Category Archives: Relfection


On Monday, my laptop, external hard drive, and ipod were all stolen from my office at my new job.  It happened in the middle of the day, while other people were in our suite, which is tucked away in a rarely-visited corner.  I was only gone for about half an hour.  Luckily no one else lost anything, no one got hurt, and I had my phone and wallet with me.  I kept hoping there was some other explanation–that I had left my laptop at home, or a coworker had moved my ipod.  Yes, I did everything I was supposed to do, from filing a report to changing my passwords.  I know people mean well, but I’m not all that interested in advice that would require time travel for me to carry it out.

It’s so strange to not have a “when it happened” moment.  I have been robbed before, but in this instance there was no action, just a realization that I didn’t have my things and it wasn’t a mistake.  There’s also some irony in that these objects have been with me all over the world, and yet they were taken from my posh new job at home.  I keep hoping that maybe the thief will see the laptop is a pc, and ditch it.  Or that they’ll have a heart when they see the hard drive is just a terabyte of images, and will turn it in as though they found it.  I would honestly let them keep the stuff if they offered to give back the data.  But I know none of that is realistic.  As the cop said, my things are gone forever.

I’m honestly not that bothered by losing the stuff.  They are just things, and while I’d rather not drop $1,000 or so to replace them, they are replaceable.  What breaks my heart is all the data that cannot be recovered, especially the photos.  Conservatively, it’s at least 50,000 images.  Basically every image I took from 2012-2014 is now gone forever, which includes almost every image I shot on my dSLR, and basically all of the photos that were any good.  Ireland, India, most of Cuba, everything that happened in Boston last April, as well as thousands of family photos and quite a few events are all gone.  What I can recover is mostly not RAW files, meaning they are lower quality and completely useless for some purposes.  The ten posts about Ireland that were queued up to have images added and be posted over the next three or four weeks now seem sad and boring, a little reminder of what I do not have.

I know I have some things backed up on the cloud, and older stuff (like Benin, Egypt, and my first three months in Cuba) on my other hard drive, but to be honest I don’t even have the heart to look and see what I have left.  I really just don’t feel like remembering again of what is lost.  I spent a whole day fixated on the hard drive and therefore thinking that at least I still had my India pictures, and then I remembered that my laptop was also taken, and India is gone too.  Every couple of minutes I remember again that it’s all gone, and the idea of setting about to pick up the pieces holds no appeal.

I certainly have a lot of regrets, like not separating my backup from my originals, not uploading the images to the Ireland posts this past weekend, not having everything on the cloud, and not locking my door in what I thought was a safe office suite.  I wish I had just eaten the lunch I brought from home, and of course I wish the two office guard dogs had been there to scare the thief away.  But mostly I’m just sad.  I think of all the memories that are gone, images, writing and songs going back to high school and in some cases middle school.  I think of the years of hard work, all the hundreds of hours that went into those thousands and thousands of images.  It’s all gone, and I don’t think I have it in me to start again.

The top photo is one of the few India photos that was sitting in the cloud, albeit in a crappy, overly-small jpeg.  It’s also a picture of trust, trust that no one will take your shoes while you go inside the temple, and sometimes it’s nice to remember that.  

Boston Marathon Tributes

I was hoping to post something on Wednesday with my thoughts on the marathon a year out, but Tuesday night’s events left me exhausted in more ways than one.  I’m glad no one got hurt and that there was no actual potential for violence, and I hope he finds the help that he needs.  I also hope his family gets some privacy and the support that they surely need as well.  There’s a lot out there on the marathon, some better than others.  Here’s a round-up of some of my favorite marathon-related things hanging around the internet.

Jeff Bauman, seen by many as the face (along with Carlos Arredondo, he of the cowboy hat) of the Boston Marathon survivors wrote a great piece at the Guardian explaining how he feels about the famous wheelchair photo, and how he hopes we’ll view it.  I think it’s incredibly powerful for him to take charge of his own narrative and of this devastating thing that was inflicted upon him.  It’s also fascinating from the standpoint of photography and journalism to think about whether taking this photo was a good idea, and to hear Jeff’s thoughts about the image and the man responsible.  If you didn’t see the coverage at the time, you’ll also note that most people who weren’t on twitter at the time or actively seeking it out haven’t seen the complete image, in a self-imposed censorship similar to the images of people jumping from the twin towers.  The images are seen as too much, and too damaging a way for  a loved one to get bad news (as Jeff’s parents did) and too inescapable to be fair to those who suffered.  If you enjoy Jeff’s perspective, check out his book Stronger, out now.

