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August 31, 2010

Google Images strikes again

Searching for a photo of a crisp, professional woman for this blog post, I used Google Images. I wanted to type "woman in a suit" or "woman professional" something like that, but I stopped after the first word. Here's what Google offered instead: I tried "women" next. Here were the results:

I am stifling laughter as I type this. Imagine the perseverance, the desperation and the boolean ingenuity of a horde of horny guys who refined their searches over months, if not years, to create the most relevant and rapid results possible: "women WITH NO CLOTHES ON AT ALL." Not even a thong or pasties, please -- we'll take our bitches totally naked or not at all. And please, WITHOUT BRA AND UNDERWEAR. Do you think I have time for foreplay? Show me the goods already.

Laughter masking tears, of course, since this glimpse into our nation's collective desires yields one more explanation for the persistence of the wage gap, and the circumstances that made Walmart's corporate culture possible, and so many other disgusting disparities in our society.

In the spirit of Sociological Images, one of my favorite blogs out there (for its astute, eye opening and amusing insights into the received images few bother to question), I searched Google Images for "man" and "men," next. Here you go:

Even searches for these words lead to desirable young women.

Sure, sexual gratification is, I presume, the internet's primary purpose. And more far people are searching for images of naked women than women in suits. And far more men than women are searching for women in any state of dress. Hence these results.

But what about a cross-cultural, rather than a cross-gender, comparison? I've been traveling, and so I became curious what people (albeit English speaking people) in other countries search for when they start typing the word "woman." These results are very different from what you get when you type the word "woman" in the target language, and so these lists are far from a substantive or reflective glimpse into those nations' querying minds. (As if Google searches ever really offered that, but that's another matter). Instead, what I collected is playful assortment of spinoffs from the word "woman" -- ranging from sexual fantasies to computer games to the strictly bizarre (see the final item on the final sample).

What's common is predictable, and what's different is at times interesting... or is it the other way around? What do you think?



Hong Kong (I tried for China, but I was redirected to Hong Kong):


United Arab Emirates:

She Negotiates: Again

In late July, I started taking a course about negotiation geared specifically for women. Because by now I excel at asking, but not so much at turning noes into yeses in a commercial, transactional and professional dimension.

I blogged about the first session here. Then, halfway through the course, in early August, I headed to Ecuador. I had to stop participating, because internet access wasn't always easy to come by on Tuesday nights in the rainforest.

In September I'm taking the seminar again, from beginning to end, and I'm curious what the whole series of courses has in store. After the first two weeks of class, I created a project proposal with a higher rate and, with some trepidation, presented it to a new client -- who accepted it without hesitation. Later, I did the same with another new client -- and not only was I no longer nervous, but I calmly and confidently defended myself when the price was questioned.

I will always have one free client on the roster at any time because if I can use my skills to help people, I will. And my rates will remain negotiable if anyone wants to debate them. Because everything, in business, is! But for anyone who can afford to pay them, my services have effectively stopped being a steal.


Here, a few weeks before the first session, are my goals for this She Negotiates seminar this time around.

1) To learn how to steer negotiation conversations to my advantage, rather than letting the other side take the reigns.

2) To become as good as selling as I am at buying.

3) To learn how to move past negotiation impasses. When someone says "There's nothing I can do" or "We have zero flexibility in the budget" is there some way to move past that after all?

Here's a personal/journal style question for you, gentle reader: If there's one dimension of your negotiation skills you'd like to improve, what would it be? Another way to put it: What's one way you'd like to improve as a negotiator?

By the way, as I've stated before: I don't get anything out of recommending this seminar -- no cut or recognition. I just think it's a valuable concrete and concentrated education, and if we can all be empowered, so much the better. Just like I get nothing out of recommending Women Don't Ask except knowing one more woman will do precisely the opposite. That's my reward!! So what are you waiting for!! ;)

Are you underselling yourself? Two must-read articles from Forbes

Stop whatever you're doing, including reading this blog, and hop over to Forbes for two great articles. And then come back here! More posts just around the bend.

1. Are you underselling yourself?
The price of gas goes up. So does a half-gallon of organic milk. Property taxes and health care costs aren't getting cheaper. So here's a question to all the entrepreneurs and freelance/contract workers out there: Why are your fees stuck at the same rate as last year? Or worse--as several years ago?"Women unconsciously tie price setting to self esteem and self respect," says Kirsten Osolind, a marketing consultant who specializes in branding to women and a former Public Policy Chairperson for the National Association of Women Business Owners. "Many women fear rejection and think a lower price will yield more sales and longer-term relationships. But what customers pay for are value, brand and results."
Read the whole story here.

