rolade's blog

This can happen to anyone

I’d difficulty deciding on the topic of my blog this month. My heart goes out to Manchester in the UK, especially to families, relatives and friends of those who were at Ms. Ariana Grande’s concert last May 22. More than one hundred people were injured and 22 were killed in that vicious terrorist attack, including an eight-year-old girl and an off-duty female police officer.

Last Wednesday evening, I had a mixed feeling of warmth and sadness watching on BBC Tony Walsh reading his poem ‘This Is The Place’ as a tribute to Manchester city at vigil. His rendition was defiant and resilient for peace. For me, it means not hating and living in fear; but be hopeful yet stand up for your rights.

So, here I am doing my usual routine on the first day of every month.

Most-stressful departure ever

You’ve certainly heard about flight delays and lack of information at airports that angered passengers. You probably know at least one person who has lost a luggage or whose baggage ended up on the other side of the world. How about long check-in lines that make you nervous about missing your flight? The story below is an addition to the list of disappointing travels.

Maria has been an international traveller for over 30 years and has visited about 40 countries with more than 20 stopovers/transits. Stories and anecdotes about unfortunate travelling were foreign to her until last month. Her Expedia-purchased tickets (Brussels-New York) had a very short transit in Montreal. To her surprise, she and her family couldn't board Air Canada because they didn’t have a visa for Canada and their US Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) was not enough to get them into this plane for New York.

No individual or nation thrives alone

Four of my friends were born in April. When I was in Australia, April was a month of non-stop partying, gift giving and receiving, and catching up with relatives and acquaintances. It’s widely known that the birthstone of April is diamond. Meanwhile, it’s still a wonder why this fourth month of the year is called as such. One explanation refers to its Latin origin, Aprilis, which is derived from aperire meaning “to open” as in the opening or blossoming of flowers and trees throughout the month of April in Europe (the northern hemisphere). Another theory is that since Aphrilis is derived from the Greek “Aphrodite” and since months are often named for gods and goddess, it can be deduced that April is in honour of the Greek goddess of love (the Romans called this goddess ‘Venus’). (see ''The Mystery Behind April’s Name'' on Dictionary.com)

This year’s April, however, didn’t seem like a month of wealth (diamond) and love for many individuals and families. The Hunger Project reveals that 795 million people, which is one in nine persons in the world, do not have enough to eat; and 98% of the world’s undernourished people live in developing countries. (reference ''Know Your World: Facts About Hunger And Poverty'' on The Hunger Project)

Last April, you’d surely seen on TV the horrifying chemical attack in a Syrian town that prompted the US airstrikes, suicide bombing of the 2 Coptic Christian churches in Egypt, stolen truck driven by a terrorist into a store in a busy Swedish street, killing of a police officer in Paris, etc. I know none of the victims, nevertheless, these incidents have saddened me a lot and made me earthlier.

Fake news

Last March 4, the BBC reported on the joint declaration regarding fake news, disinformation and propaganda by Mr. David Kaye (UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression) and his counterparts from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Organisation of American States (OAS) and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).

After some minutes of flicking and clicking online, I got into one of the United Nations’ websites which I thought would shed more light on this declaration. Someone from the Special Procedures Division of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights responded promptly to my request for a copy of the declaration.

This declaration focuses on concerns about fake news and the risk of censorship while trying to combat these. It, likewise, mentions the danger in which the growing prevalence of fake news or disinformation, fuelled by both State and non-State individuals and agencies, mislead citizens and interfere with people’s right to know the truth. Charter 6, the last section, says “All stakeholders – including intermediaries, media outlets, civil society and academia – should be supported in developing participatory and transparent initiatives for creating a better understanding of the impact of disinformation and propaganda on democracy, freedom of expression, journalism and civic space, as well as appropriate responses to these phenomena.”

Last month, you most probably heard about the much publicised video of a female cyclist responding to catcalls from men in a van by chasing them and destroying their vehicle’s wing mirror. This was posted on Facebook then by the media; several of them later updated their stories calling it as a hoax or fake.

How to recognise fake news?