I’m a big fan of charity that harnesses the consumerism of the US.  It’s not going away, so at least let’s harness it for good.  These bracelets, made of last year’s marathon street banners benefit the One Fund and can also lend a sense of solidarity.  A shout out to John Hancock for covering the administrative and production costs of the bracelets, so 100% of the cost goes to the fund.  Over $30,000 has been raised so far, but you can only get the bracelets until Sunday at 6 pm.

I have to mention that the Boston Globe won a Pulitzer for their coverage last year.  There was a lot of terrible coverage (“It’s almost as if a bomb went off…”–someone on CNN) so I’m glad they were recognized for not falling for conspiracy theories (what’s up, Anonymous’s completely inaccurate reporting, say hi to your mother for me), racism, or just blaming random people.  Congratulations, and thank you.

If you liked their coverage, you’ll probably also enjoy their One Year, One City interactive story, as well as the behind the scenes footage.

The great image at the top of this post was designed by Northeastern alums and good friends of mine Jack and Kate of Union Jack Creative.  You can support local art and a local small business by purchasing the poster online, and charity runners get a discount, in honor of Kate’s two years as a Boston Marathon charity runner for the Boston Debate League, a great organization teaching inner city kids about debate and inspiring confidence and academic improvement everywhere they go.

Fellow NU grad, traveler, and partner in crime Kade Krichko was able to interview fellow Reading resident Mark Fucarile, survivor, about his experience getting back to skiing after he lost his right leg above the knee.  I love stories showing people with hindered physical or mental abilities living full lives, not being held back.  You may recognize Fucarile from the stories about his fantastic all-expenses paid Fenway Park wedding to his long-time girlfriend.  They arrived via blue and yellow duckboats, because Boston.

If you have the time, check out WBUR’s Oral History Project on the Marathon.  It’s a mix of famous and not so famous storytellers sharing their experience.  In a similar and somewhat-connected, Northeastern University is collecting a digital archive, including some of my images from NUPR’s special online edition.  It’s called “Our Marathon” and can be seen in part through May 2nd in International Village, which is behind Ruggles and next to the police station.  You can contribute to Our Marathon or the Oral History Project online.

The afternoon memorial was lovely, and I think Patrick Downes had the best speech of the day.  It must be hard on a bunch o regular people, who did not lead public lives, to suddenly be thrust in the spotlight.  People suddenly want them to make speeches, write books, even comfort them, regardless of the fact that they don’t necessarily have any training in any of these areas.  Patrick makes what must have been a very emotional day look grateful and easy.

If you’re looking to contribute to a charity runner, I personally know 3 who are running for great causes, with amazing stories.  Jordyn Parsons is my former roommate and a Northeastern student, and she’s running for the Melanoma Foundation of New England.  She currently needs a little less than $2,000 to reach her goal of $7,500.

Elizabeth Shea, who is from my home town went to Mass General’s Pediatric Oncology Center with hystiocytosis.  Someone ran the marathon in her honor as part of the patient-partner program.  It meant so much to her that once she was healthy, she wanted to pay it forward.   Her dad was also inspired, and ran four Boston Marathons in her name, raising thousands of dollars for childhood cancer research.   She ran the marathon last year with her father but was stopped at mile 25.5, and is looking to complete the journey on Monday.   Donate to her efforts here.

Laura Williams went to high school and college with me, as did her older brother Chris, who passed away from Cystic Fibrosis three years ago.  She is running in his honor for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and she needs to raise just under $1,000 to meet her goal of $10,000.   You can also buy a shirt to benefit her efforts.

What’s your favorite coverage of the one year anniversary?  Feel free to share links, images, or your own stories and experiences in the comments.

See you on race day.

The Things that Comfort Me

As I was writing my last post, it felt important to be honest.  I know that we’re all supposed to see the silver lining and be uplifting, but that’s not particularly how I feel.  But I also know that there is so much good that has happened in the last day or so, and that is equally honest, so I thought I should put it here as well. 

There are a lot of lists floating around talking about marathoners giving blood and Joe Andruzzi being a fantastic guy (we already knew it, glad to have more proof), but that’s not what this is about.  This is all the odd little things that are making my hours a little less long, and sleep a little less elusive.

The only thing that helped me power through Monday was trying to be useful.  Locating everyone, posting, fact-checking, and sharing were the only things I felt like I could do that could possibly help anyone.  I don’t really have much choice in the matter–my hyper-vigilence goes into overdrive any time there’s an actual crisis at hand, and getting all the “I’m ok” responses and disseminating them to others seemed to keep some of the mania in check.

