Author Archives: Ingrid Ferlo

About Ingrid Ferlo

Stories move the world.

Capitalism’s last stand, and then what?

By Ingrid Ferlo

Trump’s administration is capitalism’s last stand. For the next four to eight years we will see capitalism at its worst. We will see the face value of this exploitative economic system. By the cabinet choices that Donald Trump has made so far we can already see that this will be rough on environmentalists and human rights activists. These are people who have dedicated their entire lives to making money and that informs their way of thinking. Remember that little verse in the Bible, the love for money.

I don’t mean to vilianize them or less yet, dehumanize them. No. I think they are dysfunctional humans that care primordially about their economic status because that’s where they derive power from and that gives them the most satisfaction. They simply, think different than us. And remember that little saying somewhere. I think therefore I am. I think that all humans are equal, deserve a dignified life with enough basic resources to fulfill their purpose. I think we can have a harmonious co-existance with nature. And actually, I think that that’s the only way for an enduring human- nature relationship. And therefore, I act accordingly to these thoughts.

People who, for at least fifteen years, have been deriving their status and power from business that just happen to exploit nature and trample over less politically empowered people, think differently. But this is not a blog about their psyche because you see, their way of thinking, is soon going to be obsolete. And no one decided to go study typewriters when computers were about to be invented. The world has a capability to forget the old. So this is a exert about choices.

Capitalism has been suffering severe blows in the past ten years. It started as a question, then a whisper and then got louder.  We deserve equality. We see what you are doing. You over work us to keep too busy to see how you pillage our planet and our people. But we see you. Occupy. Occupy. Occupy.

It got so loud it spread all over the world and sent capitalists running to protect their ever fleeting way of life. I had never been so proud of being a millennial than during the occupy movements. It was then when we saw that there are multitudes of us tired of this exploitative corporate model that has the world economically enslaved. I was in India then. One of my instructors told me once, capitalism was distributed unequally all over the world and in India you can see the worst distribution. We were talking about rickshaw pullers that stand by the hundreds competing against each other outside metro stations to earn sixty rupees a day doing inhumane work. It hurt me to the core. The disparate distribution of money. The normalized acceptance in the middle class. The subdued look in the poor’s eyes. But I knew then. Capitalism cannot possibly be the future of our world. We have to admit that Capitalism has done a lot for some of us. But not for all of us. At it’s best it is exclusive and at it’s worst it’s exploitative.

Lately, the Occupy movement seems to have quiet down, but capitalists know it hasn’t. The yearning for equality never quiets down. It’s a fire that cannot be quelled with vacant middle class lifestyles. And they know that it can surface again at any moment and spread quickly all over the world. There are multitudes of us working for peace and equality. So they came up with Trump. They came up with a president like them. A man who’s whole life has been nothing but business, making money, litigating anyone who comes before his plan to make more money. And now that they have one of the most powerful governments to themselves we are about to see the strengthening of the most powerful corporations in the world. This is a good thing. Let the super class expose itself. Until now, their greatest weapon has been their anonymity.

Not that some of us haven’t been tracking them before. But in the next four to eight years, the world is going to see them for who they are and what their intentions for the world are. Their intentions are not to live harmoniously with one another and protection of the planet’s resources for generations to use. Their live’s business has been to take, take as much as they can, from wherever they can, for the sustainability of their power. They would easier build an “Elysium” type world than succumb to equality. There is no other politician more unabashed about his entitlement than Trump. Millions of people still believe in Trump. But when they see that money is all these people care about, and when that starts affecting their stable middle class life, their comfortable beds will be rocked. It’s happening already.

At Standing Rock, more than ten thousand people camped day in day out because they believed that they were more powerful than corporations. Even corporations backed up by the government. Europe refugee crisis. Thousands of displaced people walked and crossed borders because they believed that they had the right to protect their children from bombs and starvation. And no government nor border could tell them they can’t. No border nor government could tell them hey have to stay home and die. This is what humanity used to do in historic age. They used to move from region to region looking for better climates and fields. The uprising has started, prompted by different necessities. It was bound to happen. People can only take so much and be oppressed for so long. There is no use to try to hold it back. The best we can all do is join the current. And then the question starts forming into a whisper. There must be a better way.

What are the choices for the world once capitalism goes obsolete? Communism? My heart cringes. You may decide to support communism but you have to agree that it is a failed model. If you want to see how failed, look at Eastern Europe and Central Asia where it can’t be decided if the worst damage Communism can do is religious extremism or economic instability. We are at a point where we have tried the existing models. That’s good, trial and error is good. But now what? What other options are there? Remember how all change starts as a question. Are there more cooperative economic models we can try? I believe this is the question that will inform the next generation. I’m sorry we left you with the question kiddeos, your turn to find the answer.