Publishing or reporting fake news undermines the trustworthiness of the media as a whole. But, why are some media outlets and journalists not careful and thorough with their information?

Carnival

This week, 9 of my acquaintances are on holiday or have taken days off from work to participate in carnival activities. One of them lives in Binche, Belgium, where every year during the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday (i.e. today) there are street performances, dancing and merry making. The Shrove Tuesday’s parade includes the throwing or giving away of oranges to spectators by the Gilles – famous participants colourfully dressed with wax masks, ostrich-feathered hats and wooden footwear. The oranges are considered to bring good luck because they are a gift from the Gilles and it is an insult to throw or give them back. (Shrove Tuesday is also known as Mardi Gras, Pancake Day or ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French as it’s the last night of eating rich and fatty food before fasting during Lent, which is 40 days before Easter).

According to The History of Carnival (on CarnivalPower.com), the Catholics in Italy started the tradition of holding a wild costume festival right before the first day of Lent. Because Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during Lent, they called their festival, carnevale — which means “to put away the meat.” As time passed by, carnivals in Italy became quite famous; and the practice spread to France, Spain and all Catholic countries in Europe.

Two years ago, I was at the Notting Hill carnival in London and it had a fully Caribbean flare with lots of feathers, and I have since found out that in Africa feathers are used in masks and headdresses as a symbol of humans’ ability to overcome problems, pains, illness and difficulties. I’m certain you’ve heard a lot about the spectacular carnival bonanza in Brazil and Trinidad & Tobago, and the lavish Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, Sydney, Venice and other cities.

Board games

I hope 2017 has started well for you and your loved ones. I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions but believe that there’s always a room for improvement. So, in any day of any month, I try to deal with my faults and weaknesses. These imperfections make me wake up in the morning wanting to do something better than yesterday.

I got a trophy 3 weeks ago for finishing 2nd among adult female participants at a chess tournament in Marange-Silvange, a commune 20 km from where I live in Moselle department in north-eastern France. From time to time, I join this kind of competition because it makes my avid-chess playing son happy and proud of his mum. As well, I find the atmosphere festive amid rivalry characterised by fair play, respect and camaraderie.

What pleases me most is watching children, as young as 5 years old, sitting for some time thinking, analysing and making decisions which pieces to move to corner their opponents’ Kings. For me, all players are winners because they learn and exercise discipline, accept or manage their wins and losses, and try to improve their future performances. Furthermore, spending a Saturday or Sunday afternoon playing and socialising is more productive, with long-term benefits, than being a couch potato -- which is likely when the outside temperature is -5°C.

Though there's been a widespread use of computer and video games, Internet entertainment and online socialising, individuals and families still get involved in group activities. According to ''The Top 10 Most Sold Board Games Ever'', the following are the most popular board games ever: 1. Chess, 2. Checkers, 3. Backgammon, 4. Scrabble, 5. Monopoly, 6. Clue (or Cluedo), 7. Othello, 8. Trivial Pursuit, 9. Pictionary, and 10. Risk.

Happy New Year - Surprises, wonders and hope

December 2016 was an unusual Christmas for me because I had received an unexpected, generous gift from someone who’s not a friend or relative. When I opened the envelope, I thought it was handed to me by mistake, so the next time I saw her I tried to return it. With the sweetest smile, she said “it’s not a mistake, it’s for you from Santa.” A week later, I still couldn’t believe and accept such a present. What did I do to deserve such kindness? This act of generosity propelled me to do the same, and I was even more blessed. I was so joyful to see the sparkling eyes of contentment and happiness of those I shared my blessings with.

The year 2016 has just ended, and it’s quite a challenge trying to find words to describe it. It has been a tough year for several people whose friendship I value (i.e. losing parents and family members, colleagues, etc.) This reminds me, as in other gloomy situations, that I should not neglect my family and friends, and be greatly grateful for what I’ve.

