I spent a lot of last week reading about the foster care system (400,000 U.S. minors are involved in it each year (pdf)) and I’m going to be talking about child welfare reform for a few months. Following up on 6 months working on Safe Harbor laws which enable the criminal justice system to direct child trafficking survivors to mental health, educational and other forms of support rather than warehousing them in jails (around 100,000 youths and children are in commercial sex in the U.S), I’ve been thinking about how do we as a society handle hurt kids.
Trafficking isn’t the only thing which hurts kids, but since it’s the thing I work on I know the most about it. If you want to know more about what child sex trafficking looks like, you can check out the #SafeHarbor #tag since I put at least half-a-dozen new articles out about it a week.
Thanks to a friend on Facebook, I got some numbers and more importantly, some approaches that work for the broad category of hurt kids, or children with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). That term, ACES comes from a study which showed the correlation between negative health outcomes (everything from heart disease to death) and childhood trauma.
But my friend didn’t point me to the CDC report, she sent me here. It’s an article about how a high school principal in Walla Walla Washington used the ACES framework and some basic human compassion to rework school discipline and help the hurt kids he came into contact with.
I don’t have a specific action with this post, or a particular lesson I learned, but I will be thinking about what it takes to help someone who is young, whose brain is still cooking and it’s cooking in a toxic chunky stew of fear and anger and loss and resentment and depression and all of the hormones everyone’s sautéed with between 12 and 22. I think it has something to do with talking, with switching into their perspective, with being as kind as possible.
I think that’s where the answer lies.
“Children with toxic stress live their lives in fight, flight or fright (freeze) mode. They respond to the world as a place of constant danger. They can fall behind in school, fail to develop healthy relationships with peers, or develop problems with authority because they are unable to trust adults. With failure, despair, and frustration pecking away at their psyche, they find solace in food, alcohol, tobacco, methamphetamines, inappropriate sex, high-risk sports, and/or work. They don’t regard these coping methods as problems. They see them as solutions to escape from depression, anxiety, anger, fear and shame.”–Jane Stevens, author of the article mentioned above
One of my friends is highlighted on page 96 of this week’s Cosmo for the brave op-ed she wrote about body shaming in the American University gym, that lead to a change in policy and got media attention:
Extra credit: I took that pic of her. So buy a copy, skip past all of pictures of models which by their very existence can have a negative effect on young women’s perception of self, and bask in the glory of her smarts and snark and success. And then buy a copy of The Economist to round the experience out.
“But now I don’t feel safe or wanted in the fitness center. I chose to go to AU because of its culture of public service and activism; a large student organization advocating the most lethal mental illness to girls for the sake of “campus beautification” is objectifying, misogynistic, even violent. It’s not as if it was just one random guy in a gross shirt; someone in his fraternity came up with the shirt, and enough “bros” wanted it that the frat ordered it and stamped its letters on it and its members wear it to the gym. It’s indicative of an unsafe culture, where sorority sisters are worth little more than the cute donkeys and elephants dotting the campus. We’re just here for aesthetics, but only as long as we’re starving.”–Kendra Lee
A friend from Qatar asked for my help with an assignment she got: enable a 16-year-old girl who’s moving to Doha, Qatar with her family to gain some cultural competency. She reached out to me because while she knew what it was like to grow up in Qatar, I had experience coming there as an adult and thriving. Here’s what I sent back, rewritten to be in the form of a letter to this 16-year-old girl.
I’ll call her Joanne.
I hear you’re going to Qatar. I don’t know you, so I don’t know how you feel about it. Are you outraged at being snatched away from your friends? Are you excited by the idea of escaping America? Do you speak Arabic? Do you have Muslim friends?
I don’t know who you are, but I know people who have made this trip and come out more themselves on the other side, people who have lived and thrived and survived to become some of the most fascinating and kind people I know. I’m going to introduce you to some of them.
We can start with students at my old school. They traveled in packs between the Doha, Qatar and Pittsburgh, PA, USA campuses, flying for a week to visit Qatar campus or a week to visit Pittsburgh campus. It is a mix of Western and MENA voices, but all written youthfully. Meet Qatarburgh, a blog of the IMPAQT program at Carnegie Mellon.
Joanne, I don’t know if to you books are an addiction and a solace, or a chore, but because I know of no other way to communicate with you than through words, I’m going to introduce you to some of my best friends:
Harry was a misfit in her green home country, too wild for its gentility and too gawky for its silk dresses. When family extinction drove her across the seas to distant relations, she was certain she would find no place there. But she did. She found that a place she’d never been was more a home to her than the one she’d grown up in. You should like Harry, and even if feminist fantasy isn’t your thing, you’ll get a taste of what desert and nomad culture is like. Meet The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
I don’t know what your friends are saying about Qatar, but I bet some mix of generalizations about how women are treated, what role religion plays in daily life, and how hot it is are foaming around you as you try to pack your life back into boxes. Maybe you’re hearing undertones of something odd in how your teachers say “Arab” or “Muslim.” Does it sound like they’re describing objects to which they can assign any meaning they want, rather than groups of whole people? You’ll be thrown into the thick of a nasty linguistic and semiotic war traveling where you intend to tread, and you’ll need a friend. Meet Orientalism by Edward Said.