La vie en black and white

By Ingrid Ferlo
The most difficult and interesting observation of human behavior, for me, has been to see clashes between race and gender. Honestly, it hurts both ways. I am a woman and I am brown. When they clash, which one takes precedent? Personally, I don’t know. That’s when I know the world is too divided. Yes, I will talk about race and gender. If your are tired of hearing about it, too bad, because these are two of the most important questions of the 21st Century. And by the way we move in rhetorical circles it seems they ain’t going away for a long time. But this is not a story about me.
Recently I was at a restaurant where this clash manifested. There were two waiters attending our table (the restaurant was fancy). One of them was a white girl named Elena, she was wearing a name tag. And the other was a black boy, named Isaac, and I only know his name because I asked him before I left. He was wearing no name tag. You don’t have to be a writer to see the metaphors. As the evening progressed, I should have been attentive to my date but the way Elena and Isaac communicated with each other intrigued me. It was Saturday, the restaurant was packed. The waiters were up and down attending multiple tables. It was obvious there was tension between the two. While Elena was trying to be as composed and smiley as possible, Isaac was obviously disturbed. (I hate that I can see people’s feelings. It’s inconvenient when you are on a date.) In the middle of plates busing in and out of the kitchen, and a live food performance taking place behind me, the clash occurred. Elena and Isaac were standing beside the kitchen door. She was talking to him in an authoritative manner. You could see it in her face, she was pissed off. Isaac was listening to her like a man counting his every breath, his eyes glued to the floor, his chest rising and falling in a calculated manner. And as she talked, her eyes and hands enunciating her tone from far, abruptly, Isaac just walked away leaving Elena reddened and stunned.
As the evening progressed they worked diligently avoiding each other, but Elena was not as smiley as she previously was. Isaac brought out the coffee, surrounded by miniature jugs of milk, sugar and cream.  I asked his name thanked him for his service. He smiled, softly. (If I were to make a personal inference of that smile, I’d say it was a deflated smile. One of those that say, too little, too late. But that’s just my personal inference.) As we were about to leave my date, left a tip for the waitress. He is white. 
I was remembering this story just now as I was just watching The Daily Show where Trevor Noah was interviewing Tomi Lahren. (Please google her, but don’t listen too long, for your own good.) The moment I see these clashes is the moment when I have to drop all facades of physical manifestations and listen to the content of their characters. Just like Martin Luther King dreamed we some day would.
One day I’ll give a fictitious happy ending to Isaac and Elena, because in stories, at least in stories, that can still happen.

Where are the women? An analysis about women in Belizean politics

By Ingrid Fernandez/ for The Reporter Press

Out of the 87 candidates running for elections on November 4 2015, only 11 are women. Women in politics across the country, indiscriminate of political parties face similar issues and struggles that determine their success in the political field, as is evident by the separate, yet overlapping responses by women candidates.

The Current Situation
While women in leadership positions has become more common over the past ten years with women comprising the majority of public servants and educators, and females graduating from university at a two to one ratio to their male counterparts, when it comes to the political field, women still sit at the back.

The number of women running for general elections is unprecedented. Yet the participation of women in politics is still strikingly low and has been a concern of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for more than ten years. In 2001 the UNDP emphasized the necessity of meeting the Millennium Goals for 2015 of reaching a 30 percent female representation in government. However, in this election the percentage is underachieved at 11.5 percent. This is just the percentage of women that are running. There is no guarantee of actual representation.
A release from the UNDP states “Thirty years after independence, the majority of women in Belize continue to face significant challenges in moving towards parity with men at almost every level of political leadership and decision-making.” The Global Gender Gap reports of 2010 place Belize in joint last place (131st) on the Gender Gap Index for the empowerment of women, along countries like Saudi Arabia.

Four women Yasmin Showman, Dolores Balderamos, Dorla Vaughn and Dr. Leslie Guerra are running with the People’s United Party (PUP). Four women, Beverly Castillo, Dr. Carla Barrett, Tracy Teagar Panton and Guadalupe Magana-Dyck are running with the United Democratic Party (UDP). Two women, Edna Diaz and Elizabeth Dina are running with the Belize Progressive Party (BPP). One woman, Samantha Carlos, is running as the only independent candidate in the general elections.

The History 
Women’s representation is a right that has taken decades and continuous struggle to manifest. The struggle for women to claim an equal place in society and government marked most of the Twentieth Century. After many movements and dialogues, ‘the second gender’ may have claim it won the rights to be recognized. It did not take long to realize that social recognition did not translate into equal participation in government.

Women’s movements that started in the early part of the Twentieth Century focused its efforts on giving suffragettes the right to vote. In the latter part of the century, leaders realized that without women taking part in political governance, the glass ceiling was impenetrable. It means that as long as men are making the decisions, that directly affect how and where women develop their lives, women do not achieving much by having the right to vote men into power.

Why is it important to have women in government?
Entering politics for a woman is an undertaking that resonates much deeper than it seems. The study: ‘Toward Equality of Opportunity for Equality of Results, A Situation Analysis of Gender and Politics in Belize’, published by the National Women’s Commission with the support of the UNDP, cites “the right to take part in government as a key manifestation of human rights.” Therefore, the more equal gender representation there is in government, the more it will enhance the human rights of both genders.