2. If you want to be the boss, don't act like a secretary.
According to our survey data, when asked what role women most often played in small group projects, they reported playing the compiler role almost five times more frequently than men, 19% to 4%, respectively. Men reported playing the "thought leader" role 36% of the time, more than twice as often as women.
Read the whole story here.


That first article raises an issue that has dogged me from day one of running my own business. How much should I charge? How do I know? What if I'm losing potential business? I finally got a wakeup jolt from Victoria Pynchon, whose She Negotiates course I took recently (more on that in the next post).

She told me that women keep making excuses for why they're not worth more.

Like "I'm too young. I'm just starting out. I'm new to this industry."


Then the magnificent Mr. A told me this, the night before a fee negotiation: "If he can't afford to pay you, then you'll find someone who can."

As a result of those conversations, from that point onward I raised my rates for new clients.

Shocker: I'm still in business!!

As for the second article, it reminds me of my experience on jury duty last summer, which I blogged about here. Interestingly, as they say, I was asked to be the group notetaker. This is because, when we went around the circle introducing ourselves and our careers, I said I'm a grad student slash writer. Interestingly, none of the men with writerly skills were asked to do this.

I demurred, on strictly symbolic grounds -- said I have ugly handwriting and I'm not the best person for the job. They insisted, and so I wrote all the jury notes. We ended up sending out more than a dozen, driving the judge and lawyers crazy. And I have never forgotten how I was 'steered' into that role despite my fervent protests. (I could have refused, I realize in retrospect, but at the time it seemed easier, smoother, smarter, to go along with their decision.)

The foreperson, by the way, was a dude.

Blind chance? I tend to think not.

[image credit]

August 27, 2010

Que les vaya bien?

I’m in Segovia now, sitting under the aqueduct.

Last night I had dinner at El Candido, a place everyone who has ever been to Spain recommended. "You have to get the cochinillo," they commanded. Cochinillo is Spanish for "best meal of your life." Synonym: roasted piglet.

True, a 'Segoviana' I asked for directions told me to skip that tourist trap and go to Jose Maria -- apparently, the source of the more authentic piglet -- but for once, I wanted the tourist trap. I wanted to have the premium meal under the silvery arches. I wanted the mariachis, the white table cloth and the cliches, every one of them.

Turns out the mariachis were actually a string quartet and the diners were almost all Spanish. As for the piglet: There are many things that can be described with words and many things that should be, and generally those categories overlap. This experience is neither.

All I will say is that my dinner felt like a sacred anatomy lesson, because pulling up the crispy skin, pushing away a layer of fat with the tip of my knife, picking apart the miniature ribcage and separating each muscle from the rest was a reminder of how perfectly living beings are put together, and how easily they can come apart. Every sinew, every capillary of that dead beast was sacrificed for my sensory pleasure, and for that, 18 hours later I continue to feel a burden of responsibility and gratitude. I am not saying this lightly. I took a life, and I’m deeply grateful for, and respectful of, that baby pig's final gasp.

As for askings: There have been several in Segovia. Here are three favorites.

Hotel upgrade?

I asked my hotel’s front desk manager if she could upgrade my room to one with a view, because I read online that the top floor offers a stunning panorama. She said no, but offerend to let me see the room she wanted to me to take.

I went upstairs, walked to the window and saw the “non-view”: from a pair of balconies that opened onto the street, I watched townsfolk and tourists bustling below, a dozen or more balconies on the building across the way and, about 50 feet to the left, the sunlit Plaza Mayor. If this wasn’t a view, I'm not sure what was.

“I’ll take the room,” I told her, downstairs. “But I don’t understand. What view does the other room have?”

“La sierra,” she answered softly, as if this were the name of a prayer. (The mountainside.)

In that case, I'm glad she didn't give me the upgrade!

Fulfill your credit card promise?

When trying to pay for a tasty but overpriced salad, I begged the waitress to please take my credit card. They had a sign loud and proud that they accept Visa and Mastercard, but she protested.

"I don't know, we have a minimum," she said. "I'll have to ask my boss."

"Yes! Please do."

Two minutes and 12.50 euros later, she swiped my card and it was a done deal.

Que les vaya bien?

When we part ways, people keep telling me: "Que te vaya bien." It's a thoughtful way to end conversations with a tourist you'll probably never see again. A wish for the best.

But I was curious if the plural would be le, or les: Que les vaya bien?

