Sunday, March 18, 2012

Thoughts on Changing the World

All right. So, it’s time to make a personal confession. Basically, when I left for my 8-month global gap year, I uh… well.. I thought I was going to change the world. This assumption had been bolstered by months of praise from others in response to my explanation of how I was going to be living and what I was going to be doing during the upcoming 2011-2012 academic year.

Let’s flash back to any given day of Summer 2011

“So, I heard from my daughter/friend/dog/therapist/manicurist/ husband’s cousin’s masseuse that you are going to be doing some traveling next year instead of going off to college.”

“Oh well, I’m going to study global development while participating in service learning projects around the world.”

“That sounds nice. So you are going to be doing Church work?”

Plastering on a smile, I’d reply, “Actually I’m a student with the organization Thinking Beyond Borders. In short, I am going to be going to seven different countries addressing different issues in each of them. For example, I am headed off to Ecuador for my first project and will be planting trees there while also reading and discussing in a small group setting how the environment has gotten to be the way it is as of right now, and also how can the fate of the environment be sustained for the future. I’m also doing an education unit in China, a sustainable agriculture unit in India, and finishing up the trip nicely studying the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa. I’ll be getting hands on experience they’re working with care givers whose patients have been infected.”

“Oh! How wonderful. Wow, well, best of luck changing the world next year!”

Jeez. No pressure.

And so the adventure began. I became increasingly frustrated over time that I wasn’t “changing the world” as effectively or efficiently as I wanted to. I was infuriated at a day that began late and unbelievably irritable when a class I was scheduled to teach in China fell through. HELLO, I’M TRYING TO CHANGE THE WORLD HERE… CAN YOU JUST LIKE. BE ON TIME SO I CAN PLANT MORE TREES OR WHATEVER?

After battling these irritations for a while, the realization hit me; I wasn’t going to change the world this year. I wasn’t going to revolutionize the education system in China or lead a march against Parliament in India to demand subsidies for organic farming. I was here to learn, see how things worked, evaluate what worked and what didn’t, and most of all, have an experience that I would reflect on with the most amiable of thoughts in the future.

It is easy to get discouraged on this trip. Especially if you begin it imagining that you are going to CHANGE the world.

For example, yesterday, I spent two hours in an NGO ( discussing HIV/AIDS among many other topics with the people who worked there.

After about an hour of intellectual anecdotal information, I was shown a 100 page bound packet of research the government municipality branch had conducted on the “six wards”, essentially information compiled from surveys that had been conducted door to door in the townships my peers and I have been working in. I was extremely intrigued, and at first thought, encouraged. Wow, at least the government realizes there are a TON of issues here. Look! They even realize that in the shacks of the Quolweni area there are only seven toilets to service hundreds upon hundreds on people! They do care. Wow. This is just great.

I kept reading with a tooth –revealing expression until I read this:

After reading it over a few times, I re-affirmed the statistic I had heard concerning unemployment in the area. 70% of the people who live in the New Horizon Township where I work are unemployed. I couldn’t believe it, so I voiced my doubts to the locals I was speaking with. “Wait, the government people here to set up plans to help, wouldn’t talk to 70% of the population, who these plans concern the most and who need the most help? They rescheduled the meetings to accommodate representatives from the 30% of the population who are employed and assumed to be doing much better in terms of battling their own poverty?”

The answers to my questions were met with a resounding yes.

I couldn’t help but think… WHAT THE HELL. This makes NO sense. And that sense of discouragement and anger towards “the way things are” bubbled furiously in my brain.

My frustrations dissipated, but the concept of misaddressing the issues at present by making plans with those the issues affect the least did not leave my mind.

This morning, we had seminar 10, the last seminar of any given core-country, which asks the question “How can we affect change?”

These seminars are usually met with a lot of, uh, shoot, okay; still don’t know… kind of thoughts. I’ve left this seminar in previous countries often once again realizing, I don’t have the capacity to CHANGE the world.

Today though, I left with a much different frame of mind. I still don’t believe that I alone have the capacity to change the world, but I realize I have the capacity to analyze institutions and their practices and come up with a different way of doing things.

I realized in the world of development, there has been a lot of things just done… wrong. People have been assuredly manipulated into present levels of abject poverty; public work projects have been completed that do all but help the public. It’s true.

The best intentions may not always govern a government’s decision to get involved, to build, to “educate”, and to change the structures of a society or a country. However, I personally like to believe it’s not the WORST intentions either, just maybe inclusive of foresights that we will most likely ALSO benefit from the project being done here.

To put it more simply, Thomas Edison attempted more than 2,000 times to invent the incandescent light bulb. When asked about his failures he replied, “I have simply learned 2,000 ways not to make an incandescent light bulb”.

It is from the failures of our past actions that we learn how to do something better. And it is from people critically analyzing the issues of the past (as well as the motivations of the actions in the first place) that can creatively invent new solutions to “old” problems.

