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Brigid's Charge, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Virginia, has devoted his long career (37 years) to amassing and analyzing empirical evidence for reincarnation. In this book the journalist Tom Shroder describes Dr. Stevenson's work and gives a fascinating account of Stevenson's most recent field investigations in Lebanon and India.
The primary data supporting reincarnation are accounts of previous lives spontaneously reported by young children. This phenomenon is relatively common in cultures that accept reincarnation; for example, the Hindu and Druze peoples. In some cases the accuracy of details from reported past lives can be verified, even though there is also good evidence that the child (or anyone in his family or network of contacts) had no "external" way of learning the information.
Stevenson began studying such cases in the early 1960s and gradually developed a rigorous methodology for assessing and classifying the data. In Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation and his other writings, Stevenson has presented hundreds of narratives, many of which seem prima facie convincing, except for the small problem that they fall completely outside the bounds of scientific orthodoxy.
As a participant observer, Shroder tells a sympathetic, yet questioning, story of Stevenson's investigation (or follow up) of a few recent cases. In the process, he presents a compelling portrait of the maverick 80-year-old psychiatrist.
Ian Stevenson, a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia, has devoted his career to the study of cases suggestive of reincarnation. The cases consist of narratives of young children who claim to remember past lives. The cases occur primarily in India, Sri Lanka, South Asia, West Africa, Lebanon, and among Northwestern Native Americans, in cultures and religions in which reincarnation is accepted. Stevenson and his colleagues have collected over 2000 such narratives, but only a much smaller number provide what he considers "strong" evidence.
In the latter cases, Stevenson has performed detailed, nearly contemporaneous investigations that appear to rule-out communication of any kind between the child's family and the relatives of the recently deceased person the child claims to be. In addition, many of the "strong" cases have birth defects or birthmarks at the exact sites of traumatic injuries in the deceased person's life.
This book is a shortened and popularized version of a scientific monograph entitled Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects (also published by Praeger Press in 1997). Stevenson categorizes his cases by strength of evidence for a precisely located traumatic injury in the deceased person (i.e. simply remembered by the family, identified in medical records, or verified at autopsy). He also categorizes cases by the size and nature of the child's defect or birthmark.
In each chapter he presents a series of short narratives summarizing cases in a particular category, and comments on the weight and possible interpretations of the evidence. In Chapter 26 Stevenson analyzes a variety of explanations (including normal and paranormal possibilities), and concludes that the strongest of his cases are best explained by accepting the hypothesis of reincarnation (i.e. the discarnate personality of a recently dead person influencing the personality of a newborn child).
The title of this collection of poems recalls the formulaic statement by which a physician introduces a patient's medical problem or chief complaint. For example, "The patient presents with a history of fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea for the last 24 hours." Or, "The patient presents with a long history of hypertension and diabetes." In this case, though, Dr. White's patients' presentations are poems, rather than chunks of sanitized medical jargon; and, while the patient remains a key character in most of these works, they also present the doctor's story.
Domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual abuse figure prominently in these poems. In "365" (p. 1) a five year old girl presents with "a foul smelling vaginal discharge"; she was a victim of rape. Baby "John Brown" (p. 9) has 47 fractured bones and was "dipped in boiling water" for soiling himself. In "Ironing" (p. 18) a first grade girl has the impression of an iron burned into her thigh. And the two-year-old girl in "Peek" (p. 49) is admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with cigarette burns and a liver fracture.
Dr. White also writes of babies left behind by their mothers ("Autumn Angels," p. 3), homeless mothers and children ("Numbers," p. 42), and complex multigenerational family pathology ("Riddle," p. 50). All in all, these stories carry the reader very close to "Looking at the Gates of Hell" (p. 32).
Yet, a still, small voice of calm, maybe even of salvation, can appear in the most unlikely places. In "Belly" (p. 4) the physician lays her face against a baby's belly and "the warm brown skin calms my forehead. / All stiffness melts." In "Maplewood & Greene" (p. 36) she revels in seeing "three little girls on roller skates." And in the Whitmanesque poem called "Oh" (p. 45), she gloriously affirms, "Oh to laughter, oh to sorrow / Oh to a better day, oh tomorrow."
