Summer mood 5: joy

Cloudcatchers

– Karessa Ramos

We lie on the sand,

on the grass, on the ground

while watching clouds

as they glide,

as they drift all around.

Everything turns

suddenly astounding.

 

We walk fast

we walk slow

we walk barefoot

feeling the wind blow.

I catch your smile

and your dimpled chin.

Nothing is ever as sublime.

 

Who cares

about forever?

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Summer moods 3 and 4: nostalgic and very nostalgic

Nostalgic

I know this place

I’ve been here before.

So beautiful

like milk froth

and comfortable

like soft rain.

And easy

like child’s play.

 

I was here before.

This place, familiar.

But this is somewhere

I can’t belong.

I don’t belong.

And so I won’t be here long.

In this easy place

with the beautiful rain.

***

Very nostalgic

Is it the light?

Am I the moth

Dazed with the fire?

Is it the sound?

Are you the siren’s song?

Am I spellbound?

 

Perhaps it’s not as easy.

Is it ever simple?

What part of this is reality?

Which one is but a memory?

Smokes and mirrors

haze my view.

How to tell the rest from the you?

If it’s just the lights,

if it’s only the sound,

I’ll get over this in Vegas.

– Karessa Ramos

Summer moods 1 and 2: gratefulness and empathy

Gratefulness

It’s not hard to be

grateful when you clearly see

others’ misery.

***

Empathy

The truth about you

here and now, is that we are

similar, we two.

 

We have feelings, we

build walls and defend. Not much

different, are we?

 

Sympathetic when

the other cries. But glad it’s

not us, torn inside.

 

When the other wins

we celebrate, we cheer, yet

we wish it was  us.

– Karessa Ramos

 

Conversation 2: Questions Regarding the Union of European Nations (Part 2)

Disclaimer: the contents featured in the following conversations do not necessarily reflect the author’s opinion.

Two winters ago, overheard in a café somewhere in the north…

Daughter in law (D): I can’t believe those beggars (shakes head). How can they can stomach using their own children to beg for money even during cold, winter months? The parents should be reprimanded, and the children be taken to foster care. And if they don’t want it, then they should go look for jobs.

Mother in law (M): I know. Most of them are Romanians or Bulgarians. Worse is, they form groups of 3 or 4 and pick pockets! I don’t want them here.

D: You know that’s not a politically-correct thing to say, right?

M: I don’t care. They shouldn’t be here. Mind you, I’m talking about the beggars and the pick pockets. Those who are working should stay. But the rest should be deported. They don’t contribute to anything here.

D: Still…

M: No, you listen to me. My friends and I always see a beggar at the entrance of a supermarket back home. She’s there everyday from morning until past midday. So one day, one of my friends offered her to work as a domestic aid. Guess what she answered?

D: Obviously she said she didn’t want to.

M: Exactly! the nerve! I felt really indignant. I wasn’t able to help myself so I told her, “Oh, so you must really be more comfortable begging, rather than exerting extra effort and getting a job, huh?”. She stared at me and I had to keep on walking. I was so mad.

D: I wonder why they don’t want to work. I mean, even if we conclude that it’s more comfortable to just stretch out your arms for people to drop coins in your hands… a job is still more stable, not to say secure choice for the person and his or her family.

M: Me? I wonder why they don’t just beg in their own countries. Romania and Bulgaria are already part of the European Union. They are already receiving funds to develop their economies and to subsidize low-income people. Why would they choose to come here when they could easily stay at their homes and receive government aid? Much like the people in this country, who refuse to be under-employed because their lives are more comfortable in their houses while they receive unemployment allowance…

D: Well, if you put it that way… if they chose to come here despite of what you just pointed out, then the easy answer would be that, the funds don’t reach to where they should. That is to say, those who manage the funds must be pocketing it for themselves.

M: Isn’t a clean, transparent governance part of the requisites to be an EU member?

D: Yes, but the markets promised by those countries are far more important for the Union. You know? so certain countries are more or less assured of having people buy their goods.

M: … (makes a face)

D: So, are we ordering more coffee or what?

*-*

It was the beginning of summer 2016 and four friends were riding the InterRail en route to Brussels…

Friend 1 (1): What just happened yesterday?

Friend 2 (2): Oh f*ck, the Brits voted Brexit, that’s what happened! silly fools…

Friend 3 (3): Tell that to them. I’m sure they feel even superior, if possible.

Friend 4 (4): Oooookay, no need to insult or cause any offense to anyone…!

