Ramblings: The End of the Second Trimester

It still feels like a dream. Even now, while I am heading into my 27th week, and starting to feel those little kicks on a regular basis. It still feels like a dream, an amazing, wonderful dream; a dream that I am going to be a mother in just a few more months. That we have created this little girl who is growing inside of me and who I am going to love and be responsible for for the rest of my life and beyond that. How incredible is all of this? And yes, I know that millions and millions of women have done the same thing since the beginning of time, but it’s all such a new and wonderful feeling that I can’t get enough of it. Every day I wake up knowing that I am carrying the being that I will love more than anything I have ever loved in my life, and that I am responsible for bringing her into this world and making sure she is as healthy and happy as possible. Everything else seems just so ephemeral, but this is real, however much it may feel like a dream.

I feel like I am lucky as I am having a relatively good pregnancy – although I don’t really have anything to compare it to, so I am just assuming that it is. I’m still working 55-60 hours a week, maybe a little bit slower and clumsier than before, but I’m still able to do it. Yes, I get aching feet and my ankles sometimes double in size, but it’s nothing physically crippling. The back ache that I get on the cold days when I have been standing for too long is definitely annoying and the days when I get the indigestion/backache/feet ache/headache/tummy ache all combined together are the worst, but I’m mainly at the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life. That might come from the fact that for the past 6 months I have been thinking that one glass of water is the equivalent of a pint of water and I have been trying to down 8 of them a day. I only learnt last week that one glass is the equivalent of 8 fl oz, and therefore half of a small bottle of water. Not feeling as much of a water drinking failure anymore!

I think for me the worst symptom of all is one that I just cannot manage, and one that I have had from the moment I got pregnant: the tears. I literally can cry at the drop of the hat and there is no stopping it whatsoever. Something makes me angry: I burst into tears. Something makes me sad: I burst into tears. Something makes me happy: I burst into tears. That cute little doggie that needs a home? I cry. Don’t even get me started on reports of starving children, bombs and civil wars… I don’t mind crying, it’s a good release and it helps get rid of some pent up emotions. But it’s really, really annoying when you are trying to manage a restaurant and the basement starts leaking at 2am when you are about to go home and instead of formulating a plan of action to make sure it doesn’t flood the basement all you can do is burst into tears. Or when someone annoys you and you try to explain to them in a decent manner why they are wrong, but all you can do is lock yourself in the bathroom and hope that ice cold water will make the redness in your eyes disappear so that you don’t appear to be some kind of pregnant maniac who can’t keep her emotions at bay.

Or you just go with it and just hope that being pregnant will give you some kind of VIP pass to be able to cry in public without anyone batting an eyelid. I mean there are much worse things that I could do in public in my condition apparently, things that I may experience once the baby is bigger and heavier…

Talking about being big… One thing that has been bothering me is the weight gain. Actually lets reword that, the weight gain itself isn’t really bothering me at all, it’s on par with the course and I expected it. It’s the talk about weight gain that bothers me.  I never expected to be one of those women who only gain a few pounds with a large tummy and stick-like limbs. I know what the other women in my family looked like pregnant, and I also know that they naturally went back to their pre-pregnancy weight afterwards. I also know that doctors recommend a weight gain of 25-35 pounds on average while pregnant. And I also know that they monitor your weight gain every time you go to the doctor and talk to you about it. Yes, I am eating more than I did before I was pregnant. But yes, I was on the low end of what is considered normal for my height and build. Yes, I am eating healthy, with some exceptions, but I naturally crave veggies and healthy carbs and protein. I do eat chocolate and crisps and cheese, but I don’t eat more than I did before I was pregnant. I don’t drink soda or anything other than water, tea and the occasional fruit juice. And no, I am not going to cut down! I’m enjoying food! Although nowadays I have to start eating smaller portions as I feel like my stomach is beginning to get slightly squished… Actually, as a piece of advice to anyone: don’t look at a picture of what your insides look like at the end of the second trimester… Who would have thought that your stomach would start getting squished into your lungs?! Then again where on earth did I think all my organs were going to go?! So yes, I have gained quite a bit of weight, and yes, I will be going over the high end of the recommended average. But I am still on the slim side… Apart from the belly which is growing very, very fast now.

This brings me to the next subject: people and their words. In normal circumstances one would never tell anyone else that they are “huge” or “enormous”, would they? So what makes it OK to tell a pregnant woman these things? Weight gain is always going to be a sensitive issue for women, so telling anyone, especially a pregnant woman who is probably hiding her feelings about her weight gain, that she is enormous, is never an acceptable thing to do! Just like the woman who asked me if I was having twins and if I was sure I wasn’t… Yes, lady, I am very sure I am having one child. Everyone is different, some people show fast, some don’t show for months, in the end the most important part is that we are healthy and doing our best to ensure that our babies are growing correctly and in a healthy manner. And yes, I am going to have fries with that because they are absolutely delicious and I don’t feel like restricting myself! I really hope that I was never one of those people who mentioned the words “huge” or “enormous” inadvertently to a pregnant woman in the past, because if I did I apologise profusely! 

I have a feeling that these next 3 months are going to fly by, as my movements get slower, time is just going to get faster. There is so much to prepare for, and so many things that I still need to learn and I know that there is not enough time left to do it all. That’s all right, I am sure that I will learn as I go, as will C. There is only so much you can prepare for, and the rest is just going to happen anyway. I’m so excited about it all (and I little scared too, I don’t think there is anything wrong with admitting that), and wondering if this will still feel like a dream when the belly gets even bigger and the kicks harder. Those little kicks are pretty amazing too, and I am so glad that I am feeling them all the time now – I was getting a little worried that I wasn’t feeling enough movement. All I needed was to voice my concerns to the doctor last week and little Munchie decided it was time to step up her movements in the womb. I guess it’s true what they say about the baby being able to hear now!