Ann-Marie Williams, in her capacity as Executive Director of the National Women’s Commission, comments that having women in government is important because “no society will ever prosper by leaving 50 percent of its population behind” said Williams. She assures that “everything would change” if women were in government because “when women thrive, all the society thrives” said Williams.

Teagar Panton and Diaz share Williams opinion that it is essential to have women in government because “Our government has to be representative of its population” said Teagar Panton. “Only then will we have representation of the whole population” said Diaz.

Carlos and Teagar Panton believe that with women in government the kind of governance will change and that kind of governance will better benefit the country. “Imagine a woman, who is kind hearted by nature, running the country, she would have the best interest of the people at heart” said Carlos. “Women bring a sense of compassion; we have a motherly instinct by nature. There’s a certain level of compassion and empathy that women bring to the table” said Teagar Panton

Shoman believes that men do not understand problems specifically hindering women as women do. She states “They [women] understand the needs and the problems of other women and they can bring forward the solutions.” Diaz and Carlos believe that discrimination, especially against, single parent mothers is something affecting women in their constituencies.

What hinders women from political involvement?
The second objective of the UNDP analysis was “to study the economic, cultural and political context that hinder women participation in politics.” They felt that by understanding the problems the solutions can be derived.

Time
Williams, explains that for women to have the time and mental state to perform well in a field as demanding as politics, men must accept the shared responsibility of the home. She advocates the importance that men get educated in regards to the fundamental part they play in supporting their spouses. “We have to raise men who are confident” she explains stating that in our society men still have a superiority complex.

She states that “a great hindrance for women is their triple roles as mother, homemakers, and employees.” Showman and Diaz, agree that the responsibility of the home falls on the woman alone limiting her capabilities in the work force. Diaz believes that “it is more difficult for a woman to get the support of her spouse and family, to travel and be away from her home to represent her division nationally.” Showman explains “many times women are the head of the household and they have to be concerned about who will take care of their children, and who will provide an income.”

Speeches, by political leaders encouraging women to join their parties are common. Showman stated that her party’s leader continuously mentions that “he would like to see more women join the party.” At a conference held by the BPP, party leader Patrick Rogers commended the two women running in the party and made similar encouragements.

However, Williams explains that by men taking a more active role in the house verses verbal encouragements, which she cites as “lip service” it will provide much more equality to women.

At the inaugural ceremony, of the New Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Karl Huesner Memorial Hospital (KHMH), on October 27 2015, a project spearheaded by Kim Simplis Borrow, wife of the Prime Minister, she acknowledged her husband’s support in her achievement. She affirmed that without his support in the home her achievement would not have been possible. She cited his discipline to make time to drop their daughter at school and check her homework as instrumental for her to have peace of mind to carry out her work.

Finance
Williams states that the political field is an uneven field for women because “political rules are not friendly to women.” She explains that when it comes to campaigns men are better funded than women and have better connections. Candidates Teagar Panton and Diaz agree that lack of finance and resources are main hindrances in their campaigns. “We have challenges in terms of fundraising and just having the same resources to mobilize your campaign” said Teagar Panton. “Lack of funding/finance especially if you come from a rural area and are not of a wealthy family” said Diaz.

The harsh ‘man’s world’ of politics
“If you look at the history of Belize, politics has been dominated by men.” States Teagar Panton, she continues, “It’s almost like a boy’s club, and we have to break through those barriers.” Showman, Carlos and Diaz agree with her “Politics is seen as a man’s domain” said Diaz. “I think that women shy away from politics because it is still a male dominated field” said Showman. Carlos believes that women stay away from politics because “it has been embedded in their brain that politics is for men” said Carlos.

Showman believes that politics poses a harsh environment for women. “I think that for most part women, shy away from it for fear of personal attacks.” Carlos agrees with her stating “Not many women can stand being slandered, or have their names dragged through mud” said Carlos. Williams differs in opinion stating that the political field is not as traitorous as it is made out to be and that “women are not afraid” of slanders and personal attacks.

Double standard
The candidates believe that there is a double standard with which society judges women and men. The expectations from women and men are also different. They believed that women have to prove themselves and are demanded a proficient background to be considered a leader. Teagar Panton believes that women are judged harsher in their behavior “There are certain things men candidates can get away with that women will never be able to get away with.” Showman agrees “Our society can be very cruel sometimes, your private life, if you’ve made any mistake in the past they splash it all over the media.”

Old mentalities
The mentality that a woman’s career is only in relation to her husband’s status is still alive today and is a hindrance to women’s success.
At the opening ceremony, of the PICU and NICU at the KHMH, many called Kim Simplis Borrow’s achievement “momentous” and even “miraculous”. When asked what he thought about his wife’s achievement Prime Minister Dean Barrow said “if as a consequence of that I will get some additional votes hallelujah.”