2: As much as I respect you, I must say, your people are crazy, guillible, a**holes! Ha-ha! I’m sorry, I’ve never been this entertained since last year’s Eurovision…

4: Well, in the defense of my people, I should say, “We know what we’re doing”. But really, I don’t think we do. So yeah, you must be on to something there! Haha!

1: That’s like a big, fat slap on EU’s face, don’t you think? That’s like a really, really bad break up… no, no! It’s the promise of a very ugly divorce…

3: So much for a “union”…

(Everybody snickers)

3: I’m very curious as to how Brussels would manage this situation. I mean, how will the EU stand as a strong competition for other economic blocks when its nations appear divided?

2: You’re in a shrink’s mood today, aren’t you? Could you take a break? We’re on holidays!

4: No, no, wait… she’s right. If you look at it, the EU needs more than all the super glue it could collect to present a united, well, presentation.

1: To project, dude! to project… we’re on holidays from school, not from using our brains…!

4: Yeah, whatever…

2: Hey, the shrink might be right. Just this morning I heard from the radio about how different Northern Europe is to Southern Europe. And not just character-wise, mind you.

1: Now that you mention it, well yes, it makes sense. And wasn’t that the argument of those who were anti-single currency advocates? that basically the difference in the standards of living, reflected in prices, could do more harm than good for those entering in the single currency zone?

3: Actually I wanted to point out the difference between the left-wing Europeans and the right-wing ones. You know, those who want to steer the Union towards a Superstate versus those who aim for Federalism… It’s not enough that all politicians and decision-makers want a better Europe for the Europeans. They have to map out how to achieve that.

2: Yes, we know. The spenders versus the austere ones.

3: Well, you have to spend SOMETHING to guarantee a minimum, decent quality of life for the citizens!

1: Or you could save up for the rainy days…

3: BUT WE ARE IN THE RAINY DAYS!

4: Yeah, well, you can aaaall relax, as there’s no point in arguing. The left-wingers would soon be outnumbered anyway, if not banished from Brussels…

3. So basically you’re saying that we’ll be better off scratching our balls?

4. Or scratching it for each other, if you’re so bent over helping your fellowman.

2: Heeey! I’m the tactless brute of the group! Don’t take that away from me!

*-*

Early autumn last year, an uncle and nephew take a walk in a park…

Nephew (N): I’m really excited! Soon I’ll be living in a different country, with an interesting job… even if the pay’s not the best, at least I get to have this experience.

Uncle (U): Good for you. I hope you meet a nice girl and settle down.

N: I’m not going there to find a bride! But I heard the women are pretty over there…

U: Yes they are. So don’t get married, just hook up with as much girls as possible. He he!

N: (Blushes) Anyway, I feel kind of sad, though.

U: Well, homesickness is normal. But I guess your mother would visit you every month so no need to be sad about missing her! (snorts)

N: No, I feel sad because all through my student life, I was a scholar. All my school expenses were paid for by the government. And now, the thought of “serving” another country makes me feel bad for ours. I really wanted to give back.

U: Hm…

N: Anyway, one thing is to feel bad because of that. Another is to feel awful when I realized that only capital and goods can truly freely move around EU. Movement of labor is still very much restricted.

U: I’m listening.

N: This system is giving young people like me very few choices. Either stay in your country and be bored out of your wits as you’ll be unemployed. Or, go find a job somewhere else in the EU, where you’ll have a theoretical “advantage” above applicants from countries outside of it.

U: There’s the choice of working outside the EU.

N: Yes, but the point is to be closer to home.

U: Okay. Go on. Why do you say the movemet of labor is restricted?

N: For starters, I met recruiters who prioritize candidates from local universities. WHY? Anybody could be just as good as their locally-produced graduates.

U: What else?

N: I heard that I won’t be receiving my social security card for sure at least 6 months. So whatever health expenses I would have during the waiting period, I’d have to shoulder myself. Why? I mean, I can understand if it’s a month, if they want to wait for my tax. But 6 months? I’m an EU citizen!

U: Hmp!

N: I mean, sure, they’d reimburse me for the expenses but it wouldn’t be automatic, I’ll have to wait for some weeks. I really don’t understand. All this would simply discourage foreigners to work in their country. Meh… but, wouldn’t it be more enriching if labor markets were more open?

U: Enriching for some, not all. Especially not for the politicians.

N: Are you changing the subject again because you want to talk about politics and complain about that long-haired guy?

U: Listen. Whenever there’s an initiative or a feasible idea which is good for the general population but is not being implemented, that is because the politicians wouldn’t get anything from it. Think. What would garner more votes? a promise to open up the labor market and toughen the competition for all job applicants? or perhaps a promise to protect and prioritize national workers against “invaders”, threatening to “flood” the labor market with their offer of “cheaper” salaries?

