South Africa

protecting families

Hey everybody,

So, I’m living in Germany for the moment, so why don’t write a little bit about Germany. Who says, in the end, that it have to be those kick ass exotic locations expats have to write about?

Germany, like other European countries, has included the protection of the family in its basic law. Reality, however, looks different. Reality here is tough. There would be the definition of a „family“ in the first place. Right now there’s quite a hullabaloo going on about Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s (male) life partner accompanying him whenever possible – even paying for the stay himself. Of course, homosexuality still is a difficult topic in Germany, where equality is achieved slowly and with many drawbacks. Public opinion is, at best, still controversial. It for sure is remarkable that in a climate like that Mr Westerwelle hasn’t only come out on the issue, but as well chosen to remain living his relationship as what it is, the most natural thing in the world, when he became Minister of Foreign Affairs in Autumn 2009.

However the problem of „defintion“ of a family of course isn’t limited on homosexual relationships. For one whilst in other countries, such as Australia or South Africa the „defacto marriage“ has become acknowledged for, for instance, visa issues German authorities have chosen a different approach: They label something „family“ depending on whether it benefits them. So if two people obtaining social welfare money („Hartz IV“) are sharing an apartment they are considered partners meaning that they get less money per person then would they live alone. This leads to situations as curios as room mates not being accepted for social welfare because the other room-mate (!) has an income. And as this also applies for alimony, room mates have, as well, found themself transferring money to their ex-room mates as ordered by court because court found them partners for no more then the fact that they chose to share an apartment.

On the other hand if the acknowledgement of a partnership would mean the state having to give or let go of money nothing short of a valid (and best of German) marriage certificate will get people the status of being „a family“. This is true for migration issues (going as far as European Union internal migration), tax issues and all kind of assistance a family might be suspect to. There just is no such thing as a „defacto marriage“ in German legal terminology. Thus if I ever happened to be unemployed in Germany I would likely find myself in the situation of having to marry my boyfriend so he could insure me and in order to avoid possible deportation (!) from Germany because accompanying of a life partner is not a valid reasons for intra-EU migration.

Companies, however, aren’t that focused on marriage certificates. My boyfriend and me can get a shared insurance and stuff. And for the rest of it it’s mostly a matter of good luck and HR person’s mood anyhow. One declared the whole furniture of our apartment belonging to me and tried to pressurize us into being happy we got as much as a car to transport the stuff – which she didn’t get away with. For that person as „only“ a life partner I wasn’t existant whatsoever. During the next relocation with another HR person of the same company in charge little difference was made between me and a legally married spouse. But, other than during relocation no. 1 she was very helpful from the beginning whilst HR person no. 1 was a pain in the ass to begin with.

And then companies and the state alike have long given up any idea of „protection of the family“. For instance the „Agentur für Arbeit“ (Bureau of Occupation) has been known for making unemployed moms accept jobs on the other side of Germany regardless of extended families, therefor important assistance for that single mom, being ripped apart. Having one spouse accept a job hundreds of kilometers away, so all he sees of his family is when he drives home for the weekend, is considered pretty normal by both government agencies and companies applying deeply family unfriendly relocation policies. Nobody can tell me this is considered „protection of the family“.

Families are ripped apart without reconsideration and without much possibilities to object however state and companies have little to offer to fill the voids caused thereby. I’ve seen plenty of young moms trapped with their children because stranded in a strange town without the slightest assistance they have nobody to look for their children even for some hours. And this is not talking about kindergarten opening hours, which have nothing to do with adult’s working hours. In fact in today’s Germany you can feel lucky as much as obtaining a place at the kindergarten and this with personnel being paid so badly that they have been on strike twice since we moved here.

Probably I should state here that this is far from being an exclusively German problem. Marrying in Israel, for instance, where only marriages by religious officials, haredim, if Jewish, are legal, can be a problem to secular or non-Jewish Israelis and definition problems of „family“ are pretty the same in Austria – in other European countries unmarried couples have even less rights than in Germany / Austria. However it seems to me that whilst in Austria cases where that kind of approach really did destroy families are seldom to be found, in Germany they are considered normal. If I complain about my boyfriend’s company’s transferring policy giving me a hard time and probably forcing me into a decision between my life partner (thus family) and my career (or me working at all) I am constantly looked at like I was a green-skinned alien. And if my eyes nearly come falling out when somebody – once more – tells me about families being ripped apart all I get from Germans nearby is a blank look.

