Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Closing reflections on Morocco

      Although I returned from my placement almost one month ago, it has been a crazy month so I am just now posting this. Overall, my experience in Morocco was good. I learned a lot about Amazigh women and how they are treated in Morocco, and it also inspired me to think more about women's rights. Not particularly the women's rights that a lot of groups in the States focus on, such as rebelling against shaving, modest clothing and considering "you guys" a sexist term, but actual important things like being ignored in court and legal matters, forced to marry your rapist, coerced into child marriage, and being heavily discriminated against in the education realm and employment market.
     While I ended up not having much to do by the end of my placement, I did get the opportunity to interact with activists and women directly and learn more about these kind of situations and what they are trying to do about it. I met very inspirational people and I think that the length of time that I stayed in Morocco was perfect. Twelve weeks was an adequate amount of time to really adapt to the culture and the host family experience, as well as identify my biases. When I look back at my notes from my initial observations of Morocco, I can see now them from a completely different perspective, for which I am glad.

    That being said, I ended up having a kind of sour end to my stay, as I began to get the feeling that the director of the program was more after money than anything else. Once I was in Morocco, he was attentive to any concerns I had but seemed to focus tremendously on bringing more people in than helping the students that were already there. I found out he was trying to get students to make large money transfers for him through their bank accounts, and he paid them back in cash.

    During my last week in Morocco, I was walking at night with another student who was staying the same host family as me, at around 11pm. It was a sidewalk by a very fast road, and somewhat deserted at this time of night, while well-lighted. There was a man following us and we crossed the road and he seemed to go on his own way. About half an hour later, I turned back and saw the same man behind us, this time running. The next thing I knew, my friend was on the ground and the man appeared to have a cord around her neck. I couldn't believe that this was happening, and started yelling and hitting the man. We eventually made such a commotion that a car stopped, and the man ran off. It turned out that he was trying to snatch her purse, but for some reason the strap from her purse snapped and he started attacking her with it. Thankfully she was not hurt besides a few scratches from him, and cars started pulling up to make sure we were okay and we happened to be right across the street from the American embassy, who called us a cab. While this was a scary experience, we never walked alone at night again.

My last night in Morocco, I was trying to figure out how to get a ride to the airport, as my flight left pretty early, at 7:55am but I needed to leave my host home at 5am. My placement director offered to arrange a cab for me, but told me it would be 500MAD (about $60). That sounded extremely high and a local told me that the average price for an arranged cab was no more than 200MAD (about $23). I told him I would arrange my own ride and I never heard a reply from him. The near-mugging experience had just happened so I was wary of going anywhere alone at night. I asked my host family if they would take me to the airport, but for some reason I couldn't understand (this was in Arabic, and mine was not quite up to par) they wouldn't take me to the airport. I asked them if they could at least call and arrange a cab for me (so that it wouldn't be overcharged, if i asked I would get ripped off as a foreigner). They then told me that my placement director had instructed them not to arrange a cab for me or help me get to the airport. I couldn't believe that he would do that, and my host mom eventually had sympathy and arranged a ride for me. It ended up costing 200MAD, not the 500MAD that my director had originally charged me.

Aside from this negative and unfortunate experience with my placement director, Morocco is a wonderful country and I would like to go back and visit the friends I made, just not with the same organization. It is a small organization that is just starting up, but definitely seems poorly organized and just about making money and petty arguments. I would not like to repeat the same experience.

I am glad that I was in Morocco this summer and it absolutely changed my perspective on life and the way I view the world. I'm spending the fall semester in Turkey now and it is really interesting to have a point of reference from another Muslim country and be able to draw connections and differences. I learned so much Arabic from being in Morocco and am truly glad that I was able to participate in the Global Scholars program.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Time for Reflection

I am finally back in Tallahassee and settled into the new school year. Which means that I am faced with the daunting task of mentally and physically processing the things that happened this summer. I have hardly looked through my 500 GBs of pictures and videos, I suppose I'm putting it off to avoid admitting that it's over. But it's that time. The time for reflection where we all have to put into words something that could never be explained.

