Tag Archives: US politics

Why I Travel: A Sense of Clarity

Reflecting on Pico Iyer’s Why I Travel, the many ensuing responses, and the current political climate in the US, I thought I would try my hand at it. 

I’ve noticed that often, people try to hijack my travel experience and use it to reinforce their world view.  “Oh, you must have loved Cuba–but I bet you’re so happy you live here with all this stuff and where we’re all FREE!”  Or, “Oh wow, you must have loved Cuba, getting to see how awesome a country is even though it’s not capitalist and America’s trying to keep it DOWN!”

I generally don’t feel comfortable responding in the affirmative to either statement.  The “you must really love our wealth/infrastructure/freedoms” people are right, I am happy to live in a country with pillowtop matresses, good water pressure and wings whenever I want them.  But their statement almost always contains an inherent pejorative of wherever I’ve just been, a sense that it was a lovely/educational dalliance, but now I was back in the REAL world, the good one.

On the other hand, the business about seeing places so different from America, without our “rampant consumerism, corrupt politicians and danger around every turn” does ring true–a little bit.  There really are other ways of carrying on life and a country, ones that are far less selfish and just as succesful.  But these views tend to put the rose-colored glasses on for foreign countries.  And let’s be honest, if I won’t wear them for my own country, I’m certainly not going to wear them for anyone else’s.

I love travel because it sorts the wheat from the schraff.  I get to see other communities where people don’t have the same assumptions as we do here, and see how successful they are in carrying out their lives based on their own values and assumptions.  I get to compare different ways of respecting or interpreting civil rights, and see what I like about different the approaches.

Traveling helps me better see the world for what it is.  To see past the stereotypes, politicians and social constructs that have been ingrained in me (or others) for the duration of my life.  To discover best practices on everything, from recycling to child-rearing to dating to cooking.

Travel doesn’t make me hate America, and it doesn’t make me overwhelmingly happy I live here.  It just helps me see and understand the truth about every community I interact with, including my own.  And the hope is that someday, this aggregate knowledge will help me in my dream of developing communities into places that are better at recyling or child rearing, dating or cooking, no matter where on earth I end up doing that.

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.

Should We Be Here?

I worry that since we’ve had a discussion on ethics, the issue was opened and then closed.

Unfortunately, the more I learn about this program the more I question our presence here.  Many of our readings discussed the pitfall that service-learning is all about the learning, with service as a secondary concern, or rather an afterthought.  No one in this group denies this when it is phrased as, “but learning is the most important thing,” which they say often, but several people looked uncomfortable when I stated that service is less important to this program.

We are literally service-learning about service-learning.

I didn’t realize that until today when a group was presenting about service-learning, and the many disciplines it is in.  Sociology, human services, nursing, even math.  But there’s something odd about the recursive nature of this program.

We haven’t taken any courses on Benin—its culture, history or language.   We’ve had a few short readings, and one week of language classes.  The language classes were on the large side, had only two levels, and complied with the typically dismal expectations of Americans as language learners.

The American ambassador to Benin responded to a question on Monday about how to handle aid ethically in Benin.  He felt that the problem is not being able to give them enough, because the Beninois always want more aid and never complain about it having imperialist strings attached.  I think, sir, that’s rather not the point.  Everyone wants money, sure, but is it ethical to give it the way we do?

I don’t like that we’re ignorant when we talk to the Beninois students, and that until earlier this week it wasn’t clear what the adjective form of Benin is.  I hear Beninese, Bee-inese and  Beninois.  Isn’t that a little disgusting?  Shouldn’t we at least know what to CALL them before we go in and analyze them for a day or two?  Isn’s a few days too short to make decisions about what to do with funding?

What do you think?  Do we have an obligation to spend more time before we make an analysis, draw a conclusion?  Should we know more than the local language?  Should people know at least the language?  Does it not matter because American tourists “never know anything”?  Is that even acceptable?  Should we be in a different category from tourists?

And now, I wonder that I won’t be labeled as negative and counter-productive if I continue to raise such concerns within the group, especially since that’s something for which I can be docked points.  Not what matters in the grand scheme of things, I know, but it would be nice to talk these things through.  I don’t want to just pull a nutty and yell at all the Human Services majors, but everyone seems so reluctant to venture into much more analytical thought on the matter.

So what do you think, my intelligent, well-intentioned readers?

UPDATE: Since writing this post about a week ago, the issue of ethics has gone from a whispered concern to a major topic of conversation, for almost everyone on the trip.  It’s always nice to be proven wrong when it comes to ethics and analytical thinking.  I’m pleased to say that we (the group, leaders, and organizations we interact with) will be adressing the issue continually for the next two weeks.

Traveler or Traitor?

