Friday, February 19, 2016

How do you socialize?

Around December time frame, my friend and I decided to put our heads, and hearts together to write down all the obstacles to socializing.  We felt since our move to Toronto, many years ago, we still lacked the close, tight knit circle we could call upon to get together, gossip, have fun,  or ask for guidance, or help.  We were wondering why?  Is there something in the climate, literally?  Toronto is too cold.

Since then, I have been thinking and paying attention to hit or miss opportunities to socialize.  Here is my observation so far.

Socialize means different to different people

In my mother tongue we have many different words that describes the action of people getting together not to do business, although it is always a welcome outcome.  Meeting with people is a very important part of my culture, it happens all days of the week, and starts with a phone call, which almost always ends with a date for a meeting, the same day or in a few days.  It's simple, and effortless to get together.  The host then may decide to extend the invitation to other like minded connections, friends, and or family.  Depending on the time and day, these people may or may not show, but it is almost certain that most will show and the event is a go.  No one turns down an invite without a good reason. 

Preparing for the get together itself is extensive.  There's always a host and guest relationship, even if the get together is in a public place.  Most people prefer to have people over  their home, however.  The host always goes beyond the means to put on the best dressed table in front of the guests.  The word "show off" is used often in the after-party conversations; as the party is so extensive that resembles a show of some sort! The guests are there to be entertained and have a good time.  Everyone plays host at some point in time; some do this in a round robin fashion.

Going or throwing a party is a necessity of life in my home town.  Therefore folks prioritize socializing ahead of every other task.

There is a consistency, and in being consistent you get to know the people over time: their name, the name of members of their family, where they are from, what they do, their marital status, their hobbies, their sense of style, and their sense of humor.  The connection is established gradually.

This is not the case in Toronto!  It seems parties thrown by individuals, at least the ones that I have directly and indirectly been part of, is rare.  The more common one is when an organization steps in, and organizes one, every "guest" contributes the fee, and the organization arranges the logistics, entertainment, and food based on the theme.  I have been to a few of these, and felt like I am in one of those lottery ball machines, where people attract or repel after a few minutes of conversation about random topics.  If you are left with one person, there is either an awkward silence, or a series of one way questions on: nationality, marital status, and job, sometimes education.  Conversations are occasionally shallow.  Everyone is aware of all the social biases, there are so many of them; and avoids starting or steering the conversation in that direction.  In this kind of settings I consider myself lucky, if I see the same face twice at the same or follow on parties.

People have busy schedules
I said it is effortless to set a date for a social get together in my home town.  Well, this is not the case in Toronto!  It seems like people need an extra 7 days in a week and an extra 24 hours in a day, to be able to contain their work, life, and social schedule.  It's painful to find a date that works.  It goes back and forth, with email, text, phone call, for weeks, if not months to find a date and time to get together for an hour over coffee in a coffee shop!  I almost feel people are sabotaging themselves and denying themselves of all the fun to be had.

Socializing is not just a past time
It's a fun past time. If you socialize with like minded people you sure experience its impact on your mood.  It reduces stress, because either it distracts or provides a medium to vent.  It creates opportunities to help and be of help at times of need.  I know that I can never have enough friends!

These are my observations so far.  I will come back to it as I gain more insight into the topic using my and those who'd be willing to share experiences with me.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

In 1951, a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital took a specimen for culture from a cervical tumor that belonged to Henrietta Lacks, a then 31-year-old African-American woman, without informing her that he was doing so, or asking her consent, as is now required. While Henrietta died pretty quickly after her diagnosis, her cells stayed alive and continued duplicating, hence they were dubbed immortal. Pretty soon, the cells were commercialized, produced, packaged and shipped to where there was demand. Science had found a reliable supply of human cells that it could use to test, and experiment with. Many of such experiments were conducted on Henrietta's cells, the most significant one: the test to prove the polio vaccine is effective. Although contaminated, being cancerous, they became the center of many more scientific advances. Later on, the cells tested positive for two strains of Human Papilloma Virus, which confirmed the results of Professor Harald zur Hausen research connecting HPV to cervical cancer.
The Lacks family found out about Henrietta's cells, in a casual conversation between one of Henrietta's daughter in laws, who is a patient aid at Baltimore hospital, and her neighbor who is a cancer research scientist. With very limited education, it was very hard for the family to grasp the true meaning of their mother's cells being living.
The book tries to bring these two stories together, and I think while there is good effort made, but the result is not very satisfactory.
While I enjoyed reading about HeLa; learning what they are, their significance to science as well as medical ethics. I felt confused when the author switched to talking about the Lacks'. She kept all the details of her finding them, connecting with them, and befriending in the book. Which made these chapters verbose. The family's hardships after Henrietta's death due to HeLa are truly sad! It deserves to be narrated pure and simple, and not to be murked by the author's pursuit of it.