N: Hm…

U: Believe me, if you were a citizen of your future new home, you’d be offered a permanent contract. But you’re not, I mean, you can’t influence elections over there. You mean nothing to the political class.

N: Oh well! I guess the good news is that I could be returning home soon, huh?

U: Not if you find a girl to marry, you won’t! (winks)

-The end-

Click here to read Part 1 and here to read Conversation 1.

Personal Interview

It was a fine Monday morning when a dear colleague from Human Resources approached me quite excitedly. I honestly thought she was going to ask or share some tips about child rearing, as we are both first-time moms. Never did I imagine that she would ask me if I wanted to be interviewed for the official, internal blog of the Foundation where I work.

Clearly at this stage of my life, I have already had various interview sessions both as the interviewer and the interviewee. However, this is the first time I got interviewed with the aim of sharing the content (ergo, my thoughts) to the public! I had to pause with disbelief. I’m a very opinionated person but then I thought, “Who would want to bear with me and my craziness on purpose?” I mean, would you dare, dear reader? If you would, then without further ado, let me share with you the translated version of the said article. (For those of you who wants to read the original version in Spanish, just click the following link: Entrevistamos a Karessa Ramos, Comunicación y Relaciones Externas _ Nos-otros)

-*-

We interview Karessa Ramos, from the Communications and External Relations Department

DSC_9470

L-R: Leo, Carlos and Karessa, taken along the Coulée Verte (Paris 12ème)

Briefly tell us: how would you describe yourself?

According to me, I’m flexible. According to Filipinos, “Marunong makisama” which roughly means someone who knows how to get along well with others. Lastly, according to my family and friends, tenacious.

Imagine that you could only have one hobby. What would it be? and why would you choose it?

Cooking and baking. I love the whole process, from going to the market to buy the ingredients, to tasting the finished product (of course). I don’t know exactly why I like it. Perhaps it’s because sharing food is vital within the social life of us Filipinos.

How did you come to work at the BBVAMF (BBVA Microfinance Foundation)?

I started out as an intern, hired to work for a few months in Bancamía (the Foundation’s entity in Colombia), with the Finance Department in 2010. Luís Germán Linares was still VP for Finance at that time. (Did you know that I got an offer to work for them?) When my “apprenticeship” ended and I had to return to Spain, I consulted  whether there was any vacant posts I could vie for in the Foundation. It turned out that a vacancy just opened up at the Finance Department and that was where I started: collaborating in the elaboration of the Annual Consolidated Financial Report, with my first mentor, Ana Nogueras.

Come on… Tell us a funny moment you’ve had in the BBVAMF.

It was during one afternoon in the office and I was checking some PPT templates. I had my headphones on and was listening to ’80s songs and when Kylie Minogue’s song played, I started singing without realizing it, and my officemates started to stare. I suddenly saw some of them turn their heads down smiling, or maybe they were laughing. Later on, I understood that it was because I sounded like a cat… Well, for me it was funny, but maybe for the rest it was annoying, hehehe! (Let’s ask Victor H.)

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

The lessons I learned are my greatest achievements. And among them, I really treasure having learned to be more assertive and empathetic (although a lot of work has yet to be done). If I may add another thing: I am also very proud of the relationships I’ve established through the years. I’m surrounded by good, kind, intelligent and trustworthy people. They help me think, they laugh with me (and at me, I suppose), they cry with me, eat with me… they offer excellent company and I learn a lot from them.

What has been your happiest moment?

When I survived my son’s birth in France. There was a moment when I was actually thinking of leaving final instructions to my husband because I already accepted I wouldn’t last for very long. So when the doctors announced that they could solve my issues, I felt really happy. Most of all, that wave of happiness came when I started realizing I was going to live for at least another day!

Where would your ideal vacation be?

In my hometown, in the Philippines.

If you could learn something new, what would it be?

I’d learn how to ride a horse.

If  you could transform into another person, who would it be and why?

I would like to be transformed into my grandmother, and experience how it is being my own mom’s mother, HAHAHAHA! Seriously now, my maternal grandmother was the first enterprising woman I’ve ever met. She was strong like no other: she separated with my grandfather, taking charge of her four children with a teacher’s salary, she learned how to cook many kinds of plants so her family wouldn’t go hungry… when she retired, she improved her cooking skills and started a catering business so she wouldn’t depend on her children for her expenses. Furthermore, as a teacher, she would stay until late in the school, tutoring the students for free and she wouldn’t go home until they caught up with the lesson. I would like to be a woman like her: committed, intelligent, creative, generous and with the desire to transform her environment. The reason is because I’m seeing the legacy she left behind, the values and principles my cousins and I possess. And I also see how we are trying to pass them onto our own children.

