Thursday, February 25, 2010


Last week I got an amazing piece of news, I have another sister! You guys may wonder: How in the world would she not know that she has a sister? Well, my family is as complicated as a soap opera on a weekday afternoon. I am not talking about my family in terms of my husband and children; I am talking about the family that was started in the time way before I was born.

My father was one of those handsome and really charming men that women can’t help but fall for. And boy, did they fall for him! He married his fist wife Lyudmila and had two little girls by her, Elena and Natalia. My father was not a strong believer in being loyal to his wife and fathered another little girl, Oksana, with a woman he got drunk with at a party one day. He blamed his rotten luck for fathering only girls on his women and was sure that the right woman would give him a son. Finally he divorced his wife and met my mom and thus Irina—that’s me--came along as the last known Ivanova girl.

Because of the way we came into this world we were not allowed to keep in touch. After my father’s death Lyudmila and my mom lived in a duplex and, as you can imagine in a situation like that, hated each other with passion. They would fight over the silliest of reasons and rejoice in the other’s misfortune. I was not allowed to talk to Elena and Natalia. One of my earliest memories is looking at my sisters through a chain link fence as if we were in jail. I spent the first 7 years of my life with my grandparents in a village; when I came back, Elena was 18 and out of the house, Natalia was 16 and finishing up her school. We still were not allowed to communicate. Poor Oksana had to live with her mother and two brothers who were perpetually drunk. She was not the healthiest of kids because her mom was drunk a lot during the pregnancy. As I grew older and felt really miserable as an only child I wanted to find my sisters but out of respect for my mother I did not.

In July of 2008 my mom passed away suddenly. When I went back to Ukraine for the funeral I decided that I was free at last to see if I could find my half-sisters. The first one I enquired about was Oksana for she is only a year older than I am. That is when I learned that she had passed away. I was really sad to hear the news but it only fueled my resolve to find the other two sisters. I was able to find Elena online and she put me in touch with Natalia. Right now Elena lives in Germany with her almost 17 year old absolutely handsome son Valentin. She is working as an accountant in an electric and gas firm. She has had a hard life of drugs and abuse from her husband but overcame it all and is doing just fine. Natalia cannot have children and is in a relationship with a man who is a drunk and every so often is violent towards her.

The news I heard last Thursday made me ecstatic with joy. Elena’s mom met Oksana on a street by sheer chance. She saw this girl that just somehow looked familiar and came up to her, and there she was! Alive and well! It turns out Oksana was in Russia and came back to Ukraine only 2 years prior to this meeting. The rumor that she was dead was spread by a malicious neighbor of ours who did not want Oksana to get my aunt’s house as inheritance. Elena called me as soon as she heard the news. Unfortunately Oksana’s life has not been much different in terms of luck as the life of my other two sisters. She married young to a drunkard and had her son when she was 17. When her little boy was 3 years old she left him alone with her husband. The husband decided he wanted to go out and left his son alone in the house with the gas burners on. To spare you all the gory details, Oksana’s son died that day. Finally she had had enough of her husband and married another one, but not much better than the first one. He also beats her when he gets drunk and drinks up all their money, forcing his family to live in near poverty. But one good thing that Oksana does have is a 4 year old girl Valeria, who is absolutely adorable.

When I look at my sisters, I am so glad that I have them. In the last two years I went from being an only child to coming from a family of 4 sisters. At the same time I feel so guilty because I married a wonderful man who is a Christian and would never deliberately hurt me. I say “deliberately” because I know he will hurt me from time to time as I will him just because of our human nature. But I know he will never get drunk out of his mind and beat me senseless. I was blessed to have two perfect children and never had to experience the grief of losing a child. I have not met my sisters face to face since I’ve become an adult and cannot wait when I can get together with them and get to know them much better.

Monday, February 15, 2010

“Are those yars?”

I really had no idea what to write about today in my second post. Life has been pretty good here lately with my power on, almost all the time, and my internet working, almost all the time! ;-) Absolutely nothing to rant about! What a shame!