2014 is going to be such an amazing year.

Old Writing: The Beach (an ongoing love story)

While I am procrastinating about finishing some new pieces that I have been working on for a while now, I have been reading some old stories I wrote about nine years ago, just after I got back from Israel. This is one that just happens to be timeless, as it is a love story of mine that will never end or go away. Thankfully I don't live too far from the ocean nowadays, but I would love one day to live right by it, so close that every day when I wake up it is the first thing I see and hear.

(Written in August 2004)
What is it that draws me to the sea? I wasn’t born near the sea, I’ve never lived by the sea, well not until I went to Israel anyway. I just have an immense love for seas, oceans and beaches. The constant waves soothe me, the sand under my bare feet massages my unsteady spirit, and the sun making its way over the water releases a feeling of utter freedom in my heart. If I stay away from the beach too long I miss it terribly, I dream of sitting on the sand watching the waves, of searching for shells along the edge of the water, of making gigantic sandcastles with walls and moats.

The first two months I was in Israel, I spent them in the middle of the desert. On a beautiful moshav literally in the middle of nowhere, a kilometre off the main road, bang in between Be’er Sheva and Eilat. Oh yes, I developed a love for the desert, miles and miles of sand, mountains looming in the distance, a dry bush or tree here and there and a pounding, relentless sun, but I missed the water and waves.

So when I went to the Kibbutz Programme Centre in Tel Aviv in the beginning of September (2003) I knew I wanted to go north. Preferably by the beach. That’s what I asked for, and after being told there was room on a kibbutz on the road to Jenin the lady brought out another folder and handed it to me with a little smile.
There was no choice to be made really. Evron is situated 1km or so south of Nahariya, right up north, a very short distance from the Mediterranean and the train could take me all the way there. An hour and a half from Tel Aviv, a ten-minute walk from Nahariya and the station, 6 hours from the moshav, but no need for endless bus rides. A short phone call and it was all arranged, I was off to Evron. And for 7 months I lived on a beautiful kibbutz 10 minutes by foot from the sea. When you’ve lived by the sea once, you just dream and dream of living by the sea again.

I worked in the Dining Room most days, and there was a special part on the path going from the Dining Room to the Volunteer House where the sea appears suddenly on the horizon. Every day, rain or shine, when I got to that part of the path my heart would suddenly lift and everything would seem so perfect, even if only for a moment.

The first time I went to the beach I went alone. I had arrived in Evron the evening before, worked in the kitchen on my first day and was ready to explore the area. I walked into Nahariya, along the main road (I love walking, I’ve never seen the point in using a car or bus for short distances) and strolled along the main street, knowing that it had to end up at the beach at some point. There is a “river” running through Nahariya to the sea. It runs right down the middle of the main street and it was never really more than a trickle if not completely dried up (it did overflow once during a flash flood though).

I walked along the beach for a while, kicking off my flip-flops and rubbing my feet into the hot, coarse sand. The sand in Nahariya is unlike sand on most beaches around the world, its grains are big and coarse and stick to your skin like glue. Many a time I would come back from the beach with it stuck all over me. Knowing my love for the sea it was pretty obvious after my first contact with the beach in Nahariya that I wasn’t going to want to leave very quickly.

The weather was hot all the way until November, and I made many trips to the beach. Often with other volunteers. On Yom Kippur Andrea, Erica, Lotti, Haun and I walked in the middle of the empty main road, even sitting in the middle of it at one point for a perfect photo moment, and spent the whole afternoon sunbathing, paddling and searching for shells. It was on the beach that Andrea and I really bonded, and we would often walk along the water edge, chatting away for hours, making these outings into our own special moments together. I have to say that the friendships I made in Evron are some of the most special friendships I had made that will always be a part of me, even if we never meet again.

During the short winter months I made less trips to the beach, but still often enough. After my trip to Egypt in January, Isabel arrived in Evron and I made it my job (and pleasurable it was too) to take her under my wing and show her all of the things I loved. When I learnt she had never been to Nahariya I rounded up Fernando and Helge and we took her into town, along the “river” that had risen so high it had flooded the pavements and left them full of mud. We walked all the way to the sea on the little walls so as not to get stuck in the mud. The sea was particularly rough that day; I’d never seen the Mediterranean like that before, waves crashing onto the beach, the wind roaring. We walked along the mini pier, getting splashed by the salty water and took a picture of ourselves with the lights of Haifa in the background.

Another time we were all sitting on the beach, and both Fernando and me remarked one after another, without having heard the other say it, that the sea was more like a lake, the waves pretty much non-existent, just slight ripples from the breeze. The fact that the water is so unpredictable, calm one day, rough the next is uplifting to me. Whereas I crave stability in some ways, I enjoy the instability of nature as I find it soothing. If nature is unpredictable then I can be so too without having to worry about conforming with the rest of society. I need to be free and water makes me feel as if I have the right to be.

The weather changed suddenly in February and we were faced with a heat wave that went on for a few weeks, into the beginning of March. One Friday Fernando and I decided to forego the usual Friday night partying and headed off to the beach instead. We got Isabel, Helge, Indy and Maor to go with us and set off wrapped up warm, with the radio and the narguila. Fernando and I spent the whole walk ahead of the others, talking and joking, and when we finally got there we installed ourselves near the edge of the water, smoked narguila and looked at the stars. Nowadays every time I look at the moon and the stars I often think of that moment on the beach, a moment in time that will always be part of me. We cranked up the volume of the radio and danced like idiots in the sand, play fighting, singing, relaxing. Not really a beach party, but a special evening nonetheless.