The time is 1963; the place, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. In their lower middle-class home, Piet Bezuidenhout and his wife Gladys are waiting for friends to arrive for dinner. Piet is an Afrikaner man who hasn't achieved much in life, but has found sustenance and meaning in liberal politics. His wife is a South African of English descent, who, we later learn, has recently returned home from being hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. Visible on the stage (or at least to the protagonists) is Piet's collection of indigenous aloe plants. He is attempting to classify a new aloe that he has just found, but which doesn't appear to fit into any of the listed species.
Their awaited guests are Steve Daniels and his family. Steve, a colored man whom Piet met in his political work, was recently released from jail, where he had served time for "subversive" activities. We learn that Steve has obtained a one-way exit permit; the following week he plans to sail with his family to England. When Steve finally arrives two hours late (and a little worse the wear from drinking), it turns out that his wife and children stayed home. In fact, everyone in the movement, including Steve's wife, believes that Piet (the white man) is an informer.
As the two old friends begin to talk, the conversation becomes painful; they circle cautiously around important personal questions. Was Piet really the informer? What happened to Gladys that caused her nervous breakdown? And, finally, why has Steve decided to give up the political struggle and go into exile?
In the mid-19th Century, a teenage prophetess named Nongqawuse preached salvation for the Xhosa people. If the people would slaughter all of their cattle and burn all of their crops, the spirits of their ancestors would rise and drive their oppressors (the English colonizers) into the sea. The ancestors would also resurrect the cattle and restore the crops. A large percentage of the Xhosa ("Believers") adopted this new religion, destroyed their livelihood, and initiated many years of disease and starvation. The Xhosa nation might well have been wiped out, but for the fact that some of the people ("Unbelievers") rejected these prophecies and did not destroy their crops and cattle.
These historical events serve as the cornerstone of The Heart of Redness, which presents two intertwined fictional narratives: one that occurs in the time of Nongqawuse and a second narrative that takes place in Qolorha, a Xhosa village in present-day South Africa. In the novel the conflict between Believers and Unbelievers has persisted through the "Middle Generations" and continues to the present. Believers claim that the prophecies of Nongqawuse would have come true, if only all of the Xhosa people had destroyed their farms and cattle. The ancestors failed to return because of the unbelief of a portion of the people.
Unbelievers argue that the folly of the original Believers led to decades of suffering and a strengthening of the English colonizers. This traditional conflict is reflected today in their attitudes toward economic development. Developers want to build a large casino and resort complex near the village. Unbelievers support the proposal because it will bring jobs and money to the region. Believers are dead set against the proposal because it will destroy their way of life.
Meanwhile, Camagu, who has a Ph.D. in economic development and who returned from exile in 1994 to help build the new South Africa, has moldered for years in Johannesburg, unable to find a job appropriate to his skills. When he meets a young woman who says she is returning home to Qolorha, he spontaneously follows her there. Camagu decides to remain in the village and, against his will, becomes embroiled in the battle between Believers and Unbelievers, as well as love affairs with two women, one from each side of the conflict.
The time is November 1899 through February 1900; the place is Ladysmith, a small railroad town in British Natal near its border with the Boer Republics. The Boers have surprised the world with an initial series of Samson-and-Goliath victories over the British army and have now laid siege to Ladysmith. As they shell the town from surrounding hills, people die, disease is rampant, structures collapse, starvation looms, and yet the British muddle through with an improvised cricket match whenever possible.
The setting of this novel is historically accurate, and a number of historical figures appear as characters; for example, the Boers arrest a young reporter named Winston Churchill as he struggles to reach the besieged town, and an Indian lawyer-turned-medical volunteer named Mohandas K. Gandhi becomes more and more committed to his philosophy of active nonviolence.
The core of the novel is a fictionalized version of a love story that the author found in the letters of his great-grandfather, who was a British soldier at Ladysmith. Bella, the Irish hotelkeeper’s daughter, falls in love, first, with a British soldier; and later with a Portuguese barber, thus defying convention and rebelling against her father. The unlikely couple escapes in a balloon.
Ian Young spent the summer of 1970 as a medical student working at a hospital in the province of Kabylia in Algeria. He was assigned to the Maternity department, where he worked primarily with two Bulgarian doctors. Most foreign medical personnel in Algeria at the time came from Eastern bloc countries, as "Islamic Socialism" was the official political system in the newly independent (1962) North African country. According to Young, obstetrical care for the mostly Berber women of the area was brutal, disorganized, antiquated, and dangerous.
