Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Life. Choices. And the Big Picture.

I feel rebellious today. So let me do this people otherwise I’m leaving work early ! Haha! You don’t have to be rebellious with me so you may want to stay out of this one, ok?

Here goes nothing.

You know, some people write something and then put a title to it. Well, I have to have the title first so I can write. If I know the title, then I know what the story it’s going to be about. It’s a summary of what’s coming. And this one was challenging because I could not decide over one thing and one thing alone. Initially I thought to call it “life outside Bucharest.” But then again I know it’s not as simple as that. Choosing a life in or outside Bucharest is a matter of choice. And then again I’ve been told at some point that I’m missing the big picture when it comes to living in the capital.

Well, I gave this statement a thorough thought. What am I missing? What does Bucharest offer that Valcea or Sibiu don’t? People live across the country and they still make it without the “possibilities and advantages” of the capital. A friend said “well people living in the province do not have the taste of the big city to be able to make a different choice. Perhaps if they had, they would have chosen Bucharest.”  But I know people who have tasted it and went back to the province.

Probably because of things being very busy lately, every time I go to my home town a very powerful and gripping feeling overwhelms me. Which hasn’t happened at all during all the 8 years I’ve been in Bucharest. I never liked Bucharest in the first place; I simply got used to it. Yet at the same time, when away from Bucharest, I always missed its agitation and the nervousness that has also caused me to change. At this point though I am not sure “missing” it’s the right word. Being nervous, agitated and on your toes, like a bow pulled just a little too hard, it’s a way of life in Bucharest most of the time. At least for the working class. We don’t count students haha .It’slike a virus you don’t like but you have to live with ‘cause it’s beneficial for you. But when you get out of Bucharest, you are still restless and “electrocuted” and it’s hard to ease up and relax.

At home things seem too simple, too slow. Too calm. Well, 8 years later I have come to look upon it differently. I walk the streets of my home town in Valcea and time slows down. I see people walking gently, not in a hurry, laughing and smiling, greeting each other. Children playing, elderly people sitting on benches on the sidewalks, saluting their young couple neighbors. The shops are not crowded and it doesn’t take me 3 hours to do my groceries. In fact I can travel half of the town’s shops in search for better prices if I want to. Traffic is not a killer. Most people actually walk to work. 

I used to walk to work when I was in Sibiu. It took me about half an hour and I was delighted to breathe in the morning air as I sneaked down the small streets. By the time I reached work I had done my morning walk and was ready to kick in. And when leaving in the evening I stood 90% chances of meeting someone I knew on the way home and stop for a chat or have dinner out. Coming and going from work meant relaxation not two hours wasted of my life on a daily basis because of traffic and crowded subways.

Of course, they say, once you get over this “peaceful” phase you’d want to be in Bucharest again, 'cause there's something really catchy about being in a big town. The lights, the fancy, the "you never know when" luck might hit you from around the corner. Well, yeah... So Bucharest offers many more theaters, cinemas and malls, but it steals away the free time you have to attend them. We do live in weekends. Half a weekend actually. I am discussing my situation of course. Maybe there are pioneers out there who go out during the week. I for one, barely have the energy to go to the gym after working from 9:00AM to usually 7:00PM. Less go out and waste an entire evening and go to bed late. And Saturday is wasted doing shopping and cooking and cleaning. And I am a morning person so I don’t start the day at noon. You need to make reservations for everything: cinema, theater etc because chances are if you try to be spontaneous you might not get in, because it’s too crowded.

In Valcea I think there’s only a cinema left. But who cares? I only make it to the movies once a month in Bucharest – if! So where is the difference if I only have one option in a smaller town? It’s exactly the same.

But the big picture. What’s the big picture? I get to meet important people, I get to make connections. I earn better money. Do I? In this world connections go both ways usually with very few exceptions from people who actually care for you and don’t just consider you from a business point of view. As long as you have nothing to offer back, then your connections might mean nothing. I get to meet important people. I am important to them as any other stranger. It all comes down to smiles and being polite. Following a business code that needs to keep you in the loop for when they need you, but do not be misled by their courtesy. It only goes as far as their interest goes. In all my years here out of all the people I’ve met, very very few who are actually still friends beyond the work/social liaison we’ve made. In my everyday life I still hold to my people, my friends, those whom I’ve known for years. So it must be that I earn more money. Right. Half of that goes down the drain on a monthly basis only on loan installments and bills. I’m pretty much left with my mom’s salary to live with for the entire month. I pay here for a condo almost as much as my friends pay for a two room apartment in Valcea. Of course their salaries there are half mine, yet look at them. They still own a house, they still have a family and make a living. Without the many opportunities offered by the capital. Only that with half the stress and agitation.