If you went a different way to the beach, past the Kanyon and the newer housing estates then you would come across an inlet I discovered with Erica, a little cove-like area protected by rocks that I proceeded to call “my beach”. It was quieter than the beach area in central Nahariya and there were many shells and slimy rocks to climb on. I would go there to read and to think, alone, with Isabel, once with Maor too. That’s the beach I miss the most. The sun setting over the endless looking water, casting coloured reflections everywhere. Images cloud my memory, sharp as it is, Fernando finding sea glass for me, Isabel and Helge making an intricate sandcastle, falling asleep with Erica under the sun, walking along the water edge with Andrea, collecting shells with Isabel…

Tel Aviv must have one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. You can walk all the way up the beach to Jaffa, look at all of the weird, beautiful, normal and downright crazy people chilling out. Strolling along there with Judith, Ella and Eden very early one Shabbat morning; sitting there on Christmas Day with a hangover with Nick, Kirsty and Lotti; Sunbathing with Fernando in May before going down to Eilat… If I close my eyes I’m there. 

My dream is to live right by the beach, to be able to hear the noise of the waves every morning when I wake, every evening when I go to sleep. I would like to be able to look out my window and see sand and water. One day I will. You can take me away from the beach but you can’t take the beach away from me. One day hopefully. One day I will sit on my little porch and write stories in the sun, above the ocean.

Writing: The Story of a Dream

Usually when I am having a nightmare I tend to wake up, turn around and go back to sleep, forgetting the nightmare and dreaming or not dreaming of something else. Same thing if I am having a nice dream - if I wake up in the middle I will never go back to it again. For the first time in my life (or I suppose that I can actually remember) a few weeks ago I had a dream that ran through 8 hours of sleep, multiple eyes-open-I-am-awake pit stops and actually had a real beginning and a real end. The nightmare-dream was so vivid and real that I can still imagine the scenes today... In any case, this is not a short story, just the strange dream in words. It was as if I was living a movie that I was watching in my head. I'll just keep this as a reminder of how brilliant our imaginations can be when we let them loose.

A Story of a Dream
Two years ago
They sound like loud fireworks, the kind that the city lets off on the 4th of July. But there is no coordination or choreography to these gunshots, mortar shells or bomb explosions. They go on and on and on and then stop. Just when you think that it’s safe to venture out to find lost ones and food and water they start up again. Daytime, nighttime, dawn, dusk; it never ends. The ground shakes, the dead pile up and the pillaging goes on. The electricity has now been out for weeks and radio communication is sparse: batteries have all but disappeared from any of the shops; shops that have no owners or employees anymore, and practically no food, dry or fresh.  All that is left of my apartment is a shell of a building, first it was attacked by snipers and then a large bomb finished it off. Troutman St, Jefferson St, Bushwick Ave – they all look like a war zone in the Middle East, not like the residential part of Brooklyn that they were six months ago. I fled with my cat, a blanket and a few belongings last week, over the Williamsburg Bridge to join some of my friends in Union Square. Our places of work have been closed for weeks, all of the alcohol gone, rats roaming over the Lower East Side eating the crumbs of what has been left behind to rot. 

What happened? One day everything went about its business as normal, the next nuclear missiles were flying all over the world, hitting the most random of targets and setting off what would become a war that no one could make any sense out of. No strategy, just a race to see who could kill the most people off in the shortest of time. Instead of uniting in fear and politics this country has become its own civil war zone, groups of people fighting against each other for no other reason than a need to be bigger and better. The government has long since disappeared into silence, maybe dead, maybe hiding, and we have no way of communicating with anyone within the city, let alone outside of the country. I have no idea how my family is faring, and now my only thoughts are on survival. Survival of myself, my cat and my close friends, the ones that I have been able to remain in contact with.

A few of us have created a little fort in front of Union Square, piles of boxes and bricks, a safer place to sleep, especially when we are huddled in numbers. There are fewer bombs dropped on Manhattan now, but the sniper dangers still exist and we are all scared of what could happen to us at any moment. Food is so scarce and the last bridge went down a few days ago, so, unless one of us can find a boat we are practically stranded on this island that has no light, no public transport, scarce food supplies and no working hospitals. I’ve seen people throw dead bodies into the rivers, just because there is nowhere to bury them on the island and the stench of the rotting flesh was beginning to putrefy the air over the city. We have nowhere to go and nowhere to stay. People are setting up homes in the tunnels of the subway lines, in broken down and bombed out buses and houses. Our Union Square spot is unsafe but none of us have been able to find a safer place to rest yet, our main concerns are staying alive and finding food and water. Those who didn’t know how to shoot rapidly learnt and we use bottles of whiskey and cigarettes, stolen from our bars when we knew that we would never go back to work in them again, to barter for food and firearms.

Two Years ago
Two days ago the fighting got worse again, and a group of heavily armed individuals moved into Union Square just as a general protest was starting up. I hid in our shelter with Luna while the sounds of explosions get louder and louder. At one point someone broke in and tried to carry me away with him, obviously not with any honorable intentions in mind, but I fought and screamed and a good Samaritan heard my cries and fought him off for me. We ran away down a side street and hid there until the fighting moved away. I went back to find my friends and grabbed those who had made it through, probably never knowing if those who are unaccounted for are dead or alive, hiding out somewhere else. We had become so used to having instant communication via text messages that now we don’t know how to handle the fact that once someone disappears you may or may not ever see them again.

One year ago
Seven of us found an apartment in an unfinished government subsidized housing building up in the far northern area of the island. It was supposed to be one of those high-end buildings with a pool and a gym and laundry rooms and upscale appliances in each apartment, constructed for families in need of a cheaper rent. Of course there is no running water and no electricity, but we are making do, the seven of us and my little cat, who has survived all of this with us. She roams around the building, but always makes it back within a few hours, sleeping in my arms or in her travel bag, the same one she used to refuse to get into. Now it is her safe spot. 