I turned to a lady sitting next to me at a cafe and asked.

Predictably, that turned into a conversation about her life, the granddaughter who is coming to town to see her, and her son's apartment a few blocks away, and my nifty little laptop, and how I like Spain, and Mr. A's line of work.

"What kind of work do you -- or did you -- do?" I asked.

"Me! I had 11 children!! I got married at 22 and that settled it!"

She was giddy as she said this, and I remembered that for her generation and in her culture, a woman was only worth what her husband could earn and the notion of work must have been shameful at worst, inconvenient at best...

Yay, progress.

Yay, women who work, women who stay home, women who have that choice.

Yay, women who ask.

It's that time again

I think it's time to write.

You know, by now, how I operate. After asking daily for a year, I kept the ‘daily’ moniker even though askings – and blog posts – shrank in frequency. These days I ask (almost) daily, and report the more memorable ones in bursts.

Why did that happen? A few reasons.

When the daily asking experiment was over (it ran from July 2008 to 2009, by the way), I didn’t have any more vows to fulfill, other than to live the askerly way. Not having that contract with myself to ask and write daily made it easier to take breaks. That’s good and bad. Asking daily forced me to find opportunities. This post explains that every time I asked for a retail discount that year, I saved an average of $13. That's the total amount saved over the course of that year, divided by the total number of attempts at securing discounts. So even when I wasn’t successful, it was useful practice for the times that I was. It was a very healthy habit to have.

On the other hand, not having my asking radar on all the time means I can now concentrate on things other than grad school and blog. Corrrection: I must now concentrate on those things.


It’s time to write again.

I had promised 5 posts from Ecuador, but I only delivered four. It’s for a good reason: I’m hoping to turn the fifth report into an article for a particular publication… more on that as it develops.

Instead, in no order other than the one in which they occur to me, here are a few recent askings. Also, an update about the who, what, where, when, why and how of my most recent days…. aka a postcard from… Segovia, Spain!

Un beso,

“La rocio”

August 18, 2010

"I can ask for anything but money"

Here we are, post 4 from Ecuador. After this, one more to go and we'll be back in California ;)

One of the people I was traveling with works for a nonprofit, and on one of the long and bumpy rides through the rainforest we all started talking about fundraising. He made a confession.

It's very hard for him to ask for money. He'll ask for help, support, contacts, government meetings, but when it comes to connecting with donors, he feels embarrassed.

"Let me guess, you feel like you're imposing, like you don't want to bother people?" I asked.


I'm going to turn this one back around to you, readers. I know some of you (Hi Mazarine, Julieta, and Ashley for starters) are in the fundraising sector or collaborate with fundraising projects.

Do you have any advice for this man? How did you get over the fear of financial asking? What's so terrifying about it?

August 16, 2010

Whan happens when you can't ask?

I shouldn't be here. To-do list 30 items deep and one hard deadline for everything. Saturday morning, when I'm taking off on the next trip.

But here I am.

What can I say... I miss you guys! And I want to wrap up the Ecuador reports.

So, this brings us to asking reflection #3 from Ecuador. My question for today's post is, Sometimes you cannot ask: What then?

A few days into the trip, I hitched a ride to a remote rainforest lodge. Most of our group traveled in a van, but I split off and went with two locals, to learn about their work in conservation. We were all heading to the same destination, and they had room in their car, so why not? About an hour into the trip, it started getting dark, and I started getting some darker thoughts. Who are these guys, really? How do I know I should trust them? Great move, getting separated from the group. What if they think I'm a wealthy gringa and blindfold me and take me somewhere awful and ask for a ransom and something goes wrong and I don't see my family again until I'm 52 and Mr. A will have a new Ms. A and my hair will have fallen out from malnutrition not to mention the other horrible things I don't want to consider unless i have to?????

As we chatted -- about biodiversity and saving the planet (looking back -- and even at the time -- I realize how absurd my worries were. These were upstanding people doing valuable work. But I'd rather find myself needlessly frightened than in a situation that warrants caution and miss the signals) -- I started plotting my escape. Unless it was a specially outfitted kidnapping truck, the unlock button was a few inches from my hand. It was night, so once I threw myself outside I could land in anything -- a field or a ferocious river or a ravine. But it was better than years of torture and humiliation, or worse. But my laptop! I couldn't leave without that... I would try to clutch it, but if it got stuck, I'd cut my losses... At least my notebook was small, and I could definitely cram that into my pocket... I toyed with the idea of asking flat out: "Where are you taking me and are you who you claim you are?" but I opted against that, since a) if they really were innocent biologists that would be incredibly insulting and b) if they were not, why would they confess?

