20 September 2009


Last year, during the presidential race, the media and the republicans agressively commentend on Michelle Obama saying that she was finally proud to be an American. Everyone was shocked at how "un-patriotic" she was - wondered how anyone who was running for president could have a wife who was not proud to be an American.

I knew exactly how she felt. I have noticed that the only time I will admit to being an American, the only time that I will actually defend my country is when I am travelling. Much of this is because, being the rebel that I am, I want to prove to others that Americans are aware of what is going on in the world, that they are not all unintelligent, that they did not all support Bush and the war in Iraq, etc. Essentially, I want to break American stereotypes.

Breaking stereotypes, having people say to me, 'you are the first American I have gotten along with' or 'hmmm. Didn't know that about America and Americans' is quite thrilling. I enjoy being the person who opens people's eyes to the potential of Americans.

As I travel, I strive to be open to breaking the stereotypes that exist about others.


As I walked home yesterday, with my big shopping bags (coutesy of purchasing my linens from Primark), a man passed me as I was approaching my house. He walked passed me, noticed my struggles and then in a soft effeminate voice asked, "Would you like some help with that?" in a perfect British accent. I thanked him, "No I am almost home" but that did not stop my shock.

A few months prior to that, I read a book, recommended by some jolly English colleagues called Watching the English.  This book is an anthropological study of what makes the English English. Fascinating. But at the same time, not surprising. At the end of it all, it essentially boiled down to the fact that the English in public are a bunch of social bumblers who need rules or alcohol to actually be themselves.

So I entered into this situation with the knowledge that the English may not be the most open of all cultures. And this stereotype has consistently - much to the pleasure of the English themselves - been broken.

From the man asking if I needed help, to all of the people who laughed at me as I laughed at myself, I have been pleasantly surprised by the friendliness and helpfulness of the English. (Although a bit of me wonders if it is just because I have been appropriately friendly and full of laughter at myself first).

Nonetheless - a stereotype has been broken and I am encouraged by my interactions with the English...although throughout this whole process I feel more and more 'typically' American...a fact I am not very proud of and am trying to change. Not the American part - the typical part.


The French have amazing stereotypes against them, particularly the 'rude Parisians'. After my first visit to Paris, I came away surprised! The only really 'bad' experience that I had with Parisians was in a pharmacy when I was trying to find throat lozenges. I had a horribly cold, and wanted to find something to soothe my throat. This was also the first time that I entered a shop and started off with the sentence, "Parlez-vous francais?"

Prior to that I had operated 'in French mode', that is speaking in French to any native French person, from the waiters, shopkeepers, boulangers, etc. Most of the time they could tell from my butchered French accent that I was not a French speaker, so they would revert to English. However, sometimes they did not and we spoke exclusively in French (how my favourite creperie became my favourite).

The most emotion and the most 'rudeness' I received was a bit of a sigh as they reverted from French to English. The woman at the pharmacy was the rudest, begrudgingly (and slightly rudely) helping me and not understanding my requests for something to make my sore throat feel better.

I left with the knowledge that Parisians are very proud of their language - and if you approach them with the openness to learn their language, they are more likely to accept you and be nice to you.

My second experience with Paris only confirmed that fact. And actually found some of the individuals we interacted with quite lovely!


People groups are just a group of individuals. Stereotypes about groups only increases your judgements about them. This limits your openness to learning something new about that people group.

Stay open. Don't stereotype.

19 September 2009

white people + rap = hilarity

I just got home from seeing White Lies, Girls Aloud, Jay-Z and Coldplay at Wembley stadium.

(quick side note: all of them were awesome! particularly coldplay in the pouring rain, with the man in front of me whinging about the rain and then whinging when it stopped because it changed the atmosphere...and using the word whinging in a sentence...)

I was struck by a moment of hilarity during the Jay-Z part of the show.

Now, I am in London, England - which is full of English people...the majority happen to be white (at least at the concert).

Jay-Z, on the other hand, is a Black American man from New York City.

I wondered if I was the only person who fould it quite hilarious that a bunch of white men got so thrilled to 'bouce' their hands and bodies up and down, acting hardcore, while Jay-Z sang...sorry rapped It's a Hard-Knock Life.

oh the irony.

