Sunday, January 18, 2015

Referendum o Ochrane Rodiny


Minulý rok vyše 400,000 ľudí na Slovensku podpísalo petíciu za referendum o tzv. Ochrane Rodiny. Cieľom tohto referenda je zákaz manželstva medzi osobami rovnakého pohlavia a zákaz adopcií pármi rovnakého pohlavia. Populácia na Slovensku je čosi pod päť a pol milión. Rovnica je to jednoduchá a výsledok je smutný. Referendum sa bude konať siedmeho Februára.

Aliancia Za Rodinu, organizácia stojaca za snahou o referendum, si zvolila bystrý postup. Zamerala sa na dobro detí. "Pozrite sa na tých sebeckých, arogantných, na seba zameraných, perverzných dospelých, čo myslia len sa svoje vlastné ekonomické blaho. Samozrejme, len čo im bude povolené zosobášiť sa, budú si nárokovať na deti. Sme tu, aby sme chránili práva tých ubohých detí. Nemôžme si dovoliť takéto experimenty na našich najbezbrannejších!"

Je to bystrý postup na druhú, pretože ako svoj cieľ takisto uvádzajú nápravu a posilnenie hodnôt v "tradičnej" rodine. Áno - dobre vedeli, že ľudia by hneď poukázali na to, že v tej "tradičnej" rodine, na ktorú sa odkazujú, matka pije, otec bije a ujo strká malému do úst fľašku s pivom. "Sme tu pre vás! Pomôžeme!" kričia.

Najpopulárnejší argument v diskusii o zákaze manželstva a adopcie pármi rovnakého pohlavia je tento: "Vedecké štúdie dokázali, že pre deti má výchova v rodine s dvomi osobami rovnakého pohlavia drvivé následky. Dvaja otcovia nemôžu nahradiť matku a dve matky nemôžu nahradiť otca." Vedu predsa ignorovať nemôžme! Čo tie štúdie! Takže je potom veľmi zaujímavé, že tie štúdie dokazujú presný opak. Nielenže deti, ktoré vyrastajú v rodinách s rodičmi rovnakého pohlavia, sú na tom presne tak dobre ako tie z "tradičných" rodín, ich zdravie a prospech sú nadpriemerné. Bohužiaľ, tieto štúdie zachytili jeden vážny problém - a to je, že deti homosexuálov budú stigmatizované kvôli sexuálnej orientácii ich rodičov.

Zopakujem to - JEDINÝ problém, ktorému deti rodičov rovnakého pohlavia musia čeliť, je šikanovanie tými, ktorým sa nezdá, že ich rodičia su homosexuáli. Čiže ak tieto deti trpia, jediný dôvod je ten, že veľká časť populácie nevie prežiť, že sa o jednu spáleň delia dva penisy alebo dve vagíny.

Ale kdeže, hovorí homofobik, toto je o tom, že každý človek potrebuje aj ženský, aj mužský vzor! Matkino nežné objatie, otcova pevná ruka, a ak mama náhodou pracuje ako automechanička a otec je krajčír, tak preboha, hádam by sme mali zakázať manželstvo a deti aj im!

Je to o tradícii, pokračuje homofobik. Tradičný zväzok je len ten medzi mužom a ženou. Tak to vždy bolo a tak to aj navždy má zostať. Niektorí prihodia do diskusie Boha, iní morálku. Tradície sa majú ceniť a dodržiavať. Najmä, ak tak povedia v kostole. Inkvizícia bola ohromná, však? Ale nebudeme si uťahovat len z kresťanstva - spalovať ženy za živa so svojími zosnulými manželmi bol skvelý nápad! Prečo sme s tým prestali? A čo tak enuchovia? Čo, už ich nepotrebujeme? Ste si istí? A ukončíme to pekne na Slovensku, v malebnej dedinke Valaská, kde jedia psy. Taká krásna tradícia!

"Na každej križovatke cesty do budúcnosti umiestnila tradícia 10,000 mužov, ktorí bránia minulosť." Alebo pol milióna.

