Tag Archives: culture

5 Reasons Why I Say I Don’t Want Kids

Babies are everywhere these days. The ubiquitous mini-humans are all over my Facebook feed; the mall is full of strollers; my friends talk about their conception windows. Here in Colombia, baby season (roughly 9 months past Carnaval) is upon us.

What is it about being a young female that people look at you and think, “she looks like she’d love to wear maternity jeans!”? The pressure multiplies when you hit your mid-twenties, regardless of your marital status, your economic fortitude or, you know, personal opinions.

Suddenly, the all-consuming question is, “When are you going to have kids?” 

It’s a common icebreaker, considered within the appropriate range of small talk. And in some cases, it can be. But it shouldn’t be an assuming, leading question that frames the concept in a “not if but when” format.

This has got me thinking. Why do we think it’s okay to ask women this question? No one asks my male friends when they’re planning to procreate.  They get asked about their careers and their cars.  Especially here in Colombia, where women struggle against the prevalent machismo culture and teen pregnancies, I feel that it’s important to present an alternative view to the assumption that “women are for making babies and keeping house.”

I used to laugh it off, but lately I am more likely to challenge the idea. It usually starts a conversation where I can voice these opinions and try to broaden perspective on the issue. So sometimes I say “I never want kids” just to rebel against the assumptions.

“I don’t want kids,” I’ll say.

“Never ever?” they ask incredulously.

“I have other priorities,” I declare.

Now, let me clear. I don’t actually know whether I want to have children. Maybe so, maybe not. That’s for a private decision in the distant future. And furthermore, I am not advocating against having children, or criticizing well-meaning, curious small-talkers. Nor do I want to detract from the absolutely beautiful concepts of motherhood and building families. This isn’t an argument for or against having children, or wanting children, or even liking children. It’s simply an argument against the subliminal underlying assumptions of this question.

So I am going to challenge the basic presumption of “When are you going to have kids?” until we start asking the questions that matter. And on that note, here are five reasons that we should stop asking that question.

1.Being a mother is not my raison d’etre

Despite the fact that we live in the 21st century, society’s treatment of motherhood continues to be archaic (see also: outrage at breastfeeding in public; anti-abortion laws).  This extends to society’s ideal of what womanhood is about. Let me start by saying that womanhood and motherhood are NOT THE SAME THING. Not being a mother doesn’t make me any less of a woman.The assumption that a woman’s highest purpose in life is to procreate is, simply put, sexist. It suggests that her value is not measured by her intelligence, her creativity, her strength, her compassion and her unique human spirit.

When a woman becomes a mother, something I’m told is life-changing and intrinsically beautiful, she adds a new, intimate relationship to her existing plethora of experiences. She grows as a person and develops new perspectives and wisdom, but she doesn’t become valuable for her new role in society. She is already valuable.

2. I want to be remembered for my work, not for my offspring.

From what I can tell, having children has biological and evolutionary importance. Historically, biological offspring are a way to carry on one’s legacy in the gene pool. The more children, the more allies; the more DNA you spread, the more likely you can dominate and ensure survival. Luckily for me, I’m not a cavewoman. Hear that? My survival isn’t determined by physical tribe-on-tribe battle. My legacy gets to be something else. Like whatever I want. So there.

I don’t want to detract from the obvious benefits of a genetic legacy. It must be beautiful to see your own DNA duplicated in a mini me. Children can carry on your family name and values. However, I’d prefer to define my legacy by things that I’ve done. In particular, I want my words and experiences to be my legacy, and whether that’s by writing them down or by telling them to offspring is up to me.

3. I don’t want to define my success based on other people’s standards.

My  goal in life is not: “get married, buy a house, have kids.” I see that our society still defines success as having a family (especially for women.) You haven’t reached success until you fit that standard. It is disgusting to see the amount of pressure that society uses to teach women that their purpose in life is to have children, whether it is through subliminal gender messages in the media and toy store or well-meaning but insulting comments that seem to say, “I know better than you what you should do with your life.”

4. Having kids isn’t on my priority list.

People used to say, “oh, but just give it a few years! You’ll come around!” Yet here I am at 25 years old, and I still don’t see them in my 5- or 10-year plan. The truth is that while I love kids, I can’t imagine them in the foreseeable future. I see many other priorities.

One of my priorities is to further my education. I am heading for my master’s next year, then I’ll probably pursue a Ph.D. sometime after. I love to learn and analyze and teach, something that won’t likely change.

Another goal is to work in a field that continuously challenges me and brings me close to people and places where important things are happening. I love to be close to the action, and I love to be part of the difference being made.

