Finding Myself in Africa- Chapter 13

I didn’t sleep well last night. As a result of seeing the cockroach I had constant, vivid nightmares; I woke up throughout the night terrified that bugs were crawling all over me. After a restless night’s sleep I wake up to Rose turning on the lights, talking in the room, being in and out and leaving the door open so I can hear the music from the kitchen loud and clear. I am beginning to put her on the same level as the rooster.

It’s an easy day at school today, as me and the girls have decided to leave early, around 1 p.m. to take a short trip into the city. We are plus 1 today as we received a new volunteer from Ireland last night. So it goes like this, I finish taking my shower and come into the living room to find our new volunteer looking roughly 20-years-old sitting on the couch that no one ever sits on. I say hello, take my seat and pull out my book. Its Jane Eyre I’m reading this week, but I can’t focus because he is asking me 20 questions; none of which I can fully remember because his accent had me stunned. Having never heard an Irish accent before I am floored, and that doesn’t happen often. But after my childhood obsession with Harry Potter, this is really no surprise.

Our trip into the city is fairly quiet with the exception that we can’t stop talking. Everyone wants to know about the new kid. In order take the bus into the city it costs 50 shillings which is equivalent to 50 cents; everything is so much cheaper here for us. I saw laptops today selling for 18,000 shillings which is 180 USD.

After an hour ride, we are finally in the city. We do a lot of walking around and are supposed to go to the masai market, but after finding out it’s only open on the weekends, we settle for walking around and looking at the shops.

The city is much cleaner than in Kibera where we live. The sidewalks are not ideal with potholes scattered throughout and the pavement risen in places and after my third time tripping Ian smirks at me and tells me I’m about as graceful as a Giselle.

We walk along the streets and look through the windows on the right while on our left people are lining the sidewalks selling all things from jewelry to books to fruit. People shout at us to buy their products and at one point my hand is grabbed by several men and I have to pull away to get them to let go; shortly after that Lydia, Virginia and myself are whistled at. I guess they are trying to make us feel right at home.

It’s lunchtime in the city and I am relieved to have so many options that don’t consist of rice, ugali or cabbage.

After lunch Lydia and Virginia declare they need to go to the store, so we walk in a massive grocery store that is four levels tall. There are no escalators, only ramps to get from one floor to the next.

Back outside there are bookstands laid out every half block, it is a bookworms dream. And for those of you who know me, yes, your suspicions are correct, I bought a book. I couldn’t help it. Yes, I know I have an illness; because who goes to Africa and buys a book? Oh yea, I do.

The way home is quite eventful as I get to know the new volunteer. I am getting to learn a little about Ireland and he asks plenty of questions about America, (Its surprising how similar our countries are) and we start to swap embarrassing stories. It soon becomes a competition of who can level the playing field with the more embarrassing story. At one point I mention my record player and Polaroid camera and he starts laughing and tells me I am a hipster. I begin to argue that I am definitely not, but I think I am losing this argument. I tell him, “I just appreciate older things and don’t conform to mainstream technology and everything.” He starts laughing and says “you literally just explained what a hipster is!” Apparently all that combined with my love of travel, used bookstores and writing a blog make me a hipster.

Two hours later we finally stop in Kibera and get off the bus. Realizing my shoe is untied I step off to the side to tie it. People skirt around me and without paying much attention to where I am walking, I stand up and take one step forward before slipping and landing right in the deep puddle I was trying to avoid. Dirt, water, and I’m sure some diseases shoot up my leg covering me in this smelly substance. Ian shakes his head and starts laughing “Like I said, graceful as a Giselle” he says. What a fabulous end to the day.

Finding Myself in Africa- Chapter 10

I’m beginning to lose track of the hours; it has only been a week but the rooster is no longer loud enough to wake me up. I don’t know why, but I am much more tired here than when I am at home. I have been taking a nap after school every single day, something I never do at home. But perhaps that’s because at home I don’t slow down enough to realize I’m tired.