As well, I should look at the glass half full, and not half empty, even in surprisingly polarising events, such as Brexit in the UK and Donald Trump’s election as the US president. The situation in Syria’s Aleppo is dehumanising and unbearable, and how can peace and security be restored there? Last month’s terrorist attacks in Europe and the Middle East resulted in the loss of many lives, which have contributed significantly to making the fear of migrants and refugees even worse. Consequently, insecurity in many facets and from different directions besets our society. On the other hand, there were inspiring events last year that have left a positive imprint, such as the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro with its Refugee Team (the first time in its history).

Healthy and wise

It was a rainy day in the morning of November 5, and there was already a queue at our local theatre hall. A young lady opened the door and helped me find the umbrella rack. She said, “I’ve never seen these many people eager to donate blood, especially on a gloomy day like this.” I remarked, “It might be the warmth and dryness that have brought them here.”

After over an hour of waiting and filling in the 4-page questionnaire, the doctor told me politely that I could not donate blood because I’m less than 50kg. I was surprised and disappointed thus as soon as I got home, I checked online to make sure that it had nothing to do with reasons other than weight.

Yes, it’s true that donors are required to have the minimum weight of 50kg for a minimum of 400ml of blood for the blood bag to contain the sufficient therapeutic dose (as the doctor had explained to me).

I was really looking forward to it that I had ample breakfast to help me avoid feeling unwell or fainting; consequently, I had to delay lunch.

The Etablissement Français du Sang – EFS (French National Blood Service) is responsible for the collection of all types of blood donation and takes all precautions to ensure that donations (whether they be whole blood, platelet, plasma, and bone marrow or cord blood) are done in high quality and safety conditions for both donors and receivers.

While queuing I heard that about 14% of the French population donate blood annually. People between the ages of 18 and 70 can donate blood. After the age of 60, however, all donations require the approval of an EFS doctor.

Donating and volunteering: For love of self and others

In the first week of September, in Luxembourg, I had lunch with the funding member of ‘Dress for Success’ and my student who wants to join her in helping and empowering women. A few days later, I bumped into an acquaintance who has been teaching French to new arrivals in our region without financial remuneration. Two weeks ago, I attended a fundraising dinner and dance in a town about 10km from my city. It was a friendly atmosphere with men, women and children making sure that we would have a fantastic time, in addition to being busy collecting money for local charities and NGOs. Last week, through the encouragement of a friend, I went to the nearby park and was mesmerised by about a dozen tents with generous and smiling individuals selling and entertaining people for good causes.

As I write this article, I think of my friend who has always time for her environmental group doing information dissemination, pancake making and coordinating Christmas stalls; as well as my ex-student who founded ‘United by Dream Onlus,’ a humanitarian organisation aiding impoverished children and their families. Sometime in our lives, we are volunteers; however, some do more than others.

Why do we volunteer? Research and individual testimonies have revealed that volunteering has benefits for individuals and societies, and the main ones are: i) It gives the volunteer a sense of achievement and belongingness to a community; ii) Offers opportunity to meet diverse range of people and experiences; iii) It enhances social and relationship abilities; iv) Enables development and/or practice of new skills, hobbies and interests; v) Can boost your career; vi) It’s a rich resource for organisations to carry out their missions, thus helping less fortunate than we are or those in need.

Computer Literacy

A few weeks ago, while researching for information on technological jargon for my intermediate class, I fell into a test on computer knowledge. I sometimes get into this spur-of-the-moment kind of thing and forget it in a blink. That test, however, turned out to be more than just an extemporaneous ego exercise. The result indicated that I only have average knowledge of computers (I’m being generous with myself as the average score on that day was 7.3/10 while I got only 7). For someone who has a website and blog regularly, has self-published a book and is active online, I thought I would be above average. I may not be a power user of new and advanced technology, but I’m certainly a computer literate.

Computer literacy (CL) refers to the ability to use computer applications rather than programs. How literate do we need in order to succeed professionally and make the most of life?

