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Blogs from Abroad

Blogs from Santa Clara University students studying abroad.

  •  Four Weeks Left

    Monday, Nov. 22, 2010 5:55 AM

    Four weeks. That’s all the time I have left in London so it seems a little strange that I should start posting my blogs now. Well, not really. I’m two weeks into my internship with the Co-operative Party here in London and I’ve now got a good handle on the differences between British life and American life as well as the differences in government.

     First things first, the English language has two distinct branches: American and British. There are moments where I have no idea what my British friends are saying because all they used are colloquialisms! Second, tea is big deal here. Do not mess with the tea! Another difference is public transportation. Not in the sense that transportation is different here – I think the concept is the same all over the world and London does have a fantastic public transport system – but more in the way people interact on it, as in they don’t. One of my quoted someone saying “God would not have invented the Evening Standard [the free evening newspaper] if God meant for us to make eye contact”. Yes, no one makes eye contact! If you by chance happen to, look away immediately. A common solution to this (1) reading a newspaper often combined with (2) listening to an iPod. The Brits do not like to come into contact with strangers. Going off the newspaper point, one thing I like here is that there newspaper distributed outside the Tube stations for free – a morning edition (The Metro) and evening edition (The Evening standard).

     There are, unfortunately, some true stereotypes I have encountered whilst here. One is the loud, brash American stereotype. Yes, we are loud comparatively. Really loud. If you are sitting two seats over from a British pair having a conversation that only indicators are their moving lips; otherwise, if going by sound alone, you would never know. Another is the American enthusiasm. Take, for example the Harry Potter premiere. In the States, it is a production: midnight showings, costumes, etc. Here in London: not so much. First, there are no midnight premieres. Second, absolutely no one would even consider dressing up for such an event. Third, my friends and I arrived half an hour before the showing on the first day it came out and found good seats without too much difficulty. Shocking, isn’t it? But Brits just don’t show as much emotion as we Americans do. They are all about their “stiff upper lip”. I’m serious! I will end on this note: despite the differences between the States and Britain, I love it here! Next blog: Parliament and its inner workings!

  •  Conducting Interviews

    Monday, Nov. 22, 2010 5:52 AM

    Well it’s official.  I am now into the last 3 weeks of living in Africa. We are done with classes and have started our final research projects. My project is on the assessment of rangeland conditions, trends, and implications in regard to Mbirikani group ranch, which is one of the six group ranches located in the Amboseli region in southeastern Kenya. Yesterday, we conducted home interviews with the local people of the group ranch. I felt very official walking around with a walkie, a clipboard, and a translator named Wipa. In America, if you go up to someone’s door to interview them about something, chances are they will pretend no one is home or they will simply peer through the window and avoid answering the knock. In Kenya, door bells, driveways, and front doors don’t exist; in fact, neither does hostility.

    We walked right up to Maasai women sitting around their Boma, we were welcomed into a Maasai man’s mud hut, and we even talked to a Mama on a walk with her children. They were all interested in answering my questions in regard to the group range conditions; although it was not their responses that taught me the most. Yesterday I realized how little I have actually experienced in Africa. I have never felt so comfortable and so uncomfortable at the same time. I will fill you in on one interview scenario. Picture a beautiful green rangeland that is very open and has sporadic Bomas throughout its area. A Boma is essentially a group of mud huts set up in a circular formation around a centered homemade fence where the livestock are kept. The majority of the men were absent due to livestock grazing and agricultural work. Thus, the Maasai women were the only ones home, along with close to 25 of their children combined. The average number of children per woman is 4.6 and the human population is increasing at 2.56%, meaning the growing population is critically damaging the rangeland in the group ranch because there is such an increase in resource needs and land for Bomas.There is a huge youth bulge; the younger generation of 0-15 year olds is almost equivalent to the amount of 16-65 year olds. This fact has no influence on childbirth. Women are treated solely as baby makers and mamas; while the men are praised for their amount of wives and children. Yesterday during my interviews, I saw very young and pregnant girls. They were all together, caring their second child or their mother’s child on their back as well as their unborn babies; all of them were around 16 years old or younger.

