From the Ashes of Hate

Caution: venting ahead.

I’ve been so disappointed with humanity lately. I woke up today feeling exhausted and felt even worse after listening to the news. Those of you who know me or follow me here and/or on Facebook know that I very rarely talk about politics, religion or sports (you may laugh about the last one but being married into a sports-fanatic family this is a no-no subject in our house). Being a woman of a certain age means I have been through many things the younger crowd can’t even imagine (now I really sound like my grandma).

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When I was ten my country went through a revolution. The fascist government that had been in power pretty much since royalty became a thing of the past was deposed after a military coup. For the next decade we lived and breathed politics—and what people who had been repressed for far too long thought meant freedom. The music we heard, the movies we watched, the shows on TV, the conversation at the coffee shop were all around politics.  It took a long time to go back to the regularly scheduled program of life in the global stage. I don’t want to go back to that.

I am tired of all the arguing and finger-pointing that has been going on for the past year. Worse, my heart breaks every time I watch news of violence in the name of ideologies that profess tolerance and peace. What the hell are we doing?

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I hear from friends who have “unfriended” friends and family members because they were on the “other side” (whatever the side may be), husbands and wives fighting over politics, hate spewing from people’s mouths no matter where you turn to. I’m tired. I feel cranky all the time. I go to yoga, find my peace but as soon as I leave the studio it hits me again, that anger that permeates the air of lately.

I thought we, humans, had evolved but it seems like we take one step forward only to take many more backwards. Freedom is our right, but let’s not forget what the definition of freedom is. I had to take a class on economy and politics when I was in college. I don’t remember much about it but there is one thing I will never forget; the way individual freedoms were defined. It goes like this: you’re free to do whatever up to the point when it begins infringing on somebody else’s freedom. That’s where it stops. I have lived by that tenet ever since. There’s been a lot of people stepping over that line these past few months.

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I have friends in both sides of the debate and it’s been painful to watch as one side attacks the other. And you want to know what the irony (and scariest) part of it all is? As someone who has never supported one side or the other exclusively and is an expert at observing (a major perk of being an introvert) I hear the almost exact complaints from either side. The left blames those on the right for the same things the right blames those on the left. It’s insane. It’s exhausting and serves absolutely no other purpose than creating an environment of anger and negative energy.

Yesterday, for the first time in a long while, I felt a glint of hope that we may yet be peaceful and rational people. From the ashes of what has been a troubling wave of hate and violence, something beautiful emerged. I’m so proud of what women across the country (and some males) managed to do yesterday (Jan 21). Crowds of thousands across the country marched in solidarity and peace to demand the respect we deserve as human beings. Ladies, I’m so proud of being a woman in the US today. Thanks you for protesting in peace. You give me hope.

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Note:  I didn’t make it to the March because of my fear of crowds (anxiety issues) but together with a few other women I celebrated the occasion at yoga by focusing on the fifth chakra (voice) and in solidarity with all my friends who were marching in a super crowded Washington D.C.

 

Predators Among Us

There has been a lot of talk about sexual assault; the kind that millions of women worldwide endure on a daily base and that leaves deep psychological scars. When this whole scandal with one of the presidential candidates came to surface many people (some women included) said things like, “Well, if this was true why is it just now coming up?” or “Why are all these women all of a sudden coming forward with these stories? Isn’t that suspicious?”

I am not endorsing one side or the other of the political arena, but I’m here to tell you that the reason why all these women are coming forward now is because once the first one had the courage (yes, it takes courage) to bring her story into the public eye it gave all others the motivation and the strength to do the same.

When you have been a victim of that kind of assault, no matter how minor, you go through many emotions. You’re embarrassed that this happened to you, you feel guilty sometimes because of comments you hear about similar cases, you’re afraid that no-one will believe you or even worse, that they will turn you from the victim to the one who was asking for it.

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I grew up in a very male-oriented country at a time when women had very limited opportunities. Back then only rich people drove cars to work. Driving to school was unheard of. You took the bus or the train, most of the time both. During rush hour the public transportation was standing-room only and we were crushed against each other like sardines in a can. It never failed. There was always the one guy (sometimes two) who decided this was the optimum setting to give free reign to their sexual desires. By the time I hopped out of the train or the bus, I had been groped and rubbed against just as matter-of-fact as if I was wearing a sign saying, “Please, use my body in any way you please.”

From the time I was thirteen I had to endure these not-so-subtle attacks and the odious cat-calls. They were not really cat-calls and they did not stop at “hey beautiful”, “hot mama”, or whistling. Most were very explicit in what the men who yelled them out would do to me should they ever catch me alone. Others felt compelled to comment on parts of my body that should never have been discussed by strangers, especially those who were old enough to be my grandfather in some cases.

One day as I am sitting on a bus commuting home from a long day at work, I dozed off. When I woke up I felt something warm between my legs. The young man sitting next to me had slid his hand on my crotch and even my death-gaze did not faze him. Why didn’t I tell the bus driver or the police? Because I guarantee you if I did, someone would say he was just being a young, red-blooded male and what did I expect when I was wearing such tight pants?