A dream?

I wish for women’s situation to be normalized. That is to say, for us to stop feeling pressured to prove ourselves as valid as men; for us to fearlessly express our femininity whichever way we want to; that our happiness, value and aspirations not be measured with masculine metrics; that we stop judging ourselves and the competition that supposedly exists among us be converted into solidarity and cooperation.

While we’re dreaming… What would be your super power?

I would like to have the power to teleport. Is that how you say it? I like traveling a lot and that would cheapen the fare, hahaha!

Anything else you want to share about yourself?

I love eating. And you know it!

The former interviewee would like to ask you: if you could travel to the past, where and insist period would you have liked to live?

I would like to travel to the Philippines during the precolonial era.

.

To the employers that have turned me down

Dear sir/madam employer,

THANK YOU!

Thank you so much for not hiring me, for not counting on my services in your company’s projects. Thank you for not believing in my talent, thank you for your biases and thank you for your fears and insecurities about hiring a young mother. I really can’t say “thank you” enough!

True, the moment you declined my recruitment, I felt discouraged and even started to doubt myself. It is true too, that I felt crushed when I asked for an explanation and you did not give me any feedback that I could use for future job applications.

Undeniably, I spent many a day wondering what turned hiring teams away from me. I remember asking people for their assessment and among the dozens I received, I would like to highlight a couple:

On one hand, the most helpful of all clearly said, “It’s very tough for a young woman your age, and a mother at that, to find a strong foothold, professionally speaking. They just wouldn’t hire fertile females at the height of a possible reproduction stage!”

On the other, the most bizarre of them all was from one of the interviewers (perhaps it was you!), saying, “The roster of candidates presented really high profiles”. I must’ve sounded pathetic when I asked for further explanation. Was it that I was competing with people bearing PhDs? Or perhaps they had done super-cool internships or have worked in uber-fantastic companies beforehand? Because as you know from the CV I sent you, my background is not bad at all. In short, the person I was talking to simply rephrased the same sentence. And it was months after I realized that “profile” not only refers to one’s recent professional history- it also relates to one’s educational and why not, social background.

I only mention them for the purpose of expressing my amazement. But I suppose none of this surprises you…

Please allow me to get back to the original thought and main content of this letter: gratitude. I would like to show my long-overdue appreciation for not hiring me because had you trusted in my capabilities, had you given me a chance to collaborate with you, I would not be where I am now. May I also add that I am utterly blooming right where I am now? I deliberately used the term “blooming” because of the future promise it paints in the reader’s mind. This is the very reason I am being very grateful for the turn of my life’s events.

For the first time as an employee, I truly feel the opportunity to learn, grow, contribute and be an active part of a team. For the first time, I am under a leadership which sets an exquisite example of excellence and humanity. Likewise, I belong to a group of strong, intelligent and kind people where my voice is heard and my flaws, courteously mended. This healthy balance, and the chance to grow in this newfound career are worth all the wait. I wake up each day, inspired and eager to go to work, knowing that I am productive. I look at myself in the mirror and feel good, knowing that I’m doing my part to elicit positive changes in people’s lives.

Had you given me the chance to work with you, I would not be living this dream. So sir/madam, thank you very much for turning me down. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors and I also wish for you the same professional happiness and fulfillment that I feel at present.

thank-you-gratitude

Sincerely yours,

KR

What do Motherhood, Women’s Issues and International Cooperation on Development have in common?

While the smarter lot of you mentally ennumerate the common denominator of these three most important aspects of my life, let me get ahead and share what’s on my mind: MEDDLERS. I’m thinking about meddlers.

1. Motherhood and meddlers

I’ve only been a mother for 20 months, and one thing I can tell you for sure is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the same problem suffered by babies and mothers. Despite of this fact, there are those who still insist on imposing their beliefs, recipes and answers on other people.

Generally, I’ve observed that mothers are usually open to suggestions. Yet, I can’t help but notice the initial reactions to an advice they reject: insistence, further display of proof on the recommendation’s effectiveness, openly unfair judgement and finally, criticism. Surely, one should not have to go through all these just because they decide not to follow an advice. As for the “well-meaning” purveyors of knowledge… don’t they understand the fact that each of us is molded by our particular circumstances, pasts, beliefs and aspirations? Therefore, the solutions or remedies we end up choosing are adapted to our unique situation.

