Creating Developing-Country Women’s Healthcare in Texas

Nearing college graduation, I knew two things: I didn’t want to enter graduate school nor did I want to get a “real” job; so I joined the Peace Corps as an education volunteer. That amazing experience started my teaching adventures in Tanzania, South Korea, Egypt, Mexico and Honduras. It also opened my eyes to the reality of other women’s lives.

Until I’d taught in developing countries, I’d taken my formal education, reproductive rights and means to make money all for granted. Yet, time and again, those were the three common challenges I saw host country women toil under. An obstruction or lack in any one of those areas was enough to drastically lessen  women’s autonomy, but usually those challenges existed bundled, especially for poor women.

Off and on, I spent eleven years teaching math, science and ESL outside the US prior to moving to Austin, TX in 2009. Although an American citizen from birth, I felt I’d emigrated from another planet. Austin persevered as a liberal island, surrounded by a sea of conservatism where the “separation of church and state” was not as clear as those words implied.

I marveled at how conservatives viewed big government and oversight regulation as plagues on the American way of life, except for in the case of women’s reproductive rights. In this instance, Texas state government bent over backwards, not only to shame and harass women for seeking abortions, but interfere with doctor-patient communication, demand unnecessary facility upgrades for places that provided abortions, and promote false information regarding abortions.

While Texan women’s health care centers were actively being defunded, regardless of the myriad of life-saving services they provided such as mammograms, so-called crisis pregnancy centers received increasingly more funding to continue their mission of dissuading women from seeking abortion care and disseminating medically inaccurate information.

Yet, women have agency, regardless of politics or religion. Freedom of expression guarantees we women have a right to voice not only our experience, but also the solutions we seek as we navigate through life’s challenges. We should not be regarded as perpetual dependents who need patriarchal policies, dictating morals nor blocking access to safe, legal, medical procedures.

The label “feminism” rolls in and out of favor over time. However, its ideology has had staying power. It’s generally accepted that girls should be educated, and women should have the right to vote, drive, and own property. In the US, these phenomena are no more acknowledged as “feminist” than fish acknowledge water. When one visits a country were these rights do not exist, then like a fish out of water, the gasping begins.

Unfortunately, one doesn’t need to go out of the US to discover developing-country quality women’s healthcare. Those conditions are being created in Texas, a state that has one of the largest economies nationally and some suggest would have the 12th largest GDP if it became a sovereign nation.

We must be vigilant and active to safeguard our reproductive rights as citizens of a prosperous, developed nation.

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Pagode Birthday Party

1 Devon w BD present One of my cousin’s roommates had the ultimate birthday party, mixing a crowd of capoeiristas, samba dancers and musicians, and pagode musicians and singers. I had the perfect gag gift: a partially-filled canister of pillow packs of lubricant. Every February, I get a donation of adult goodies from La Rouge for the Austin Writers Roulette. I’d given away all the vibrating cock rings and genitalia-shaped chocolates; so this was the perfect opportunity to off load the rest. Besides, since three bachelors live together, I figure, if nothing else, they could upgrade their self-serve.2 3 dreaded heads My cousin, in the middle, suggested we take this dreadlock-centric picture. How often do a group of people purposely turn their backs to the camera to show the beauty of their natural hair rather than smiling faces?3 Prince fan We were all still reeling from the untimely death of Prince. I’m glad this woman paid tribute to His Royal Badness. 4 posers Another charismatic friend, who’d just gotten off from work and had no chance to change, took the time to pose!5 Blackzilian TshirtI’d hoped the Blackzilians (Black Brazilians) group were based in Austin, but they’re located somewhere in Florida. At least this capoeira teacher lives here!
6 the band

As expected, toward the end of the night, the birthday boy gathered his pagode group for a live performance.

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Mom’s Potato Salad

1 freshly madeI signed up to bring potato salad for a cooking meetup group. I was weary about this particular dish since it was based on my mother’s recipe. My mother is a wonderful cook, which is somewhat of a disadvantage for me. In the past, I’d tried to get recipes out of her. The most successful had been for her cheesecake.
2 w art Yet, for this potato salad recipe, she kept hemming and hawing about the details. Mom was ever so flattered to be asked for her culinary expertise, but boasted, by way of apology, that she didn’t measure anything. With much prodding, she’d dribble out a few of the ingredients and their portions. Finally, my sister texted me the “recipe,” as dictated by Mom. The day before I put it together, I hard pressed Mom for some measurements.
3 at the potluckEven to my eye, the texture was off although it tasted delicious. Par for the course, any dish I labor and fret over does not get a good reception. Few people bothered to try it. Not even a shy little “taste.” Fortunately for me, I’m used to eating my culinary “near misses,” which is an upgrade to what my cooking disasters used to be: edible poison!

