa. Due to some reorganization before I arrived, I now work all over the developing world. It’s not bad for me but it is bad for the work itself because it’s harder for me to develop a regional focus or regional expertise having to consider so many countries. This effect has been softened somewhat by the fact that we are focusing on one country to start, but none of the team has regional expertise there.
·         I was told I was going to do 50% internal education work and 50% external (developing world) education work. The internal part was cut. Again, it’s not bad for me, I like focusing in the developing world. However, I now see the importance of having a group of instructors and instructional designers who understand you. Right now, I feel like a lone black sheep in my part of the company.
·         I was told that we were going to teach both company products and general technologies to help people. That is not true. We only teach company products. Now, that may not be bad or good. It depends on the products. And it’s possible that we have the best product for a particular business function or internet function. However, that’s not always the case for each individual user and what the person needs. Moreover, I took the job because I 50% was going to involve teaching general technologies. Now that’s gone, and I’m having to adjust to that. For instance, we are not teaching basic HTML, JavaScript, Java, Python, etc. But the problem is that in order to take a course in which we teach about certain technologies we offer, you will need to know some of those languages. So if you grew up in a place or went to a school that didn’t teach those languages or teach them well, you won’t be able to take our course. I want to open up access.

1)      I don’t create anything. My title is instructional designer but I don’t design anything. All day long I review, critique, edit, comment, opine. What I want to do is create.
2)      I’m development minded while others are business minded. (These don’t have to be mutually exclusive but in this case they are opposed at least from in the way they are business minded and the way I’m development minded. I actually think that the direction I want is more beneficial profit-wise in the long run, but it’s hard to predict and show.)
3)      I’m pedagogically progressive while everyone else is more traditional.
4)      I’m criticised for criticizing my project. This is strange because I criticize the things I love and try to make it better.
5)      I’m criticized for not speaking. First, I’m not like in others where I’m quick to speak. It’s always been an asset in other companies. Here it’s not so much. I am quick to listen and learn from others especially what people are thinking. But not everyone around me is like that. The problem is that if you constantly say no to everything I say or if you’ve said no to what I’ve said, why should I say it again? I also don’t like to repeat and rehash. I rather speak if I have something new to say. So for instance, I was in a meeting two weeks ago Friday. We were discussing a topic we had talked about on Thursday. I had given my opinion which didn’t agree with a programme manager. We were talking about it again. I was listening. Finally the programme manager asked what I thought. I cringed. I knew if I spoke, my opinion would not be welcome. But I couldn’t avoid speaking because no I was asked to do so. So I had to oblige and give my opinion. Of course, the programme manager disagreed and made the decision to do things the way this programme manager chose. That’s the usual pattern. It happens over email. I general hate giving my opinion, but when someone asks a question in an email you have to respond.
6)      None of my medium or big suggestions are considered or adopted. This is strange. I think it took about 4 months, but by sometime in April and definitely by the end of April I realized I didn’t like my current situation. I realized this because I noticed that I don’t come up with ideas anymore—at all. I wondered why that was, I thought long and hard about it, and I realized that everything I say and suggest is always discarded. I’m always told “no” or “later” or “maybe for a later version” or “maybe we can do that for a future iteration.”

When I give my opinion or idea over email, it usually elicits two responses. It is squashed immediately in a nice email that responds very quickly to my email. However, the email doesn’t change my mind because it never addresses the point I made. This type of quick response bothers me because it means the responder didn’t really listen or listen-read to what I wrote. The responder just responded immediately and quickly holding to a particular ground. This is what I mean quick-to-speak, slow-to-listen. I notice this in meetings. I might be sitting with a VP and the VP says something, and I’m taking it in, meditated on it, chewing on the idea. It’s ruminating and percolating within me. And I realise that the VP has said something because the VP sees the project from a different perspective, and it’ an interesting one. Or the VP has a different motivation. Before my thoughts have even begun someone in our group has shot back a quick answer (this is encouraged in my group). I don’t like it because it doesn’t allow that time to listen to understand. I think that’s important and needed, partly because I see how my points are never listened to deeply.

