Monday, September 28, 2009

Race Reports: Grasshopper Congo Women

I want it noted that I wrote this post four days ago, but somehow blogger lost it as it was saving before the final send. So my enthusiasm has had four days to wane. I think it has something to do with loading the picture in the beginning of the post.
This weekend, J was gone, and I had two races on the schedule. I NEVER run two days in a row, but because it was two of my favorite races, this year I figured I'd slough one or the other and do both - because I had to.
Saturday was Grasshopper Bridge (see picture) which is a race for the Phoenix Children's Hospital. This race is close to my heart, because it's important to Lilac's family. Her younger sister nearly died of a rare illness when she was younger (I never get it right, but it's something like strepptecocklemeningipneumonia - streppe, meningitis, pneumonia, and something that messed up your lungs all in one nasty little bug). The docs gave Lilac's sister a 5% chance to survive the first night! She hung on though, and because the doctors couldn't believe she was still alive they tried a revolutionary new procedure which has now made this bug survivable (nearly everyone died of it before Lilac's sister). The hospital calls her the Miracle Girl on {level} Four, so it's really important for the family to participate in the race and give back to PCH.
Since Lilac's mom decided to "race" with us, we took our time and spent more time chatting and catching up than actually running. Still it is always a great event, with the neighbors and kids sitting on the front lawns and cheering us on. After the race the whole family gathered and we went to breakfast together. It was a great morning. I had a chip, but I chose not to wear it, so my time was not official. It was also not good in any way, but that wasn't the point.
So Sunday morning was the Run for Congo Women (which incidentally will be featured on Oprah today). I had plans to run this race with Tanager, but she came down pancreatitis this past week, and had surgery on Thursday. She was still talking about racing, but I told her she was out. Besides the fact that I hate that the name of the race is not grammatically correct, this is a great event. It's put on by Women for Women International, which is a program that sponsors particular women in war torn areas. The race is a grass roots effort. If you're looking for a great goody bag, 20,000 participants and a party and concert at the finish, you're at the wrong race. last year about 20 people showed up, took off, and I was not only by myself, but since the course wasn't marked I got incredibly lost.
Although the race is important to me, with Tanager on the bench, I thought seriously about picking up our t-shirts, and going home without racing. This was further decided when my "fuel" on Saturday consisted of pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, english muffin (breakfasts 1 and 2), pretzel fishies, a bag of popcorn from the movie theatre (lunch) tiki tenders (yes chicken fingers), and a basket of fries (dinner), and cold stone chocolate double oreo chocolate fudge love it ice cream (dessert). Finally, when my brother kept me up until 9:30 pm telling me riotous stories, I decided firmly that I was just driving by the race, and not participating.
And then Sunday morning I woke up wide awake at 5:30am, and ready to race. So I did!
I got to the event way too early, because I wanted to get a definitive answer on the race course and review a map so I wouldn't get lost again. I was told very nicely taht there was no map, but there was duct-tape directions on the course. This is meaningful because Kiwanis Park is used for a LOT of races, so there are random marks all over the sidewalks - chalk, tape, spray paint, etc. I'd like to call it out here that we need to find a standard course for this park. I've done three races just this year, and none of the routes has been similar. The guy (who was delayed) told me that he would be happy to explain the course map to me, and I listened very carefully although I didn't understand what he meant when he said "take the sidewalk past the basketball courts to the guarded loop and go around the soccer field". It took me until I got past the BASEBALL FIELDS to realize that "guarded loop" was GUADALUPE (for you non-spanish speakers that would be goo odd ah loop ay - a major street that everyone knows how to say out here).
Anyway, I would say that there were probably 30 people at the race. The horn went off, everyone took off, and I had the race course to my onesy. This is the only race where I truly enjoy this because it actually allows me to think about what I'm racing for. This time, I thought about the fact that my hospital is 3 miles from my house and how hard would I run if Sydni was sick and I had to run to get help.
I went under 40 mins! WOO HOO. Not fast for anyone else, but this race started at 8am, it was still 105 on Sunday, and it was at very hilly Kiwanis. It's almost like a triple PR to do it in those conditions. I felt incredible afterwards, and it was definitely worth getting up and doing it!
This might be the only time that I get top 10 in my age group (because I doubt there were 10 women there my age) but since it's so grassroots, the results still aren't up. I ran 39:50, only 4 seconds slower than my best race this year (in rainy beautiful 60 degree conditions) so I'm taking it.
And yes - my legs are still sore, which means I worked HARD!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Half the Sky

I just read the most amazing book. Normally I save my book reviews for Goodreads, but this one is so important that I'm writing about it. It's called "Half the Sky - Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide".