I got two different emails from strangers kindly thanking me and applauding my humanity for offering up my apartment to those in need.  The cynic in me knew almost immediately that there was no way anyone would come back out to Brookline to stay, and given how quickly the list spread and grew, it became clear that adding our apartments to the list was more about our need to feel useful than any real need by those affected.  But still.  It is nice that people offer up their homes and their cars, and nicer still that a couple of people took the time to thank a bunch of strangers.

Going to the gym was both dreaded and helpful.  It’s where I was headed (once I finished sending an article about Boston to an editor–yeah, I guess I’ll have to get back to that) when I heard, and it seemed to be eating away at me.  I fully expect that running will be cathartic for some and triggering for others.  For me, working out was a good expenditure of energy and a good excuse for why I’m not doing any of the million things on my to do list that my mind just can’t handle quite yet.

Seeing all my Model UN people was a small taste of exactly what I need.  When things like this happen, once the fixing and helping is over I like congregating and snuggling.  It was good see so many people who have been so important to me for so many years.  It was nice to be able to go back and forth between a silly constitutional blah-de-blah, making jokes, and talking about the bombs.  I was happy that the people I know from the team seemed to really get it, to really have been affected, and to want to be there for one another even if it’s just in a simple way like eating and hugging and laughing together.

Another great part of tonight was the chance to play with a puppy.  Sometimes, we all just need to play with a pug.

Tuning out and watching something funny or with a love story has been a nice escape, when I can get myself to do it.  I’ve been listening to Breakdown by Jack Johnson and the album Plans by Death Cab for Cutie whenever I’m in transit, and watching Dawson’s Creek and Arrested Development for sheer distractibility and a dearth of current light hearted options.  I remember after 9/11 I hated that all TV and radio was so focused on what happened, even halting shows.  At the time I felt the coverage was inescapable, and I just wanted the chance to forget for a few minutes.  Even when they brought back the radio, it was all Sarah McLaughlin and Amazing Grace, which didn’t do much to distract me or lift my spirits.  All the same, I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up watching Isaac and Ishmael sometime soon.

Undoubtedly the most deeply moving gesture for me personally was a simple text asking me if I was safe.  I hadn’t expected or even considered that this friend would be worried about me, which I suppose makes the gesture all the more appreciated.  But more than that, it just felt nice at a time when I was checking up on everyone I knew to have someone check up on me.  In the same vein, I have truly appreciated all the people who have remembered that my whole family is local and have asked after them.  It means a little something deeper to hear the acknowledgement that it is scary when everyone you know and love is a potential victim.

So here’s to lengthening the list, and one day not needing it at all.

They Came for My City

IMG_8728Boston has always been my city, just like it has always been my mother’s city and her mother’s before that.  The only place my family has ever been from, other than Boston, was Ireland.  I was born at the Brigham and spent some precious early years on the South Shore, just outside the city limits, in a place so deeply entrenched in all things Bostonian that it has always felt more intensely Boston than many of the tony neighborhoods within the city. We got our passports stamped and moved to the North Shore.  The ultimate freedom for my friends and I was to take the orange line in and wander around the city, unaccompanied by adults or reminders of how suburban we all were.  When it came time to pick a college, I knew I didn’t want to be anywhere else.  Sometimes friends or family back home made the mistake of thinking that the proximity of my parents’ home to Boston meant they would see me often, or that the two places were alike.  Neither presumption could have been more wrong.

IMG_8915This city, which I more often call a town, has given so much to me.  While others lament the unreliability or rising price of the T, I find freedom in my ability to hop on a bus or train and discover whole worlds opening up before me.  I feel liberated by the knowledge that no matter which train or bus line I get on, I will never truly be lost.  I love the MBTA, I just don’t think it necessarily loves me back–especially the green line.  This city gives me more knowledge, art and culture than I could ever hope to consume in six lifetimes.  It has hidden parks and delicious food and close-knit neighborhoods.  It has given me beautiful libraries and fantastic librarians who instilled in me a love of books that will never fail me.  The city has a rhythm and a personality that I find comforting, and a skyline that welcomes me home every time I run away.  It protects me from harm, and never ceases to show me a sign of beauty or humanity when I need it.  I am a product of my town, with that chip on my shoulder and fire in my heart.  I am proud and loyal and brutally honest, I am vulgar and stoic yet heartfelt and kind.  I am what Boston has made me, and I love the people that Boston gave me.