For those who were born and grew up in Bucharest this may seem strange. I for one, never went to Vama Veche every vacation in high school or college like most young people seem to have done here. For me vacations meant the country side, playing games, laughing with friends, going to the local clubs and gather the next morning for ice cream to make fun of the night before. Everything here is a business. I have to plan and fight for my child’s kinder garden, school and nanny. Some parents pay half their salaries to keep a nanny. It’s a flourishing industry this baby sitting stuff. You can’t let your kid play in front of the block anymore ‘cause there’s no room because of cars. There is quite a number of people in Bucharest who have moved here and have no close relatives to help them raise their babies. In smaller towns in most cases the grandparents are nearby and can assist with that much faster. Without mentioning the benefit of having a pair of grand-grandparents living in the country side which gives the children the benefit of an awesome vacation. Well, what I consider an awesome vacation: home to grandma and grandpa, barefoot, chasing the dogs, helping with the chores, having grandma make pancakes, eating fruit right off the tree etc.

So, again: what am I missing in the big picture? I am sure there is some practical/financial/work related reason that I am unable to see at this point, because emotionally/stress wise living outside Bucharest surely is much better.

I am just going to quote Simina Cernat, a young woman that I’m not even friends with on Facebook but that I have observed because of the wonderful pictures she has taken during several projects she undertook in Asia. Now I find out she is also a writer on top of a talented photographer and she has decided to take life by the horns and do what most of us (I know I do!) only dream of doing. Travel the world, meet people and see how others deal with life and what beauty they find in it and how they heal their pain and frustrations. I will quote her message before her journey began. It’s in Romanian so I will just translate a bit for you guys to get the essence:

“At some point I believed life lived me, that I am dyeing little by little, that I have become a living dead. I looked around and saw only lies and compromises. I saw successful people whose success was classified according to social standards, I saw happy and fulfilled people the way others have taught them to be. I saw vulnerability, fear and ego, inner turmoil and frustrations hidden under social masks. People who lie to themselves and those around them. People who confuse love for interest and comfort for emotional attachment. People who cannot be who they really are because of their own pride. Weak people; so weak that they want to distort reality because they are terrified of their own weakness. People, more people and other people. I did not want to bring my contribution to this sea already filled with misfortune, shuddered dreams, bleeding hearts and unfulfilled hopes. So I said enough and I reinvented myself.
It was easy actually. I simply had to be myself. Without having to care about what and how I should do things, what’s right or wrong. Without caring if others think me crazy, courageous or irresponsible. I decided to write about the weaknesses, fears, expectations and dreams of the people I am going to meet. About how special simple people are and about the world lying at their feet, a world they don’t see because of the social enterprise we live in and that dictates the stereotypes our lives should fit so we don’t become outcasts.
No. I don’t want to find a well paid job for which I have to stay at work 8 hours a day. I don’t want to live only in weekends. I don’t want my life to be a pattern: master + job, marriage, kids, car, house, loan installments, a two week vacation at the seaside during which I either sleep or drink and then retirement before the TV or close to a BBQ, a quick death after which endless inheritance arguments among my successors. I don’t want to reach 30 and be tired already, desperate to find a guy to marry me, have his kid fast before he realizes what he’s done and then have a sad conversation with my girls over a bear when he starts checking out younger women. This is not life, this is a bad joke. A joke the inevitably ends in sorrow and pain. A joke following which most people stop believing in themselves, in the world, in their dreams. In the fact that real love exists.
The same love we seek blindly throughout the world, the same love we miss seeing because we’re so desperate to fit society. Love which is so close and in reach for everyone, love which we ask for in every possible way and form but love that we never give back unless we get something in return. This entire search finds its final answer within each of us.
I am not leaving to look for something. I’m not leaving to rediscover myself. I’m not leaving because I hate being in one place or because I want to travel more. I simply leave because I need to feel I exist and I must live the way I am. Never any other way.
Come what may.”