Fortunately, there were some electric wires that ran along the side of the road, so once I hurled myself outside the car I could always let my eyes adjust to the night and then look for the silhouette of the black electric poles against the deep blue sky to find my way back. Then, surely a family would take me in, let me use a phone in exchange for eternal gratitude... and if I couldn't escape, maybe I could offer to write blog posts and do marketing for them, supporting their cause, in exchange for my life, and there I could encode messages for the U.S. embassy...

"Here we are!" my guide announced as we pulled up to the lodge.

"Awesome," I answered with a smile. I thought we'd never make it.

That night, I confessed my ridiculous thoughts to a fellow traveler, and she said she was in a different truck -- and thought the exact same thing. We fell asleep laughing and feeling safe -- and fortunate.

One more anecdote:

A few days later, while we were on a group hike, I made a wrong turn. I ended up alone, in the rainforest.


It's not as dramatic as it sounds (or hey, maybe it doesn't even sound that dramatic). I was on a groomed trail, and it was far from dusk. The problem was, I was separated from the group and as I advanced toward where I thought the lodge was, I kept coming to forks in the road. One led left, another right. One led up a hill, another into a valley. One of the forks had a map, but it was nonsensical. "To the lodge" it stated with an arrow, but the arrow pointed where I was coming from. Someone from the group had said the path to the lodge "is quick and easy" but this route was long and winding...

I was screwed.

For the second time in days, I didn't have anyone to ask for info or advice in an unfamiliar environment: which way? how long until we get back? could I be in danger? will things be ok? I had to sharpen my hearing and use my eyes more aggressively, searching for human figures through the trees.

I started doing some calculations. It's 11 a.m. If I get really really lost, I still have 7.5 hours before nightfall. I can always retrace my steps to the main road in that time. Worst case, I hitchhike. Or I can keep walking, since these are trails -- one has to lead to an exit, eventually. I have no food with me. Bad. There are no man-eating predators here. Good. I could always just wait here, until someone finds me. But what are the chances the lodge is just after that next hill? Are they all at the lodge having lunch? Or maybe the rest of the group is right behind me... I think I can hear their voices... Speaking of lunch, I wonder if there are any bananas in these trees...

I imagined this was my life: solo traveler, resourceful jungle woman. All I needed was a machete and toilet paper, and I would make do.

I walked and walked, until I got so far I was worried it would take too long to retrace my steps. And then I turned around. Eventually, I heard voices: some people in our group were not far behind me. And since everyone had broken off into smaller groups, no one even noticed I was missing.

Two comments. First, mom -- don't worry!! All ended well.

Second, not being able to ask for help, info, context or advice forced me to devise my own exit plan, study my surroundings, use my senses in a new way, test my imagination and anticipate things. I was never really scared in either situation -- it was daylight and I had no doubt I could make it back to the road in an hour or two, and in the truck every piece of info I had been given about my driver and the situation, plus my gut feeling, pointed to a happy resolution. But there were some risks. Slipping, getting hurt, walking away from the destination rather than toward it, meeting an unsavory character...

And let me tell you: both of those experiences remain among the most vivid hours of my trip.

Back in San Diego, I'm wondering how I can translate that resourcefulness into my everyday life.

Avoid complacency... put myself in challenging new situations, ask when it makes sense but don't depend on others to the point where it's a crutch, and relish in the ability to do things for myself -- not because it's the "nice" way or because I don't want to impose, but because I can.

What's your take: in what contexts or situations do you think NOT asking and relying on yourself can be advantageous? And a potential minefield of a question: Do you think men and women have different approaches to asking avoidance?

Looking forward to your insights.

August 12, 2010

Asking without asking

Yesterday I wrote about a woman who asked. Today I will write about one who didn't. I will also insert an unrelated picture of a sleeping puppy and my two red shoes because, Why not.

This post is on the long side, by the way, but it all adds up to a grand thesis about women and asking in the workplace... so I hope you'll sit back, plop your laptop somewhere cozy and join me for this ribald tale.


"I need you to do something for me."

This is how Dr. Fritz, a man who has lived in his 60-something years more that most people do in twice as many, approached me one day at a rainforest research station where the group was staying on my recent trip to Ecuador.

"...what?" I asked, intrigued, both because of the way he said it and because most of the things this environmental crusader (and serial entrepreneur and internet innovator and family man and watercolor painter and nuclear scientist and child literacy expert and stealth philanthropist) says are intriguing.

