Monday, July 27, 2015

The Joy of a Jolly Rancher

I peel away the wrapping paper to reveal the colorful cardboard box holding my birthday present, a mega box of green apple Jolly Ranchers. I unwrap the slippery plastic wrapper for the hundredth time this week and pop the sticky sweet goodness into my mouth. You're probably wondering who thought giving a fourteen year old a box of candy as a present is a good idea, but to me it's more than just candy, it's my sanity. I know it sounds weird, but when your genetics betray you and don't let your organs do their job, like digestion, hard candy becomes a pretty big part of your life.

Picture yourself sitting in a room full of tables and chairs with a hundred other people surrounding you. Everyone is told to sit, so you do. Waiters bring out silver platters covered in tall reflective covers, concealing the origin of an incredible smell. They put the plates down and an array of delicious looking food is revealed. You look down the line and see everyone is excited about what was put in front of them, it is everyone's favorite meal. This has to be some sort of heavenly dream for everyone else, but for you it’s some sort of nightmare. Imagine sitting in front of food you so desperately want each and every day, and you just can’t have it.
You are surrounded by a world who advertises this “incredible experience.” Food is ingrained in our society, and for a good reason too, if it wasn’t, all you food consuming mammals wouldn’t be here today. But what people don’t realize is that eating is a part of every aspect of our culture. Think about it, you go to a party and there’s food, go out with friends and there’s food, you go to the movies and there’s food, go to a carnival and there’s food, you get together for Christmas or just about any other holiday and there’s food. And for Pete’s sake there’s Thanksgiving, a holiday that is supposed to make us think about what we are thankful for and appreciate all that we have, but instead most people just stuff their faces with food and stare aimlessly at the TV watching football.
And I mean have you watched TV lately? Because I have and commercial after commercial is about food. All you can eat this and finger licking good that. “No one can resist our new blah blah blah!” I have stopped watching regular TV for the most part for exactly this reason, but for the sake of research I watched prime time TV for an entire hour and about 60% of commercials that hour were for a restaurant or somehow related to food. Driving down the highway, BOOM, a million food billboards, signs for food at the next exit, there is no escaping the vivid pictures of the juicy, greasy food I can not eat, it is everywhere. And the last thing I want to hear on my Pandora during the ride to the hospital is a commercial that tells me to drop everything and drive to the nearest fast food place to try some burger or fries I can’t even smell without gagging let alone eat. Food is truly unavoidable.
I wasn't joking about Pandora.

Really McDonalds? Really? 
I'm glad to know that at exit 59 there is a 100% chance of nausea and a 50% chance of vomit.

If it was really crafted for my craving it would come with a working digestive tract instead of a toy.

A disturbing, but accurate representation of America's obsession with food.
How am I supposed to navigate through a world that revolves around something I can’t have and not lose my mind? Well, I lost my mind years ago and there’s no way i’m getting that back, but I still hang on to any piece of sanity I can find and go with it. In this whirlwind I happened to find my true lifesaver, jolly ranchers. You can throw me any piece of hard candy or gum and there’s a two hundred percent chance i’ll consider and most likely consume said deliciousness wrapped in plastic, but to me there is nothing better than the taste of a good old jolly rancher.

       My bag of candy is the only way I can survive sitting at meals. At parties, I have my pack of ice breakers, at Thanksgiving, I couldn't get by without my pie flavored gum and apple dum dums, and at birthdays I have my trusty birthday cake gum. Sounds great, right? Candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every kid's dream. But what about when I start to get tired of the sweet flavors of jolly ranchers, and you can no longer ignore the more than slight chemically taste of the artificial gum? Most people can just put down the candy and go eat a cheeseburger, but I can't.
This is where my magic green apple jolly rancher can't help. I don't really sit down with my family for meals, and I don't go out with friends if I know the night will revolve around food. I make it work for the important parties and events for holidays and birthdays, but the rest I have to learn to let go. I mean I have better things I could be doing than eating; with my feeding tubes and central line I can eat, drink, talk, and walk all at the same time. I could be learning Mandarin, or training to be an undercover CIA spy, or heck finding out the key to the universe while you're busy only eating food.
Through it all, my green apple jolly ranchers really do pull me through. I wouldn't be able to manage without them. if it weren't for them, I would have spent many birthdays and school events wishing I could taste something without them. Even though they can only help so much, my candy means I can be more comfortable around people that are eating. A green apple jolly rancher is so much more than another sugary snack; it really truly is my sanity.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Review of Patricia McCormick's Sold