IMG_8872This is part of why it has been so hard to feel so helpless.  I’m upset that I wasn’t there to be productive, to help.  If I hadn’t known it would have been an inconvenience to those responding to the bombings, I would have gone down to Copley right away.  I feel strangely isolated out in Brookline.  My family feels disproportionately far away, large groups have been discouraged, and there has been an overall inclination to hunker down.  I went to Northeastern’s vigil, which was really rather disappointing, and somehow missed the news of the vigil down on the common, which looked nice.

I don’t really wanna talk about the shitty news coverage.  If you pay attention, you should have already known that the New York Post is a rag and that CNN has lost all credibility in the last year or so.  You should know that lots of US media coverage is racist, and you should know the difference between an eyewitness report, a rumour, an official report and well-sourced journalism.  If you can’t tell the difference, you should definitely not repeat the things you hear, and you should maybe devote a little time to media literacy.  But beyond that, we get what we put in to our news.

IMG_3610I had good coverage because I knew where to look: twitter feeds for the Globe, and a few individual journos I trust, and local news on 7 and 5 (WHDH and WCVB) when television finally started covering it 15-20 minutes after I first heard about the bombings.  When something like this happens, we need our familiar faces anyway.  I wanted Ed Harding, not some stranger.  I kept waiting for Menino.  I mean the president is the president, and I like him, but he’s not a Boston guy.  Menino knows us.  He gets us.  He’s met a staggering number of us in person, and he has devoted himself to us and this city.  No one else can help us like he can right now.  It seems like as his health has been failing him we’ve needed him more than ever.

IMG_3619As soon as my roommate heard, I hopped on twitter and facebook.  Only one person had mentioned it on fb, my cousin who works right at the finish line but was safe.  There was some chatter on twitter, and I latched onto that.  I called my mother, who had not yet heard the news, to tell her I was fine.  I texted my brother and his girlfriend, who were both at work.  I put up a quick summary of the facts (as verified as I could get them), and a notice that I was ok.  I then entered a bit of tunnel vision for the next 5 or 6 hours of locating friends and family, consuming as much information as possible, discerning what was credible, and posting as much helpful information as I could.  I couldn’t run down to Copley like I wanted, so the only helpful thing I could think of was to make it easy for people with smartphones as their only news source to find what they needed.  And I tried to fact-check what other people were posting, and like every helpful link I saw so it would be propelled to the top.  Because what else can you do?

IMG_3568It’s entirely possible that I shouldn’t have (or continue to) consume the hundreds of articles and reports and thousands of tweets and statuses I’ve seen so far.  But I can’t help it.  I am who I am, and that is a person who obsessively consumes information.  And when there’s a crisis, I try to be helpful.  And when something upsets me, I feel an obsessive need to read every detail repeatedly.

Scarier than the knowledge of the bombs was that feeling when we realized there could be more throughout the city.  The feeling that someone was coming for us and there was nothing we could do but hide in our homes. But mostly, it has been numb.

IMG_3587It is the strangest things that can finally get me to cry.  Seeing the national guard and cops in the t stations caught me off guard, even though I knew it was coming.  Knowing that it was the safest smartest thing to do, the feeling that their presence is necessary, that is the scariest and saddest of all.  I feel like a bit of a cliche, but I lost it watching Yankee fans singing Sweet Caroline.  They even remembered all the crowd participation moments–I wasn’t sure if regular people did that or just us.  There’s just something about the idea of people in Yankees gear doing a Sox thing that just says oh: it must be that bad.  We must be so bad off, they must feel so sad for us to be willing to do this in Yankee Stadium.  Especially considering we chant “Yankees Suck!” at all moments of celebration, including ones totally unrelated to baseball.  I cried when I saw the barricade at Boylston and Mass Ave.  I carried my camera around all day today and couldn’t bring myself to take a picture.  I took my glasses off at the gym so I wouldn’t be able to see the tv.  Sometimes it’s too much of the same information, over and over again.

IMG_8818I don’t understand why more people aren’t upset.  I don’t understand how people could instagram their margaritas last night or post inside jokes.  I don’t get why not everyone is hugging every time they see people, why we’re not all talking about it.  I don’t understand why the rest of the country doesn’t seem to care as much as they did for 9/11, for Newtown, for Sandy.  Is it because it is fewer lives?  Or because they weren’t all children?  Or is it because the rest of the country strangely doesn’t consider Boston to be a major city?  I just don’t understand how people are doing anything other than healing.

