Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Last Saturday I went to Efteling, a children's fairytale-themed park, on the suggestion of a friend to explore a 'winter wonderland' while the snow was still falling and white! A good thing too, since the snow only lasted a week, and it's been pretty much reduced to rain this week ): Who cares that we aren't children anymore, I've always had such a soft spot for fairytales.

We took a train to Tilburg, that's only about 1.5 hours away from Den Haag.
From Tilburg there's a city bus to Efteling! The great thing about the Netherlands is that the entire transport system is synchronised, so you can tap in and out of all public transport modes using an OV chipkaart, which is like our EZlink cards.

It happened to be the coldest day I've ever experienced since coming to Holland, but we pushed on doggedly to see all the life-size models created to bring fairytales to life. The Sprookjebos, or Fairytale Forest, was one of my favourites. Life-size moving models were made to illustrate fairytales like Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. Being made a few decades ago, these models were put in dioramas - more for looking that interacting with. So it wasn't hard to imagine that you were actually in a forest, chancing upon the candy cottage of a witch! And thanks to the dominance of European literature, most of us all over the world have read stories written by Hans Christian Andersen.

There were also rides, and this is where racial and national stereotypes come to life. One ride called the "Carnaval Festival" showcased the 'typical' aspects of countries like France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, etc. Which is all okay, because they're stereotyped by things like chocolate, watches, or colours. And the same doll is used for all the characters in the diorama - two spheres for the head and body, big-eyed, cute feet.

But then! We reach Japan and suddenly the dolls all have slitty eyes and are fat (sumo wrestlers) and there's this ominous 'Asian' music filled with gong sounds. And of course there's more slitty-eyed geishas shuffling around.

The worst? Africa. The dolls have gone black, with wide cream lips and nose piercings! And all of them are shown hunting wild animals of various kinds.

You can watch a video of the whole ride here:

I know it's for kids, and it's stereotypes, but it borders on being racist and isn't it time to update the exhibits?

The Cannibal Ride, featuring an African doll with a bone nose piercing.

From African hair to babies.

I had an appointment to cut M's hair today, and I learn more about African hair everyday. This is the time of the year when lots of African girls start to wear caps, hats and wraps and I was wondering why until I found out that it's time to take off their false braids. Supposedly they can only wear them for about 6 to 8 weeks, and seeing that it's a few months into the school year, understandably they haven't had the time to go and get their hair braided again.

What is remarkable is how so few African girls (with the exception of Ethiopians/Eritreans) choose to wear their hair naturally. By natural I mean either in an afro, in cornrows, or dreadlocks. The reasons they give me are that their hair is too kinky and requires too much upkeep in terms of applying relaxer, using a straightening iron, and applying hair oil.

No, I meant, naturally, like in its kinky glory?

Without fail, the girl I'm talking to will laugh at me, as if it's an idea too ridiculous to consider! After some more attempts on my behalf to find out why, we usually end up on a half-agreement that their hair is too hard (the most common analogy is to steel wool) to comb and oil everyday. So those that wear their hair naturally often keep it very short, or hide it under beanies/wraps.

The exception? Ethiopians/Eritreans. Somehow they've got a genes for slightly less curly hair, which allows them to have large curls in their afros. They've also got genes for high cheekbones and good skin, but that's another story.

This actually leads to another point. M is expecting, and she found out about her pregnancy only a few weeks before this September. I didn't ask directly, but I realised she's not married but apparently it's not a problem because she's educated and has the means to raise her baby.

The social shame of having a daughter past 30, unmarried, and highly-educated is greater than the shame of having a baby out of wedlock. People start to ask if she is fertile, or if there is 'anything wrong' with her. If a girl doesn't want to get married, having a baby is one way to lift that shame from her family.

This only applies to educated girls, who are also called 'enlightened women', because especially if they have a good job and a home, they don't need a man to provide for them. There's still stigma to in having a baby out of wedlock for an uneducated girl, who will be a source of shame for her parents since they will be the ones providing for her. In this case, they will force her to marry the father of the baby.

This made me think of intersectionality. This is a concept in social science where you consider several factors or identities at once. Here we see that educated and uneducated girls have very different realities even though they are going through the same event i.e. having a baby. Intersectionality is the buzzword of ISS (:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I am a woman.

This poem was written by a working class Chilean woman in 1973, shortly after Chile's socialist president, Salvador Allende, was overthrown. A U.S. missionary translated the work and brought it with her when she was forced to leave Chile. This is to be read by two people, one reading the bold-faced type and one reading the regular type.

I am a woman.
I am a woman.

I am a woman born of a woman whose man owned a factory.
I am a woman born of a woman whose man labored in a factory.

I am a woman whose man wore silk suits, who constantly watched his weight.
I am a woman whose man wore tattered clothing, whose heart was constantly strangled by hunger.

I am a woman who watched two babies grow into beautiful children.
I am a woman who watched two babies die because there was no milk.

I am a woman who watched twins grow into popular college students with summers abroad.
I am a woman who watched three children grow, but with bellies stretched from no food.

But then there was a man;
But then there was a man;

And he talked about the peasants getting richer by my family getting poorer.
And he told me of days that would be better and he made the days better.

We had to eat rice.
We had rice.

We had to eat beans!
We had beans.

My children were no longer given summer visas to Europe.
My children no longer cried themselves to sleep.

And I felt like a peasant.
And I felt like a woman.

A peasant with a dull, hard, unexciting life.
Like a woman with a life that sometimes allowed a song.

And I saw a man.
And I saw a man.

And together we began to plot with the hope of the return to freedom.
I saw his heart begin to beat with hope of freedom, at last.

Someday, the return to freedom.
Someday freedom.

And then,
But then,

One day,
One day,

There were plans overhead and guns firing close by.
There were planes overhead and guns firing in the distance.

I gathered my children and went home.
I gathered my children and ran.

And the guns moved farther and farther away.
But the guns moved closer and closer.

And then, they announced that freedom had been restored!
And then they came, young boys really.

They came into my home along with my man.
They came and found my man.

Those men whose money was almost gone.
They found all of the men whose lives were almost their own.

And we all had drinks to celebrate.
And they shot them all.

The most wonderful martinis.
They shot my man.

And then they asked us to dance.
And they came for me.

For me, the woman.

And my sisters.
For my sisters.

And then they took us.
Then they took us.

They took us to dinner at a small private club.
They stripped from us the dignity we had gained.

And they treated us to beef.
And then they raped us.

It was one course after another.
One after another they came after us.

We nearly burst we were so full.
Lunging, plunging—sisters bleeding, sisters dying.

It was magnificent to be free again!
It was hardly a relief to have survived.

The beans have almost disappeared now.
The beans have disappeared.

The rice—I've replaced it with chicken or steak.
The rice, I cannot find it.

And the parties continue night after night to make up for all the time wasted.
And my silent tears are joined once more by the midnight cries of my children.

The period of rice and beans for the poor woman in the poem occurs after the election of the socialist, Salvador Allende, as president of Chile. Allende was elected in 1970. He was overthrown in a military coup in September 1973 after a long period of destabilization launched by the wealthy classes and supported by the US government and US corporations such as International Telephone and Telegraph. Along with thousands of others, Allende was killed by the military.

The coup, under the leadership of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, launched a period of severe hardship for the working and peasant classes. Although Chile currently has a civilian government, the military is still the country's most powerful institution.


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