Katrina and I have been thinking tirelessly about India, and have come to some conclusions regarding the complexities of the project we are putting together. Our anthropology research shed light on the values of the people of Pamohi. We were particularly interested in their value of education. Parijat's philosophies (as well as our own) indicate that education is really the only way to break the generation-long cycle of poverty that plagues low-income families of rural India. We used our research to inform our project, to apply our skills in the most efficient and fruitful manner.

We recognized the potential for growth in both the volunteer program and the student body involvement at Parijat, so we left a volunteer resource that will assist future volunteers and help them continue the lessons and projects we started (such as art, photography, and fundraising programs). We learned that the only way to maintain a truly sustainable program is by connecting past and future volunteers so that we can all work together to help Parijat. We also helped start the first ever club, called Parijat Youth Club, that will serve many purposes at the school. PYC consists of a group of local volunteers and older students who will connect with future volunteers and help them start and continue sustainable programs at Parijat. They will allow the students to participate in organizing events and after-school activities, and they will ultimately take on the responsibility of extra-curricular activities, relieving Uttam (the principal and founder) of that particular duty so that he can focus on the growing school. So, we collaborated with our fellow local volunteers, who go to college in Guwahati city, and our fellow international volunteers, and decided that PYC could be really beneficial to Parijat and the students.

Our personal project, however, will consist of a documentary about Parijat, their mission, and what it is like to be a volunteer in Pamohi. We will also create an ethnography which will be accompanied by the photographs we took. The ethnography will attempt to break down the complexities of the social problems in Pamohi and shed light on art and education as a tool for communicating and breaking down barriers. And finally, we will take our documentary and our ethnography and use them to create articles that will serve to inform the public about Parijat and other similar missions that need attention.

We will be presenting our ethnography and photographic essay along with a shortened version of our documentary at the Undergraduate Research Symposium on October 1st and will be publishing the rest of our project soon after.

I have learned so much through this experience— about myself and about the world. I'm looking forward to putting everything into words so that I can finally have an answer for people when they ask me how India went. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Back in the USA

Well, I've been back in the U.S. for a couple of weeks now and I already find that my time in India has affected me so much. Interestingly enough, I expected myself to be overwhelmed with the U.S. upon my arrival, but I've found that I adapted way faster than I thought I would. I feel more relaxed and at ease. I'm still being productive and engaging in the hobbies which I enjoy, but this underlying pressure that I need to be doing-something-every-second-of-the-day mentality seems to have diminished. It's wonderful! I look forward to the Global Scholars Welcome Back event. Goodbye for now, Daniela.

Monday, August 26, 2013

It was harder than I thought.

I left Haiti 13 days early and it broke my heart. I developed a blood clot that needed to be removed, so I was obligated to find a flight home before I was originally scheduled to leave August 6th. The last month of my time in Haiti was definitely the hardest emotionally, but it grew me immensely. I felt challenged to the point that I thought I wasn't going to be able to keep going. I was saddened with the recognition that sometimes things look so beautiful from the outside, but we are unfortunately tempted by the enemy daily, and sometimes we falter. It was hard to watch that happening around me, and it was hard to feel that the enemy was tempting me with doubt. I could hear him saying, "See, your work here is useless. Your love for these children is useless. Your work here is done and I want you gone."  I could feel my body fatiguing and my soul became very downcast. I cried every day, multiple times a day, for about four days in a row. The hardest part of this time was that the people who I had relied on the entire time I was in Haiti, had all left. I felt so incredibly alone, even though their kind words from afar attempted to lift my spirits. The beautiful thing about New Life is that there are always teams of people coming in and out, and sometimes there are certain people that God sends at the perfect time. That happened for me, and there was a woman who lifted my spirits beyond her own recognition. I just needed someone to sit with, talk with, and listen to, and she did that for me. She was Christ's love for me on that Sunday morning, and my heart was won over by the fact that Christ has already won. I basked in His love for me and was reminded of His might; this woman I barely knew was in our weekly church service which I had chosen to skip that morning. She said in the middle of the service, God was urging her to come to my room and speak to me. Little did she know, my heart was aching and all I needed was what she offered me: a listening ear and her loving presence.

Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by how much our Savior loves us, and how deeply He KNOWS us. The Lord is deeply captivated by us and He is enthralled by the beauty that we possess through His grace. He knew I was hurting and He came to my rescue.

Even though my heart had been lifted, I could feel my soul telling me, "Lindsay, you did what you were called to do. Now it's time to rest." I was saddened because I was leaving the kids early, and I also was going to miss Emily coming home before I was expected to fly out. If you don't know who Emily is, that's okay, but just know that woman is my other half, I feel. My soul is so deeply connected to hers, and over the summer she became one of my best friends, and leaving without getting to say goodbye to her hurt my heart more than she'll ever know. However, I know God moves when it's time to move, and He was instructing me that my time there was done and it was time to rest.

See, this is something I have a hard time articulating...how much I love my friends. My friends are my family and my very best support system. God has TRULY blessed me with incredible friends, and I am humbled every day by their love for me. Over time, my biological family has become more of my family and I am learning to trust and rely on them in ways most people do with their family. However, my friends picked up the slack when it was needed, and for that, I am eternally grateful. They inspire me to be better, and coming home to them was the biggest gift I could have ever received after a long summer. It was a long day of flights getting delayed, but when I finally made it in by midnight, their faces were like shining stars that I had missed more than I knew. They had guacamole and listening ears ready, and it was beautiful- just what I needed. The next morning, I woke up and thought to myself, "Okay, now what do I do?" I went next door to my friend Anna's house, and we had coffee and I shared a few Haiti stories with her. I then asked her what her plans were for the day, and she said that she and our group of friends have been going to the projects of Tallahassee, the Joe Louis community, to mentor and tutor. For a second I thought I should stay home and rest, but quickly decided that I wanted normalcy, and to be able to see some kiddos and love on them was just what I needed. I also couldn't express how much I loved my friends in that moment she shared with me what they have been doing all summer. I was humbled in that moment- something I didn't share with her- and realized that my biggest fear of coming back was that no one would understand me. I was afraid I would become angry with judgment on people who spent their summers doing anything other than what I had done, and experienced anything other than what I had experienced. And here I was listening to her tell me stories of all these kids who she and my friends have been ministering to the whole summer, and I could hear God saying, "Don't you understand how vast my love is for the poor? Don't you see how I have called you all to serve the least of these, and they have done that? Don't you see how deep my love is?" Internationally or nationally, poverty is poverty and God deeply cares for those who have been forgotten. He uses us in many different ways to be His vessels to the poor. How incredibly beautiful is that? And I am incredibly blessed am I to have friends that understand the depths of my soul who share the same exact passion.

As I sit here writing, I can feel the words melting off my heart. My desire to be understood is no more, my desire to be heard is no more, and my desire to be accepted is no more. God our Savior has accepted us and welcomed us in to this beautiful place of selflessness where we are offered a gift we cannot refuse- to serve the least of these with a passion that burns so deeply that it reflects Christ's own love for you and me. And in return, we are then given the opportunity to receive others' love for us that reflects how Christ feels about us.

As I start school in a sea of thousands of other students, my passion for the poor is still burning, and I hope it carries with me through out my last semester of college. I am so incredibly grateful for what I experienced this summer in Haiti.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Football I Remember [J]

Everyone wants to know, "how was your trip to Costa Rica?" It seems I should have put more thought into how I would answer that question. I respond in various ways depending on the audience: "it was a great experience," "it was fun and different," "I'm basically a super hero (to some of my sarcastic friends)." What do I honestly think? I would say that I went to work in paradise; that I learned a ton and met incredible people. However, most of my friends can not relate to how different rural Costa Rican life is from what we as Americans are accustomed to.

Initially, when I arrived in Miami, I experienced complete culture shock. I am still in awe every time I enter a massive local grocery store that has everything I need, all the time. But I need shoes and a shirt to enter. Having a car is nice. Having to drive two hours to the nearest beach is not nice. I don't even want to talk about shaving. It's safe to say my return has been bitter sweet.