16 September 2009

Cheers London

I moved to London this last weekend. Wow. Coming back to St. Pancras Station this morning - returning from my trip to Paris - I came home. Not back to London; for a short holiday in England; just a quick stopover...No, this is where I live now. Indefinitely.
After watching the beautiful sunset displayed in the photo, I am now sitting in my very draft, oh so English flat contemplating all the errands I have to run tomorrow. Daunting, but very exciting.
And it just makes my mind go crazy with thoughts:
  • There are more Southern Africans here than I remember. I hope it leads to some good conversations
  • My room is super tiny, but oh so perfectly sized for me.
  • I climbed out the window to our "smoker's balcony" to view the sunset. In the US a balcony without a door to it would just not make sense. But here...perfectly normal
  • I am living with 4 kiwis (only 2 are here at the time, and a Italian woman subletting for a few more weeks) and I am having more trouble understanding them than I thought I would.
  • Many times over the last few days I have wanted to throw up over the fact that this is now home. My current address is no longer in the US. I think it just feels unreal.
  • For a BIG transition, this was really not too difficult. It had its moments of course, but this all ended up so smooth. Guess I am in the right place.
  • Chavs just don't do it for me. And WAGs annoy me. Give me a punk or a mod anyday.
  • I still have yet to hit up the pub. Maybe tomorrow?
I kind of like that word indefinitely. It leaves room for so much to happen. And I am excited to see where life takes me.

16 August 2009

Community Exegesis

A few weeks ago, I organised a volunteer day with World Vision. The morning was filled with sorting, moving boxes, packing and unpacking items, organising and in general getting somewhat sweaty and dirty. And we all loved it because it got us out of the office and away from our computers for the day.

The Afternoon was spent in an area of Los Angeles called MacArthur Park, which is located just west of downtown LA. They call it "In the Shadows of the Skyscrapers." This is the area WV chose to get involved in and create an Urban Development Programme. We all headed out here to get a tour of the area, to engage with the community and to become skilled in doing a community exegesis.

Prior to this experience, getting involved in anything with the term exegesis in it returned me to my college theology course, reminding me of spending hours over a specific chapter of the Bible, writing down what specifically happened in each individual verse and what that meant, both to the verse and to the chapter as a whole. I did not really enjoy it. It was tedious, detailed, and did not bring me to some sort of deeper faith.

A Community Exegesis is something that is similar in theory, but very different in how you do it. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. So I would like to spread the knowledge we picked up, so that people can experience communities all over. Due to not wanting to make this blog a novel, I will likely leave the exegesis of MacArther Park to my next post.
The purpose of a community exegesis is to get to know a particular neighbourhood more in depthly. From this exercise you should be able to tell the history of that community, who lived there, who lives there now, and most interestingly where the community is headed.

1) First of all, you cannot do this exercise from a car or from your home. You must be out in and amongst the community - wear good walking shoes.
2) Work on your observation skills. Look very closely at:
- The People: Who lives there? What do they look like? What language do they speak? Where does it appear they are from? Be specific. Noticing that there are a lot of Spanish speakers and then assuming that they all come from Mexico is not good exegeting. And it is stereotyping - Refrain from stereotyping.

- The Buildings: What type are they? Are they all cookie cutter or do they each have their own distinct pieces? How far apart are they? What about from the street? Are there green areas in and around them? If they are apartment buildings, do they have balconies and do those balconies have personalisations or decorations on them?

- The Shops: What type of shops can be found in the community? Are they mostly chain stores? Do they cater to those who have excess or lack of incomes? Do they have an ethnic speciality? Do they offer deals towards one ethnicity over another?

- The Restaurants: Similar questions. What genre of food can be found in that community? Note any types of restaurants that seem out of place (such as a Vietnamese restaurant in a sea of Mexican food). If there are, consider if it is really out of place or just an additional piece to its history? Are there mostly chain restuarants or more mom & pop places? Are there high-end eateries available? What foods and types of foods are readily available to the community? Do they sell food only in sanctioned stores and restaurants or is some available just off the street as well?

- The "Art": Is there graffiti around? What does that graffiti look like? Is it indicative of a gang(s)? Do you see a symbol repetitive enough to be a 'signature'? Or is it graffiti art - a sanctioned mural created by the community? What does this indicate? Note - a community's morals and future are usually heavily depicted in this type of 'street art'.