I have so many other dreams and visions and goals and for now, children would just be an obstacle to accomplishing what I feel I’m setting out to do. No one should have kids unless they are ready for them. They’re not on a to-do list.

5. I don’t feel any need to say “yes” to satisfy societal pressure.

I am sick of people asking when I’m going to have kids. Why don’t they ask if? I understand that it’s a common thing to do, but it’s not fair to assume that just because everybody else is doing something that I should, too. Don’t teach me to think for myself, then tell me to follow the crowd. You’re being inconsistent, society.

This recent article in the Huffington Post, about talking to little girls, shows the powerfully deceptive ways that gender roles are perpetrated.  The author made me think about how we phrase our assumptions in the form of a question. When we ask the question a certain way, we’re suggesting that the answer fit the same format. So if you say, “When do you want kids?” I can’t answer with a “yes” or “no” or “maybe.” It has to be a time frame. And that’s not fair.

Ask me another! 

I am speaking up for my fellow women who, whether or not they have or want children, are worthy of their dreams and goals. I am writing for everyone who has felt pressured to fit into a societal box or to fulfill “a biological paramount.” I am standing up my right to say, “if” or “never” or “ask me a better question.”

Let’s try to empower women for their abilities instead of reinforcing their stereotypes.  Here is what to ask next time:

Q: When are you going to have kids? 

Q: What are you passionate about? What are your dreams?

Many young women are doing exciting things and have unique perspectives to share about their passions, their interests, their dreams. Take that as a conversation starter and see what you can learn!

So, the next time someone asks me, “When are you going to have kids?” I have my answer ready: “I don’t know if I’m going to have kids, and that’s okay. Ask me about my dreams!”

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On Proximity

It occurs to me that maybe the reason that America has wide sidewalks and Colombia has narrow ones isn’t because of the difference in the size of the people–most Americans are quite a lot taller and wider than most Colombians–but in fact, because of the differences in comfort zones. Here, we all brush shoulders and graze elbows into those curves of the human body that are usually reserved for hugs and tickles, and we turn our bodies to swing our hips and handbags around each other.

Waiting in line to board a flight to LA from Panama, the two vacationers in front of me turn periodically to check on me, despite my best efforts to not look like I am eavesdropping. Then I realize it’s not my invasion of their conversation but my encroaching into their personal space that bothers them. I am lining up like any good Colombian would, with the minimal amount of space between me and them, breathing down onto their wheeled suitcases.

My waxing lady (yes, I now have one of those) asks what I’ll miss about Colombia. The human connections, I tell her. In my country, lives are separated by fences and decorative lawns and closed up, air-conditioned bubbles. Here, we live in each other’s spaces, sharing the same experiences.

The same tiredness as we try to stay balanced in a creaky, careening bus home, holding each other’s groceries and toddlers to balance each other’s load. The the same helplessness when the rain comes and we all lose power at the same black, startling moment, and we can hear each other through the walls and open windows in the stillness that follows. The same community pride when we all press together into the main street, a sea of yellow soccer jerseys, to watch the hometown hero, Carlos Bacca, parade slowly to the plaza atop the volunteer fire department’s best rig.

“We are Wayuu, we are the sons of the earth and the rain” // “somos Wayuu, somos hijos de la tierra y la lluvia”

Author’s note: I met David Caceres through a mutual friend at a poetry event. He cut a striking figure, his traditional indigenous ensemble contrasting with the Coca-cola in his hand and Ray Bans covering his eyes.

David turns out to be the official representative of the Wayuu community, a young leader with a strong passion for his people. This is the first part of his story. 

“First, I wanted to greet you in my native tongue, my mother tongue. I am the voice of a million people who are called the Wayuu; we are people of the desert.

We are an Amerindian group that has inhabited the Guajira peninsula for 4,000 years, according to anthropologists. We have dual nationality because our people live in the border region of Colombia and Venezuela…but our identity is one, unique: we are indigenous, we are Wayuu, we are the sons of the earth and the rain.

The Wayuu can’t be defined as a particular group but rather as something heterogenous, because not all Wayuu are fishermen, miners, farmers, shepherds or hunters and gatherers.

I myself am a specialist, a man of the desert, and I live in a peninsula at the edge of the sea, so my role is to be a fisherman, or a man of the sea. In wayuunaiki, we are called “aparanch.”

Our concept of time is spiral, and the spiral of time is simply related with the spiral of the universe, which is what we observe every night in the sky. There is where we focus and learn. All our ancestors are all the stars in the universe, so the Wayuu people will never cease to exist (laughs), because we carry on in the stars.”