During my stay in Potrero I was able to design four different surveys, execute, and analyze the data of a total of 94 interviews. These tasks accounted for the bulk of my time spent in Costa Rica. Not to mention my assistance in the classrooms along with other AM programs. I also was responsible for creating a "How-To" guide for future community sentiment surveyors. Ultimately I wrote a comprehensive report of my work with AM. The report is a qualitative summary of the quantitative data. The previous year's community sentiment survey yielded more or less 20 surveys.

Now that I am home, I have a week off before I get back to work. School and work begin on Monday. It is going to be a busy semester. I made some ambitious goals for development in Tallahassee. I plan on making international service learning an annual habit. I have thought about where I would like to travel to next year. My experience in Costa Rica led me to acknowledge the importance of volunteering in a community in which you speak the language.

Special Thanks to Latika Young, Dr. O'Shea and the rest of the Global Scholars community.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Turning over a new leaf

Some times I sit in complete darkness and listen to the silence of the world.
This is often the closest feeling that I can get to Ghana, when living in a fast paced America where time is money.
It is during these times that I am able to best reflect on my experience as a whole.

While sitting,
I think about how far I’ve come…
Literally in Distance. ( I’ve caught 10 planes this summer now making me a pro, and I’ve been in every form of transportation that you can think of from a horse carriage to a Canoe.)

I think about the independence I’ve gained
When you’ve traveled halfway around the world forced to lean upon your own judgment and make life threatening decisions in a matter of moments, you learn that there is not much that you can’t do, and no one, not even yourself can dare to tell you different.

I reflect on the supernatural powers that I’ve gained
The ability to keep your composure when everything is falling a part.
The ability to move forward not knowing if you’ll ever return.
The belief that change will soon come, even if the world around you shows you different.
The ability to treat Triumph and disaster the same.

I examine the importance of communication
I understand the importance of asking questions, knowing when to speak and knowing when its time to listen. Both Ghana and Germany has shown me this. Too often, as I’ve witnessed, foreigners can offend the country hosting them simply because of the way that they choose to communicate with others. Communication is what tends to help locals be accepting of us, it shows that we have an understanding and a sense of respect for their way of life.

I reminisce on moments that I’ve shared with amazing friends
However, my biggest fear is that I become a statistic to them. I do not want to become like the friends they met last summer, you know the ones who allowed life to get in the way of the back and forth communication, i would hate to let them down that way. To be able to build friendships with such beautiful people, has truly been a blessing. I honestly cant explain how thankful I am for the relationships that I have made this summer. When I am asked how I made it through, the support of local friends is what I am always quick to answer with.

I think about who I am as a person
Even more important, I am now coming to understand where I fit in with society.
I must admit that I often suffered from a lost of identity this summer, which was one of my biggest challenges. Although I am not Ghanaian or African, I was treated as such. Although I am not Jamaican, I was often referred to as such. In some parts of Ghana, I do not think people really understands what it means to be a Black American in the U.S (although they do know the term) or any other ethnic group outside of “White.” Although I did not discover my exact roots this summer, I have grown to be okay with it. What Ghana did help me to do however, is find a better understanding and a new love for my own ethnic group. Before my trip, I use to think that it was not enough to just be a Black American. I believed that if I really wanted to understand my culture, I would have to reach back into my roots, which I’ve now found is not necessarily true. As a Black American, I too have a culture of my own outside of that of my African ancestors that I can identify with, and for this I am proud.
I think about the after life,
life after Ghana that is, and what it will be like to turn over a new leaf.
I am more than certain that I want to peruse a Career working in Public Administration, after my experience working with the Department of Social Welfare. It is my desire to use all of my knowledge, all of my energy, and all of my time working to better communities, through program development and by implementing effective policies and procedures for organizations serving communities both here in the U.S and other countries as well.
While I sit in silence, I try not to be sad because Ghanaians don’t cry. So Instead of crying, I hold on to my memories, my friendships and the things that I’ve learned about my self and about those who are slightly different from me. While doing all of this, I remind myself that this is only the beginning. There is only a matter of time before the call of adventure provokes me once again to head off into the world of the unknown.