It is easy to criticize PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), to admit (just like they, themselves do in a recent report I read on their website) that PEPFAR has indeed had a lack of “field perspective” in both policy planning and decisions. It is even easier to ignore that fact, and say good on PEPFAR, the plan has saved over a million lives by providing ARVs for those infected with HIV.

It seems that most programs, projects, institutions, etc., have this good and bad side to them. Well, hmm, they failed here, but look at this! And really, who is to judge what is right or wrong… may I dare say, black or white? Oh, it’s really all just a big grey area isn’t it?

According to Paul Farmer, WRONG.

“White Liberals were forever saying ‘Things aren’t that black and white.’ But some things are plenty black and white…”

Take the issue of starvation. How is starvation a grey area? It isn’t. People need food to survive, so let’s get them food.

To him, “these are situations, rate in the world where what ought to be done seemed perfectly clear. But the doing was always complicated, always difficult”.

And then of course, you realize like Paul Farmer, that the doing is complicated and difficult. How on earth are going to get people food without imposing Western rules and influence in a place? How are the local governments going to tackle this issue when they don’t have any money to set up these kinds of programs that could help alleviate starvation? And the questions keep coming.

But the fact of the matter is, doing NOTHING isn’t an option. Today, I left seminar realizing, yeah, things are complicated, attempts are going to fail, but procrastinating any kind of effort, isn’t a solution either.

As people, we can’t let pandemics like HIV/AIDS hope to “figure themselves out”.

Issues of poverty, sanitation, nutrition, etc. are not new issues. Many attempts at the “eradication of poverty” have been made… SO many so that we excuse ourselves for taking an active role in finding solutions riding on the fact that it is TOO complex, that it is simply “too grey” for our understanding or worthy of our own initiative.

However, for me at least, this excuse is no longer valid. We cannot shy away from what we don’t understand. We cannot point fingers at specific institutions and deem their way a failure when in no way considering the line of thinking that led the institution to act in the particular way it did. We can’t sit back and sigh at what our previous leaders have done and idly remark, “That’s just the way it is in this world.”

No. We can’t.

As it stands though, not one person (especially not an 18 year old looking for herself as much as solutions to development issues) is going to change the world. But, in our own way, we each have the capacity to AFFECT the world. Even if it is in the smallest way of just AFFECTING our own selves. Even, well, if it’s just opening your mind to the possibility of change, of the power social insurgency, of combating these “grey” areas.

As I discussed at heavy length while reading Hamlet my senior year of high school, thinking can be a form of action. It is when we stop thinking that we are truly inactive in this world.

So, at the very least, I hope reading this… MADE YOU THINK, and keeps you thinking.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Home is Where the Healthcare is

My face was wet with clammy perspiration. I rolled onto my side and projectile-vomited into what I hoped was the trashcan. After a good ten minutes of purging my body of whatever poison had been in it, I took a look around to survey the damage. Yes! I made it all into the trashcan…. Oh shit. The trashcan had holes in it… What kind of trashcan has holes in it? What had previously been the contents of my insides were beginning to form a small lake on the clean tile floor. Weakly, I got up on shaky legs and went out into the main part of my “home”. The apartment was empty except for my nine-year-old Chinese homestay brother. Exhaustedly, I searched for paper towels and plastic bags. I found them, got on my hands and knees, and began to clean up the mess I had made. It was of course, too soon, and I got sick again while attempting to mop up my previous mess. After my body was cleansed of toxins from my belly, it was time for my eyes to be cleansed as well. As I started to sob, I let the words “I just wanna be… hoooo-meee” escape.

Flash forward to about a week ago… My roommate Nicki is curled in the fetal position after about her fifth vomiting frenzy of the day. Jean, the wonderful woman we are living with in South Africa, simply says, “What a pity. When you are sick, you just want to go home.”

She couldn’t have said it better.

But why is it when we fall ill, our bodies and minds want nothing more to be home? What is it that really constitutes our homes and makes us yearn for them so desperately when we just don’t feel good?

Here, in South Africa, I’ve encountered some, well, pretty sick people. Some of my patients are HIV positive, and others are battling TB. Their homes are nothing like mine. They are either shacks made of tattered wood and lacking running water, or much nicer small homes that the government has allotted them. And yet, there is an overwhelming sense of positive energy and contentment among the sick. I believe that this is in part, because they are at home.

Yet, it is not the material possessions that make the home. It is an intangible. It is support.

I have spent a part of two mornings this week speaking with HIV/AIDS patients conducting research for my media project. While speaking to them, the question of support has come up several times. Everyone I have spoken with has stated that it is support that keeps him or her alive, in some cases, even more so than the ARVs.

So where is this support coming from? In large part, families, if they are among those lucky enough to have them. However, it is not only blood relations that keep a person alive here in the townships. Willing neighbors that run next-door each morning to ensure that their sick friend is indeed taking their tablets also constitute an amazing level of support here. Beyond that, the caregivers play an incredible role in their patients’ lives.

