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Blogs from Abroad
Blogs from Santa Clara University students studying abroad.
Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010 9:30 PM
Bonjour from Burkina!
I just spent a week in Bereba, a village in the Southwest.
It was an experience and I’m unsure whether I liked it or not. The difficult parts about living in Burkina-heat, humidity, dust/mud depending on weather, mosquitoes, concerns about food/water safety-are exacerbated in the village. The positives differ from those in Ouaga-great music, beautiful expansive sky.
• “Why are my feet getting wet?” -transportation to the village
• “You might get some bites in weird places.” -living without running water or electricity
• Do caterpillars contain vitamins? -village meals
• Dirt poor. Literally. “But SO much better than Guinea.” - the village
• Q&A with the Chef de Terre - a poignant meeting the village chief
• “We’re waiting for them to kill the white cock first.” -tourism in an African village
“Why are my feet getting wet?” -transportation to the village
I’m seated in the backseat of a sedan. My water bottle isn’t leaking, so why are my feet getting wet? I look down to see brown water rapidly rising to the level of my seat. My skirt starts to get wet as I squirm to move my feet and my backpack to higher ground. We are driving through another deep muddy puddle on our way from the town of Hounde to the village of Bereba. Later, the two program chauffeurs have us evacuate and some local men with impeccable timing show up to push the car and the bus. 20 or so kilometers took one hour.
“You might get some bites in weird places.” -living without running water or electricity
I stayed with a Peace Corps Volunteer, which gave me a great chance to learn about Peace Corps and her girl’s education and empowerment projects. Per Peace Corps’ requirements, she had a walled-in latrine/shower area and mosquito netting on the door and the windows. (Windows usually just have metal blinds.) Shower is a misnomer: a small walled area with a drainage hole just above ground level on the far wall. Showering involves splashing oneself with cold water from a bucket. The toilet is a hole in the ground, with a rusty metal disk to cover it. “I push it over with my foot, and it’s only me using it,” said my host. Due to the darkness, I thankfully didn’t see the bugs that fell onto or through my mosquito net until morning.
Do caterpillars contain vitamins? -village meals
Gelatinous, flavorless, solidified Cream of Wheat. Gummy, pasty, jello. I had to stifle the urge to throw up my first bite of tô, a porridge-like village staple made of water and ground sorghum. About half of the group turned to stashed-away Luna bars for lunch. The food wasn’t that great, and the village has no fresh fruit. No wonder I see so many kids with enlarged stomachs- tô lacks nutrients in addition to taste.
“Surprisingly dry for being fried, and coarse like I would imagine wood to taste, but just keep chewing,” I thought to myself as I gnawed away at fried caterpillar and reached for my glass of tonic water. I have now officially tried Some Weird Foreign Food that Americans Think is Gross. Our last day, we stopped at a restaurant in Hounde and my professor pulled fried caterpillars out of his shirt pocket, where he was keeping a villager’s gift. I hesitated for a bit before deciding to try one before I could talk myself out of it.
Dirt poor. Literally. “But SO much better than Guinea.” - the village
Southwest Burkina has more lush green vegetation than Ouagadougou, and the vast open sky was beautiful at night when not filled with rain clouds. Bushes and shrubs encroach on windy footpaths. I managed to figure out how to walk to one of the student houses where we ate meals, which is quite an accomplishment since most houses are scattered about amidst low trees and brush. In the market area, filled with low stands made with thatched-roof and wood poles, a large tree at the center drew “Aviator” movie comparisons.
Overwhelming, pervasive, depressing… I’ve been struggling how to describe the incredible poverty, and words just don’t convey the village. The poverty overwhelmed me, especially the first couple days, and was certainly the most striking aspect of my time in the village, even more so than the lack of amenities. I suppose one could actually say that the villagers are dirt poor, as their houses are made from mud brick. Everywhere I looked, I saw obvious and subtle needs: for more nutritious food, better jobs, more jobs, dental hygiene, family planning, education about clean water, level roads, more teachers, more classrooms, eye care (no one had glasses), …the list goes on, and that’s even before naming electricity and in-home running water. And yet as the county seat, Bereba has many things that many villages don’t have: several water pumps to get clean water, a primary school, a secondary schools, a community library, a railroad station, a bread bakery, a health clinic, a maternity clinic, a mayor’s office, a police station, a new mosque donated by Kuwait… My Peace Corps host had been placed in Guinea for seven months before being evacuated, and she emphasized that Burkina was much nicer.
