Géricault, Bonheur, and Cod Liver Oil

My primary struggle on this journey has been, for me, an unexpected one. Periodically, and as early on in our itinerary as London, I have been nearly paralyzed by homesickness. I’m not isolated. I’m surrounded by friends. I adore the cities that have welcomed me. But, in a truly horrific throwback to middle school, I have felt shapeless and ungrounded.  I crave a context to recognize myself in, an identity formed by participating in a familiar environment, and not just looking on. I have grown sick to my stomach of “hanging out”.

This feeling struck me especially hard in Paris, on the day we visited the Louvre. I remember walking through golden rooms filled with masterpieces from the Romantic Era. The passionate images surrounding me seemed to mirror my feelings. No matter their stories, the characters seemed dreadfully homesick to me. The Gypsies in Leopold Robert’s “L’Arrivée des Moissonneurs dans les marais Pontins” ceased to be wayfarers- I was certain that they had loaded their carts and harnessed their determined looking oxen with an ocean voyage in mind- New Brunswick bound!!  Girodet’s “The Entombment of Atala” was not bereaving the death of his lover, but the loss of a family farm. Gericault’s gaunt survivors on the Raft of the Medusa stared longingly for home, imagining in the distance the poplar trees that line the driveway of my parents’ home. What incredible strength of feeling these artists transcribed with their brushes and oils! The wretched faces surrounding me were not comforting, though. Our shared misery did not relieve our suffering at all.

What was incredible about the torture of the Romantic paintings, was that we fell short of communion. Atala and I suffered in relative silence, validating each others’ pain without subduing or healing it. This is not a critique of the art. The expressions and emotions on the canvases were exquisite. But it is a common human pitfall that in recognizing our pain, we all too often venerate it, and give it a home in us. I have nothing against feeling strong feelings, but it is important for home sicknesses,  heartbreak and weariness to remember where they belong on the food chain. The priest at the hostel in Paris knew this, and spoke in his homily of how we should not always pray, “God, I have such a big problem,” but “Problem, I have such a big God!” I can’t spend my whole life commiserating with Delacroix.

Praying that prayer, I moved on from the Louvre to the Musée d’Orsay- where there hangs the most realistic portrayal of a cow in the known universe- by Rosa Bonheur. And that was home. Cows are not great sympathizers. But there is something about rural living, and livestock, that can snap you out of a reverie as if to say “Get back to work!” I walked out of Musée d’Orsay feeling ready to really live, to engage with the city, and ended up spending the afternoon making a new friend. I made a temporary little home in Paris.

So, I would like to thank the Romantics for helping me to feel and process, and the Realists for giving me courage and for kicking me in the butt. As far as art is concerned, I am gaining a valuable lesson in the importance of its movements. One perspective is never enough. Just as the needs, desires, and responsibilities of people change, our art needs to change as well. Try not to brush off a period in art as “too sentimental”, “to rigid”, “too absract”. Enjoy your favourites, of course, but art can be like cod liver oil. You might need what you don’t enjoy.

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We Are The Grateful Living

I have been struggling for weeks trying to think about how I can summarize my two month trip into 250(ish) words. Do I only write on an event that happened after the last blogs were posted (ensuring I won’t write on the same topic)? Do I write on my favourite thing I’ve seen or something funny that has happened? Or what about the most beautiful thing I’ve seen?
None of those things touch on the topic that has impacted me the most this trip. That’s because none of those questions look at the ugly topic of death.
Jokingly, I have become the resident vampire on this trip because of my strange fascination with graves, tombs, and crypts. I have literally started “punch dancing” at times because of my excitement.
The two events that have impacted me the most, though, were not due to excitement, but to sorrow. These two events were visiting Mauthausen and Vimy Ridge.
Mauthausen was the hardest. This was my first time seeing a concentration camp and really understanding the depth of what happened in World War II. The hardest part for me was walking into a room about the size of the Red Room, hearing that around 200 people slept there every night, and, at the same time, being hit by a scent that reminded me of happiness and summer vacation with my family.
Vimy was also very hard for me, but in a very different way. We were standing on Canadian soil learning about how catastrophic World War I was. It felt a bit like home, and I started to feel a connection to the Canadians who died there. This connection was then amplified when I saw (for the first time as far as I can remember) my mother’s maiden name twice in the list of Canadians who died there. I did not expect to be as impacted as I was, but for the rest of my time at that colossal monument I could feel my heart racing. Questioning if I was related to these two soldiers, if I had other family I didn’t know about, or even what the soldiers were like.
Over all, these two events really opened my eyes to the sorrows, and to the hopes that these tragedies will someday end.

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Nymphéas Bleus – Monet

What is it like to be entering the unknown, spending time with uncertainty. Your hands are where your feet should be, your eyes are where your ears should be and your heart is not even inside of you, instead it is on the other side of the room beating on the floor. You cannot be certain of your senses, just as you cannot be certain that your idea of God is the right one because the person sitting beside you probably has a slightly different idea of God. Or we cannot be certain of why Monet painted water lilies, why he chose the colours he did.  However, we need to think we can have certainty: up is up, down is down and blue is a colour and that colour is sadness. We need this to feel grounded, to have meaning. But really all it takes for us to be certain of something is if two or more people can agree upon it. So what makes it more concrete than our brothers and sisters who think differently? It is the people who spend the most time with uncertainty who end up finding their own truth but even then they are uncertain.