The second response I get is “If you feel that way, Victor, why don’t you go and write a proposal or do it yourself.” I really don’t like this because if a director or VP has said no to my idea, why would I write a proposal because someone else has said to and then take it to the director who already said no. No, I have to first have buy-in or direction to write a proposal from my director. Then I’ll do it. However, the biggest problem with this response (and the hardest for me, a communal person) is that it keeps the issue I’ve raised as some problem for Victor to look at. I raise the issue not because I have all the answers and solutions but because I’m inviting my close team of friends to join me in the process of solving this, to help contribute to a solution. And this response prevents that from happening. If I can’t get my small sub-team to see what I’m saying then I can’t go to a higher person (VP or director) with a consolidated proposal, suggestion, thought, improvement.

Needless to say it’s tough. The lead of my project told my or suggested to my manager that lack of passion due to the project going in a direction other than what I wanted caused me to not be as productive as possible or just do what was required. The suggestion was that I met expectations but didn’t exceed them. It was quite a surprise to me because I saw no connection and thought it ludicrous. I actually still give my all even though I disagree with it. So I talked to my project lead. I asked for examples since I didn’t see it, ready to admit that it was true if she pointed out something I didn’t realise. Nothing. Everything she pointed out was just a case of her having a difference of opinion and then blaming my difference of opinion or action on me wanting the project to go a different direction. For instance, the lead said that I sent updates from India each day that included feedback but no solutions. I said of course; it’s a feedback email not a solutions email. Solutions are discussed with the content developers later on. The rest of the comments were more of the same. I felt better that it wasn’t actually true. After my project lead talked to me and I disagreed I had to have two talks with my manager that week. Can you imagine that our talks (they were very nice and cordial) got to the point where he said “this is not a threat, just advice. To succeed here you have to have your manager give you a “exceeds expectation” rating. This is even required to move between jobs.” I told him if someone said I met expectations and I looked at what he said and disagreed, he’s free to do that, but if someone said and it had merit, then I would make the changes. Here there were no changes to be made. So I said I’m fine with it. The strange thing about my manger is that he’s also the manager of my project lead. I asked him for a 20% project doing some actual disaster mapping work in developing countries. He said no because he thought I would like my 20% project more than my main job. Though this might have been true it was the wrong response for me because it would have been a very helpful release valve for me. But he denied me it. Anyway, he has left our small technology company for a really big company in Switzerland. We wish him well; he’s a very nice man, and he actually said he really likes me and my analytical mind. He also said I’m a very artist person and passionate person. He always encourages us to disagree with him but I think in practice, it’s not as easy. J

At some point, not sure when, we’ll receive an interim manager. I’ll try for a 20% project with him. Other than that I've volunteered my time to help Ashoka social entrepreneurs on the ground around the world with digital online marketing for their social enterprises (so I'm trying to put the curriculum I've worked on to good use). And I've volunteered to help a human trafficking organisation in Bulgaria with fundraising ideas. Both of those are through a "Serving" programme. I volunteer for various random things but sometimes get thwarted. There is a programme to encourage high school students (especially women and ethnic minorities) to feel more comfortable with computer science and perhaps to even think about studying it. However, my manager wouldn't let me help speak at the next Teen Tech event and they really struggle to get speakers. It meant I would be out of the office for a day, so that was a bummer. Always pushing as I try to “keep the faith.”


So I’m watching this Ben Affleck movie “The Town” and the main character is a bank robber who engages in armed robbery and he ends up dating the victim of one of his crimes. The strange thing is that he doesn’t tell her what he does (of course, it’s probably not strange), but instead works hard to show her he’s a really great guy. During the movie my mind is whirling. Is he a great guy because he can tell a joke and laugh with her, because he can garden with her and take nice walks? Or is he a bad guy because he steals money using guns and people can get hurt?

Obviously I’m being a bit reductionist in analyzing his persona assuming a dualistic model, but I was rather bothered that he was painting a particular version of himself to this woman. In other words, he was showing her the story he tells about himself to himself. But in my mind I kept thinking, is this the real person? And don’t we do this—don’t I do this every day on Facebook? In fact, Facebook may not be a projection of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves as much as it is just another realm or arena where we project the story we want people to know about us.

