Tag Archives: personal

Sporadic update: Healthcare

Healthcare has been on my mind a lot lately. Over the last couple of months, I’ve had to get surgery. I will likely need another in the next year (then, hopefully, I will be cured knock on wood).  If it weren’t for Obamacare, I wouldn’t have been able to get that surgery. Right now I’d still be in so much pain I can’t walk. In fact, I’d probably need to move back to Taiwan just to have treatment. It would actually be cheaper for me to do that. Wild.

On the metro today, I went through my usual list of podcasts to entertain myself on the hour long commute to DC.  In between the news and the pop science, an interview with Naomi Klein came up. She’d be invited by W.  Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu to appear on their show “Politically Re-Active” which blends comedy, news and cultural analysis. Klein, who gained acclaim for her book “The Shock Doctrine” (though perhaps that’s disingenuous as I believe she was well known before), joined to speak about her new book:  No is Not Enough.

During the interview, she spoke at length about the new shocks we might endure, about how they signal systemic failings and about how we must respond. In the coming days, weeks, months even, god forbid, years we will need to mobilize and respond a lot. We will be saying “No” a lot, but “no” has less motivational power than “yes”, Klein says. No can exhaust you, especially when the red of Nos are drowned out by the stacks of green Yeses. Moreover, Klein says ‘No’ is not enough. We need to identify Yes policies; we need to prepare for them.

The Healthcare bill, which spread like a noxious gas through Capitol Hill, has inspired in me more than dread.  It’s made me curious about what a solution could look like. I feel inspired to better explore my own Yes, and others.

For the duration of my time in DC, I am being housed by a friend’s family.  This morning I heard his father, a doctor, lament what he referred to as changes in the medical system. When I asked him how he might design the ideal healthcare system he did not bring up single-payer or privatization or any of the typical words.  Instead, he said “Education”.

He had noticed a shift in culture within the medical world of his thirty years of practice. “I was trained to believe my duty was to the patient,” he said. “Younger people are trained to worship at the altar” of reducing costs regardless of how it affects the person they are helping. That means prescribing the cheapest medication, regardless of side effect. That means not questioning a CEO “pocketing 22 million” at the expense of broad healthcare coverage.

Not just that, but the average adult lacks basic knowledge of healthcare systems, according to the doctor. They cannot identify what constitutes an injury needing urgent care; they put off visiting and a problem which might have been inexpensive to treat weeks before now incurs high costs to the system and, more importantly, the patient.

After thirty years, this shift has been wearing him down. He’s considering a career change. “Do you know I have to give out dozens of denials a week?” he asked me. “It’s tiring.” Saying No to people who need care, but cannot access it so a wealthier tier can purchase another car, another watch, another thing weighs heavy on his mind.

He’s not sure what Yes looks like for him personally now, but he believes it starts with education and a fundamental shift in the culture. They’re good people, these new doctors, he added at the end. They’ve just been trained wrong.

Yes feels good when it’s identified, but can also be daunting. Klein spoke of how daunting, and a little scary, it was to speak aloud what she’d, and a group of other women, been formulating in their minds. Yes can be risky– not least because you can’t know the effects of a hypothetical completely, but also others might circumscribe your ideas or punish you for having them.

Klein has spent years thinking about and developing her Yeses, and I think she’s worth listening to. As for me, like the doctor, my Yes is guided by my ethics. I can identify pieces of a system which includes intersectionality,  but as for the specifics? Well, I have some work to do. Let’s hope some day I’m brave enough to articulate them aloud with the force of Naomi Klein.


Shelf Love And Travel Promises

For Travel Promises, go to the end, my friend. For books, well, you have to start at the beginning.

Continue reading Shelf Love And Travel Promises

Eight Year Old Fears of Cliffsides

“I stare at this ceaseless, rushing crowd and imagine a time a hundred years from now. In a hundred years everybody here– me included — will have disappeared from the face of the earth and turned into ashes or dust…I spread my hands out in front of me and take a good hard look at them. What am I always so tense about? Why this desperate struggle just to survive? I shake my head, turn from the window, clear my mind of thoughts a hundred years away. I’ll just think about now.”- Kafka  on the shore, Haruki Murakami (56)

I was sitting  on the deep raspberry seats of our Lumina looking back at the decorative knit balls that hung neatly in a row along the edge of the rear-window when I decided to ask my dad what he was most afraid of. I can’t remember what he said; I just remember him turning to look at those little ornaments and the crunching sound as the tires spun against the pebbles in our driveway. Or actually maybe he wasn’t looking back, maybe we had just arrived and he had just parked the car.