Q&A with the Chef de Terre - a poignant meeting the village chief
Wearing matching green plaid pants and sport coat, bright blue flip flops, and silver-rimmed sunglasses, the chef de terre received us outside his house reclined in a common stick chair. I expected a sort of self-righteous, backward-looking man who was mostly interested with preserving his power. Instead, I met a thoughtful leader with a clear concern for his people. Laci, whose name means “the chief must not get angry,” shared his desires for Bereba to develop and for its people to have knowledge. [Burkina has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, even for a poor country, hovering around 23% and lower for women.] Without prompting, the chief said his biggest worry is for the education of the village youth. He wants all the kids to go school but he worries for the village because there are not enough classrooms or teachers. Class size averages 100-150 students. As I sat with six SCU students in my French class at the local middle school, I tried to ponder having 143 others in the same classroom. Plus, for the past several years, the middle school has not had French, English, PE, or math teachers. Hence, it’s not surprising that few students pass the high school entrance exam that has a large English component. “What can Bereba do?” he asked us. “What can I do? What can you do?” What haunting questions.
On a lighter note…
“We’re waiting for them to kill the white cock first.” -tourism in an African village
Burkina Faso doesn’t have much tourism (could many people even find it on a map?), and Bereba, the village I was in, is no exception. Nonetheless, I did manage to experience a mask dance, commissioned by my program. The masque wore a wooden mask in the shape of a chicken, and a shirt/pants ensemble made of plant fibers that flew out to the side when he danced but made him resemble an overweight scarecrow when he stood still. In order for the griots, the traditional musicians and storytellers, to have a mask ceremony, they had to sacrifice a white cock. Luckily there are no PETA members in our group. [Check out a photo here: www.favl.org/blog/archives/reading-west-africa-program/ ]
The last morning I went on an early morning ox cart ride. Yep, like Oregon Trail or a pumpkin patch hayride, twelve people sat on a metal cart as two strong oxen trotted out to the fields. The farmer pulled out a peanut plant for us to taste; fresh peanuts have the moist and crunchy texture of a carrot.
On other days, locals took us on small group tours: “This is the train station. This is the market. This is the chief. This is the school. This is where another white person lives [the Peace Corps Volunteer]. This is a woman making dolo [home-brewed millet beer]. Here, have some. Is it made with open well water you ask? Well, you’ll probably be fine.”
Returning to Ouaga, I was relieved to have fruit, fans, and flush toilets. I’ll now have a few weeks in Ouaga before returning to the villages for a month-long stay. My house in Ouaga is just south of this road on the third street left of the canal running north/south and intersecting the big horizontal road (Charles de Gaulle). Confused? That’s pretty much how directions work here.This week I start photography classes and will be working on a simple children’s book. I’m contemplating the theme of opposites: hot/cold, near/far, tall/short, dark/light. In the meantime, I'll be appreciating running water and ceiling fans!
P.S. Thanks for the e-mails! I apologize for the lack of communication online. I’ve been trying to send this e-mail for a week now. We were told we’d have internet at the house, but the USB internet keys rarely work. The internet café is often closed when it says it’s open, and, to give you a perspective on the speed, it’s taken me 35 minutes just to load my inbox. Be grateful for hi-speed wifi!
Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010 12:00 AM
We’re low on quality television here in the desert. Near as I can tell, about ninety percent of programming falls into one of two categories: hyper-dramatic Arab music videos or what appear to be Koran-based game shows. Accordingly, the small sliver of time I’m able to waste watching television is usually devoted to the lone all-English network, BBC World News.
I caught the tail end of an interview with former first lady Laura Bush the other day. She was discussing the importance of safeguarding women’s rights in Afghanistan as negotiations with the Taliban get underway. One can’t really to disagree with that position. Never mind that yesterday on Al Jazeera I watched an interview with a Taliban official who did just that. Needless to say, that guy didn’t convince me. But I found myself put off by some of what Laura was saying as well. Namely, she referred to the necessarily slow speed at which women’s rights in the Muslim world progress, and attributed this developmental lethargy to a “deep seated misogyny” within Muslim culture. This irked me. Something about applying the word “misogyny” to an entire culture just seemed wrong.
Admittedly, Mrs. Bush was speaking about Afghan – not Arab –culture. As such, I can’t speak with much authority about the merits of her statement (hell, I can’t speak with much authority about anything). Still, it reminded me of the conception of gender relations which I held before showing up in Amman. Since living here, however, my view has grown a little more nuanced.
True, women in Jordan and Arab countries in general, are largely without the opportunities enjoyed by their stateside counterparts. True, I’ve heard endless complaints by the American women in this program about the unwritten nation-wide dress code: if we can see your knees, shoulders, or the whites of your eyes, you may as well be a prostitute. True, there are to this day occasional reports of “honor killings” in Jordan, wherein men murder their sisters or daughters whom they suspect of sexual indiscretion. Ok, I admit, this is starting to sound a lot like misogyny. And at the very least, in the case of the latter it clearly is.
But we in the states have terrible people who commit heinous acts of violence against women also, and whereas we can agree that cultural factors are often involved, we don’t go so far as to call American or Western or Secular culture inherently misogynistic. To a degree unheard of in the states, Arab culture views men and women as inherently different. But the word misogyny is wrapped up the idea of disdain for women. And that is not at all something I have personally noticed here. In fact, many of the norms most associated with Arab cultural “misogyny” are, I would argue, actually practiced out of a deep respect for women and their roles within society. I am aware that the very idea of differentiating between the sexes in any way is uncomfortable to most Americans, myself included. And I would not argue that this social divide is something I would advocate for the U.S. But that doesn’t mean we have to label it as inherently wrong either.
