Monthly Archives: June 2014

A girl growing up in Zimbabwe, traditional vs. egalitarian values in “Nervous Conditions” novel

Tsitsi Dangarembga. Nervous Conditions. Ayebia Clarke Publishing, 1988.


Tsitsi Dangarembga’s novel about teenagers in Zimbabwe in the late 1960s, Nervous Conditions (1988) gives readers a picture of traditional ways of living versus the identity confusion brought by white colonialists and missionaries. Tambu spent her first 14 years in the countryside in a brick house with a tin roof that I imagine looks like my photographs of rural Tanzanian dwellings. The nearby river provides water fetched in a 10-gallon drum, the place to wash clothes on flat rocks, and swimming for fun. Food is cooked in a separate conical thatched room in pots hanging on an iron tripod over a fire pit. The children sleep on the kitchen floor. The bathroom is the fields, or an outside latrine for each sex. Maize is the stable food, cooked as porridge, with an occasional chicken from their flock but meat is rare. They eat with their fingers. They use candles and paraffin lamps as there’s no electricity.

Elders, mostly male, rule the extended family. They expect to be greeted deferentially, as by asking about their health. When water is brought around to wash their hands before a meal, it must be offered kneeling, in order of status. The family is ruled by Tambu’s uncle who heads a missionary school, sent by the whites to study in South Africa and later to England. His accomplishments give him great status and power. If his children flout his authority, he gives them a whipping. Tambu notes that the needs of women in her family were not considered legitimate. Men paid a bride price, roora, a South African custom making it easy to think of a wife as a purchased possession.

At the uncle’s insistence, they’re Christian, but Tambu’s mother refers to witchdoctors, spells, and evil spirits and mediums to appease them. The local primary school costs money so the one brother is sent there to study. Her father asks Tambu, “Can you cook books and feed them to your [future] husband? Stay at home with your mother.” (A girl is expected to be pregnant before marriage to prove her fertility but not be promiscuous.) Since her father won’t pay her tuition because it would only benefit her future family and be a loss to him, Tambu cultivates her own maize field to sell. After her brother dies of an undisclosed illness, her uncle brings Tambu to his house to be a student in his school.

Tambu shares a room with her cousin Nyasha, also a top scoring student and about the same age. The problem is Nyasha and her brother recently returned from England where they lost touch with local language and customs, such as reverent respect for elders. Nyasha conflicts with her father’s attempts to keep a tight reign on her actions. Tambu observes she lacked respect for her father, but, “What I didn’t like was the way all the conflicts came back to this question of femaleness. Femaleness as opposed and interior to maleness.” The context was Nyasha’s father called her a whore for dancing with boys. Nyasa said, “I was comfortable in England but now I’m a whore with dirty habits.” He demands that she eat all her dinner, so she becomes bulimic, looses too much weight, and becomes so obsessive about her studies that she has the nervous breakdown suggested by the book title. Her egalitarian attitudes also cause trouble with fellow students, as Nyasha explains, they think she’s a snob, “that I am superior to them because I do not feel that I am inferior to men. . . and I beat the boys at maths!”

Nyasha’s mother Maiguru is also conflicted as she earned a Master’s degree in England and teaches in the school, but has to turn all her earnings over to her husband. He spends money on the extended family, such as building a home or paying for a wedding, without her consent. In the end Tambu wins a scholarship to an excellent school run by white nuns for African and European girls, who sleep in segregated dormitories. Her mother worries that she’ll be lost to her, not expecting “the ancestors to stomach so much Englishness.” She is so depressed, she too stops eating until her sister intervenes. Tambu ends her story by telling the reader her process of expansion was a “long and painful process.’ In an afterword the author says, “Although Tambu may not have been psycholocally contorted when she was 14, she definitely is now.” She adds that young African women sufferer from a shortage of role models.

Life of a Zambian University Student

I Skyped with a Zambian university student. Felix Mbewe, age 24. He said most of the university students are from urban areas, because in the rural areas where about 44% of  people live, children usually don’t progress past primary school. He’s lived in both rural and urban areas, explaining,

 I have lived in two different rural areas, and came back to the city. My dad was a street food vendor before his death, but due to challenges in the city we moved to rural areas to depend on farming, and it never worked out as the rural areas are infested with mosquitoes and hence, lots of malaria. So when we came back to the city dad and mum continued to vend until when dad died. Mum has continued to hustle, and that’s how we survive, so we are hoping when I finish next year I will get a job and help out my family and take my siblings to school also.