The caregivers take on their patients as if they are family. They get angry with them when the sick turn to drinking and smoking as coping methods. Caregivers arrange rides and transport to doctor appointments. These incredible teams of diligent women, bearing no medical degrees, manage to save lives, each and every day. Patients need food to make their medications, but many are too poor to afford meals. So, caregivers make sure they have food to eat. When visiting their patients, they don’t just record the blood pressures and leave. They take a seat on the couch, discuss the daytime soaps with the sick, ask about their kids, and catch up on the neighborhood gossip. Caregivers take health care to mean more than just dispensing medicine and recording vital stats. They take the mental well being, the emotional health of the patient into account and give true HEALTH care. It is not just the physical componets of a person that keep them alive, it’s the support they have and the reasons the support gives them to live another day.

I can’t help but wonder what you are imagining these caretakers to look like. If you are thinking of a white woman coming in from the rich part of town to cater to the poor’s needs, you are wrong. The caretakers are colored or black women (depending on what township you are in. Don’t think that all black people are the same. You are wrong). They are residents of the township that they work in. They are the neighbors and friends of the sick. They are women each fighting their own battles.

My caregiver, Zoleka, is an absolutely stunning woman. Not only do I find her incredibly beautiful, but also her strength and compassion is nothing short of honorable. She herself as a single mother, houses seven children, only one being biologically hers. She has taken in her two dead sister’s kids and two grandkids, her sick brother’s little girl, as well as an abandoned baby she named Simcard (because she was so sick and skinny, she was no bigger than a simcard) that she saved while working at Child Welfare Services five years ago. Add in the one she birthed herself, and you have a pack of seven. Although she herself is not the victim of infectious disease, her life is nowhere near easy. Feeding seven mouths is difficult under any circumstances. I have been grocery shopping with her and she, like most of the township, can’t afford fruits and veggies.

Being in this situation, of course, it is my natural instinct to want to give both hungry patients and barely getting by caregivers money straight from my pocket. However, it is not my role or really proper to do that. Giving them such direct charity would insinuate a type of pity, of which I have none. I could never pity anyone who shows such incredible strength and kindness to all they encounter. Giving money out like that would also be sending an improper message about whites, westerners, and the organizations I represent, as well as make Paulo Freire get sick with disgust. Instead, I follow their inspiring example, and do my best to give this kind of intangible support. I smile, I laugh, and I try and engage. The thing is though, it works. Not just for them either, but also for myself. Once I’m laughing with Zoleka and the patients, I realize, I don’t feel a speck of homesickness. For, after all, they are supporting me right back.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Selective Seeing

The sunset, was as always stunning. Tranquility washed over me as the rosy light shed enough light for me to enjoy reading Lonesome Dove while intermittently peeking at the sky, warmth dissipating slowly, moment by moment. I loved sitting up on the roof and relaxing this particular time of day. Living in India can be a trying experience filled with an utter disregard for personal space. Enjoying the sunset alone from the roof became ritualistic for me during the past month while living with my Indian homestay family. However, one particular night, two before I was to leave, the sunset proved to be chillier than the other dusks I had witnessed.

It was not actually any colder in terms of degrees, but in emotion. This particular sunset I was joined by company. The servant girl, Siri, who I had come to have a friendship with sat beside me on the roof. Siri is an awesome girl. She is 18, gets up to milk the cows each morning at 5 am and doesn't go home until after dinner. Her work ethic is admirable, and her attitude about life inspiring. I was pleasantly surprised to have her company this particular sunset. However, my assumptions that she came up to the roof just to share my company and some laughs were incorrect.

Instead, she issued me a confession. Her husband of 13 years (the particular caste she is in marries at the age of 5) beats her. The skin around her left eye was darkened and swollen..... a clear indication of the punch she had received from him.

As she was telling me all of this, my heart swelled and got caught in my throat. As she held my hands and desperately begged me to take her with me back to America I was unusually silent. What could I say? What could I do? I told her I would try one day to get her to America, knowing full well that it would be a feat of exceptional rarity if her feet ever hit U.S. soil.

When I looked at the bruise surrounding her eye, I took particular notice of its color. It was more yellow than blue, meaning it had been there a few days. I saw Siri every single day while I was with my Indian homestay. How had I not ever noticed signs of abuse before?

Well, certainly, I wasn't looking for them. A situation like this one certainly proves that there is more than meets the eye in any case, and really beyond that, makes one question how much is even meeting the eye?

How much do we really see of people? Even when looking at someone, how often is it that you truly take in the details of their face, of the expression they wear?

I couldn't help but wonder how much else I had been missing, not just with Siri, but with everyone.

Her bruised eye are all too much like the ghettos that surround Hollywood, the beggars at the mosques, forts, and temples tourists come to India to experience.... We all like to see the glamour, the simple elegance and beauty of something, but no one really wants to see the ugliness that surrounds it.

