Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Third World Perspective (Part I)

After seeing how much I wrote for this post, I think I have a lot to say on issues as they relate to less developed countries so I will give my thoughts on these topics the same titles so that they can be easily found later on...

Last weekend, I watched the movie Maria, Full of Grace on TV. I have been wanting to watch it since it first came out but had been forgetting to borrow it from Rogers. Anyways, I happened to see it on TV, 15-20minutes after it started. Usually I never start watching a movie on TV, that I really want to watch, after it has already begun. I'm weird that way and I get a lot of flack from my sisters about my preference. When they want me to join them in watching a movie half hour after it started, much to their chagrin, I always tell them that the movie will repeat one day.When we we were young, before the easy access to streaming videos, if I missed a movie in the theatre I would say that one day it would come out on TV (it always does even if it is years later - I never saw Pretty Woman until I was in college!). However, this time I made an exception because Maria, Full of Grace was on French TV and therefore in French and everyone who reads my blog knows about my obsession in French.

I like watching movies that leave me thinking about the issues raised in them long after I've watched them. Maria, Full of Grace did that to me. A little over a week after watching it, I still think about it everyday. The movie tells the story of a 17-year old Colombian girl who gets pregnant and then decides to become a drug mule in order to earn some money. I am also from a Third World country: a country, like Colombia, where the illegal drug trade is booming. I have also lived in the inner-city of said Third World country. For me, the movie highlighted what it is like to live in a country where you feel like you have no real hope to improve your situation. It shows how far people will go to change those odds and get a better life for themselves even when they know the harsh consequences they may face for choosing some of the more illegal options.

It got me thinking again about something I've asked myself before...if I were (still) in a similar situation (maybe not pregnant but just generally hopeless), would I be willing to risk it all to have the chance at a better life?

Many people growing up in a Third World country recognize that the only way they can really truly achieve all that they desire or 'Be all they can be' as a famous ad says, is to emigrate. The sad truth is that their, our, countries cannot give us the type of life that we desire - whether that be a life free from fear of violent crime, a life where there are many well-paying job opportunities or a life where our children will have a real chance to attend university and have a better life than our own. However, while some of them who feel this way resign themselves to staying where they are, there are others who are willing to do their best to get out of their countries into one of the many lands of opportunity. (For those in the Caribbean, Latin and South America the main land of opportunity is the USA). There are the lucky ones who have relatives abroad who sponsor them. I'm not going to talk about those lucky few and of course, what I say will not apply to those who are well-off enough to easily qualify to emigrate to the USA or Canada.

I'm talking about the ordinary Third World citizen who would like to leave their country in search of a better life...Some of us work our asses off in high school and try to get excellent grades, and a very good SAT score to get into a school that will offer us a full scholarship or almost full scholarship and we seek out long-lost relatives and old family friends living in the US to co-sign loans for us. This is done all in the hope that when we have graduated from a US college we will have a good chance to get a job with an American company and then will much likely get a green card. Then there are those who are good at sports and practise as much as possible so that they can be one of the elite athletes. They do this in order to get a sports scholarship to university and/or become a member of their country's national team, which inevitably leads to them being able to afford living outside of their home country for the majority of the year. Finally, there are the ones who are (talented) singers, musicians or other artist. They aim to be the best in their field so that they will earn lots of money and be able to travel regularly and afford a home ouside their home country.

Maria, Full of Grace made me ask, what about all the remaining ones? What about the ones who are desperate to leave their country but don't have family abroad or good grades and are not gifted athletically or artistically? What can they do? What choice do they have?
The answer of course is that there aren't many legal options available. In fact, as of this writing, I am hard-pressed to think up other legal means to emigrate to the US or Canada. This, my friends, is why every legal immigrant either knows of or actually knows at least one illegal immigrant. These illegal immigrants are in the set of remaining ones who want to get out but don't really have any other means. After asking myself the question, the next thing I think is that Americans, Canadians and other born-and-raised citizens of developed countries will never really understand, for example, what brings a man, who cannot swim, to leave his family and board a boat, that can hold 20 people, with 39 other men or what leads a pregnant woman to swallow 60 packets of cocaine to take a plane - both in direction: America. Desperation is a very powerful impetus.