I shouldn’t feel so exhausted here, I’m not doing any strenuous work. In fact, I hardly feel like I’m being used at the school at all. I came down here wanting to make a difference and impact someone’s life, yet I really don’t feel like I’m doing that.

Today the children have exams so all Virginia, Lydia and myself do is draw pictures for the children and spell out words for the kids to learn next year. We sit in the back office, which is really the size of a closet and draw and color and hardly talk. When this all started out I was told that I would be working in an orphanage for 3 weeks and the hospital for 3 weeks… I am not doing any of that at all. The school closes next Friday and I don’t think they know what to do with me. The other volunteers tell me they thought they would be doing something completely different too. I can’t help but feel I am wasting my time.

I know I sound like a whining child, I should be taking notice of the poverty around me and being appreciative and doing what I can to help. It’s hard knowing that I was promised to be doing so much more than sitting in a back room drawing. Part of me thinks I came here at a bad time though, maybe I should have waited until after the holidays and the kids would be in school learning; but I suppose I am still trying to get the hang of things.

After a long 8 hours, we walk the students home and then make our way for the house. The power went out last night around midnight, so I plugged my phone in just in case it came back on. I get to the house to realize that the power is still out, guess I’ll spend my downtime catching up on some reading then. I brought 5 books with me and I’ve already finished one, so I move onto Jane Eyre, a classic.

The family arrived home today and Rose comes over and gives me a big hug. “I missed you” she says in my ear. It almost makes me feel bad for being so happy she was gone all weekend. Almost. She’s really sweet, but she still smells.

Since the power is out, that means dinner by lantern and candlelight, reminding me of the times as a child when the power went out. My parents would lay out blankets in the living room and light some candles and we would have a starlit dinner. The rain is coming down in droves and it’s bittersweet, bringing back these memories; it would have been nice tonight had it not been for not being able to contact my family all day. Being able to stay in contact with the outside world is probably what keeps me sane.

The Feminine Touch

“Smile for the camera!”

581806_10152349023333327_1109149098_nIt’s Halloween and you are together with friends having the time of your life, but the only thing you can think of is how to pose for the picture. “What side is my good side? I’m self conscious of my arms so I’ll put it on my hip, knee slightly bent, turn sideways…Okay the angle is right. Take the picture.”

In a film regarding social identity, Sut JHally, a Professor at the University of Massachusetts, forms the calculated inferences that the sexualization of women is formed first in the media. He discusses that the poses in magazine advertisements mean more than just an attempt to get the reader to buy a product.

Flipping through magazines it is apparent that there is immense focus that goes into taking a single picture, much like the pictures women take with their friends on a daily basis. Women are seen with their knee slightly bent, and the hip to the side. Jhally suggests that this is in an attempt to make women seem off-balance, as if their world could spin out of control at any moment. Men are often seen standing straight with their arms folded to portray masculinity in a way that shows they can take on the world as it comes and are afraid of nothing.

As I was watching the film the thought crossed my mind, I do this all the time. (See Above Picture). It seems natural to take a picture with a tilted posture, but where did I learn this from? These habits are not something we pick up at birth, it is a learned habit which stems from advertisers trying to make an impression on young women.

The way women are portrayed in ads is as though they are being controlled by the  environment around them. They are often seen cradling things, delicate and lightly. They caress the object as though they might drop it at any moment.bottled-water This is known as the feminine touch.

In the media, women are often shown as desirable, something to be obtained and therefore women’s hands are less likely to be holding something in a firm manner, but more likely to trace an object or cradle it.

In this image for example, the woman is barely holding her bottle of water, she touches it with only her finger tips rather than maintaining a full grasp of it. This image also shows the media’s inability to separate women from their childlike selves.

Women are often seen in a fetal position or showing childlike tendencies, also known as infantilization. Jhally suggests that while men are seen to transition from boys to adults through labor and hard masculine work such as chopping wood or building something with their hands, women are portrayed the same way whether they are adults or children.

