Category Archives: United States

First Ladies in Vogue! First Ladies with power!


It began in the late 1920s when Lou Henry Hoover, the wife of President Herbert Hoover, sat for a portrait taken by photographer Edward Steichen. The stately image appeared in the May 11, 1929 issue of Vogue—just a few months before the stock-market crash that precipitated the Great Depression—and started a now long-standing tradition of the nation’s First Ladies appearing in the pages of the magazine. Here are some images of the smart, powerful women who stood beside the U.S. Presidents —from Eleanor Roosevelt to Jacqueline Kennedy to Nancy Reagan to Michelle Obama.


Now that you have seen lots of these photos, I want you to notice something: all the first ladies look regal, beautiful, powerful.  But they also all look passive.  I love Michelle Obama’s photo most of all because it shows her as active as a participant in life, in work, in politics.  A partner, not a decoration.

Am I reading too much into this?  Maybe.

Did other first ladies work and make a difference in politics?  Certainly.

But, I love the photo of Michelle doing something because it helps to convey power and too often women who are active and powerful hide that in the name of beauty.  So, enjoy:


No Name Calling Week


I first heard about No Name Calling Week over at Lesbian Family. I thought the idea was great.

I have been thinking about bullying and what I want to say about it. This is a hard topic for me. I was bullied. But I was lucky– I have the personality and a strong support system that allowed me to walk away only slightly damaged. I certainly see how it affected and affects some others deeply. I worry about how my daughter will be treated and seen. So, this week, I am going to try and talk about bullying. Wish me luck!

About No Name-Calling Week

Coordinated by GLSEN in collaboration with over 60 national education organizational partners, No Name-Calling Week is an annual week of educational activities aimed at ending name-calling of all kinds and providing schools with the tools and inspiration to launch an on-going dialogue about ways to eliminate bullying in their communities.

***This is part of a series on bullying.  Check out the other posts: Friends vs. Bullies, Physical Violence, They reached their peak, and researching LGBT teen suicide..

Human Trafficking Awareness Day


Being that I work overseas, you might expect that I would use today to talk about Trafficking in Persons in the country I live in currently (Albania). Or, the country I just came from (Kazakhstan). Or, the country where I did research on human trafficking (Chile). Or, the country where I knew children who were trafficked (Moldova). But, today I won’t do that. I want to talk about human trafficking int he country I call home (USA).

The sad truth is that human trafficking continues to be a problem in the US.  Yes, in large cities: New York, LA, Boston.  But also in rural areas of the country, small towns, suburbia.

A few jobs ago, I worked with some victims of human trafficking.  Men who were lured to the US with promises of jobs and money to send home and instead ended up working in slave like conditions in Middle America with their passports confiscated and the door to the house they lived in padlocked from the outside.  After several months, someone put in a tip and they were freed.  They were freed, but they weren’t compensated for their losses.  They were free, but they still had to explain to wives and children what happened to them.  They have been free for years now, but I am sure their experience still haunts them.  Honestly, their stories still haunt me.

An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year. The number of U.S. citizens trafficked within the country is even higher, with an estimated 200,000 American children at risk for trafficking into the sex industry. (U.S. Department of Justice Report to Congress from Attorney General John Ashcroft on U.S. Government Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons)

These numbers are staggering and the realities are bleak. However, in the US, there are places you can report suspected cases of trafficking.  Polaris Project suggests:

If you see any of these red flags, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-3737-888 to report the situation. Click here to learn more about reporting potential human trafficking situations. This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Also, the red flags in this list may not be present in all trafficking cases and are not cumulative.

Common Work and Living Conditions: The Individual(s) in Question

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact

Poor Physical Health

  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control

  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)


  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
To request assessment tools and for more information about reporting trafficking click here. For resource packs on human trafficking and how to recognize the signs click here.