3) After you have coallated all this information, look at the overwhelming themes. You should have a clear picture of who lives there, as well as their social class, ethnicity, and general age demographic. Finding their history and their future will take a bit more analysis and processing. Enjoy this.

If you have time, talk with some people living in the community. If you do not understand something, ask. Obviously, this is the easiest way to exegete a community. And you will probably meet some really awesome people if you do.

25 July 2009

I never wanted to go to India

I never wanted to go to India. Something about the potent food, massive crowds and uncomfortable experiences with Indian men. So when I found myself bound for Pune, destined to be a bridesmaid in my college roommate’s wedding, my expectations of this Indian experience were low.

For the most part, India exceeded my expectations. Pune is a clean city, by Indian standards, the food was edible, and the men were polite, if they paid us any attention at all.

It also ended up being more stressful than expected. From assisting in the creation of an American wedding in India, to ensuring that friends who had never experienced a non-Western world before were safe and aware, to worrying that a rickshaw driver was actually taking us where we wanted to go, I became overwhelmed rather than excited. By the end of the wedding reception, I was exhausted and ready for a stiff drink…but even that turned out to be more of a hassle than relaxing! At the end of the night I told myself, “I have one day left here, then I can leave this chaotic place.”

On that last day, I had scheduled a tour of World Vision’s Area Development Programme (ADP) in Pune. World Vision works all over India and has about 2,000 sponsored children in the Pune ADP.

We exited our vehicle at the first slum, Ramtekdi, where I found I was apprehensive. As much as I pride myself on being well-travelled and aware, I worried that the Indian slum would break this strong, thick exterior I have cultivated.

As we approached our first stop, we received the obligatory stares from adults and smiles from children. Dada was our first encounter. He is the father of 2 little girls, Sakshi and Samiksha. Sakshi shyly peaked at us from behind Dada’s legs, but Samiksha openly stared. Dada and his wife had known nothing but poverty, having lived in that slum their entire lives. With a small loan, Dada was able to purchase a few old bikes, which he fixed up and started renting out by the hour or day. In essence, he became a small businessman. And his business quickly grew. When we met him, he stored his rentable bikes not only in the passageway between houses, but actually in half of his house! Now he was able to afford food, education, electricity, a TV, and even karate lessons for little Sakshi. When I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she replied a policewoman. Thanks to her father’s small business, that is now a possibility.

We went to visit Urmila next. She owned a seamstress shop, which she ran out of her house. She purchases scraps of fabric from clothing companies cheaply to make clothing, particularly for children. She also mends clothes for people around the slum. We admired her myriad of beautiful fabrics and watched while she quickly sewed buttons as we talked. She received her first sewing machine from World Vision which she taught herself on, and then started a small business. She now has 4 sewing machines and 8 employees. While talking with our tour guide, we found out about the Community Loan Banks that prevail in Indian slums, which Urmila is a part of.

Women in these slum communities created small loan banks of around 11-12 women. Each small business owner contributes a monthly fee to the bank, which goes into an account that the women can take loans from. The loans are usually for the purpose of an unknown expense, such as a sickness, hospital fee, or travelling to visit family. This is a grassroots loan bank, managed by community volunteers. The rate of default on these loans is virtually non-existent. World Vision donates to community women so that they can take the donation, make money, and help other women and families in the community through this loan program.

Our next visit was to a bangle bracelet shop owner. Ujwala received 5,000 rupees worth of bracelets from World Vision. In Indian culture, new bangle bracelets are purchased at every new milestone in life, particularly at weddings. Her bangle shop was alive and thriving with many different styles and colours. While we were talking with her, we had the opportunity to purchase bangles from her – ten bangles for 100 rupees. As she meshed and moulded our hands to get the tightest fit, we learned from her that she has three children, aged 13, 11 and 10. Because of her bangle sales, she was able to pay for all of their school fees, contribute to her husband’s rickshaw driver salary, and take part in her local community-owned loan bank. It almost brought tears to my eyes when she told us that she was able to help out her mother-in-law by paying for a necessary surgery. Her pride was contagious.
During this conversation we had children and neighbours standing at the door listening and watching us. The sense of community was incandescent. From the community bank to neighbourly interactions, I was sadly reminded of how individualistic the US and much of the West is. We live our lives so separate from each other. The slums in India remind me of how things should be, of how things used to be. It reminded me of how important conversing with people is. It reminded me that no one is an island – everyone matters.