The resulting factor is that children are growing up too quickly because they want to look and act like the older models. imageThis is making little girls grow up more quickly than they should causing experimentation with makeup, clothing and ultimately boys.

In advertisements such as this one, little girls are shown holding the same pose a woman twice her age would. With her hands on her hips and her head cocked in a seductive way, there is no separation between the child and the adult. There is the lack of separation between childhood and adulthood and as a furthering result the media is now mixing childhood with sexuality. They don’t look like real people but rather dolls that can do anything you want. images.okThe consequence is that young girls are equated with grown women. They pose in the same sexualized way a grown woman would leaving no room to distinguish between the innocence of childhood and the perceived sexuality of adulthood.

The way women are perceived in the media is ridiculous and so it was addressed in one youtube video, what would happen if there was some role reversal?


Jhally discusses this concept in the film as well, men are seen as so masculine that showing them on their knees or with far-off expressions is crazy. The codes of masculinity are always defined in relation to women through binary opposition. If a woman is weak and emotional, a man is strong and shows emotional control along with self assurance and poise. Therefore, showing a man in an advertisement playing the role of a woman seems strange to the viewer.

The main problem with the media is that they try to present the world in a way that could be real. This entices the viewer to buy the product, or watch the commercial rather than change the channel. What we as viewers don’t realize is the effect it is having on us in something as simple as a photograph. There is nothing natural about the gender attributes in the media and how society constructs and labels us as how we should act.

Next time you pick up a magazine, look through the images, what do you see? Do you see women as sexual icons caressing objects or replicating the poses of innocent children? Perhaps you see no difference between children and adults because they are presented in a way that allows for no differentiation between the two. The message from the media is clear, age does not matter…sexualization does.


News Feature of Lauren Small

There is a soft hum throughout the classroom as students whisper to each other about the guest speaker they will have. They have done their research and have their questions prepared, but they don’t know what to expect as they see a small woman enter the room. Her white hair reveals only her experience and the things she has been through.

Lauren Small is the author of several books aimed at the education and entertainment of high school students. She entered the writing world when times were changing and it was very difficult to find a publisher to support her book. Her inspiring story began thirty years ago when a writer would write a letter to several publishing companies and hope that they liked their book. Then the process was long and drawn out with the end result that the author would earn only 15 percent of their sales per book.

The new world of writing turns to electronic media with Amazon becoming a main source of buyers but with authors not earning any money made off their book. Lauren Small was confronted with a difficult choice, how to make a living doing the craft that she loves.

She became a professor at the University of Maryland University College teaching online courses in writing so she would be able to continue writing her books. “I am always a writer first,” said Small. “I leave myself notes when I first wake up, ‘write first.’ So that is the first thing I do.” With her commitment to writing in mind, Small recognized the authors need to find a publishing company that would allow them to have their book published and be the sole benefactor of their sales.

She created Bridle Path Publishing which allows authors to get their book edited and published by people who care. In 2008, Small wrote her book “Choke Creek”, a story about the Vietnam War and also based on the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. “I find that everyone has a war. My war was Vietnam, I went to school with the boys who were drafted, some were my neighbors and friends. My parents war was World War II, if I were writing “Choke Creek” today I would probably write it about Iraq.”

Small couldn’t get a publisher to back her; but it was an important enough story to Small, so she created Bridle Path Publishing. With a rigorous editing process, her company ensures that the authors get the right kind of attention to their books, and several of the books they published have won awards.

“Choke Creek” did get its day in the spotlight and Small has toured around the country to schools promoting her book and the historical value it contains. Her process was simple, she wanted to promote the best book she could and so she sent her book to teachers she knew to read, and they had their students read the books as well and tell her how she could improve the story line. After several years of fact-checking and interviews, Small felt her book was complete and with the help of her publishing company, she was able to get the book released.