What can the society do to encourage women to get involved in politics?
Another of the UNDP analysis’ objectives was “to foster a national dialogue to create a better environment that will encourage women to participate in politics.”

An initiatives launched by The National Women’s Commission (NWC), Women In Politics (WIP), has seen success rates. Out of the three cohorts that the WIP has conducted, five participants have endeavored into a political career at the municipal level. This election the WIP is seeing its first participant, from its third cohort, Tracy Teagar Panton, undertake the candidacy for area representative.

Teagar Panton shares that the WIP is important because it gave her “an opportunity to network with women from all over the country who have a vested interest in terms of seeking political office. It created a support network, to share ideas, to hear some of the unique concerns that women are facing in their lives and it really helped me to consider the opportunity to run for politics in a serious way” Teagar Panton said.

Williams, spearhead of the WIP, believes that the program has directly influence the change in the political landscape in the seven years of its operation. “The commission is doing foundation work. If the commission would have been doing the work 20 years ago we would have already seen more changes” said Williams.

Out of the 11 women candidates seven are from the Belize District, while only four are from other districts across Belize showing a disparity between women’s political involvement from the Belize district and from other districts. Williams comments that this is due to the environment that is fostered. According to Williams there needs to be an environment of exposure and awareness into leadership. Although most districts have women groups, in some districts, women groups are centered around income generating objectives and other issues related to the home and not around leadership and governance.

Teagar Panton believes that more open dialogues educating women about the importance of politics will encourage women to consider a political career. Showman advocates for bipartisan efforts to help girls take active leadership roles. Diaz believes that engendering a mentality of equality from as early as preschool will change the political landscape of the country. Carlos believes that by women taking a more outspoken approach about their equal position in society they will empower other women.

When will Belize have its first woman Prime Minister?
Teagar panton is hopeful that “It will be in my lifetime.” Shoman assures that “In the next two or three terms we will see a woman as the face of Belize.” Diaz believes that “In reality we are not far from achieving our goal.” Carlos confidently proclaims “I will be the first female Prime Minister.”

Dreams among the rubbles in Shandori Madoni, Nepal

We are sitting on the roof of a bus unstably swerving through the narrow roads on the hillsides two hundred meters above the valley. From this point of view the duality of life is poignantly evident. The beauty that surrounds us is indescribably mesmerizing; blue skies, fresh air, sunrays peeking through clouds behind green hills while the river lazily snakes through the mountains. Yet the very same terrain that creates this beauty marginalizes the villages that populate these dense hills making it dangerous to travel to them. The unpaved, slippery roads are narrowly carved to the hillside, and during the rainy season are at risk of landslides.

We hold on frantically to metal bars on the roof and dodge electricity wires coming our way. The roof is packed with villagers that cheer, hoot and sing as the bus swerves around the scariest curves. The nerve tactic works. Soon we are all cheering and shouting as we feel that any moment the bus will topple over and roll down the hill. A group of nine volunteers from Europe, the Americas and Nepal, are going to the village of Shandori Madoni in the Kavre province of Nepal around five hours away from Kathmandu, to deliver materials for ten temporary homes.

We arrive at our destination and reality sets in quick. Here help has been slow to arrive. The village suffered severe earthquake damage. Most houses, including the two schools in the village, either collapsed or are damaged and unsafe. Before this group volunteers reached them some weeks ago, no other help had reached them. Most families have constructed makeshift shelters from what they could rescue from the debris that was once their home, which is usually zincs and pieces of wood. Whole families of five or six members live in ten by ten feet houses. They have settled beside the mount of rubble that remains of their houses, like maintaining unending vigil to the house they worked for all their lives and lost in less than three minutes.

Farmers by nature, villagers show their resilience and non-dependency. Knowing that external help is an improbable possibility, there is planting and furrowing going on everywhere. Two weeks ago, the fields that looked dry today flourish. They will provide the families with basic foods for subsistence. On the surface people seem content. The monsoons (the rains) are almost here, harvest looks good. However, when they look at their old houses, crumbled, there is a change in their eyes.

It is early morning. I am walking up hill to the only shop in the village. A group of school children on their way to school are guiding me there, laughing and playing around me. Earlier it was a misty morning, but the sun is beating down on us by now. We pass through collapsed houses, beside them, the usual aspect, families clustered around smoking, fire hearts they made in between their old home and new one. The women are making breakfast. Most men are home from their jobs in Kathmandu and unemployment is creating an ailing lack of income. If you can ignore the needs all around, the community looks cheerful. People turn to greet us with the usual “Namaste didi” as we pass their homes.

The difference between crisis in a rural and urban setting is the sense of community. Through these harsh times, the community supports each other acquire basic needs. They cook, eat and laugh together. When we arrived, equip with materials, we were given a list of families. The list, composed by villagers who had conducted needs assessment, comprised the names of families who needed a temporary home the most urgently.