Then we decided to go to Blantyre, a big city that is about 30 miles away from us, yesterday to celebrate the Valentine’s Day. Since we do not get to go there very often I took the opportunity to get some groceries I cannot get in Zomba. Big mistake to do it with two kids!!! Erik and Dana acted as if they were kept in a dark barn and it was their first time out! First of all I sent Mark to get some cash for me out of an ATM. Because the Malawi Kwacha exchange rate is so high, K150 to $1, we get a whole wad of cash. So taking out $300 looks like a ransom pay off! Then Mark tried to stuff all that cash into his pants pocket, but without a whole lot of success. When Erik saw all the cash he just said, “WOW!”

Then it was time to do the actual shopping. We went in the stores and they were stuffed with people to the fullest capacity. I think all of Blantyre was there. My kids just went wild. Everything they saw they wanted! Erik wanted a kite and Dana wanted a dolly. I don’t mind getting toys for my kids but in Malawi they are junk and cost an arm and a leg! A tiny Polly Pocket is $10! I tried to ignore my kids’ pleas for the toys and at the same time not to run over other customers in the store while trying to get from point A to point B through the crowded aisles. Eventually I got so fed up with all the whining that I gave in and got the stuff they both wanted. Finally we left the store with Erik and Dana extremely excited about the things they got and me in shock from the inflation!

Overall, my kids do behave in stores and if I am firm enough, they will stop begging. They have never thrown a temper tantrum because I refused to get this or that and never screamed and fought uncontrollably. For my kids shopping is an event!!! But as I started writing this story I remembered something my Canadian friend Alex told me that happened to her one day. Alex has 3 little girls; Laura 6, Talia 5, and Ezera 3. I know, the poor thing! One day when Ezera was a baby, Alex took all 3 of her girls to a store with her. At one point the two older girls started fighting and the baby started crying. So there she was, pushing a cart full of screaming kids. Out of nowhere a woman came up to her and said, “Are those yars?” At first Alex did not quite get what “those” mean until in dawned on her that the woman was referring to her girls. Being the sarcastic thing that she is Alex answered, “Let’s stop and think here for a minute! Would I be pushing a cart full of screaming children down an aisle in a store if they were not mine?”

Latest from the Lonely Hearts:
“A young man aged 26, without any attachments to his life is looking for a “sugar mum” to start a relationship with. The lady should be working or doing business. Those interested should email him at” Ohhhh, if I only had time, I could have so much fun :-)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

“I just want to die!”

“I just want to die!” Those are the words that were going through Natasha’s* mind when she was held in captivity as a sex slave for over a year in Germany. She came to Germany because she saw an advertisement in a Ukrainian paper that young women were needed to work in a shoe factory. At that point Natasha was a 27-year-old single mother whose husband had left her without any means of support. Ukraine was going through some tough economic times and jobs were scarce. She saw this advertisement and it was like the light at the end of a tunnel. Little did she know that it would be the worst nightmare of her life! She left her 2-year-old son with her mom and set out in hopes of a dream. When she got to Germany, her passport was taken away and she was put into a brothel where an endless string of men would visit her night after night.

Sadly, her story is not all that uncommon. When you watch movies like Taken you think, “Nah, something like this will never happen to me or to my loved ones!” But it does! Statistics show that around “two million women and children are held in sexual servitude worldwide.” Desperate parents sell their own children for a mere $30! What would make a parent take such a drastic step? It does not matter whether the child is male of female; little girls as young as 10 work in karaoke brothels and little boys become “lady-boys.” Every minute two children somewhere are prepared to become sex workers. Most of the examples of sex slavery are from poor countries like Romania, Bulgaria, my native Ukraine, Russia, Indonesia, Philippines, and so on. The easier travel across borders has made it easy for such a gritty business to flourish! But if you think that something like that would only happen anywhere else but America, think again! The documentary Cargo, Innocence Lost tells the story of the sex slave industry operating in Texas.

How do these women and children cope with lives like that? Some go insane, some drink themselves to death, and some use coping mechanisms to survive. Natasha, for example, kept a detailed diary of her life as a sex slaves addressed to her little son. She was lucky because some man took pity on her and paid off her “debt” associated with her coming to Germany. She was able to go back to Ukraine and rejoin her little son and family. But that is only one “happy ending” among the millions of really horrible ones.