We have started to organize ourselves into a larger group of like-minded individuals, other people who don’t agree with the fact that this is the way that the world is going to revolve from now on. The group of right-wing people who have taken control of the island are only concerned about power and wealth and killing anyone who won’t agree or act according to their rules. Anyone who is part of the ruling party has running water and electricity again, while we continue to live day by day, in fear of being caught and killed. There is no way that I can live like this, hiding in a hole, not doing anything but surviving. We meet up in established safe houses, communicate via message drop offs and plan actions that will overthrow the “government”. I remember when we used to complain about our democratic government, back before this war and chaos, but at least we had our freedom. Now all we have is each other and our plans to do everything we can to create change again. I always wonder what life is like in the rest of the country and in other countries. Have whole nations been wiped out, places taken over by dictators and despotic rulers hell bent on creating a world that only belongs to them? Have other countries managed to build themselves back up in unity again? 

If we have to resort to physical violence to stop the horrific happenings around us we will. I am no longer against the use of explosives and guns to bring some kind of good back into what is becoming pure evil. They don’t hesitate to torture and main us if they capture us, one of us died in their hands, his head stuck on a pole in the middle of Union Square, right wear the public demonstration was squashed last year, as a reminder of what they are capable of. There are other families who are also squatting in the building but we all tend to hide from each other, as no one dares trust anyone except for those close to them. And even then our greatest fear is that at some point, as we grow, a mole will find its way amidst us and will quash our revolution before it is even underway. We are mainly in the planning area now, uniting different groups together so that we can act as one. Politics are put to the side for now; it is going to be the People against this evil that has penetrated our world. We remain positive that we will be able to overthrow them, as it will be a mass against a small group. They may be armed to the teeth but we are not afraid to die to ensure that we have a better life again. 

I walk around the city in constant fear that I will be caught and taken in, randomly questioned about why I am not working in one of the work force groups around the island. Every foot I take outside is a risk, and the alleyway of steps near our home is full of lurking shadows. I carry meeting notes and maps and important information around with me, information that I leave in drop boxes and secret pick up locations. If I were to be caught I would be tortured. Or if I were attacked by a random stranger for money or food or just because he/she felt a need for violence, and were found with incriminating documents they would surely sell me off to the party, for a few crumbs and a feeling that they helped find another one of us revolutionaries. Luckily there are more and more people who feel like us, and not as many people who live for fear and violence.

It’s finally over. Or maybe over isn’t the exact word to use, more like there is a new beginning in the air. The party was brought to his knees and we have put a group of people in their place, not a real government, just an interim group of people who will bring back some kind of normal life to this island while we create new political parties and voting systems. The streets are safer nowadays and some cars have returned, although it will take a while to get the electricity and water running everywhere again. We now have boats running over to Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey and a preliminary mail service on horseback has been set up. I still have no idea what has happened to my family and they all probably assume that I am dead, but in the future I hope to make my way across the States to find them, once I am happy with the stability of life in New York. I can only assume that there are nuclear bomb craters all over the States, cities that have been wiped out and other cities that are fine, just cut off from everywhere else. Or maybe there is nothing left out there?

I still can’t really walk down the street with confidence and without an inkling of fear. There still are shadows in the corners and lurking conflicts. The streets are much safer than they were last year, but there is still a lot more work to be done. People will not feel completely secure until we have a strong and healthy government in place, and this is something that may take a while. Sometimes I wish I had kept a lower profile as I know that there is a price on my head out there somewhere, but it was necessary, just for the greater good of this city. I’m just ready to leave for a while, travel and find out the fates of my family members and other missing friends.

While waiting in line for food rations near the old Post Office building in Midtown she was killed by an acid bomb. He came out of nowhere, pushed me aside and threw the bomb at her stomach. Amidst all of the chaos he got away, and she died fast, with so much sadness in her eyes. I will continue the mission she was so invested in, and I will also search for her family members so that they know exactly what she accomplished and how she helped a cause that was necessary. Résistance toujours!

Ramblings: Every day is like Sunday

I used to hate Sundays. Friday nights were amazing because I had (sometimes) two full work-free days and three nights ahead of me, where I could let go and do all of the hundreds of things I never had time to do during the week days. But as soon as I would wake up on Sunday mornings I would start worrying about Monday morning. As each hour passed by I would think about how I had one less hour of freedom to enjoy. In the winter I would try to think of activities to do to take my mind off the impending doom that was going to bed, in the summer I would escape to the beach and secretly hope that the world would end before Sunday night approached. But it always inevitably happened… The night would close in and I would go to bed early, knowing full well that I would be plagued with stressful nightmares about missed deadlines and insanely long conference calls that never lead to anything concrete. Project plans would fly through the air and damage control emails would scroll through my mind, amidst dreams of machete-wielding men in suits chasing me through forests and deserts. Escape would only come when I awoke, and pulled myself out of bed to face the Monday morning commute and emails that would have come in during the weekend and the early morning hours.

Nowadays I love Sundays. I work most Sundays during the day at the bookstore and sometimes Sunday nights at the bar. Sunday evenings are for relaxing with friends, hanging out on the Lower East Side, staying out late and not worrying about having to get up early on Monday morning. Summer Sundays are for sitting outside and smoking cigarettes while chatting with friends, walking over the bridge during a storm, drinking ice cold drinks inside bars and eating ice cream at 4 in the morning. Winter Sundays are for going to late movie showings and eating too much popcorn and walking back home in the cold wind for a long, uninterrupted sleep, no nightmares or stress-related dreams on the horizon. The only work-related dreams I have nowadays are the occasional my-bed-is-in-the-bar and I need to jump out half naked to serve people pints of beer. These people have been members of Portishead and the cast of Buffy, as well as the usual regulars I serve on a daily basis. Sunday night nightmares have turned into Sunday night peaceful dreams.