Of course, many would say this is too philosophical. Many would say “you know, where does she get the money to travel from? Obviously she did have a well paid job at some point to make this happen now.” Of course she did. I don’t think money falls out of the sky for anyone (well…. Haha!) But the point is that once she did make the money she also made a decision. And you know how painful it is to admit that in most aspects she is right. We see it every day. And the worst part is that humanity in all its glory and demise is the same whether in Bucharest or somewhere else in the country. There will be materialistic people in Valcea as there are in Bucharest.

What I am saying is that, in these towns, life moves at a much slower pace, giving you time to actually enjoy it. People in Valcea would probably argue and say “what do you know! Jobs are scarce and not well paid and there’s not much to do here.” Yeah. Don’t worry; there’re not that many jobs in Bucharest either, surely not the ones you’re dreaming of, paying the fat checks. Most people earn a little more than what people holding the same jobs do in the province. But living costs are much higher.

And you don’t have much to do. Well, you do have things to do in Bucharest, you just don’t have the time to do them. Or the money; and those who think they can penetrate the ranks of the “important and rich” – it’s a dream! Unless you have the cash to sustain such relationships and image, you’re nothing but a mockery to them in 95% of the cases. Get realistic people, one afternoon (maybe not even an entire day!) at the mall costs at least RON 100. How many times do you think you can go to the movies per month with a normal salary? And combine that one movie with one time at a decent restaurant and going with friends let’s say twice a month and I’m telling you’ll feel it in your Bucharest “earn better” pocket. This is life for the normal worker in the capital and for those of you who believe we’re stepping on roses, think again. And those who make lots of money (I’m speaking about those who earn it through hard work), they barely have a life at all. Which is not what I want. Ever. I want enough to make that boring living Simina was talking about. Other than that I would just be happy if I had the peace of mind and the time to enjoy myself as a person, my family and friends and what I’ve built so far. Without that I am nothing but a machine. I get up, I have breakfast, I go to work, I leave work, I go home (or to the gym), have dinner, go to bed. Five days a week. Every week. Four weeks a month. 12 months a year except for legal holidays and 23 days of vacation. A vacation for which I work and stress so that I take those days off to relax so I can put up with the stress at work. Get it? haha

Any divergence from this schedule may cause me to lose sleep, be too tired and grumpy and then people complain that I’m a bitch hahaha.

Just think about it people. I know. It’s total bullshit. We can’t change our life the way we want to. We can’t all travel the world and we can’t all do what we want, how we want it. Heaven only comes when we die. And do believe me when I say that money always comes at a cost. Something is lost on the way if money is your goal in life; don’t bet your happiness on the banknotes. We all die poor in the end; at least from that point of view. God doesn’t take cash. But it takes your soul and whether your soul is filled with happiness and free of regrets – that is where your wealth truly lies.

Go visit your parents, those of you who are not from Bucharest. Send your kids in vacation despite their computer/tablet/Vama Veche clubbing desires. Have them spend at least a week with those wonderful grandparents. It will heal and enrich both generations. And you, yourselves, fight for your time away from work and stress. God knows it’s tricky, I am stumbling my way around and sometimes I fall prey to my own complaints and weaknesses and disappointment. Just don’t lose track of what’s really important. No matter where you are.

Va pup,

P.S. See, this is why I keep a blog. Whenever I have a bad day (I hate cloudy Tuesdays! Haha), by taking it out I somehow end up remembering things are not all that bad and even though I may start pessimistic and grim, at the end of the day and of the blog, I always find a solution. After all, I may not enjoy Bucharest but I have good friends here, a few indeed, but worthwhile. I have a job that still challenges me and God knows I like that haha and when I kick myself in the ass I can actually break away from this annoying city and go home to charge my battery, complain about how life sucks, get a smack on the back of my head from mom and then grin like an idiot. My grandparents lived a very simple life but it was never easy for them. They never traveled the world. They have not even seen Romania. Mom has done a bit better, but not much. I am the most fortunate of the family and it’s because of their constant encouragement. So when I look back at that I feel selfish and a little spoiled brat. So yeah, Bucharest rocks! Haha It is I who sucks, because I don’t learn to just let go every now and then and make things slow down even when life around me keeps on spinning and wants to pull me in. Conclusion: I need a vacation haha!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Animal Cruelty - The Race to Humanity