With the electronic age taking the world by storm, book stores are closing their doors and the online world of reading begins. Small is prepared for the future and admits that she accepts it with open arms. “I think you have to be accepting of the new world. It’s like keeping a horse and wanting to ride it to work. Sure you can keep it in your backyard and love it to death, but at some point you have to give it up and keep up with the new world.” After her thirty years as an author, Small continues to impact the writing world by inspiring others and finding ways to make the lives of anyone who loves to write a little easier.

A Narrative Criticism of Harry Potter

Imagine you are nine years old, sitting in a classroom just big enough to fit thirty desks with a small space in the back of the room. An old worn rug is lying on the floor and at approximately one p.m. every day your kind-faced teacher calls everyone to come to the back of the room and sit on the rug for reading time. This is how you are acquainted with Harry Potter, this is how I was acquainted with “the boy who lived.”

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A Trip To The Holocaust Museum

The sounds of footsteps echoing along the narrow hallways at The Holocaust Museum in D.C is a reminder of the horrors that befell the Jewish community living in Europe in 1933.

Stories of the victims are held everywhere between adjoining rooms to reveal the stories that are forgotten about in the aftermath of Auschwitz, the most famous concentration camp. In one story Gerda Weissmann, a 19-year-old girl living in Poland was on her way to school when her father stopped her and told her to wear her ski boots although it was the middle of Summer. That was the last time she saw her father.     Weissmann did not understand until later that day why her father had told her to wear her ski boots until she was taken abruptly from school to a concentration camp named Dulag. Five years later, Weissmann began the Death March along with 4000 other women who died mostly due to inclement weather and starvation. The boots her father told her to wear saved her when she was being relocated during the Soviet Army invasion in January 1945. While other women were getting frost bite, Gerda had her snow boots; and in May of that same year, Weissmann was among 120 of the remaining women to survive the Death March and be liberated by the United States Army.

Her story and many others are televised throughout the museum repeating every half hour. The Director of Communications at The Holocaust Museum, Andy Hillinger, had a somber opinion of the museum declaring that none of the exhibits were inspirational, but rather a dark chapter of history. “The Permanent Exhibition looks at one of the darkest chapters of human history and asks us to remember it and understand why the Holocaust happened and what it says today when we face hatred, anti-Semitism and genocide.” The impact the Holocaust had on the world was immense and while the museum itself is known, there is something to be said for the emotional influence it has on those who enter the halls. The deafening silence reverberating off the walls and the sounds of footsteps echoing past the re-created gas chambers provides the ultimate experience for those who are trying to understand the full impact the Holocaust had on the world.

Walking into one small room, there is an old milk can in the middle of the room with writing on the sides of it. The sign on the side read Ringleblum Milk Can and it expressed the victims desire to be remembered. “It is one of the few artifacts in the exhibition that shows how the victims, knowing they were going to perish, attempted to document their lives and tell future generations what was happening in their own words,” said Hillinger.

Of the 11 million people murdered during the Nazi movement, 1.1 million were children; many of whom are commemorated in one of the spacious rooms at the museum. Beside the pictures, a short biography rests as their last mark in the world. “The museum wants people to consider how the Holocaust was allowed to happen. It was not inevitable,” said Hillinger. “It was the result of decisions made, and not made by individuals, institutions and governments in Europe and around the world.”

Hillinger’s words make more and more sense with each exhibit, and after walking down a long hallway, at the end there is a pit where the only remnants of the children lies. Their shoes, torn and tattered sit on the floor, the only things that survived the fires in the Concentration Camps that were used to dispose of the bodies.

A thump lands on the floor near the exhibit and many people turn around to look. It is the first sound that has been louder than the echoing footsteps in the hallowed halls. A woman has collapsed from the overwhelming grief in the exhibit, the children’s faces on the walls were too much and she lies unconscious on the floor. EMS is rushing in to revive the woman and take her to the emergency room, but it is too late for the bystanders to forget the impact this woman collapsing on the floor has left them with. A nearby viewer leaned in to her neighbor and in one quick breath said “I will remember my experience here forever.”