On the way to the shop, walking beside me is Onyx, one of the eldest children and one of the few that can speak English. I was told that during the first earthquake he was trapped in his collapsed house for two hours. In the group’s first stay here he was their guide and translator and gained their respect for his diligence at his job. They bought him a hat with the word ‘Boss’ written on it. He is wearing it today. As we walk he tells me the names of the families we pass and the status of their houses.

Today he has been feeling feverish. I advise him to take a day off from school, stay at home and rest. He adamantly refuses.
“Why don’t you stay at home and rest?” I ask.
“No, no! I will miss my lesson and later I will not be able to learn.” He answers.
I smile at his perseverance. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I ask.
“I want to be a doctor.” He says looking at the ground, as if planting his dreams like his parents plant crops. shandori madoni pic

Melissa’s Cat

A children’s story

by Ingrid Ferlo

In the town of Pereira in Colombia lived a sixteen year old girl named Melissa who had a cat named Gatito. Gatito was a White cat with gray patches and a Little too heavy for his size. Melissa loved tickling his neck while he nuzzled on her leg on the sofá. Melissa loved gatito dearly because he seemed to her was the only one who understood her perfectly. She was going through some thought times where she felt very lonely. She felt estranged from her mother and father who didn’t understand her behaviour, dressing style and choice of music. They constantly scolded Melissa for slacking off in college and not being more diligent. Their disappointment hanged heavy over Melissa because she felt she was a waste as a daughter and they would have been better off having more than one child. On top of that, she also suffered from high expectations from her spinster aunts who constantly told Melissa in a demanding way that the family depended on her. Melissa was a very sad girl. He had recently lost her best friend to a fight over a guy and she had no one to tell her secrets to anymore. She would have felt completely alone after she lost Karina, her best friend, if it wasn’t for Gatito. They were very close. Melissa took utmost care of him. She fed him the best cat food found in Pereira. She bought him toys so he would not be bore when she went away. She took him to the groomers, where everyone thought he was the cutest cate ver and commended Melissa for taking good care of him. Melissa was very proud and liked the attention. She loved Gatito so much, she missed him when she was at school. He was always waiting for her on the sofa when she came home. It seemed to Melissa at this point, that Gatito was the only one she had in the world.

One day when she came from college, he mom was waiting for her by the door, her face aggrieved. Melissa had a premonition. Something had happened to Gatito, he had gotten sick all of a sudden, he was at the vet and Melissa should go there immediately. Melissa felt terrified but hurried off to the vet.

When she reached there Gatito was unconscious. She cried thinking he was dead. The vet said he was not, but that nothing could be done to save him. Melissa begged him for a miracle. The vet explained the condition but didn’t understand all the veterinarian jargon. The vet told her that Gatito would need a completely new liver to survive, without it he would surely die by tomorrow. There was the option of buying a transplant but Melissa’s family did not have the money for it. Melissa cried helplessly. She could not bear the thought loosing Gatito, of not having him waiting for her everyday, of being completely alone in the world.

The vet asked her to go home and think about it, she could come and say her final goodbye to Gatito tomorrow.

Melissa went home disheartened. She went straight to her room and refused to eat. She cried desperately and thought a lot about how to save Gatito. She could think of here no way. Gatito was imminently going to die.

She was lying on her bed holding tightly onto her pillow when she Heard a cat meow at a Little distance. There was an alley behind her house where the garbage was collected and many cats lived in that impoverished back alley sometimes so skinny that their ribs popped out from under their balding fur. The cats looked extremely sad to be alive. They had no one in the world to care for them. They had to struggle hard and fight with each other for a morsel of bread toe at every day. Melissa always heard their meows coming from the back alley and she felt sad for them but at the same time she was grateful to God that Gatito was living in happy conditions.

It started to rain and the rain patted heavily on Melissa’s window. Wind also howled strongly and lighting flashed violently. The back alley cat’s meows sounded sadder tonight than ever. They seemed to be imploring for a solution to their cruel existence. They seemed to be fighting with God. Melissa thought about Gatito lying at the vet’s clinic, cold and alone on the verge of death. He too probably was listening to the rain feeling afraid to be without Melissa. It hurt Melissa to imagine him like that. She sobbed into her pillow. Lightening struck and a back alley cat screeched in terror. Melissa startled on her bed. She sat up and looked around her room. She suddenly knew what she had to do.

She put on her rain coat and her rain boots with Marylin Monroe pictures on it. She managed to fin dan umbrella and went out of her room to the kitchen. There she opened the first drawer where her mother kept the knives. She wrapped it with a plastic bag and put it into her rain coat pocket. She found the ice cooler on the lower cabinet shelf and scraped all the ice out of the freezer. Then she opened the door to make her way outside.

The howling wind challenged her footsteps and fought with her umbrella. She felt she might loose her balance but pushed her way forward into the back alley.