No one wants to acknowledge poverty or domestic abuse. But for those who wear the bruises, who beg for hours a day, who live in shacks and suffer cold nights, the ugly... well... it's their lives that are in part defined by horror.

The world is a complex place (please call me captain obvious). However, it isn't enough to just admit it's complex, I believe there is a certain responsibility-shared among us capable to do so- to work towards untangling some of it.

By this, I mean mentally untangling it, for ourselves. In no way do I mean that it is our job to stick our hands into a web and force the strings of it into a nice ball of yarn. Doing exactly this is detrimental to societies, especially in terms of development (yes, I am a student on Thinking Beyond Borders...) I just mean.... we all have to start acknowledging the ugly and carefully think about the role we might possibly be able to play in alleviating it.

Instinctively, I yearned to help Siri. I wanted to stick her in my backpack and take her away with me. I even considered giving her a large sum of money and arranging a car to take her to a different land. And yet, neither of those options were truly viable. I was told "A man hitting his wife is as common as a man kissing his wife in India". Facilitating a dramatic (and illegal as a woman cannot leave her husband in India without proper divorce papers, which I am guessing have to in part be agreed to by the man) run away wasn't going to be possible or even really helpful. Ultimately, it was decided that the best thing to do was to get in touch with a Women's Self Help Group and see if it was possible for Siri to get involved in it. Fortunately, it is quite possible and I am of the impression that Siri will be helped in a responsible and "India safe" manner.

For me, India has been an awakening experience. Here, I have often felt not miles, but light years away from everything I have ever known. From the treatment of women, to the colorful and ornate way of dress, to the pure insanity and odors of an Indian wedding, I can truthfully say India is almost impossible to depict with any measure of accuracy or success to someone who has never ventured here. However, it is the relationships I've made a long the way, like the one with Siri that are relatable to everyone and truly worth passing on.

I can't believe that I am leaving this country on Friday. I feel as though I still have so much more exploring and mental untangling of this place to do! When I left my homestay family, they cried buckets of tears. Even my Dad " the boss" (he owns quite a bit of farmland and people call him that name... it was pretty ridiculous) did not have dry cheeks as I waved goodbye. Yet, I did not shed one tear.... That's because, I'm certain I'll be back.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


What does it mean to be human?
What can humans tolerate?
What potential does every human have?

If you already are getting weird vibes from this posting, like the... Oh Jeez, just another globe trotter gone granola and weird, then save yourself now and go back to facebook.

If you are still with me, then party on Garth.

These questions pressed against my temples and forced themselves to be considered the other day at "work". I was cutting grass for cow consumption at a local dairy farm with two other women. One of the women had a beautiful baby boy named Jaydeh. Jaydeh was currently being taken care of by the farm worker's baby sitter, and by babysitter I mean the baby hammock affixed to the tree, consisting of the mother's scarf. Baby Jaydeh cried and cried swinging in the scarf. We continued to make trip after trip, transporting the bundles of grass we had cut to the feeding area on our heads. Each time we passed the tree, I wanted to stop and look at the baby.

Finally, my maternal instincts could take no more cries. I stopped and looked in at the baby and sang to him a bit. Jaydeh's crying ceased. I was allowed to hold Jaydeh and play with him awhile. He never cried. All he wanted was a bit of attention.

Now, everyone think of a time when a baby has been around you crying and is being held and paid attention to. Think of how that baby will NOT stop crying, even though it has a clean diaper, been recently fed and burped, and just awoken from a nap.

This baby Jaydeh really got me thinking to what the human condition can take and how our perspective on being satisfied, on having life be at a place where we aren't crying, can really vary. Even with babies as young as Jaydeh.

During my time in India so far, I have truly seen "two" (more of course) Indias. My family has a servant, who they openly refer to as their servant. Her name is actually Sirvita. When we eat dinner, she sits behind us, outside the ring of our intimate circle on the ground. Her home lacks the size and the luster of my homestay family. Her life is so different than any I, or anyone I live with for that matter, has ever known.

The tolerance she has for life is much more similar to baby Jaydehs. Sirvita finds joy often and smiles more than most I know. Siri has been so kind to both Haley and I, and we enjoy her company more than she will ever know. She is sweet, happy, content, and never seems to be exhausted, despite the tiring life she lives.

The tolerance for the amount of crap she puts up with, both verbal human crap and physical cow crap is inspiring.

Now, for the question of human potential.... Let's get crunchy fellow granolas.

I've been thinking a lot about this one lately, thoughts recently spawned from reading The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown and a trip to an organic farm.

The organic farm TBB West had the privilege of visiting yesterday was no ordinary organic farm, run by no ordinary organic farmer.

The man who greeted us at the entrance was older, probably around his mid fifties. He told us we would be done with the tour in about three and a half hours. I instantly was worried... How could I possibly be entertained and not get utterly bored and zoned out for the next three and a half hours... Had I ever done anything for three and a half hours before?

