When No Means Yes (Or How the Poisoning of Flint, Michigan Came to Pass)

Our oldest left his jacket in a play space around 1:00 p.m. Realizing this after the fact, when we were home unpacking his bag, putting the lunch dishes into the sink and the shoes on the shelf, I sighed. I’ll get it tonight after the writers’ group.

I slunk back after taking him to his swimming class, watching his younger brother climb up and down the stadium steps for an hour, muddling my way through an hour exercise class of my own, shower, and then an hour’s discussion of writing goals.

“My son left his blue jacket,” I explained to the woman at the register. “In the play area. Today around one o’clock.”


“No?” I asked.

“No,” she repeated.

We live in the oil rich state of Qatar. So rich that most people here would turn their nose up at a 5T Puma fleece . “Are you sure?”

She asked her colleague in her native language with what I would describe as an annoyed inflection.

The colleague, in the middle of a phone call, shook her head.

“See? No.”

The other woman put her hand over the phone’s mouthpiece (it was a landline) and leaned over to me. “Is it blue? A blue boy’s jacket?”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes it is.”

“Sorry,” the first lady giggled.

I ignored her.

This scenario of having to persist, despite being told no, repeats itself in my expat life. I, the guilty party once, forgot a carryon of books at five star hotel overnight after a book event. I went back to the café: no recollection of it. I called a friend to make sure I hadn’t lost my mind. A thirty minute argument with the concierge , another twenty minutes of waiting, and viola, the bag was found.

There are two lessons here: never forget anything. And the second: trust your instincts. For the unfortunate residents of Flint, Michigan, the second rule holds true as well. Month after month, when the water that was coming out of their showers, faucets and hoses was yellow then brown, when their children were falling ill, when they knew something was wrong with their water supply, they were told no. I’m not comparing the scale of a lost jacket or suitcase with the poisoning of children. The principle however is the same. Nowadays, more than over, seems you have to be your advocate to get anything done. Even then, you’re still in trouble.

The violation of an entire city’s health, a generation’s quality of life, and the impact on their children’s children is like something out of a John Grisham novel.

Hardly anyone in the mainstream media is taking about it.

Why? Because no one cares about Western Michigan?

Because talking about poor people makes poor headlines.

Did you know that a Virginia Tech professor and his undergraduates uncovered how polluted the water was? That he spent six figures ($147,000) of his own money for the tests?

Sign this petition, started by Flint’s own Michael Moore.