When she turned the corner, the building protected her from the angered nature. She walked a Little bit and she came up to the garbage collectors where the cats lived. The cats apprehended her threatening figure, umbrella in one hand, ice cooler hanging heavily on the other and draped in her long rain coat. The frightened cats hid terrified behind the garbage receptors and meowed softly in pleading. Melissa stopped, her eyes adjusting to the darkness. She could barely see anything least any of the cats because most of them were black. The lightening was her only aid. When it flashed it discovered the hiding place of the frightened felines. They crouched in defense as they saw the menacing figure approaching them. Melissa spotted one of the cats hiding behind receptacle number thirteen. Her eyes gleamed with determination. She hurried up to it, the cat screeching in terror now even more. It was a small, furry black one probably a kitten. She threw her umbrella aside and putted down the cooler beside her as she bent down to take the kitten into her hands. The kitten crouched low onto the floor and covered its face as Melissa reached down to it. The other cats screeched loudly and scratched their paws in protest but remained hidden behind their chosen receptacles terrified for their own lives.

Melissa picked up the kitten gently and put it on her lap. She caressed it tenderly and tears started trickling down her cheeks dripping on the kitten. As she cried silently Melissa reasoned but the only thoughts that came to her justified what she was going to do. They were telling her that she needed to do it for Gatito. They were telling her that these cats did not have a happy life, that they would themselves prefer to die. They were telling her that they lived tormented for lack of food and exposed to harsh weather every second of their lives. She remembered their constant screeching and how tormented it sounded. She was doing the right thing. She was not only saving Gatito but relieving the kitten from the horrifying life it was condemned to live.

She caressed the kitten one more time, is fur wet with the rain. She took out the knife from her pocket and slid off the plastic wrap.

In her biology classes she had just learned how to do dissections. She had always loved science so she learned the lessons naturally. It was so in the dissecting class. Melissa had always had a great curiosity to find out everything about anatomy. She yearned to see the inside of human body. The class was still too Young for that but her teacher was cooler than the others and instead of teaching the dissecting class with a frog as other teachers had done, he brought in a cat and had the class dissect it and analyze each organ.

Melissa knew exactly where to find the liver but she had to cut off the life from the cat first so he would not resist. She brought the kitten down to the cement floor and held its neck separated. It couldn’t offer much resistance because it was too small. Her eyes gleamed with pity and sordity. Lightening struck and she slid the blade on the kitten’s neck. Blood spurted out rapidly but soon it stopped and flowed slowly. Melissa knew she could open him then. He opened his chest and made the vertical incision. There laid the kitten’s organs, the heart still pumping softly, the blood still warm but Melissa knew she had limited time to putt he liver in the ice. She cut out the liver with utmost care damaging the organs around it. She held the liver in her hand and open the cooler, made a big enough hole in the ice and placed the liver at the bottom patting ice over it to protect it and closed the cooler. She then threw the kitten’s carcass into receptacle number thirteen picked up her umbrella and the cooler and hasted out of the dark back alley. The cats in hiding were purring and scratching as if mourning.

In some minutes she was at the door and scrambled back into the house. She folded the umbrella and went to her room. She placed the ice cooler under her bed and took off the wet rain coat. She dried off the part of her hair that had gotten wet and sat on her bed pensively, fighting ,anxiously waiting for morning.

Her mother was knocking on the door violently and startled Melissa out of her bed, she had fallen asleep. Her mother was asking if she was ok and what time she will go to see Gatito. Melissa still bewildered by the sudden wakening and by the previous night’s events answered confusedly but enough to satisfy her mother. Or a moment she felt all her been a nightmare, that she had not managed to get a liver to save Gatito’s life.

She startled out of bed and checked for the cooler. It was right there. She smiled satisfied. She would have to come up with a plan to explain the sudden appearance of the liver to her mother. An idea came to her. She would tell her mother that she had called a friend who Works at the Human Society and that he had found a transplant and had brought it over very early.

In some minutes she was ready to go to the clinic. She came out holding the ice cooler and the questions from her parents and aunts as to what it was, drew her concocted explanation. They were easily satisfied.

She refused breakfast so they left immediately for the clinic. Reaching there, the vet met them in a down casted mood and Melissa thought Gatito had died. The vet said he was still alive but more critical. Melissa excitedly told the vet same story she told her mother about the liver and handed it to him. The vet was very pleased and took the cooler and checked to verify if the liver was good to be used. After satisfying himself he proceeded to ready Gatito for the transplant. Melissa waited impatiently outside. The transplant was done and the vet came out from the operation room in good mood. He told Melissa the transplant had been successful, that Gatito responded well and that he was hopeful of his recovery. Melissa went in to see him as soon as he was conscious. He eyes were lucid with all the medication and purred softly but Melissa was happy that he was alive. They kept him two days under observation and released him to go home. Melissa was the happiest girl when she took her Gatito home. She envisioned that everything would return to normal soon.