One reason children don’t go past primary school is that secondary school costs around $100 a three-month term, plus books and uniform. He and his girlfriend started the Love for Humanity Foundation to encourage children to continue with their education (see their Facebook page). Felix said their lives in villages revolve around home, farming and caring for animals, learning about traditions and culture. They’re not as exposed to media, and don’t know about problems like global warming and apparently not safe sex as Mbewe said most of the HIV+ people are rural young people, ages 15 to 25. I asked if dating is forbidden, how is HIV transmitted? He said, “People still sleep around despite culturally its wrong to do so before marriage. And besides, due to the fact that here we cannot freely talk about sex, dating, marriage, taboos, etc with parents, we have more AIDS cases than western countries.”Most of the people are Christians, Catholics or Seventh Day Adventists. Some will follow tradition and have an arranged marriage and some will pick a spouse for themselves. Traditionally you were supposed to marry in your tribe, but now young people in urban areas are likely to choose for themselves. His parents were nontraditional, a love marriage from different tribes that produced seven children.


Young North American Founders of Charities to Help Children & Others

Whitney Burton, a college freshman, raised money to build a school in Sierra Leone and staff it with teachers. She explained,

To achieve this goal in my high school in Texas, the Building Futures group and I raised money through different fundraisers over two years. We organized car washes and gift-wrap and rummage sales. Many adults thought that our sights were too high; I was told that we should cut our fund-raising goals in half. But we were determined, and we stuck with our efforts. We persisted even when it seemed we would not reach our goal of $9,600 US. This amount would pay for the building of a school, a washroom, one teacher’s accommodations and training for a year, blackboards, desks, and supplies for the kids. After two years, and to the surprise of many, we not only reached our goal, but also surpassed it by so much that we were also able to build a water program. Through this I learned that everyone can make a difference in the world; age is irrelevant.[1]

Brothers Garrett and Kyle Weiss started FUNDaFIELD “run by kids to provide soccer fields and equipment to African schools.”

Girls Learn International was founded in July, 2003, by Lisa Alter and her two teenage daughters, Arielle and Jordana. They believe that global youth, in particular girls, have a crucial role to play in leading the movement to affect change for girls and women all over the world.” They pair school chapters in the US with schools in other countries.

Two young Canadians founded TakingITGlobal in 1999 for peers to exchange ideas among peers—“a global support network to encourage young people to get involved and support those who want to do something.” Michael Furdyk and Jennifer Corriero explained, “We see it as a pathway to action.” Only 20% of members are from North American and the site includes 248 languages (

Joey Cheek, Olympic gold and silver medalist in 2006, gave all his $40,000 bonus money to Right to Play, a non-profit organization that establishes sports programs for children in impoverished countries. He got a lot of publicity and money for the cause he believes in.[1] One person can make a difference.

*Anastasia Fullerton and Madeline Petrow, two teenage cousins from opposite sides of the U.S, founded Cuddle Buddies in 2004 as a community project.  Since then it has grown to an international mission distributing over 15,000 stuffed animal “buddies” to nonprofit agencies in California and Connecticut, as well as orphanages in Kenya and Zimbabwe. Madeline explains, “Our goal is to establish chapters throughout the country so that more children can have a ‘buddy’ to hug and help them through the tough times.”

 *Stefan Lyon, a 12-year-old San Francisco author and activist whose working to make the world a better place. See


International poverty:

Grameen Foundation helps the world’s poorest, especially women, improve their lives and escape poverty through access to microfinance and technology. Mr. Yunus won the Nobel Prize for his banking with small loans to groups of five.

Read his book Banker to the Poor, 2003.


Acumen Fund invests patient capital in a variety of institutions, reflecting the diversity of business models that can be effective in reaching the “base of the pyramid” (BoP)—or the billions of poor without access to clean water, reliable health services, or formal housing options. The fund loans or invests in larger projects than Grameen. Read Jacqueline Novogratz. The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World, 2009.


Education in Pakistan and Afghanistan


I’ve started a small co-ed literacy program in NW Pakistan.


Global Women:

The Global Fund for Women advocates for and defends women’s human rights by making grants to support women’s groups around the world. Since 1987, the Global Fund for Women has granted over $71 million to more than 3,800 women’s groups in 167 countries.


The Environment

Take your pick from the best.

How to Shrink Inequality in the US that lags behind Europe

A video titled Inequality for All features former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich making the point that inequality hurts the rich as well as the poor because a shrinking middle class has reduced purchasing power. He compared the Civil Rights Freedom Summer of 1964 to students who organized Wal-Mart workers for better wages than their $8 an hour average in the summer of 2014.[i] The Fight for $15 organization aims to influence politicians with the slogan “Come get our vote.” Also known as Fast Food Forward, it began in November 2012 when hundreds of fast food workers went on strike, spreading to over 200 cities in the US and other countries. It’s supported by the large Service Employees International Union and other groups like Black Lives Matter Portaland.

