December 30, 2006

I was going to wish you a Happy New Year's...

...but instead, I am going to wish you a Happy Tabaski.

The last time I thought about this Muslim ceremony was in Senegal in January 2005 (see “Disconnect Thoughts” post). And this year, it happens to fall on December 30th 2006 which almost perfectly coincides with New Year’s Eve.

[Children Washing their Sheep in the Ocean in Dakar, Senegal]

I still receive security messages from my Warden in Senegal. He warns all American citizens to be very careful of Tabaski festivities as Anti-American sentiments are high this holiday season. Why? Because Saddam Hussein just died by hanging.

I had no idea Senegalese people felt so strongly about Mr. Hussein. And oddly enough, I feel sorry for this crazy man who, even at the moment of his death, is seems completely unaware of what was going on (CNN reports “The judge said Hussein appeared "totally oblivious to what was going on around him. I was very surprised. He was not afraid of death.")

It makes me sad to see the pictures (I couldn’t bring my self to watch the video), as he was brought into the room in a well cut suit. His nicely combed hair disheveled, his eyes round with anticipation, staring at faceless men in black ski hats.

Is it wrong to feel sorry for such a man? I really can't help myself.

December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas Y'all

Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays!

I'd think of something better, but my sister's nagging me, my brother has smelly feet, my dad is clearing his throat and my mom is asking me to help her reach the dust bunnies behind the fridge (eewww!) and I'm relaxing at home.
Sis has some disparaging things to say about the family, but I'm too good to address these thoughts.

But seriously folks, please enjoy this Holiday season with people you love.

Thanks Heather Jamison for posting on my GuestMap. I love your blog format, it's beautiful. You must tell me how you do it!

December 16, 2006

Thoughts on Homelessness

Your comments on my recent post “On Being Homeless” made me think long and hard about homelessness. I remember helping a Congolese colleague get a visa for the States to attend a conference. When I asked him what he thought of North America, he professed being shocked at the number of homeless people there. Indeed, the United States is a well-organized country with wealth and social services and the idea of disenfranchised and abandoned people was appalling to him in that setting.

Some thoughts on homelessness...

How many homeless people are there in the United States?
From Wikipedia -

Total Number
As many as 3.5 million people experience homelessness in a given year (1% of the entire U.S. population or 10% of its poor), and about 842,000 people on any given day.

Familial composition
40% are families with children—the fastest growing segment.
41% are single males.
14% are single females.
5% are minors unaccompanied by adults.

Why are people homeless in the United States?
Well, there are many reasons. Sometimes it boils down to economic factors (people loose their jobs and cannot pay rent), other times it can be mental illness (people prefer living free and unconstrained instead of being forced to take medication).

How did homelessness become such a big issue here?
There are several events that precipitated homelessness to what it is today in the United States.

In the 1960, President Reagan signs the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act. The main idea behind this act is to take fragmented arrangement of separate, independent, and often noncommunicating, hospitals, clinics and agencies, and organized them into a service network called community mental health centers (CMHCs).

Except, these centers are crushed by the number of newly deinstitutionalized patients (also a Reagan legacy) and people on work-disability: patients that have little or no money to pay for health services. Due to tight budgets, external services are cut, leaving only the more basic services running.

Reagan decides to cut the budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development by three-quarters, from $32 billion in 1981 to $7.5 billion by 1988. In fact, the department’s role to give subsidized housing (housing of very low cost) for the poor.

Reagan also changes of tax codes. This reduces incentives for private developers to create low-income homes. Under Reagan, the number of people living beneath the federal poverty line rose from 24.5 million in 1978 to 32.5 million in 1988.

Faced with community centers operating basic services and no subsidized or affordable housing, a large number of people found themselves on the street.

What do shelters provide?
From Wikipedia -

"Homeless shelters are temporary residences for homeless people. Usually located in urban neighborhoods, they are similar to emergency shelters. The primary difference is that homeless shelters are usually open to anyone, without regard to the reason for need. Some shelters limit their clientele by gender or age.

Most homeless shelters expect clients to stay elsewhere during the day, returning only to sleep, or if the shelter also provides meals, to eat; people in emergency shelters are more likely to stay all day, except for work, school, or errands. Some homeless shelters, however, are open 24 hours a day.

There are daytime-only homeless shelters, where the homeless can go when they cannot stay inside at their night-time sleeping shelter during the day. Such an early model of a daytime homeless shelter providing multi-faceted services is Saint Francis House in Boston, Massachusetts.

Homeless shelters are usually operated by a non-profit agency, or associated with a church. Many get at least part of their funding from local government entities. Shelters can sometimes be referred to as 'human warehouses'.