Let me give you an example from the November 1938 edition of Homes and Gardens which I read about in the book “Insurrection.” In this edition, the magazine did an interview of a particular man with a large home but unpretentious in every way. The gentleman of the house delights in the company of foreigners, especially painters and other artists. He is quite kind and cordial with all of his staff, from waiters to gardeners. He allows the many pets to run about the house (where other rich men would have them restrained) and he loves children. In fact he holds amazing “Fun Fairs” where are the local children are invited to the house. This is a lovely and warm, loving man as pictured in the article.

This featured article had as its subject the nice and quiet home and life of Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany. The article implicitly begs the question “Who is Herr Hitler?” I mean, is he the nice and quiet, loving man we see in this article? Or is he the brutal, bigoted, murderous leader who incites hatred of others in people? Which is it?

The amazing thing is that the article is accurate. So it’s not the article itself or the home or the “Fun Fairs” themselves that are the tension. No, the tension lies in the lived images we construct about ourselves that avoids the crux or truth of our existence. Just as the Homes and Gardens article functioned as a mechanism to construct an image for Hitler, so we construct images and stories of ourselves in many ways, a major one being Facebook. So then the truth of my story or Hitler’s story or the lead character’s story in The Town is not really found in the story we each tell about ourselves. Rather it lies in the lived existence we fashion, in the internal drives and desire that manifest in actual practices and actions.

Most people would agree that the truth about Hitler is not in the story we see in Homes and Gardens but in the monstrous evils he did. However, do you not find it interesting that we can actually serve an ideology that we intellectually reject through our beliefs? Is that not what happens in the story of Hitler in which he intellectual rejects evil, unkindness, and hatred in one context but continually lives it out in a much wider context?

Normally people say that our practices fall short of our beliefs. And when I am talking with someone who is at that stage of consciousness, I talk at that level. In reality, however, our practices do not fall short of our beliefs. Our practices are concrete and material representations of them. And this horrifies me when I look at my life.  However, it does give me hope that in the various tensions and anxieties in my life between created self-perceptions and lived realities I can work to change that . . . if it’s possible.

Go check out the movie “The Town.”


I don’t know if the TV network, USA, has a department that works on gender equity or gender representation. It is not a women’s network or a network created for women or to support women’s issues. Yet, time and time again, I am always impressed with the relatively higher representation of women in strong roles compared to other networks. I’m thinking of shows like “The Closer,” “Fairly Legal” and “Covert Affairs.” And as I was watching a newer legal suspense show called “Suits,” I was again amazed by the presence of a Black female partner at the firm. And she is as strong a character as they come. Thinking of her, though, I began to reflect on women and the state of women in the world today. I have (my small sub-team has) an intern for the summer. She’s a female final year undergraduate from Egypt and I asked her about the state of women’s freedom across the Middle Eastern world. I shared with her an article, Why Do They Hate Us, and we’ve begun a discussion about how free women are in these countries.

I’m going to try to stray from opinion and just deal with facts for the moment. Let’s start in Egypt. “More than 90% of ever-married women in Egypt” have had their genitals cut out for the sake of modesty according to this article. Sometimes Egyptian women are subject to virginity tests because they speak out against injustice. An article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by a husband with “good intentions” then no punitive damages can be obtained by the woman. Throughout the Middle East, there are countries where women but me covered up, denied the right to drive, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry or divorce without a male guardian’s permission.

There is no Arab country in the top 100 of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. So even though Saudi Arabia and Yemen are very far apart in GDP they are only 4 places apart in the Gender Gap Report (131st [Saudi Arabia] and 135th [Yemen last out of 135 ranked countries]). Morocco, considered to have “progressive” family law, ranks 129th and in 2010 saw over 41,000 girls under the age of 18 married, according to the Morocco’s Ministry of Justice.

Yemen is the lowest ranked in the report, and there 55% of women are illiterate, 79% don’t participate in the work force, and only one member of the 301-member Parliament is female. This article pointed out that, at least in Yemen, women can drive. In Saudi, child marriage is practiced and even though women outnumber men in university, these educated women must watch men far less qualified control most aspects of their lives.