    My interview at the Mama’s Boma started with introductions and then we all sat in a large circle, while four of the six mama breastfed their newborns. All the Mamas varied in ages; 29-60 years. We talked about my interview questions and they responded well for the most part. They mentioned that it would be best to wait until the men came back home because they do not know a lot about the area they live in and they lack the power to say what they think. My mind went around in circles as I scanned these women and their happy faces sitting next to me. Yes, there is happiness in their life and yes they work incredibly hard to support their large families, but from my point of view there is so much missing in their lives. Women are not empowered; in fact, they are barely acknowledged by their husbands or by the government.

    But, who am I to say what’s missing and who am I to think I can change anything about a culture that has been around since the 15th century?   I think the only thing I can do is learn, breathe, and find appreciation in all of my experiences. We have two more days of interviews to conduct before we are done with field data collection. I am sure I will experience even more than what I am expecting. There really was no way to prepare myself for yesterday except to simply have a very open and gracious mind in hopes that I will be able to absorb everything I see and feel.

    Be free wherever you are and find gratitude in the life you have.

    Katie

  •  What is Poverty?

    Friday, Nov. 19, 2010 12:00 AM

    The Human Development Index published a report ranking countries from best to worst based upon their economic stability, frequency of violence, job availability, happiness, ect. In the middle of this list was El Salvador. And with half of the countries of the world fairing better and half worse, El Salvador is the average, a fairly good representation of the world. In some regard, this makes you realize that the world is a pretty sucky place and we often overlook our American privilege and assume its normalcy. But, on the other hand, this report calls attention to our misinformed expectations, our ideas of what we think poverty should look like.
       

    Along with El Salvador comes an expectation of tragedy and a close encounter with poverty. And as residents from the United States, there is no doubt that this is true. But sometimes we get mad at a Salvadoran for having a flat screen TV or think badly of a business that appears to have nice facilities. We say that these things, things that do not fit into our vision of poverty, are out of place in a country as poor as El Salvador. And when we spend time with these nice people with these nice things in these nice places, we feel that we are jeopardizing our experience, that we are not experiencing El Salvador because we are not experiencing what we believe is poverty. But these nice people and these nice things in these nice places are as much a part of El Salvador as any of the violence and struggle. And by feeling disgust toward a Salvadoran that is lucky enough to have the resources for a nice life, we only continue the stereotype of the elitist American, only traveling to impoverished countries to pity those less fortunate.
       

    But it's not just the classic hypocritical situation of blaming another for their wealth when you are just as well off. What I've seen is that we are denying El Salvador the opportunity to be what it truly is with the expectation that it live up to the degree of tragedy we have been told it offers. Even after three months in this country, we still find ourselves making comments about the nice neighborhood down the street and the shoes of the women at our university. We say that we won't shower or wash our clothes because we are living in solidarity with the people of El Salvador, when in reality, Salvadorans are almost paranoid about personal hygiene and would be horrified if they knew how little we clean ourselves. We all own water filters, quick dry pants, and mosquito nets from REI in order to survive the jungle of El Salvador, when all we're really doing is emphasizing the American idea of spending a lot of money to be prepared to go out into the world and pretend to have nothing.
       

    And while this attitude makes us extra sensitive to the poverty around us, we are only beginning to learn what poverty means and are in no place to judge anyone for their relation to it. And our attitudes are ill intentioned, using the right means to reach the wrong end. It seems that any trip taken to an impoverished country is not taken for its luxury, but for its impact factor. And therefore, we want to see the poverty, experience the struggle, and feel the disease. But we do this so that we can say that we did once we return to our comforts and can add 'experiencing poverty' to our resumes. And although we don't hope for struggle and despair in our world, a cell phone or a flat screen TV ruin the dramatics. I'm beginning to think that in order to get rid of this fictional idea, we need to replace the word poverty with the word reality, and thereby eliminate the us versus them tendencies that a division between rich and poor create. Because we don't want this idealistic version of poverty that is used as some kind of inner-conscience for those who can afford to be exposed to it. And I don't know how to stop this kind of thinking, as it is hard to watch a Salvadoran use a Blackberry while hearing a story of another who cannot afford food. However, maybe just an awareness of the discrepancy will be enough.