The sun washed everything in light, bleaching the green grass and the paint on our garage door, which was actually just created from a variety of abandoned doors from rooms in houses long since renovated. I seem to recall it being summer because of the way the heat permeated from the faux velvet seats. I must have been 7, maybe 8, because we sold the gold Lumina before I enrolled in the Catholic school near my house.  I remember him laughing out of surprise, the strange “hyuk” sound emanating from his throat only manifested when he was either dumbfounded or derisive.

“What are you afraid of Leah?” he asked, grinning at me with red apple cheeks.

Again, I can’t quite recall my exact phrasing, but I can recollect– more than recollect, feel–my fear. This fear had been metastasizing since I’d first really understood death, since I’d learned to question Heaven and Hell. What I said was: Nothing. I’m afraid of nothing or, rather, nothingness. I am terrified that when I die there will be no me, no consciousness. No memories of bleached doors or dangling ornaments or pebbles pulled from my rock collection and thrown in a driveway.

My father laughed and said “Well, don’t worry, if you don’t exist then you won’t be there to know it.”

As I’ve aged, though I’m still quite young, I’ve wrestled with this question, and my father’s response, many times. I can never quite figure out if his response is comforting or disturbing. When he said it, I felt this strange twist in my gut, as if he had confirmed everything I felt afraid of. I didn’t sleep well that night because sleep without remembered dreams seemed a lot like death. Not even convincing myself I was the Red King, who created entire worlds as he gave up his own, could persuade me to turn off my light and sleep willingly.

Later, in high school, I truly confronted what the consequences of my fear’s solution would be. In class we read a short story on the types of people in an immortal world. There were two types, the story asserted: those who did everything because they had all the time in the world, and those who did nothing for the same reason. I wonder what eternity as the same soul would be like. How many decades, centuries, millennia would I enjoy everything or nothing? If life is eternity, and we can do everything or nothing,  will it be what I know now?
Should I give up my life for immortality?

At the end of the story, the author reveals a third group, which siphons off the population of doers and non-doers, who leaves for a mysterious cliff-side. Not much is explained, but the implication could be that they choose to die.

After decades, centuries, millennia of looking at the same hands, they chose dust.

Maybe, at some point, we’ll all want to choose dust; but, since dust comes a little sooner than we’d all like, maybe it’d be better to try doing  what we like, if we can, now.
That way, even if we disappear into a great nothing with no hot summer air or surprised laughs, our great life will have made going to the cliffs a little less terrifying.



“We’ll be ready”: Chinese New Year Part III

Feeling lost? This is part three of a series on my experience hitchhiking through Taiwan over the Chinese New Year.

We continued on our intrepid hitchhiking journey from Taipei through Wushe and finally to Puting. Arriving in a nearby city the night before the music festival we set up camp in a nearby field. The next morning we arose and debated on how we would reach the music festival which, according to L, began later that night. All of us felt renewed by the proximity of the music festival and by visions of open fields with music that wafted from the stage on the wind. Equipped with our optimistic energy and desire for adventure, which had only been fed by other parts of the trip, we decided to walk. In the morning five kilometers didn’t seem so bad and L was a pretty great navigator after all.

We walked down busy main roads for sometime, passing honking cars and businesses. A man stopped us at a crossroads and fed us a mysterious, sweet green plant before offering us– all eight of us– a ride on his motorbike. We respectfully declined and then decided to follow in the footsteps of Robert Frost and take the road less traveled. Past rice paddies, past a river, past trees we walked on a narrow dirt road. It was invigorating, it did not seem to matter that time passed quickly. We didn’t feel tired. As the oft quoted saying: It’s not about the destination, but about the journey. A good portion of the group lived that way. Now that I reflect on it, we were an odd group comprised of  a copywriters aspiring to be yoga instructors, a wayward wanderer and future lawyer, a restless dry humored English teacher,  a imperturbable history buff, a geneticist turned holistic sales person and spiritualist, a driven policy expert and, me, the confused graduate. Who really knows how we found each other, but we were together now. Suddenly, after hundreds of meters of silence we passed a small tea house.