I had read this book twice by the time I was your age, but because it’s about a man who could arguably be named a terrorist, I won’t rank this as required reading. It was also the first book I read about Islam as a political force and centers on one of the men who has most inspired me to become a writer. Islam as you’ll see it in Qatar has very little to do with Islam as practiced in most of this book, but many of the adults in your life probably first learned about Islam from this man’s presence in American history. Meet The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
This friend is kind of dotty, and definitely boring. It’s ranging and preachy and self-indulgent in its use of codified social justice language. But, you’re a girl, and in Qatar that may mean different things to you than it has ever meant in the United States. This book will be an antidote to the easy assumption that everything that bothers you about Qatar–from having to cover your elbows to having to drop your eyes–can be blamed on Islam. As if Islam was any more consistent between people and practices than any other faith. Hopefully, Mr. Said will have given you the language to explain that such generalizations are part of “othering,” but this should help you talk about gender and faith. Meet In Search of Islamic Feminism by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea.
My final introduction is the easiest to get along with, because it’s only meant for people taking a brief visit. It’s written for you, for people who have never been to the places which will become your new home but wish with all their hearts to understand them. It’s a back-pocket reference-guide for your first few weeks, and it holds within itself stories about nearby opportunities that will make for good night-table reading for months. Don’t trust everything you read, but get to know the bones of this one. Joanne, Meet The Lonely Planet Guide to Oman, UAE and Arabian Peninsula.
There are a few tricks my friends won’t tell you but which will ease your way. You made it through the bibliography and you’re still reading, so I’ll reward you with bullet-points:
- It’s ok to talk to women who are wearing niqabs–you can tell their expressions by the crinkles in their eyes and how they hold their shoulders. It can be scary as a Westerner to feel like you’re surrounded by people in masks, but some of my best conversations happened with strongly modest women.
- Don’t walk in the middle of the sidewalk, don’t make eye-contact with everyone, don’t smile at everyone. In America, we tend to walk down the middle of the street smiling at each passing stranger, and this just isn’t how the rest of the world acts, for men or for women.
- Write. Write write write write write. You can make a tumblr or write in a journal, but writing about what’s odd and cool and uncomfortable and great will help you figure out what’s happening around and inside you. For “write” you can substitute “draw,” “talk,” or “dance.” But do something creative with this experience, because it will change you and you’ll want to watch yourself changing.
- Read some of the local papers: Doha News and Khaleej Times to start. Get a feel for how people speak in local politics. Learning to be tactful was one of the best things I got out of living in Qatar, and you’ll want to practice it soon if it’s not natural to you.
- Visit a mosque. Like I said above, I don’t know if you have Muslim friends or if you are yourself Muslim. But if you don’t and you’re not, learn about Islam. In Qatar, faith is as plentiful and surrounding as music is in the United States. You’ll hear it in shops during the call-to-prayer, in conversation when people thank God for small things, you’ll see it in how people dress. Learn enough about the faith that you know why men’s thobes are cut a certain length and some women show the moon of their faces and others show their hair.
I feel like we’re wrapping up here. I’ve given you friends you can carry in your purse, and ways to make friends and avoid making enemies. I’ve given you some hints about how to experience your visiting-home-country and how to remember that experience.
The only piece I have left is perhaps what I should have started with: I’m sorry if you’re scared. I’m sorry if you’re hurt that you’re moving, or worried. I know there will be things that scared and hurt and worry you in your future, because they exist in all of our futures. But I’m not sorry you’re going to Qatar.
By living in Qatar, you have the chance to become an expert in one of the most misunderstood regions in the world. You’ll make friends with people who have been shaped by the entire world, not just the white-tipped northern bits, and who will surely shape the world they leave behind them. You’ll get sand in your teeth and hookah-smoke in your hair and you’ll be exotic for the rest of your life, if you let the experience change you.
Please let it change you. No one at 16 is exactly who they intend to be, and you can do more to decide who you are in a culture not your own than when surrounded by a culture constantly reinforcing who you thought you would be. Let yourself go. And let yourself find yourself.
You can do this, Joanne. I know you can.