A week or two ago, I read an article in the NY Times Magazine by these authors which talked about microfinancing that is funneled to women in third world countries, and how and why it has been so successful. It was a fascinating article that showed how a $65 loan to a woman in the slums in India allowed her to go from a object in her home, who was frequently beaten, uneducated, and had no options, to become a successful business woman sending her kids to college, who is respected in the home and in the community. Yes, I am always skeptical about these sorts of stories - like it's great that it can happen for one person, but is that really the norm? However, the article was truly thought provoking and really forced me to look at the grey in some situations. One of the concepts that they brought out to think about was that we know that sweat shops are horrible situations, and the labor and low pay and forced overtime are all horrible - but that the only thing worse than having a sweat shop job is NOT having s sweat shop job and starving, at the whims of bad harvests, and not able to educate yourself and your children. It really made me think, and when I looked the authors up and saw that they had a book coming out on this topic this week, I immediately decided that I had to read it.

Half the Sky was an incredible book because it captured your attention, told stories through particular people, showed that NO aid is 100% successful and clearly described the challenges of giving aid - not only to show the pitfalls and issues, but to also try to avoid them. There are no Cindarella stories, and the authors take the time to show how difficult change can be for each individual and all of the social and economic impacts of making those changes.

The stories and information are often difficult to understand, gruesome, and painful to read - but they are happening to people all over the globe. However this is not a book that you read and feel down-trodden about the world. It's subtley uplifting throughout and lets you know that there are ways to change the world - but that some are better than others. It was surprising in that in some situations the authors supported drastic actions, and other times really "soft" options, that may not be palatable but have still shown that they are effective for long term improvement.

Some of the things that I learned that were fascinating -
Today, 2009, there are more women actually sold and trafficked in the sex trade across international borders than there were slaves taken from Africa during the height of the of the slave trade in the 1780's. Granted, there are more people in the world today, but it does not account for the millions of women who are sold into sex slavery within the borders of their own country.

The most effective means of keeping girls in school - give them a uniform every 18 months, pay the parents $10 a month if the girl has perfect attendance, feed her at school. That's all that it takes.

One of the best parts of the book (aside from the quotes at the beginning of each chapter which were awesome) was that it gave you many different ways to help and make a difference, whether it was letter writing, sponsoring a woman, donating time to a foundation, loaning to microfinancees, etc. After reading this book, I went to, which is a microfinance organization that allows people all over the world to lend directly to people in need. The agreement is that once the small group receives the money, they will repay it within a year, and that if one person in the group defaulted, the others would be willing to pay the difference. You can donate a minimum of $25 to any group that you pick (you can search by gender, country, loan amount, proposed business, etc) and once the group receives the necessary funds, the loan starts.

I picked a group of five women who are hoping to open a clothing business, and who needed $450 for all five of them to start. They had received donations from a variety of people, and were only waiting on $50 to get started. I loaned them the remainder, and now these five women (pictured above) will be able to start their clothing business, and improve their own lots. Once they repay the loan, I plan to lend it to someone else.

Many starfish washed up on shore. A young boy started picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean. Someone saw what he was doing and told him that it was pointless, that there were too many to save, that it wouldn't make a difference. Throwing another starfish into the sea, the little boy responded, "It makes a difference to this one."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why don't I Wiki?

Wiki is my friend. It might be my best friend. I read it every day. I check the news, I like the what happened in history today. I really enjoy the article of the day because I have yet to figure out the algorithm which defines how random these posts actually are. This should not be a shock at all - if you know me enough to be reading my blog, you know that I love nothing more than to learn something I didn't know. I thrive on learning.

However, my boss sent me a link to this article which was titled "Women and Wikipedia Don't Mix". Before I even read the article, I was livid - how dare they say women don't like Wiki??!! I just told you, it's basically my favorite website. I was ready to rumble with this article! Then I read it, and it stopped me in my tracks.

Basically, Wikimedia recently did a survey on people who access Wiki, and of the 175,000 respondents, 31% said that they have actually made changes or authored an article, but only 4% of them were women.

Hold the phone. I can't argue with this article because I've NEVER authored an article, and even when I've read something that I KNOW is incorrect, I've never made an update. I'm on this site every day, and I know that you can update and make changes, or share knowledge, and yet it has never even crossed my mind to make a change.

The question is why?

I can't speak for other women here, I can only speak for myself. But can I even speak for myself? I'm not sure what my reasoning is, and I can't explain it with a logical solution. So I've been mentally doing a PET interview with myself, and here are my results - which is likely just a confabulation on my part, but hell I'm trying here.

