Saturday, May 31, 2008

Once in a while, it's about pictures

Substitution Table

Poll Shows U.S. views of Christians.
Findings from a 2004, nationwide poll conducted by Cornell University.
  • 44% of Americans favor the restriction of at least some civil liberties of Christians.
  • 27% of respondents say that Christian-Americans should register where they live with the federal government.
  • 29% supported the idea of undercover agents infiltrating Christian civic and volunteer organizations to keep tabs on their activities and fund-raising.
  • 22% favor racial profiling (of white Christians) to identify potential terrorist threats.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The jaundiced eye sees yellow

Home and slightly underwhelmed, I must resort back to the American pastime of ranting, if only for a moment.
For holding the title of "land of convenience," the U.S. is falling alarmingly short through the eyes of a recent re-pat. Here are my top 3 picks for ways we are actually behind itty-bitty Gambia, which is no less ranked 155th out of 177 countries on the UN Human Development Index .

1. Public transport is not up to par in Western Mass, and most of non-urban USA. I don't care if it's a donkey cart or pulling myself across the river on a rickety ferry, I could get around in The Gambia. It was pretty bad at times, but I assure you it was better than here. I realize some strides have been made, and I'm going to try to support the bus system, but this culture of "auto entitlement" has definitely handicapped the availability of any real system of getting around. Maybe as we start to pay the same prices for fuel as the rest of the world it'll improve. (Gas is still about $2 cheaper per gallon than in the Gambia but horse-food is more reasonable.)

2. Pre-paid cellular service SUCKS here. (As does all cellular service) In The Gambia, I bought my credit in nearly any place, in any increment. Here you can't get pre-paid service without a background check, and the only convenient way to upload credit is to provide your credit card number and wade through annoying automated menus. In TG, I only paid for calling, not receiving calls or checking my voicemail. Why should that cost me money? Well if The Gambia is any indication, it doesn't have to. When my "Gamcel" or "Africel" account ran out of money, nothing dire happened, I just couldn't make calls until I uploaded it, which I did by entering in a number from a scratch card and pressing "send." Here you have to quickly pay into the account or you're slapped with a 35 dollar "reactivation fee." And to top it off, the advertisements in all the major "prepaid" services (At&t, Verizon, etc.) boast that they allow you to "keep" the credit you already paid for when you reload. (Wow, you don't steal from me, thanks.) It's such a crock I want to scream!
3. The last of my rants includes the annoying way that stores dangle credit cards in your face by offering a huge savings on your purchase. Nobody wants to allow you to just buy something and then move on. They always want your zipcode for marketing purposes, or to thrust a pair of discount socks in your face. How is The Gambia ahead of us with its decided lack of shoppertunities? I may not have the level of choice, but if I want to save money on a purchase, I just bargain. 80 you say? How about 30? No? 50? Great. If you don't want to sell it to me, there are 20 other people selling the same thing right next to you. I've just saved more than any Macy's card would, and won't receive any junk mail. And if I don't have cash on hand, I can just apply "bush credit" by saying "I will pay for this very soon," and making sure I do so, which in turn improves my rapport and credit rating. I never find out six months later that my movie gallery card got stolen and I owe 95 dollars for never returning White Chicks on DVD. It may be annoying to wrestle a vendor into the ground for the right price on a pair of black-market G-Unit jeans, but I believe it still edges out the frighteningly exploitative mall culture that leaves me feeling annoyed rather than satisfied. At least in The Gambia, I emerge from a shopping experience feeling like a gladiator.

I have some additional criteria for the UN to recalibrate their index including the following: How well do available commodities in the country reflect actual need? How well are actual needs met by available services? What level of frustration should be subtracted from the purported conveniences available? These might level the playing field a bit.

Friday, May 02, 2008

So you think villages are peaceful?

I've often heard it said that parents and friends of peace corps volunteers enjoy reading blogs that clarify and explain life in the country being served. I would also enjoy a blog of that nature, something that approaches the peace corps goal of creating understanding on the part of Americans of the countries being served. It would certainly cut back on the crazy questions, maybe build a bridge between one place and another. These days we certainly have the tools to make the world feel markedly smaller than the era where volunteers went months between letters and drove dusty stretches of road just to reach a phone. Now some volunteers are able to bring an understanding of their lives here to those at home through the blog and similar mediums on a consistent basis. Looking back at all my posts, I realize that mine has never been that type of blog. I open tiny windows and hope that someone feels like looking in, but explanations have never been my modus operandi. Part of me hopes you'll have the same feeling I did when leaf-boy jumped around the village, and I don't want to spoil the confusion with the facts. I'm not assuming that people do or don't understand, or won't be left with questions. After all, being home again following nearly 3 years living in Africa, questions are all I'm left with, so those are what I feel like sharing.