With hope for the future,
Doha: February 2009 and January – May 2010
Oman: May 2010
UAE: February and March 2010
Cairo and Alexandria: May 2010, February 2012
Istanbul: February 2012
Lebanon: February 2013
Jordan: February 2013
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.”–-James Michener
When I turned on my electronic devices after landing in Seattle last night this happening on Twitter. It’s only gotten better through the night. Apparently some delightful person or group of people decided to make a #tag on Twitter to talk trash about Planned Parenthood. Instead, what looks like hundreds of men and women whose lives Planned Parenthood saved are using the #tag to say funny, factual and facetious things.
Snark, well-sourced facts, and unironic thanksgiving for life-saving healthcare = a wonderful start to my morning. A special shout out to @ClinicEscort, who did a great job getting this on people’s radars on a Friday night.
“Feminism is the radical idea that women are people too”–Cheris Kamarae and Paula Treichler
I have been listening to all of Sherlock Holmes read aloud* this week. For the entirety of A Study in Scarlet, he looked like Benedict Cumberbatch in my head.
For all of The Sign of the Four:
But for the third book? The Hound of the Baskervilles? In my mind’s eye, the great detective looked like:
In downloading the free audiobooks of (nearly) all of the Sherlock Holmes stories from Librivox, a repository of public domain recordings of public domain works, I discovered an interesting example of the flaws in our copyright system.
The last book of collected Sherlock Holmes stories was published in 1927, which is after 1923. This tautology is important because in the United States, works published before 1923 are in the public domain, while works published after it often are confined by copyright. I am not the first to notice this problem. Because major media companies are risk-averse to a fault and care little for the pernicious effect their behavior has on less wealthy creators, every single one of the Sherlock derivatives which I have enjoyed this decade paid the Conan Doyle estate for the privilege. By doing so, they empower the estate to seek rent from academics, authors or fans seeking to create derivative works.
The estate argues that Sherlock was not a finished character until the last word of the last short story had been published. When and whether characters are protected by copyright, as opposed to the works which contain them, is in contention. The running guess from Peter Hirtle of Cornell University is that the aspects of Sherlock (and Watson and Mary Morstan and Moriaty and Toby the hound) that Conan Doyle included in his pre-1923 works are in the public domain while any characters or traits which appeared after 1923 are restrained by copyright.
This matters not only because this restriction means there are no free .epub files of that work, no recordings done in people’s living rooms and offices, and less discussion and enjoyment of the work, but also because Sherlock fans were some of the first fans who organized in ways modern fandoms would recognize. They wrote non-fiction fan mail, wrote fanfiction using the characters long before they entered the public domain, and played a role in getting the great detective raised from the dead.
Not to mention, they are great stories.
All of Holmes’ life enters the public domain, I will content myself with enjoying those stories which lie within it. If you’d like to join me, I’ve put all of the public domain audio files as well as the e-reader file all into one downloadable zip.
I moved my head to look at the cabinet behind me. When I turned again, Sherlock Holmes was standing smiling at me across my study table. I rose to my feet, stared at him for some seconds in utter amazement, and then it appears that I must have fainted for the first and the last time in my life. Certainly a gray mist swirled before my eyes, and when it cleared I found my collar-ends undone and the tingling after-taste of brandy upon my lips. Holmes was bending over my chair, his flask in his hand.
“My dear Watson,” said the well-remembered voice, “I owe you a thousand apologies. I had no idea that you would be so affected.”
I gripped him by the arms.
“Holmes!” I cried. “Is it really you? Can it indeed be that you are alive? Is it possible that you succeeded in climbing out of that awful abyss?”
“Wait a moment,” said he. “Are you sure that you are really fit to discuss things? I have given you a serious shock by my unnecessarily dramatic reappearance.”
“I am all right, but indeed, Holmes, I can hardly believe my eyes. Good heavens! to think that you—you of all men—should be standing in my study.” Again I gripped him by the sleeve, and felt the thin, sinewy arm beneath it.
“Well, you’re not a spirit anyhow,” said I. “My dear chap, I’m overjoyed to see you. Sit down, and tell me how you came alive out of that dreadful chasm.”
He sat opposite to me, and lit a cigarette in his old, nonchalant manner. He was dressed in the seedy frockcoat of the book merchant, but the rest of that individual lay in a pile of white hair and old books upon the table. Holmes looked even thinner and keener than of old, but there was a dead-white tinge in his aquiline face which told me that his life recently had not been a healthy one.
“I am glad to stretch myself, Watson,” said he. “It is no joke when a tall man has to take a foot off his stature for several hours on end. Now, my dear fellow, in the matter of these explanations, we have, if I may ask for your cooperation, a hard and dangerous night’s work in front of us. Perhaps it would be better if I gave you an account of the whole situation when that work is finished.”
“I am full of curiosity. I should much prefer to hear now.”
“You’ll come with me to-night?”
“When you like and where you like.”