Kadejaké dôvody sa povyťahujú. Dvaja muži alebo dve ženy nemôžu prirodzene otehotnieť. Možno by sme mali zakázať sobáš aj neplodným. Potom dôjde na pedofíliu. Samozrejme, tá by sa hodila skôr do debaty o katolíckej cirkvy, ale však ak sú títo ľudia ochotní mať sex s rovnakým pohlavím, celkom isto im neprekáža ani sex s deťmi, ovcami či jablkovým koláčom! A to pravdaže znamená, že predávajú drogy, vraždia milé staré dámy a kúpu sa v krvi (rovnako orientovaných) panien. Ale až potom, ako s nimi mali sex. Vlastne moment...

V konečnom dôsledku to nie je nič iné, ako hon na čarodejnice. Tradičná rodina neexistuje. Nikdy nebola. Su páry opačného pohlavia, ktoré spolu zostali celý život, milovali svoje deti a naučili ich rešpektovať druhých. Hádam tak zo desať ich poznám. Potom sú tu zväzky párov opačného pohlavia, v ktorých sa zneuživa, podvádza, klame, nenávidí, bije, nerešpektuje alebo ignoruje. Hádajte čo - množstvo štúdií dokázalo, že deti vyrastajúce v takomto prostredí trpia dlhodobými následkami. Trauma, stres, zvýšený výskyt alkoholizmu a drogovej závislosti, priestupky u mladistvých a zvýšená kriminalita u dospelých. Ale hod'me to na lesbičky a gayov.

"Vieš, prečo sú homosexuálni partneri lepší rodičia ako heterosexuálni? Pretože nemôžu otehotnieť po tom, ako sa ožerú v krčme. Ak dokážu prekonať všetky prekážky, ktoré im stoja v ceste ako gay párom, tak majú zrejme aj hlavu aj srdce na správnom mieste."

Na tom, že sa do seba zaľúbia dvaja muži, alebo dve ženy, že sa zoberú a že vychovávajú deti, nie je nič zlé. Jediné, čo je zlé sú predsudky a povery.

Prečo sa unúvam to všetko písať? Však tí, čo súhlasia, to nepotrebujú a tí, čo nesúhlasia, názor aj tak nezmenia.

Píšem to pre tých, ktorí si myslia, že manželstvo a adopcia pre homosexuálne páry je v poriadku, ale nemajú dosť odvahy na to, aby sa angažovali.

A čo? V poriadku, myslím si, že na tom nie je nič zlé, ale však toto nie je môj problém. Rodičia, súrodenci, kolegovia, tety aj ujovia (aj ten jeden, čo nikdy nemal frajerku a všetci si myslia, že je gay) - všetci hovoria, že homosexualita je hriech. Hovoria, že je to choroba. Hovoria, že je to len taký hlúpy trend. Hovoria, že je to humus. Však ja im nebudem protirečiť, sám. Sa mi budú všetci smiať. Vravím, mňa sa to aj tak netýka. 

Nie som tu preto, aby som prilevala olej do ohňa. Nie som tu preto, aby som štvala ľudí proti sebe. Som tu preto, aby tí, ktorí ma poznajú, vedeli, že majú spolubojovníka. Že nie sú sami. Že napriek tomu, čo si o tom myslia moji rodičia, súrodenci, tety a ujovia a kamaráti, ja sa nebudem potichu tváriť, že sa ma to netýka. Ak môžem ja, môžte aj vy.

Mám dve deti. Milujú knihy. Čítame veľa. Učíme ich o ľuďoch, ktorí zmenili svet. Abraham Licoln, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earheart, Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson. Všetci mali spoločnú jednu vec. Mohli ostať ticho. Ale neostali.

Porozmýšľajte nad tým.

Nenechajte sa umlčat.

"Život samotný nie je dôležitý, dôležitý je náš vplyv na životy ostatných." Jackie Robinson

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Referendum To Ban Same-Sex Marriage and Adoption


Last year, over 400,000 people in Slovakia signed the petition that called for the "Protection of Family" referendum, with the ultimate goal to ban same-sex marriage and same-sex adoptions. The population of Slovakia is just under five and a half million. That is a very simple math and a very sad equation. The referendum is set for February 7th.

Alliance For Family, the organization behind the petition, chose a clever approach. They use the well-being of children as their focal point. They say: "Look at those selfish, arrogant, self-centered, perverted adults that only think about their own financial profit. Of course, as soon as they are married they will claim they should also have the right to have children. We are here to defend those poor children. We can't allow social experiments like these - we can't experiment on children."