As a man, the most difficult thing about studying here is learning how to talk to women. It’s sort of like being in the 7th grade all over again. That is, if I were to approach a random woman on the street, if only to ask for directions, I would be implying that I hold so little respect for her that I don’t care whether the locals see us having a conversation in public. Such would be an act that implies a degree of familiarity, and therefore – if she’s married, for example – will raise questions among the community. That said, it isn’t the case that as a man I’m never permitted to speak to women. But navigating the complexities of proper time and situation has proven stressful on more than one occasion. I recall leaning over to a girl in the computer lab at school to ask the meaning of a word from my Arabic homework. She wore an all black hijab and trench coat in spite of the 90 degree heat and was visibly nervous at my request. She, answered in a hushed voice, and I communicated my gratitude. She smiled a little and nodded, but quickly added that she could not help me with any more words. The American girls I know here find this forced distance to be very degrading. But many of the Jordanian women with whom I’ve spoken consider these rules to signify reverence for their sex – not derision of it.
In fact, message I get from women here is an oddly familiar one. That is, just as we in the States think of women in the Middle East as oppressed, those over here think of women in the States as exploited. For my part, I see truth in both views. We see women in burkas and say: “Look at what men force them to do!”; They see women in rap videos and say the same.
My point, if I have one, is that both cultures have pretty dismal records of treating women fairly. But it’s not fair to pat ourselves on the back for having more gender equality than the Muslim world without confronting realities of both cultures. I think most women in the States would rather take the (relatively) equal opportunity of the U.S. along with the objectification of sexuality that comes with it. Likewise, most of the women I’ve spoken to here are quite happy to accept many –though admittedly not all –of their current limitations in exchange for the respect (and make no mistake, in most cases it is a form of respect) that they here receive. I for one am an optimist, and I see no reason that the best of both worlds can’t find its way into both worlds.
Friday, Oct. 22, 2010 12:00 AM
Some Salvadorans don't have teeth. And even when they are fully equipped, they can be extremely hard to understand. From what I have heard, the Salvadorans we're encountering talk rather slowly and have an accent that isn't hard to decipher. But, no matter their resemblance to Jim Dale, they are still speaking in Spanish.
I often think about what superpower I would choose if I was granted one. Usually I lean towards flight, or the ability to see the outcome of any decision and thereby curing indecision. However, now, I would settle for being fluent in Spanish. I wouldn't even be greedy and ask to know every language in the world. Just Spanish would suffice. Now, there is something to be said for nonverbal communication, and here in El Salvador, a smile can go a long way, but it can never take the place of words. This is a program that relies upon the stories of the people to teach us about the reality of El Salvador. And rightly so. We've already become accustomed to the fact that when asked how many children a Salvadoran has, they often use the past tense, as while they might have had five children, it is most likely that they lost two in the war. We also know how much Monsenor Romero and the martyrs mean to this country, as you cannot have a conversation without hearing a comment of thanks to them or seeing a tribute to their lives making up the wallpaper of many houses.
But, there's also a lot that we haven't learned, just because we don't understand. Now, this is especially problematic for me, as my Spanish is arguably the worst of the group's. More than once I have sat across a Salvadoran, watching them offer everything that they have to the point of emotional breakdown, and all I can do is put on my sad eyes and hope that they don't ask me a question about what they have just said. It's an interesting problem because, in one way, I am here to learn Spanish, and immersion is the best way to accomplish that. However, I'm not sure that learning Spanish is worth what I'm missing. But, this is also a situation that I have no control over and all I can do is be thankful that I have friends that are willing to translate.
And, it's not as though Salvadorans are expecting full comprehension. They view us as friends, family, a support system, and students. Here to learn, not only about culture and history, but how to communicate. And, they don't view us as infantile. Luckily, Salvadorans never seem to hold back, despite the probabilities of us getting lost. We are here for them through their struggles and they are here for us through ours.
Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010 12:00 AM
One thing that I have noticed since being here is that it is not common for people to say “excuse me” or just simply apologize. There has been countless times where someone cuts right in front of me when I’m walking and I have to suddenly stop to avoid bumping into them and I do not get a single “excuse me.” This all tends to happen in the metro. A lady slapped me with her purse and went on as if nothing happened. On a crowded metro train, people try to make their way out and push through people without saying a word. Now, it might be something that just isn’t done here but a little common courtesy wouldn’t hurt. The first couple of times people bumped into me I would say “perdon,” “gracias,” “disculpa” but the courtesy was never returned. At first I considered this very rude and was mad at the fact that people here were not considerate. After a while I got used to it. I got tired of being pushed around that I eventually gave up being nice and started cutting people as well. I hadn’t noticed my adaption until today at the metro. I stepped inside the metro train and was headed for the only seat available in that section. According to the rules around here, first come first served so whoever rushes to the seat first gets the prize. I noticed that a lady was also headed for the seat and I prepared myself for the competition. However, instead of rushing to the seat, the lady just looked at me, smiled, and said that I could sit down and kept walking down the train. Her courtesy caught me so off guard that I suddenly felt like burring myself into the ground. Simple, yet that was one of the nicest things that I have encountered in the metro thus far. I have gotten used to people pushing and cutting that a little politeness was shocking.
Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010 12:00 AM
I wasn't allowed in the kitchen. It had nothing to do with the smoke that filled the room from the use of a natural fire oven, or that we threatened to ruin the food with our inadequacy, but the fact that the color of my skin made it look as though my insides were not happy with the heat. I tried to explain that I was Irish and not anticipating a heart attack, but it did no good, and I was kicked out of the kitchen.
So, I sat in the living room, next to the brother that “we don't speak to or about” as he swung his machete, and pretended to make tortillas, while actually shaping them into various animals. The family would make upwards of forty tortillas a day, and when I asked why, Chata just looked at me and said the likes of, “Because people eat them.” Which is true. Tortillas are more than a staple in El Salvador, as they are often the only food that demonstrates any sort of loyalty at meals. The price of rice just went up thirteen dollars. The recent rain storm wiped out all of the bean crops. Vegetables are often infested. But, we've always got the tortilla. Tortillas are so important in fact, that once we mastered tortillaing (yeah, it's a verb in Spanish), we were informed that we were now allowed to marry. I stopped making tortillas.
Now, our week in the campo was not what Bridget and I had expected. Lacking were the four mile hikes for water, the killing of our own dinner, and the animals that live in the outhouse. We didn't eat raw meat, chop our way through the brush to the front porch, or wake up with cows standing aloof over our faces. But what we did find is that even in the most urban of rustic areas, you will still drink water from the same bucket as the chuchos, chickens, and horses, find whole animals with eyes, beaks, fins, and guts on your plate, and realize that bathrooms aren't any worse off with a couple of toads. Ten at night and seven in the morning is late, there's nothing wrong with hacking up your breakfast onto the floor, and hauling grain is not strenuous, but if you find yourself standing for more than twenty minutes, you better have a tortilla in hand for sustenance.
Chinda is always at the table, catching you with a hug if you come too close and fixing your ailments and needs before you even know they exist. You know it will be a good day when you wake to her laughter. Papita is never without a cigar, occasionally lighting it with his one arm, but usually just letting it rest between his lips. He only appears in hours of need, holding impaled snakes on the end of his machete, popping joints back into place of the careless children in the neighborhood, all the while with an expression that can never change due to the permanent position of the cigar. Chata is a legend, a great friend, and someone I will miss for a long time. At twenty, her potential outweighs her possibilities and you can only hope that she will someday find a way to defy her static lifestyle.
On our last morning we sat with Chinda in the living room. The only sound came from the beans as they fell from their pods and our fingers, seeming unusually loud as the normal twelve misfits of the house had been reduced to just us three. “Mi ninas,” Chinda would say, taking a break to admire us struggle to do what she did with ease. Most of our beans were small, unripe, and few in number, a sad profit for the number of hours we had sat at their command. “How do you get enough beans to feed yourselves everyday?” we asked as we tried to imagine where our past meals had come from. Chinda grabbed the handful of beans from our bowl and said “poco a poco, mi amors. Poco a poco.”
And that's when we learned what the campo is really about. Their slow pace of life is not only a necessity given social constructs, physical ailments, and monetary struggles, but a way in which to endure a hard reality with pause for enjoyment and love for those who enhance it. Little by little. Someday, Chinda's broken ankle will heal, she will sell her embroidery work, and she will harvest enough beans for a sufficient helping. Someday, Elmer will come to term with his parents death, he will realize that twenty-four is so young to wander in a listless state, and he will step outside the house. Someday, Laydi will learn to read, she will see that her generosity and warmth can help a great deal more then she realizes, and she will have confidence. And Chata. Oh Chata. Someday, Chata will be given the financial resources and relief of familial burdens to go to university and realize her potential, she will inspire those who believe that circumstances determine fate to reach higher, and she will change the world. Little by little.
Our week consisted of tree climbing, pick up games of futbol, seeing my first firefly, falling down mountains, forgetting that we are in El Salvador, loving being a carnivore as the roosters crow in the early hours of the morning, accidentally setting the cows free, meeting family, slowing down, eating up, stepping aside, and stopping to enjoy the view. Home. But, most importantly, we learned that there is nothing wrong with sitting in a guava tree instead of reading for history, clothes feel softer after drying in the sun, and eventually, little by little, you will have enough beans to feed the family. We spent a week living little by little.
Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010 12:00 AM
It has now been almost 7 weeks since I left the US for Tanzania and I continually have realizations of, “I am in Africa.” This thought simply makes me stop in place, reflect on what I have been doing here,what have I learned, and what do I want to take back with me. I have been trying to answer each of these questions and still come up
lacking something, which I am certain I will find when our final weeks come around. But for now, let me tell you this: there is no honest way you can prepare yourself for what you see here, no way you can walk into a situation and quickly understand why things are the way they are. Tanzania is a 3rd world country, and though you may study about it or watch movies on it, there is still no way of truly understanding it until you come here and experience it. I am still struggling to understand it; and by that, I mean understanding the culture, the hundreds of tribes and their rivalries between one
another, the deep community aspect of things, why the people live the way they do and why it has been this way for decades.
I visited one of the staff members homes yesterday to find what I had expected, but it still shocked me. We walked up to a mud hut surrounded by almost nothing. There were a few trees and some corn stalks for the cows to munch on, but otherwise, it was essentially a bare area with a two-bedroom mud hut; a bed for mama, Martha (a staff member), and her son (Ronaldo) and a bed for the cows and chickens.
The house smelt of a thick, heavy smoke and the cow dung added a little bitterness. We were of course lovingly greeted and welcomed by Martha’s mother, who sported a Nike tee shirt that had obviously been worn several times in a row, something you would most likely bring up to a friend who wore the same dress twice. This brings up a point I want to make, why do we (as Americans) prize material things so much?
Why does having something or not having something make such an impact on social status or how you feel about yourself? It boggles my mind to think about how much importance we place on certain material things.
When you are here in Tanzania someday, there is no room for judgment, no room to care about possessions. It essentially doesn’t exist in the culture because every one here represents one identity. The identity of a peaceful, welcoming Tanzanian. The do not acknowledge individualism or time for that matter. “There is always time,” is
something I will hopefully come home with. Tanzanians get work accomplished throughout the day, but they never focus on a deadline or anything. At Santa Clara and in American life, we live by the clock and deadlines and due dates as well as by individual accomplishment and self-competition; here, none of that exists. No one wears a watch because they are too expensive and no one tries to out work another.
Of course, there is a difference in opportunity. I am not saying to stop competing with yourself and with others in America, or stop meeting due dates, because that is not how America works. We are a world of many opportunities and by working hard and gaining knowledge, we are able to accomplish whatever we desire. I am simply asking you to recognize the difference and appreciate the message for what it is
worth. Don’t stop living like an American, and don’t start living like a Tanzanian; just identify the most important things in your life. Close your eyes and picture them, take a deep breath, and ask yourself why these things are important to you. Live by, with, and for these things you pictured and accept them solely for what they
are. Like I said, there is no way you can prepare your mind or your eyes for what you experience in Tanzania, but you can prepare your reactions.
I wish you well,
Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010 12:00 AM
When asked to keep this blog for SCU, our instructions were to consider what influence our presence as has on the local population. My answer so far? Not nearly as much as they have on us. Still, I’m pretty sure that I’ve made my mark in some way. By my own estimate I’ve inadvertently convinced no fewer than nineteen Jordanians to swap their chosen career of taxi-driver for what is apparently their true passion: self-appointed Arabic tutor. I don’t mean to sound cocky by taking credit for transforming this country into a new hub of transnational communications services – but that’s basically what I’ve done. You’re welcome Jordan.
I’ve traveled enough to know that a friendly cab driver is a rarity worldwide, and to find so many here who are genuinely interested in me and flattered by my desire to learn their language is rather incredible. Unfortunately, this only leaves me that much more ashamed at my growing irritation with cabbies’ insistence on impromptu vocab lessons. At seven in morning, in deadlocked traffic on the way to school, the last thing I want to do is make small talk, let alone in a language I don’t speak very well. Actually, scratch that, that LAST thing I want to do at seven in the morning is move from small talk to compulsory practice of the same set of taxi-related words day after day after day.
On the bright side, my annoyance at being a perpetual novelty has opened my eyes to two previously opaque ideas. The first is the mundane observation that I, as a white middle-class American male, have never in my entire life experienced what it’s like to be treated as the “other.” Sure, I’ve traveled to places wherein I’m the minority. But we expect to stand out from the crowd when we travel. Residency, on the other hand, is supposed to be about blending in – something that for me is simply impossible here.
The second thing left me feeling even guiltier than the tardiness of my realization that being the minority sucks. You see, hospitality is a crucial aspect of Arab culture. To be a guest is to be honored. Thus, my cab-driver’s enthusiasm for the uniqueness of an American speaking Arabic is, in its own cultural context, a great compliment. By focusing on the extent to which I stand out, Jordanians are elevating me to a higher status. Yet to me and my American egalitarian instincts, I’m always a bit put off by their harping on my dissimilarity. What finally occurred to me the other day –while I was once again getting lectured on the Arabic words for street, car, driver, and a colorful repertoire of nasty things to scream at traffic jams –was that perhaps Arab immigrants in the States feel precisely the opposite. Coming to America from a culture wherein foreigners are honored like heroes, how disheartening must it be to arrive in the U.S. and find that the locals not only don’t really care, but actually go out of their way to ignore what it is that distinguishes you? To be stuck suddenly and forever as just another face in the crowd must be far more isolating than my current experience as the eternal “other.”