*Natasha is one of the most common names in Ukraine and Russia.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Undressing Infidelity

Last spring I read Undressing Infidelity; Why Do Women Cheat by Diane Shader Smith. Why? I find books on family and relationships fascinating. Unfortunately the book did not provide the answers to that particular question. It just gave some examples of extra-marital affairs. But it did raise a question in my mind, Why do women cheat? One does not really give a second thought to husbands that cheat. Like my grandma Swanigan said, “They can’t help it! They are men!” Although some facts show that women are less likely to cheat than men statistics show that the number of cheating women now equals the number of cheating men.

So why do wives cheat? You would not believe how many hits I got when I Googled cheating wives! Hundreds of thousands! There was one site that provided three reasons why women cheat. According to this site one of the reasons why wives cheat is from the lack of attention from their husbands. After a while a husband does not look at his wife the same way he used to and she becomes “the next best thing to football.” It makes me think of an old Ukrainian joke where a wife would do this and that to change her appearance and her husband would never notice. Then one day she put on a gas mask just to see if he would notice and he just looked at her and said, “Did you pluck your eyebrows again?” Then when a stranger notices her beauty and complements her, she feels sexy and desirable once more. She blossoms from receiving the emotional attention she is craving so much and is not getting at home any more. So, reason number one: attention and emotional feedback.

The second reason wives cheat is to have a revenge on their cheating husbands. “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned!” You do not want to mess with an angry woman! I have seen some hilarious videos on U-Tube where women spill paint on the guy’s beloved car, smash it all to bits, or throw all of his electronic possessions out a second story window! By cheating on her husband a woman feels that she has proved to him that she too can play that game! As for me, if I ever find out that my husband is cheating on me, I will not seek revenge. I will just sic his mom on him!

The third reason is simply for the thrill of it! It usually happens to the women in their forties who feel like their life is almost over and they have not even “lived” it yet! Shows like Sex and the City demonstrate to them the sexual freedom they can have. Each new affair gives the new excitement of a conquest. Do you remember those first dates with your loved one? The fluttering of butterflies in your stomach each time you saw him, your heart beating wildly just from the sight of his name, wanting to be with him every second of the day and missing him the minute he left. Well, thrill seeking women strive on that very feeling. They live for the thrill of the emotional high these relationships give them. But the newness of the feeling wears off and they move on to a next conquest. These women have no intention of leaving their husband. They just need a little more excitement in their lives. For that very reason they will most likely pick a married man for he will give all of this excitement without any strings attached.

How depressing it is to read all the statistics of cheating wives who do not think of the consequences their fling will cost them. Sadly, most of the cheating wives would never dream about cheating on their husbands before it actually happened. They are just caught up in the heat of a moment and the next thing they know, the affair has happened. There are tons of sites online that can help one find someone to cheat with and give advice on how to have an affair without being caught. I do hope that at least some of these women will stop and think of all the hurt and pain they will cause to their loved ones if they follow through with the affair.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Dr. Evil and Mr. Hyde!

You are probably thinking right now, “It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!” I used Dr Evil for a purpose. I want to talk about one of my professors this semester and that is the name I gave him. It is not because he is mean-- He is in fact a really nice guy with a great sense of humor-- but rather because of something he wrote in his class syllabus. Some of my classmates are in the same class with me and will know exactly whom I am talking about.

His syllabus is one of the longest and at the same time funniest I have ever read! In fact I’ve enjoyed it so much that I let my friends read it for fun! Today I had two of my friends, Tamsin and Karen, come over for a cup of coffee and homemade sticky buns. After a while I took out the syllabus, already ragged looking from all the handling, and started going over my favorite parts. My friends have a healthy sense of humor and enjoyed it just as much as I did. But there was one part that made us double over with laughter. It was under “Request for Quiz Reset.” It reads, “If you lost your internet connection during a quiz, contact your internet provider and find out why. You are paying for reliable service. Make them do their job.” It was a sore subject to Karen for she was 1 hour late in coming because she was waiting for someone to show up and fix her internet that’s been down for 10 days now.

What we found particularly funny is that in Malawi you can never get any answers! You can never get to the bottom of a problem. If our power goes out and you call ESCOM, our electric company, to tell them that we don’t have it, they will say, “Are you sure you don’t have it?” Hello! I’m over here with the kerosene lamps going! Sure I’m sure! If you call the internet company and ask them what is going on, the answer would be, “I don’t know! I’m not the one!” That particular comment made Tamsin remember something one of her friends told her one day.