I used to listen to Morrissey’s Everyday is Like Sunday on repeat on Monday mornings, and it always struck a chord: Sundays always felt so grey and dismal because Monday was coming up right behind her, always there in the shadows. Now I just listen to it and it makes me feel happy, walking barefoot in the sand on the beach, listening to the waves and feeling free. Nowadays every day is like Sunday, work or not, every day is different and the same all at once. Some things are never constant, but one thing is, I usually wake up with a smile. 

Inspiration: Theresa VanderMeer & WORK+SHELTER

(Photo taken from Theresa's blog on the WORK+SHELTER website)

About a year and a half ago at my old job we had an opening for a junior position, with the idea that the person who would fill this position would work directly with me, and would eventually take on all of the day-to-day tasks on my biggest client, so I could move on towards something that would be a little more interesting to me. Managing people at that company was a nightmare, just because my workload was so intense that I didn’t have enough time to look after that and make sure my team were doing OK at the same time. In any case, Theresa VanderMeer was one of the candidates to apply for the position, and when I interviewed her I knew that I didn’t want anyone else to work with me. It wasn’t really the fact that she was obviously extremely resourceful and smart that pushed me to hire her (although they did help), but mainly because she brought up the fact that she was working with women in India to create a haven where they could live and learn how to become financially independent by learning a craft. The fact that Theresa not only had this vision in her mind, but that she also actually went out and accomplished it makes her one of the most inspiring people that I have had the chance to spend time with over the past few years. While Theresa was in India late last year putting the final touches to the first implementation of the WORK+SHELTER project she took some time out in her busy schedule to answer some of my questions (in her usual insanely meticulous and organized manner), so that I could write a piece about her on my blog. I’ve been sitting on this for a while but with all the talk about activism and Kony2012 going on in the world of social media right now, I really think it’s time to talk about one of those people who uses hard work and devotion to create something from the heart that not only REALLY helps but that is also economically beneficial to the country and the women she is helping. Women’s rights and human rights in general have come a long way over the past century, but they still have a long way to go, and it is thanks to people like Theresa that we can hope to see more changes in the future.

I was going to combine Theresa’s responses together and summarise for this piece on her, but after reading her responses several times I think they really speak for themselves, so I have posted our interview, including clickable links, below. Read through to see how Theresa is constantly working on making her dream come true, and how she is going about it. By trying to accomplish her dream she is also empowering others to do the same, and so on and so forth. I can’t repeat enough how inspiring this lady is and how inspiring she is to others. Once you have finished reading check out the WORK+SHELTER website for more information. I would love to be able to join Theresa on one of her next trips to India to volunteer in the shelter and help in other ways too.

Interview with Theresa from late 2011:

Jade: When did you first get the idea for WORK+SHELTER? What was the main trigger that made you know that you had to build this?

Theresa: When I went to India for the first time almost 5 years ago (in 2007) I desperately desired to be a positive force in the world. But before you can act you have to learn and understand. I was doing research (sponsored by the University of Michigan) on how economic empowerment impacts women’s lives in India, and an internship at a really great organization that supports craftsgroups’ access to markets (Dastkar). For me this basically meant I was spying on different women’s craftsgroups and livelihood creation projects, and meeting individual women trying to make their way in the world by producing some sort of garment, accessory, or handicraft. I interviewed women (with the help of a translator) who were raped by their husbands, widowed with no way to care for themselves or their children, or physically ravished by harsh living conditions at a very young age. I had never before faced this sort of suffering.

In 2008 to raise money to return to India I started selling hand-woven silk scarves from one of Dastkar’s craftsgroups to fellow UM students. It resulted in generating a pretty significant amount of income in a short period of time – so I decided to move forward with selling products from other eco/people friendly groups. Further, it felt good to be able to provide a market link to the craftgroup in India who struggle with finding buyers for their goods.

I then did an internship at Amnesty International New Delhi, but still felt like I wasn’t really making a positive impact in the world. So many women had shared their suffering with me, but still I wasn’t doing anything direct in return. It began to really bother me. The idea for WORK+SHELTER began to form. I hadn’t seen or heard of any organizations that offered women both shelter and a livelihood. Also, from my experience working with Dastkar and selling products abroad, I was fairly confident that we could create a product that people would be interested in buying abroad.

Jade: Tell me more about The Lotus Odyssey and what the inspiration was and what your goals are.

Theresa: The Lotus Odyssey is an eco/people friendly social enterprise (i.e. business) that exports products from various non-profits, women-owned business, fair-trade certified organizations, etc (including W+S). The goal is to positively impact producers in India who don’t have access to markets, and then use any profits to fund the operations of WORK+SHELTER.

My goals for The Lotus Odyssey as a brand are to sell super gorgeous high-quality products that people want to buy because they are attractive, not just because they are fair-trade. You get a lot of organizations that have the export arm and the social missions, but sell products that are very “Indian.” (e.g. http://www.rupalee.com/). That’s fine if the Western consumer wants to wear Indian-style clothes, but we’re not looking to sell just to that person. My goal is to produce beautiful pieces that stylish, beautiful women across the world will want to wear. I envision it being something of a marriage between Anthropologie and People Tree (Fair-trade British company http://www.peopletree.co.uk/).

We’re doing a super-big trade show at the Javits Center in August, so that will be a really big launch for us. It’s a significant investment, so my goal is to really take The Lotus Odyssey products lines to the next level, and maybe even collaborate with people in the fashion scene in NYC.

Jade: What are your current aims for W+S?