I know that a lot of this isn’t sensible or measured or fair.  I’m sure the transplants and college kids are offended at the idea that their attachment to this city is any less than mine, and I know that it’s considered petty to differentiate amongst grief.  I also know that the insider/outsider dynamic is pretty quintessentially Boston, and that it has become harder and harder to find locals in the schools and neighborhoods that are competitive and safe.  It’s actually pretty easy to spend years here and almost never interact with an actual Bostonian.  And yes, it has occurred to me that many of the people who appear to be just fine probably aren’t doing as well inside.  I realize that I probably seem fine to strangers and friends, and I know it’s a strange trick of trauma to delay the grief in some but not in others.

IMG_8864But I really don’t care.

This is my home and somebody attacked it.  If that doesn’t bother you enough to interrupt your daily life, then let’s not talk for a little while.  If you wanna talk to me about Syria and Iraq, I’m sort of curious where you’ve been for the rest of my life because I basically always want to talk about that.  But not right now.  Right now I’m too tired to even think about a response explaining why no, some of us just do NOT have the energy in this moment to be upset about both.  There is only so much emotional bandwidth in a person, and if you have enough to deal with that right now go for it, but I just don’t.  This is my home, and it has always been my home.  No matter how much I travel, it will always be my home–I don’t care to live anywhere else in the United States.  It is not a temporary place or a place for the Best Years of My Life.  It’s a place for all the years of my life.  It didn’t take me a few minutes to find everybody, it took me like an hour to even get my brain on track to think of everybody, because almost everyone I have ever known or loved lives here.  This is not just my city for now, it is my city for always.  It is my home and my family’s home.  It is birthdays and Christmases, first kisses and the prom.  It is crappy summer jobs and life-changing concerts, elections and award ceremonies.  It is funerals and births, terrifying illnesses and big nights out celebrating.  It is sleeping on the ground for post-season red sox ticket, watching local bands rise to national fame, getting soaked in beer at a bruins game, and running into Gary Tanguay after watching the C’s kill it.  It is local beer and Colonial reenactments, holidays other people don’t understand and listening to tourists and college kids make fun of the accent I don’t really have.   It is the entirety of my real life and the real lives of the people I love, and someone wanted to take all that away.  And I am just too tired for all of that.

If this seems far too dark for you, my schmaltzy thoughts can be found here.


In October, we lost someone so magnetic that he’s still pulling us together, even in death.  Someone so funny and kind that at his funeral we laughed (almost) as much as we cried.  Someone so good to the core that he was donating as much time and money as he could, without fanfare or pretense.  Someone who is the only person who would know what to say to during all of these raw times.

I met Naman on my trip to the Dominican Republic in May and June of 2011.  He was on my team, Rojo, and immediately became the most distinctive person on the entire trip.  As many have said, everyone felt like he was their best friend on the trip, because he treated everyone like the most important person he had ever met.  As we rumbled in a hot van with too few cracked pleather seats around that wonderful island country, Naman was always there with a song, dance, or imitation to keep our spirits up.  He always took his work seriously, although he never saw it as work.

Everyone grieves in their own way.  But for people like us, people who can’t sleep at night because we can’t stop thinking of injustice in the world, people who are no fun at parties because we keep talking about this great new NGO or social business we just learned about, passive or solitary grief is not for us.  We have to do something, we have to organize, mobilize, and funderize.  We have to do this not just because it’s who we are, but also because it’s who Naman was.

So we have made the Naman Shah Memorial Fund.  The fund will be used to send students like Naman, students who are passionate, smart, kind, and want to do good by being good, back to the Dominican Republic to learn what he learned, and contribute to the organizations, people, and country to which he contributed.  Today, we will be gathering in the Alumni Center of Northeastern to learn about Akshaya Patra from its President and CEO, Ms. Madhu Sridhar.  Akshaya Patra is one of several organizations Naman supported.  They provide free, balanced meals for school children, because no child should struggle in school because they’re distracted by hunger.  We will also have a silent auction, networking, and an opportunity to donate to both Akshaya Patra and the NSM Fund.

While I would love donations, I would also love non-monetary contributions.

I ask for your connections and talents; if you are able to donate anything to our future fundraising endeavors (a gift card or service from your business, for example), it would help us raise more.

I ask for you voice; if you could publicize the event, the fund, or Naman’s life’s message of living every day to its fullest and helping others to do so as well, it will encourage others to give and keep his memory alive.