I was in for a surprise. As the man walked us around his farm, he spoke of the philosophical changes one must make to farm organically. None of us really knew what he was talking about at first.. our seminar reading had addressed organic farming as a shift from pesticides to organic pesticides, from chemical fertilizers to good ole manure. Not philosophy.

But this guy really had it figured out. He used absolutely NOTHING on his farm. Everything was the earth, and returned to the earth.

It turns out one day, about ten years ago, he decided after a long talk with his brother about biodynamics to get rid of EVERYTHING except the Earth and what the Earth had to offer to run his farm. He uses no pesticides, despite 10 percent of crop yields being compromised by pests. His answer to that one is simple,

"Where is it written that I get every tomato here? Is it not the earth that provides the soil, the water, the sun I need to grow the tomatoes? The same earth is creating the insects that eat the tomatoes. What is ten percent of my yield when I am respecting and honoring nature and the way it is meant to be."

This particular farmer's awareness of what it meant to be human, what his place was as someone manipulating the earth was fantastic.

He spoke of energy, the center of his farm was discovered and the energy channeled.

He asked me if I had ever had a day where I was upset about something, did absolutely nothing, and somehow at the end of it felt totally exhausted for no apparent reason. He told me everyday I have a responsibility to charge myself positively, the science of what happens between mind and body is proven.

By the way, for anyone who is reading along and thinks this guy is a weird yoga stoner mystic, you couldn't be more wrong. He spends his mornings at his other job, being a cardiologist. Just saying, in case you happened to be victim to a social construct where occupation either merits/demerits the validity of someone's opinions. :)

The cardiologist/farmer wisely spoke of the paralysis of routine. I referenced James Joyce at this point (for any readers of Mr. Mohney's AP Lit). He talked about "real life" being in the unfamiliar.

He spoke of how he did plant graphs, just like skin graphs. How he took the "skins" of different plants together and made new plants with them. He did this all with a knife that he kept in a fanny pack type thing around his waist.

Essentially, he blew my mind... if you can't tell.

So, after all these short conversations about life, spirituality, nature, our place as humans in the world... I asked him if he was affiliated to a particular faith or religion. He responded something along the lines of "Why limit yourself to a particular way of thinking. There are too many boundaries and walls up when you define your beliefs with a word like that. I have not read many books on farming, philosophy, or spirituality. Nature has been my only guru." He went on to talk about the importance of observation, about what we can learn by just watching the world around us. He even went as far to discuss the unimportance of economics, the theories and numerical way of looking at things. I admittedly got a little lost on this part, but that could be because I can't imagine a world without economics... where as he can.

Finally, this wise man spoke of "oneness" the same "atonement" or "enlightenment" Dan Brown talks about in his book. The potential of humans is unbounded, but it is only when you really appreciate the world as having creating you, not you creating it that you can even become to be enlightened. I feel as though the most humble are the most "at one".

Of course, through all this, I have been thinking about my own personal growth, my own tolerance and potential.

There are still at lot of BIG question marks when it comes to me. I have learned to tolerate being dirty, not having a shower, and virtually any conditions when it comes to "going to the bathroom" ( quotes are a must have here, since I haven't seen a true bathroom in a while...). However, I still have no tolerance for rodents. Quick story, night one, there was a mouse in my room. I was sleeping in shorts (not culturally okay in India) and fled into the next room to escape the rodent. Little did I know, the next room over was where the entire family was sleeping and I ended up jumping on my 12 year old host brothers bed at about midnight... wearing shorts. Pretty memorable first night. By the way, the village I am in has never seen white people before. Just to add to the drama and ridiculousness of this whole situation.

I have learned to tolerate endless stares and heckles from men. I have not learned to tolerate falling off a bike in front of the entire village into a pile of mud... secretly really being in pain but being so much more paralyzed by the humiliation to move.... That was a shameful walk home to say in the least, back covered in mud, people laughing, mocking, and imitating in a language not my own. Being defenseless to this kind of embarrassment can actually be painful.

I could ramble on and on about what my tolerance and potentials are. I really could. India is providing much inspiration and growth in both these areas in particular. Working in a field of surrounded by monkeys has proved to be an excellent space for reflection.

Until next time,

Ciao Bellas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Learning Outside of the Classroom

Her body shook like she was actually being electrocuted. The skin around her neck and collarbones was pulled so tightly across the small expanse that was her chest, I thought it would be broken by her movements. The dress she wore... well, barely covered the necessary parts... and her eyes bulged above the great hollow grooves that constituted her cheeks. On her feet were painful and sparkly sky high heels.

The man that stood behind her was quite different. He was fat.... His cheeks were not hollow, they were full and red with the blush that comes from too many drinks. He wore unflattering cargo shorts, too low slung, calling attention to the fat beer gut that sat above them. His shirt was sweaty, brow dripping consistently onto the plain t-shirt.... His eyes.... they were bulging too... But not because he was on drugs and therefore very skinny, because they were popping out of his head in an effort to absorb and take in as much as the prostitute in front of him was showing off.