Next time I’m home, I’ll help Mom make potato salad and jot down notes as we go.

Mom’s Potato Salad

8 Potatoes

6 eggs

10 2/3 oz cubed sweet pickles, drained

Miracle whip, to taste

1 small jar chopped pimentos, drained

1 medium chopped white onion

2 stalks of celery

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

Sugar, to taste

Wash the eggs and boil them with the potatoes for 15 minutes. Drain and cool. (If in a hurry, put potatoes in the refrigerator to chill.) Crack the eggs and place into cool water. Peel eggs and mash with a fork. Stir in the potatoes, pickles, miracle whip, pimentos, onions, celery, salt, pepper and sugar.


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Dr. Seuss: Unorthodox Taxidermy

1 welcome sign Although I’d attended many opening receptions at Art on 5th, I’d always appreciated their Dr. Seuss collection. Now, I had the opportunity to celebrate the man himself.2 unorthodox taxidermy This event highlighted the “taxidermy” collection, most of which has been a part of the gallery since I’d been visiting years ago.3 the grinch Even The Grinch looked pleased with how well things turned out.4 The Knotty Problem with Capitol Hill The Knotty Problem of Capitol Hill.  I liked this piece since the bureaucrats have mad math going on.5 Booby Trap Booby Trap. The simplicity of this message is genius. 6 Cuddle Fish Cuddle Fish. Even anthropomorphic animals easily conveyed universal emotion.7 racist depictionControversy was another aspect of Dr. Seuss’ work.  I’m not sure if this illustration was meant to depict the “Great White Hunter” since I was far more captivated by the this character:8 racist deptionWas this supposed to be a black man or just another anthropomorphic animal?9 taxidermy wall As many people who filed past and lingered at this “taxidermy” collection, I felt like a patient hunter, waiting to shoot–my camera, that is. I vied through the crowd, smiled and gently persuaded other people out of my shot.10 taxidermy wall Unlike real preserved animals, these fictitious animals had both charm and smiles.11 taxidermy closeup At one point, I was so taken in by them, I had to remind myself that no animals had actually been harmed.12 taxidermy closeup Yet, luring in the observer with features that seem so lifelike was definitely part of the artist’s intention.13 taxidermy closeup These animals looked as if they could have existed.14 taxidermy closeup Or they could have been some extinct predecessor that gave rise to a more biologically successful species.15 taxidermy closeup Yet, there was a distinct lack of fantastical plants and insects, two of the most biologically successful organisms.

16 taxidermy closeupPerhaps I’m reading too much into the Dr. Seuss-inspired taxidermic collection of mammals, birds and fish.

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Designer Bulletin Boards

1 materials Thanks to another niece’s birthday, I gathered supplies to make a gift. Since she’s a freshman in college, I researched some DIY ideas and chose to make designer bulletin boards. For the first time ever, I used a spray adhesive and bought four 12″ x 18″ pieces of colorful fabric for less than $2 each. To make this little project even more convenient, I bought a four-pack of 6″ x 6″ cork boards.

2 finished productsUsing my trusty piece of chalk, I outlined a simple pattern to cover the boards. Fortunately the day was warm since I wouldn’t dare use spray adhesive inside. I covered the surface of my portable metal drawer, which I keep outside, with newspaper and sprayed each board and its fabric, flipped the board and pressed down the edges of fabric as smoothly and quickly as possible. I set each one on the edge of a flower pot; so they dried in the sunlight.

They turned out beautifully. Now that she has two part-time jobs, my niece will have four stylish spots to post her schedules and all other important notes…providing she cares to be ol’ school!

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Violet Crown Hike

1 violet crown map I’d driven past this spot many times without once realizing there was a beautiful hike to be had. This part of the trail had been open since last August.2 trailhead sign How symbolic we all parked near a liquor store and walked over to the entrance since, after this hike, I was properly motivated for a drink!3 me at the river Unlike my last hike with this group, we had a bigger turn out. Plus, this hike was far more inviting.
4 graffittiThe sounds of traffic faded away after a few minutes, but we still came across signs of human activity.
5 graffitti At least the trail itself was nearly litter-free.6 graffitti What I thought was a cigarette butt, turned out to be an orange and white bike reflector that had fallen off. As challenging as that terrain was, some crazies upped the ante by biking it!

