Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A taste of BKK

September is flying by.  It's difficult to imagine that this picture was taken over two weeks ago, on a day we found ourselves in Fairfax, Virginia.  I was desperate for a cup of coffee and we stumbled into this cafe, which turned out not to be a coffee shop but a Thai restaurant and one that, with its decor and soft music, transported me back to the many small eateries on the streets of Bangkok.

Even more difficult to imagine is that I will be back to work in a few short weeks. I'll be greeted by one of those crazy caffeinated weeks at a certain international institution.  I've been stewing, disheartened by my maternity leave options, or lack therof. I'm with an organization that has worked on international human rights for many years and yet I had to fight to get more paid leave. I also fought for more unpaid leave and lost that battle. And while I admit we're fortunate enough to have the resources where I could work very part-time for a while, I have no job protection if I choose to do so - and thus, I will be going back to work earlier than I had planned.

In the past weeks, I've wondered several times if we made the right choice to move back to the US.  I know we did, but it's not easy to reconcile that conclusion with the realization that I would have better maternity leave options (and easier access to affordable daycare) abroad.  I think back to the position I was vying for before this DC position came up.  It was with an international group based in Paris and would have had me ping-ponging between Bangkok and Paris. Interesting, but not ideal for motherhood. Yet, I am certain my maternity leave options would have been far more favorable.  But in the end, I didn't make the final cut, so it's a moot point.

How do women do it?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dieppa Restrepo, blue suede

Dark blue suede boots from Dieppa Restrepo - a departure from my usual cognac colored boots, but surprisingly versatile. If I've learned anything from living (and walking so much) in this city, it's that flat boots are key.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


So tired.

And it's the last day of August. HOW?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

From the morning market

Flowers to brighten our home on this rainy day.  I don't want summer to end, not just yet. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Strawyberry-Rhubarb Goodness

This was in late June. That's a very pregnant me, after I waddled half a block to the farmers market.  I bought rhubarb and strawberries, and I made this compote.  So good.

David Lebovitz's Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote

  • 1 ¼ cups (310 ml) water
  • 1 ¼ cups (310 ml) dry or sweet white wine
  • 5 slices (15 g) fresh ginger, unpeeled
  • ½ cup (100 g) sugar
  • 1/3-1/2 cup (100 - 160 g) honey
  • 2-pounds (1 kg) rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 3-inch batons, about 1/2 –inch wide
  • 1 pound (450 g) strawberries, hulled and quartered
In a large saucepan, heat the water, wine, ginger, sugar, and honey (use the smaller amount if you think you might want it less-sweet.)
When all the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is simmering, add the rhubarb and let the rhubarb cook in the simmering syrup until it’s just softened, which may take as little as 5 minutes, depending on the rhubarb. Remove from heat and add the strawberries. When cool, pluck out the ginger slices.
Serve warm or room temperature.

On Privilege

Early days in Cambodia, on one of the monitoring trips
No one told me the early months of motherhood would be this difficult. I simply had no clue.  But we're adjusting to sleep deprivation and slowly a routine - a new normalcy - is emerging. And with that difficulty, there's also a lot of joy, which helps.

My mornings - just when M falls back asleep and the light is out - are precious moments for me, minutes when I am (relatively) awake and I can think about things other than feedings, the daycare search, minutes that I can waste on thoughts of autumn layers and flat boots, on the world that existed before motherhood.

This morning, I thought of the string of emails I received - actually, just as I was in labor!  They were from two families of Vietnamese Montagnard refugees I worked with in Bangkok.  Fleeing from religious persecution in Vietnam, they made their way to Cambodia first, then Thailand, where they would settle (illegally, as with all refugees in Thailand).  Theirs was a story that went back 7 years, with numerous rejections of refugee status by the UN, detention in Bangkok, release, and then the precarious life of a refugee not being able to lawfully live/work in their country of refuge.  Extortion by police is not uncommon. I had helped with a re-opening request to the UN (the third one, as their files had been closed), and the day of the email, they had finally received their refugee certificates.

It was such fantastic news.  I could imagine their faces and those of the children.

When I left Bangkok, there were others whose cases were still pending.  I didn't write about their stories then because it felt so close.  I still think about the Iranian man, detained in jail for political activities, tortured, raped. He was seeking an appeal. Did he ever get it?  I think often about the Muslim Pakistani woman forced to have an abortion by her tribe because she fell in love with and married a Christian.  What became of her?  And what of the woman from Cameroon, who fled her country with her daughter who faced genital mutilation?  The Palestinians displaced from their refugee camps in Syria, who bought a visa to Thailand not knowing how long it would take to be recognized as refugees and how arduous daily life could be in Thailand for a family waiting out resettlement?

One of the things that struck me in my travels was just how privileged I was to be an American citizen.  In Cambodia, on monitoring trips where arrest was possible, I knew that my passport would provide a level of protection. Same thing when I was in Burma on one of those frequent middle-of-the-night military checkpoints, where you're scooted off the bus and required to stand in line to be interrogated.  In the international work travel that is sure to follow this fall or winter, I will be working on human rights issues in difficult contexts, again with the protection of my passport. 

And, I'm aware this privilege came at no cost to me, really. My grandfather was the one who made the journey in the 1920s. He was alone, 16 years old. He toiled as a migrant worker until his retirement. Once a US citizen, he went back to the Philippines, where I was ultimately born.  For me, it was never a question of "if" but "when" I would move to the US to claim my citizenship.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Slipping away

In the early months of summer, the sunflower patch on my block barely had any flowers. Now, in mid-August, the flowers are out, some wilting away. I cannot believe the final weeks of summer are here.  

I had misguided notions about what maternity leave would look like --that I'd have plenty of time for reading and trips to the cafe, that I'd be able to keep up with what is going on with the outside world. Since M's arrival, my world has felt much smaller. Today, we managed to take a walk around our neighborhood in the early evening. We came across the trickle of people coming home from work.  I felt out of sync.

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