Worst Blogger EVAH!

Sorry I’ve been so AWOL–in the last month or so I’ve come home from Benin, started a new job (and a new commute…ugh), and had some life stuff to deal with.  Another thing I’ve been working on is blogging for Northeastern’s Study Abroad department, AKA my new employer.  Check out the tumblr here to see my professional blogging side.  Of course if you go to NU you should bookmark it, add it to your RSS or Like the facebook page!

Have a good weekend everybody, and I promise to have some good stuff coming down the pike soon


I Like Me So Much Better When I Travel!

Travel Delia is way cooler than home Delia–sorry for those of you who only see home delia!  When I’m away, I think critically, but I’m also more laid back about obstacles and delays.  I’m thrilled to sit in a crowded train station on a hot Egyptian night, people watching, reading and soaking it all in.  At home?  I look like one of those Bostonians your mom told you about, the Massholes you shouldn’t bother. 

But every day you can litterally wake up and be someone new.  Every person you meet is the opportunity to make the changes you’ve been thinking about, or maybe even implementing, the ones your old friends don’t notice because their image of you is trapped in resin like a mosquito.  Who Says I can’t be Travel Delia every day?

When I’m away I…

  • read or look out the window on pretty much every form of transportation, instead of always listening to my ipod
  • write way more
  • don’t worry about hygeine
  • am far more likely to talk to a stranger
  • am barefoot!
  • am open to hearing new opinions
  • am more of a listener (but, let’s face it, still a pretty big talker…)
  • randomly help strangers and travelling companions alike
  • am more mindful of how often I speak, when I interupt, and how loud I am
  • wander
  • practice yoga most days
  • wake up early
  • fly solo
  • arrive on time almost everywhere, unless it really is beyond my control (see: Benin)
  • go to all kinds of cultural festivals and museums
  • take notes.  All the time.  And I love it. 
  • am thankful every time I have AC, halfway-decent food and a bed without bedbugs (regular bugs don’t bother me)
  • am not at all scared of bugs
  • dance more; smile more; hum to myself
  • take lots of pictures of my friends
  • play sports
  • don’t worry so much about what I’m wearing, since my choices are limited
  • pay more attention
  • take better care of myself
  • challenge myself
  • let myself fail
  • write thank you notes
  • walk everywhere
  • play with children and strangers
  • talk to every kid I meet

This year I’m doing something different: I’m staying home, and I’m loving it.  And I’ve been inspired by my travels and by Thoreau to apply my travel mindset to home–the local, the domestic, the unnoticed and the seemingly-banal.  Because that’s what the point of this blog is: to think critically, live happily, examine everything and go forth with equal parts whimsy and thoughtful care.  After all, the people, language, culture and politics of Massachusetts and America at large are no less interesting or worthy than those on all the other continents, in all the other states. 

Are you different when you get into a new environment?  How and why?  Does it have to be far away, or is it just the presence of new people?

Why do They Hate Us?

On long days when the state of the world seems dismal, and my ability to help it negligible, I find my self turning to the West Wing.  One of the most brilliant episodes is entitled Isaac and Ishmael, and is the September 11th episode.  It has no impact on the rest of the timeline, but is something Aaron Sorkin, one of my favorite writers of stage and screen, felt compelled to create. 

In the episode, one of the main questions  a young tour group poses to the staff is “Why do they hate us?”  I was reading an article that brought up a similar theme, and as someone who studies the Middle East I am often confronted with both thoughtful and hurtful responses to this question. 

So here’s mine:

Who is they?

Leif has been linking often to Jeff Jarvis, who suggests that every criticism should be seen as a reflection of the person giving the critique.  This is reinforced constantly by Miss Conduct, who advises readers to tread lightly, as often seemingly random criticisms stem from the speaker’s own insecurities or personal life situations.  But for us, in an America that has almost forgotten while simulataneously can never forget September 11, 2001, sometimes we need to turn a light on ourselves. 

I know everyone grows weary of the “just blame America” Camp, which I think is only so strong because of the equally tiring “Amurica is perfect” camp, but this isn’t about that.  This is about who we think our enemies are, and who they very much are not

We need a greater understanding of basic definitions, like Muslim and the Muslim world, Arab, the ever-tossed-around “Islamic”, Persian, the Middle East and even the infamous terrorist.  We also need to understand that sometimes, the “they” who hate us are homegrown.  Sometimes they’re white or educated or wealthy.  Sometimes the patriots who stop them are immigrants who barely speak English, but are compassionate people who care about America. 