"I need you to find out if Andira has any messages for Djay," he said.

"Messages..." I repeated, confused.

Dr. Fritz giving me the backstory. The place we were staying at was staffed by Andira and her family, who have worked there for decades. Djay is Dr. Fritz's youngest son (and a friend of mine). He traveled there a few years earlier and struck up a friendship with Andira and her family. Over time, they started exchanging confidences and Andira started confessing that she could use a little money, a little more time off. It wasn't an ask per se -- rather, Djay coaxed the info out of her.

"So you need to get in there, hang out and find out if they have any secret messages. Like, I dunno, maybe they'll say they need money for an operation or something, or they can't cover their kids' tuition, or someone's car got smashed, or they're having some kind of conflict with their boss. They're scared to talk to their boss about this stuff, but we need to find out if they have any needs or complaints, so we can help out."

"Roger that. I'm the go between. Matahari. I'll do what I can to get the scoop on the d-l."

A few hours later I went into the kitchen, where Andira and her mom were spooning out portions of a tremendously moist tres leches cake destined for our dinner. I sat down at the big table, next to her.

"I just wanted to come and see what you're up to," I said. "That looks delicious."

"Oh, hi! Nice to meet you! Welcome to Ecuador!" she said.

We exchanged niceties and then, when no one was looking, I leaned in and whispered: "Do you have any messages for Djay?"

"Oh, yes! Tell him we miss him and we can't wait to see him again."

"Ok, great. Anything else?"

"Tell him he's a super guy and we really loved meeting him last time."

"Ok. Anything about you? Your family? Anything you need to tell him?"

"We're all doing well."

That was that.

I reporting my findings to Dr. Fritz: "I got nothing. No message, no request, no complaint. Nada."

"You have to try harder, La Roxy. Trust me. There is always something we can do to help. Just ask them to write a letter to Djay, and they'll put whatever concerns or need they have in that letter. We'll read the letter and give them whatever they need."

"We'll read the letter?"

"It's not private -- she'll send her request in an unsealed envelope so we can read it. It won't be a personal note: just the concerns or complaints she's afraid to air to her boss."


That evening, as I was sitting in the hammock reading, Andira walked by and I stopped her.

"If you have any messages for Djay, I can give them to him. Like, if there's something you want to say. Privately. You can write a note, and I'll make sure he gets it. If you are having any concerns or problems, he will receive your special message." Wink wink.

"Great! I will write him a note right away."

She disappeared, returned with an open envelope and I thought, "Bingo -- unsealed. She knows the deal."

Back in my room that night, feeling like a thief, I slid the note out of its envelope and unfolded it. It was the warmest letter you could imagine, written with thick blue ink, telling Djay how much the entire family misses him, how great it was to meet him and inviting back to Ecuador.

But where were the confessions of needing money for cancer treatments and root canals and other family tragedies? Where was the secret message??

Some people, it dawned on me, just won't ask. They're not used to it, they're not comfortable, they're scared, it doesn't dawn on them. Maybe because she was a woman, maybe because it's not cultural (yesterday's anecdote was too small a sample base to draw any generalizations), maybe because of the particularly dynamic she has with her boss.

Here's what I did. I sat down with Andira and talked to her. We talked for two hours, about life, our backgrounds, school in Ecuador and America, our jobs, our dreams. And over the course of the conversation, eventually it became clear what she needed: a new computer for her daughter, who was starting college. In the U.S., a netbook is $300. In Ecuador, it would be more than double, and the most basic laptop is more than $1,200. There was my message. She didn't ask, didn't even hint she wanted help, but encoded in the story of her life was my answer, loud and clear.

I reported this to Dr. Fritz and it's as good as done: The girl will get a new netbook.

The contrast between these two women -- the one from yesterday's post pulling me aside to ask for clothes and giggling shyly, and the other refusing to ask despite every opportunity -- is still twisting around in my brain.

There are ways of asking without asking, I realize. It's the old asker/guesser dialectic, written about brilliantly in the Guardian. If you you say "My back hurts" to your fiance, he'll give you a massage. If you say, "My computer broke down and it's six month's salary to buy a new one" to the right person, you'll get a new one. If you say, "Gee, the customer service sucks" to the right manager, you'll get a free coffee. A well-placed assertion is twice as valuable as an asking. Who you target, and the context, is as important as what you say. Plus, by stating rather than asking, and letting the other party connect the dots, you don't use up your "credit" in the same way as you would asking.