It the little things


I have been visiting the US for the last two weeks— a wonderful time to eat seafood and all kinds of treats that I either can’t get in Almaty or that are too expansive or poor quality to want to buy in Almaty.  In total– during the three weeks here– I am staying in 5 different hotels! Yikes!  Perhaps moving around isn’t the best idea, but it worked out so that on the weekends I could be out in VA near family and friends and during the weeks, I could be in the city near work and other friends.

Most of the hotels I have stayed in have been Kimpton hotels.  We originally stayed in one last summer when we were moving and had the dog and they are the most pet friendly hotels I have ever seen.  I have to say, I have fallen in love with this hotel chain.  Admittedly, this is a statement I never thought I would make, much less sell.  But, great service, free stuff from the mini-bar, wine at night (which I can’t drink), and coffee and tea in the morning.

While in the US, I have also been busy watching HGTV— I think my favorite channel.  My favorite show is House Hunters International.  I have absolutely fallen back into wishing I had lots of money to make my dream home.  Of course, that then leads to having to figure out what my dream home would be like. And where!

One thing that I have clear, when I get my own place, I want a curved shower rod.  They have them in the hotel. They have them on HGTV.  I am a total convert!

The power of propaganda… life without Winnie the Pooh


In this photo: Elena, Clare and Ana.

The cold war ended when I was still in school.  I was mostly oblivious.  I watched the wall crumble, but at that moment, I didn’t understand the importance.

Over a decade later, I moved to Moldova as a Peace Corps volunteer.  I was partnered with people, generally woman, who has been much older than I at the time the wall came down.  People who grew to be my friends.  This story is mostly about Ana (see picture of us above).

Ana was my teaching partner.  She was a chemistry teacher and I was to help her learn to teach health education.  We battled. We worked together. We cursed each other. We became close.  We talked.  We talked about how she was apprehensive when I came… what would this American be like. I was her first American friend.

One conversation we loved to discuss was propaganda.  I may not have been old enough to analyze the changes going on in the world when the wall fell, but I was old enough to absorb propaganda.  I remember being told that the soviet machine churned out propaganda. I had the feeling that in “the world of the free” we didn’t do propaganda.  HA!

We would compare stories and for the most part the propaganda was the same on both sides… only focused in the other direction.  Peace Corps helped me question what I had learned.  It helped Ana question what she had learned. As friends, we unlearned together.

What makes me think of this now?

Recently, I started watching Winnie the Pooh.  As a child, I loved the cartoon and the book.  My own copy of the book is tattered and probably a hand-me-down from my sister.  I was thinking, that to a young me, I probably thought that the other side of the cold war didn’t have Winnie the Pooh. I am sure I thought it was sad. Or, at least, I would have, if I had thought about it at all.

Again, I was wrong.  Recently, I started watching Winnie the Pooh– only this time, in Russian. Here are both versions for you to compare. Both different, but equally charming and enchanting.



The downside of growing up in the Lysol-age


If you get a group of Peace Corps volunteers together, I guarantee that you can get a wide variety of stories the involve outhouses– the good, the bad, the funny, and the unbelievably disgusting.  I will assume that the readers here, don’t want to hear about that. For better or for worse, my stomach grew up in a fairly sterile (on world standards) environment.  My parents never had to worry that the water I was drinking would have ecoli or a variety of other bacteria and gunk.  The one time that the water in Milwaukee did, it made national headlines.

Mothers and fathers around the world do have to think about it… or they don’t think about it because they have little option and children with strong immune systems grow up and those that don’t do not grow up.

In an unfortunate start to my two-week visit to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, I got food poisoning or some sort of bacteria.  Even sadder, as soon as I got the distinct sick feeling that goes along with this intestinal disease, I was reminded of my years in Moldova. Years where I had the same thing so many times, I can’t count.  Years when I got Giardia from the well at the school I worked at. For the American readers who don’t know what Giardia is– the next time you are taking your cat or dog to the vet, ask for a brochure.  In the US– only at the vet will you hear about this. In Moldova, it was in the well at my school.