Once this thought hit me like a swift kick to the shin, I promptly stopped feeling sorry for myself and decided to embrace the courtesy being offered. “Yes, Samir, I’d love to know the word for street…..”
Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 9:37 PM
When one thinks of London you would assume that the major city that it is everything here would be over priced and extremely expensive. That the only people who could possibly enjoy the city or afford anything would be those who are well off. And if you are a student then you had better get accustom to living off of soup and bread and staying in a lot.
I am happy to say that is far from the truth and that London is a city that has something for everyone at all price levels. There are about 100 different things to do at any given time and many of those things you will be surprised to find out are free. From going to see films at an outdoor park, to seeing a live music performance, even going to the many museums located throughout the city all of these things can be done at no cost. It is impossible to ever get bored here in London and many times having fun does not require any money at all.
There are websites and newsletter designed to show you events and activities being held throughout the city that are affordable for most anyone. You think that if these activities are free that they would not be exciting or would only please a certain crowd but that is far from the truth. Free events like the Thames River Festival which my friends and I attended recently have a wide range of activities available. You can go to a stand where you are taught how to make sushi, take walk over and watch world renowned dancers take to the streets or if speed is more your style watch as boats race up and down the river. Then finish off your day watching what could possibly be one of the liveliest parades you would ever see.
When I first came to the city I thought that my outings would be numbered and that I would be unable to do much while here. Thankfully I was wrong and it seems that I am finding more and more things to do here in London. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by everything here and I know that I will not be able to do all that I want to do here. But until my time in London is up I will make sure to take advantage of the many opportunities I have available to me.
Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010 10:51 PM
According to the Wall Street Journal’s “Market Watch” report, a recent featured article stated that Vienna has been voted most livable city in 2010, for the second consecutive year. I ask, what attributes to this growing phenomenon? Of my time living in Vienna thus far, I would say that you have to consider a plethora of contributing aspects of the city’s character. Between Vienna’s striving economy, its quick response to the world’s developing financial crisis, effective efforts to combat increased unemployment rates, free health care system, vast transportation systems, government-subsidized sustainability programs, clean water system sourced from the Austrian Alps, and uncommonly low big-city crime rate, it remains as a pillar to the world’s most livable cities. Coupled with Vienna’s deep passion for the arts and music, stunning architectural styles, intellectually captivating museums, and worldwide headquarters for various international organizations, it provides the perfect equation for an engaging and well-rounded lifestyle. All that Vienna has to offer provides the perfect fuel for its residents’ physical health, personal development and emotional wellbeing. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to live and study in this city, where I have access to so many quality resources. I find great comfort in Vienna, and in my decision to explore outside the Santa Clara community within this Central European setting.
Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010 10:45 PM
It’s been two weeks since we touched down in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. As we descended to the airport on the outskirts of Amman, I noticed an odd touch of geographical irony in that the landscape of the Holy Land, when viewed from the air, is strikingly reminiscent of that surrounding Las Vegas: Sin City, Nevada.
The similarities stop there, though. Amman is a sprawling city of low-rise square buildings built almost invariably of limestone. The “white city” as it’s called seems to rise and fall like sand dunes over the seven hills on which it rests. Add to that the frenetic souks downtown; the blue-domed mosques that checker the cityscape; the
vexingly persistent heat; and I cannot help but feel dazzled at the reality of my location – I’m really in the Middle East.
My first week here passed in a blur of activity. After clearing customs (more on that later) we were met by four men wearing the CIEE logo and who claimed to speak only Arabic, though we later learned that that was just cruel joke. They led us in packs to a collection of white vans which took us to a nearby hotel. We would stay there for the two days of orientation before splitting off to our assigned apartments scattered
throughout the city. Having just endured a twenty-hour traveling day, I skipped most of the formalities and promptly fell asleep.
Around dawn on the day after our arrival, we one-hundred-or-so study abroad students found ourselves on a tour bus bound for the Dead Sea, about an hour south of Amman. The academic staff had elected it as the site of our orientation program, a decision about which none of us could complain. The Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth, is so salinated that it’s literally impossible to sink. After intently listening to the
orientation presentation (read: sleeping), we were let loose on the beach where we all took turns marveling at our own buoyancy. I felt rather badly for the handful of tourists who had been enjoying the beach before our arrival, as I can’t imagine a less desirable vacation story than having your locale invaded by an hundred American college students.
