Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Flashback to December 2010: Guatemala May Be in My Future

On December 22, 2010, I wrote this post: Guatemala May Be in My Future:

Guatemala May Be in My Future

This apartment rents for $700 per month at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Perfect for a vacation, especially with a roomie or two

I wonder if there's a language school in the area. Will have to check.  

As nice as the above is, apparently one can find hotel rooms (private bath + wireless) for less than $200 per month.

On today, December 22, 2015 --> Stay tuned.

Monday, December 7, 2015

South Louisiana: Buggy Mayhem

Within days of making South Louisiana my temporary home - back in November 2013 - I noticed two things:
  1. Parking lots strewn with shopping carts (aka "buggies"), abandoned willy-nilly by departed customers, taking up valuable parking lot spaces, even handicap spaces; and 
  2. That maddening phenomenon in which an individual squats like a fat spider in a parking lane, waiting for her target parking spot to free up, when the customer hasn't even quite arrived at his vehicle yet, much less unloaded his purchases or got into his car, thereby said spider jamming up traffic for everyone else. 
Dear South Louisianans, I love you, and I'd like you to know that the above behaviors are NOT universal. In most communities, inhabitants actually park their carts in the corrals designed precisely for such a purpose. As for the squatting, I see this happen in other regions, but usually it's restricted to prime holiday-shopping times.

I mentioned the buggy abandonment to a native South Louisianan recently. She looked startled for a moment, then said, "Oh, I do that all the time! I never even thought about it. I don't know why I do it."

Sometimes, when looking out upon the field of scattered buggies, I consider theories of how this custom might have originated: 
  1. Someone Else Theory: "It's someone else's job to put the buggies away, not mine." (Or you could substitute "someone else" with Mom.) 
  2. Job Protection Theory: "If we put away our own carts, someone might lose their job." 
  3. I'll Be Damned Theory: "I work hard all week and I'll be damned if I'm going to put away the buggy. Let the store do it, by God, they take enough money from me as it is."  
  4. Everyone Else Does It Theory: "Everybody else does it. If I put away my buggy, I'll look stupid / weak." 

Is the buggy-abandonment tradition tied to the sad litter problem in South Louisiana?  I don't know, but it seems possible. On the other hand, New Mexico also has a litter problem, but based on my anecdotal observations, New Mexicans put their carts away. (According to this article, Louisiana is one of the 11 most littered states in the country.)

I met a woman once who makes a practice of herding abandoned carts into the proper corrals. She does it as a way to give anonymous service to others, which helps her in her personal growth. Frankly, this would never have occurred to me as something to do, but ever since she told me of her practice, I follow it on occasion, too.

Oh, and here is The Parking Lot Jesus:

When I encounter a habit that appears irrational on the surface, I remember a story.

Some years back, in a village in South Africa, the elders dug a well in the middle of town. There was much gladness for the well because girls and women no longer had to walk a long way to the nearest stream to gather water. The close-by well saved time and energy that could be devoted to other pursuits.

But shortly after the well was dug, vandals broke the mechanism designed to draw the water up. The village made repairs, but again, vandals broke the mechanism. Why someone would do harm to such a wonderful amenity was inexplicable! This happened one or two more times before the vandals were caught.

The culprits were adolescent boys. Why did they do it? Hahahaha - they did it because the well had closed off their opportunity to flirt with the girls when they walked down to the stream to get water. What had appeared irrational on the surface now made sense.

So I'm guessing there is - or was, at one time - some rationale for buggy abandonment in South Louisiana.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Opelousas: Death in Black and White

Myrtle Grove Cemetery, Opelousas, Louisiana.

There's a good chance that if you're brown and you live in Opelousas, you'll die 15 years sooner than your white neighbors.

How do I know this?

Soon after I moved to Opelousas, a couple of events got me looking at local obituaries.
I looked at the obituaries of two local funeral homes: Sibille and Williams. The first thing I noticed is that Sibille is the funeral home for white folks and Williams is the funeral home for those of color.

Over time, as I periodically visited the obituary listings, it seemed that the ages of death over on the Williams obituary page were notably younger than those at over at the Sibille page. This was odd.

To test this perception, I looked at all of the obituaries at Sibille and Williams for the people who died in October and November 2015
  • White: average age of death = 79.36 years
  • Brown: average age of death = 63.67 years
  • 79.36 minus 63.67 = 15.69 average difference in age

OK, what about outliers? Brown people who died extraordinarily young and white people who lived well into their 90s? They skewed the average for these two months, yes?

I crunched the numbers again, this time tossing out the oldest white decedent and the youngest brown decedent. Results:
  • White: average age of death = 78.24 years
  • Brown: average of death = 65.0 years
  • 78.24 minus 65.0 = 13.24

In this adjustment, Opelousas residents of color died THIRTEEN years younger than their white neighbors, still shocking.  

Now I needed a control group, so I looked at deaths in central Missouri, whence I came, using two funeral homes there: Millard Family Funeral Chapels and May Funeral Home. Unlike Sibille and Williams in Opelousas, there is some integration of services at Millard and May, but there is still a strong bias in the clientele served. Generally, Millard's clients are white. Generally, May's clients are brown.

Results for October and November 2015 in mid-Missouri: 
  • White: average age of death (served by Millard) = 72.85 years, after excluding the oldest and youngest decedents
  • African-American: average age of death (served by both Millard and May) = 60.17 years after excluding the oldest and youngest decedents 
  • 72.85 minus 60.17 = 12.68 years average difference in age upon death

So from a slice of mid-Missouri, African-American decedents died an average of TWELVE AND HALF YEARS younger than their white neighbors.

Note: In the Missouri sample, there was what seemed to be an aberrational number of infants who died (at least I hope it was aberrational), both white and black. So for the Missouri comparison, I excluded the oldest individual and the youngest individual in both white and African-American groups. 

Side note: Jesus. Why are mid-Missourians, generally, dying so young? And it's astounding to compare the average age of African-American deaths in mid-Missouri to average age of white deaths in the Opelousas area - almost TWENTY years difference!

Centuries of institutional racism have a long, long reach.

But maybe you think that I happened to choose two months in a particular year that were non-representational of the facts. Wonderful! By all means, please dig deeper. Please do.  

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Learning to Dance, Part 5: Anticipation

Lincoln University dance recital, April 2010. Jefferson City, Missouri.

When it comes to ketchup and romantic trysts, anticipation is a good thing. It's not so good in the context of dance.

When I "anticipate" in dance, it means that I take a dance step that I think will correspond to what my dance lead will do in the next moment.

Anticipation is a well-meaning attempt of a new dancer to:
  1. Avoid making a mistake; and
  2. Paradoxically, follow well. 

Notwithstanding the good intentions, anticipation is a bad habit. Anticipation is an attempt to control the unknown. It's about living in the future and not in the moment. It's about making assumptions about your partner, which may not be true. It's about trying to get into the head of another person and, in the process, losing touch with one's own thoughts and feelings, the flow of the music, and the physicality that's happening in the now.

When I refrain from anticipation, I sharpen my dance skills because I am forced to pay closer attention to signals from my partner. Because I let go of my illusion of control, I am freer to get inside the music and to feel the physical interplay between me, my partner, and the music. I accept that I will make mistakes.

Related posts: 

Learning to Dance, Part 1: Solving for X
Learning to Dance, Part 2: The Tao of Following
Learning to Dance, Part 3: The Pause
Learning to Dance, Part 4: Signals