Gatito slowly recovered his strength. He was walking and eating in no time. He seemed more robust that before. He seemed more alive as well. He jumped around the house more and ate more, and meowed more often. He was quite energetic and not gentle and mild as he used to be. The change in him irritated Melissa’s mother who was always cleaning after him and scolding him for jumping onto the table to sneakily eat someone’s food or do his necessities anywhere in the house. Gatito’s change quite overwhelmed everyone but Melissa. She was just happy he was alive. He was not quite the same, granted, he did not wait for her to come home to play on the sofa anymore. He did not let her tickle his neck anymore, he screeched brusquely when she tried to hold him waving his paws violently to scratch her. He spend most of the time hiding under the bed when she was home. His behavior was erratic. Sometimes he would be gentle, like the old Gatito and all of a sudden he would become aggressive and scratch her. He spend a lot of time by the window pane facing the back alley. In the night he meowed in a frighteningly manner when the back alley cats meowed. Melissa was disturbed by Gatito’s change. It was as if he was another cat. She became frustrated and absent minded in college.

Still she tried her best to accommodate herself to his change. She brought him to sleep in her room she would not cause any mischief to her family at night.

She looked at Gatito lovingly and tried in vain to pet him. He preffered to sleep under the bed. That night Melissa had a dream that she was back in the dark alley with the kitten’s neck separated. She woke up in a fright and Gatito was lying on her chest, his eyes gleaming staring into her eyes. He meowed a horrible sound and cracked his neck. Melissa screamed and threw him off her. He scratched the rugged floor violently and started pounding his head on the floor. Melissa pleaded him to calm down. She implored him to be the same Gatito he used to be. She cried unconsolably standing on her bed out of fear that he might attack her. She implored but he didn’t pay mind. He paced around the room madly at the sound of meows coming from the back alley. He paced back and forth screeching that horrible way drowning Melissa’s sobs. He looked like he was about to climb on the bed and attack Melissa when he spotted the window. He looked at it decisively and in a single jump he crushed the glass and landed outside on his feet. Melissa jumped off the bed and ran tot he window. She caught one last glance of him as Gatito looked back at her, his eyes gleaming but gentle. She called out to him pleading him to come back into the house but he was already gone.

Melissa cried unconsolably all night. The next morning and for the next seven days she and her family tried to find Gatito but to no avail. They put up posters but no one responded. Often they searched the back alley, where the cats screeched threateningly when Melissa approached, her family was always surprised by their behavior toward Melissa but attributed it to the strangeness of back alley cats. Melissa searched as much as she could, but never found her cat.

The Book Seller

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Two years ago when I first arrived in India the first thing that really struck me was the poverty I saw on the streets. Like foreigners who come to India of course I knew about it. I had seen images and videos of the extreme poverty more than 60% of Indian population live in. However, Nothing could have prepared me for what I was getting into. Nothing can really prepare you to walk on the streets of Delhi with a barefooted four year old little girl in rags, dirty with smog, trotting along, tugging at your blouse begging “dee dee, paisa, khana” words that, even when you don’t understand them, the soul does. Mangled children dragging themselves beside cars, reaching up to windows with excruciating contorts and women with a sleeping child in arms its little head dangling on the side, walking aimlessly between luxurious cars like ghosts from another planet, disturbed me so much I couldn’t will myself to walk away. But people did. People walked pass these beggars as if they didn’t see them. People hurrying to get somewhere wouldn’t as much as turn to look at them. Who could have told me that inequality looked so terrible? When I went back to the hotel that evening, I had one of those days when the world shifted in front of you and you know deep in your heart nothing will ever seem the same. Even if I were to leave and go back to my country, I had seen something that moved the tectonic plates of my mind. I remember thinking that evening at the hotel “I hope, I don’t ever pass a beggar without noticing.”

Then I did. I learned about the begging system, about the begging organization and how protected it is by the government, that it may very well contribute to put the government in power. In Kolkata, the first thing the sisters do is educate the volunteers about the begging system. The children are ‘adopted’ by contractors, who themselves work for a higher head. The babies those women carry are rented from the nearby slums, the same ones we pass on our way to the serving houses. They are hired, trained like any other employee to be efficient, to evoke pity. It’s a well structured organization. There are people driving in luxurious cars profiting from it. It’s an evil you cannot see, and those are the worst kinds of evils. Giving to beggars is supporting the organization. I used to liken it to sending money to drug cartels.

So I passed old ladies with their hands out stretched, ignored women touching my knee while bottle feeding a baby, not even conscious of the fate that awaits it, looked away while children danced barefoot on the hot pavement under the hot sun while another makes music with pans and sticks. Yet it is not natural. You know it takes a gradual toll on your humanity. One day I look at these ghosts from another planet with the same apathy I saw people pass them on my first day and know my heart has become hard, buried by corruption and manipulation. Overwhelmed by the system.