They are double-clever, because they also state that their goal is to strengthen family values in a traditional setting. Yes - they knew people would argue that the "traditional" family as we know it includes an alcoholic mother and an abusive father and that uncle that offers your toddler beer in a sippy cup."We are here to help!" they cry.

The most popular argument supporters of the ban use is this: "Studies have proved that it is damaging for a child to grow up in the same-sex marriage. No two fathers can replace a mother, and no two mothers can replace a father." Obviously, you can't ignore science. There are studies! It is rather interesting then that those studies have actually concluded the exact opposite. Not only have they shown that the children of same-sex couples fare just as well as the ones of "traditional" couples, they have also shown that their health and well-being is above average. However, the studies flagged the issue of these children experiencing some form of stigma due to their parents' sexual orientation, impacting their mental and emotional well-being in the future.

Let me repeat this - the ONE problem that these kids face is that other people bully them because they don't like that their parents are homosexual. So if the kids of same-sex couples suffer, the only reason behind it is that a large part of the population can't handle two penises or two vaginas sharing the same bedroom.

Oh no, the homophobic says, this is about the male and female example that every human being needs. Mother's gentle embrace, Father's firm hand, and if Mother works as a car mechanic and Father works as a tailor, then for heaven's sake, shouldn't we ban them from having children too?

It's about tradition, the homophobic goes on. Traditional family is only the one of a man and a woman. It was meant to be and it should stay like that forever. Some throw God in it, some talk about morals. Traditions should be valued and nothing should ever change. Especially if church says so. Inquisition was wonderful, right? But let's not just pick on catholic church - burning women alive with their deceased husbands was such a splendid idea! Why did we stop? And how about eunuchs? What's up with that, don't we need them anymore? Are you sure? And to bring it back to Slovakia - what about the lovely village of Valaska where they eat dogs? Such a beautiful tradition!

"At every crossroads on the path that leads to the future, tradition has placed 10,000 men to guard the past." Or, you know, half a million. 

All kinds of arguments come up. Two men or two women can't naturally conceive. Maybe we should ban marriage for all infertile adults! Pedophilia is somehow brought up. Sure, it would be more fitting in a conversation about catholic church, but if these people can have sex with adults of the same gender, surely they don't mind having sex with kids, goats and apple pies! Which of course means that they sell drugs, kill sweet old ladies and bathe in the blood of (same-sex) virgins. But only after they had sex with them. Wait a minute...

All in all, it's nothing but a witch hunt. Traditional family doesn't exist. It never has. There are opposite-sex couples that stayed together for their whole lives, loved their children and taught them that everyone has equal rights. I am pretty sure I could find at least ten of those. Then there are opposite-sex couples that abuse their partners and/or children, cheat, hate, scam, hit, disrespect, or just ignore. Guess what - there are numerous studies on this subject and they all say the same thing. Long-term effects of domestic violence include emotional and psychological trauma, higher risk of alcohol/drug abuse, post traumatic stress disorder, juvenile delinquency and adult criminality. But let's blame it on gays and lesbians.

"Do you know why homosexual couples are better parents than heterosexual? Because they can't just get pregnant on a drunk night out. If they are capable to jump through all the hoops they are required to in order to become parents, then they obviously have their sh*t together."

There is nothing wrong with two men or two women falling in love, marrying and raising children. The only thing that is wrong is prejudice and small minds.

Why am I even bothering writing all this? Surely, those who agree don't need to see it and those who disagree won't be swayed. 

I am writing this for those who think that same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption should be fine, but don't feel courageous enough to get involved in the fight.

So what? Yes, I think it would be all right, but it's not really my problem. My parents, my siblings, my coworkers, my aunts and uncles (even that one who never had a girlfriend and the whole family thinks he is gay)  - they all think that homosexuality is a sin. They think it's a disease. They think it's just a new trend. They all think it's disgusting. I am not going to stand up to them. I am not going to be the laughing stock. It's not my problem. 

I am not here taking a stand so that I can fuel the controversy. I am not here taking a stand so that I can be divisive. I am here taking a stand so that those people who know me might feel less alone in their own belief. I don't care what my parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and friends think. I can take their disagreement over this. You can, too.

I have two children. We read a lot. We teach them about people who changed the world. Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earheart, Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson. They all have one thing in common. They could have just kept quiet. But they didn't.

Think about it.

Don't keep quiet.

