Monthly Archives: November 2012

November Commentaries

THE JERSEY SHORE BEFORE HURRICANE SANDY

Post Hurricane Sandy, people wonder if it’s wise to spend mega-billions to reconstruct beach communities increasingly at risk for catastrophic weather events. I wonder too in the face of devastation bound to repeat itself in an age when climate change should no longer be questioned.

Still, I’m a Jersey Girl, and I can’t imagine my home state without Atlantic City. When I was a kid I went “down the shore” every Sunday during the summer in the 1950s. For those who have never had the pleasure, this is what it was like.

We piled into our big black Buick and eagerly headed east toward Philadelphia’s playground and home of the Miss America Pageant. My siblings and I watched as bumper to bumper, Jersey and Pennsylvania tags crawled to the ocean for the day. My mother had packed a picnic lunch, towels, buckets with plastic shovels, soap, shampoo and dress-up clothes for dinner at Cap’n Stearns Restaurant and “walking the boards.”

We parked at the Chalfont Haddon Hall where we secured showering towels, lockers, and a little key on a rubber bracelet. Stuffing our belongings into the long lockers, we hung our evening clothes in plastic bags and stowed our shoes and accessories on the top shelf of the locker. Then we put on white rubber beach slippers, slathered suntan lotion, fought over sunglasses and hats, and dragged striped cotton towels to the beach.

There squawking seagulls strutted at the water’s edge. White-clad ice cream vendors, cold boxes slung over their shoulders, pants rolled up at the ankles, bellowed “Pop-sicle! Get your ice cold fudg-sical!” Ocean breakers slammed onto the beach, impatient parents scolded their children cranky from sand between their toes. After a while, to sooth themselves, the parents wandered up to the boardwalk to eat salt-and-vinegar French fries in a paper cup, or the sticky sweetness of salt water taffy, or chocolate covered turtle candy.

Striped umbrellas dotted the terrain against a backdrop of endless baguette-shimmering sea to one side and boardwalk kiosks to the other. The salt smell in the air complimented the humid breeze that cooled our dry bodies, lulling us into believing that we would not blister.

After lunch, compelled to wait one hour before swimming so that we didn’t suffer fatal stomach cramps, we ran to the ocean’s edge where frigid water attacked our toes. We turned our backs to the breaking waves and jumped above the crests. Sometimes a wave was so big we couldn’t get above its peak. The wave washed over us while we held our breath, praying to survive. Racing back to our umbrella, we lolled on the blanket, snacking and reading comic books.

At five o’clock my father grumbled “We’ll be late for dinner!” We folded the towels, shook the blanket, returned the umbrella, and trudged across the still-hot mini-dunes toward the Chalfont locker room. A half hour later, emerging squeaky clean and dressed “to beat the band” as my mother said, we headed for the seafood restaurant where we ordered the same thing every Sunday before walking the boards.

Sometimes huge spotlights roamed the sky in long white beams and we wondered if Miss America was in town. We begged to ride in a wicker rickshaw pushed by strong-armed men from pier to pier but were always denied. At Steele Pier, we viewed shiny new GM cars on display and marveled that a lady would dive into the ocean on a horse the way the sign said. My brother rode mechanical airplanes that went round and round and all three of us spun on the merry-go-round if there was a horse free that went up and down. We window-shopped at galleries with sculpted shell seagulls and china plates with lighthouses on them. At linen and camera shops “OUT OF BUSINESS!! EVERYTHING MUST GO!” signs competed for our attention. In fudge and salt water taffy stores demonstrations filled the windows.

Finally we piled into the Buick to return home. My brother slept while my sister gazed dreamily out the window. My father crouched over the steering wheel; my mother was pensive.

The following Sunday we headed again for the Chalfont, the frigid water, Cap’n Stearns, and the boards. It was a ritual and in one way or another — even though the restaurant, the Chalfont, and other landmarks of my day have given way to casinos and other landmarks – it has been repeated by others to this day.

That’s why I can’t imagine a New Jersey life without the shore. Neither can anyone else who has memories like mine, climate change or not.

    Author note: Another version of this essay first appeared in my memoir, To New Jersey, With Love and Apologies (OGN Publications, 1999)

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NANNY ABUSE IS A TWO-WAY STREET

The recent account of a young mother in New York who found her two children stabbed to death by the nanny was a chilling reminder that child abuse is a terrifying possibility. For parents who trust the sources of referral in finding a loving, responsible caregiver for their young, the thought that the person they select might harm their child is chilling.

But it happens and it’s a growing problem. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2005 there were 46,000 reported cases of child abuse perpetrated by nannies and other caregivers. Not all of those cases result in the death of a child but it is a startling statistic.

At the same time, nannies themselves are often abused by employers.

“She jumped from her balcony and landed on our patio pleading for help. We took her to a women’s shelter.” I heard this story of a Filipina maid trying to escape abusive treatment when I was in Jordan recently. The woman who recounted this chilling experience said she’d often heard screams from the apartment above hers.

The woman who told me this story has a Filipina nanny, but her nanny’s experience and that of the fleeing woman couldn’t be more different. One receives a good salary paid on time and regular days off. She is provided decent accommodation and food and is free to leave the apartment whenever she wants. The family includes her in activities. Her passport is hers to keep. The maid desperate for help had no time, no money, no respect and no passport in her possession. She had likely been physically abused as well.

Filipinos constitute “the face of domestic work around the world.” Millions of women leave the Philippines in search of jobs as maids and nannies abroad. Often they realize on their first day of work that they have been grossly deceived. Many find themselves in nightmare scenarios constituting modern slavery.

Now global standards to protect domestic workers have been promulgated by the Philippine Senate following a campaign launched by the Visayan Forum Foundation, a Philippine NGO founded to end modern-day slavery and abuse perpetrated among domestic workers. The campaign was launched in June with an event called Walk Free. Over 40,000 supporters from 159 countries gathered to march in Makati City, galvanizing public support for senators to ratify the International Labour Organization’s Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, or ILO 189.

“The walk set in motion a national social movement that challenged the prevailing sense of apathy and helplessness with the belief that together, modern slavery can be eliminated within this lifetime,” a Walk Free spokesperson said.

In August the Philippines Senate ratified ILO 189 becoming the second country to ratify the convention after Uruguay. It will take effect next year.

ILO 189 sets the first global standards for domestic workers worldwide, most of whom are women and girls. Under the treaty, they will be entitled to weekly days off, limited working hours, and minimum wage and social security coverage. Governments will also be obliged to ensure their freedom from violence and abuse as well as preventing child labor in domestic work. The Domestic Workers Convention also includes specific provisions to protect migrant domestic workers, who are often subjected to deductions from their paychecks to pay recruitment fees. Now they will have to receive a written, enforceable contract in the country of employment. Governments will be required to strengthen international cooperation.

In the U.S., among other regulations, nannies are protected by federal and state laws that give them the right to be paid at the established national minimum wage or more, as well as to overtime pay if they don’t live with their employer. They must receive annual wage and tax statements with deductions made clear and agreed to in writing. A workplace must be free from physical and/or sexual abuse and an employer may not keep identity documents such as passports. Additionally, an employer may not use immigration violation as a form of retaliation against a domestic worker.

All these laws – like those aimed at safeguarding children – whether national or international, must be practiced and upheld if they are to be worth the paper they’re written on. But for domestic workers, including nannies, ILO 189 is a good and important step.

Meanwhile, until it takes full effect, women and girls like the one who jumped onto my friend’s patio, still suffer abusive conditions, many of them fearing for their lives. One of them could be maid to the woman in the upstairs flat in Amman, who last I heard, had already hired new help.