Ujwala was so welcoming and open about her life to us, strangers from across the globe. We also experienced that at our next stop. We travelled to another slum about half and hour away, called Darodema, in a beautiful, tree-filled area of Pune. The hospitality shown by the men and women of the Ramtekdi slum continued here as we saw a World Vision health check up and visited another family.

We happened to visit the programme on their annual health check-up day. At this particular slum, there were about 50 children getting their check-up that day. Each year, a group of doctors from a local hospital volunteer their time to record the statistics on sponsored children for the last year: height, weight, and any changes in the health of the child. The children ranged in age from about 3 years old to 14. All appeared to be healthy and living life to the fullest. As we watched, children would toddle over to the height and weight station where an assistant would take their measurements. They would next head over to chat with a doctor. She would ask the child if they were experiencing any pain or uncomfortability anywhere. Many shook their head no. A young girl pointed to her elbow, and the doctor responded by feeling the area.

After a teenage girl had completed the cycle, she shyly walked over and we asked her questions: “How long had she been in the programme? How many siblings does she have? Is she the oldest? What does she want to be when she grows up?” She wants to be a flight attendant – but the most amazing part is that it is a possibility for her. She does not have to continue the cycle of poverty in the slums of India.
Our final stop was to a woman who made chapatti to sell out of her home. Prior to her engagement with World Vision, she was making the chapatti by hand, which she would sell at the local market. She received a gas-powered mixer which has allowed her to increase her productivity at least ten-fold. She now sells her chapatti to a neighbouring hotel, delivered fresh every morning. Of course this has also increased her income, which has allowed her to contribute more to the community loan bank.

Her family assists in this endeavour as well – mixing, setting up the stove, packaging, delivering. She was so eager to show us how the machine worked! We each got a taste of fresh chapatti – made right before out eyes.

To this day, I reflect with wonder at the hospitality, pride and giving nature of these men and women we met in the slums of India. I still feel guilty – here we were, a group of American women who comparatively have had very easy lives, and we were welcomed into homes, asked personal questions and given food. At the last house we entered, we left with coconuts which the Indians value highly for its many uses.

For being a country that started so low on my “desired-places-to-go” list, India sent me many surprises and life experiences. But what it brought me most was an interaction with some of the most amazing men, women and children. It showed me that people everywhere deserve the opportunity to hope, to provide and to give back to their community. And in many places around the globe, they actually want to.

I never wanted to go to India. But I would go again in a heartbeat.

24 July 2009

No Man is an Island

Have you ever noticed that life tends to move in themes...and that many times those themes are very relevant to your own life?

Well, lately I have noticed two very interesting traits/characteristics about the Western world. It started out as just one theme but now another trait is becoming apparent - I fear becoming the next "theme" of life. The first one I noticed specifically in the US, the other specifically in developed countries.

I have categorically refused to pay any attention to all the hullabaloo surrounding Michael Jackson's death. I see his photo or his name on a news site and skip right over it without even reading the heading, definitely completely ignoring the article. But of course, since I do not live in a cave, some information has managed to seep in - and this was where I was struck with the "theme" of the last 2 weeks.

Whenever negative things happen, Americans consistently attempt to place blame on anyone else but themselves. It's always someone else's fault, or something got it the way, or they should be sued for wrongful such-and-such. Anything but to take responsibility for the action.

When we learn to drive, we are taught that if you get in an accident never say it is your fault. When I was 12, I was in an accident with my mother where the man ran a red light and hit us. It was a scandle that he got out of the car and took the blame for what was rightfully his fault! Later my dad gave us the lecture about never taking blame when you are in a car accident, saying that what this man did was the wrong response.

In the last 2 weeks, I feel like I have been surrounded by examples of people placing the blame on someone else - Michael Jackson and his doctor, Adam and Eve, stupid lawsuits, divorces over irreconcilable differences. And every time, I am struck by how horrible a trait this is! This is what keeps us from being friendly, helpful, from looking out for our neighbors or even for strangers. Where has the trust gone? Where has goodness gone?

