Sunday, 22 June 2014

Help Me Rhonda by Naomi Elana Zener

You’re listening to Z78.5fm, home of all the hits of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Welcome back from our commercial break. Now, it’s time for tonight’s ‘Help me, Rhonda’ segment of our show, when I pick one lucky listener’s letter and help them figure out a solution to what ails them. Tonight’s earth-shattering problem comes from a frantic listener with a dying relative.

“Dear Rhonda,

I need your help desperately. You see, my favourite uncle is terminally ill, with only two months left to live. But, in that time he will get to see one more birthday and I want to make sure that he enjoys it. How can I make it memorable for him without reminding him that it’s his last one? What do I buy him for such an occasion? He’s a lifelong bachelor and former naval officer. He never had any kids, but he liked the ladies. What do you think I should do for him or get him for his last birthday before he dies?

Nice Niece”

Well, Niece of the Dead Man Walking, or lying as the case may be, I’ve received some interesting letters over the years, but yours takes the cake. Your predicament is a real brainteaser. What could you do to make an almost dead person feel good about celebrating their last birthday? You should start with giving Popeye a healthy serving of spinach to keep up his strength during the planned festivities. One thing to avoid is putting candles on the cake because it will remind him that he’ll never have another candle, or another cake for that matter, to celebrate another birthday ever again. It’s likely that trying to get him to blow out the candles will be counterproductive since he will need all the lung capacity he can get to take his last breaths.  Also, getting him to make a wish will be cruel since he’ll want to wish for more time and we both know that won’t come true. And, if he’s asked to be cremated, the candles will just remind him that soon enough it will be ‘burn, baby burn’ time.

This is definitely not the birthday to give cash, tchotchkes or other material gifts, since as the saying goes, you can’t take it with you. However, if you’re hell bent on buying him clothes, get him a nice suit, with an equally well-made shirt and tie, since he likely will wear it to his final resting place to eternity and beyond. Cost shouldn’t be an issue because the suit will get a lot of wear. Don’t forget shoes – they always make the outfit. I’d skip video montages or photo albums. Those kind of nostalgic presents will only remind him that death is hanging out right around the corner.

You indicated that your uncle was a former naval officer. From the little I know about men who’ve spent long stretches at sea, they always like stepping ashore into the warm embrace of female or male companionship. You did say that your uncle liked the ladies, and given the short timeframe you’re working with, maybe hire a professional to give him a little extra tender loving care. Send him off with a happy ending. On shore leave, I’ve heard that sailors enjoy a good drunken stupor, so perhaps give your uncle a champagne send off. But, first double check with his palliative care physician to make sure that the alcohol mixed with his pain medications won’t prematurely kill him.

Never having had kids of his own, the thought that you might inherit his estate may have crossed your mind. Give him a wonderful send off, and maybe you’ll see a nice reward on the day his Last Will and Testament is read. No matter what you do, I’m sure it will be special. Good luck, and happy birthday to your uncle from your friend Rhonda.

That’s all for tonight’s show everyone. Tune in next time when I help a caller figure out how to raise her children.

© 2014. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Babies vs. U.A.E. by Naomi Elana Zener

“All rise. The Honourable Judge Preston Al-Shabab, presiding,” the court bailiff announced. His Honour entered the courtroom, clad in traditional long black judge’s robes.

“Please be seated,” Judge Al-Shabab instructed. “Today, the court will hear the case against the government of the United Arab Emirates and the La Leche League, brought by Mrs. Al-Breastwalla on behalf of all women and babies in the United Arab Emirates. In order to make it easier for everyone, since all of the parties’ names are so long, I will refer to the plaintiff as Mrs. AB, the government as U.A.E. and the La Leche League as the ‘League.’ I see that the complaint is about the U.A.E.’s Federal National Council’s Child Rights law, which requires mothers to breastfeed their babies until the age of two. Mrs. AB’s claim is that the law is unconstitutional, as it violates the basic human rights of both mothers and babies.”

The parties’ silence was a tacit acknowledgment that the judge was up to speed on the matter at hand.

“Counsel for Mrs. AB please deliver your opening remarks,” instructed the judge.