This is the one thing I don’t get about Germans: Why have they given up themselves? Why have they allowed themselves to become so afraid of their own shadow they don’t dare to see anymore that most of the shit happening in this place was caused by no less than themselves?

yours,

Migdalit

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Crying Twice – The Africa Bug

Hello everybody,

I just added a new link to my blogroll. The African Bug – aka. Another Tragic Victim of the Africa Bug – great blog by a US born woman completely fallen for Africa.

The problem is that as always, when I go to leave this place, it’s like someone has tied my very soul to the hills here, and just the thought of not being here sends me into spasms of agony.

she wrote less then a month ago and, in her bio, adds a quote by an unknown author:

Everything in Africa bites.
The lion bites, the mosquito bites, the tse tse fly bites.
But what bites the most is Africa herself,
and when she bites,
she never lets you go.

There is another one I learnt from my fiancée, who used to live in some remote place in South Africa’s Kalahari Desert for more than a year:

They say you cry twice in Africa:
Once when you get there for everything is so strange
and once when you leave again.

I have never been to South Africa myself – so far – though we had nearly moved there some months ago. But I see the look in my boyfriend’s eyes when he tells about South Africa. A lot about food, of course, about Biltong – dried, seasoned meat – and Braiis – BBQs – and over and over again about gorgeous African sunsets and nights full of stars yet at the same time so dark you can’t see your own hand. I miss those nights. I grew up a countryside kid, with breathtaking nights full of stars but since I moved to the city as a teenager have hardly seen the milky way. When we moved to rural Germany in January I thought it would be a little like my childhood again. But in Germany there is no milky way to be seen nowhere. There is light pollution everywhere. There are people everywhere. No space. No air to breath, I sometimes feel.

With the economic crisis keeping us in Germany fleeing abroad has become a desperate dream and, for going back to Israel is not an option, South Africa its symbol. I have never been there, and everything I’ve heard and read about it indicates it likely isn’t quite  a place for me to be happy. The pure idea of having to watch every step I take freaks the crap out of me – though of course it’s not as bad in the countryside, my partner has often assured, and how he could move without reconsidering in his village, though his stories somehow give me the opposite idea. Stories of how whites are suicidal if they interact too closely with blacks scare the crap out of me. And still the promise of space, of air to breath is tempting enough to make me dream away sometimes … it’s a strange kind of a far-distance relationship, really.

Whats worse, though, are stories of people giving you a warm welcome. Of such a basic thing as neighbours dropping by just to say hello and offer help with moving or whatever should arise. Here in Germany, though we happen to have great landlords, after three months still nobody has come asking why there are two Austria licence-plated cars in the street. Nobody gives a damn. And if my financée or me tell about the places we have been, the things we have experienced, nobody as much as lifts a brow. There is no interest in another. Or perhaps nobody dares to be interested. For so many reasons everybody is living in fear in Germany. And though it is such a safe, wealthy country I sometimes feel their fear is way more devastating then any fear of terrorist attacks, wars, even annihilation in Israel could have possibly been.

When I had just moved to Israel it was Pessah, and in the short time I happened to be left over for the holiday. It sure was a difficult evening being alone with everybody else sharing the night with their family – especially if you are a young woman thousands of kilometers away from all your friends and family – but it was nobody’s fault. Somehow everybody had just assumed somebody else had invited me over. Of course the day after people realized I hadn’t had an invitation. They were terribly sorry. Sorry in an honest way. I don’t think any German would possibly ever give a crap about what I am doing at christmas.

I, too, cried twice in Israel. Once that Pessah night, for I was so alone and everything was so strange to me. And another time on the plane back home. I still do every time I come back from visiting.

a pretty thoughtful,

Migdalit

Apartheid

Hey folks,

So tell me your most favorite “apartheid” regime. The one state that is still treating its citizens and residents according to their skin color. Israel, naturally, but, oups, Ramallah, we’ve got a problem here: It’s just all so tough to distinguish your poor discriminated Muslim Palestinian from your evil oppressive, conspiring Jewish Israeli. For one reason or another they just look so similar you could mistake them for each other and accidentally pity the Jew instead of the Muslim.