"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives." Jackie Robinson

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

KAM TO TEN SVET SPEJE? (Slovak translation of The World Is Doomed, They Say.)


Spomínate si na citáty, čo kolovali po internete pod menom Morgana Freemana? Teraz frčí esej od Milana Lasicu (ktorého talent je, s dovolením, nadradený nad pána Freemana. Taký je to veľký pán.) Hoci on tú esej nenapísal. Presne tak, ako tie citované slová pán Freeman nikdy nevyslovil.

Píše sa v nej o tom, ako to s týmto naším svetom ide z kopca. Ľahostajní susedia, idiotské televízne programy, debilné pravidlá a zákony, tradičné a kvalitné výrobky zamenené za drahé šmejdy. Pripomína, že aj keď za kominizmu bolo zle, teraz nie je o nič lepšie. Sťažuje sa viac menej na všetko. Kam to ten svet speje? Ľuďom na ničom nezáleží. Sú sebeckí, arogantní a egoistickí. Láska, dôstojnosť a pokora už neexistujú.

To, že ľudia veria tomu, že to napísal Lasica, ma neprekvapuje. Sama som podobným podvodom naletela viac než raz. Čo ma prekvapuje je koľko ľudí sa s tým stotožňuje a aplauduje tejto takzvanej pravde.

"To, že to nenapísal, vôbec nie je podstatné!" je najčastejší argument. "Čo je podstatné je to, že život po '89 sa vôbec nezlepšil, práve naopak, len sa to tu zhoršuje!" Pozerám sa na profily tých, čo to píšu. Polovica z nich v '89 nebola ani na svete. Mnohí z nich vlastnia súkromné podniky, cestujú po celom svete, chodia na lyžovačky do Švajčiarska a takisto na koncerty spevákov, ktorých piesne pred '89 boli zakázané. Čítajú knihy od autorov z celého sveta, chodia na filmy taktiež z celého sveta, zúčastňujú sa demonštráciách a spokojne nadávajú na vládu na sociálnych mediách bez toho, aby sa báli o svoju slobodu alebo svoj život. Naozaj? Život sa po '89 ani trošku nezlepšil?

Na Slovensko chodím raz za rok. Do Ameriky som odišla pred vyše desiatimi rokmi. Priznávam - som outsider. Keď som doma, všetci sa pýtajú:

"AKO SA TI DARÍ?"

Pýtajú sa s nefalšovaným záujmom, takým, ktorý podľa tej eseje vymrel s pádom komunizmu. A ja im s úprimným úsmevom po pravde odpoviem:

"Mám sa NAOZAJ veľmi dobre, ďakujem. Nemám sa na čo sťažovať!"

A myslím to vážne. Do bodky. Mám skvelého muža a dve zdravé deti. Sme spolu šťastní. Často sa smejeme a robíme somariny, ako disko v kuchyni kým chladne večera. Chodíme na pláž a ešte týždeň si z uší vytriasame piesok. Po večeroch popíjame vínko, vyčerpaní po dlhom dni v práci a s deťmi a po výbuchoch zlosti lebo "nechel som pohárik s krtkom, ale s dinosaurom!" Platíme účty a potom platíme ďalšie.

"Tak AKO SA VÁM TO DARÍ?" pýtajú sa ma a ja s iskrou vďačnosti v oku odpovedám: "Mám sa NAOZAJ veľmi dobre, ďakujem. Nemám sa na čo sťažovať!"

A oni sa na mňa hľadia, bez slova, zaskočení. Možno je to len iná nátura. Lebo keď sa ja opýtam ich: "AKO SA VÁM DARÍ?" nikto sa neusmeje a nepovie mi nič pozitívne. "Jáj, no ale mohlo by byť aj horšie." je najoptimistickejšia odpoveď, akú som počula.

A potom sa začne TÁ konverzácia. Až rozmýšľam, či si každý naštudoval ten istý scenár.

"Ale samozrejme, že je vám dobre, nežijete predsa TU! Veľmi múdro ste sa rozhodli. Však pre mladých tu nie je do ničoho pichnúť. Všetci utekajú preč a kto sa im má čudovať!"

Zdvorilo sa usmejem. Chápem to. Každý z nás má svoje problémy. Toto ale nie je vhodný moment na to, aby sme o nich diskutovali. Lenže oni pokračujú.

