(S)ex-otic Vacations

[My 350 word piece for the magazine portfolio submitted last semester]

Every year more British women head to foreign destinations with the aim of having sex with local men. With over 2.2 million divorced women in UK and over twenty percent of women single over the age of 20, is sex tourism here to stay?

The first time Sarah Cahill* slept with Daniel, it was like the scene in ‘From Here to Eternity’, when Burt Lancaster kissed Deborah Kerr. Cahill and Daniel were on a deserted beach in the Cayman Islands with the sun setting behind green, lush mountains and crystal clear waves gently lapping over their legs. She said it was the most erotic moment of her life. “On our first night together, I had four orgasms.”

Their relationship lasted five days.

Cahill, 38, from Solihull, West Midlands, is only one among 600,000 women, who, in the last three decades, have had sex with local men in far-flung destinations.

Women said travel sex helped them through difficult times in their lives, which could be one of the reasons behind this growing trend. Jeannette Belliveau, 55, the American author of Romance on the Road, said in an interview with Eve magazine: “It healed me after a painful divorce.”

Being sex tourists give women a sense of power. “It’s a great head-rush to be able to say: ‘right then, tonight…we’re going to have sex. Not one of my holiday boyfriends has ever disagreed” said Carol Wyatt*, 42, from Birmingham.

However, the dark side of travel sex exists. Women end up paying lunch bills or buy clothes and mobile phones for their exotic lovers. Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor, a sociologist at Leeds University who has interviewed hundreds of women who have travelled to the Caribbean for sex, says 60% of the women she spoke to admitted to “economic elements” to their affairs.

Cahill says she buys things for the men she sleeps with simply because they’re poor. “If I was at home and seeing a bloke with no money, no one would bat an eyelid if I paid for him in a restaurant or bought him the odd pair of trousers.”

Another downside is the worry that a rise in female sex tourism will increase the number of cases of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases in the UK by British female tourists becoming infected and passing it on to their UK partners.

With the number of female sex tourists increasing, sex tourism looks like it’s here to stay.

My brother is autistic; what’s your excuse?

[My 800 word piece for my magazine portfolio submitted last semester]

Labels are meant for jars, not people. With the words ‘mad’ and ‘retarded’ already accepted forms of insults, is the word ‘autism’ not far away from the dubious honour?

I love my brother with autism
A copy of the sign I made for an autism walk in Dubai

When France’s European Minister Pierre Lellouche said that the Tories had castrated UK’s position in Europe by adopting an autistic approach and that they have a bizarre sense of autism, most people were debating about the ramifications of UK’s stand on the issue. A smaller minority expressed outrage about Pierre Lellouche’s use of the word ‘autistic’. I was one of them.

If Lellouche had called the Tories ‘homos’ or ‘niggers’, there would have been an outcry. So how did he manage to call the Tories ‘autistic’ by way of insulting them and get away with it? It doesn’t matter why he did it; his behaviour was inexcusable.

Too often people use disabilities as an abusive way of insulting the so-called normal human beings. A few years ago, my family and I were in a restaurant, my then 4-year-old autistic brother started crying and refused to calm down. A patron sitting at the next table looked over and said very loudly: “What’s wrong with these people? If they have retarded children, they should keep them at home.” Then we were asked to leave the restaurant by the management because ‘the other diners were getting disturbed’. It hurt. It hurt because my brother is not retarded. He, like thousands of other people has an autistic spectrum disorder. It also hurt because it was acceptable then (and still is) to insult someone by way of calling them ‘retarded’ and prevent them from experiencing a routine aspect of life. It’s absolutely abhorrent when one hears the word ‘retarded’ being thrown around as if it were commonplace even in classrooms in secondary schools.

Now it seems ‘autistic’ is the new way of doing it. Since when are mentally handicapped or autistic people not normal? They have a face, two eyes, a nose, a mouth. They look like other human beings. They even feel like everyone else. Being unable to communicate the way the majority of the population does doesn’t give anyone the right to insult them or marginalize the problems they face.