However there are states that lack this problem. States where a single look from the far distance is sufficient to decide who’s good, poor and oppressed from who’s evil, rich and oppressing. What a good luck god gave people different skin color! (Just why didn’t he do it in Israel / Palestine?) How else could your random binary thinking neighbor possibly be made to tell one from the other?

The state I’m talking about is the homeland of the concept so eagerly adapted by evil, oppressing Israel. It’s the state that used to be the only economically stable place in all Africa until … well … until the oppressed took over from the oppressing thereby somehow forgetting to ask the oppressors how the heck a state as big as that is run. And then that nation I’m talking about shares one more affinity with evil oppressive Israel: Their affection towards corrupt rapist head of states of the kind any sane person would put straight into jail (and no, certainly not to Robben Island!). As far as Mr. Zuma is considered there however is even one more demerit to add to the record (don’t tell Mr. Katzav, he might go into depression for knowing that there are more messed up heads then his governing nations): His highly visible lack of competence. Or could you picture any official of a state facing 21,5 % HIV infections among its citizens declaring – during his lawsuit for rape – he wasn’t afraid of an HIV infection for, of course, he took a hot shower after intercourse!?

Apartheid officially came to an end in 1990 yet in daily life it is still as existent as in 1980. They might use the same supermarket these days but there are black pubs and white pubs, there are black schools and white schools, there are black sports (soccer) and white sports (rugby) and of course there is a black party (well, two in he meantime) and a white party (two them are enough anyway, isn’t it?). You can comfortably life in South Africa as a white person without any danger of having to face a black person in any of your communities. But of course African society did improve. These days racial boundaries can be crossed. When a black person climbs up the career ladder to where only white people used to be, for instance, he or she will be considered a white person. A traitor and collaborator as far as black people are considered.

South Africa is the one place where white people can learn what it is like to be discriminated because of skin color. What it is like to be looked down at because of something you had nothing to do with. Apartheid did happen (and actually there are plenty of black South Africans openly saying they’d rather have Apartheid back then living with the current situation) yet whatever happened isn’t the fault of today’s generation. Gosh those are people whos families have lived in South Africa for generations. Being South African is their identity as being American is for any American, but right now a lot of white South Africans are getting the hell out of the only homeland they’ve ever known for they are afraid. They are afraid of xenophobics against whites, of what could be done to them simply because their skin is white, not black. And they are facing grave discrimination; Do you really think a white could possibly ever get a job a black applied for?

It’s just so simple to blame the evil oppressing white people of South Africa for what they have done to the poor oppressed black people of South Africa. Just as it is simple to blame Israelis for what they have done to Palestinians. But have you ever tried to walk in the other party’s shoes? Have you ever imagined growing up as a white South African? Have you imagined living the life of an Israeli? Yet sure with binary thinking there is no imagination for a thing like that.

Yours,

Migdalit

China on the March

Hello everybody,

as some of you might remember I tend to be highly sceptical about China. I remember once I had a discussion with a good Israeli friend of mine about Israel and Europe and Israel and China and she claimed she would prefer an China to Europe for “China at least wouldn’t actively get us all killed.” I objected telling her that China might not get Israel off the map for a reason but they wouldn’t care at all if they helped somebody else doing it as long as it was for their benefit. Well, it didn’t take much more then a couple of weeks until China sold off some fighter jets (at least I think it was fighter jets … has been about two years now) that fascinatingly resembled Israeli ones quite a lot, to – well guess whom – Israel’s best buddy Iran.

For historic reason time goes another way in China. Chinese don’t plan in three or four years – as has happened in Europe lately – but rather in four or five decades, if not generations. Guess why they have been buying pretty much every given resource off the world market for some years now. Guess why they have been constructing giant underground tanks for some time now. Because they managed to think ahead. Which of course doesn’t make them any nicer pals at all. They’re still top 1 when it comes to capital punishments. And I guess when it comes to human rights issues they aren’t far from top 1 either. The thing about China is they just don’t give a damn about anything but whatever they perceive as their greater goal. And men are just as much a resource – one they have plenty of – as coal or oil.