I always wonder whether “wanting the best” for the mother and the baby is the real reason why some people really force their opinion on others. The way I see it, if somebody truly desires the best for the other, then there must first be comprehension: of the problem, of the context and most importantly, of the diversity. This would allow for a better flow of communication. This would facilitate the process of achieving that “best” for the person in need.

In my short experience in motherhood, I learned that happy babies (a common goal for parents) result from being well-fed, well-rested and being around happy caretakers. Equally important is the confidence with which their caretakers do their jobs: if the caretaker is relaxed, the baby is most probably also going to be relaxed. So basically for me, what would really help mothers taking care of a baby is to feel empowered, to have self-confidence and be convinced that they’re doing a good job in raising a human being. The rest can be learned from books and online fora.

I’m lucky to be living where I am, to have resources that I could tap and people who truly support me. This period of my life would be much tougher otherwise.

2. Women’s Issues: when the champions become the meddlers

Currently, I find that that the foundation of women’s rights movement from the past has been eroded in time. I’m talking about solidarity and compassion. These two characteristics are strongly present in the feminine and have fueled the fight for women’s freedom and equality (equity) with men. Lately I’ve been noticing though, that a lot of arguments supporting the advancement of women’s rights sound more of a modern-day colonization than a genuine concern for our sisters’ well-being and progress. By “wanting the best” for all of us women, the very champions for our rights and development are forgetting that even though women may have the same basic needs and rights, the manner of procuring what they need, and the way with which they exercise their rights (if ever they choose to, at all) should be delegated to them- they know better than us what it means in their own societies to advance and progress. They know better than us how they want to live their own lives.

Consider how women’s rights movements started locally, where women gathered and started the battle for a more just treatment socially, economically, and politically, to name a few. When globalization came about, it was only natural for these initiatives to be projected onto other territories, crossing the national frontiers. Even though the intention was (it still is) noble, the explanation of its necessity as well as the method of implementing it are both flawed. Flawed because I believe some activists skipped a couple of vital steps in order to practice solidarity and compassion: inquiring and then listening. One can’t help but think some simply assumed that women in Sub-Saharan Africa have the exact same concerns as the ones living in Phoenix, Arizona.

From then on, a certain type of mentality has been imposed and women who did not adhere to such beliefs were criticized and in some cases, even marginalized by those who were supposedly fighting for their sake. Ironic.

3. International Cooperation on Development: helping or meddling?

When I graduated from college, the main lesson that really stuck was: “There is not a ‘one-size-that-fits-all’ solution to the same problem experienced by two or more different groups/communities. The answer should always be adapted to the specificities of each situation. “

The goal of exerting efforts towards cooperation for international development is to redistribute resources: from those who have them to those who do not. Obviously. Easy enough to understand. Now comes the dilemma of “how” to do it.

Studies have already proven that solutions imposed by developed countries with no grassroots basis usually end up becoming a waste: of money, time, effort and natural resources. Any Developmental Economist would agree that the solutions must come from a collaborative effort between the one who’s helping and the receiving end. That’s why it’s called “cooperation”, right?

However, it has always been the donor “wanting the best”, the donor’s criteria that seemed to dominate in this field: what they believe is “just”, what they think is “effective”, and what they “know those people need”. Thankfully, times are changing and workers in international cooperation are more sensitive to this topic. More and more, the aid given to a target community takes the form of enhancing the existing, local capacities rather than imposing a foreign technique. There is still a long way to go but awareness of this issue is already a big step forward.

Conclusions

While motherhood is a relatively new event in my life, it has deepened many notions in me, and is currently opening up other aspects of my understanding that I never even thought existed. On the contrary, women and development issues have always been part of my life, having grown up in a family whose bread and butter comes from the intent to make this world a better place.

Knowing what I know, I try to believe that it is truly the sense of compassion that moves people to torturously insist on the reliability of their solutions. I try to convince myself that they simply wish to see in others the same fruitful effects of their applied techniques.

Unfortunately, no two situations are equal. So basing on this, the person receiving the advice may consider that the proposed solution doesn’t fit his situation.

In my constant need to map out methods, this idea occurred to me: within the framework of “helping”, I suggest that under the “advice” category, two sub-categories be opened in the form of advice accepted and advice rejected. Help that was given or offered doesn’t have to end in relaying an opinion and leaving it as that. A person with a real concern to help, to make a change, would see if the other would take up on his counsel or not. And in the case where it is rejected, he would try to find out why; perhaps not to annoyingly try to solve the problem, but to learn.

Advice

Learning would mean the world between the meddlers and the “legit” bearers of help. An informed person in front of another who’s in a dilemma could do more by simply listening, than one who would blindly exert an effort to achieve a change in the situation.

I encourage you to think about it.