I get annoyed when I hear Americans or Canadians say that they are tired of their countries taking in too many immigrants and refugees. They love to complain that illegal immigrants and even just immigrants from less developed countries in general raise crime levels and bring down the wage levels. I also abhor when they say that they hate having their country help other countries when they have lots of problems in their own countries to which to attend. I want to tell them that they do not realize that they are lucky that they were born in a developed country. I want to ask them, what did they do to deserve to be born in America or Canada? What did all the rest of us do to deserve to be born in a Third World, war-torn or poverty stricken country? They did nothing to be born where they were and neither did everyone else. The fact that they were one of the lucky few does not mean that they shouldn't share their wealth or their country. They could just have easily have been born in a Third World or poverty-stricken country to a poor family.

With regards to the point about too many immgrants, the majority of immigrants, both legal and illegal are just trying to make a better life for themselves and have no intention to live a life of crime. The vast majority of illegal immigrants want nothing more than to become legal and be able to lawfully contribute to their new country by working legally and paying taxes. To all who say that illegal immigrants are bringing down the wages, well have you ever thought that if your country helped to make their country a good place to live, they wouldn't be coming here at all? So as for the second point, yes I know that there are problems in the US, Canada and other developed countries. For instance, the situation of Native Americans in both countries is appalling and disgraceful and NEEDS to be properly addressed and there are far too many people living below the poverty level in countries that have enough to tide over their entire populations and then some. What Americans and Canadians who make negative comments about helping other countries need to realize is that it's not like people in other countries are telling them to abandon their countrymen in favour of helping war-torn or poverty-stricken countries. No that would be very selfish. However, I believe that the US and Canada have enough money and resources to work on their internal problems AND help other countries. So all I ask is for them to stop complaining about helping.

One more thing....If Canadians or Americans ask me why can't these less developed countries help themselves. My response would be that that is a question I often ask myself. In fact, in an earlier post, I mentioned that question as one of the contributing factors to the overall feeling of hopelessness one gets from living in a war-torn, poverty-stricken or Third World country. I really wish that all these countries could get leaders who STAY committed to improving their country's situation for the ENTIRE duration of their term or terms in office and at the same time rally the people up enough for them to be be willing to walk with their leader on his or her route to country reform. Until that time though, it is the many excellent organisations that exist within each of these countries that are trying to effect a change and they need help from countries like America and Canada.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

On Beauty and Grooming in Paris

I cannot find my tweezers that I planned to use to keep the nicely shaped eyebrows that I had when I first arrived in Paris. My mother always tells me that one of these days I am going to lose my shadow. She may just be right but all I know is that today I'm going to go pay the equivalent of almost $20CDN to get my eyebrows done whereas in Toronto I got it done for $5 and change. I should have known the tweezer plan was never going to work out especially since I have never plucked my eyebrows by myself in my life.

Anyways, grooming and styling is expensive anywhere but in Paris it is mega-expensive. Last week I went to the salon to get a wash, blow dry, simple styling and trim done and it cost me 48Euros! That is almost $75CDN just to wash and dry my hair. I usually pay $40CDN for that service. Granted though I went to one of the most expensive salons here but the reviews were hard to pass up on PLUS, and this was the deciding factor for me, they are just a little over 2 blocks away from my apartment so it was very convenient. The salon that I went to is called Ethnicia. I found out about them from googling for black hair salons in Paris and reading forum comments. Also, my cousin who has been living here recommended them as well. And, when I compared prices, it seemed that this place was only 10Euros more than the other closest black hair salon.
The other deciding factor for me was the rave reviews the salon got for its welcome. On the contrary to the other reviews for other salons, this particular salon apparently stood out because of the way in which its clients were treated. Aparently at most of the other salons, you barely even get a cursory glance when you walk in. Also, apparently at the other places you are made to feel as though they are doing you a great service by serving you aka doing their job. I know this type of greeting well as it is common practice in Jamaica. I've been told that this is a problem as a whole with Parisian stores as well but I have yet to experience it and didn't want my first experience to be at a salon. There are lots of words pertaining to a salon that I don't know in french and so I wanted to go somewhere where they would be patient with my broken french. Ethnicia seemed like it could fit the bill.

When I first read up on Ethnicia it was on a black hair forum website for France. However, when I went to the site, the pics showed black, white and Asian women. The one pic of the black person had her wearing an Afro so I was a bit confused. The home page stated that it was not only a salon but a place for all your beauty needs or éspace de beauté so I thought maybe they meant salon for non-Black hair and beauty needs for everyone. But when I went back to my forum sites most of the people who were hailing the salon were black or mixed and from reading more comments plus going back to Ethnicia's page and reading the About section, I realized that the concept of the salon was very good. It was founded by a young African (that gave me much more confidence) and it strived to be a multi-ethnic salon. Thus, I booked an appointment.