Each of us slathered ourselves with gobs of Dead Sea mud, which we took from a large tripod near the water and then washed it off in the silky water. This apparently is a pastime of Dead Sea visitors, at least enough of one to merit a special tripod to display the stuff. The tripod was labeled, in English only, “Free Mud” presumably because only an American would ever expect to pay for mud.
The rest of our orientation was less glamorous. We transferred to our apartments a few days later, and began adjusting to everyday life in Jordan. Much of this has been no different than adjusting to any new city, whether San Jose or Beijing. But as I began trying to fit into normal Jordanian life, I couldn’t stop recalling my very first
experience upon getting off the airplane.
Those of us who had identified one another as fellow study abroad students while on the flight shared a momentary bout of panic as we attempted to navigate the Customs signposts which were written entirely in Arabic. We debated as to which line we belonged in as we each compared our interpretations of the various signs. Eventually we chose a line on the far right of the room filled by distinctively Western-looking businesspeople. We managed to come to a consensus that the line was labeled either “Investors” or “Foreigners” (I personally had thought it translated as “sandwiches”). In retrospect, our decision making process was something of a social experiment because what it ultimately boiled down to was: Follow the other white people.
Since being faced with solving the usual start-of-term problems at the University of Jordan ( e.g. where are my classes? how do I drop one? how do I drop two? how do I drop out completely without telling my parents? et cetera) I have had to make a conscious effort to find answers for myself rather than taking this same “easy” way out. In most casestrategy of seeking assistance from the local population has cost considerably more time and effort than simply sticking to the familiar. But consequently I feel much more at home at the University of Jordan – an institution serving over 35,000 students, the vast majority of whom are Jordanian – than do many of my peers.
The downside of this strategy is that acquiring this insider knowledge often comes at the price of looking extraordinarily stupid.A few days after arriving in Amman, I popped into a small shwerma restaurant (shwerma, by the way, is something like the Arab equivalent of a philly-cheese-steak sandwich) and stood to the side observing how
the method of ordering was supposed to proceed. After watching for nearly fifteen minutes from the corner of this restaurant – which, mind you, is no larger than a Campisi dorm room and packed with twenty or so people – I concluded that the man who worked out the process of ordering must be the same guy who organized the New York Stock Exchange. That is, the idea appeared to be to yell angrily at no one in particular while brandishing small slips of paper in the air. Unfortunately, how anyone was able to procure food out of that system was as much of a mystery to
me as is how anyone manages to procure money from the New York Stock Exchange. I waited another ten minutes, drawing more and more attention to myself as that creepy foreign guy just standing in the corner, before I tried my hand (a pretty pathetic hand) at some broken Arabic. I did my best to ask an employee-ish-looking man where to order. “Bis hatef” he answered curtly – “phone orders only.”
And so I came to realize that living abroad is mostly a matter of accepting ones regression into idiocy. One must accept that there is no way to know anything without going through the painful process of learning it. One has to take the subordinate role in many situations where, back home, assertive leadership would be quite easy. Ordering food is a good example. At home, I tell the employee what I want to eat, and how I want it. But here, ordering a meal is almost always a question
–Can I order this here? Do I pay for this here? Did you just say this is goat kidney?–and the usefulness of the response is determined entirely by the mercy of the employee. At home I am accustomed to having a pretty good idea of what, why and how things are supposed to be done. But here, attempting to shimmy oneself into that pose of comfort, without first experiencing the seldom easy and often awkward process of learning, is simply impossible.
Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010 10:43 PM
It has been almost a month since I have arrived in Shanghai. As soon as
I got off the plane at Pudong International Airport, the humidity and
heat stuck me. The weather here is very different from the Bay Area back
home. As preparation for my study abroad, I attended a talk called
“Cultural Shock and Transitional Issues” during my first week here.
One main point I took away from the talk was that the Chinese culture is
“not wrong, just different.” Being in a different environment, it is
easy to compare it with what we are use to. However, who is to say what
is right and what is wrong, it is just different.
With those words, it is important to keep an open mind. Keeping an open
mind and trying to get to know the culture with a welcoming thought
makes the experience a whole lot better. Thus, I began to explore the
city with a different mindset.
As I started to adjust to the new environment, I also had
transitional issues. Getting use to weather, food, and people here took
a few weeks. For example, the traffic and walking on the streets took a
while to get use to. Because Shanghai is one of the biggest and most
developed cities in China, the population and traffic are also in great
numbers. A difference I have noticed between Shanghai and California is
that many travel by bikes and motorcycles. These bikes and motorcycles
turn corners quickly, so walking on the sidewalk and crossing streets
require extra attention.