Man Up! Take Responsibility! Admit that you cannot walk straight and that it is your fault that you trip over a crack in the sidewalk. Admit that you gave up on the relationship long before your irreconcilable differences! Stop blaming others!

In many ways, I feel like the other trait that I am starting to notice is just another side of the coin - and is something I struggle with a bit more openly. And this is a combination of pride, egotism, and in general just being full of yourself. Yet again this trait is super unattractive and keeps us from getting to know and trust each other.

I know I tend to be a bit more self-focused, but observing this trait in others has actually made me really hate that part of myself.

John Donne said, "No man is an island." So how do societies become so self-focused, yet not wanting to take responsibility, so individualistic and so mistrusting?

I only hope that these "themes" will come out with a happy ending. That there is some light at the end of the tunnel that shows that humanity is not completely hopeless.

And apologies for this post of jumbled, mostly incoherent thoughts. I have not been able to communicate well as of late.

19 July 2009

Top 5...

It's been floating around for about 6 months now...you know, that "Top 5" application on Facebook. You can rate your top 5 beers, your top 5 things that start with the same letter as your name, your top 5 people you do not want to see standing at the foot of your bed...and on and on.

I usually am not involved in this annoyance, but recently, I came across the Top 5 Countries I want to visit. This got me thinking...what are MY top 5?

As I pondered, I realised there is no WAY I could create a top 5. So I am coming here today to do a stream-of-conscious written list...let's see how many I pick out. And then from there, let's see if it is possible for me to create a Top 5 or 6 or 7 or 10...you get the picture.

Here we go:
  • DRC
  • Cuba
  • New Zealand
  • Russia
  • Lebanon
  • Vietnam
  • Peru
  • Ecuador
  • Morocco
  • Rwanda
  • Iran
  • Pakistan
  • China, particularly Tibet
  • Thailand
  • Romania, specifically Transylvania
  • Sweden
  • Italy
  • Argentina
  • Costa Rica
Ok, let's stop there. I did that all in about 2 minutes...just went around the globe in my head. And came up with 19. Now comes the narrowing down bit. For which I will have to name reasons.
1) Has to be the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My heart has been there for so long - from the horrible situation of the people, to the plight of the gorillas, to the beauty of the rainforest, to the fact that they speak French there (along with other tribal languages of course) - this country has it all for me. One day.
*Credit to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Congo_maluku.jpg
2) I think I have to go with China, particularly Tibet. This is because China is not just China, but also includes a number of areas (that may or may not have been their own autonomous countries at one point or another) that I would like to visit. Tibet for the mountains, poverty and religiousity. Hong Kong for the skyline and innovation (not particularly for the polution though). Taiwan to visit our favourite foreign exchange student growing up - and her family. And then of course, there is the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the normal "Chinese" tourist activities, including walking in rice paddies.
3) Morocco. I have heard that the beauty of this desert country is staggering. More pluses include the markets, or souks, the bedouin culture, Arabic language, and the camels. Don't even get me started on the camels!
4) I have to throw a "Western" nation in here, so that has got to be New Zealand...even though it's in the south-eastern hemisphere...lol. The reasons for this are similar to many other countries: beauty between the mountains and sea, laid-back culture, 10 sheep to 1 Kiwi - and even the fact that they are known as Kiwis adds to my reasons, penguins in the south, and its renowned Extreme activities - skydiving being the one I am particularly interested in. I know I will get to this country eventually, even if I have to wait until retirement to do it.
* Photo Recognition goes to: http://blandforddailyphoto.blogspot.com/
5) For the last spot in my top 5, I have to go with Peru. I want to get to South America at one point or another and Peru is the country at the top of that list almost solely for 1 reason: Macchu Pichu. The hike to and from this wonder of the world is glorious (from what I have heard) but what you see at the top is the creme-de-la-creme of history. I want to walk in one of the oldest places of humanity in the western hemisphere. And then of course there are the Alpacas.
Wow. I am impressed I was able to narrow it down. Wish me luck on my quest to visit my top 19, and my top 5 in particular!

18 July 2009

Freedom of Movement

In July 2006, I found myself in Nairobi, Kenya for 3 weeks coordinating and getting feedback on IT training courses. They do not call it "Nairobbery" for no reason, and I found my time here some of the most fascinating that I have ever spent in another country.