On entering the salon I was greeted by a United Colours of Benetton-type trio of pretty ladies (just like on the salon website one was black, one was white and one was asian). They were all dressed in black but it was the welcome that I liked. I was greeted very warmly and even offered tea, coffee or water! The decor was too nice. They took me to a set of lockers to put my coat and handbag and gave me a key as well to lock it. Then I was brought to a private room and again offered something to drink. On my way to the locker and private room a few more employees passed by and they all greeted me nicely. All this time, I was thinking 'I could get used to this!' When it came time to do my hair, it was a white lady who came to do it. I was surprised but she was quite good considering. She was also giving me lots of advice and was very patient with my french. At the end of it all, my hair looked nice. I've definitely had it done much better but it was still a nice result. When I factored in the excellent welcome and overall experience I would still give them a good mark for overall service.

This brings me to the eyebrow threading that I'm getting done today. The place that I'll be going to is again the most expensive of the three available ones in Paris. This time though, I tried calling the other ones to set up an appointment (at 7 or 8 Euros they're almost half as epensive) but everytime I get a busy signal so I gave up trying to save money and called the expensive one. Maybe, in a later post, I'll let you know how my rendez-vous at the Institut Darya goes. Of course, though my going there today means that I wil take a longer time to go back.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Case of the Missing Pants and My Continued Disgust with the Merde in Paris

The Case of the Missing Pants

Yesterday I woke up and found that I was not wearing any pants; All I had on was my T-shirt and my undies and this was after going to sleep in my most comfy pair of sweatpants.

Upon further reflection, I vaguely remembered taking them off at some point during the night because I was hot, my skin was dry and the pants were irritating me. I didn't see them beside my bed, on the table by my bed or on the night table. I figured that I must have taken them off under the covers and so logically they should be under my blanket. I had no time to search for them as I had to get ready for work anyways so I decided to hold off on searching for the pants until I got home.

I came home and upon seeing my bed I remembered that I had to find the pants. I searched under the covers, behind the pillows and in the little corner space beside the bed but could not for the life of me find the pants. Now my bed is what the french call a clic-clac, i.e. a sofa-bed, so it isn't very big and my apartment is just a studio so I could and in fact did a search of the entire apartment minus the closet and the cupboards (I can't imagine why I would put the pants in those places in the middle of the night) but still could not find the pants. So now I no longer have my most comfortable pair of housepants. I have to settle for my two other pairs of pants that are thinner and not as comfy. AND I am wondering where on earth I could have put them in the middle of the night while I was sleeping.

...And Oh How I Hate The Merde

Since I'm already complaining, I might as well emphasize again how much I ABHOR the merde (translated it is one of the more colourful 4-letter words in english) on the streets of Paris. It's everywhere! I know I look like such a tourist because I have no qualms about hop-skipping over and around the poo in order not to step in any. I think what pisses me off the most is that it's not just the easy-to-spot-fresh-poo that one has to deal with while navigating the streets. It's that there is a whole lot more flattened dried poo on the streets, created by merde that people have stepped in and then proceeded to wipe off by sliding their shoes along the sidewalk so that they've created a veritable trail of flattened dog poo. As there is merde everywhere these trails of merde are also everywhere in greater abundance. I think that when it's a matter of choosing to either walk in the fresh lumpy dog poo or on the flat dried up trails or hop-skipping like me then the french choose to just walk on the dried up trails. I cannot do this at all and so I will continue with my hop-skipping.

The other thing is that because of these dirty streets, I don't feel comfortable having my shoes in the apartment because God knows what I have stepped in, especially at night. When I'm walking home at night, I can't stop cursing to myself because although I do the hop-skipping, because I'm damn near half blind and I wear contacts I don't see everything properly and I just know that I step in a lot of the trails at night. I dream of having a huge locked storage box just outside my door in which I could keep the shoes I wear outside. And I would have house slippers for guests. That way no nasty particles would enter the apartment. Someone directed me to read A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke. Apparently, he either considered or actually followed through with wearing plastic over his shoes when he went out so that he could ensure that the soles of his shoes were clean. I would so do that, were I more courageous!

So now when I see people on the streets with their pooches I have to look away from them because I cannot help but glare at them. Mostly I glare inside, i.e., try not to show it outwardly, but still it might show on my face if I look at them directly, especially when I see them with their dogs taking a dump and I know they have no intention to pick up anything!