Australian public and private schools have computer science as a subject. For instance, the New South Wales public schools’ Year 6 students (their average age is 12 years) are taught and expected to have the following computer skills: Using computer-based technologies to manipulate, create, store and retrieve information to express ideas and communicate with others (Word Processing, Graphics and Multi-media); Using computer-based technologies to locate, access, evaluate, store and retrieve information (Spreadsheets and Databases) and to express ideas and communicate with others (Internet and Email); Downloading copy of document; Identifying hardware components, such as keyboard, mouse and screen (see ''List of Computer Skills addressed by the Year 6 Computer Skills Assessment'' on www.schools.nsw.edu.au).

Not long ago, I read a report saying that in the USA as much as 60% of schools issue laptops or tablets to their students.

I was in Nice, France

(This is dedicated to the people of Nice and those who were in this radiant and splendid city on the 14th of July 2016)

We lived in Nice (the capital of the French Riviera with about 344,000 inhabitants) for over one year and have unforgettable moments there, including visits of our Australian nephew and friends who jogged at the Promenade des Anglais (7-kilometre walkway along the sea) in shorts and sleeveless t-shirts in winter. They were amazed by the very narrow streets of Vieux Nice (Old Town of Nice) aligned with colourful (mainly yellow-brown) houses that have laundry hanging from the windows and specialty shops, such as the butcher that sells alive-looking pheasants (with heads and feathers, of course).

According to literature, Nice was founded by the Greeks, and during the 19th-century it was a famous destination for Europe’s elite. Today, it attracts travellers and artists from all over the world due to its sunny weather and liberal atmosphere, splashy markets, alluring restaurants and proximity to other well-known places (such as Cannes, Monaco and Saint Paul de Vence).

Its library, the Bibliothèque Louis Nucéra, was our second home. Almost every day, I found myself relaxing on its colourful small chairs between bookshelves and audio-visual stands. We made the most of the free artistic workshops and film showings on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I often mingled with retirees wanting to learn or improve their computer skills. Once I had to help a well-groomed woman in her mid/late 60s who was struggling to upload information on pages of an introduction website.

Expired Medication

There were more rainy than sunny days in my region last month. As in previous spring months, I took the pleasure organising not only my wardrobe but cabinets and cupboards. I was heartbroken putting outdated medicines in a paper bag. I thought of bringing these to the chemist (UK)/pharmacy (US) on my way to work, but the queue was half a kilometre long and my bus was about 5 minutes from departing, so I ended up bringing this with me to a nearby country (where I work) that does not legally obliged chemists to take unwanted or expired medicines.

Arriving in the classroom, the first thing I did was to ask my students if they knew of the nearby chemist that accept expired drugs. Co-incidentally, one of them actually took an expired aspirin that morning and she said that she had done this before and it was effective in getting rid of her headache.
The other two students asked me if we can still consume drugs after their use-by date. The Harvard Medical School has reported Psychopharmacology Today’s advice that a drug is absolutely 100% effective even when the expiration date has passed a few years.

According to Psychopharmacology Today, most of what is known about drug expiration dates comes from a study conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration for the military, and this study found that 90% of more than 100 drugs (both prescription and over-the-counter) were perfectly good to use even after 15 years of its expiration date (except nitro-glycerine, insulin and liquid antibiotics), and placing a medication in a cool place (such as a refrigerator) will help drugs remain potent for many years.

(Do you wonder about the role of manufacturers and those in the market chain regarding the use-by or expiration date?)

Language, identity and global necessities

Language is a cultural, political and economic tool, and English has shown great success in this domain. The spread of English internationally has been aided and abetted by the advancement in technology, forging of international organisations, and bare economic and political necessities. On the other hand, languages have been (and can be) taken over by one which is spoken by those from an economically, politically and socially dominant nation.

People who speak English as a second language do so because either they want or are obliged to (it is imposed from the outside). These days, they represent more than two-thirds of English speakers in the world, and the distinction between native and non-native speakers is not that significant anymore.

In the Philippines, for example, English is used in government, private and public dealings. Although Tagalog is the official language, English is the medium of instruction in schools and universities and is used lavishly in the mass media. This country was a Spanish colony for more than 300 years; however, it's the Americans who have had the recent influence on its culture. Its proximity to Australia - another native English speaking country - has been a convenience. In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines has the largest population of English-speaking inhabitants (over 102 millions).