I've seen prostitutes before. Hello, I'm like.. from LA. But not like this.

Let me rewind this tape a bit.

Saturday night, the group arrived in Phnom Penh. A few of us were pretty hyper to be here, the minute we felt the warm air cover our skin... we knew bed time was a long ways away. We decided to go out and see what the night scene was all about. After a walk down a sketchy and too long a road, we made it to a street that previous internet searches had told us was the place to be. We walked a bit, and then saw a club that was apparently famous in Phnom Penh. After a quick pat down, we entered.... and saw.... mayhem.

All of us had been to clubs before, but nothing could have prepared us for what was in front of our faces. We were minorities in every way. We were sober, heterosexuals, and not interested in a prostitute.

Instantly, all of us made a connection. Over the summer, part of our required reading was Half The Sky, a book that walks its readers through the issues and prevalence of women's oppression. Essentially, it was the ultimate TBB experience.... Connecting one of the parts of the book with something right before our eyes. On this trip, we've read quite a bit... and its little moments like this when you are glad you did. It's one thing to read about a drug addicted 16 year old prostitute, and its quite another to see one live at... work. Let's just say, I've never been so embarrassed to be white. It really was only pig like white men that were molesting these prostitutes.... The fact that we could be identified visually in any way shape or form as similar made me feel ill.

Sometimes, you learn a lesson at work or in a seminar. Other times, you learn one at a club... some time in the early morning.

About 30 hours later, all of us headed in Tuk-tuks? Took-tooks? (AKA the carriages attached to motorcycles that serve as taxis here in Cambodia) to the site of the killing fields. The memorial site is run extremely well, with everyone taking a headset and a little player, giving each individual the opportunity to embark on a private journey through the site, listening to testimonials of survivors and guards alike while carefully stepping over pieces of ripped old clothing still on the ground from the dead bodies that lay beneath the soil.

I want to say I thoroughly enjoyed the killing fields, but that sounds a little, well weird. I did regardless of "enjoyment", learn a TON about the Cambodian genocide of an estimated 2 million people that occurred during 1975-1979.... All the while, I couldn't help but think how valuable learning about this genocide in school would have been, how weird and unfortunate it was that the US public education system never delved into this part of history..... (I am guessing we don't learn this because the USA acknowledged Pol Pot as the official leader of Cambodia until around 1997.... I also had a similar thought when we learned of the Cultural Revolution in China, a ten year killing of 40 million, something just.... skimmed over in every history class I've ever taken). Anyway, these realizations combined with the readings we have been doing really gives a second thought to the education I've received and what it means to be properly educated.

Can't say I've come to any real conclusions yet, but I can say I wish politics and global affairs didn't play such a role in omitting the truth from those in school. I personally believe it is important to examine all the parts of history, not just the pretty ones so we as the new generation are able to properly speak with our votes, and speak to each other void of ignorance.

It is the moments like this, the moments where I realize I never would have seen such horrible and sad mistreatment of women (if you can even call some of the prostitutes women, they really did look quite young), or walked along with a headset hearing stories of children beaten to their death against a killing tree, their own brains and organs splattered on the bark...... that get you through the homesickness. It's knowing that you saw something and thought about something that you wouldn't have otherwise that reaffirms the choice to take a gap year, to venture away from home for 8 months.

Alright, so down here I was going to attach two sick pictures, one taken today of the whole group in front of Angor Wat and another one of the cutest little monkey.... ever. This little monkey grabbed my long skirt and tried to climb inside of it. We are best friends. New life goal is to become the next Jane Goodall. But this connection is bad, so I guess errybody gonna have to wait on those.

Monday, November 21, 2011

China So Far

I stood waiting for the crosswalk to change from the sedentary red man to the walking green man as cars and motorcycles rushed by almost colliding into each other. I felt someone staring at me, but what else is new. Here, in China, being white is a rarity. Curious as to who in particular decided to ignore social norms and continue staring, I turned my head to my left. Innocent looking enough, a Chinese girl of about 16 looked at me and smiled. I smiled back and turned back to looking at the traffic. Not more than a few seconds later, my shoulder was tapped and my ipod headphone dislogdged from my ear.

Rando Chinese Girl: Ni Hao! Wo jiao bing pop duck long! Ni de shenme mingzi?
Me: uh. Ni hao. Wo jiao lizzie.
Rando Chinese Girl: ching shing chong tong long sing me a song ti ti me la puo.
Me: Duibuchi... Wo shi Meigou ren. I DON'T SPEAK CHINESE... SORRY!
Rando Chinese Girl: Bing lingaling ting a wing ping ping!