Media Criticism at its Core

Hey everone, my name’s Nicole Main and I’m a student at Towson University. I’m taking a Media Criticism class to get to know the media better, I mean we live with it, might as well get close and understand the functionality of it. I’m beginning to realize  the concepts covered in my class pertain to my life particularly more than I had realized.

The topics in class are things that I haven’t only found in a textbook, but I have gone on rants about it. Who hasn’t? I remember walking through the mall at the age of seventeen in the middle of winter in Connecticut, and we all know how cold it gets, yet I’d see twelve-year-old girls wearing halter tops and no coats. Come on, you all have seen it, the little girls who are trying to be old before their time, I know you all have complained about it at least once or twice.

How about the young girls wearing shorts and Ugg boots in December? Well, I’m realizing how important media criticism is. It shows how important the media is in our lives and how intricately it shapes and molds us without our knowledge or consent.

Not only is this class explaining how we are shaped, it is also defining what is okay in society. If we take a look at the I Love Lucy re-runs and then look at the Modern Family show, how much are we taking away? I Love Lucy came out in a time where women were the house wives and nothing strayed from the status quo, but then we turn to today’s Modern Family and see how much the status quo has changed.

Douglas Kellner, a critical theorist, articulates his ideas about production and its use in a political economy. He forms the opinion that “the system of production often determines what sort of artifacts will be produced, what structural limits there will be as to what can and cannot be said and shown, and what sort of audience effects the text may generate.”

Media Criticism focuses strictly on the effects of media and the intent behind the camera. The idea that the media is constantly shaping our thought process and our agenda was never before put so eloquently. It made me begin to notice that the problems I have consistently had with the media are real things, and not just a form of my misinterpreting.

We discussed in class that the media forms our agenda, and it does. What makes NBC or The Today Show decide to talk about Justin Bieber’s run-in with the cops and his DUI rather than the vastly overgrown areas of natural gas development?

What consumers of the media fail to realize is that the news can act as a magician would at a performance in front of hundreds of people. They tell you to look closely at what they decide is important or even crucial to talk about, while the real problems are occurring somewhere else without another thought.

Often I notice the commercials on television promoting natural gas,0417-hydrofracking-report.jpg_full_600 but I never see any articles discussing the negative impacts of it, how it is harming the economy. Natural gas is one of the things that will destroy this country, but no one is doing anything to stop it because they aren’t doing their own research.

Even President Obama glossed over this topic in his State of the Union Address, he announced that he is helping by creating natural gas, but that was it. He didn’t make another comment about it through his entire speech. Why? Is it perhaps because those in control don’t want the public to know about the harmful, lasting effects that are occurring across the country from natural gas production.

The issues don’t end there when it comes to the media. It appears that they enjoy promoting the idea of the “perfect woman.” The perfect woman weighs less than 115 pounds, has a flawless, clear complexion, is five foot five with a small waist. This is unachievable on every level, but still women want to look like this.

From the age of two, women are given Barbie dolls that, if they were in actual size they would have a 19 inch waist, which according to Daily Mail, an online magazine, is half the size of an average 19-year-old.

Then, on top of it all, add in the supermodels that are strutting their stuff on the pages of magazines. Photoshop is editors and models best friend when it comes to making them look idyllic. What happens when they are stripped of technology and online skin repair? They look just like you or me. It gives women an unrealistic view of what they should look like.

Even celebrities are having the problem of not “fitting in” like they feel they should. Jennifer Lawrence expressed this when asked to lose weight and Elle Varner reveals that in her song So Fly.

The biggest problem, if celebrities are having trouble coping with the ideal image, is there any real hope for the rest of us?

More than anything else, it is incredibly important that before taking the media’s word for something to be true, research it yourself. In the world of news and media, there is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. When you see something out there that intrigues you, don’t settle for the truth. Set out to discover nothing but the truth; find articles written from several points or view, videos, interviews, and even then you have only just scratched the surface of the problem. Keep looking, keep learning, and make sure that before you make an argument, you have all of your facts.