I don’t think I have Giardia here– although clean drinking water is a real problem. Only 53 per cent of Tajikistan’s own population has access to safe water, and 23 per cent has adequate sanitation facilities. Water-related diseases are among the most common causes of child mortality.  Here is what UNICEF has to say about water and children:

Lack of safe water and sanitation is the world’s single largest cause of illness. In 2002, 42 per cent of households had no toilets, and one in six people had no access to safe water.

The toll on children is especially high. About 4,500 children die each day from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation facilities. Countless others suffer from poor health, diminished productivity and missed opportunities for education.

The young and the old are particularly vulnerable. Over 90 per cent of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases due to unsafe water and sanitation in the developing world occur in children below 5 years old.

The poor are especially hard hit. A child born in Europe or the United States is 520 times less likely to die from diarrhoeal disease than an infant in sub-Saharan Africa, where only 36 per cent of the population can access hygienic sanitation.

Urban-rural disparities are striking. In 2002, only 37 per cent of rural inhabitants had access to basic toilets, against 81 per cent of urban dwellers. The disparities were greatest in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a difference of 40 percentage points between rural and urban populations.

Women and girls are the “water haulers” of the world. On average, women and girls in developing countries walk 6 kilometers a day, carrying 20 litres of water, greatly reducing the time they have for other productive work or for girls to attend school.

Waterborne illnesses keep children out of school. A study of Jamaican students aged 9-12 found that children suffering from trichuriasis (a water-borne disease) were in classes only half as much as their uninfected peers. And when schools lack toilets, girls will often not attend.

Improving household drinking water can reduce diarrhea episodes by as much as 39 per cent; on average, improvements to household sanitation facilities can reduce sickness from diarrhea by almost a third. Almost half of the nearly 2 million deaths from diarrhea each year could be prevented through an understanding of basic hygiene.

The world is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal on water but not sanitation. With the exception of sub-Saharan Africa, all regions should meet their water targets. Under current rates of progress, the world will miss the sanitation target by more than half a billion people.

The MDGS are affordable and cost-effective. Meeting the MDG targets on water and sanitation would cost approximately an additional US$11.3 billion each year. A cost-benefit analysis undertaken by the World Health Organization found that every $1 invested in achieving the Millennium Development targets on water and sanitation would yield returns between $3-$34 depending on the region.

And… on a lighter note… I am certainly enjoying– if that word can be used with what I am feeling– being in a hotel with a nice bathroom as opposed to the old, blue and white, tiled outhouse in the snow in Moldova.

A referral to the fraud department


I travel for my job.  I live in lots of different countries.  I have banked in many of them– all in fact, except Chile who would not give me a bank account! But, I still bank in the US.  My salary is generally deposited here. My savings (if I had them) would be kept here.  My loans are collected here.  You get my point.

I have several credit cards– doesn’t every American? But I have one in particular that I use when overseas. It is the only card I have which doesn’t charge me a transaction fee for doing things in foreign currency.  These fees can be huge and even when they are not– they add up.

So, I called that credit card to tell them I was moving overseas.  The conversation was frustrating to say the least.  Here is what went wrong:

  1. The nice young woman told me that she could only put a travel announcement on for 2 months.  After 6o days I would need to call in and make another one.
  2. She informed me that it would be no problem for me to call in every 2 months for 2 years because I could do so collect. (Is my time not worth anything?)
  3. She told me that I needed to talk to her boss because there was a problem.
  4. Talked to young man (her boss) and went through steps 1 through 3 again.  Only, at 3, I was told I needed to talk to the fraud department because I had had too many overseas moves. – Did I mention I work in International Development.  The “international” part explains the moving.
  5. I spoke to a young man, from Turkey, in the fraud department.  He was the first person who knew where Kazakhstan was.  He asked how my parent’s felt about it (They are used to the idea by now and excited, I think). He promises I won’t have to call in every 60 days.

Over two hours later, I have one credit card down. Yikes! I know how my time will be spent the week after the Russian test (calling all th other cards).