“Thank you your Honour. As you know, it is now a legal requirement in the UAE that women breastfeed their babies until they are at least two years of age or face the threat of being sued by their husbands should they fail or refuse to do so. Mrs. AB has brought suit on behalf of all of the women and babies in the U.A.E., because this latest attempt to subjugate the rights of women is a further violation of women’s rights, but moreover it represents a flagrant disregard for babies’ basic physical and mental welfare. We intend to prove this through Mrs. AB’s direct testimony. The League has been named as a codefendant in this matter because their ‘breast is best’ policy endorses the government law, and it too should be held to account for subverting a woman’s right to choose to or not to breastfeed.”

Plaintiff’s counsel sat down, the judge nodding his head in the direction of the defense table to make their opening statement.

“Your honour, the government denies having committed any and all human rights abuses or violations against women. The new law is simply designed to ensure a healthy mother-child bond. It is in every baby’s best interest to be breast fed for breast milk provides them with their best start in life. These allegations levied against the government are without merit, and this case should be dismissed at once.”

The U.A.E.’s defense counsel returned to his seat. The League’s counsel did not stand to address the court.

“Does the League have anything to add?” the judge inquired.

“Not at this time, your Honour. For the record, our position is simply that breast is best.”

Upon the conclusion of the opening remarks, Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer stood.

“We call Mrs. Abdulla Al-Breastwalla, or Mrs. AB for short, to the stand. She will be our only witness.”

Into the courtroom strode a petite black ghost of a woman, shrouded in the mystery of her floor-length heavy black burkha. Marching past the defense counsel’s table defiantly, she walked over to the witness stand and took her seat.

“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you Allah, or face stoning?” the bailiff asked.

“I do.”

“Mrs. AB, than you for coming here today…” her lawyer began.

“Your honour, we strenuously object to this witness testifying,” counsel for the U.A.E. announced.

“On what grounds?” the judge asked.

“We can’t see her face. We have a right to see the face of our accuser,” the defense advised.

“Someone’s been watching a little too much Law & Order. These aren’t criminal proceedings. Your client is not being accused of committing a crime per se. Besides, this is the Middle East. Out of respect for her husband and Islam, she has a right to keep her face covered,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer advised.

“I’m afraid that the plaintiff’s lawyer is right. Objection overruled.”

“Now, Mrs. Al-Breastwalla, please tell the court why you filed this lawsuit,” her lawyer continued.

“You already covered the basic reason for my lawsuit today. This law violates the rights of women and children, period.”

“How does the law do this?”

“It presumes that all babies need or want to be breastfed. It fails to consider the plight of those women who suffer from post-partum depression for whom breastfeeding causes them feelings of extreme anxiety or self-harm. It ignores the women whose milk hasn’t or won’t come in, but is forcing them to have cracked and bleeding nipples for naught, when formula will give their babies the best start in life. It disregards the agony of those babies with lactose intolerance or who have a milk allergy. For them, drinking their mother’s milk will cause their intestines to contort with excruciating pain,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla explained. “These poor unsuspecting victims are force fed against their will. By having a breast shoved in their mouths that expels a substance into them causing them to be tormented by their own fermenting rotten-egg smelling flatulence and diarrhea is inhumane. All of these babies and their long-suffering mothers need a voice. I am their voice.”

“But, not every child suffers from these problems described. Nor does every woman for that matter. How does this law harm healthy women and babies?” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer pressed.

“Let me ask you something. Have you ever been forced to wear a burkha? Not only is the fabric heavy and non-breathable, but it also drapes like a giant sheet suffocating the babies forced to be fed underneath it. Those conditions are inhumane,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla explained.

“I object your honour. The burkha is not on trial here,” counsel for the U.A.E. said.

“No, it’s not, but women are compelled to wear them out in public. With the mandatory requirement that women breastfeed, given babies’ unpredictable feeding schedules, you’re forcing these children to be stuck inside furnaces, when temperatures here in the U.A.E. are already extremely high. This law is as negligent as a parent leaving a kid locked in a car on a hot day. The conditions under which babies are forced to be breastfed inside of a burkha are salient to my line of questioning,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer stated.

“I’ll allow it,” ruled the judge.

“Please continue,”

“As you just said, being under a burkha is like sitting inside a sauna without relief. We’re not just wearing lingerie under there. We’re fully clothed. Add another human to the mix of post-partum hormones raging at full blast, and we start to sweat. Then there’s the heat of the Middle East bearing down upon us. It’s like having Niagara Falls flow from our breast and armpits. All that heat and sweat create a breeding ground for bacteria. How is that healthy for any child? It isn’t. Then add the stress of trying to ensure a proper latch when you can’t see down inside the burkha because there’s no interior lighting that comes with them. If post-partum depression wasn’t a problem in the U.A.E. before this law, the incidence of women trying to hurt themselves, and Allah forbid, their babies, will shoot through the roof.”