This, to me, is one of my biggest personal causes:

finding They, understanding Them and showing everyone who They are NOT.

Ways of Seeing

Something that confuses me is oblivion–when someone just can’t see what’s staring you in the face.  Sometimes it’s just annoying to explain something over and over, or cruelly funny when a person is the only one out of the loop.  But it is the most frustrating and disheartening for me when this is oblivion to facts, the plight of others, and the narrow margin by which the lucky were so, and the others were not. 

But oblivion also leads to a more wondrous concept, and that is the brilliant things that one person sees and another can only appreciate.   My brother, for instance, is wildly creative.  He looks at a crack in the wall and sees a face, an old man, a scene.  I can only draw when instructed and led by the hand, but he is constantly seeing new and amazing things, abstract or concrete, in the whole world around us. 

My Andrew, on the other hand, can see in baseball.  He hasn’t admitted to it, but I’m fairly convinced.  I occasionally keep book for his neighborhood softball league games, something I enjoy but that I don’t yet understand the intricacies of.  Meanwhile, Andrew looks at the last inning and knows–no, sees–exactly who did what, even when it’s not notated.  It reminds me of that scene in the matrix, when Neo starts to see the world in code. 

My father sees in strategy.  He can play any card game and win any board game, even newly taught, because his brain is tuned to that frequency.  I taught him Cuban dominoes the other night (9-dot) and he beat the pants off my mother and I for a while.  Even when the fiches, or tiles, weren’t going his way, he could see the multiple levels of strategies he was just begining to comprehend. 

What about you?  What can you see that others can’t?  What do you wish you could see?  Have you noticed the mental advantages and thought processes of those around you?

Delia on Student Pulse

Student Pulse is an online journal of collegiate work with a variety of topics.  The idea was to take all the best papers written by college students and gather them in one location online for everyone to read.  So often, students write brilliant papers and they are only read by the professor or TA.  With Student Pulse, the whole world can read these papers, after they pass through the lengthy editorial process of the site’s administrators. 

A while ago, I submitted a paper for them, and this morning I got word that it appears on the website, in its entirety, here

The paper is a book review of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism that I wrote for M. Shahid Alam‘s Global Economy class, which is one of the toughest classes I’ve ever taken.  This book and its theories have likewise shaped many of my opinions on the world, and especially the US government and the CIA, since I first heard of them in Dr. Ryan’s high school AP history classes. 

If you’d like a little taste of what the book is about, and to see some fine short film creation, check out Klein’s collaboration with Alfonso Cuarón, acclaimed writer and director of Children of Men, another piece that shaped my world.  Marisa, this means you!

You can also see a link to the paper on the site’s main page.


The momument to the Point of No Return in Ouidah, Benin

During some of our history lectures in Benin on the slave trade, I learned a lot that had never been presented to me in public school, and realized just how US-centric our education is about this matter.  I thought I would share a few odds and ends that stuck out to me.

  • While we in the US are taught about slavery from an American perspective, many other countries were far more active in the slave trade, Brazil topping that list.  Other Latin American and Caribbean countries (like Haiti)
  • While Europeans were heavily involved in the slave trade, relatively few slaves went to Europe
  • Most slaves came through the Slave Coast, like Benin’s Point of No Return in the coastal city of Ouidah
  • A statue at the Point of No Return. Millions of slaves came through here, on their way to Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean.

    Slavery was an active part of many African societies long before the Europeans got involved, but it was a bit different.

  • While Africans did capture and sell other Africans to European slave trade (whose immune systems were too weak and numbers too small to go into the interior themselves) Africans did not sell their own.  That is, one kingdom would sell their prisoners of war and such, but not their own people.  This in turn allowed them to get firepower and increase their authority within the region.
  • Slavery within Africa was also distinct in that it never denied that a person was a human being, and they were not excluded from society.  One could earn their freedom (and it was actually realistic to do so, unlike in antebellum America), be a respected member of society, marry and have children.  They could return to their community after they were released, although many chose not to.
  • The term “African-American”was thoughtto be offensive for a
    Detail on the momument

    while, particularly around the time of abolition and the founding of former slave colonies in Liberia and Sierra Leone.  The insinuation was that these Americans really belonged in Africa, which is a big part of why these colonies were founded in the first place–so there wouldn’t be a whole bunch of free blacks in America, demanding their rights and respect.  The disdain for this term certainly sheds some light on the debate over the use of the terms “negro” and “colored” in the US census.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever learned about slavery?  Any reactions to these tidbits?  And of course, thanks to Professor Kate Luongho for the knowledge and inspiration!