Following a young girl through the horrors of human trafficking, Patricia McCormick tells the heart wrenching story of an estimated 1.2 billion children  each year. McCormick grew up in the suburbs of Central Pennsylvania where she graduated from Rosemont College. After graduating she pursued her writing career by getting her graduate degree. McCormick now finds herself writing about difficult and important topics that aren’t in the mainstream media. She says, “I want to bring attention to issues people might not otherwise know about and I want to change attitudes”
To research her novel Sold, McCormick traveled to Nepal and interviewed many locals including young girls who were rescued from the brothels and the men that went undercover as customers to get information to girls in slavery. Her research provided an understanding not obtainable from websites and books, and allowed her to truly understand the horrors of human trafficking.
The book begins in a small, poverty ridden village in the countryside of Nepal. Lakshmi, a girl around thirteen years old, lives with her loving mother and her stepfather who spends his time gambling at the tea shop instead of working. Her family struggles to make ends meet, and as the seasons go by her mother has a baby, worsening their financial troubles. Lakshmi proposes the idea that she could work in the city as a maid because her best friend was believed to be working there. After the arrangements had finished, Lakshmi began her journey to the big city, escorted by her new "auntie", the first of many people to assist in the selling of Lakshmi to a prostitution house. Still wide eyed and hopeful, and believing she would be a maid, Lakshmi asked her auntie "If the roofs are really made of gold."
After walking miles and miles, taking her first bus trips, and having encounters with wonders she had never before seen in her country village, Lakshmi is taken to a young man. This man gained Lakshmi's trust by giving her sweets and lollipops and buying her food when she was hungry on the long train ride, just to hand her off to Mumtaz, the owner of the Happiness House, a prostitution house that buys or tricks young women into a life of sexual slavery. The girls are stripped of their dignity and all that they are, and are forced, even drugged if they do not cooperate, into sleeping with men. Lakshmi desperately tries to hold on to who she was in her village, smelling the clothes she used to wear, and at first refusing to participate.
While at the Happiness House, Lakshmi meets many young women in similar situations as her. One of the women, Pushpa, has young children with her, including a young boy Lakshmi befriends, who she calls "David Beckham boy." When this boy catches Lakshmi looking through his school books, he offers her lessons. Even after Pushpa and her kids are kicked out when Pushpa is too sick to work, David Beckham boy's kindness does not end when he gives Lakshmi a brand new pencil, and Lakshmi gives him a soccer ball made from her old clothes.
One day a man walks into her room and Lakshmi prepared herself, but the man does not approach her. Instead he told her he is an American and asked her her name and age and if is she was forced to be here. Lakshmi was paralyzed with fear and remained silent, The man gave her a business card and tells Lakshmi he can take her to a “clean place” where she would be safe. The man leaves, and Lakshmi, still shocked that the man payed and did not use her services, slipped the card under her bed and tried to forget about the event. She has heard that the Americans are bad and will hurt you, but knew this man was different.
A few weeks later, another American comes and shook her hand, just like the first. He showed her pictures of the “clean place.” He sensed her trepidation and showed her more pictures of girls there that are happy and laughing together. The man tells her Mumtaz can not force her to be here, and that he would be back for her during the raid, and that she would have to show herself when they arrived.  Lakshmi is nervous about him and does not know if his intentions are right, but she smiles and knows he is good.
Very early one morning Lakshmi hears the commotion of police officers fighting with Mumtaz, and she knew it was time to go with the Americans. As the other girls tried to push her into hiding, Lakshmi breaks free and ran down the stairs in front of Mumtaz, who is being held back by officers. Lakshmi calmly stated her name and her age, and she knew she was safe.
Being rescued is not how most stories of human trafficking end. Twenty to thirty million people are enslaved around the globe, the majority are women, and about half are children. People are torn from their homes, or traded and sold by family members that are either tricked into believing they are going to work for an honest living, or are willingly selling their family member into slavery. After being taken, 46% are taken into sexual slavery, 28% are domestic labor slaves, and the rest are miscellaneous slaves forced into various odd jobs at places such as restaurants or construction. A very interesting talk on one woman's personal experience with human trafficking and her journalism career that is focused on bringing awareness of human trafficking to the modern world.

By writing in the point of view of a young girl actively going through the traumatic experience or sexual slavery, McCormick allows the reader to put themselves in Lakshmi’s shoes and understand what each and every day feels like for millions of women around the world. McCormick could have easily written Sold in the point of view of the American police officer saving the day, but she chose to allow herself to go through the process of feeling as millions of other young women do everyday.
McCormick chose to write Sold in short scenes, almost as if it was Lakshmi’s journal, which makes the complicated and emotional process of reading about the reality of sexual slavery easier to digest. This book is a quick read that I read in a few hours one day in the comfort of my hammock, and managed to change the way I think about everyday life, and has brought the topic of human trafficking to the front of my brain. Patricia McCormick has written an incredible book on a topic not often talked about or understood and is worlds away from many of our everyday lives, yet is still relatable for millions of people around the world. The awareness of human trafficking will continue this fall the movie Sold will be released in the US.