Imagine living inside a locked closet without any control over any aspect of your life. 
You can’t choose when and what you eat, how you will spend your time, whether or not you will have a partner and children, or who that partner will be. You can’t even decide when the lights go on and off.
Think about spending your entire life like this, a prisoner, even though you have committed no crime. This is life for an animal in a laboratory. It is deprivation, isolation, and misery.

On top of the deprivation, there are the experiments. U.S. law for example, allows animals to be burned, shocked, poisoned, isolated, starved, drowned, addicted to drugs and brain-damaged. No experiment, no matter how painful or trivial, is prohibited – and pain-killers are not required.  Even when alternatives to the use of animals are available, the law does not require that they be used—and often they aren’t.

Animals are infected with diseases that they would never normally contract, tiny mice grow tumors as large as their own bodies, kittens are purposely blinded, rats are made to suffer seizures, and primates’ skulls are cut open and electrodes are implanted in them. Experimenters force-feed chemicals to animals, conduct repeated surgeries on them, implant wires in their brains, crush their spines, and much more.

After enduring these terrifying, painful procedures, animals are then usually dumped back into a cage without any painkillers. Video footage from inside laboratories shows animals who cower in fear every time someone walks by their cages. They don’t know if they will be dragged from their prison cells for an injection, blood withdrawal, a painful procedure, surgery or death. Often they see other animals killed right in front of them.

No animals are safe from experimentation—primates, dogs, rats, mice, rabbits, pigs, fish and cats are just a few of the animals who are routinely used in these tests.

It is estimated that at least 500 million animals suffer in labs throughout the United States alone.  In fact, no federal law regulates what happens to animals during actual experiments. Even food, water, medical care and infant access to mothers are routinely denied if deemed to be necessary for experimental conditions. Law enforcement is notoriously lax, and ethical decisions are made by industry insiders, often co-workers and friends of the researchers.

Animal Testing is cruel and unreliable. There are three main animal tests used on millions of animals each year: (1) the Eye Irritancy Testing which is also called the Draize test, which forces chemicals into the eyes of fully conscious, restrained rabbits. No pain relievers or anesthetics of any kind are used. The extreme pain often causes them to struggle so severely that they break their own backs-dying in agony needlessly. (2) The Skin Irritancy Testing, which places corrosive chemicals onto the shaved/raw skin of rabbits and guinea pigs. The caustic nature of these substances causes severe injuries to the animals. Gaping wounds and bleeding are common. (3) And the Oral Toxicity Testing, the LD50, which force-feeds strong chemicals to fully conscious animals for 14-28 days until they die.

I saw a video once that showed another pointless and troubling test made on geese. One of the low I.Q researchers had a thought. How could a goose survive on the ground if he could not fly. Everyone agreed it was a very good idea. 50 geese were rounded up, their wings were broken, and they were left to thrive on their own in a wooded area. I don’t need to continue to tell you they all died a slow unnecessary death. I am sure the one who dreamed up this ignorant experiment received a commendation and a promotion.

Imagine if he had been in their place. Now this doesn't look very appealing now does it? It is incredible how we are disgusted when seeing pictures of bloody suffering animals, but we are absolutely enraged, fearful and rebelious when seeing our fellow humans possibly in a similar situation. As a Romanian saying says: "Ce tie nu-ti place, altuia nu-i face." ("what you don't like done to yourself, don't do to others."). Well it works for every living creature.
Of course, domestic animals are not the only target.
There is also a dolphin horror story to be told.

Every year more than 20,000 dolphins, whales, and porpoises are killed by Japan. This is the largest deliberate slaughter of dolphins in the world. In Taiji Bay, a picturesque tourist attraction, Japanese fishermen employ "drive fishery" to force dolphins and other sea mammals ashore then hack them to death, slashing their throats and stabbing them with spears and knives repeatedly.