Theresa: My immediate goal for W+S is to make the Delhi branch sustainable. We have to. It’s critical. Within the next four to five months we need to be able to sell enough products to be able to support ourselves from now on, or we’re going to run out of money be forced to close. We need to sell about $2,500 a month worth of product to do that. So the basic goal is to make products that people love and want to purchase so that we can keep the women employed.

Also, as an organization we want to source raw materials that are good for the environment and be a positive influence in our community. And we want to expand capacity building and educational initiatives for the women – we’re always looking to improve their lives.

Jade: What are your future aims for W+S?

Theresa: The big dream is for W+S is to expand within India and eventually around the world. We’re in the preliminary process of brainstorming about where that would be. I really want to open another shelter in Fall 2012, and one every year for the next 5 years. That’s my goal.

Further, I want to really see the W+S scalable model be realized. See below:

The model above includes all of the key component of our operation:
W+S: That’s me and the management team
Markets: Whoever buys our products
Stakeholders: The women
NGO Partner: ???

So the NGO Partner may come as a surprise to you. Who are they? What do they have to do with us? Can’t we operate without them?

Here’s an example. Say that there is a need for HIV+ positive women to have shelter and work. But it’s a struggle for W+S to find these women, and to understand their specific health needs. We could team up with an NGO that is already working with HIV+ women, and ask them to identify candidates who would be a good fit for W+S. We could also rely on that NGO to provide us guidance on how to support the HIV+ population effectively.

Or, what if there is a need to support women with domestic abuse issues in South India? I barely speak Hindi, and most people I know are from North India. How can we expand if we don’t know anything about that region, or speak their local language, or have an expert on abuse issues on staff? The way we can do that is by teaming up with an NGO who is already working with that community, but doesn’t necessarily have the resources to provide them with work or a place to stay.

The thinking is that in order for us to be able to scale quickly and effectively, we need to team up with NGOs already doing work in India who don’t have the resources to do what we’re doing – which is offer a full-scale WORK+SHELTER program. In sum, benefits of teaming up with another NGO are as follows:

- increases our ability to quickly and effectively scale

- allows us to work with diverse populations all over India (and potentially someday outside) since different communities have different needs

- streamlines our process - we do what we do best, the W+S component

- allows/encourages buy-in from local stakeholders (local NGOs)

- means we don’t undermine or replicate existing organizations

- for organizations that are not full service we supplement what they’re already doing and strengthen their role within the community

- the model is adaptable and mobile, so we can get involved during times of disaster recovery


I would also like to see the additional shelters fit into an integrated supply chain system. So if, for example, we could source raw material from East India, and spin it into a usable thread in nearby Varanasi (on the way to Delhi), and then knit, weave, or finalize the thread into a finished product in Delhi, then we could create a series of micro-enterprises that efficiently work together.

That’s my hope anyway – does that make sense?

Jade: You recently left a stable corporate job in order to work fully on W+S. What are the positives and negatives of this move? Basically I want to be able to portray the human side of you too, so please don’t be afraid to tell your fears too!

Theresa: Positives – Definitely a sense of confidence and agency. Even more, freedom, which I cherish. My work is my life – I love my work, so I love my life - there is no separation (though that can be a negative as well). And of course the feeling that I really have made an impact in at least a few lives is the number one plus. There are so many positives – I would have to write a book. J

Negatives – To be honest, the number one thing that bothers me about the departure from my job is being alone. As I write this, my apartment is totally silent except for a creepy, howling wind. I largely live inside my head. I really miss the community that an office offers.

Also, you never forget that everything is on you. At a corporate job we may like to think that we’re needed or indispensable, but really we’re all replaceable. For W+S and The Lotus Odyssey, everything is on me. These projects will die if I can no longer forge ahead with them, and if I don’t act or push forward initiatives, nothing will get done. It can feel overwhelming.

The other negative of course is lack of income. It’s a sacrifice and a struggle.

Even more, since my previous job gave me exposure to the corporate world and technology, I was always learning – it was really good for me in a lot of ways. So stepping away from that can be a little scary – I no longer passively learn because a new project came my way that utilized X, Y, and X technologies. I have to actively pursue things on my own.

Jade: Your main focus is India, however, many countries would benefit from the same type of development for women. Do you have ideas for expansion, or maybe joining hands with other organizations?

Theresa: Right – I touched a little bit on this above. I really do think the W+S model is scalable on an international level – we just have to find the right partnerships, and be able to fund the ventures.

Jade: People probably call you an idealist (I get the same all the time), but without living with hope I feel that we cannot expect anything to change. Can you explain in more detail first why India, and then why you are so passionate about helping women in this way?

Theresa: First, I have a really deep-rooted feeling that I am taking up too much space in this world, and that the pleasures of my life and much of the developed world rest on the backs of the poor in the Global South. I think a lot of what I do/try to do is catalyzed by this feeling of debt. It also makes me feel like I’m never doing enough. The more I have, the more I owe. And really, any impact I’ve had so far is so miniscule that it doesn’t really relieve any of that indebted feeling. All the work I put into planning WORK+SHELTER was necessary, but planning doesn’t help anyone. It will only be helpful when we’re actually able to provide a sustainable route for women to be able take care of themselves and their community. That real impact part has just started.

Growing up in the mid-west my world was pretty small. At the time my home town had one red light. My father worked in a neighboring town, and we travelled a little bit (to Florida, to other places in the mid-west), but I was pretty sheltered, mostly because everyone else I knew was too. But I did have the opportunity to go to Peru with a small group of students while in middle school. I can’t really tell you why I was so motivated at that age, 13, but I saved my baby-sitting for over a year and participated in countless other fundraisers in order to pay my way. The 9 day trip to Peru, where I first saw poverty, really changed me. I suddenly understood that the world was infinitely bigger than I had imagined.