Wait a minute. Am I contradicting the entire mission of The Daily Asker? Hasn't my mission for the past two years been to hint rarely and ask explicitly, and to help others do the same?

Indeed it has been, and I remain a staunch advocate for asking. But over time, with ever new interaction, new possibilities are unfolding. Hinting isn't bad -- if it's a strategy rather than your only resort. Asking isn't the only tool, and it's the wrong tool if it doesn't get results.

The aim is to choose strategies and exert control over the outcome. What works best -- asking or hinting or guessing? For seasoned askers, these are all options. The problem is when you have no choice but to hint, through guarded conversations with passers by. When that's your only resort.

For every woman like me and, I hope, like you, dear reader -- for every asker -- there are probably 300 like the Andira. They're in our offices, in our families, in our schools. They're the ones who never complain or speak up, seek credit or promotions or recognition -- they're scared, they're uninformed, they assume they're unworthy. They are who we were before we opened our mouths and asked.

To conclude this post, I'm not asking but exhorting you to be aware of the non-askers out there and do the following. Be receptive to whatever needs they may not be expressing. If you're in a position to counsel them, encourage them to ask and reward their courage generously when their time comes.

August 10, 2010

Ropa Usada?

The woman in the center dared to ask.

A few days into the trip, I witnessed a real estate transaction whose intricate details I will not get into here. (Quick version: several people with land inside a national park traded their property for land outside the park. The result: they got a pasture for their cows closer to their home in the city -- and the world's richest rainforest won't get chopped down to create grazing pastures. I'm all for grass fed beef, but not at that cost... Win win!)

After the ceremony, I chatted with some of the people who participated in the transaction, and they fired questions back at me: Where are you from? How do you like Ecuador? How long are you staying? Only 10 days!? Not enough! Come back and visit again, ok?

The event wrapped up, and as I was making my way out of the hall (where, along with a few government employees, nonprofit workers and the families involved, a spider the size of my face watched the ceremony from an cranny in the roof), an older woman -- the family matriarch, I suspect -- trotted up to me.

(Here's the thing about old people of southern Ecuador. They're amazing!! One of our guides was 51, but didn't look a day past 39 and a half. And a town in that region was written up in National Geographic for having really really old people. Like, a whole cluster of people over 100. My take: they walk a lot, they work until they're 95, they eat well, and they don't get stressed about about things like spotty wifi connections and alternate-side street sweeping.)

So, she trotted up and urgently gestured for me to follow her.

I sat down again with her family, and she started tittering nervously.

"I have a question," she said in Spanish.


"How should I put it.... You know... I've heard that... people in other countries.... We are... we are poor, and I heard that..."

She smiled again, hunching her thin shoulders and tucking her head in like a raven haired turtle. (Also: people there don't go gray until the age most Westerners are dead.)

"People in other countries?" I urged, nodding to encourage her.

"They have soooo many clothes that they just throw away! My friend in Spain told me that people throw away whole bags of clothes, nice clothes! And if you're there you can go and collect them. She found good clothes! Such pretty clothes! Sitting outside in trash bags!!" She sounded unconvinced that such a thing could be true, but if her friend said it was so, it had to be. "Do you have any clothes you don't want? Maybe you have some you can give to us?"

I shook my head. I packed lightly -- I wore the same pants over and over, and I wouldn't wish the sweat encrusted t-shirt I was wearing upon this perky abuelita and her kinfolk (see prior blog entry: Showers, lack of). But I told her that from the U.S., I could definitely send something.

"What's your address?"

"I don't have one. But here's my phone number. You can call, when you have the clothes ready. I will find a way to receive them."

"Perfect. What kind of clothes do you want? What colors?"

She said they'd like t-shirts, clothes for men, women, children. As for color? She pointed the powder pink sweater she was wearing.

"I hope you do not mind. We are poor, and I heard people over there have more clothes than they use," she concluded.

"I am very happy that you asked. I think asking is wonderful, and you are very brave to tell me these things. It's great that you told me about your need, since I would be happy to send you something, and I will also ask my friends in America if they have any clothes they can give away."

Outside, I talked with a nonprofit worker and he offered a solution. Any clothes that arrive at his research station, he'll deliver to that family. So, gentle reader. If you have any clothes you don't need or come across anything new you'd care to pass along, please consider bundling them up and sending them to:

Familia Morocho
C/O Naturaleza y Cultura Internacional
Pio Jaramillo 13-12- y Venezuela
P.O. Bo. 11-01-332
Loja, Ecuador

(FYI: Sending a package of up to 4 lbs to Ecuador runs about $13 with priority mail, or you can send 1 lb for around $10 with ground shipping. See this site for the deets.)