"A ste na materskej?" usmievajú sa na mojich malých.
"No, som s nimi doma," odpoviem. "Ale materská to nie je, tá tam neexistuje. V najlepšom prípade máte nárok na 12 týždňov neplateného voľna. Ak máte šťastie."
"Jój, však to nie je tak, akoby sa z tejto materskej dalo vyžiť!"

A je TO TU! Večný súboj o tom, kto je na tom horšie. A ja som zmätená a zároveň pobavená - ja viem, že na vyžitie to nie je, ale páčilo by sa vám viac, keby ste nedostali vôbec nič?

Keď sme boli posledne na Slovensku, zobrala som malého na pohotovosť. Sťažoval sa na silné bolesti brucha a ja som sa bála, že je to slepák. Sestrička bola podráždená a útočná - myslela si, že sa s ňou budem hádať. "Budete si to musieť najskôr zaplatiť a vaša poisťovňa vám to potom preplatí." povedala mi a naúčtovala mi 30 Euro. Aj by som jej dala sprepitné, keby som sa nebála, že ju urazím.

Ja môžem ľuďom na Slovensku vykladať, že v Amerike platím mesačne cez tisíc dolárov za zdravotné poistenie a keď idem k lekárovi, aj tak doplácam stovky až tisícky. Moja mama sa mi sťažovala, že jej poisťovňa za zlomenú nohu nepreplatila dosť. Už len predstava, že jej zaplatili! Ja sa sťažujem, že zlomená ruka mojho syna nás bude stáť 5000 dolárov, okrem tej tisícov mesačnej platby za poistenie.

Ja môžem ľuďom na Slovensku vykladať, že tu neexistujú prídavky na deti. "A čo, aj my platíme za škôlku," hovorí môj ujo, "12 Euro mesačne!" Ja platím vyše 400 dolárov a dieťa tam chodí len trikrát do týždňa.

Ja môžem ľuďom na Slovensku vykladať, že tu je výpovedná doba dva týždne a platená dovolenka maximálne 10 dní do roka. Môžem im vysvetľovať, že za vzdelanie sa mastno platí. Že tu všetci žijeme jednu výplatu od bezdomovstva.

Je to jedno, čo poviem. Myslím si, že z časti tomu jednoducho nerozumejú. Žila som v Amerike takmer 10 rokov, keď som otehotnela a chodila do práce aj napriek tomu, že som grcala v jednom kuse. "Prečo si nezájdeš po papier od doktora?" pýtala sa mama. Po 10 rokoch to stále nechápala. Že ten papier nemám komu ukázať a že ak neprídem do práce, tak mám po nej. Myslia si, že sa to nejako vykompenzuje. Že platy sú vyššie, alebo náklady nižšie. Tráva u suseda je vždy zelenšia. Či už je ten sused odvedľa alebo z minulosti, ten jeho trávnik je proste zelenší.

"Vďakabohu, že si odišla!"

Ja chápem, že na Slovensku je korupcia a úplatky a nezamestnanosť a rozčarovanie. Chápem, že ľudia očakávali viac.

"Je to také ťažké, pochopiť nás? Je to také ťažké chápať, že poctivo drieme a zarobíme len na zaplatenie účtov, hypotéky a nákup potravín? Aj keď sme vzdelaní a kvalifikovaní?" Možno som už naozaj poameričtená, ale zarábať dosť na to, aby sa zaplatili účty a jedlo sa mi zdá dosť dobré. Možno som v poslednej dobe čítala príliš veľa náučnej literatúry a článkov o bezpráví, školách (či skôr ich nedostatku) v Ugande, detských nevestách, mínových poliach a Boko Haram, aby som ľutovala tých, čo majú prácu a strechu nad hlavou.

"Ale žijeme predsa v dvadsiatom prvom storočí! Veci by mali fungovať oveľa lepšie!"

Mali by. Ale nefungujú. A nikdy nefungovali. Pozrite sa na mapu sveta. Pozrite na na každý kontinent a na každú krajinu. Kde presne existuje ten nekonečný blahobyt, na ktorý sa tak radi odvolávame? A koľko krajín dosiahlo ten blahobyt v porovnaní so zvyškom sveta?