“Shin ni guai la!” Happy new year– the tea drinkers raised their cups and shouted at us as we passed. We didn’t walk much further before deciding to go back to the tea house and sit on the lacquered tree stumps arranged around a small table outside. Thankful to remove our heavy packs, we relaxed under the umbrella and listened to the river gurgling behind us. A man came out carrying a kettle of tea and several glasses. Words were exchanged. He disappeared and returned with whisky, which he insisted we all share. 11043389_10153148903744630_2710500805244973210_oAnother group approached our table, two boys around my age, laughing and shy. One waved his phone at us hesitantly in between giggles. Two minutes later another picture of random foreigners on a facebook page popped into existence.

We tried to pay for the tea, for the whisky. He insisted we not. We debated which would be more culturally appropriate: leaving money on the table or respecting his wishes and not paying at all. Honestly, I’m still not sure which I should do when, but in this instance we settled on leaving a token few hundred. Securing the bills under glasses we continued our journey which lead us through a hiking trail where we met a large family of Taiwanese tourists. We took a small detour with them to visit a paper house but left them later when we saw the daylight weakening. By this time all of us were growing tired, hungry and anxious.

We left, walking back the way we came– past a small noodles shop with the black dog, past the family restaurant and past the police station where we turned left and walked up a hill into the rain forest. The road was eerily quiet and empty save for some abandoned
pieces of metal, wires and furniture.  Finally we came upon a seemingly abandoned shack surrounded by a collection of forgotten things. This wasn’t the open field I’d imagined and I began to wonder if we’d managed to get lost. L, on the other hand, seemed certain.Just then the universe, as if to chide me for my doubt, conjured up a woman  from who approached, grinning from behind the orange car sitting at the apex of the hill.

“Yes, yes, come,” she said vigorously waving us toward her. ”
10854945_10153149302039630_9162752080650808356_oJust around the corner  rows upon rows of doors and windows,  secured by silver metal, shot up from the ground to form a tall rectangular building. A building containing, it seems, every thrown out piece of furniture,  and construction supplies.
“This is the festival?”
“No, ” she said as we continued to trod an uncertain path through the piles. “This is.”

We all stood in front of the large rectangular opening and our visions of giant field and relaxation melted away. This looked less like a music concert and more like an impro10996495_10153149302044630_7520110268691222067_omptu dump. I turned to look at the optimistic, yet stressed, organizer.
“We’re going to be ready by tomorrow,” she assured us. She attempted to delicately step over some wires, but eventually gave up and, in her giant galoshes, stomped over to some ladders. “You’ll be sleeping up there tonight,” she said. “You can help tomorrow?”

That night our exhaustion slunk back toward us and we feel asleep restless and weary. How could we have known that the next day would provide countless stories we’d all certainly remember for years?

Who am I? Who will I be?

As a child the future was a source of great wonder. Who will I be? I could be anything. I could travel. I could be charming  and well liked ,or incisive and well respected. I could be a recluse who lives with two dogs in the country, or a socialite who knows everyone in town. Future me was a veritable chameleon. Future me was impressive. Future me was someone I could be proud of.

As a I grew older I began to recognize that future me was, in part, a product of present me’s work. The question I asked myself as a child was coupled with another: Who am I now? Now “Who will I be?” is a source of great anxiety for me. At times I find myself laying awake at night, my current successes and failures tumbling around my head like clothes in an old, worn out washing machine. At some point the cycle stops and the water drains, easing the heaviness of my regrets and the concerns that even my successes might not lead me to a place where I feel proud of what I’m doing and who I am.

How exactly do I get to that place? Finding a place without a map, or landmarks, or a name, or the slightest idea of its geography is next to impossible. So what do I do? I often find myself cycling between phases of inspiration and despair. Sometimes I read motivational articles that encourage a if-you-put-your-mind-to-it-you-can-do-it work ethic. Other times I find myself reading an article on Forbes magazine about how many  college graduates are either under-employed or unemployed. If one is to believe those inspirational, happy articles– many of them failed because they didn’t have the motivation or drive to push themselves. Is that enough though? Is that really enough? Can we attribute some people’s overall success to work ethic alone? Of course, part of me finds the argument distasteful because accepting sole credit for failure can be a heavy blow to the ego; I sometimes convince myself that such a sentiment relies heavily on rhetoric and ignores reality. After all, anyone who has attempted to bring to fruition a new idea–whether that be through law or scientific experimentation or through some creative medium– knows that the finished product often deviates from the initial idea. In other words, confounding variables can be a bitch.