Basically, you see how the conversation was going. We crossed the street together, me annoyed that yellow by coldplay was on my ipod and I was actually having some pensive alone time on my walk home before her little shoulder tap... She, unaware of facial expressions and tone of voice... just keeps chattering away. After we crossed the street, we were at the bridge I have to take to get home. Incidentally, the bridge also leads to her kungfu class... or maybe to her home as well and she just enjoys sporting the outfit? In short, I pretended that I didn't have to cross the bridge, hid under it listening to my ipod like a little troll until she crossed and walked a comfortable distance ahead. I sat their under the bridge unable to get her teeth, which were unusually painted with gold sparkle nail polish (not all of them , just enough of them to have the view of them permantley embossed in the wrinkles of your brain) out of my mind.

This is one of many encounters I have had as a celebrity the past two weeks.
No, it is not my attractive and sexy physique that grabs me all this attention, or my breath taking green eyes, it is the fact that I am white and look as though I speak English.

Chinese people are obsessed with learning English. Which in a way, kind of pisses me off. Not that they want to learn English, anyone can learn whatever they damn well please... but just that they feel so comfortable harassing random people to practice learning their english. It doesn't matter the kind of person you are, if you are a serial killer hiding out in Kunming, or an innocent young girl traveling the world for 8 months to find herself... if you are white, you have something they want, and they aren't afraid to ask for it.

My Chinese teacher always talks about how shy Chinese people are... from my experience in China, this is not true. Anyone will approach you, say their name, and ask for your email so you and they can get together sometime soon to practice their English. It's as if the thought never occured to them that you don't usually hang out with strangers in forgien countries and that you actually are part of a time intensive program and have other things to do.

My frustration with my current location was further extrapolated earlier today when I sat around with six Chinese girls introudcing ourselves and talking about our lives. I got annoyed when one of the girls pulled out an Ipad. No, I am not a grouch teacher who hates electronics... but the fact she had an Ipad kinda weirded me out... I just got annoyed that I was devoting time to these students who were already at the best high school, and clearly economically well off... Weren't there other people who I should or could be helping?

God, I thought to myself, if I wanted to work with overpriveleged rich kids all day who only were worried about where they were going to college, I should have stayed in La Canada.... and then it dawned on me... these kids aren't so different from those I went to high school with. They admitted to liking the government as long as those in power were funding their interests, they complained of too much homework, and were very worried about their futures.It was at this point, I came to realize my own personal growth, not even three months gone abroad. My priorities in life have drastically changed from the ones I obtained a year ago. The programs I was willing to use as a pretty accesory to my college apps, the belief that I was somehow DESERVING over many others to attend prestiguous universities, my biggest worry in life for my own personal future, but not for the future of the world, both ideologically and physically.

I truly cannot blame or dislike anyone in particular for the annoyance I have felt towards many Chinese people so far. For example, I cannot even hate the head of the forgien langauage department who refused to acknowledge me as a living and breathing human being with a name when I stood shoulder to shoulder with a boy going to harvard. Yes, sexism among other forms of discrimation are alive and well in China. Truly, all I can seek to do is study the institutions and history of them that has made china's constituents who they are today.

When examining these institutions, and even the people that compose them and support them, I cannot judge with a pitying or arrogant mindset. Projecting my own institutions or beliefs to be of better values, makes my line of thinking dehumanzing and oppressive. I cannot even really feel pity for the people whom I feel have been mislead, I can only wish to understand their situations better and try to learn the path of life they walk. To gain this understanding, I must build relationships with those I am around... A task I find extrodinary, considering I do not agree and am generally annoyed by those I would be able to learn from the most. This is one of many challenges I must pinnacle.

Little did I know when I left the green hills and warm eyes of those who inhibit Ecuador, that I would end up missing them this much. Despite the bug bites, the work, the sweat, the horrid stomach/intestinals issues, I do very much long to be back on the other side of the Equator with the people I came to know and love.

Its funny, I thought I'd just be homesick for LA and all those whom I love there... But I also find myself incredibly homesick from my other home away from home, Ecuador.

Until next time....

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Inca Trail and all the Rest

Right now, I´m sitting in a little internet hole in the wall in Cuzco, Peru. I actually don´t know exactly how to get back to my hotel... I think its around here somewhere... and am typing carefully as to not aggravate the pictures I am uploading to facebook. I could be back using one of the programs laptops, but I like exploring the city on my own anyway... and today I decided I could use a little ME time. YAY:) 

Alright. SO basically, YESTERDAY... I finally arrived after four days of hiking to the top of Machu Picchu and saw the most beautiful ruins and scenery I have ever witnessed. Without a doubt, Machu Picchu deserves the title of a ¨Wonder of the World¨. It truly is incredible. The four day trip to finally arrive and enjoy the site was what made looking at over hundreds of years of history and breathtaking views all the better. 