Netvrdím, že sa máme s danou situáciou zmieriť a nič nerobiť - či už je to náš malý osobný svet alebo celá zemeguľa. Mali by sme ukazovať prstom a menovať konkrétne problémy a osobne sa snažiť prispieť k ich vyriešeniu. Ale mali by sme byť naozaj konkrétni a nesťažovať sa na celý svet. A nemali by sme zabúdať, aké máme šťastie, že žijeme v dnešnej dobe. Ak ste takí zhrození z dnešnej spoločnosti, vyberte si učebnicu dejepisu a povedzte mi, v ktorej dobe by ste to teda radšej žili?

Jediná vec, ktorá bola v tej nešťastnej eseji pravdivá, je toto: "Máme dva aj tri telefóny, internet, televíziu, domáce kino, DVD, PC, a stále nám niečo chýba." Podľa mňa nám chýba nadhľad a perspektíva. Trocha perspektívy vie priniesť riadnu dávku vďačnosti. Len to by sme museli opomenúť náš národný šport sebeľútosti a namieto toho začať oceňovať tie veci, ktoré dnes berieme ako ÚPLNÚ SAMOZREJMOSŤ.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The World Is Doomed, They Say


You know those quotes that go viral on Facebook and are usually attributed to Morgan Freeman? A similar one is making rounds in Slovakia. My friends are reposting an essay that is (falsely) linked to the Slovak actor, humorist and author Milan Lasica (whose talents possibly exceed the ones of Mr. Freeman, no offense. He is that good.)

The essay talks about the gloomy state of the world we live in. It talks about ignorant neighbors, idiotic TV shows, outrageous rules and laws, new fancy overpriced products that pushed out good old traditional ones. It talks about the irrelevancy of the democracy as it currently stands and suggests that while communistic times were bad, today is not much better. It basically complains about everything. This world is doomed. People don't care. They are selfish, arrogant and egoistic. Love, dignity and humility don't exist anymore.

It does not surprise me that people believe Mr. Lasica wrote it - I was a victim of similar hoaxes more than once. What surprises me is the number of people who identify with this essay and applaud the so-called-truth it exposes. It's the general public approval that raises my eyebrow.

"It does not matter if he wrote it, what matters is that it is true!" That's the most common response. "Life hasn't improved at all after '89, it has only gotten worse." I click on those commentators profiles. Half of them weren't even born in 1989. Many of them own private businesses, travel around the world, go on ski vacations to Switzerland, attend concerts of performers whose songs they couldn't even dream about hearing before '89. They read books from authors from around the world, watch movies from around the world, attend protests and freely bitch about the government on social media without having to fear for their (and their families') freedom or life. Really? Life has not improved after '89?

I visit Slovakia once a year. I have been gone for over a decade. I admit - I am an outsider. When I run into people in Slovakia, they all have the same question:

"So HOW ARE YOU doing?"

And they care to know. Unlike those people described in the essay, they actually care to know. I smile at them genuinely and answer them truthfully:

"I am doing REALLY WELL, thank you. Life is good."

And I mean it. I mean it to the dot. I have a fantastic husband and two healthy kids. We are happy. We laugh a lot and we do silly little stuff like a dance party before dinner in our dining room. We go to the beach and have sand in our ears for another week. We sip wine in the evenings, exhausted after another long day of work and taking care of kids and meltdowns-over-the-wrong-sippy-cup type of things. We pay the bills, and then we pay more bills.

"So HOW ARE YOU doing?" they ask and I say with a grateful sparkle in my eye: "I am doing really well, thank you. Life is good."

And they look at me, genuinely surprised, caught off guard. Maybe it's a cultural thing. Because when I ask: "So HOW ARE YOU doing?" in Slovakia, almost never do I receive a smile and a positive response back. "It could be worse, I guess," is the best I ever got.

And then THE conversation starts. It's almost as if every person had the same script handed out to them.

"Well of course, you don't live HERE anymore. Smart decision. There is nothing for young people here. All the young ones are running away and a good thing, too!"

I smile politely. I get it. We all have our own battles and small talk is not a place to discuss those battles. But they go on.

"So are you on a maternity leave?" they point to my little ones.
"Well," I say, "I am at home with them. It's not a maternity leave. It doesn't exist in the United States. The best you get is 12 weeks of non-paid time off. If you're lucky enough."
"Oh, well it's not like the money you get here is enough to live on."