[ This is a post in the series titled “#carasdecolombia,” a collection of stories and photos portraying the diversity and beauty of the Colombian lives around me.  Please feel free to add to the collection with your own pictures and stories!]


En Espanol:

Primero, queria saludarte en mi lengua nativa, mi lengua natal. Yo soy, en este momento, la voz de un millon de personas que existimos entre colombia y venezuela y nos llaman desde hace miles de anos como Wayuu. Somos un grupo Amerindio que habitamos la penisula de la Guajira desde hace 4,000 anios y somos gente del desierto.

Nosotros los Wayuu tenemos un carácter binacional por estar en una zona fronteriza, pero…La identidad es una, unica: somos indigena, somos Wayuu, somos hijos de la tierra y la lluvia.

 Los Wayuu no se puede definir como un grupo particular sino mas bien como algo heterogenio, porque no todos los Wayuu son pescadores, no todos los Wayuu son mineros, no todos los Wayuu son agricultores, no todos los Wayuu son pastores, no todos los Wayuu son recolectores.

 

Yo, por lo menos, soy especialista y hombre del desierto, y estoy en una peninsula y el orilla del mar, entonces mi condicion es ser un pescador, o ser un hombre del mar que, en wayuunaiki, se nos llaman “aparanch.”

Nuestra linea del tiempo es espiral, y la espiralidad del tiempo es simplemente relacionada con la espiralidad del universo, que es lo que observamos todas las noches. Y ahi enfocamos y transmitimos y conocemos. Todos los ancestros son todas las estrellas que son en el universo, entonces pues, nunca van a dejar a existir los Wayuu (rie) porque sigamos en las estrellas.

 

 

 

Spanglish: A Poem about Identity

Last weekend, I was invited to recite a poem at two different events: the first was a Peace Corps poetry jam hosted by the Oiste volunteer magazine team; the second was the annual poetry and music exhibition in Pradomar, commemorating Julio Flórez, a famous local poet.

I wrote a poem about my experience with language acquisition, in which I have reached a point where the two syntaxes, cultures and, ultimately, identities meet, in a single, confusing mindset called Spanglish.

My brain speaks Spanglish–half and half, whatever comes out first. And that’s kind of how my concept of self has become–no longer wholly a single culture or perspective, but a mix of two.

I hope you enjoy!

Spanglish video

Transcript:

Spanglish

Yo tengo this thing, sabes

My lips, teeth, tongue

boca, garganta, lungs

They’re all vueltia’o

Running over, under, in and out

And quedan abusa’os

todos agota’os

All combined to one

One tongue

One mixed up, de todita lengua

that no one understands

no one but maybe tu

On one hand, hay

words, ideas,

quid pro quo

Irony, analisis, wit and GO!

Al otro lado, pues

rhythm, rrriccccoooo beats

Sensual, sexy, sweet

cogele suave, amor

One tongue

One mixed up, de todita lengua

not pa’alla ni aca

It’s Spanglish, this vaina!

It’s a viva thing

Two identities a la vez

Dos mundos, one fluidez

Jodaaaa, now what?

Aja, so here we are

que hay que hacer?

metamorphosis

Welcome to el nuevo ser
One tongue

One mixed up, de todita lengua

Integracion

not here, not there

But somehow, everywhere

“I’m an observer of the peace process” // “soy observador del proceso de paz”

image1

“There’s so much to be done here. The people have this capacity to invent ways to survive; I love the informality of this culture.”

Trained as a journalist and brimming with stories from Vietnam to Alexandria, Ricardo is a native barranquillero who says his work now is to report as an “observer of the peace process.” I met him in our shared favorite coffee shop, where he rotates between a Coetzee novel and a sketchbook.

“One day overseas, the US Navy base invited the press to a movie night. ‘Zorba the Greek.’ Zorba wanted to live as if he would die tomorrow.” Now, I live for today, and I meditate. The mind has to be quiet to live in the moment.

//

“Hay mucho que hacer. La gente aqui tiene la capacidad de inventarse sobrevivir. Me gusta la informalidad.”

Periodista de carrera y lleno de historias de Vietnam a Alejandria, Ricardo es barraquillero nativo y dice su trabajo actual es reportar en el proceso de paz. Lo conoci en nuestro cafeteria mutual, donde el da turno entre una novela de Coetzee y un cuaderno de dibujo.

“Un dia afuera, el US Navy invito a la prensa venir a ver una pelicula. ‘Zorba el Griego.’ Zorba quiso vivir si fuera a morir manana.” Ahora, vivo para hoy y hago meditacion. La mente debe estar quieta para vivir a la hora.