7 Mx restaurantAfterwards, a group of us went to a nearby Tex-Mex place. The service was bad, the food was pricey and mediocre, but the blueberry and pomegranate margarita hit the spot.  All in all, this place proved to me, once again, that Polvo’s is the best Tex-Mex place in Austin–STILL. Nonetheless, it served as a fueling station. I drove home, showered and took part one of my nighttime sleep.

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The sincerest lie about love is that it conquers all. Moralistic, preachy fairy tales lied to little girls about romance and true love. The only tale, in retrospect, that gives a clue about modern romance isn’t a fairy tale. Tarzan stories illustrate what modern women have to look forward to in romance: bringing civilization and intelligence to some king of the jungle.

Interpreting and managing his moody manspeak, “Arrgh, yrahg, raw, HUNGRY. Your-go, yawr-go, ragh TIRED. Huko, dak, haah, PUSSY.” We fearless Janes swing through the jungles with our Tarzan until the vine snaps.

The sincerest lie about family is that blood is thicker than water. It’s a literally true statement, sure enough, which makes it seem as if it should be true figuratively. Yet, compared to some of my blood relations, my daily supply of drinking water is far more beneficial to the quality of my life. Our common DNA doesn’t lead to much common ground. Despite how much we look alike, we don’t think nor act alike. As a matter of fact, we might as well be polite strangers.

The sincerest religious lie is only one true religion exists, which depends, of course, on the religion one was raised. If anyone wants to know universal truths or revelations about God, don’t study the Bible, Quran, Torah nor any other religious text. Study math. All things can be explained or predicted by at least one equation or inequality. Mathematical revelations exist whether humankind has discovered them or not, but once we do, we understand more about this wondrous world in which we live and use math to continue our understanding.

The sincerest employment lie is one can work hard and be successful. Very often, the one who works the hardest, gets paid the least. Everything the working poor buys costs more since they can’t buy in bulk nor buy long-lasting quality products. Everything takes longer to do since they cannot afford to pay more for convenience, be it transportation, nutritious food or high-quality health care.

Lastly, the sincerest half-lie is about the truth setting you free. You can tell the truth and your conscious will be relieved even if the system is designed to portray you as a criminal or incompetent, especially if someone profits from the false accusation against you. Yet to be truly free with your truthfulness, you either need money and/or position to back you up. You cannot be some marginalized member of society or low person in the social or workplace strata and expect your truth to trump some privileged person’s lies.

Lies, upon lies, upon lies. The best you can do for yourself is not imbibe the poison of self-deception and flee from those who are allergic to the truth.

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Middle School Field Trip

1 ANSC sign Perhaps the highlight of tutoring math at a local middle school was the day I chaperoned the 6th graders on their field trip to the Austin Nature & Science Center and Zilker Park.2 netting organisms One of the special ed teachers and I had a dirty dozen of students to keep track of while we toured ANSC. We sat on some logs, listened to our guide, who solicited a list from the students, of living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) things that made up the surrounding ecology. Then, she gave every student a net and asked them to capture some biotic things.3 netting organisms Students loosely paired up, swinging those nets more wildly than the native fauna warranted. The guide incorporated some big finds into a jar. At the conclusion of the netting activity, students released whatever they had captured and returned their nets. Our guide talked about the animals, mostly insects and spiders, contained in the jar.4 reflecting pond In between activities, we waited near a relaxing pool of water that had a waterfall. How wonderful it was to witness students’ attention captured by nature rather than an electronic device. We then entered a circular room, sat on a carpet and discussed the difference between a food chain and a food web. We reviewed the ultimate source of energy, which is the sun. Producers, such as plants, capture solar energy and consumers obtain energy through eating producers and/or other consumers.5 hissing cockroaches The first consumers introduced were Madagascar hissing cockroaches, which some adventurous students petted.  I opted to feel my own fingernails since they were made from the same keratin as cockroach exoskeletons.6 frog Next, a frog, who was stereotypically jumpy, was passed around while remaining confined in his cage.7 turtle The turtle appeared comfortable enough to stay out of his shell as students touched it.8 quailThe quail remained caged although I would’ve loved watching its attempt to fly to freedom.
9 crawfish The last time I saw crawfish they were served up on a plate. At this point, I could’ve embedded myself into the food web.10 ferret As soon as the ferret was taken out of its cage, I smelled its signature musk.11 milk snake This beautiful milk snake had a protective pillowcase that matched its rich burgundy color. Talk about fashionable accessories!12 nature walk After reviewing what eats what in the food web, we entered the nature hike area.13 nature walk I loved how these 6th graders looked so at home in nature, which seemed to have a calming effect on them.15 nature walk Imagine stopping to literally smell flowers rather than check an electronic device.16 tadpoles At one point, we visited an aquatic habitat and some students captured tadpoles.17 dragonfly larvae One student caught this dragonfly larvae.18 scavenging for tadpoles Most, however, simply mucked around the perimeter.19 kite tree For the second half of the field trip, we ate lunch at Zilker Park.  Many of the trees had kites stuck in them from the kite day celebration the day before.20 kite trees 21 kite tree 22 kite tree 23 kite tree 24 kite tree 25 playing field Many students played soccer–or at least ran around kicking a soccer ball.26 rock playground Others amused themselves jumping around on the rocky outcropping.27 sand volleyballA few tried their hand at sand volleyball.