I mean, identifying all the variables is hard enough in a controlled environment, but when one considers all of the variables in the world that can affect an individual…well it’s a wonder that statisticians don’t descend into madness. After sinking into fatalism, I pull myself out and back to the beginning by accepting the notion that we must narrow our view to make sense of the utter chaos that surrounds us. We can’t spend forever concerning ourselves with millions of incalculable probabilities. We simply have to do. We have to pick something and do it. If we fail, we have to continue until we find a method that works. Even a failed experiment is valuable, right?

My childhood self resurfaces: I can be anything as long as I put my mind to it. With renewed focus,  I dedicate myself to a project. I look forward instead of back. I ignore the voice that tells me to look forward one must also look back, and focus solely on the future. I bend my head down and push away the voices that tell me I’m not good enough; that urge me to reconsider dedicating myself to this project because ,even after weeks of practice, I’m still not good enough. “Let yourself be a beginner,” one voice, perhaps the angel, on my shoulder, says.

“How long do can you allow yourself to be that way?” another voice rebuts. “At some point you have to cease being a beginner and achieve something worthwhile. Like your mother says ‘Following your bliss is great, but it doesn’t pay the bills.”  It’s not enough to be dedicated, you have to be good too.

I begin thinking of grad school. I envision myself going into public diplomacy; going into writing; into medicine. Which one should I choose, I wonder? Can I prepare myself for all of them? I know I need to choose a direction, but choosing one direction leaves out the others. I ask myself if narrowing my path will increase or decrease my chances of success. My adult side steps in again to remind me that it’s not enough to dream about the future, you need to do things to prepare now. What things are the right things and how do I involve myself in them?

Sometimes I successfully identify the right things– an internship or work with an NGO. I stare at the job posting for a few days, a week even, trying to convince myself I’m good enough to apply. I waver. I pause. I think of my past experiences. My head turns. I look back. I reconsider. I look forward again. Maybe I’m not good enough, I say silently, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. Still, I’m afraid. I’m afraid of failing. I’m afraid of failing at something I so deeply want to do. So most times I avoid even trying. The sting of not applying and thinking you might have gotten it is much lighter than the feeling you’re being told you’re not good enough (“Rejection doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough, just that you aren’t the right fit.” The generic career counselor line never fully assuages self-doubt).

Right now I’m battling myself during one of the most pivotal moments of my life. Will I challenge myself to become someone I’m proud of being? Can I push myself past my fears? Can I choose one thing without allowing failure to dissuade me from the direction I’ve chosen?

Am I audacious or cautious? Am I determined or apathetic? Am I fearless or fearful?

Who am I?

Who will I be?

Water, Internet and MacGyver in Nablus

“Everybody hacks here,” C (the assistant director) leaned against the kitchen counter, drinking tea. His casual response to my asking if I should install a VPN. Overall he felt it would be a waste as governmental organizations can gain access easily regardless of such technology and hacking is incredibly popular in Nablus. “In fact,” he continued. “There have been times I haven’t been able to use my computer because someone has taken over it.”

Later that evening the electricity went out. In the few days I’ve been here, we’ve faced two electricity outages and three days of water shortage. Today I took a shower using one and a half containers of bottled water. Yet, though citizens may have trouble accessing electricity for their lights and water for their showers, you’ll also find many are equipped with iPhones, laptops and all manner of technology. There’s a strange sort of duality here between technology and underdevelopment. On one hand, most of my students will likely be very tech savvy, on the other hand electricity outages and water depletion is not uncommon here.

Last night, as I sat on the balcony drinking tea and eating a fresh Falafel made by a sociable stand owner down the street, I noticed a young woman sitting on top of her roof on her laptop. She laughs at something and leans back to rest on a black cylinder which squats on her building. The next day I met a taxi driver, who I would come to know affectionately as “Super driver” who had wi-fi in his cab. He would often pick up his cellphone while driving and, removing his ever-present cigarette from his mouth, answer “Yes habibi”. Of course, despite all of their tech. savviness, so much hinges on having electricity or, if you’re wealthy, a generator. While staying there I sometimes found myself unable to finish lesson plans due to an unexpected electricity outage.

As for water, most, if not all buildings in Nablus, feature a flat top with a large black container positioned on them. Every night, these black containers are replenished with water. Some of you may wonder: where does this water come from? In fact, the water is effectively allocated to the West Bank by Israel, which controls the water supply between Gaza, Israel and the West Bank. Now, some readers may have read the Oslo II Accords and point out that Nablus is located in the small percentage of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority; therefore, the water should be controlled by the PA. Actually, there’s a small asterisk there which indicates they should be allowed to control the water insofar as it does not affect the Israeli settlements(page 103) (Also found here) So, in practical terms, Israel controls the water as any water available to the region reaches the settlements first. The settlements themselves are sprawled around near villages outside of Nablus, often surrounded by walls and the IDF.