I have to admit. I was asked to apply for a professorship job in Saudi Arabia while I was in South Africa, and I was a bit frightened. I have lived in paternalistic societies and cultures all my life; I’ve lived in countries where the president has multiple wives like my grandfather; I’ve lived in places with no running water or electricity; I’ve stayed in places where I have to check my shoes for scorpions before putting them on. I lived in severe heat without air conditioning and cold without central heating. But I was scared to go to Saudi Arabia because I felt the culture was too different, too strict for me to feel free. So I never applied for the job in the country where a gang-rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male; she needed a royal pardon. I wasn’t sure I could go to a country where a woman who broke the ban on female driving was subject to 10 whippings and also required a royal pardon, where women can’t vote or run in elections. In 2010 Newsweek hailed former King Abdullah as one of the top 11 most respected world leaders. Some have considered it “progress” that a royal decree promises to enfranchise women for local elections in 2015.

When Egypt banned the practice of female circumcision in 2008, some Muslim Brotherhood legislators opposed the law. One person who still opposes it is female parliamentarian Azza al-Garf. What’s interesting is that some people support female circumcision on the grounds of modesty and curbing female desires. What you often find, in my experience, is a problem with male desires.

While in Delhi I was amazed that there were female-only cars on the subway. I asked people why that was. I honestly could not figure out the reason. I was told that “sometimes men will grab and hurt women or molest and abuse women. It’s sad but true that it happens. Female-only cars protect women from such problems in such hugely crowded cities.” Egypt also has women-only cars. Saudi Arabia has family-only malls which bar single men from entry unless they have the required female escort. The 2008 Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights survey reported that more than 80% of Egyptian women said they’d experienced sexual harassment and more than 60% of men admitted to harassing women.

I read on that in 2002, 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca simply due to the fact that the “morality police” precluded them from fleeing the building because they were not wearing the religious headscarves and cloaks required in public (this reminds me of a famous question of whether the law was made for man or man for the law). In Kuwait, four women finally made it into parliament but two didn’t cover up. They were hounded and people demanded they wear hijabs. When the parliament was dissolved in December 2011, one parliamentarian demanded that the new house discuss a proposed decent attire law. In Tunisia in 1956, the Personal Status Code declared principle equality between men and women. However, there still have been assaults and intimidation by Islamists for not wearing hijabs. Under Qaddafi in Libya, women who survived sexual assault or were suspected of moral crimes were put in social rehabilitation centers which were like prisons from which freedom only came if a man agreed to marry you or your family took you back. After the revolution, the first thing the head of the new interim government, Mustafa Jalil, agreed to do was lift the ban on polygamy. In Egypt, after Mubarak stepped down and the military cleared Tahrir Square detaining male and female activists, the military used virginity test for the female activists (the doctor performing this was sued and acquitted in March 2012). In the fall of 20122, one of Egypt’s parties, the Salafi Nour Party, ran a flower in place of each female candidate.

I discussed these issues at length with our intern. She said that these are all exaggerated. After talking to her more, I realized that she didn’t dispute any of the facts, but she felt it created a distorted picture. And I can understand that. Yes, there are female circumcision, but that tends to happen more in rural areas and not in urban areas in Egypt, and it is waning (thank goodness for some progress). My intern focuses on the progress, the article focused on lack of expected progress or how far behind we are. But the interesting perspective of the article is not just that there is a lack of freedom and misogyny in governmental positions, but that this misogyny pervades among men throughout society so that women will never be free from oppression until you stop the oppressors in homes. My intern felt that women are not equal to men but that it wasn’t due to misogyny at all. I talked to her about misogyny in the UK and the US, that sometimes it’s not obvious or even conscious but can be a subconscious sexism or elitism or bigotry. I talked about the mysterious phenomenon of women and men in the UK who work in the same position but earn different salaries. No one knows how it directly happens. No hiring manager will tell you that he purposely offers a lower salary to women, but there is some pervading mechanism that causes this to happen and it is taking a long time to fall out of the system. We talked of music and entertainment that is supported by the masses but wholeheartedly embraces objectification of women. She understood all these things but has never felt hated in Egypt as a woman. I’m thankful for that. I just wasn’t sure that the writer of the article meant a conscious hatred.