Day one, Nicki Magill saved my life. I´m not kidding. The two of us were treking near the back, walking nice and moderatley after a delicious lunch. We were walking and chatting, when all of the sudden, I lost footing and slipped. I slipped down the mountain, with no control of stopping. I saw my life flash before my eyes (not really, so I guess I´m not ready to die) but after my life fake flashed before my eyes, I finally opened them and saw that Nicki had grabbed my arm. I was dangling from edge of the mountain. I started to scream... NICKI HOW FAR IS THE DROP. NICKI. NICKI!!!!!!!. I was beginning to panic and wonder if this was actually how I was going to die. Fortunately, Wilder, our guide and my program leader Andrew were close behind and saw the whole incident. Within thirty seconds, both of them came to my aid and pulled me up by my arms. After I was finally back on the trail... I looked down at the cliff I had almost lost my life to... Okay. Here´s the big confession... There was a level place where I definetly could have landed about 10 feet below the trail. But I didn´t know it at the time, and refused to look below me while I was attached to the mountain and my life by Nicki´s hand. SO, in short, I was no where near death, but thought I was. Either way, I owe Nicki Magill my life. 

The second day, was referred to as ¨The Challenge¨. This day was the day we were going to hit our peak elevation... About 4,200 meters or 13,000  feet. When I heard we were going to have to climb up to a height above the height where I jumped out of a plane when I went sky diving (about 12,500 feet) I just about died. That height I knew, for lack of a better expression, was pretty damn high. The hike began about 6 am. Before long, we were all moving (or not moving) at our own pace. MY best friend, my ipod, came out and I strapped her to my arm. I love my ipod and all she contains. Without her, I would not have been able to achieve the challenge of dead woman´s pass. I, not the pass, would have became the dead woman. I climbed, and climbed. Mountain trail turned into stairs.... Stairs I thought would end. But, they never did. Not even my six years at the LCHS campus could have prepared me for the climb I took a few days ago. There. Were. SO. Many. Freakin. Stairs. My inhaler became an accessory of my pocket. I needed it often. The altitude killed. I would breathe, and no air would seemingly fill my lungs. I was struggling, but I kept climbing. I kept passing a young looking red head. She would then, in turn, pass me when I stopped. After a few times, we both finally stopped together and began to talk. Her name was Katie, and she was from England. She lived on a farm, which she claimed was about five feet above sea level. She was very good humored and liked to talk. Along with my ipod, Katie quickly became my other friend to reach the top with me. When we finally reached the top, we high fived. Its funny, you can meet someone on a mountain, talk to them for an hour or so, really never learn anything all that significant about them, but at the end, be pretty certain that you will remember them for the rest of your life. 

After climbing to the insane elevation and the top of the pass, I was filled with energy. On the decline, I decided I wanted to run. So... I began to run. I ran past our assisstant guide, Jesus (pro-nounced HAY-Zues, I´m not making a spiritual reference here) and he began to run with me. We ran, and ran. Gaining momentum, and cheers from those we passed, we kept booking it until we heard our names shouted from above. One of our own had been hurt. Both of us ditched our backpacks and began to run back up to the incident. I, of course, could not get there all THAT fast (running downhill is much more my thing) but by the time I got there, I learned that Maggie had severly sprained her ankle. However, Maggie is a champ and still hiked the next two days on it. Love her. 

Day three... was long. But the most worthwhile. We hiked about nine miles that day, but not at all the uphills or the elevations of the day before. At the end of the day, I was able to percieve the absolute most gorgeous sight of my life. I am attaching a picture here. Enough said. 

After our long day of treking, we made tea for our porters and got to know them a little bit. We didn´t call them porters though, we only called them ¨Waikis¨ a term that means friends. They, after all, were our friends. They carried all the heavy things we so desperatley needed. These guys were incredible. They ran the trail each day, carrying insane amounts of weight, ranging from ages 18 to 54 in our group alone. I have no idea how they do their jobs. I guess each year they have a marathon on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (its 26 miles) and the fastest guy runs it in 3 hours 45 minutes. Absolutley insane. 

Our last day began at 330 in the morning. It was PAINFUL to wake up that early. We hiked for about 2 hours, and finally got to Machu Picchu around 7 in the morning. It was awesome. I felt SO accomplished. However, I hated how touristy it was... There are trains you can take up to the mountain... and all those people really pìssed me off. For some reason, I felt more entitled to take pictures, and take in the scenery than them. Admittedly, a little immature of me, but whatever, life goes on and I still loved it. 

Coming back from the mountain, I picked up a shirt that says I survived the inca trail. Like most other things I packed, its teal. Side note... I packed SO many articles of teal clothing, I think its a blessing in disguise I lost my teal jacket and replaced it with a red one. 

The train ride home was a blast. I got to hang out with the cutest baby I´ve ever seen, play cards, and made friends with those who sat around us. 

By the time we got back, I gorged myself on pizza and fell into a deep slumber. 

Tomorrow, we begin our three days of travel. 
We fly from Cuzco to Lima, Lima to San Jose, San Jose to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Shanghai, Shanghai to Kunming. Leaving November 3rd at 6 am and arriving in Kunming sometime in the wee hours of November 6th. Its gonna be a doozy.