Dr. Vasilev, the head of the department, is a passive and indecisive man, who spends most of his day reading the newspaper. Once roused from his lethargy, which doesn't happen very often, he demonstrates competence and concern for his patients. His colleague, Dr. Kostov, is an aggressively brutal man who introduces himself to pregnant patients by shoving his fist into their vaginas.
Both doctors excuse their behavior by saying, "We just can't do it here they way we do it in Bulgaria." For the most part, they do not use sterile technique, and although anesthetics are available, neither Kostov nor Vasilev typically use them. The Algerian nursing staff provides at least a modicum of organization and care in this dreadful environment.
At first Young approaches the situation with disbelief and anger. He then attempts to improve the quality of care, first by introducing a flow sheet for obstetrical care, and later by submitting a report on the poor conditions to the hospital director.
Mild-mannered Dr. Vasilev supports him, but no one uses the new flow sheets, and the Director considers the report a personal (and political) affront. Meanwhile, Ian Young presents the reader with a seemingly endless series of fascinating patient cases and interesting stories about hospital personnel, as well as about his excursions to various parts of Kabylia.
This is a collection of poems that ranges widely through both the geographical and spiritual worlds. Susan Rich began her career as a human rights activist and Peace Corps volunteer in Niger. She has also worked in South Africa, Bosnia, Gaza, and as a program coordinator for Amnesty, International. Her poems are lyrics of empathy, discontent, and hope, unified by her "Cartographer's Tongue."
From an international medical and health perspective, some of the best of these poems are "Haiti," "The Woman with a Hole in the Middle of Her Face," "In the Language of Maps," "The Toughest Job," "The Beggars," "Sarajevo," "La Verbena Cemetery," "Whatever Happened to the Bodies," and "The Scent of Gasoline."
In this collection, Judith Arcana brings together her long-standing feminist activism, especially for reproductive health and abortion rights, and her gifts as a poet. Although Arcana's activism dates back to the early seventies, most of the poems in the book were written between 1998 and 2004. They draw from "the lives of women and girls I know or have simply encountered" (xi).
The collection is divided into four sections: "Separating argument from fact," "Information rarely offered," "Don't tell me you didn't know this," and "Here, in the heart of the country." Spoken in first, second, or third person, these poems evoke the myriad individual situations in which women of childbearing age become pregnant, and the trajectories their lives may take as a result.
The title of the collection derives from one of its poems ("What if your mother") and the related, immediately preceding poem, "My father tells me something, 1973" (6-7). Arguing back to those who confront her with, "What if your mother had an abortion? . . . they mean me," the speaker/poet answers, "then I say she did . . . . "What if, what if. / What's the point of asking this phony question?"
From the preceding poem, the reader has learned, along with the speaker listening to her father in 1973, that the poet's mother had an abortion in the Depression era, early in marriage. With this juxtaposition of poems we are introduced early in the book to the complexity of the issues surrounding pregnancy, parenthood, and abortion and to the timeline of a continuing national and personal debate. This complexity is the subject of the collection.
This is the journal that Oliver Sacks kept during a "fern foray" in Oaxaca, Mexico. Sacks is a fern lover, even though he admits to an even greater passion for club mosses and horsetails. In 1993 John Mickel of the New York Botanical Gardens introduced Sacks to the New York chapter of the American Fern Society (AFS). Consisting mostly of amateur naturalists, AFS meetings were both congenial and passionate, unlike the cold competitiveness of professional meetings in neurology and neuroscience. The New York AFS folks arrange periodic trips to hot spots in the fern world to indulge their passion. In 1999 Oliver Sacks accompanied them on a trip to Oaxaca, which is a veritable paradise of ferns.
Though the trip is only 10 days long, Sacks packs a month’s worth of sights and sounds and meditations into his journal. We learn a lot about the hundreds of species of ferns that range from southern Mexico’s rain forests to the nooks and crannies of its arid central plateau. But the author’s curiosity roams freely and absorbs his new environment. We learn about the origin of chocolate, the history of tobacco, and the archeology of Monte Alban. We learn about the process of distilling mescal in one’s backyard. Most of all, we are introduced to nearly a dozen vivid characters, united in their enthusiasm for fieldwork and ferns.