About 2 weeks prior to my arrival, one of my best friends - who was living there at the time - had the property that she lived on broken into and all three houses were ransacked..including the home of her 80+-yr old landlady. My friend was not home at the time, but her landlady was. The robbers tied her and her gardener and cook up and placed them under a mattress, where they stayed for 6 hours.

I found this out upon arrival, where I also learned that once 6:30pm hit (about 30min before sunset), every person in the city sequoisterd themselves in whatever property they were on at the time, emerging only in the relative safety of a taxi.

I described my time there as a love-hate relationship with the city. During the daytime, the city was beautiful and eye-opening. During the night, the city was scary and limiting. Many evenings I would end up in my hotel room - working or reading - or at the hotel restaurant getting lectured by the waiter on how and when to say "Asante Sana" instead of "Thank You".

My first day in our office there, I was informed that I needed a security briefing. We were not able to schedule that for a few days. In the meantime, as usual on all trips, I walked around to learn about the city. I walked around the city centre to a large park where I just people watched. My friend and I took a Matatu (small bus-type thing where they squeeze as many as 16 people into a van that we would expect to seat 8 at the most) to a local market. I walked the red roads from the training centre to the office. I learned to become shocked when there was actually a sidewalk available.

At the security briefing, I was trained on how to ride in a taxi (windows up, doors locked), on how far I was allowed to stray from the hotel (only walk to the office and back), and was then lectured on how much I had been walking around, particularly around the city centre. I didn't even mention the Matatu.

Although I now understand the lecture was a good thing to hear (another co-worker was caught in cross-fire in the city centre about 4 months after I had been there), I heard it, took notes, and "lessened" my walking. But the security issues of the city were never far from my mind.

One night, my friend and her co-worker and I decided to go out to dinner at this newer restaurant across the street and down a little from her house. The restaurant opened at 7pm, after our "curfew", so we had to make the decision...Do we walk there and back (less than 300m away) or do we do the smart thing and take a taxi (again...only 300m). We ended up just running that distance as fast as we could. But I was struck with how strange it is - considering how to go from one place to another 300m away.

Another night, I was meeting with some of the "suits" that had organised the training at a restaurant that took me 2 minutes to walk to. Until the end of the meal, I was planning on asking one of the waiters or front men to just walk with me back to the front gates of the hotel. They are so close. I ended up sharing a taxi, because the rest of the group needed one anyway.

I never realised how valuable freedom of movement is until this trip, which is why it was so fascinating. The way that I reacted mentally and physically was very intriguing because it was unexpected. I became depressed a lot easier and quicker. I developed my aforementioned love-hate relationship with Nairobi. In my one night stop-over in Amsterdam on the way back home, I literally walked through the streets until past 11pm with my arms open breathing deeply and saying to myself, "I am doing this just because I can".

And my experience is nothing compared to many around the world: Native Nairobians for whom this life is normal; Palestinians living in the West Bank who are now unable to get to work, to visit family, to go to the hospital because it is on the other side of a great wall.

Nelson Mandela said, "For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."

I knew that going to Nairobi would change my perspective, but I never knew how much. Having my freedom of movement restricted makes me think about the freedoms I am blessed with as a US citizen, and the freedoms that some have taken away from them - or have never had. I want others to feel how I felt in Amsterdam. They are free and they do things just because they can.

08 July 2009

Thoughts on American Ironies

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

This quote is engraved at the feet of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, written there with the intent that all those who emigrated through Ellis Island to the US would read this and realise that this land, created by immigrants, would be their new home - a place of freedom.

And in our Declaration of Independence -
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalineable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I have been reminded in recent days, with our national Independence Day (4th of July) and through conversations and presentations, just how the US was formed and more interestingly, where we are going.

The US was formed in the late 1600s by immigrants, mostly from Western Europe. At that time, we were claimed as a territory - parts by England, parts by France, some by Spain and others. And as we all learn in primary school, these immigrants, fed up by the control of England, staged - and won - the Revolutionary War.

This fact, that the US was created by Revolutionaries, occupied my mind on the 4th of July. Revolutionaries is just an antonym for terrorist. These men that we hold to such honor and respect, in todays terms and in another country, we would call terrorists. What was the "Boston Tea Party"? An act of "terror" against an "oppressive regime".