[ This is a post in the series titled “#carasdecolombia.” I post stories, photos and interviews using this hashtag. Please feel free to add to the collection with your own pictures and stories! And yes, shout out to @humansofny for the initial inspiration for such a project. ]

Presenting…Project #CarasDeColombia

Note: This is the first post in a series titled “#carasdecolombia.” I will be posting stories, pictures and interviews using this hashtag. Please feel free to add to the collection with your own pictures and stories! And yes, shout out to @humansofny for the initial inspiration for such a project.  

The Colombia that I’ve gotten to know these past two years can be described in one word: vibrant. The colors are bold, the music loud, the smiles bright and

Agriculture and livestock industries in Colombia
Agriculture and livestock industries in Colombia

the hugs warm. This Colombia boasts abundant natural resources (Amazon rainforest, deserts, coffee farms, rivers and two oceans). This Colombia was recently featured on CNN Money for its “booming economy” and growth in the technology industry. This Colombia teems with trendy backpackers and cruisers, drawn to the colonial coast and lush interior. This Colombia, to me, is enjoyingherselfcharacterized by the photo at right.

But unfortunately, this Colombia has been overshadowed by a different Colombia. It’s got several decades of darkness and a reputation that hangs over the present generation. Of all the conversations I’ve had with thousands of Colombians, a constant question I get is, “what do Americans think about Colombia?” What they mean is, “do Americans think that Colombians are all drug traffickers and terrorists?”

Honestly, I hope not. But thanks to Hollywood, TV stereotypes and some mean kids in New Jersey who teased my student’s Colombian-American cousins, there is still a lot of work to do.

Though it would be impossible to define an average Colombian, I can capture real, living and dreaming people and show their reality.

This project shares snapshots of conversations and the stories of Colombia.This project aims to show the new face to the name Colombia, utilizing the hashtag #carasdecolombia, or faces of Colombia.

This is your, my, our Colombia.

I Just Podcast-ed about Colombia and Culture

You know how you usually hate the sound of your own voice? Well, I conquered that fear recently and served as a guest on Walking the Earth podcast. Mike Margolies is a fellow traveler and has a great podcast about the travel lifestyle, doing podcasts with travelers and expats of all different walks of life. Each episode is an open conversation about traveling and wherever else the topic leads.

Our conversation, recorded about a month ago, is about anonymity, navigating cultural differences, the idea of “home” and the evolution of relationships due to technology.

Episode 65
Podcaster!

Please, check out the episode and show Walking the Earth some love! Enjoy!

Journey on,

Shanna

P.S. Remind me never to say “and stuff” again.

Costeno Body Language 101

Have you ever seen a coastal Colombian talk? It’s 85% body language with animated facial expressions, broad hand gestures and full-body emphasis on the Most Important Points. Even their feet are fidgety, listo to break into a salsa step. Imaginate what it’s like when the subject matter actually involves dancing!

Because or body language is so central to the culture, the idiosyncratic gestures and facial expressions are essential communication tools to survive as adopted costenos.

Once you master these haptics, your cultural fluency will skyrocket, your language skills will improve, and costenos everywhere will adore you (if only to laugh at you.)

How to Ask for Clarification with Your Nose 

This is the costeno shrug, the Colombian gesture for the universal “huh?” Use this gesture to say you don’t understand, to ask for the speaker to repeat their statement, to indicate a doubt or question, or to amuse your host family.

Continue reading Costeno Body Language 101

Culture Spotlight: Cumbia

IMG_3569
Cumbia queens at my school

Cumbia is a sacred word on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, especially during Carnaval season. The dance is a mesmerizing infusion of Spanish dance, African drumbeats and indigenous instruments, an ode to the history of this region. It’s also my personal favorite dance, so I’m going to introduce you to this stunning cultural masterpiece. Continue reading Culture Spotlight: Cumbia

The Privilege of Choice (The Pursuit of Happiness, Pt. 1)

(Pre-context: I am a twenty-something, college educated, middle-class, White American and that is my inevitable frame of reference, here and there. For better or worse.)

I had a realization today. I am unhappy sometimes, discontent and endlessly pursuing satisfaction. I was jogging down the street in my little town in Colombia with a perfect breeze at my back, wearing my brand new Nikes that I bought in America, waving at all my friendly townspeople, but internally, I was making a long to-do list of things that I had to accomplish before I would be satisfied and could relax. Continue reading The Privilege of Choice (The Pursuit of Happiness, Pt. 1)