Fishermen go out in boats to known dolphin migratory routes. Positioning their boats strategically, they space out to form a line and wait for the dolphins. When the dolphins arrive, the fishermen drop long metal pipes into the water, and by banging on the pipes they create a wall of sound. The sound interferes with the dolphins' ability to navigate - it disorients and panics them. The dolphins swim away from the sound, and the fisherman maneuver their boats herding them into a small shallow bay. Once in the bay, nets are drawn across the mouth of the bay to keep them penned in. Dolphins will not abandon these wounded family members and so they are trapped and brutally killed.

Even though dolphins are among the world's most intelligent animals, the fishermen view the animals as "pests" who compete for fish.

The Japanese fishermen use threats and violence to keep tourists and others away from the bay, knowing that their fellow citizens and the world-at-large would oppose them. The Japanese government issues permits to allow this massacre. The government and fishermen are so secretive that the majority of Japanese people don't even know the slaughter occurs.

After the massacre, the bodies of the dolphins are taken to a slaughter house to be butchered. The meat is severely contaminated with pollutants but is sold without warnings in supermarkets in Japan - supermarkets often owned by US and European chains.

Beyond the experiments and the slaughter for profit, excessive fishing that leaves some waters almost barren of their fish population (I don’t understand then why  the local fishermen are complaining there’s not enough fish anymore!), there are also the most common every day deeds that your next door neighbor can be blamed for. Animal neglect and cruelty in its very pure form.

And here I’d include dog and cock fights. We very well know that in some American states certain breeds of dogs like Bulldogs and Rottveilers have been outlawed considered to be violent animals. Well what about the humans breeding them for illegal fights? They take advantage of the animal’s more aggressive and territorial nature and engage them in life and death fights out of which most dogs are left with untreatable wounds or simply die because of infections and broken bones. The images shown by the ASPCA (American Veterinary Police) are horrifying.

And then there is the neglect towards our pets. Dogs, cats, cows, horses, sheep, goats – you name it! – left chained or locked away without food or water, untreated wounds, dirty infected cages, abandoned inside homes when the owners move away and the list could go on. If you cannot care for your pet then give him away to someone who can. Once you’ve made them dependant on you, they won’t know how to properly take care of themselves on their own. I bet Grasu would have a really hard time surviving the people and traffic and rats in the garbage in Bucharest before he learns the way of the street and make a life for himself without me. I cannot even picture this scenario actually!

Before. You wouldn't know that's a dog right there.
After. But there he is. A tiny little one too. That's what happens when you have a pet who needs groooming and you ignore to trim his hair. 
Before: Yes. If you chain them in mud that's how they'll look.

After. This is how the dog looks under all that mud.

Exotic animals are NOT pets. Get it people!
There is also the increasing danger of over breeding coming from the so called hoarders, people who are really in love with animals and from the desire to do good they adopt way too many animals, more than they can handle. And suddenly you have cases of people owning 50 cats, all in a small house, who have bred amongst themselves and are most likely wild because you cannot tame them all. Or too many dogs trapped in small muddy enclosures, underfed, no vaccines, literally forming a point of infection for both the animal and the owner. And when the police tries to seize these animals the owners literally go crazy on them. Obsession taken to the extremes is not healthy for any of the parties involved. I’ve seen some pretty nasty cases on TV.

Of course, where there is so much cruelty, there is also good in the people who fight for animal rights. Who understand that we are the "superior" beings and that stray dogs for example are the consequence of our own neglect. They don’t let themselves out in the street. We do. We can’t blame them for being animals and wanting to survive when let loose in our environment. It’s like we should be blamed for being human. I mean, one of our best excuses is “I’m only human.” Well, they’re only animals with a lesser intelligence than us. Or so they say. Sometimes it makes me wonder if their instinct and emotional intelligence doesn’t make up for the lack of knowledge when it comes to animal vs man.

I wish we had a veterinary police the way Americans have. God, I’d volunteer for that in a blink! I will just add a few pictures of people in different situations who have unconditionally helped their fellow animals.