And I ask for your presence, which is strangely the hardest thing to ask.  Our SEI family has circled the wagons to care for each other and launch this fundraising effort, which sometimes means crying during meetings and other times means pretending I don’t know the person we’re doing this for because that’s the only way to get anything done.  But most of the time it feels like no one in the rest of my life has any idea that I’ve lost someone, or any comprehension of how impossible it feels for that someone to be Naman.  I would love it if you could join me tonight, to learn about a cause he cared for, to hear his family and friends tell his story, and to support this segment of the Northeastern and Boston communities that is still hurting.

For Naman’s sake, I will try to smile.  I will try not to be “so belidge!”  And I will try to do a really good job.  Because that’s all we can do anymore.

Group Travel: Reflection

Now that I’ve accepted a job leading a group of brave young travelers, I’ve been thinking back on my many, fabulous travel groups and what made them so great.

Reflection is one of my favorite things, clearly.  I love writing, reading, thinking (blogging!) and discussing ad nauseum.  When I was in Egypt, the hours of conversation I shared with J9, Sheff, Iskandriyya, Goldilocks and others helped me grow exponentially.  It deepened my comprehension of Middle East and Egyptian culture, helped me work through my conflicted feelings of our daily experiences, and brought me to a better understanding of our own country.  Sharing my experiences out loud in a safe forum, while hearing from phenomenal, brilliant women whom I hope to emulate really made me get the most out of Egypt.  I honestly don’t think I would have learned as much or been as happy if it weren’t for those ladies and those conversations.

It is conversations like those that are the basis for this blog.  Every time someone compliments the ideas here, I feel like that praise belongs equally to those aforementioned ladies, as well as to Marisa, Jordyn, Kate and Leif, to my roommates in Cuba, to the ballers that made up the DR Dialogue and to my capstone class, all of whom sparked great discussions and debates that I later share with all of you.

I’m sure reflection is already a significant part of the curriculum, especially considering there is a 1-credit course devoted to service-learning, introspection and their “Global Experience” as a whole.  However, I plan to make sure some of the best practices that have been shown to me are introduced into their discussions as well.

  • From Amnesty/Benin: Step Up/Step Back.
    On stepup/stepback days, everyone self selects and does the opposite of what they normally do.  Those who are shy are heavily encouraged to participate more strongly, and those who usually contribute greatly (or, like me, dominate the conversation) are asked to hang back.  While I personally have huge difficulty observing the rules of step up/step back, I think it’s incredibly valuable.  I can see that even more clearly after the spring break capstone trip, in which I was uncharacteristically quiet. [note of awesome: Chris, the Site Director for Greece AKA my boss mentioned both this and One Mic during our very first pre-departure orientation!  Woohoo!]
  • From Amnesty (mostly Thenjiwe): One Mic.
    The one mic policy is very simple: there is only one mic, and if you don’t have it you can’t speak.  Let me clarify: I prefer to never have a physical object like a talk stick or whatever, if it is at all possible.  But it’s nice to be able to just say hey, can I get one mic up here? If people start speaking over you when you have the floor.  Much less disruptive than me banging the gavel and saying “decorum delegates!” in the iciest voice I can muster.
  • From SEI: Base your comments on facts and observations. 
    This is actually the rule that pissed me off the most, if only because so many of our discussions were asking for our opinions, and people gave me shit every time I said the word “think” even if it was couched in the statement, “based on those observations, I think…”  But nonetheless, I think it’s good to get students in the mindset of only making statements they can back up, and I have changed its wording to reflect that.  Much like Oberheim’s exericse (read: torture) of not letting us write with the verb ‘to be’, it is not so much meant to be held to with fascist fervor, but is rather a good tool for getting you to leave behind bad habits, like saying a stereotype without realizing you’ve based it on nothing.

Apres moi, le deluge

I awoke last week to a facebook update from Angie: Mata is underwater.  Mata is incomunicado.  My reply: come mierda.  Eat shit.  Sort of the Spanish equivalent of the f-bomb.  For Mata los Indios and other bateyes, a flood, even for a short time, can be devastating.  It means the truck with potable water cannot get through, so people go thirsty or get sick from what few water sources they have near their homes.  It means crops die, so what little subsistence farming they have is easily swept away.  It means no new supplies get through, so commerce stops.  For those who did have the money to buy food, the current supply will run out or rot soon enough.IMG_0711

 All that week, I had been working on my project plan, my final paper for the summer 1 classes that I sometimes forget are attached to this trip.  Grades seem like an after thought not because we aren’t learning, but rather because we are so very busy doing it.  We had the option of doing a research paper or some sort of proposal that would concretely help the DR and the populations we saw.  I can easily think of research IMG_0676topics, and love doing that sort of work, but for the first time in my life, a research paper seemed cowardly.  It seems imperative that I at least outline a plan for how to do something, to accomplish some goal toward the alleviation of suffering, even if it is slight.

