Thursday, December 29, 2005

My Name

I met yet another old friend today who is appalled that my name is still Elma Shaw. He says he refused to let his wife even hyphenate her name, and could never have married a woman so modern. I, I suppose, could never have married a man so set in tradition.

It's not a common thing for a Liberian woman to keep her name after marriage. In fact, most people don’t even know it’s an option. I know one woman who still says, when she introduces me to someone else, “Sorry, I don’t know her real last name.” She smiles when she says it, but gives me a disapproving look at the same time. She's the kind that would call me by my husband's name if she knew it, despite knowing I have not adopted it. I don't mind at all when people call me by his name, and most times I don't even bother to correct them. But I might mind a bit if people who know my preference choose to ignore it out of their own disapproval.

Women have many different reasons for choosing to keep their maiden name or to take on their husband's name, and all of them are valid. After all, our names belong to us and we should be able to do whatever we want with them.

Sometimes, when people ask, wide-eyed with surprise, "You didn't change your name?" I say "No, and my husband didn't change his either." But really, my decision has less to do with feminist beliefs of equality and more to do with the fact that Elma Lorraine Shaw is who I have always been and who I always will be. It is my name and I am inspired to uphold it for the sake of my family, myself, and my own children. Finally, it is the name I always dreamed of seeing on Honor Roll lists, on diplomas, and in bold letters on books and on screen. As the dreams become reality, I love my name - and the modern me - even more.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Deep Undercover

Rumor has it that my husband is a CIA agent. The only basis for this speculation is that he is a white American who works in Africa. But, since sometimes even wives aren’t supposed to know these things, I am beginning to wonder...

Hhmmm…living here during Taylor’s administration…two jobs that took us to war zones in the DRC and Sudan…a recent trip to LRA territory in Uganda… the tinted glasses he wears, talking about the sun is too bright… Could it be? My Sweetie?

The first time I heard this rumor I was very offended, knowing about our struggles as I do. In fact, Shaun was so frustrated about unfunded proposals at the time that I didn’t even bother mentioning it to him. Things are looking up for next year, so when I heard the rumor again recently, combined with the statement that we are rich, I just had to laugh. This time I told him what people are saying, and asked him to “Show me the money!” He laughed his head off at the whole crazy notion.

My down-to-earth, activist, anti-establishment husband is the most unlikely candidate for a CIA job. If he is indeed an agent, he has got to be either the biggest mistake the CIA ever made, or the best undercover agent that ever lived. But, since even wives don't always know the truth, I’ve taken to calling him “Agent Sweetie” – just in case.

"The name is Pie -- Sweetie Pie"

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Lucky Ticket

Monrovia and its suburbs are alive with activity and fun and games as Christmas approaches. The crowd here is playing a game of chance they call "Lucky Ticket" even though there's no ticket involved. Some call it "Gain and Loss" because, as a young boy explained to me, "sometimes you gain and sometimes you loss." For $5LD you get three metal hoops and a chance to win things like soap, pasta, juice, plastic bowls, biscuits and footballs. I watched for a long time and gave a boy four hoops to play for me while I played two myself. It wasn't our lucky day, but it sure was fun!
(Jacob's Town, Monrovia, LIBERIA)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Firestone Questions

(Dr. Owl from today's Daily Observer)

There's another Firestone story in the paper today. Firestone's been in the news a lot lately, beginning a few weeks ago with headlines accusing the company of practising slavery on its rubber farms in Liberia. The complaint is coming not from rubber tappers and their families, but from a group of lawyers and human rights activists. The lawyers say the tappers are too afraid to speak for themselves. I say if not one tapper out of thousands is willing to sacrifice his job by speaking up for the cause, THERE IS NO CAUSE. Lawyers and activists have important roles to play in struggles for justice and fair treatment, but they cannot lead someone else's revolution. Where are the tappers who will speak up and tell us where they stand and what they want? Are they silent because they are afraid? Or are they silent because Firestone provides them housing, medical care, schools, and salaries that far surpass what the Liberian government pays? Lawyers, please bring your witnesses to the stand!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Trouble Brewing

Ma Edith came to work late this morning. She said there was trouble in her Chugbor neighborhood last night, and along Old Road and Tubman Boulevard near CDC Headquarters. These are all places that surround our house, but we didn't hear anything during the night. George Weah came back to town last night (after a trip to South Africa) and Ma Edith says his supporters vandalised cars and beat up several people - including some policemen. She and her neighbors stayed up until 4am worrying. "Sis Emma," she said, "the place where I eh, sleep still in my eyes. If it wasn't for my Old Ma I would pack all my things and move back to Ivory Coast because ahn like for things to worry me." A bit worried myself, I asked Shaun to drive Keyan to school although I normally take him. Half an hour later they were both back. No school today because of the trouble brewing.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Just Play With Me

This is the dashboard of the taxi I rode in this afternoon. The producers of the sticker meant well, but really... (-:

Thursday, December 01, 2005

You Can Stop HIV/AIDS: A Call to Action!

December 1st is World AIDS Day. I wrote this article for the Nov/Dec 2005 issue of Destiny - an 8-page youth-focused HIV/AIDS newsletter that I publish as part of my work with the Liberia Hope Fund. Even if you are no longer a young-un, read it and take heed :-)

Do you know what the Millennium Development Goals are? You should, because they were set so that you and your children might have a better life and a secure future. Imagine for a moment: Where would you like to see yourself in the next ten years?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs, for short) are a set of goals designed to improve the standard of living of the world’s poorest people by the year 2015. Among the goals is one that pertains to HIV/AIDS: By 2015, we should have stopped and reversed the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The MDGs were adopted by world leaders in 2000. It is now 2005, and, according to a recent progress report, Liberia is probably not going to reach the HIV/AIDS goal. Well, 2015 is 10 years away. If we are not making good progress, let’s do everything we can to get on the track to success!

What do you need to do?

• Learn the facts about HIV/AIDS. Know the modes of transmission and the methods of prevention.
• Stop behavior that puts you at risk.
• Learn about testing issues, treatment, care, and what to do about stigma and discrimination.
• Send your children to school. Support education. A study by the Global Campaign for Education shows that by the time someone completes primary school, they have all the skills necessary to understand HIV prevention messages, and the confidence to make good decisions in their relationships and lives.
• Hold world governments (and your own!) to their promises regarding funding for HIV/AIDS research and care.
• Organize, collaborate, and work hard to save yourselves and to protect those who already have HIV/AIDS.

Finally, a special call to women and young people: This battle against HIV/AIDS is for you. More than two thirds of young people with HIV/AIDS are girls and women. Around half of people who get HIV are infected before the age of 25. How old are you now? How old will you be in 2015? Will you be free of HIV? If you are HIV positive will you have equal rights and adequate treatment? Your destiny is in your hands. The battle against HIV/AIDS is for you, and the campaign must be by you.

This is your call to action. Don’t just imagine a better future…create it.