Freshman year in all my classes there was The Marine. Old for a freshman and a fellow International Affairs major, he was always on time and often wore his mil backpack. Manifesting himself as the booming faceless voice from the back of the class, the professors always seemed overly eager to both hear and honor him.
One of his biggest stands which professors bent over backwards to not disagree with was that electricity is a human right. His experience in the Middle East had made this overwhelmingly obvious to him, but he had a hard time pointing to the piece of international human rights legislation that backed him up. Personally, I think he was getting more at the need for light and perhaps the ability to cook in a safe and effective way, neither of which has to necessarily involve electricity. (I would now argue that electricity is necessary in order to honor several clearly-defined rights, such as to food security and bodily security i.e. protection from rape and other forms of bodily harm that befall women who collect wood at night.)
Now that I’m spending so much time with micro-credit, I’m starting to understand how their services can be human rights, especially when we’re discussing a certified bank like Grameen. People without access to insurance, credit and savings a become vulnerable to all manner of incredibly harmful and undignified situations.
These can include, but are not limited to:
- prostitution/human trafficking
- food insecurity
- losing access to their children
Someone without the ability to borrow money, something we do all the time in the US, would have an extremely difficult time raising their station. Someone who does not have secure savings cannot plan for the future, is subject to robbery for the cash they most likely store in their home. Sometimes, human rights is not just about the theory but about pragmatic on the ground approaches like selling water instead of giving it away in order to make it sustainable and accessibly. In this instance, I think our modern world and insistence on capitalism makes access to credit and savings (in one fashion or another) necessary in order to live a dignified, secure life.
Here is a list of things I love about Benin–both the program I’m on and the country. I hate to give you all such a skewed idea of my life over here, and I also don’t want to focus too much on the NU specifics, but I’m a creature crafted for analysis, so that’s usually where my brain wanders. In the interest of fairness, levity and a more well-rounded picture, here are some things I love.
- Everyone is so friendly. Even moreso than in the American south, everyone we meet says “bon soir!” and is excited to see us. Children wave and flash the peace sign, and women in the market are patient with our burgeoning Parisian French.
- The Beninois students. We did a three day exchange with students form Universite d’Abomey,
- Vodoun and the Cuba connection. I haven’t learned a ton more about vodoun here that i didn’t already learn in Cuba, but I love seeing how it is woven in to their clture, and talking to the university students about it. Also, I miss Cuba and my Cuba aseres terribly, so its nice o have a little reminder of home
- French! I love languages, and speaking French makes me happy. I like helping other people with it, and getting a better understanding of the people I meet because of my language skills. It’s also great to see what the francophone world outside of Paris looks like.
- The weather. I know it’s hot and sticky and furstrating, but it’s great to be back in a warm, comfy climate. This coming New England winter may be harder for me than the ever were before…
- The way of life. I love dirt and messiness and wearing the same gross clothes everyday, with worn-in french braids
- The group. We spend a lot of time telling each other how smart, kind and adorable we all are, which is just refreshing and enjoyable
- Our leaders. It’s nice to spend a little time being warm, fuzzy and non-competetive. For those unaware, this trip is a Human Services excursion, whcih is not my major, but is a related field. I am one of the few political science people here, but there are many international affairs majors as well as psych, journalism, art, sociology and a few others. I miss the fiery polisci discussions, and I tease the Human Services kids about drum circles, peace signs and the high number of piercings and tattoos on this trip, but it is acutally kinda nice. We haven’t met Prof. Luongho yet, but Rebecca is a lawyer in human rights law (!) and Lori has a great cross between sarcasm and being a mom.
- Julie! Our TA, Julie Miller, is great. We’ve been doing sunset rooftop yoga led by her, and I really think yoga should never be done anywhere BUT a rooftop in Africa at sunset. She’s a great help both socially and academically, and I think we’ll all miss her when she goes to UC Berkeley for grad school in the fall.
- The geography. Palm trees, red earth, lizards running around everywhere, and adorable goats that act like puppies. This place is great. Did I mention we went to the beach? And Obama Beach at that. More to come!
- The Songhai Center. More about this later, but it’s up there with the Grameen Bank and bacon on the list of things that rock my socks.
I realize that the previous post adressing this topic never fully answered the question, but it was also a finished piece of writing.
So here, in list form, are the reasons I’m going to Cuba:
- Practicar mi español. I’m not worried about ever losing my French, and while I do worry about my Arabic, I have plans for that too. NU can’t offer me competetive language courses in Boston, so elsewhere I shall go.
- Economics. There aren’t enough bleeding hearts in economics because classical economics is for assholes. Sorry, but it’s true. I will not be deterred, because I think Muhammad Yunus is a rockstar and that economics could be the key to eleveating many of the worlds problems. That’s the connection between me and economics. Do I need to make the connection between economics and Cuba? No? Good.
- I need something to write about. Yes, my self esteem is way too closely tied to this blog, but that’s not what I mean. If you read what I had to say about Cuba being illegal as well as why I write this blog, this is a direction I want my life to go in. I care about educating people and I think this is my best shot at it. I have the priviledge to go to school where I do, travel to unusual places and posess the language skills to communicate with the local population. It is my duty to pass on whatever I can from those experiences.
Finally, there’s the biggie that I keep finding myself saying: I can’t say no. If you had this opportunity, would you turn it down?
That’s not rhetorical.
Have you ever had the opportunity to travel somewhere (or do anything, reall) that you turned down? I’ve had a couple, which I’ll talk about later, but I’d love to hear from you guys.