Back then everyone told me, “This week-long trip is a once-in-a-lifetime” experience for you. You are so lucky.” I knew I was lucky, but I didn’t want to accept that this would be the one big adventure of my life. So, I guess the other big thing that happened is that this deep wanderlust rooted and settled into the core of my being. I went anywhere I could afford, with anyone.

So now, why India? On a very practical level, it’s India because this is where I have experience, knowledge, resources. The reason I have those things is because a philanthropist couple funded a program at the University of Michigan for students like me to go to India. Like I said, I was desperate to go anywhere. They gave 5 undergraduate grants per year, totaling around $3,000 each. At the time there was no way I could afford a trip like that on my own. I largely supported myself in school with student loans and part time work, so I just didn’t have the money to go anywhere. Hearing about the grant opportunity I went crazy coming up with ideas, doing research, picking people’s brains. At this time I knew nothing about India. I was interested in women’s issues and microfinance was really on my mind at the time, having recently discovered Mohammad Yunus. So I wrote a grant proposal to study how economic empowerment changed women’s lives socially in India. I spent a lot of time refining my proposal, and ended up being one of the lucky few to get the grant. That’s how I first ended up in India.

But why women? I don’t know why I’m drawn to this work – being a woman, maybe I just am? I do think it’s interesting that there is no country in this entire world where women are equal with men. Think about it – if women were equal to men would rape exist? If women were equal to men, then why are reproductive choices still constrained everywhere? If women were equal to men then would the majority of the poorest people in this world belong to one gender? I’m also really interested in economics, and capitalism (to be kind of broad about it) so I really like looking at the intersections between poverty and inequality. My understanding is that men and women have equal capacities but because women give birth and tend to spend more time raising children they have less access to the public sphere, where income is generated and wealth is acquired. Thus, because they have less access to economic resources they have less power – men have more resources – men have more power. It’s pretty simple, and that’s why the core belief of W+S is economic empowerment (but it a way that makes sense for women).

We’re already seeing impact at the New Delhi shelter. One local woman found out that we had work available, and just started showing up to knit. We told her we weren’t sure if there was a position for her – she lived in a rental accommodation nearby and her husband was making enough to pay for the rent of their small one room apartment – I had been looking for women who didn’t have the support of family. She has a great personality and was really motivated so we decided to bring her on anyway. Only after we hired her and she had been working for many weeks did we find out that her husband actually regularly beats her, and now that she has an income she feels strong enough to tell him that if he tries to beat her again, she will leave him. That’s her choice, and I’m so happy that we can provide her with the work that allows her to make it.

Jade: Do you have investors? How have you gone about fundraising in the past? Tell some positive stories and some pitfalls about your experiences!

Theresa: We don’t have official investors for WORK+SHELTER. Start up $ for The Lotus Odyssey has thus far come from myself or from my partner and close friend Jorel VanOs. We are, however, trying to make ourselves investor-ready, though I am hesitant to give away any control of the company – we would need the right match to move forward with traditional investment opportunities.

A large portion of our fundraising for WORK+SHELTER has come through a Kickstarter campaign that we did last fall. We also did a benefit show, where bands played for free at The Pyramid Scheme, a venue in my hometown in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the cover charge was donated to us. Now that we’ve successfully launched our pilot project, W+S New Delhi, and been good stewards of the money that was given to us, I hope it will be easier for us to find funding in the future either via crowdsourcing, sales of our products, or grants or donations.

Pitfalls – We definitely had one really big “failure,” but I stand by my actions, and don’t regret what I did.

In the fall of 2009 I wanted to get a retail space to sell The Lotus Odyssey products. I was really enamored with the idea, and I still play around with the idea of having a brick and mortar retail space someday. I was familiar with a mall in Michigan, and had actually worked at a kiosk for a brief time in that mall, so I decided to move forward with renting a kiosk and selling the products there. We had sold the products at small boutiques in the area, and I had family and friends to help support the venture – my mother’s house was less than a mile away. It seemed like a really good idea. Nevertheless, the kiosk was a major bust (we didn’t make any $ and it was a HUGE time investment). Major reasons are as follows:

-Mall crowds DON’T CARE about fair trade. Customers frequently confused “fair trade” with “free trade.”

-Our price points were too expensive. Mall consumers were ultimately looking for the cheapest products. If our hand-made scarf was retailing at $30 - $50, that was just way beyond the $15 or so that Kohl’s was charging.

-I didn’t have enough stock (poor planning).

-I didn’t have enough $ to invest in stock and ship in advance. Thus, we had to ship everything by air, which was a lot more expensive.

-I wasn’t at the kiosk to manage it full time. I was in a graduate program in NYC at the time, so was commuting back and forth to Michigan to manage the space (what was I thinking?).

One week I worked over 80 hours without pay at the kiosk. I was exhausted and broke, and my husband, who hadn’t supported the kiosk idea from the very beginning, was really unhappy with me. To this day when I am thinking of taking big risks he reminds me of the kiosk failure. But in the end, even though the kiosk wasn’t financially successful, I really loved being able to see part of my dream come alive. Ultimately I can’t regret the experience since I gained so much from it. I’m very lucky to have been able to take a risk with my first business venture and escape relatively unscathed at such a young age - I was 23.

One more thing:
W+S ultimately relies on a model for existence that I think in some ways is fundamentally flawed. I know that I can be hard on myself, but really I think it’s true. Our model relies on the wealthy in developed countries buying products from poor people. The last thing wealthy people need is more stuff. The thing is, I really like stuff. Ultimately, I’d like to create another project that doesn’t rely on selling to the rich, but for now WORK+SHELTER is how I’m able to make my impact.