I don’t know if my proposal is good, or big enough, or business-y enough, and the troop of freshmen who vow to adopt the idea in real life will undoubtedly surpass my goals easily.  But when I think about these faces, think about how muddy the path was in early June, which is just the beginning of the rainy season, it seems like the only option I have is to try.

When we (the capstone class that went to Mata over spring break) first heard about the flooding, we had a collective light bulb moment: build a bridge.  Duh.  How hard can that be?  And if we can’t do it, Engineers Without BIMG_0731orders (EWB) will just get right on it.  Claro.  As so often happens with international aid (because let’s face it, that’s what this is), we weren’t seeing the whole picture.  It isn’t one river that swells and must be forded.  In fact, where that is the case, there already is a bridge.  The problem is that the entire walk, which takes 20 minutes by foot when dry, becomes muddy and flooded.  In June it was taking us about 40 minutes to walk it, and it was even deemed too dangerous for Claire, in that she might slip and fall and agitate her injury.  That must have been so hard for her, to not go back to Mata .  But they were right—we were all slipping, sliding and falling the whole way.  Nonetheless, I probably would have thrown a fit if I were told I couldn’t go back.  In fact, I went every time I could to Mata.


This Dialogue has been reminding me more and more of the Egypt trip every day.  And it must be so, because people who aren’t here have been commenting that it seems like I feel the same way about this Dialogue as that one.  After Esther asked me about the trip that has had the most impact on me personally, I began thinking about it more directly.  I’ve loved all the travel in between, but this trip seems to align the ever-fickle planets of academics, leadership, location and group members.

I love the books we read.  Why the Cocks Fight is maybe a little boorish and poorly written, but is nevertheless entirely necessary as it’s the only real history of the island of Hispaniola as a whole.  I can’t understand why there aren’t more books about this topic, and why the author (Michelle Wucker) didn’t arrange the book chronologically instead of thematically.  But alas, we are able to bypass so many basic overviews of DR/Haiti history when we are on site visits or in the field, and instead move on to deeper issues.  With Drown and The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (DR) and The Farming of the Bones and Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat (Haiti), we have been able to see the contemporary lives of Haitians and Dominicans at home and abroad, and just how important history, race, nationality and poverty have been to their lives.  I highly recommend all four of those books, and those two authors in general.  Nothing could make the 1937 massacre come to life as much as Farming of the Bones, to the point where I know flinch when I see the word perejil.

It seems that being informed about where you go is a basic form of respect, much like learning hello, goodbye and thank you in the native language.  It is a small token of effort and understanding that is overwhelmingly appreciated by every local population I’ve encountered thus far.  When Haitians learn I’ve read a few Danticat books they take me more seriously, and raise the intensity level of the conversation.  While I’m not in expert in the languages, history and culture of Hispaniola, at least I’m making a good faith effort.  I love that in this group, we named our traveling parrot Tousaint (l’Ouverture) and no one has to ask why.  When Junior references “the election thief” in Wao, no one is unsure about whom he is speaking.  We are better travelers, better students, and better…helpers? because of the reading we’ve done.

Beyond that, it is invaluable to my education.  Our discussions are more enriching, due in part to the books as well as to the overall attitude of this group.  I’ve mentioned before that we have a large proportion of freshmen (1 in 4 students on the trip) but that has only been an asset.  On the whole, the group mixes well and frequently, and is full of people who are dedicated to and excited by social business.  People are practical and enthusiastic, and have their head in the game.  Drinking hasn’t been an issue, no one complains about our long or fruitless bus rides, and everyone has taken the workload in stride.

I was a little nervous after our spring break Capstone trip, because there were a lot of areas for improvement.  I enjoyed myself, but I had various concerns and often felt like an outsider.  It turns out that the issues worrying me also bothered the SEI leadership, and are simply not present on this trip.  The readings were required before and during the trip, the intentions of our trip have been clear since the beginning, and everyone in this group is amazing.  On the whole, this is one of the best run trips pf which I have ever had the pleasure to be a part.

Joy is More Sustainable than Duty

“If you feel like it’s a duty or hard work to help the poor, don’t do it.”

It was the first time I had ever heard someone say that many people who help the world’s poor do so because they find it fun, interesting and challenging. I smiled in spite of myself, and felt like I was looking up to see an old friend for the first time in years.