The largest labor movement in years, cities like Lost Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco responded with minimum wage hikes and New York was the first state to require a $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers in chain restaurants. In 2016 California passed a $15 minimum wage to be phased in over six years.

By 2010 Americans were less likely than Europeans to favor capitalism’s free market economy. “Socialism” was the most searched word in an online dictionary in 2015,[ii] popularized by the Occupy movement and its criticism of the capitalist 1%, Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign as a democratic socialist, and the re-election of Kshama Sawant, the socialist mayor of Seattle in 2015. Sanders’ democratic socialism is not anti-capitalist in that his models are not Marxist but the New Deal and Scandinavia. Young voters were more supportive of Sanders than his opponent Hillary Clinton and more likely to want a Democratic president than older voters. A USA TODAY/Rock the Vote poll of young people ages 18 to 34 in 2016 found they’re pragmatic rather than ideological, concerned about renewable energy (80%) and background checks for gun buyers. Another top issue for them is the economy and student debt.[iii] The Million Student March mobilized on over 125 university campuses in November 2015 and April 2016. They demanded free public education, cancellation of $1.3 trillion student debt, $15 minimum wage for campus employees, and divesting from private prison corporations. T-shirts read I am a student debt To grow the shrinking middle-class also requires union growth, the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes, and creating green jobs while building the decaying infrastructure.

The wealth gap is the widest in three decades in the US, the developed country with the highest rates of inequality and one of the lowest levels of social spending on programs like TANF, WIC and Earned Income Tax, according to the Economic Policy Institute.[iv] One in five US adults lives in or near poverty with almost 4.7 million dropping down to this level since the economic recession of 2008.[v] North America is the only region where the middle class doesn’t own its share and more of national wealth: 70% of the people own only 7% of the wealth.[vi] The richest 20 own more than the bottom half, so that the 1% owns as much wealth as 80% of Americans. Almost 62% of people ages 25 to 60 have suffered at least a year in poverty or near it; two-thirds of them are white.[vii] The increased rate of drug overdoses from heroin is driving up the death rate of young white adults, most of whom are not well-educated and struggle with poverty.[viii] A short documentary shows the actual life of a poor 15-year-old white mother in Missouri who lives in a single-mother family with seven children.[ix] Another documentary, Rich Hill (2014) tells the story of three impoverished white boys also in Missouri.

Families with the median household income have very little left over at the end of the month to save, so almost half of Americans own almost nothing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Reporter Nicholas Kristof reported that the US middle class is no longer the richest in the world, surpassed by Canada in median after-tax income.[x] In addition Canadians receive free health care and work fewer hours. Despite spending more per person than 10 other developed nations on health care, the US ranks last due to lack of access to primary care.[xi] Americans pay more for pharmaceuticals than any other advanced nation.

Nearly 16% of Americans in their mid-20s to mid-30s lived below the poverty line in 2013.[xii] People ages 18 to 24 are poorer than the same age group in 1990. In 2012, 20% of them were poor.[xiii] The rate of employed teens ages 16 to 19 sunk to the lowest rate since 1945, to in 2016.[xiv] The unemployment rate for 20 to 24-year-olds fell to 62%% in 2014 but pay stagnated over the previous decade. A youth advocacy group called the Young Invincibles reported in 2014 that 15% of people ages 16 to 24 were unemployed, not counting students and those too discouraged to look for work, compared with 7.3% overall.[xv] About 300 million more jobs will be needed to employ the young people entering the workforce in the next decade.

[i] Robert Reich, “Freedom Summer II, Robert, May 31, 2014.

[ii] Inae Oh, “The Most-Searched Word of 2015 is ‘Socialism,’” Mother Jones, December 16, 2015.

[iii] Susan Page and Paul Singer, “USA TODAY/Rock the Vote Poll,” USA TODAY, January 11, 2015.

[iv] Pierce Nahigyan, “8 Facts About American Inequality,” Counter Currents, October 21, 2014.

[v] Jerome Roos, “One in Five US Adults Live In or Near Poverty,” ROAR Magazine, December 12, 2015.

[vi] Paul Bucheit, “2015 Wealth Data: U.S. Inequality at its Ugliest,” Common Dreams, October 19, 2015.

[vii] Neil Schoenherr, “Poverty Prospects Higher than Expected,” Washington University Newsroom, July 22, 2015.

[viii] Gina Kolata and Sarah Cohen, “Drug Overdoses Propel Rise in Mortality Rates of Young Whites,” New York Times, January 16, 2016.

In 2014, 47,055 people died from overdoses.


[x] Nicholas Kristof, “It’s Now the Canadian Dream,” New York Times, May 14, 2014.