The majority of this year’s Eurovision songs were in English. Even the winning title by Jamala of Ukraine has more English than Tatar words. For the first time, Spain's entry was also in English which aroused criticisms from its Royal Academy of Spanish Language (RAE), the official body that oversees language use. The French entry was also mainly performed in English. (In Eurovision's earlier days, contests were dominated by francophone nations - e.g. France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg & Monaco - and by entries in French). These days, contestants believe that English gives them a better chance to win because it is more widely understood than other languages; as well, successful songs have English lyrics.

The words in our language

“How was your staycation?” my student asked her colleague.

“It was relaxing,” he answered.

Another young woman sitting next to him raised her hand. “What did you say? What was it?” “stey-key-shun?” He replied, “Ah.. you were not with us last year. Staycation means vacation spent at home doing something you enjoy. In the beginning, I also thought it sounded funny.”

Then he added, “holiday in UK and vacation in US English.”

I couldn’t help smiling and was glad that my student remembered something from our previous course. Languages evolve, appear and disappear to adapt and cater to the changing needs and developments (e.g. technology) in our society. Often, new words are created by: 1) putting together letters from 2 different words (e.g. ‘Brexit’ – British/Britain’s exit from the European Union. There’s a referendum on this issue in June 2016); 2) shortening words (e.g. company representative = company rep); 3) borrowing from other languages (e.g. French ‘chef’ – cook); and 4) even from mistakes or words of celebrities (e.g. Gwyneth Paltrow’s conscious uncoupling which describes divorcing or separating couple who find the source of unhappiness in themselves and refrain from blaming each other).

Not always whiter and greener

My friend’s daughter always complains about the heat in Brisbane and has said to me how she would love to live in cold Europe. She doesn’t like her air-conditioned car and looks forward to skiing. My Belgian acquaintances find winter miserable and think it is a paradise to use the outdoor swimming pool and visit the nearby beach any time you feel like it.

A former neighbour recently confided to me about unmet expectations in her new job. She described in detail her uneasiness working with native-English speakers (she’s French) which, ironically, was one of the main reasons why she left the Francophone working environment (i.e. she wanted to improve her English by speaking it every day).

When I visit Singapore or Philippines, I observe smilingly women snuggling under their umbrellas not necessarily to prevent from having skin cancer but to avoid getting browner/darker. In western countries, however, men and women spend a lot of time and money trying to get tanned as it is considered good and healthy looking.

Consumption of dietary and vitamin supplements is cultural

Getting into a chemist (Oceania and the UK)/pharmacy (US) in Australia, you notice immediately the wide range of dietary and vitamin supplements occupying almost a third of the store. There are a variety of choices from A to Z of brands locally and internationally. But, in France and Luxembourg this is not the case. Often, you have to ask the staff for common vitamin supplements, such as Omega 3 and grape seed tablets, which are stocked between beauty products and medicines. In developing countries of Asia, Africa and Central & South America, these are highly unaffordable for most people. Surprisingly, however, the Nielsen study showed that Asians (and North Americans) lead the world in the usage of dietary and vitamin supplements with the highest levels found in the Philippines and Thailand (66% compared to 56% in the USA). Europe (30%) and Latin America (28%) had the lowest intake (France and Spain at the bottom: 17% and 13% respectively). The respondents' main reason for not taking vitamins was that "their diets were already balanced while those in Poland, Russia and the Baltic states felt that "it is too difficult to understand which product to use." (''North-America, Asia lead vitamin and supplement usage'').

It is known that, generally, Europeans have poor vitamin D. A comparative study of eating habits and calcium & vitamin D intakes in Central-Eastern European countries conducted by the Faculty of Health Sciences in Semmelweis University, Hungary headed by Dr. Katalin Tátrai-Nèmeth concluded that the highest calcium intake was in the Hungarian population while the lowest in Slovenia, and vitamin D intake was critically low in both of these countries. (''A comparative study of eating habits calcium and vitamin D intakes in the population'').

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