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I am a much older woman now and if you think these incidents are lost in memory you’d be very wrong. They live in my head as vivid and as painfully embarrassing and demeaning as the day they happened. They have left scars, some of which I may not even be aware of. It’s hard to speak about them (this post has been languishing in the draft folder for a while) without feeling shame.

Things have changed quite a bit since then, even in my country, but let’s face it, there are still many who either think this is acceptable behavior or that it’s just “play” and does not do any harm. Well, you are wrong! It’s time women stand together against this type of assault and for one, I admire and applaud those who were courageous enough to come forward. As a woman who “been there, done that”, I thank you.

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Desert Jewel – New Release

“Powerful, passionate, & epic.”

Natalina Reis

 Desert Jewel

Genre: Romantic Fantasy
Release Date: October 8, 2016
Cover Designer: Claire Smith
 Add to Goodreads
 On sale for 99 cents 
Rebellion brews inside Milenda’s heart as the date for the Trials approach. As the
heiress to the throne of Natale, she is forced to choose a consort from the survivors of the
grueling quest across the desert.
Milenda’s heart belongs to Jaali and wants no part in the ancient and cruel ritual, but the
Elders—the true rulers of Natale—will not back down.
Jaali was brought from the far North as a child slave. His only chance to be with the woman
he loves is to volunteer for the Trials, no matter how dangerous or how much Milenda
objects.
Together they begin their journey of discovery and rebellion against the Elders. But will their
love be enough or will they lose everything they’ve fought for?
 ONLY 99 CENTS 
Amazon: US | UK | AU | CA
Natalina wrote her first romance in collaboration with her best friend at the age of 13. Since then she has ventured into other genres, but romance is first and foremost in almost everything she writes. Her novel, We Will Always Have the Closet, is her first published romance.
After earning a degree in tourism and foreign languages, she worked as a tourist guide in her native Portugal for a short time before moving to the United States. She lived in three continents and a few islands, and her knack for languages and linguistics led her to a master’s degree in education. She lives in Virginia where she has taught English as a Second Language to elementary school children for more years than she cares to admit.
Natalina doesn’t believe you can have too many books or too much coffee. Art and dance make her happy and she is pretty sure she could survive on lobster and bananas alone. When she is not writing or stressing over lesson plans, she shares her life with her husband and two adult sons.
Sign up for Natalina’s newsletter HERE.

Her Hands

Today, during one of NVWP’s presentations I was given this picture and after we analyzed and talked about it for a while I felt I had to write something  down. I had to write what this picture was telling me at that moment. So here it is.

 

Her eyes speak of long, hard days, empty bellies and desperation, but her hands tell another story; the way they cocoon her baby, pulling him closer to her beating heart.“Here child, take a little of my strength, ride the rhythm of my heart, drink from the fountain of my endless love,” they whisper…

 

For more of her and other Great Depression photographs, click here.

Phlegm, blood, and bile…oh my!

Never felt so happy to be a twenty-first century woman as after a visit to the Hugh Mercer Apothecary in Fredericksburg, Virginia and being dipped into bits and pieces of colonial medical trivia. It was terrifying to listen to the “nurse” explain how teeth were extracted against the background of giant jars of the biggest living, wriggling leeches I have ever seen.

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As much as I am always fascinated by the “olden times” I can’t imagine having to live in a time when the doctors coated pills with soap and thought the best way to cure you from just about any serious illness was to make you poop, vomit, sweat and bleed from every orifice—sometimes all at the same time.

Medicine in colonial times was a hit or miss. Many of the herbs and roots they used are still pretty common today and—for the most part—beneficial. However, others like cutting you with tiny little blades and allowing the wounds to open themselves to…well, just about anything, is just crazy scary. It’s a miracle anyone survived to tell the tale.

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Even then there were the charlatans—according to our friendly nurse, that included anyone of French descent—and the real trained professionals. If you saw a charlatan to extract a rotten tooth, for example, and he extracted the wrong one by mistake, you were up the creek with no paddle; you would have just lost a good tooth and kept the one that hurt. However, if a real doctor extracted the wrong tooth, he would gladly extract the correct one for free. This was done with no anesthesia and some funky looking tools, so I think I would keep the nasty ivory and say, the hell with it!

As for issues of the lungs, our good doctor would surely prescribe smoking. Tobacco was the miracle cure for a lot of things. It could be smoked or shoved up your nose for equally beneficial results. I bet there are a lot of tobacco companies that would love a rebirth of these healthy concepts.

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So the next time you feel a little under the weather instead of spending your money in modern medicine just take a laxative—a lot of it—and stay close to your bathroom. Better yet, combine it with a generous dose of ipecac and that should solve all your problems.

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Being Human

I never talk politics just as I never talk religion. Both are matters of personal choice and belief. Who’s to say I’m right and you are wrong? (or vice-versa).

However I am making an exception today. Not to really talk politics because let’s face it, politics are games people, who either are in power or want to be, play. Politics is a dirty, dirty game that I refuse to play. What I really want to talk about today is common decency, being a human being, being a mensch.