I cannot believe I'm sitting at Bread & Cie eating a soggy quiche, a table away from a woman wearing patent leather heels maniacally reading the contents of a lime green piece of paper into her cell phone and laughing, with the a/c bearing down on my freshly washed, still damp hair...

Two guys in head to toe professional biking gear, with spandex advertisements stretching across their bodies like shrinkwrapped billboards, locked their bikes against the terrace railing outside and sat down to drink two coffees in to-go cups. A man with long wavy gray hair, an ancient black baseball hat ("Hawaii" in white italics), a giant wooden crucifix and the slouchy posture of an insecure teenage girl came up to them, said something, waited for an answer or action from the bikers that never came, then walked away.

Three cars just zoomed by, each larger than the next: a red mini cooper, a red sedan (chevy malibu?) and a shiny dark SUV.

In Ecuador, in the rainforest, people drive trucks. The need them to get through mud that's a yard deep. The other popular car is the Yaris. That's the hot new car for city driving, a man who takes tourists around the country in his blue minivan told me. "It's got a smooth ride," he explained, when I asked why.

In Ecuador, the showers were either cold or nonexistent. A few times I lucked out and found hot water, but waiting three days between ablutions wasn't as disgusting as it sounds. It rained constantly, so my hair was always just a little bit damp. A few times the sun came out and dried it, but a few hours later it started raining again.

In Ecuador, I ate a lot of tilapia. I usually can't stand this fish. Mr. A loves it, so for a while we ate it all the time, until I finally told him I would rather lick a bus tire. But the tilapia in Ecuador tastes very different from the soft, mealy, spreadable excuse that passes for fish they sell in the frozen section here. They grill it or steam it in banana leaves, that the result is something so flakey and spiced-just-right that eating it four days in a row, like I did, is a privilege.

In Ecuador, every meal I ate was served with aji: a salsa, made from tree tomatoes, whose exact flavor, color and spiciness varies from region to region, town to town, household to household. At first I cautiously dipped two tines of my fork in the container for a noncommital sample, and by the end I was spooning it on everything.

In Ecuador, the bugs look like plants. I saw many, many moths that I thought were leaves or twigs until someone pointed out their true identities. I can't begin to estimate the number of moths I saw that I didn't realize were moths.

In Ecuador, husbands cheat. This I found out by asking two of the biologists I was traveling with, after a conversation with a peace corps volunteer who told me how often she'd been propositioned by married men. They confirmed that infidelity is high and when I asked why, one answered, simply, that cheating is "the men's nature." That started a three hour long discussion about love and marriage, cheating, desire, risk, reward, commitment, promiscuity, cultural difference, gender difference and human nature with: an atheist rabbi from Boston, two local biologists, one conservationist from San Diego, a U.S. department of defense employee, a peace corps volunteer, and an asker. When we stopped talking, the rain had also stopped.

I can't believe I'm back, here, Parallel 33.

By tomorrow, I know it will be harder to believe I ever left.

Next posts: 5 things I asked for, was asked for, or discovered about asking on this trip.

First, a few pictures.

Relaxing at one of the lodges we stayed at.

The shepherd's cabin. (Not really, but that's how I like to think of this place. Also, sheep were nearby, so it's not impossible.)

Jose's pet.

Between showers.

Moth Katydid that looks like a leaf.

Leaf that looks like a moth.



August 01, 2010

Odds and Ends

A few quick asks, collected from the past weeks.

Oh, and by the way, hello from Quito! I see the hotel has WiFi after all. Today we went to Antisana, a desolate volcano. (Though, have you ever seen a non-desolate volcano?) Tomorrow the group is heading into a research station in the southern part of the country, and internet will be spotty or nonexistent. But I had parts of this post saved as a draft, and I think it's just the right time to hit "publish."

1. Compensatory cookie?

My mom and I went to a cafe and restaurant we both love, but on that day the service was terrible. After we waited for more than half an hour for our salads, we asked the cashier what was going on and he confessed they put our food with someone else's to go order. It would take 10 more minutes. None too thrilled, I came up with a way to soften the blow.

"Could we have a cookie or something sweet, to make up for this long wait?"

The manager, who had since intervened, said of course. I chose a butterscotch chip cookie. Not a bad appetizer!