“Basically, what you’re telling the court is that this law will result in physical, emotional, and mental problems and harm for both mother and baby? So instead of forging the mother-child bond, it will destroy it?”

“Absolutely. And, the problem only gets worse as the child gets older and is walking. Do you have any idea how many times the wrong kid has tried to go home with me thinking that I’m his or her mother because they couldn’t see my face? Think of all of those walking toddlers under the age of two who will waddle up to lift the curtain looking for a nice body temperature meal only to discover that they’ve latched onto a stranger’s breast? What if that stranger isn’t a breastfeeding woman and not even a mother? That’s assault. This law could also result in kidnapping charges against women if a child who is not theirs lingers too long under their burkha.  Forget kidnapping, a woman could be charged with false imprisonment. The list of harm that this law causes is endless,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla advised.

“Your honour, the plaintiff rests,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer advised.

“Your witness,” the judge offered to the U.A.E.’s lawyer.

“Thank you. Ma’am, do you have children?”


“How old are they?”

“One is 3 months old and the other is twenty months old.”

“And, do you breastfeed them?”

“Objection, your honour. How can she be expected to answer that question? If she discloses that she doesn’t, her husband can sue her. This is a public proceeding after all,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer countered.


“Does your husband know that you’re here today testifying against the government?”

“Objection! Again, to answer this would subject my client to possible retribution from her husband,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer advised.

“Then she shouldn’t be testifying here today,” the U.A.E.’s lawyer advised.

“Sustained. Direct and limit your cross-examination to why the law is unconstitutional. The law is on trial, not Mrs. Al-Breastwalla,” the judge ruled.

Running out of questions, having believed that the judge was going to dismiss the case before opening statements, the U.A.E.’s lawyer searched the League’s counsel’s face for some help, only to have his eyes meet a stonewalled gaze.

“Um, your honour, could you grant us a one day recess to retain and expert witness to counter Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s testimony?” the government lawyer begged.

“No. You waltzed into my court unprepared despite everyone else coming here today with their completed homework in hand. You made it clear that your position was that the case has no merit. Had you prepared, perhaps you would’ve known that arguments existed to support the claim that the law is unconstitutional. I take it that the U.A.E. rests its case?”

The U.A.E. lawyer hung his head.

“Does counsel for the League wish to cross-examine Mrs. Al-Breastwalla?” the judge asked.

“No, your honour. We maintain our stance that breast is best.”

“Given that there are no more witnesses to hear from, do any of you esteemed lawyers wish to make a closing statement?”

All three lawyers shook their heads.

“In that case, I’m prepared to render my ruling. As a Harvard trained lawyer and judge, and a moderate Muslim, I returned to the U.A.E. hoping to evoke change and usher the country’s judicial system into the twenty-first century. I respect that we live in a Muslim country, but I preside over a secular court. I find this new law to be abhorrent and offensive. To impose an obligation on a woman to breastfeed their children under the threat of judicial sanction levied against them by her husband, is a total violation of women’s rights. Women are more than mere vessels to do their husbands’ bidding, procreate and be a food supply for their children. It’s time for the government of the U.A.E. to enter the twenty-first century. I find this law to be unconstitutional and must be struck down immediately. And, to the La Leche League, I hope you learned here today that breast is not always best. As a woman’s organization, you ought to be ashamed of yourself appearing here today in support of the U.A.E.’s law. Court is adjourned.”

Judge Al-Shabab hammered his gavel, signaling the end of the proceedings.

“We’ll be appealing the ruling,” the U.A.E. lawyer informed Mrs. Al-Breastwalla and her lawyer.

“Good luck with that.”

“Where the hell were you throughout all of this? Some help you turned out to be,” the U.A.E. lawyer spat at the League’s lawyer. “You couldn’t even get the president of your own organization to attend today’s proceedings and testify in support of the law.”

The League’s lawyer, Mrs. Al-Breastwalla and her lawyer watched the U.A.E. lawyer storm out of the court.

“Well, I think that went really well, don’t you?” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla’s lawyer asked his client.

“Indeed. I couldn’t agree with you more,” Mrs. Al-Breastwalla advised, removing her burkha to reveal her true identity as the president of the La Leche League.

© 2014. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.