I love that the US, the instigator of the War on Terror, has forgotten where it came from, its roots, to boldly state that we are against terror. I believe we would even say that we are against revolutionaries now (we did in the 60s at least).

And of course, when I say "love" I mean "I find very ironic"

We have also forgotten our roots of who the US was created by. In a conversation with a colleague yesterday, he mentioned that the population in most Western countries is in decline. People are not procreating enough to sustain their population numbers. So this means that for Western economies to continue growing, we are going to have to bring in a new population to enhance the workforce...Immigrants.

The US view of immigrants is quite mixed. Many (mainly upper-middle class white families) find it appalling that there are undocumented workers here in the US, that they are draining our healthcare system, taking our tax money and not contributing to our society in anyway, except to leech off it. Leeches, I have actually heard them called.

The government continues to talk about our "immigration problem" but has yet to put forward a tangible plan to better our interactions with the immigrant community.

I had conversations with some young students a few weeks ago talking about their experiences. Some of them are undocumented, some have a social security number but their parents do not, all are bilingual. And all have ambitions to change their communities and the way the US government interacts with illegal immigrants. They are pro-active, intelligent and dedicated. Not unlike myself and my friends at that age.

What these "upper-middle class twits" fail to include in their analysis of the immigration "problem" is that most of these individuals have moved here for the American dream that our Statue of Liberty and Declaration of Independence has promised. All they want to do is afford to give their children opportunities that they did not have. Many are also contributing to their own parents and families back in their home country as well. They do not include how these illegal immigrants contribute to our economy by doing jobs that we deem ourselves to worthy to take: picking fruits and vegetables, owning AMAZING Mexican food restaurants, giving us manicures and pedicures.

If our past and our future - and the future of all Western nations - lies in immigrants, shouldn't we give them more respect? and perhaps...just perhaps...more rights? Give our tired, our poor room to breathe free?
Image from: Parklands cobbler on Wikipedia

07 July 2009

The Great Cassava Debate

I was just reading through an old blog of mine from my travels in 2006 and 2007. It's funny reading something that, really is not old, but feels old. I feel like I have matured quite a bit since then...thankfully.

But I something I read made me laugh for a different reason: the Great Cassava Debate. In 2007, I traveled to Dubai with work to attend/participate in meetings. One set of meetings was with just my "line of business", involving only myself, my boss and 2 others. One of the two, Eric, is still on my team today, a Kenyan who lives full time in Dubai.

On one of my last days there, we all went out to lunch and somehow got onto the topic of cassava, a "thing" that is somewhat similar to a potato in both taste and texture. Cassava is a staple carbohydrate for much of Africa. It is also called Yuca in Latin America, which is how I have eaten it here in the US.

I say "thing" because it relates to the conversation. We ended up debating what a Cassava was for the entire lunch. Is it a fruit? Is it a vegetable? Is it other? This debate continues to this day! And two years later, we still debate it regularly - probably about once every 6 months or whenever there is another native African around to support Eric's opinion.

Most of us defined it as a vegetable...including the waiters and waitresses at the restaurant, whom we forced to involve in the discussion. Eric, however, was adamant. Cassava could not be defined as a vegetable! No, it is a tuber...like a potato! And we would retort: but a potato is a vegetable! To which he would respond, No, a potato is a Tuber!

And it just continued...still continues.

I suppose it just shows how stubborn we all are being unable to concede, after 2 YEARS, one way or the other.

But I thought I would take the time to post some interesting facts about Cassava. It is not eaten much in Western nations, unless by families who have emigrated from societies where it is eaten. So we do not know much about it here.
  • It is grown in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world.
  • It is the 3rd largest source of carbohydrates for human food in the world! Africa is the continent that produces (and I believe consumes) the most.
  • We are somewhat familiar with what its root flour is: tapioca
  • So for those who enjoy Boba or Bubble Tea (depending on what they call it where you are), you are partaking in the Cassava plant.
  • They are also a good source of calcium and vitamin C.
  • Cassava roots and leaves cannot be consumed raw because they contain different kinds of cyanide, which, depending on how much you ingest, can lead to paralysation and/or death by malnutrition.
  • Societies that are used to eating Cassava, however, are experts at cooking Cassava to remove the toxins, whether through soaking (up to 3 days!), boiling, fermenting and more.
And yet...nothing definitive as to whether you can call it a vegetable or if you must refer to it as a tuber...the debate continues...