That is until he approaches me. He the same boy. The book seller, he comes to unearth my humanity. There must be three of them at every corner, all selling the same books, that is how you know they are hired, by some higher head, by someone who is not walking on the hot pavement under the hot sun, but some fat man in an office in Nehru Place with religious rings on eight of his fingers, drinking whiskey and laughing obnoxiously while puffing out cigarette smoke. Someone whose children are going to college.

Children selling books became distinct from the gang of beggars on the streets after I read ‘The White Tiger’. One day the protagonist, the driver, a young boy from rural India, working for corrupt, wealthy Indian people, takes his bosses to Canaught Place and while he is on a five hour wait he takes a round. He is amazed by what he sees. There are books piled on every corner. A yearning takes hold of him, he wishes he knew what the books were about. He crouches down and feels the pages.

The most knowledgeable information, best selling books by authors of distant countries, Pulitzer winning books, the most revered books and authors in history (I bought my Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” at CP) The literature men wrote to empower the world, the literature that created revolutions and progress in the West, there sitting on the floor, dormant, doing nothing for India.  There are plenty of books in this county, but not the ability to read because paper is cheap but knowledge is dangerous. The West gives discourse after discourse on the benefits of literacy, ‘Encourage children to read from a young age’ and on education, ‘Education is the key to success!’ Here is where those words dispel. Reading is a right children sell on the streets yet millions don’t have. Here Leo Tolstoy’s ghost roams around haunted by his inefficacy. If he would have foreseen that literature would be a luxury rather than a right, a tool to subjugate rather than uplift, probably like Einstein he too would have preferred to be a shoemaker.

In ‘The White Tiger’ the driver’s amazement makes the old man selling books laugh. He asks mockingly “Can you read English?” The embarrassed driver belittled by his illiteracy, wounded retaliates “Can you read English?” The old man doesn’t respond.

He stands beside the auto rikshaw I am traveling in, carrying as many books his small hands can carry telling me the names of the latest releases, in pirated edition of course, as if they were his best friends. John Green, ‘Steve Jobs’, ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, ‘Fifty shades of Grey’, Dan Brown and Paulo Coelho. Here is where all the famous end up, on the streets of Delhi, educating everyone but the ones they should. The educational gap keeps getting wider.

He’s a good sales man, he knows my kind. He knew I was sold the moment I glimpsed at ‘Adultery’ and he won’t let my auto go until I buy it. “Paulo Coelho madame, latest release. Best seller ‘Alchemist’. The light turned red, but he won’t budge. “Buy madam, it is very good, you will like!” It is all so ironic and the irony of it is what burns me that India’s prime motivator for others to read is a skinny little boy who himself cannot read. Knowledge passes by over his head. He sells others wisdom for 250 rupees; his first born rights for a meal. There, under the hot sun, on the streets of Delhi, he sells an opportunity for a better life that he will never have.

“I was looking for the key to the door for years, and the door was always open.” ~ Iqbal.

Absurd Inheritance

With the Israeli, Palestinian conflict I keep remembering a conversation….I want to tell you about it ( it’s pretty long ok…) two years ago, I was so naive. (Girl from the west thinks she’s very well informed you know…) I had this friend from a Muslim country. He was studying literature, like me. And naively, I wasn’t very shy about my love for Israel…one day we get talking about that topic and the hostility start rising. He thinks Israel should leave the territory because they were given it by Europe without right. So as a typical western I’m quite the pacifist. I try to talk about coexistence. He vehemently rejects it, leaving the territory, that’s the only option he thinks they have. I ask him…so where do you think Israelis should go if they leave? They have no where to go dude (dude’s name shall remain unmentioned) they were given that land because they needed it, where will they go? And to that he answered me, to Europe from where they came…..so i was perplexed…thinking, can it be possible that he doesn’t know about the holocaust? But i give him the benefit of the doubt, and i say, dude if you knew what happened to them there, why they left Europe, you wouldn’t say such things….i will never forget what he answered, because my heart went cold “what Hitler did to them was a good thing, he should have finished it.” 

Such cold blood hatred, not for Israel, but for anyone. Such hatred brewing in the heart of a normal, educated guy, i couldn’t understand it. That i might be in the presence of someone who would murder someone else, was even more unfathomable. That, however, would not be the worst I would hear in the course of the last two years. Guys from three other countries would plainly tell me….i really hate Jews. What they are doing to my brothers, we will avenge it. There will be a day when all Israelis will die. If you met these guys, they are totally inconsequential. They are friendly, respectful, charming (and one of them can even dance pretty well)
Those early conversations in India and the insomniac nights that ensued in endless research, when my naivete was slowly shattered, the pain in my heart for all the violence that hatred has created…that was the beginning of my career.
But in another conversation, a Muslim guy, who had been traumatically affected the USA war, said that he would never hurt an Israeli, or anyone else, if an Israeli needed his help he would help him, of course he added emphatically. The Quran does not sanction hatred, he said, it tells them to help any person in need. 
We choose what we want to inherit from our history, and from our religion. And after a certain age, we have no excuses for our choices.

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