Whenever people ask why I wan to do this, I’m at a loss. Yes, I do feel some sort of moral obligation to humanity, but there are a lot of ways to fulfill that obligation. I think my neighbors who deliver meals and spend time with isolated friends in nursing homes are also doing good work that improves us all as a species. I view those who lead campaigns to pick up trash at local parks in much the same way. So I could easily help people in a different manner, and in the past I have, from teaching CCD to leading free tours at the State House to being a good granddaughter. And yet, I feel compelled to do this, to do more. Or, more accurately, to do different.

Hearing Professor Shaugnessy say that the people who do the best job helping the world’s poor at the people who love it, thrive on it, are good at it has, in a way, let me out of the closet as someone who is happily, selfishly trying to save the world.  Or at least some small corner of it.

So here’s the thing: I’m good at this stuff, and it makes me happy. I like the long bumpy bus rides on pocked dirt roads, talking to strangers in tongues strange and varied, mapping assets and increasing capacity.

Helping people in this way causes me great joy and personal satisfaction. It allows me autonomy and a sense of accomplishment, even though I often feel helpless and useless. But helping people doesn’t have to be totally selfless as is often suggested, and it is perhaps better if it is this way. I do not feel a heavy burden to help. This is not mi tarea, es mi felicidad.

And in the end, happily helping the poor is better for everyone, as it is far more sustainable (for me and everyone around me) than listlessly trudging through a set of overwhelming global obligations.

So, to take a tip from Kevin Ryan, I do it joyfully and with an open heart, which I hope will prevent me from feeling guilty when I spend moments of my life snorkeling or playing cards or being with my family or doing things that won’t end human trafficking or institutional racism.

I Got a Job!

For my final coop, I knew I wanted something international. This job will be leading Northeastern freshmen who were accepted to the January semester (Jan starts as we call them) on a fall semester abroad.  I will TA one of their classes, organize their service-learning projects, lead them on excursions, tutor when necessary, help with homesickness and culture shock, and make sure everyone makes it home alive.

No, I don’t know where I’m going yet.  I could be sent to Australia, London, Costa Rica, or Thesaloniki, Greece.  Of course I prefer the developing nations, and the chance to be back in Latin America or the Mediterranean is amazing.  It doesn’t hurt that this position is well compensated, and I felt better about it when Sheff said she feels like it fits my niche well.  What exactly is that niche?  Well I think it’s something like educational, socially-minded travel.

But I still had a lot of trouble with this one.  It all comes back to the conundrum I’ve been having for the last few years: there are a lot of subjects that interest me, and whenever I’m doing something that doesn’t directly help people, I feel guilty.  I feel like I’m slacking, like I’m a coward, like I’m taking the easy way out.  It doesn’t help that so many people told me they think it isn’t challenging enough, hard core enough for me.  Several people, after I told them I accepted the job, referred to it as babysitting.  (side note: I will never understand why people think it’s okay to bash your job to your face, but it happens all the time at NU with coops.)

I did, however, find some great comfort from an unlikely source.  The Global Poverty Impact groups that my friend Kevin started are interfaith conversations about equality, poverty, giving, eradicating poverty, why we care and the best way to help.  We also make small, permanent lifestyle changes in order to spend more thoughtfully and set aside some money to go towards a cause of our choosing.  I love how thought provoking this group is, how respectful and smart its members are, and the “Live Deliberately” ethos that I think anyone can get behind, regardless of their religious views.

But I digress.  Jen, a social entrepreneurship person and member of my capstone class, had great insight.

“Just think abut how many freshman you will be effecting.  You can teach them about all the opportunities they have to do good at Northeastern, and be a role model to them.”

It meant a lot to me to hear this from Jen, someone who has also struggled with how to combine socially-minded endeavors, earning money, furthering a career and getting the most out of Northeastern.  When I think about it that way, still helps me with the mission I once (and still?) have:

I want to travel to parts of the world with injustice, spend my time there in a meaningful way, and learn their stories so I may tell them on their behalf.  If I can make people understand and care using the gift of my writing, I can catalyze more action than I ever could have accomplished as just one person.

At the time, I was assuming that fact-based fictional stories, plays, or screenplays would be my method.  I never even considered blogging or any sort of journalism, which now seems like such a silly omission.  If I can use service-learning, reflection and this time abroad (perhaps in a less-developed country) to instill an ethic of global awareness and helping others in a useful way, I can consider working for a success, and progress toward my mission.  When I think about how much impact Julie Miller had on all of us in Benin, this seems attainable.  Because of her, we were more thoughtful, patient, cooperative, positive and open-minded individuals.

So I am genuinely excited about this job, and the possibilities it brings.