I know that I benefit greatly from male privilege whether consciously or subconsciously (I’m sure there are times when I’m unaware or don’t think about it), but I try to remember that and to know that I carry biases and perspectives that cause me to inadvertently view women and men differently in cases where I shouldn’t (women and men are different and it’s ok to realise that; it’s wrong to say that difference applies to everything and in all context such as cognitive ability). But I do like what the article was pointing to—the fact that at the heart it’s not an institutional problem or a governmental problem. In reality it may not even be a societal problem, but it is one that must be solved at the level of each individual person because even in a society in which “women are free” you can have instances of people who think act differently and hate women in the home or abuse women. Even in such countries, if they exist, something must be worked out on the level of the individual. And when this crucial work is neglected, regardless of grand institutions and laws and governments, we are doomed to repeat the same failures again when new people are born into this world without having done the necessary head and heart homework to actively engage in a love community.


Why Open Education Matters from Blink Tower on Vimeo.

Most people around the world realise our education models are broken. Around the world, primary and secondary education is in shambles. This is not true in every country but it is true in most regions of the world. We need serious help. One new movement in education is the open education movement. It won’t solve all the big educational problems facing primary and secondary education in the world, but it is helping to create access to excellent education for so many around the world.

Open Education Resources (OER) are materials that are released with intellectual property license allowing people to freely use, repurpose, improve, edit, and modify. The U.S. Department of Education is openly supporting and encouraging the development of more OER. In fact Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a video competition inviting people to submit a video explaining why Open Education matters. The winners were announced, and I’d like you to take a moment to watch the 3 short videos by the winners, First Prize, Second Prize, and Third Prize.

I’ve already previously mentioned Khan Academy and Udacity as examples of free online courseware and learning. But I wanted everyone to know that though many of the free online courses offered by physical universities or even Khan Academy were computer science based, it has branched out to many different topics like medicine, art history, history, law, psychology, business, public health, international relations, and archaeology courses as well as all the science courses. Usually many of these courses are not self-paced but at the normal pace of the actual class. You can actually do the work and be graded just like the students in the physical class. And though most of the physical universities do not give you credit for taking the online OER course, there are a few who do. So below I list a few universities who have jumped into the OER game and invite the eternal student in you to reawaken from slumber and to liven yourself with amazing, fresh, and current information about a range of subjects. And it’s not just information; if you’re actually doing the work of the course, you will be learning valuable skills. Check out the list.

·         Free MIT Courses Online 
·         Stanford Courses on iTunes U 
·         Free UC Berkeley Courses Online 
·         Free USQ Courses Online 
·         Free UC Irvine Courses Online
·         Free Yale Courses Online 
·         And many many more


·         Ck-12
·         P2PU
·         OER Africa
·         PhET
·         OER Commons
·         Wikipedia
·         Saylor
·         Curriki
·         Connexions
·         EdX (MIT and Harvard)

I would normally say to just call your nearest university or check out its online webpage, but then again it doesn’t really matter how close the university is to your home, does it? You can take a course from any university anywhere if it offers OER. Here are two US-based credit options if you want to get credit from OER.

Credit Options
CLEP Exams – You can test out of general education requirements, and the exam results are excepted at 2/3rds of US colleges and universities.
Prior Learning Assessment – You can create a portfolio which is examined by a faculty expert to prove your knowledge and receive credit.

Now, usually I’m accused of being against businesses and for-profit institutions. Of course this isn’t true since I quite support businesses where profit is not king, businesses with an active and engaged conscience, businesses that don’t just avoid evil but do good—social enterprises. Some people immediately might say that I don’t support for-profit groups who create educational materials and that the OER movement is forcing them or will force them out of business.  As with any innovation, new models of making money are created with the innovation. Let me share some examples.

Flat World Knowledge is an online publishing company that has a business around providing access to free online textbooks to everyone. They then make money by selling print-on-demand copies of these free online textbooks as well as supplemental material. Ahrash Bissell even discusses a dual-licensing model (because some non-profits are concerned about their free content being used by for-profits for profit and some for-profits worry about their OER being used to undercut their profits). We’ll see what the licensing landscape around OER looks like in the years to come.

If you are interested in taking a course with me, let me know. I’d love a study buddy or a classmate. You can check out this list of 500 free online courses.