  •  La Boqueria

    Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010 2:28 PM

    Today I went to check out a famous market here in Barcelona called “La Boqueria.” It is famous for its variety of fruits, nuts, spices, fishes, and other goodies. Its central location has allowed it to become a tourist hot spot. As a tourist, you mostly go there “look” at the products, not necessarily buy the products. As a local, though, this is a place where you come to get your ingredients for dinner. I spotted an elderly woman with a wheeled basket trying to get past a group of tourists who were blocking her way as she was trying to pick out some fruit. When I commented this scene to my host mom, she simply said, “That’s the reason why I hate going to La Boqueria. It’s such a hassle to go buy something when there are so many people who aren’t buying anything. Then the sellers raise their prices because they know tourists come. I prefer to go to the local market down the street. They may not have a huge variety but at least it isn’t crowded and prices are a bit cheaper.”

    I know I was fascinated by La Boqueria because I am not used to seeing huge markets back in the Bay Area with a great variety of fresh produce. La Boqueria has gone from a local market to a market for tourists. When I visited I only bought a plate of ready-to-eat pieces of watermelon, however, there was a huge variety of already cut fruit and fruit smoothies all ready for the hungry tourists. Sure having these tourists in town can increase the business for the sellers of La Boqueria but it can, in a way, disturb the peace of the locals who are just trying to buy their daily produce.

  •  Switching Countries

    Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010 5:41 AM

     

    One of the best parts about the SFS program is that it is a dual country program! I am now in Kenya for the remaining month and a half. I am currently in Kimana, Kenya and I can see Mount Kilimanjaro right in front of me all day, everyday, unless it’s cloudy of course. The transition from country to country was pretty easy, crossing the border was not too much of a project; however, the countries are very different when it comes to atmosphere and people. Kenya has a lot more Maasai people than Tanzania and our camp is surrounded by Bomas (where the Maasai live). Our second day at camp we traveled to a Bomas and visited with our neighbors. Can you imagine living in a mud hut, wearing cloth, carrying a spear, and managing livestock for the rest of your life? Speaking as an American, I don’t think you can. It is truly unbelievable to experience and see the way these people live day to day. I am not sympathetic because they are very happy and very welcoming people; it is all they know and all they have. They use their resources to the best of their abilities and live the life of a Massai as best they can. Some young Maasai, however, have in fact left their Bomas and ventured out into the developing world around them to not necessarily find a better life, but to experience something new and live according to what they find.
     
    I do not want to get mushy and say I learned to be grateful for all that I have in my life as an American and as a student going to Santa Clara, because throughout my experiences I have already discovered this gratitude within myself. I am very privileged and I am very blessed to have the life that I do; although, the importance of this realization is to do the best that I can with what I have and to not take gratitude in material things. To never take advantage of all that has been given to me throughout my life, but to tactfully use it to help the world around me and to not be selfish, but selfless in how I use these things. Happiness does not stem from materials; how can it? Birthday presents, Christmas presents, houses, cars, designer clothes, etc., etc. Yes, these things bring a smile to a face, but do they make a person happy? I’ve been asking myself how would I feel if I didn’t get any presents for Christmas or any cards on my Birthday, and of course, my conclusion is I would be a little sad for the day, but would it change the happiness is my life? No. I have learned to find happiness in myself and in everything I experience. I ask you to think about what makes you happy and why and if those things happen to be a type of material, ask yourself how you would feel if you did not ever have them in your life? It has been enlightening to witness such happiness and love here in Kenya. A place where fancy cars, restaurants, clothes, wood houses, and so on do not exist; yet, there is so much happiness within the atmosphere it is almost impossible not to soak it in.
     
    I hope all is well wherever you may be,
    Katie

     

 
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