It's ON! The eternal contest of who has it harder in life. And I am confused and amused at the same time. I know the money you get is not enough to live off of. However, how would you feel if there was none at all?

I took my son to the emergency room in Slovakia. He was complaining about a tummy ache and I thought it could be appendicitis. The nurse was grumpy and defensive. She expected me to fight. She told me I would need to pay the bill first, and my travel insurance would refund me later. Then she charged me a total of $40. I considered adding a tip, but didn't want to offend anyone.

I can tell people in Slovakia that I pay thousands of dollars for health insurance and still get billed hundreds and thousands for treatment. My Mom complained that her insurance didn't pay her ENOUGH for her broken leg (yes, they pay you if you break something). I complain my son's broken arm is going to cost us around $5,000 - on top of the insurance we pay.

I can tell people I don't get any child support and have to cover my son's daycare out of pocket. My Uncle says: "We pay too! We pay 12 Euro a month!" I pay over $400, and the kid only goes there three days a week.

I can tell people about "two-weeks notice", as opposed to two-moths or more that is a standard in Europe. I can tell them that Americans get 10 paid days of vacation per year, or less. I can tell them I have to pay for my kids education. We all live one paycheck away from homelessness here.

It doesn't matter what I say. I think a part of it is that they can't quite understand it's true. I had lived in the US for about 10 years when I got pregnant and was throwing up every day, going to work. "Why don't you just get a paper from a doctor and stay home?" my Mom inquired. After 10 years, she still didn't get it. They think that salaries make up for it, or that basic living expenses are much cheaper. They think that grass is greener. Grass is always greener. It doesn't matter if you are comparing the lawn next to you, or the lawn from the past. It's just greener.

"Thank goodness you left!"

I understand that there is corruption and fraud and unemployment and disillusion. I understand that people hope for more.

"Is it so hard to understand us? Is it so hard to understand that we work hard and in good faith and only make enough to pay bills and mortgage and food? Even though we are educated and qualified?" Maybe I have been Americanized, but being able to pay bills and mortgage and food sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Maybe I have been reading too many non-fiction books and articles lately about the social injustice and (lack of) schools in Uganda and child brides and minefields and Boko Haram, to feel pity for people who have an actual job and a roof over their heads.

"But it's 21st century. We should be better than this by now."

We should. But we are not. Take a map of the world, and take a good look at each continent and each country on it. Which one has achieved that blissful state of plenitude we keep referring to? How many of those can you count, comparing to the rest of the world?

I am not saying those complaints are not valid. I am not saying we should be happy with the state of this world - whether it's our own little world or the whole big mess of it. We should be pointing fingers and calling out problems and doing our hardest to fix them. But we should be specific. And we should not forget how lucky we are to live in a time and a place we live in. Look at the history of the world and tell me which period would suit you better, if you are so awfully bothered by today's society?

The only thing that infamous essay was right about was this: "We have two or three phones, internet, television, home theater, DVD, PC, and we still miss something." I think what we miss is a perspective. A little perspective can add a whole lot of gratitude. But that means that we would have to stop playing our favorite game of self-pity and instead appreciate those things we take OH SO FOR GRANTED now.









Friday, September 26, 2014

Happy Anniversary to Us, America!


Living in a foreign country is a lot like marriage. You enter with high expectations. You go through a honeymoon period when everything is magical. Then you begin to notice the little adorable differences. At first you embrace them, proud to be so tolerant, until you realize they are neither little nor adorable, at which point you either figure it out or you pack up and go back to your parents. Twelve years (and one divorce) later, I am still here. This was the first year I forgot my anniversary with America. Real marriage, I hear you say.

Back in Slovakia, I graduated with a Master degree in biotechnology. With two offers for PhD programs, I considered my options carefully before telling my parents I was off to the United States as a nanny. New York! Here I come! Having watched too many episodes of "Friends" and "Sex And the City" I imagined myself strutting down the Park Avenue all classy and chic, my (deeply) hidden talents for directing a play or designing a spaceship suddenly revealed, and my single status crushed with a number of smart and witty men fighting for my attention. (And hot. They were obviously all hot.)