It has its pros too. Lately a reader of an Austrian newspaper I read pointed out how China could be the one element that might keep the global economic crisis from turning into a new wave of global poverty as seen in 1929. Just take the US Dollar, he wrote, China has bought quite a lot of it and they won’t have it loose its value as long as they need it to stabilize their currency. The same is true for their export oriented economy and – of course – their long term plans – what ever they may be. So China might be the one world power that – without caring about any kind of sacrifice they have to make lest any morals – would take every means necessary to stabilize the world economy before the whole crisis reaches some point of no return. And, if we have a look at history, on the long run thereby it might even be China that prevents a World War III.

Of course knowing how many US Dollars China owns also leads to the inconvenient idea of what might happen if China sold off all those US Dollars at once. And now thing what this would mean for the USA. Guess why they, in spite of their wish to be “World Police” again keep on looking the other way whenever China chooses to ignore human rights again (simplified yet not the less true). Mid- to long-term China has already muted the US and, through economic bounds, searches to mute Europe as well. Which, as far as I am concerned, works out in parts as long as the European self consciousness stays as little as it is now (which could change rapidly once Europe is out of the global economic crisis and realizes how well it has done coping with it) and even more as long as Europe is focusing on “soft” (economic) instead of “hard” (military) power and has no interest in taking over the US’ old role as “World Police”. Nevertheless Europe hasn’t shut up as much as China might wish for lately. European remarks on Chinese human rights issues are a matter of regular press attention and the Dalei Lama is treated at least as good as any foreign Head of State in most European nations. Doesn’t change a thing of course but at least it reminds China that the world doesn’t belong to them – yet.

The world however isn’t just Europe and the US – “first world”. It’s the “third world” too. And here China has stared a charm bombing equalling Tom Cruise’s towards Germany with “Valkyrie”. Especially the countries of Africa have been subject to China’s shopping tour for allies. Chinese officials have been travelling those countries and, other then Europeans, made them feel equal. The emphasis might well be “made them feel”, yet for Africans, which have always only been treated as either servants or subjects to be sorry for, it’s no wonder it did the trick. And though China’s bonds with African countries might not yet show a positive balance on the long run they sure will. Just think natural resources – including water and soil -, human resources and – of course – strategic points.

How far China’s Africa mission has already come can be seen here where, pressurized by China, South Africa – still role model to many other African States – has denied the Dalei Lama an entry visa and hasn’t even cared to invent any excuses. It might sound like a small thing but think about it – a foreign nation interfering with who enters your territory and who not – does that still sound like an “independent” country?

Sometimes I feel on a unconscious layer the world is splitting up into pacts again and the Chinese one’s for sure growing fastly …

keep an eye on it!

yours

Migdalit

In a way … just the same

Hey there,

me again – believe it or not.

As it seems like my life is finally finding back into some kind of normality after me moving from Austria to Germany and into a new life (even though it happened not to be quite like I imagined it) these days for the first time in about six weeks did I find (or take) my time to read through what used to be my daily share of information source: various international and national newspapers and – of course – blogs (pretty much what can be found in my blogroll). Six weeks without much time (or longing) to read newspapers, dependant on that one Austrian news website I was visiting every once in a while and those news on TV and radio I listened to every couple of days. Only as a side note did I hear about the elections in Israel, the worsening global economic crisis, new troubles in Gaza, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma being cleared of corruption accusations (no word about rape) again and the beginning of Obama’s term of “change” (by the by: everybody speaking German just has to read Ruth’s article on Obama and Mao. Perhaps I should translate the most crucial parts but right now I just don’t feel like it. For now non-German-speakers could have a look here for some clues.)