The world is scaring me lately. There seems to be a tidal wave of fear and divisive ideas rolling through the whole planet.  I won’t lie; it keeps me awake sometimes. I understand being scared. There are a lot of bad people out there, capable and willing of doing horrible things in the name of religion, ideals, or just because they can. But should we let that fear rule us and allow it to turn us away from being compassionate and true human beings?

Humans are animals. We do have that survival instinct embedded in us. There is no denial than when in danger, people let their claws come out or the instinct to flee surfaces. However humanity means we have the power, unlike other animals, to make choices; to be empathetic, to be compassionate. We have the power to choose not to flee, not to attack.

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The world is at war. Here in the US we are lucky because it’s not being fought within our borders, so to speak. But others are not so lucky. I never lived in a country at war. I have lived through a revolution, though. Fortunately for all Portuguese, the revolution of 1974 (The Carnation Revolution) was not a bloody one. There were only a handful of deaths and not many injuries. It was a “war” of words rather than guns and violence for the most part. But I remember the fear. The constant, mind-numbing fear that at any minute that air force jet flying overhead could start bombing the populace, that the popping sound we heard in the wee hours of the morning was a lot more than the backfire of a car’s exhaust, that someone would suddenly break through our doors and take one of us prisoner. I remember one day driving with my family to the capital for a day out in the city and the panic that ensued as we heard the telling pops of gunfire. Living in fear is like living with an elephant sitting on your chest; you can’t breathe, you can’t move.

I cannot imagine what it’s like to live in a place where bombs are destroying your neighborhoods, where you can’t be sure you won’t have to get up in the middle of the night and flee never to see your home and friends again. I can’t imagine not knowing whether I will have anything to feed my children the next day or fearing that someone will walk through the door and rape my daughter. I just can’t imagine.

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I also can’t wrap my head around the idea that fear is telling many of us to shut these war victims out of our countries, to refuse giving them a hand, to show them basic human compassion. But there are terrorists among them. I’m sure there are. Bad people are very creative and are not above using the misery of others to wreck destruction and pain. That’s the definition of a bad human, a criminal, a terrorist. Ask yourselves though, is it right to condemn thousands of innocent people—just hoping to be safe, to have the chance to wake up without the fear of death or pain, to have a future that does not involve guns and destruction—for  the evil of a few?

I don’t know about you, but I know I couldn’t live with myself knowing that because of my own personal safety I sacrificed the safety of many others. Let’s look back in history and remember not to make the same mistakes, not to repeat bad decisions…history is a great teacher. But like any other lesson, you must take heed in order to learn.

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Belgian Refugees fleeing ahead of the Nazi Army

(photo credit: World War II Today)

 

Angola

When I was in my late teens my family had a friend who claimed he had done so many things in so many different places that we all thought he was just making things up. However when I was talking to a friend recently and telling her some of the things I had done, I realized that he may very well been telling the truth. Sometimes we are just too close to our own truths to realize how rich our lives really are. We always seem to think the grass is greener on the other side and that our lives, despite of whatever you may have witnessed, done, or learned, are just plain boring.

A good friend told me I should write down some of my life experiences. “My life? Who would be interested in that story?” Well, if I bore you to tears with tales of an ordinary life I apologize ahead of time. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to tell my stories. So, for what it’s worth, here it goes.

Captain log 001. Just kidding…

Even though I had lived for a short while in the islands of  Cape Verde, my first  memories of the many times we lived outside my familiar cocoon of continental Portugal, have to be of Angola. At the time, Angola was a Portuguese colony. My father was an airline mechanic and my childhood was similar to that of military families; always moving from one place to another. We lived in an apartment building (4th floor I want to say, but I could be totally wrong) that operated like a big family. Everybody seemed to be friends with each other and there were many parties to be had in the rooftop terrace.

In my school in Angola I learned that some grownups are just bad and seem to get their kicks by humiliating little ones. I also learned that I couldn’t care less if my best friend was black and her parents weren’t married. I learned that Christmas came even when we were wearing short sleeves and shorts instead of sweaters and coats. In Angola I fell in love for the first time. I was only eight and he was an “older man”, at least nine. His name was Henrique (I hope he is not reading this right now) and he had reddish hair and freckles. We used to write love notes to each other while hiding behind the couches. (I carried that torch for many years 🙂

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In Angola I had my first communion and I remember feeling so grownup in my frilly white dress waiting in line to accept the Host for the first time. My dad bought his first car ever; a giant, ugly American Dodge that died on us shortly after we got it. Then he bought a Renault 4 which had seats that were basically beach chairs and that rolled like a ball if you went around the curve a tad too fast.

We travelled across the country in an old jeep and used a giant block of ice as air conditioning. I got to visit cotton and coffee fields, watched monkeys and other wild creatures cross the road in front of us, met many local kids and had something resembling a tan for the first time in my life.

The whole family loved Angola with its hot weather, the beautiful avenues and parks, the awesome music and the amazing moamba (chicken stew cooked in red palm oil). A chunk of our hearts was left behind when we left.

There is a saying in Africa. It goes something like this; once you drink the water in Africa, you are hooked for life. I am not one to believe in superstition, but I think there is some truth to it. Africa is still in my blood even after all this time.

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