I talked more with C about this and he highlighted Oslo II as one of the major reasons we, and other Nablusis living in our area, were dealing with water shortages. “There’s also just not good infrastructure here,” he told me.  “We only get water bills sporadically, so maybe we haven’t paid.” I nodded. Each building in our area was outfitted with a large black tank on top of the roof. Every night, new water filled the tank, but often very slowly and sometimes not at all.

“How does water even get up there?” I asked him. “Where does it come from?”

“You know,” he said, finally looking up from the computer screen. “I have no idea. That’s a good question. There’s probably an aquifer near here.”

Water in Palestine is a complex issue. The joint water committee or JWC, a partnership between Israel and Palestine’s Palestinian Water Authority (created after Oslo II) approves all new drill sites for water and, in practice, the amount of water allotted to Palestinians. According to the Israeli government, some of the approved drill sites have yet to be tapped; but, Palestine is guilty of illegally drilling elsewhere (here) (here). The PLO, the governing party of the Palestinian Authority maintains that the Oslo II Accords have not yet been fulfilled. According to an article written by a member of the Negotiations and Development unit, the water resources in the region continue to be divided disparately between Palestinians and Israelis (here). Some cite the codification of inequality in the Oslo Accords as the cause, others blame infrastructure and poor management by the Palestinian Authority.  A recent article on Bloomberg speaks to this disparity, highlighting poor infrastructure which has left many unconnected to the grid of water lines. “According to Water Authority statistics, Israel now supplies more than double the required amount to the Palestinian Authority, or 53 mcm, but even that does not meet the areas’ needs”. Unfortunately, around 30% of that is lost due to leaking pipelines.

Later in the article, Tamar Feldman, an attorney with a civil-rights company in Israel,  notes the following:

“The West Bank water problem is threefold. First comes the “outdated and dysfunctional” Oslo framework. Second are the more than 100 “unrecognized” Arab villages in West Bank areas under full Israeli control, which have no access to the national water grid. And third is Israel’s refusal to license new Palestinian wells. The military authority destroys wells drilled without a license as well as old water cisterns that have been repaired for use, she said.”

This, is perhaps a rather good summary of some of the main issues with something a simple as water. Of course, water isn’t solely a Palestinian-Israeli divide issue, it is also tied closely to the issue of poverty and wealth disparity. During my conversation with C, the assistant director,  he also noted at one point that water and electricity tend to “go out” more in places like the Balata refugee camp than in the region we lived in. After living for two weeks in a region near the Souk,  the other teachers and I moved to a wealthier section of Nablus. There the water almost never went out, even though more people resided in the apartment. Of course, that could also partially be due to the landlord of the other building; but, I wonder if it also may be that the wealthier get more governmental attention and, in general, have more access to resources.

My inclination is to say that developing grid works for water and distributing should be simpler and more accessible than, say, the internet or the phones that many of my students were equipped with. Even so, technology is not as accessible as this article may make it seem. For one, it tends to be more difficult due to sanctions and the reality of being an unrecognized country to obtain something as simple as a charger. I learned this when mine broke one day. Somehow, I had managed to hit it on the desk just so and one of the metal prongs that connected the battery box to the detachable cord broke off and slid into the box. As I shook the plastic box, listening to the sound of metal knocking around, I felt certain this was a death sentence for it. R.I.P. charger.  In the U.S. I would normally order one off of Amazon for a few dollars, but here I needed to find a store that could recognize it and attempt to repair it or order a new one at a high price. To my surprise, they managed to fix it! This involved them breaking apart the protective box that surrounded the main section of the charger, removing part of the cord and replacing it with another one and finish by gluing or soldering it firmly in place. To me, this was some unthought-of MacGyver level stuff. If you’re impressed by that, which I was, you’d probably be interested to learn more about the innovative tech start-ups developing in Palestine which may not only help the economy, but also influence the culture (as things like this tend to do everywhere)! Overall,  as we develop a sense of what technology can do and we discover more disparities between what we’d expect of old technology (like water grids) and new technology (like the internet, computers, etc.). Then, Maybe as we refine the old technologies, maybe even using the new ones with the help of our MacGyver friends, we’ll be more ready to solve problems that now seem insolvable. Who knows?