One should think that after six weeks of being away from the news, away from writing, in a way even away from thinking about global politics it would be hard to find back into it. Yet surprisingly I found things having changed little. It’s still the same problems being written about. The Conflict (TM) is still pretty much the same as it used to be six weeks ago. The US are still pretty much the same as they used to be six weeks ago. In a way a lot of things have changed but then, in another way, they led to nothing anyway on the long run. They didn’t change a lot after the first round of media coverage was over.

Perhaps, it came to my mind as I wrote this, that’s the problem of our time. The real problem, I mean. There is just no change anymore. Our world camouflages as so modern, so fast, so changing but in fact I am not sure whether any more then the surface ever changes. Climate Change is no news. The global economic crisis is no news (as far as the media is concerned there was reporting about one after the other for years now anyway). Corrupt, striving-for-power politicians are no news. And of course the Middle East Conflict is no news. Details may change, names and photographs may change but does it have any affect on the big picture? Does it change the global situation and the way men all around the place go on with their daily life?

I remember when I was a teenager I was pretty much active with some locale socialist youth group (if only I didn’t know so many people who “used to be” socialist, green or whatever …). Rumours held it that we had even gathered the interest of the (most likely permanently under-occupied) Austrian Federal Bureau for Protection of the Constitution (Austria’s idea of a national intelligence agency). Of course for us back then this was nothing but a big compliment. Sometimes, when we would organize big demonstrations (up to 5’000-10’000 people in our best times) one of us would bring a camera with a huge telephoto and shoot back at the guys hiding in nearby buildings with their huge telephotos. We really had a nice collection we loved to look at when sitting in our small, crowded office operating our iMacs.

However. This was some time in the late 1990ies, remember? Back then 5’000 people on the street were no big deal. Recruiting new members of our organisation was no big deal. We went out there and thought we could move something, change something if only we could gather enough people, enough media coverage (which we did). We would do all kind of things like publicly burying a coffin labelled “education”. We would write articles and talk talk talk. And of course we partied a lot, went out for “seminars” on which we were talking about how to rescue the world during daytime and having a hell of a party during nighttime. We thought we could be a part of democracy – and had fun doing so.

I don’t know how about the others but after a year or two it struck me that we had archived nothing at all. That our huge demonstrations, our speeches, our fliers and all the media attention we got hadn’t changed a thing. I guess those politicians in Vienna realized the same thing. Had, earlier, our actions at least made them give press conferences talking bullshit about how they were taking care of the problem with time they ceased. In fact they ceased everything; they just wouldn’t react anymore at all. Next came the media: Had we triggered articles in most of Austria’s important newspapers without much more then a press release before now we could be lucky if we were mentioned in a side note in a local paper. Some years later I would – by mere coincidence – find out that there had been a teacher’s demonstration in Vienna (might have been around 2002/03) that blocked Vienna’s main traffic route (the “Ring”) for the whole morning but they didn’t get a line of media coverage, they had just been ignored.

Slowly our group fell apart. Was it because people – like me – realized they couldn’t change a thing or was it mostly because we grew up and got all to involved with starting our studies, lifes, careers? Some of us subsequently became local politicians with the social democratic party but the rest was never again seen in any kind of politics. I paid a visit to our old office some years later and was shocked by what I found: The next generation of our organisation was concerned about little but where they would get their alcohol from. I offered to help them if they needed a hand but they were doing nothing at all anyway. My last demonstration was in Germany about four years ago. It was against tuition fees introduced at German universities back then. Nearly everybody I knew was worried about how to pay for school and some said they would quit for they couldn’t afford it (in fact some did, others are hardly eating anything but potatoes). The demonstration took part in a city in reach of some of Germany’s biggest universities. I guess about 100’000 students must have been within a 45 minutes travel. Now guess how many attended? 400 according to both the media and the police. The organisers didn’t even give an estimate. We were 30 people heading there from my university, which was a 30 minutes ride by train. I was the only one who didn’t belief in communism … it was my last demonstration.