[xi] Dan Munro, “US Healthcare Ranked Dead Last Compared to 10 Other Countries,” Forbes, June 16, 2014.

[xii] Editorial Board, “Recovery for Whom?,” New York Times, April 12, 2014.

[xiii] Editorial Board, “Starting Out Behind,” New York Times, June 7, 2014.

[xiv] Richard Eskow, “Citi to Help Unemployed Youth?,” Huffington Post, April 11, 2014.

Martha Ross, “Decoding Declines in Youth Unemployment,” Brookings Institution, June 1, 2016.

[xv] Shaila Dewan, “In Jobless Youth, US is Said to Pay a High Price,” New York Times, January 6, 2014.

10 steps to increase equality in the US.

Robert Reich, “How to Shrink Inequality,” The Nation, May 6, 2014.  


Robert Reich updated the argument that the US is behind Europe and Canada, stating in 2014 that US disposable income after taxes is lower although Americans work longer hours (28% more than a German worker), they don’t live as long and the rate of infant mortality is higher, and Americans ages 16 to 24 rank near the bottom among rich countries in literacy.[i]


[i] Robert Reich, “The Perils of America’s Hard-Charging Capitalism,” The Sun, May 28, 2014.,0,4967221.story

Robert Reich, “The Perils of America’s Hard-Charging Capitalism,” The Sun, May 28, 2014.,0,4967221.story

US Wasteful

The US generates 590,000,000,000 million pounds of waste a year less than 20% is recycled. Solutions in article.

Most of the e-waste goes to China. Eliminating food waster would feed 1 billion people a year as the US wastes 31% of the food supply. Ninety corporations and states are responsible for nearly two-thirds of all carbon emissions since 1751, and two-thirds were produced in the last 25 years since warnings about the danger of global warming.[i] A spokesperson for indigenous youth organized by the UN, Andrea Landry of the Anishinaabe tribe of Canada, contrasted her traditional with modern attitudes; “We’re in a relationship with the land; it’s a living thing. It’s not a matter of take, take, take. We give to the land and the land gives to us.”[ii]


[i] Suzanne Goldenberg, “Just 90 Companies Caused Two-Thirds of Man-Made Global Warming Emmissions,” The Guardian, November 20, 2013.

[ii] Marzieh Goudarzi, “Indigenous Youth Step up to Protect their Roots,” Inter Press Service, February 17, 2013.

Youth in India Lack Education and Freedom

“The Youth in India: Situation and Needs” study interviewed 58,728 youth ages 15 to 29 in rural and urban areas in various regions (2006 to 2008).[i] It indicated the lack of freedom and education available to girls and young women. Respondents’ most pressing problems were unemployment, poverty, lack of infrastructure (the top problem for women) and educational opportunities. Almost one-third didn’t have electricity in their homes and two-thirds didn’t have a toilet, but most had access to TV (89% of men and 76% of women)—more so in southern states. Over one-third had never been to school, 47% of females compared to 26% of males. Married girls in rural areas were least likely to be educated: Half of the girls in the study were married before age 18—one-quarter didn’t have a say in their parents’ choice of spouse. The main reason for not going to schools was their family couldn’t afford it or the youths’ labor was needed at home. Also one-quarter of the females weren’t allowed to go out of the home by themselves, with girls in the south having more freedom. About one-third of both sexes weren’t interested in going to school and only about 10% were members of groups. Only 14% of males and 7% of females had more than 12 years of education.

The northern states had more teen marriages without input from the young people while the south had more secular attitudes. Despite laws against dowry payments, about thee-quarters of the marriages involved a dowry in both urban and rural areas. More than half of young women said they had less freedom to go out than their male relatives and had more housework. Only 27% of women said they could make independent decisions on choices such as friends or spending money, compared to 56% of men. Only 9% of women and 19% of men had a pre-martial romance. One-quarter of the sample had seen their father beat their mother, more so in the south, and about half thought it was sometimes justified. Women were more likely than men to have egalitarian attitudes, but not in this matter of wife beating. Both sexes rarely discussed sensitive topics such as relationships and sex with their parents, nor did they learn about sexual health in school, talking instead with their friends. This resulted in ignorance about pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases. Most of the few unmarried youth who were sexually active (4% of women and 15% of men) didn’t use birth control. Childbirth was expected to follow as soon as possible after marriage.


[i] “Youth in India,” Population Council,

Spanish Women Protest Abortion Limits


In 2014, the conservative government in Spain moved to restrict abortion access. A feminist artist, Yolanda Dominguez started a protest called “Register,” where women line up at Chamber of Commerce offices to register “ownership” of their bodies, as shown in a video on her website. [i]