Homeless shelters sometimes also provide other services, such as a soup kitchen, job seeking skills training, job training, job placement, support groups, and/or substance (i.e., drugs and/or alcohol) abuse treatment. If they do not offer any of these services, they can usually refer their clients to agencies that do."

Why are homeless people not all in shelters
Well, often, shelters are full or refuse you based on your profile (perhaps you are a young white male and the shelter only accept mothers and children). Some people say that there is a large violence problem in shelters and they prefer sleeping in a busy street instead of being raped or robbed of their possessions.

When I lived in Japan, I saw large parks completely usurped by tents and man-made shacks where whole communities of homeless people would reside. They would also open the underground metro when the weather go particularly cold so people wouldn't die outside.

Why don't homeless people apply to job and go to interviews, like I do when I need a job?
From Wikipedia -

"Since most homeless people have no telephone, or fixed phone number or no personal phone number at all, no computer to access E-mail, no permanent address, or any place to get changed and washed, it can be difficult for a homeless person to apply for, find or even maintain a job; and without a job it can be difficult to raise the money or gain the references needed to acquire accommodation if governmental aid is not available or insufficient."


"In some homeless shelters and day centers, the homeless have access to a phone for making local calls, take a shower, and use a post office box at the shelter to receive mail, or sometimes can use a computer to access email. In many shelters and centers, they must signup on a first-come/first-serve list for such services, so it is not always possible to use a phone or have a shower in a timely fashion. The washing and laundering of dirty clothes, which frequently consists simply of the clothes on the person's body, presents an almost insurmountable problem, since many shelters do not provide laundry machines or services and using a public laundromat is not possible with only one set of clothes or lack of money to pay for the use of the laundromat."

What is a homeless person's daily routine? How does it feel to be homeless?
Well, I'm not quite sure. I think that it's important for homeless people to get about their day and fill it with normal activities like having two or three meals a day, going to the library, interacting with friends, going to see a movies etc...You would be surprised to find out that some homeless people are very well educated and have a family somewhere. This is the case for this homeless person who blogs about his daily life: The Homeless Guy

Where can I read more on this issue?
My sources are the following:

Democracy Now -

National Council for Community Behavioral Health Care -

Wikipedia -

Wikipedia -

Wikipedia -

Blog of a Homeless Man -

December 14, 2006

The Bad Luck Fairy

The $10 Christmas

They said it couldn't be done! They said it would be impossible to curb those impulse buys and consumerisms tendencies! They were wrong!!

This year, my family and I have decided to give each other small presents. The rule: all gifts have to be under ten dollars. And believe me, it's really hard to find a gift under $10 nowadays.

Don't tell anyone, but this is what I'm thinking about getting everyone.

Brother has a very serious job in a Consulting firm. He has to have a neat appearance in a sombre suit to compensate for the fact that he doesn't know what he is doing there. For him, I am getting a comb, so he can comb his hair to the side and suck up to the clients.

Sister is rather althetic. She rides horses, swing dances in local competitions and is generally fitter than I am. And has no qualms in reminding me of this fact. For her, I am getting her a time-honored tennis ball. It's rubber and it's electric yellow, which means that her chances of breaking or loosing this are slim to none. Perfect!

Dad is starting to contemplate his retirement with optimism and a tear in his eye. Everyday, I hear, "only 3 years, 2 months, and 232 days until retirement". But I worry that he will be bored when in retirement. I am getting him a ball point pen so he can write that award-winning novel in his golden years.

Let's face it. Even if mom says she "hates" nay "ABHORS" cooking, I think she secretly enjoys it. I mean, she cooked for us everyday of our lives when we were living at home, right? Therefore, I am getting her a special, stainless steel Ladle.

The boyfriend? Well I complain of the dust and the disorder in his apartment often enough that he will enjoy this feather duster for sure!

I can't wait for Christmas day, when I will see that sparkle in their eyes when they open their presents.

December 07, 2006

On Homelessness

Yesterday, I was coming home from work, and I can honestly, HONESTLY not remember when I had been that cold last.

Perhaps living in Sahelian and Tropical countries has made me weak. Perhaps. But I was caught in this intense wind that made me want to cling to a telephone poll for stability. This wind went right through my thin trousers fabric and nestled into my flesh. It burned my face and froze the blood in my cheeks. It attacked my toes and, like a diabetic's numb extremities, made them feel bloated and dead. It attacked every exposed corner of my body relentlessly.

And yet, I see homeless people everywhere. With thin, old army blankets over their shoulders, and short socks that leave their calf exposed. With sweat-soaked gloves and hats that probably have little effect against the numbing cold. They settle in nooks between two buildings, right in the cross-winds created by these large architectural structures. Within the warm confines of my comforter, I wonder: How do they do it? How can you stand spending a whole winter shivering until your back and leg muscle hurt?