During the 1990ies people of my generation were taught that they couldn’t change a thing, that they weren’t meant to participate. Did we ever get the feeling that we are tomorrow’s leaders? Did we ever get the idea that we are to take over as soon as the Baby Boomer-generation steps back? Today we have finished our studies and are being pushed from one internship into the another. Half of the time we aren’t paid at all. Does anybody wonder there’s nobody to lead anymore? Does anybody wonder there’s no change, no movement, no interest in politics? For decades democracy has worked through associations showing the system’s problems and clearing the way for change. Youth groups and other grassroots movements put a halt to things if they were going too far the wrong direction. For about ten years it hasn’t happened anymore or nobody gave a damn. Does anybody wonder where we are today?

yours,

Migdalit

That X does matter

Hey there,

as I guess most girls from a Middle European background in the 1990ies I grew up believing that it wouldn’t matter, when it came to careers, whether I was a boy or a girl. I grew up in the spirit of equality that had just been claimed by our mothers, aunts, sometimes grandmothers too. And for all I experienced while coming of age it looked exactly like what I had been told. Girls were finally allowed to join the Austrian military – so did a good friend of mine and for most of our friend it was no really big deal. There seemed to be female engineers, female scientists, female doctors and lawyers everywhere. There were female head of states being elected in Europe and it seemed to be only a matter of time until Austria, too, would have a female chancellor or president. In short: Gender Equality seemed to have reached far into the very midst of society. And I, growing up into that society, would only learn about the struggle for women’s rights from history class.

I don’t think I ever relized how soon after the formal equality of women and men, how soon after western countries – like Switzerland in 1971 – had allowed woman to vote I was growing up. And of course I never realized what it meant for all those woman engineers, scientists and doctors to work amongst men and nothing but men. For me being a girl was no big deal and so I thought it was for everybody. In fact I could never be made to understand the whole fuzz about equality and positive discrimination support for women. I always had a great laugh about gender neutral language and those fancying for it. In fact so I have until today. Why the heck do we have to call it “herstory” these days when “history” has absolutely no historic (herstoric?)-scientific relation to the word “his” and even if so why should men be discriminated instead of women? I mean that’s exactly what’s happening in post-Apartheid South Africa these days: The black people (what’d be PC for it these days? Changing so often …) paying back white people that are born South Africans just as they are by discriminating them. But well … that’s going offtopic here; hope I’ll find some time to write about South Africa soon anyway.

Only recently however have I started to realize how much gender discrimination there’s still arround in Austria. And I think not gender aware language or guys not taking care of babies isn’t much of a part of the problem at all. The problem lies much more underneath. It’s small things you don’t even think about. Things like people  still assuming girls would naturally not be good at maths. And even if an effort is made at schools to get girls into natural sciences the pure existance of the effort makes every girl feel “this is something that has to be forced; it can’t be natural.” Those who already fancy for natural sciences for one reason or another will happily take all the support they get and it will serve a big deal for them. But what about the rest? Those that might be “natural scientists on inside” without knowing? Are they left behind?

When I chose my track at university nobody ever said as much as “have you had a look into natural sciences too?” though I used to be a computer geek a couple of years earlier and one of those disassembling stuff just for the fun of seeing how it worked in elementary school. It was as clear as glass that I was to do arts. In fact it was as clear as glass to me too and I didn’t busy a single neuron considering a technical career. These days I often wonder whether things would have gone a different way if I had had an Y instead of that second X chromosome … or if we lived in a truely eqal world.

And then there’s another of those tiny things that made me wonder. It still feels as if a young woman, once she found a wealthy husband is expected to be happy with being a wealthy (house-)wife what ever comes for her own career. It’s astonishing and worrying how many such women are told sentences I supposed would belong to gone-by centuries; things like: “So why the hell do you want to work if your husband can afford you staying home? Why don’t you just enjoy it and become a good mother?” or “Why do you worry about your career? You needn’t work anymore!” As if working women in wealthy families ‘d be no more no less then having an exotic hobby. Would anybody ask the same question to a man having a wealthy wife? I can’t possibly picture it. Can you?

There’s still so much work left until men and women are really equal – equal, not the same – and that’s not building kindergartens, though I suppose it often helps, and it’s neither pushing girls into technical careers by force but rather getting people – men and women alike – to really inhale the idea that one can have a career, can love that career even if she happens to have that extra X chromosome. And that doing sciences is just as normal for girls as it is for boys. Nothing that needs to be pushed and forced …

yours,

Migdalit