If a picture says more then a thousand words...then why is there room for a caption?

Besides all of the souvenirs I brought along with me, I truffled along an entire three months worth of experience through the airport which caused me to struggle “plenty” as the Ghanaians would say, ‘as I carried what felt like the weight of the world inside of my bags. I am embarrassed to admit that I often contemplated putting down all of my things and staying right there in the airport out of fear that “they” would not understand the things that I carried with me. “What’s the point of carrying all of this luggage full of stories, new experiences, culture, love and friendships back with me if they won’t even get it?” I asked myself.
Before my last week in Ghana, I never thought about how big of a task it would be to come back to the U.S with the responsibility of painting a picture of a place that majority of those whom I would be painting it for, would never go. Throughout that whole week, I constantly wondered how I would be able to address the stereotypical questions about Africa asked by my fellow Americans. My good friend Qwesi (meaning Sunday born) assured me that as a good storyteller I would be able to paint a picture so clear that the listener would feel as though they have lived in the moment also. “But painting a picture of Ghana to Americans is different” I told him. Qwesi had given me the task to preach the good news to the american people, encouraging me to explain to them that not all of Africa rings “poor” and that Africa should not be generalized since every country has a different culture.”
As he spoke this to me, I tried to figure out how I could paint a picture of a place so beautiful as Ghana without my Camera which had been misplaced to assist me. My sister Ekewa (Wednesday born)reassured me that my words would be enough one day when we were having a conversation about how pictures can often do more harm than good. “Even if you had your camera to show pictures of Ghana, you can’t take a picture of the Camera” she said. Confused, I asked what she meant by this. “What I mean is that a camera is only good for taking a picture, it does not reflect the opinions and insights of the photographer who had the privilege of seeing the prop in reality.” Qwesi agreed, a picture only gives room for those with no background knowledge to pass their own judgment, and usually their personal judgment is off.
Ekewa and Qwesi are both right. Although a picture says more than a thousand words, there is always room for a caption. Since I’ve been back in the U.S, I have found myself unpacking my luggage full of stories culture and experience in order to give my full insight on what it is like to live in Ghana. While telling this story, there are many times that I find myself captioning with great detail to many of my Black American friends and relatives who have a huge misconception of Ghana and of Africa as a whole. Because of their misconception, I do my best to enlighten them so that “my brothers and sisters in the U.S are not ignorant about their people in Africa” as Qwesi requested. “Make sure that they know that trouble does not only know our skin color by name, but blessings know us also.” “I will do that” I reassured him when he gave me the task. Qwesi’s request is what gave me the strength to drag all of my luggage full of culture, experience and love through the airport that day. Although I was emotionally torn and mentally beat up from my departure with Ghana back to the U.S, I am always eager to dig into my luggage and tell stories of what I witnessed this summer.
I have been telling stories of both Germany and Ghana for almost two weeks now and the more stories I tell, the better I become at telling them. One thing that I’ve noticed though is that Americans are so caught up in their own world that they really don’t have much knowledge on other countries in comparison to the great knowledge that other countries have on them. The few things that Americans do know however is based off of an idea of what someone else has told them. This puts great pressure on me to make sure that the things that I am sharing with others about Ghana are not biased. Ghana is one of those countries that knows a lot about the western world. I once asked someone why this is so, and he explained that many Ghanians long to adopt some of the ways of the Western people. As a result of that longing, Ghanaians have come to study the western world a little closer, primarily America.
As I am finding a lack of knowledge on behalf of Americans about other cultures, it is my goal to advocate as much as possible on what I know about the cultural differences and similarities in both Ghana, Germany and the U.S. In addition to these three countries, I would love to travel whenever the opportunity presents itself (soon I hope!) I also would love to become involved in many organizations on campus that are tailored toward global awareness. It is my hope to better bridge the cultural awareness gap between Americans and the many other cultural groups around the world!