I would also add, there’s a tremendous debate among parents if animals should be allowed near kids, especially when they are very small. That would require a whole new blog to cover, but I am just going to say this: I would let my Grasu next to my baby because Grasu has been vaccinated and taken care of as if he were a member of my family. I know he would form a wonderful bond with my child because there is an emotional connection and a level of trust out there that I cannot explain in words. The dog we sent to Germany (Finchen – that mom and I visited last year) she’s ten days older than Nancy’s youngest daughter, Zoey. They grew up together and you cannot possibly separate them. Finchen even got her own pacifier because she saw Zoey had one too. This is a long lasting friendship, I know it. 

I grew up with Lupa, my German Shepard girl. I literally had her since she was a tiny little rat of a pup. She died age 13 following cancer complications and despite three surgeries and treatment. By the time the disease took over she could no longer walk and grandpa and grandma would carry her on a blanket. That’s love. Grandpa would even carry her pups when they were very tiny and born in winter in his breast pocket, inside the jacket, to keep them warm while Lupa was out to stretch her legs. She was always very fond of us for helping her raise her babies. We’ve saved dogs and cats from poisoning, from being beaten up, from being caught in fences and barb wire. One of our neighbors threw an ax at Nero (Lupa’s father) and cut his back leg. He underwent surgery and was left to live the rest of his life without an entire muscle to his leg. He still walked but it he would get tired very fast if he tried to run. I saved a few kittens, a piglet and a turkey chick when I was younger. I never thought I’d end up having a pet because I want animals to have the space and liberty to move and live free in as much as possible. But I was blessed with this absolutely adorable, loving, fantastic personality of a cat, my masked warrior Grasu. And yes, he would enjoy my babies and my babies will surely make him “suffer” haha!

There are many benefits to having a healthy, loving pet. Dogs are exceptionally loyal and intelligent animals. Look at all the rescue, cadaver, drug detection dogs. The guide dogs for the blind and those who are trained to warn people when they’re having an epileptic seizure. And there are countless stories of people being rescued by their non-trained pets when having a heart attack or literally being stuck in an emergency situation.

I am only scratching the surface when it comes to animal cruelty against domestic and wild life. We think a spider is insignificant? I am sure it has a role in the system that we probably don’t care about. Of course, too much of one species ruins the natural balance. But many times we have helped destroy that balance by bringing animal/bugs/birds/fish species from other countries to our own environment as pets, then we let them go out there. So we ended up with boa snakes in Florida and gigantic grass hopers in God knows what farm lands in countries where this bug doesn’t normally live. And then bye bye crops!

I say let’s do what we can to prevent animals from being treated so horribly. Technology has evolved and there are alternatives to animal testing. And if that is not an option for the large corporations and industries seeking profit alone, then perhaps we can improve legislation and prevent them from being so unnecessarily cruel. Even if I absolutely doubt that is possible with the things I’ve seen happening in those labs.

For the rest – it’s up to our consciousness and common sense. There are entire cities along the Mediterranean coast who survive solely on fishing. Perhaps something should be done so they focus on other activities and have other revenue sources for a while so they allow the fish to repopulate. It would benefit both the sea and them. Attempts are being made to create natural marina reservations, pretty much like in Africa and a recent documentary made by Jean Jacque Cousteau’s son shows the exceptional difference between these areas protected by law and those where fishing is still allowed. Red coral for example - from which exquisite jewelry is made /// and was literally scraped off the bottom of the sea in the 70s in huge quantities /// and takes about 50 years to get to maturity - is now finally showing on the deep water cliffs and the fish population is ten times larger than outside the reservation. Unfortunately, these sanctuaries are very few in numbers as the pressure for profit is immense and the environmentalists are powerless sometimes in facing these materialistic aspects of our society.

And remember: not being involved directly in animal cruelty - for those who suuport this idea! - doesn't mean that you are not to be blamed when you destroy their habitat. And by you I mean us, humans. Cutting down forests, burning entire fields, poisoning the waters with our garbage and chemical waste, air pollution - it's still animal cruelty. And ironically, it's human cruelty as well because we all share this planet. 

Take care of your pets, groom them and take them to the vet for tests at least once a year. But beyond all, give them attention and love and communicate with them like with any other member of your family. Because that’s what they are. I believe we are all coming back to this world in cycles. Sometimes as humans, sometimes perhaps as another kind of soul. If you were to be reborn an animal and suffer this way – how would you like it?

We all deserve a happy life; as humans and as animals. So let’s work on it!