WORK+SHELTER official site

WORK+SHELTER on Facebook

The Lotus Odyssey

Dreams (edited from a 2005 piece)

I recently found this piece I had written in 2005. I edited a slightly to be more in tune with me today, but it remains so relevant...


What happened to your dreams? When you were younger you would sit in the park and dream the afternoon away. A joint was nice, a can of beer a plus, but neither were needed. You were just content to lie there in the sun, chatting to your friends and watching the world go by.

Not anymore. Is it all part of growing up, losing this carefree nature? I don’t mean I was happy as a teenager, far from it. I was driven by teenage angst and anger; trying to figure out why I was the way I was, why I was still alive, why I couldn’t just let go of certain parts of my past and live like a free person again. I could honestly go on and on about how depressed and messed up I was. But I also had a good circle of friends who were all going through the same kinds of problems and we all soldiered on. We felt happiness so easily, holding hands, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, walking barefoot through the grass, crowd surfing at metal concerts, wearing ripped jeans, pretty tops and lots of black eyeliner. Crushed but invincible at the same time.

Quiet but loud, obnoxious but so right, ready for anything, scared of everything, first boyfriends, first explorations, old minds in teenage bodies, bad poetry, wine and hash, mad dancing in the rain, staying up all night in parks… If you think about it I haven’t really changed all that much. I’m still as cynical and sweet, but just more intelligent. Actually I don’t think that is the right word. More realistic, less pessimistic but also less optimistic, but still so idealistic. I’ve learnt and am still learning, my skin has a few more lines now, but I’ll always have my smile.

My dreams haven’t gone anywhere as they have always been quite simple. Be happy and make other people happy. It’s a quest that will never leave me. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, being with those I love, being in a country I love and being near the ocean. The dreams just weren’t as defined back then, ten or twelve years ago, but they are still here. I may have spent years trying to run away from them, but the just keep following me everywhere, never giving up.

I often still feel like that teenage girl inside, maybe more worldly, calmer, braver, tougher but softer maybe, but still Jade. I can still crowd surf and dance on tables, but I’m a little more outspoken and a little more guarded. But don’t be mistaken, when I am sitting at the bar, drinking my cranberry and soda and watching the world go by, I am still dreaming away and wondering what the next steps should be...

Dreams, Thoughts, Words

I'm surprised I still have the energy to over think everything this week. It's been a constant struggle to feel like myself with the amount of pressure and stress I feel pulling me down at work. There really is never a day when I can sit down and smile and feel content at my desk. Not anymore, anyway. I remember what it used to be like and wonder if if that was just something I had conjured up in a dream. I was never meant to be trapped somewhere, I was always the independent one, the one who did what I wanted, when I wanted, where I wanted. There were no borders back then, it was so easy to run away to another country, drop whatever I was doing and get on a train to another city, work an extra shift to pay rent, take on a new student to but a new dress or CD, go to class or not, stay in bed and read Byron or Hardy all day... How did I ever end up working all the hours of the day (and evening) in an office on the 40th floor in a building in Manhattan?!
I still dream about being able to flutter around like a butterfly, landing here and there and taking off again. I know I craved some kind of stability, but I can grow roots anywhere, and I know how deep they still are in the places where I tried to pull them out.

It HAS to change. If I close my eyes long enough maybe I will open them and realise that this is all a dream and my dreams are reality.

Houses and dreams...

Mum recently got her real estate license and is going to sell houses as a hobby. So this weekend I went to a few open houses in the Mastic Beach area with her, just to see what type of places were being sold at the moment. I always find it a little strange, going into people's houses and looking around them, while they are still living there. But we saw some interesting, some very nice, and one amazing, places.

I'm thinking more and more about buying a small house out there, The prices are affordable right now, and I have always dreamed of owning my own house right by the bay, not far from the ocean. I already know how I would decorate all of the rooms, and how I want the garden to look. But would I want to live so far away from the city? In any case, I could never afford a down payment right now, so it's out of the question, but one can always dream.

I loved this one:

It needs a LOT of work, but it was really cute and quirky inside, and had loads of potential. I love old houses, places with character. I don't think I could ever buy a new house, unless it was built EXACTLY the way I envision my dream house. This one had a huge garden with lots of trees. Something I will always miss, living in an apartment in Bushwick.

We went to see a place that is priced at $2.8 million, right by the bay. Amazing. If I had that place I would never ever ever want to sell it. EVER. I liked the location too - It was in East Moriches, so still a nice peaceful area, unaffected by the Hamptons and all that crowd. I like towns and villages that still have character.

Anyway - it's nice to have dreams like this. Maybe all this will finally motivate me to learn how to drive. Because I would need a car out there...

Labor Day weekend

Listening to some interesting stories that my Mum's friend from England is telling. He has been to every major event in history in the past 25 years, reporting, Driving from Sarajevo to Tulsa and being shot at by snipers, hidden in a hotel room in the middle of a military coup, filming the Berlin wall coming down... Amazing...
Makes me wonder why I am still stuck doing a job I really don't want to be doing. Time to start doing what I want to, writing again. But in the meantime I have to do some work on Labor Day. Awesome, right?

Right now I am sitting on my Mum's deck with her best friend Elaine and one of her best friends from England, chatting about music and memories and the future. The moon is really high in the sky and the cicadas are singing away. I keep thinking that I should buy a little house out here, and possibly feel settled for once in my life. I just can't afford to do anything like that for at least a year. Would I miss the city too much? I couldn't move alone... Ahhh.
I want that one dream I have had for so long to become reality!!! But that's another story. I will continue to keep hoping.

This past week has been interesting.

While the moon rises over the bay I will leave you with a picture of my lovely Bella. The gentlest, sweetest and most adorable dog ever.