This friend was trying to get a hold of a guy in some company. He called the place and asked for this man. He got a reply, “He is not on his seat!” Meaning, he is not at his desk. The friend kept calling and calling day after day getting the same exact answer every single time. Finally he got fed up and yelled at the person who was answering the phone,

“What do you mean, not on his seat? Where is he then? I have been calling for a week now!”

The man answered, “At a funeral.”

Friend, “Whose funeral?”

The man, “His own!”

In reply to Dr. Evil’s advice on how to handle the internet provider, here is what I will do! I will go to Burco, my internet provider, and read them that very paragraph and then time their laughter so that I can report back to my teacher!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Freedom of religion?

This week it took me a while to figure out what I will write about. I toyed with this and that idea but nothing substantial would materialize. Then I saw something on the news that caught my attention. It was a story on the burqa ban in France. The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, states that the “burqa is not a religious problem, it is a problem of the dignity of women. It is a symbol of subservience, of submission.” Let me explain to you what a burqa is. The Burqa is the traditional dress for a Muslim woman that covers her body completely. There is see-through mesh that goes over the eyes so the wearer is able to see. The ban raised a question in my mind, do the French have a right to ban burqas or let women wear them?

Are all Muslim women who wear burqas forced to do so or do some of them do it for their own religious reasons? I have a lot of Muslim friends here and not all of them wear burqas. In fact, only one does. Why? Several years ago she was really ill and almost died. During that time she prayed a lot and was healed. She believes that Allah saved her. She believes that by wearing a burqa she is showing her faith and submission to God. Would it be fair to her if the Malawi government all of a sudden decided to ban it?

At the same time burqas can pose a threat. Various crimes and bank robberies around the world have been committed with people hiding their identity behind this Muslim dress. Terrorists have been able to hide loads of explosives under that same dress. And on a lighter note, I heard of an incident of a woman’s lover coming to her house dressed in burqa to hide his identity from the woman’s husband! Some of the purposes that the burqa has been used for are terrifying and some are downright hilarious, but the fact is still the same, how can we be sure what is under the dress?

I believe in freedom of religion. After all, it is one of the principles on which America was founded upon! No one is telling me not to wear my cross! Why should they have to give up their religious dress? But at the same time I get nervous at the airport when I see a “person” pass me by covered head to toe. In today’s day and age some sacrifices should be made. Who’s to know that a person under the burqa is who she claims to be and not a terrorist man with a bomb strapped around his waist? Can these women show their faith by simply covering their head with a scarf and leaving their faces visible? I guess it is for the Muslims to decide for themselves. But if I were to move to a country that dictates strict dress codes, I would abide by the law of the land!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Malawi’s Lonely Hearts

One of my favorite past times in Malawi is to get the weekend edition of The Daily Times and read the Lonely Hearts section. No, I am not looking for romance, but I do love to read them just for fun! You see, the wording of these posts is at times so hilarious that I end up crying from laughter! Today I will include some of the prime examples from the section for you to enjoy as well!

“I am a mature male of 29 years of age, working and I am seriously looking for an older mature woman with whom I can have a serious and discrete affair.”
Hmmm, would you consider me being 30 as “an older?”

“A 24-year-old and single male is looking for a beautiful caring lady of between 18 and 24 years of age, preferably a nurse or any other medical profession.”
Is he sick and needs someone to take care of him?

“I am a 29 year-old caring, loving, warm hearted, trust worthy and generous male, looking for a woman who is working, independent, driving and drinking…”
Is he planning on taking out life insurance on her?

“A 25 year-old-woman single woman with 2 children is looking for a good, trustworthy, caring man who should be a mild drunk….”
What does a “mild drunk” mean?

I know that there are some really lonely people out there who just want to find a companion to spend their life with and they put their heart and soul into these posts. But the way they do it is just too much at times! I don’t know who the editor of The Daily Times is but he makes sure I am not sorry each time I buy its weekend edition! My husband suggested that I send this post to him, but if he will start paying closer attention to his work, what will I read? :-)