01 July 2009

Palestinian Prayer

While travelling in Hungary this last May, I met a Lebanese man…well, a Palestinian man whose family lives in Lebanon. I say lives in Lebanon, because they are technically not Lebanese. They have been in Lebanon since 1948 when they ran from Palestine to Lebanon as refugees. Because of Lebanese laws, him and his family are not allowed to get legal jobs, are not even considered “second-class citizens” because they are not legal citizens. After 3 generations, they are still refugees, living in refugee camps.

In some research I completed recently, I found that refugee camps in Lebanon and other countries surrounding Israel and Palestine instead of growing out, or shutting down like most refugee camps, have been growing up, becoming cities of their own. Cities filled with individuals who have increasing health problems, have to work illegally, and have no promise of ever being to go back home. You see, in 1948, their land, which may have been in their family for generations, was handed over to Israelis. Even though they may have the actual keys to a house in Israel, they will never be allowed back in. It is not their home anymore.

But the country they fled to is not their home either. They struggle to provide for their families, to keep their children healthy, to convince themselves they have a future.

This plight has occupied my mind ever since my conversation with this man. Today, at World Vision’s chapel, we had one of our Palestinian colleagues come talk to us about her experience growing up in East Jerusalem. She requested that I be a part of a group of people praying for a piece of this conflict: one prayed for people in the West Bank and Gaza who had their homes and land destroyed, and another prayed as a call to justice. I immediately thought of the Palestinian refugee situation.

Below is my prayer and a link to where you can find more information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
God, I raise up in prayer to you the millions of people, the families who have been displaced by this situation. The UN has declared this the World’s Longest Refugee Crisis. Father God, many of them have been living in refugee camps for 3 generations or more, without a permanent home, unable to get a legal job, despairing that they are unable to care for their families, feeling like they are forgotten by the rest of the world. I thank you Lord that even though they may be forgotten by us here, they will never be forgotten by you.

Father God, I pray for the governments hosting these refugees: Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and others. Many of these countries do not know how to adjust with this influx, even after 60 years. As crazy a prayer it may be, God I pray that you will allow these countries to look past ethnic barriers to focus on giving these individuals the rights they deserve.

I also pray for the organisations helping these refugees, that you will give them the courage to advocate on their behalf, the resources to continue and the wisdom to use them wisely.

And God, I pray for the 4.6 million Palestinian refugees. I pray that you will give them hope and strength to continue, to provide for their families, to keep pursuing justice.

AlertNet Crisis Profile:

WV Middle East/Eastern Europe Website:


a couple of weekends ago, i attended la fete de la musique. This day, celebrated on the summer solstice, is a day filled with music. i was lucky enough to live in a city that celebrated this occasion by hosting concerts in venues throughout their old town.

so, armed with my plastic bottle filled with diet coke and malibu rum, i walked (gotta stay safe!) down to our old town to enjoy some music. Being the person i am, i of course researched the acts prior to my attendance, and i went with the intention of seeing 2 or 3 different individuals/bands.

at the end of the day, i realised something. i had spent the last 6 hours traversing from culture to culture to culture. From the French singer/songwriter, to the Caribbean Blues artist, to the indie rock female-fronted band, and back to the chicano rock act - all while reading a socio-anthropological study of the English, i had enjoyed a myriad of different cultures. And the interesting part was that i felt like a piece of me fit with each one of them.

i feel like not many people in this world are what I call "culturally ambiguous". When i use this term i mean someone who floats easily from culture to culture and does not feel out of place, or more specifically, does not look it.

i took a mexican american friend to a British pub a few weeks prior to this day, and later laughed at how out of place he looked and how awkward he acted. cultural ambiguity is an interesting concept.

i have had the opportunity to visit Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and of course have grown up in North America with its chicano (mexican american) sub-culture. of course i am not fluent in any of these cultures...not even the American one, but in each location, i fell in love with bits and pieces of it.

i am dedicating this blog to my intriguing interactions with different cultures on my quest to continue becoming more culturally ambiguous.