As much as we all enjoyed the outing, it’s a shame field trips such as these are rarities.

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Great Hills Hike

1 park mapThis marked my first outing with a new outdoorsy meetup group. I wanted to exercise my permanently injured ankle in a novel way; so I could strengthen it.2 fitness areaI gave the park’s fitness area the evil eye as we walked past. I’ll run on a treadmill and lift free weights, but I want nothing to do with other exercise equipment.
3 trailhead Our fearless leader lead the way although he’d never hiked this trail.4 Sierra Nevada St The first path we followed ended on a street. I love how a house peeked just beyond the trees rather than an animal.5 graffiti Following a different trail, we came across another human activity “dropping.”6 me in a tree I surrendered my camera to pose with this interesting tree. 7 creekThis was the first of several water crossings we traversed.
8 mini waterfall This miniature waterfall added some variety to the otherwise lazy, shallow river we loosely followed.9 best crossing This was the most sensible crossing we encountered. On the next one, I helped an older woman across since she was not confident in her footing on the rocks. I made a mental note to purchase a walking stick at Goodwill next time I plan to go hiking. 10 back again

We still ended up walking on a neighborhood sidewalk as part of our journey and circling back to the house we’d seen in the first ten minutes of our hike.

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Carnaval 2016: Texas! A Horse Opera

1 Briget Negro & me

Unexpectedly, one of my friends treated me to a night out–Carnaval 2016: Texas! A Horse Opera. As soon as we approached the front door to the venue, I saw my “cousin” and former capoeira teacher.2 Briget & me Fortunately, a third of my closet is dedicated to costumes. We both went as the entrepreneurial women from “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”3 samba school For once, I was fully able to enjoy the samba school performance since I wasn’t working security as part of the capoeira group I used to train with.4 samba schoolSo, I danced samba to my heart’s content, recognizing the breaks, the rhythms and some of the footwork.
5 Negro n the mix At some point, an inebriated woman took me by the wrist and led me to the first inner samba circle.6 samba school The music and choreography blurred by wonderfully.7 samba schoolI was so happy to see familiar faces.
8 Antoinette wigsAnother big draw to attending carnaval was to appreciate other people’s costumes.
9 HEB deptsThe sheer imagination just blew me away.
10 HEB depts 11 Don't Mess w TX Then again, since the theme did have the word “Texas” in it, some revelers didn’t have to work too hard on their costuming.12 CM Briget & me We came across another capoeira teacher, wearing his usual carnaval attire.13 lampshade headdressThis magnificent headpiece was designed from a lampshade.
14 Leo & me Through the throng of people, another friend managed to find us.  Of course, I had to text him a picture of what we looked like.15 Leo & me 16 Leo & Briget 17 Briget Reggie & me Here was another capoeirista, who drove up from Houston, just to be a part of the celebration.18 spacewoman Not quite sure how this costume fit the theme, but I’m so glad she wore it.19 Briget buff guy & meThis guy, wearing the horse-head thong, definitely won the unofficial bare bottom contest. All the other virtually bottomless guys needed to find their pants.
20 CM & Nathan Another carnaval highlight was watching our group play capoeira.21 CM & Reggie Not too many joined the roda, but I enjoyed seeing them play.  During a lull in the game, I convinced my friend to play. We were the only costumed capoeiristas.

22 JackalopesI’d seen these jackalopes from across the way earlier in the night. I’m so happy they migrated closer by the end of the night. So many terrific costumes. It was like Halloween again.

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