I arrived to the United States through an au-pair agency. I was told that au-pair program was a cultural exchange experience through childcare. My first cultural experience is now known as a "toiletgate." The au-pair training school was located on the St. John's University campus in Oakdale, Long Island. We stayed in typical college dorm rooms, which meant shared bathrooms. After I got over the fact that the gaps between stalls were so large I could watch the person do her business, I noticed that the water level in the toilet bowl was dangerously high. Ugh, I thought, clogged. Great. I moved on to the next one. Same thing. Again, and again, and again. Jet-lagged, tired and grumpy, I mustered the courage to complain.
"Excuse me, but all the toilets are clogged. It's rather disgusting." I told the au-pair agency representative. She was horrified. She ran out and came back a minute later with a smile that is usually reserved for idiots.
"They are not clogged," she said. "This is the way American toilets look like."

While still in the au-pair training school, we took a trip to the city. After a guided tour of Manhattan we were set free to explore. I followed a group of girls to a pizza deli. Every one of them ordered like it was not a big deal. I was staring at the menu in panic, wondering how was I ever going to survive if a slice of pizza cost $2.75. Plus tax. Don't forget the damn tax. I came to the US with $100. This was an absurd amount of money for me at the time. I walked to the counter with my chin raised and my knees trembling and ordered.
"What do you want to drink?" the man behind the counter barked.
"Oh," I was caught off-guard. "I'll have soda."
"What kind?" the man barked again.
"Um...the sparkly kind?" I said and he looked annoyed. What is going on? I just want sparkling water. Because in Slovakia, we call sparkling water soda.
"Which soda do you want?" the man was clearly running out of patience.
I stared at him blankly.
"Coke? Sprite? Dr. Pepper?" he rattled off.
"I'd like...soda?" I tried one more time and then seeing his eyes narrowing quickly added: "Coke. I'll take Coke."

Europeans love to make fun of Americans labeling everything with instructions and warnings. "Your freshly brewed cup of coffee that is steaming up your glasses may be hot." Or: "Open box before eating pizza." However, when presented with a box of Pop Tarts by a 12-year-old, I learned to appreciate the instructions for stupid. Pop Tarts? What on Earth is that? To my astonishment, there were several ways how to serve them. I would have never guessed that you can eat them cold or hot. I would have never guessed that you can microwave them or put them in the toaster. I would most definitely never guessed that these can be called "pastry." What I also didn't guess was that one piece equaled 200 calories. I ate them throughout the day, hot or cold, toasted or microwaved, and then wondered why I gained 20 pounds in the first two months. 

Pop Tarts became my addiction mainly because of lack of decent candy in American supermarkets. Go ahead, call me a snob. I am a chocoholic and I carry that title proudly. The first week of my stay with the host family I found a Hershey's chocolate bar in the fridge. I was surprised it was in the fridge rather than in the pantry with all the other candy, but as soon as I saw it I had to have it. I took a bite and couldn't tell if I threw up in my mouth a little, or if that was the natural flavor of the chocolate. There was only one logical explanation - it was expired. I didn't know that such thing could happen, but we learn something new every day. I drove to the nearest supermarket and diligently picked a fresh XXL bar. I took a bite. There it was again, the aftertaste of a 24-hour stomach bug.

Of course, one never forgets their first visit to Starbucks. There I was, unable to recognize what a normal cup of coffee was called. After hesitating for 15 minutes, I finally walked to the counter and ordered Americano. To my great disappointment, I got a regular sized paper cup with a spit of coffee at the bottom. I took a sip. I dragged myself back to the counter and explained. The barista smiled and handed me a tall coffee. I asked him how much I owed him.
"Oh, don't worry about it, that's fine."
Um...what? I looked around for a hidden camera. Surely I couldn't just walk away without paying. Surely no customer service representative would ever let me do that, without yelling at me for messing up the order, without rolling his eyes about the extra work, without loudly telling his coworker about the stupid cow that didn't even know what she wanted to drink! I was moved to tears.

There were many other things that left me speechless. The ability to read a magazine while drinking a cup of tea in a bookstore (in Slovakia you were not allowed to even look through a magazine unless you paid for it first). Driving a car that was for my use only, knuckles white and my stomach turning noticing the sign with a minimum speed limit of 40mph. Do they want me to die? How can I ever drive that fast? Houses built out of wood instead of brick, people smiling at me all the time, low fat or no fat yogurts only, and so many more differences. Little and adorable. Big and scary. We have been through a lot together, haven't we? Happy 12th anniversary to us, America!