Social Media - I can't say that I'm a fan, though I don't think that my reasons are exactly the same as most people who don't dig on the new world order. (And yes, I see the irony that I am posting this on my blog - I'll get there). There are three reasons why I don't like social media.

1. I don't like the fact that people can get into my world - especially my work. Work is great, but once HR finds my Facebook page, it's a whole different ballgame. Here's the thing- It's not like I'm a wild party animal and likely to be fired for posting pictures of me and Lowell dancing the night away. However, I HAVE been demoted due to something that happened outside of work, during non-working hours, with someone who wasn't an employee of Verizon Wireless (I yelled at my brother and called him a racial slur [one that accurately reflected his ethnicity] while on the phone with someone who was a co-worker). Once bitten, twice shy.

2. I don't like people. No, seriously. Unfortunately I grew up in a small town where people have been living for 10 generations and my family is the only one that left - which means that every single person in town remembers that we moved away and wants to get in contact with us. I don't care about the people I went to second grade with. In fact, I don't remember most of them at all - but they ALL remember me. My brother doesn't mind this, so I use him as my barrier. They contact him, he contacts me, I tell him no, and he ignores them even though they are allegedly his "friends".

3. I can't imagine that anyone cares about the little trivial thoughts going on in people's minds - it's great that I'm enjoying myself on the back patio and reading in the rain and all, but who cares really? And frankly, I don't care that someone else is eating lunch, or is bored at work, or likes Hugh Jackman. Really, if I cared, we would talk about this when we're together. It's also not helpful that I believe no one is interested in the random stuff that goes through MY particular mind on a daily basis- like the impact of the Han Chinese exiting Burma due to strife in that country - and how much better that must look like to them, even though it looks NO better to us.

The Blog. The one you're reading, right. I actually spent a lot of time secretly reading blogs, without ever planning to write my own. The whole thing came from reading people's race reports, which they posted on their blogs. I liked reading about the things that happen to other people during their races and how they handled them, because it taught me how I could think differently when I hit the same speed bumps. I also liked reading about their training woes and triumphs.

When I did my first triathlon, the Tri for the Cure in 2008, I was so overwhelmed by the experience and wanted to share it with my family that I actually wrote my own race report so that I could try to share the moments during the race with them. Then it turned out that they really liked them, so I started writing race reports for all of my races. This was still through email. Then I read a couple of blogs about their privacy protection and how you could prevent it from being really public- so I said why not?
The reason I'm ok with the blog is that it is set up as private, and no one reads it. Maybe 4 people do, but they all received the blog link from me, so they are people that I know and trust. It's really not for anyone else. It's for me. It's like a diary that happens to be online and lets me look back at my training and races, etc.

Goodreads. I use goodreads, and I post my feelings about the plethora of books that I read because I know that there are actually 3 people who actively read my posts, because I lend them my books. Not only do I get to remind myself how I felt about a book when I had freshly read it, but I get to share the things that I love with the people that I love. Does it get any better? Plus I think the rating system, helps me clarify how I really felt about the book. Would I do it if my 3 followers didn't read them? Yes, but it's because there's still value to me and organizing my library.

So why don't I Wiki?
I can say conclusively that I'm not a fan of Social Media, though I can't confirm that the reasons I've provided are the "real" reasons, but I tried. But what does this have to do with Wiki-ing? Everything.

I am a maven. I love to learn. I like to learn about anything, but I'm most fascinated by people - how they interact, how they react, how they organize themselves, etc. I like them historically, culturally, literally, just not personally (See the I hate people thing above!). However, as much as I love to read, I'm not really a fan of sharing my knowledge with random people. I don't like to teach, and I don't like to train. I like to talk to the people I care about (all four of them) and get their opinions on what I'm thinking about, but frankly, I don't think that the lowest common denominator gives a crap about the concept that the only thing worse than working in a sweat shop in a third world country is NOT working in a sweatshop in a third world country.

Also, as a rabid learner, there are some things that are sacred to me, and one of them is the information in an encyclopedia (even one that is updated by people every day). I can't update an encyclopedia! I'm just not qualified. And what if my bias in an article negatively impacted someone else's feelings on that particular topic. Plus what am I actually going to write about? I don't consider myself an expert in anything!

I've thought all morning about making an update in a Wiki article, and I've found that I'm paralyzed and completely incapable of doing it. Is it possible that this same feeling of inadequacy, or of not being right, or of potentially looking the fool is part of why I don't participate in most social media?

I think it's probable, and I think I need to dig down deeper to try to understand. Where is Eric Schaffer when I need him to psycho-analyze me?