The general public doesn’t seem to have any idea of what autism is outside of Rainman. They think they’ve seen the movie and are therefore experts. Not every autistic person is a savant (a genius in some areas), not every autistic person knows how to wear their clothes themselves and not every autistic person can talk.

For me, autism is about the constant effort to wean my brother out of diapers at night. It’s about teaching him how to wear his shoes. It’s about helping him brush his own teeth. It’s about trying to teach him to do something as simple as imitate other people. The public haven’t got the first clue about the reality of autism. Until you’ve lived with autism or worked in the field, you ain’t seen nothing.

Which is why perhaps, it is not surprising that the public did not raise an outcry against the use of the word as an insult by Lellouche. One wonders if newspapers, in using his quote as their headline, inadvertently made it more acceptable to insult others similarly. I fear that, right now, people would find it perfectly normal (there’s that word again) to say: “You’re so autistic!” and mean it in a hurtful way. But I wouldn’t, in the middle of a fight, use it to be derogatory towards the other person. Because it isn’t.

Families dealing with autism did speak out about this in public forums. One father mentioned in a letter to a newspaper how his 11-year-old autistic son, who could read, had spent years building up a sense of self-esteem, knowing he was not like everyone else. The father in question threw the newspaper that used the quote as a headline before his son could see it. It is unimaginable how an autistic person would feel, reading such news and knowing that Lellouche used their condition as an insult. As if they already didn’t have enough to cope with, now their very being is deemed to be a matter of ridicule?

As for me, I didn’t have to protect my brother; he can’t read. Also, it helps as he lives in Dubai and the geographical distance meant that this did not make headline news.

Families dealing with autism know all too well that it is not derogatory to be autistic. It doesn’t make your child or you (if you’re autistic) a lesser person. I’ve found that autistic people are kind and prone to unconditional love and forgiveness.

Which is more than I can say for many of the ‘normal’ people out there.

Patch Story #4: Animals given away on recycling websites

Animals have been given away without proper safeguards on a website meant to help Chesterfield residents reduce waste levels.

The Chesterfield Freecycle website gives away unwanted items for free but has become a give-away site for animals.

Critics claim the animals could become victims of cruelty, including bait for dog fights and puppy trafficking.

The Chesterfield Freecycle is one of 4,866 local non-profit groups that are trying to keep “good stuff out of landfills.”

But among the television sets, telephones and artificial Christmas trees on offer, browsers will also find kittens, cats, dogs and even the occasional snake up for grabs.

The group does not have a ‘no animal’ policy and local Freecycle groups are not subject to an arbitrary policy on sale of animals.

The decision was taken based on the discretion of local moderators. When they received objections from people in the past, they left the decision open to the users of the group.

In three polls since 2007, a majority has voted to allow animals to be found new homes via the website.

Chesterfield Freecycle moderators said in an open letter to protestors that their ‘policies are not likely to change in the foreseeable future.’

Chesterfield resident Shonagh Staten, 33, has been using the website for two years, mostly to look for household items. “It’s a sound idea but it’s quite common to put animals up on offer as well.”

She has taken in cats advertised on the website and re-homed them after properly vetting the would-be owners. She said: “I was afraid they would end up as bait for illegal dog fights.”

The RSPCA received 358 complaints about animal fights in 2007, a 1392% increase since 2004 (only 24 complaints).

The RSPCA in Chesterfield said it was aware that animals were being sold online without proper vetting procedures.

Spokeswoman Sophie Wilkinson said: “People doing this might be inadvertently supporting puppy trafficking trade.”

It was important to get pets from a reputable breeding or rescue centre, she said.

The RSPCA has not heard of animal fights in the area but said such information is hard to regulate.

Ms Wilkinson urged people who know of any such activities to report the matter to concerned officials immediately.