Damn! Are we traitors? Un-American Commie sympathizers? Freedom Fry-eating liberal whackadoos? Or just misguided college kids?

In our discussion today, many people mentioned that they had received negative reactions to our trip.  They were called un-American or traitors, and chided for not volunteering at home, or treated as stupid for “wasting money” to volunteer abroad.  Here are some of my thoughts on the matter:

  • Our trip is service-learning, and for credit.  It actually costs less than a regular summer semester at NU would, if you include housing, food and such.  I would also be taking classes regardless of whether I traveled this summer, so the argument that my program fees are better spent on aid/charity doesn’t quite work here.
  • Many of the people who say things like, “why aren’t you doing something about all the poverty at home?!” aren’t actually doing anything about it either
  • Service doesn’t have to be either/or.  Volunteering at home and abroad is not mutually exclusive
  • Experiences abroad can make us better volunteers/employees back home
  • Things will never be perfect at home, so by that logic we (as people, a community and a nation) should never help any other country, state, neighborhood or even family.  That sort of logic doesn’t help make the world a better place, and if you start applying it to the prioritization of issues it is a virtual spiral into inaction
  • It is no one else’s decision but my own to determine my priorities and my path in life.  In other words, buzz off!  This is my money, my credits, my scholarships, and my time.  I’ll put it where I think it can benefit me and others the most.

What do you think?  Are we wasting our time and our money by going abroad?  Should we be focusing on Roxbury, the Reading food pantry and other such local isssues?  Is it better to do something like go work on Katrina relief effort, or is that not okay until we’re done fixing Massachusetts?  Would my tuition money be better spent at some charity or relief organization while I stay at home?  Should we, as an imperialist nation (and human beings) feel obligated to help?  Is helping foreigners un-American?

Alan Khazei for US Senator

Monday night, Alan Khazei (rhymes with “hazy”) spoke at a women’s forum.  There are only 47 days left until the special election for Teddy’s seat, and Khazei is running against AG Martha Coakley, Rep Mike Capuano, and that guy from the Celtics

I am ever the delegate, so of course I analyze his speeches and q&a the way I would any member of my team. 

 

What he got right:

  • Political lineage, AKA passing the torch.  He framed himself as a natural heir to such politicians as Lincoln, Teddy Kennedy, Tip O’Neill, Mayor Kevin White, Obama, and even (the relevent) Clinton
  • The trappings.  He had a cute little black girl sing the national anthem.  He let his daughter interupt him (adorably, after raising her hand) whenever she wanted.  He praised his wife endlessly, and let her have the last word. 
  • “Ask me about Alan.”  The constant use of his first name simultaneously makes him sound more friendly/approachable and less foreign/Middle Eastern.  I really dislike that he has to tread lightly around his Iranian heritage, but it’s a political reality and he has done it well.  He has played up the “son of immigrants/American Dream” narrative, and emphasized that his mother is Italian.  Whenever he mentions his father, he brings up that he is a doctor (read: respected, non-terrorist citizen) and that he raised him to love America, “the only country that accepted him with open arms.” 
  • His resume.  Co-founder of City Year, inspiration and protector of/for Americorps, founder of Be the Change.  This guy’s made a name for himself in social entrepreneurship.  How do you argue with that?
  • His treatment of Obama.  He showed how they are similar, but noted that he is also his own man.  He frames himself as a valuable member of Obama’s team who can play the role of the loyal dissident when the team needs him to, when Obama has to tow the line but needs to hear another perspective.  Well played, sir. 
  • His response to his competetors.  Coakley’s doing a great job as AG, we can’t afford to lose Capuano’s strength in the House, and after the Sox’ early elimination, we can’t afford not to have that guy running the C’s.  Entertaining, fairly truthful and it makes him seem like a helluva guy.  Whoever came up with it first deserves a raise. 

 

What I didn’t like:

  • Afghanistan.  This went over great with the crowd, but I’m hesitant about maintaining or declining troop levels.  That position is a response to domestic political pressure, but does not reflect the needs of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.  I want them to come home, too, and I didn’t really want them over there to begin with, but I think we are dangerously close to seriously mishandling the Afghanistan question yet again. 
  • The lack of foreign policy discussion.  Aside from the one Afghanistan question from the audience, there was nothing.  His website is similarly lacking.  I know people like to think about what the senator from Massachusetts will do for Mass, but let’s not forget that the senate has things to say about place outside of the 128 belt.  Outside of the 495 belt, even. 
  • What about Gen X/Y/the millenials/anyone under 40?  I mentioned to Marisa how odd it was that Khazei referred to himself as the “younger generation,” the “new generation,” who was accepting the torch from the likes of Kennedy.  This dude is old.  MY generation is new and young.  Sadly, in politics, 40 is like a teenager or something.  Which could be why he only adressed babies, young children, the elderly, and people my parents age.  Right, because from ages 12-39 people cease to exist.  It’s cool, Alan.  We’re an unimportant demographic anyway. 
  • The softball from the woman down front.  Of course, if this were a conference and he were my guy I would throw him meatballs too, but I like to think I do a better job of crafting a positive, worthwhile question than that woman did.  Also, this was a group of Khazei supporters.  They’re ALL meatballs.  