Monday, Oct. 4, 2010 5:51 AM
For the past two weeks I have been fighting with a bug called a “jigger.” It’s a disgusting, infinitesimally small black pest that somehow finds a way to burrow into and under your skin. Once there and settled, it lays eggs, which creates a giant egg sack. Jiggers only go for the feet and toes; especially under your nails. I have now cut my nails down to oblivion in order to avoid anymore tucking in behind my toenail. My total plucked out of my feet with a needle and tweezers is eleven. There is still one, as I am typing, burrowed in the left corner of my right big toenail. I attempted last night and the night before to extract it, but came up short of my goal because I didn’t feel like poking myself with a needle anymore. Therefore, I am most certainly not sick of Tanzania, but I am completely and utterly sick of jiggers! I have tried to avoid them by wearing closed-toed shoes, socks, as well as scrubbing my feet and toes with a toothbrush and bar of soap every other night or so, but nothing seems to keep them away! They are like a lion on a fresh kill, a snail on a wall, a suction cup on a window, they are simply inevitable.
As for adventures over the past week, for our economic policy class, we were split into groups of five or so, and then ventured out in to the village to conduct focused interviews. We learned about PRAs, which are participatory rural appraisals that are basically an outline to the “how tos” when it comes to interviewing people living in a rural areas. We attempted to use the methods of observations within our interviews, but it was difficult to seem “undercover” for the most part and just observe. Our questions regarded local resources and their issues. Our main goal was to identify the top five issues in Rhotia and create a venn diagram from that. This project was much harder than I thought it would be. I know we are a scene when we walk out into the town. People shout “mzungu” (white person)and point at us; sometimes it seems positive, sometimes not. Everyone notices us of course and wants to know why we are here and what we are doing. We always respond with, “Sisi wanafunzi” (we are students), but that doesn’t seem to change any looks or comments or responses. The gist is, is we are white people, we are very noticeable, and most think we are here to give them something.
In regard to our interviews in Rhotia, they were definitely a challenge due to the hesitancy of the people. It was hard to find people who wanted to talk with us and who would be open and honest. We talked to a nice array of people; a father of six, a mother of eight, two teenage girls, a group of old men, and then a very successful farmer. Those conversations were not too awkward because everyone we talked to liked sharing their opinion on the questions we asked them. However, like I said before, we are only students and we are here to study and because of this, asking them questions about their lives and their resources and telling them how their answers are going to be reported makes me feel guilty for asking them any questions, because we have no way of making a huge difference within their community, at least, not now. With respect to our interviewees responses, the most popular issue stated was education and its lack there of. Most children are sent to primary school, which is basically the elementary level. If the pass out, they can go to secondary school, which is more expensive, or they simply stop going to school and start working within their families because they cannot afford it. Young boys will most likely work with the livestock (if the family has any) and the young girls will help their mamas clean their home, do laundry, and cook. Education here is simply too expensive and does not provide enough quality teaching to help children pass out of primary school. Students only get one chance to pass and if they do not succeed, all opportunity is lost. In other places such as Karatu, there are private secondary schools, and some children have the chance to go if their parents are wealthy enough, but that is quite a rarity. Other things mentioned were drinkable water, capital issues, famine, drought resistant seeds, firewood, employment, etc.
There are many complex issues in Rhotia including a poor and absent government as well as minimal aid organizations. The people simply live with what they have and make the best of it. In retrospect, all the people truly need is a little opportunity, and from that comes the betterment of resource availability. Where can this opportunity come from? I will leave you with that thought….
Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010 12:00 AM
The month of September has been one of the most apprehensive months I have experienced since arriving in India. It felt like one issue after the other has presented itself, and threw people into a constant state of fear. On September 11, many were afraid that if Pastor Jone’s went through with his plan and burned Korans, then American would not be safe from angry, rioting mobs. Then on September 19, there was a shooting at the Jama Masjid in Delhi, injuring two Taiwanese tourists. It has also been speculated that a possible terrorist attack will happen during the Common Wealth Games, sending people into to a state of panic for this upcoming event.
Most recently, the feeling that we are not safe, again, resurfaced when India was put on red alert due to the Ayodhya debate in Uttar Pradesh.For over 60 years there has been an ongoing case on who this plot of land belonged to because this was the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram, and later the site of the Babri Mosque built by the Mughal emperor Babur. The question of whether a previous Hindu temple was demolished or modified to create the mosque was debated. Many feared that whichever side won the plot of land, the other would revolt.
Extra precaution was taken the day of the verdict. States near Uttar Pradesh were put in red alert (to include Delhi). Police were able to break apart groups bigger than six people on the street if they saw any. Kids were taken out of school and kept home, and no one was on the street around the time of the verdict.
I knew to be cautious, but I maintained the mentality that this would not happen to me and that everything would blow over. I didn’t fully understand the seriousness of these situations until talking to my friend who is half Indian and half American. He told me that his family has emergency flight tickets for his mom, brother, and himself to be
lifted out of India in a moments notice if needed. That’s when I realized that there are people who live here, and are constantly worried about their safety everyday. On the slightest chance that trouble will strike, they are always in a state of red alert, bags packed and plane tickets on hand just to be safe.
Luckily, this time around, the panic was for nothing because the verdict divided the land up equally, but I can only wonder what will happen next.
Brigitte M. Clark