2. Shorter report?

Before leaving for this trip, I made a huge strategic mistake. I took on way way way more work than I reasonably had time for. Which means I ended up getting very little sleep and having little time to collect my thoughts or breathe before this journey. Well, on Thursday, I called one of my clients, who I've worked with for years and who I can be straightforward with, and I told him exactly that. (He also knew I took the work on a tight schedule, since he needed someone reliable to get the job done fast. So I felt extra comfortable asking for a break.)

"Hi! I'm trying to figure out how to cram 48 hours of work into the next day, and so I have a question for you: How short of a report can I get away with?" I asked. Usually he gives me a range, and now I was hoping for something a lot shorter than the short end of that range.

"Nothing less than xxx words. That's totally fine."

"Perfect. You're a lifesaver. Thanks."

Guess what happened next: I ended up writing something that fit the original maximum length. You'd think I'm a glutton for punishment... but actually, I just really got into the writing. Oh well!

3. Speaking of cafes... and wifi...

I visited a new cafe on a Sunday afternoon, recently, and I'm ashamed to admit the first question that came out of my mouth was, "Do you have WiFi?"

I was told they do not. I ordered a cafe au lait and sat down, realizing, suddenly, the freedom I had. I could read the physical newspaper someone before me had left on a long wooden table. I could write on my laptop and not take compulsive breaks every 10 minutes to check my favorite websites. I could people watch in that adorable new French style cafe. I could talk to Mr. A. while savoring that coffee sip by sip and taking the time to think about what I was drinking.

So glad they didn't give me what I thought I wanted.

4. Can I do anything to help?

I found out a friend and colleague was laid off. After taking about a day to process the info -- since it truly came as a shock -- I wrote him an email asking if there was anything I could do to help. It turns out there was. I would rather not go into the details here yet, since we're still waiting for certain specific results, but let's just say I ended up asking other people to help fight for his position at that institution, and they asked more people. Apparently this whole asking thing can really motivate a community to speak up.

I was floored.

I hope to be able to post some good news with the specifics of the campaign, soon.

4. Thai soup substitution?

I was at a subpar Thai restaurant about a month ago, eating lunch with a colleague. The lunch special comes with a tofu soup, and I am partial to the coconut Tom Kha soup. I asked the waiter if I could switch.

"No substitutions."

My colleague and I dissected this response over lunch. It was wrong in so many ways.

a) The restaurant is empty, so any extra effort to seduce a regular customer is a right move.
b) That area is filled with Thai restaurants, so this restaurant offers nothing special; it could have stood out, however, with a welcoming attitude
b) He could have suggested I upgrade for a small premium.
c) For what the soup costs them, it would have been a minor minor loss for a big win -- happy client who then brings more happy clients.
d) He could have gone a step further, disappeared and returned with this message: "Well, here's what I'll do. We're not supposed to do substitutions, but I asked my manager and she said it's fine. We want you to remember this meal and come back soon!"

Instead, I left feeling a bit blah about the whole meal, and I'm not sure when I'll be back. Too many other great options a block away.

5. TSA Investigation

At the San Diego Airport, there are three lines before baggage screening, where TSA employees check your ID and check your boarding pass. One is for crew, one is for first/business class, and the rest is for us common folk.

A few months back, Mr. A pointed out how wrong this is because TSA workers are government employees. They're not airline employees manning the lines and sorting people, but tax-paid workers. Since there is no civically recognized first class in the U.S.A., giving certain people permission to wait in a shorter line is undemocratic.

So when I was dropping someone off at the San Diego airport recently, I took it upon myself to ask why this system is arranged this way, and who's in charge. Here's a rough recap of the conversation I had with a TSA agent.

La Roxy: Why is there a line for first class flyers and a line for regular passengers? You're a government employee, right?

TSA agent: We don't monitor who come in these lines. It's the airport authority. So you need to talk to them.

La Roxy: So if I was flying and I came through the first class line, you wouldn't object to checking my documents?

TSA agent: I don't care one way or another.

La Roxy: So who decided to make three lines?

TSA: You need to talk to the airport managers.

I went downstairs and found the management office, which was open. There, I was directed to an Officer Castillo, who's in charge of security and logistics and who explained that -- of course!! -- the TSA is in charge.

She gave me the card for the TSA supervisor and told me to call if I wanted more explanations.

Which I haven't done yet, because I've been too busy. But it seems to me a reporter should start working on this story. I mean, really??

Ok, I'm signing out... hopefully I'll get to post something else soon, but if not... see you in a few days when I'm back in wifiland!