 

Bottom line: I’m voting for him.

Why America Needs Transformers

Last night I saw Transformers 2 in Imax, and I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. No, it is not high drama, and there are more plotholes and cheesey lines than I careto count, but that’s not the point. It was entertaining, and I think I, like all Americans, need a little bit of that in my life.

We’re at War
Transformers shows American military as powerful, creative and honorable. The soldiers fight hard and smart, and rise in the ranks through courage and hard work. America needs to see “our boys” in action, victorious, instead of just hearing about bodycounts, roadside bombs and military debt. We even get to see the US win in the Middle East for once.

We’re in a Recession
America needs an excuse to get out of the house and spend a little money (but really, only a little). We’re on a collective staycation, and it could use a little bit of a boost. While we all complain about the price of movies, it’s fairly cheap, as far as escapism goes. So get out there and foster our economy, just a little bit.

We Need a Win
L
et’s face it, no matter how goofy or ridiculous the movie is, it’s hard not to feel triumphant when the autobots kick some ass. This reason is tied to the two before it: as a nation, we’re feeling some collective ennui right now. This is especially so in New England where the summer decided to show up just last week. The economy is in the shitter, we’re still at war and the future is incredibly uncertain for so many. Every once in a while, it’s nice to just lose yourself in something and feel victorious. Coming quick on the heals of the 4th of July, Transformers 2 taps into the deep felt need for a swelling, grandiose score and many shots of the American flag, high atop our grandest buildings.

Right now a lot of people have to be very serious, almost all the time. Transformers 2 lets us indulge in hokey dialogue, overblown patriotism, transparent characters, amazing special effects and Megan Fox running in slow motion. So enjoy it, America. You deserve a break.

Originally posted Monday, July 20, 2009 at 3:04 PM

Ambassador

While in Egypt, we were reminded to be mindful of our actions.  They reflect on us, our group, our family, our school, our Egyptian hosts and our country.  Like it or not, for many Egyptians we were ambassadors to the United States.  We were their piece of America, their view of what it’s “really like.”  A certain obligation comes along with that sort of responsibility.  Likewise, now that I’m in the US, I feel a responsibility, sometimes overwhelming, to represent Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt, the Arab World, and my time there.

For a lot of friends and family, I am the only person they know who has ever been to Egypt, and in some cases to the Middle East.  There are already so many misconceptions about an area of the world to which I have accidentally devoted my schooling.  That’s a lot of pressure.  I’m doing my best to choose my words carefully, but even so I find myself constantly doubling back to edit myself and explain more deeply when I answer questions.  It’s not that I’m editing my experience, but rather the American perception of my experience.  I have already seen an off-handed comment or two get filed away as evidence to reinforce a negative perception or stereotype.

I do love, though, talking about Egypt.  I think we as a nation expend a lot of hot air on that part of the world, without really ever understanding or saying much.  If I can contribute positively in any way to the conversation, or maybe even understanding, then some of this high-priced education is paying off.  I do feel that this dialogue is perhaps the most important one, and I feel a personal obligation to help more truth enter the American conversation on the Middle East.  What can be difficult, however, is engaging with people at home on this. Everyone of course asks how my trip was, and my brief answer is generally, “It was great!  I can’t wait to go back!”  This answers the most obvious question after any life-altering decision: would you do it again?  But more than that, it tends to pique interest amongst those who see me as stubborn, independent and feminist.  As in, why the HELL does she wanna go back to that kind of country?  Which is the whole point: I want to provoke you into conversation.

Most people say, “Tell me about Egypt!”  They then look at me eagerly, eyes wide and mouth agape, in anticipation of God knows what.  How do you sum up six weeks of cultural immersion in a ne-sentence story?  Penelope Trunk talks about the art of turning experiences of your life or attributes into one sentence stories of your amazingness for interviews.  While that’s great for interviews, I refuse to do it for real life.  Real people have the time to sit down and ask questions.  That’s what I love–when people ask questions.  Things that seem silly, like “how was the food?” “was it hot?” or “did you wear a turban?” are useful in that they spark more conversation.  So ask me your questions, even if they seem ridiculous or totally un-PC, and I’ll do my best to be honest, for all our sakes.