Nymphéas Bleus - Monet

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View from the trenches

I’m standing there, in the trenches at Vimy, in the place that many have stood before me, fighting. I close my eyes and try to put myself in their shoes but it’s hard. I try to block out the sound of people talking and laughing and the birds singing all around me. I really try to imagine it from where they were. It’s hard to picture myself in their place; I’m not a soldier, but neither were they really. They were boys, many of them younger than me. They would be standing there with water up to their knees and bugs and rats running all around them. The sound of birds and people would be replaced with gunshots and bombs going off all around them, the sounds of people yelling, and screaming in pain. The enemy is a stone’s throw away and could kill them at any moment. You can never get any sleep no matter how hard you try and the realization that you never will again. Even when you get home the nightmares will keep you awake or you’ll jump at the sound of a car backfiring or hearing some kids playing video games will take you right back to that trench. I open my eyes and it all goes away. I’m still there in the trench but it is far different. I’m there with my friends talking, there’s grass and trees and flowers and birds singing and flying above. I open my eyes and I know I never have to do that, I never have to experience what they went through. There is a peace and calmness in knowing that but at the same time I am saddened by the realization that while I never have to go through that, they can never get out of it. Even after they are back home and safe they are haunted by it day and night and I realize how lucky I really am.

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metamorphosis

The countless trees surrounding me take the shape of men, the flowers warp into bloody mud covered shrapnel, and the song of the birds turn into the horrific numbing sound of gun shots as I kneel deep in a trench, eyes closed and allowing my imagination to consume me. My hands cusp my ears while I tap on the back of my head trying to grasp an inch of the reality in which millions have bared before me. My heart becomes heavy, tears welling in my eyes, and for the first time in my life I realize that the life I know is nothing in comparison to the millions of people who bore witness to such an atrocity. Within seconds I feel as though I could not bear to stay there a moment longer, but I feel the need to push through the heart-wrenching illusion with the fear that I will forget everything as soon as I open my eyes. This is not a joy filled moment, nor is it hopeful, but it is real and through it I feel as though I have been able to break the boundaries of time to connect with my brothers before me on the most simple of levels and that is something I would never take back.

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listening

I’ve been thinking a lot about my future recently. The me that will be. I would give anything to speak to him. My ear is ever so delicately positioned in the cup and string we used to use to tell each other things. Back when the future was a place no further away then the next house over. I can’t hear him as well as I used to. He’s the only one that can hear me now. Time is cruel that way. Standing in the place where thousands of my fore-bearers embraced their ineffectual deaths, I feel a new cup being pressed into my hand. Its cold aluminum is covered in mud and rusting away. I feel like it could turn to dust at any moment. Ever so delicately, I press my ear into the cavern. The voice there is speaking a language I don’t understand. Rattling through the half a dozen languages we’ve encountered on this trip I still can’t even place it. Confused and frustrated I begin to weep. I know I’m here for a reason. But I don’t understand the past and the future is foggy. So instead I held the two cups together. I’m merely an operator. “Please wait one moment while I connect your call”. I know he’s broken and needs their experienced voices. Today is the day I will look back on. Today is the day I will listen for, as I walk forward into absurdity.

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Visit at the d’Orsay

Before today picking favourites was always a struggle of mine. Even in the most trivial way of picking my favourite colour, meal, artist, movie, anything really. Because in my mind picking favourites discredited all of the others that I also adored. However today I was able to not only pick a favourite style of painting but a favourite artist. Maybe this was so easily decided because of the distant relationship I had with art. Before today art was always something of a mystery to me. I enjoyed art but I never felt drawn to it or connected with it in ways that others around me seemed to. But today that all changed, I fell in love with Monet’s paintings. Every time I walked into a room I was awestruck by these beautiful paintings that felt soft. I know that may sound silly but it did. It was portrayed soft by the colours that were used to depict the scene and in the way Monet abandoned the rigidity of sharp lines. Room after room I walked in and would be drawn to these paintings so much so that by the end of it I knew the paintings I was staring at were his without the information card on the side. It amazed me to be able to connect with a man I will never meet, a man that was before my time, a man that knew a different world than I, but a man who saw the world as I.

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framing life

In our many visits to galleries, museums and historical sights I have been perpetually frustrated by the generalizing of a history that is deeply nuanced and specific.
The pedagogy of history is notorious for its forgetfulness, but something dishonest is communicated in the absence of life’s little regularities in our history lessons. In naming what is significant it trivializes, makes lost, what it considers unimportant. It says: You are redundant. Your little garden is redundant, the way green looks on pink is redundant, feeding your children is redundant and kindness and caring are redundant. It starts to make you feel a little inadequate after a while. Indifferent and perhaps ashamed.
For this reason I am happy to have visited the art history museum in Vienna to see what the northern renaissance artists chose to frame. The drunks. The peasants. The dances. The cold.
Hunters in the Snow, by Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel, struck me as grounding and honest. A striking depiction of a winter scene, a group of men return from the hunt with little to show for it, nearby a fire is being tended and clung to and down below, in a frozen valley the dark silhouettes of little children play on the ice.
Here is the history I’m looking to know: the story of what it is to live in the hours that make up the days. To feed and be fed. To keep warm. To mourn and to play. To laugh and to cry.
To frame this story, to name it worthy of paint and canvas and space, is to venerate living for its own sake, for its fullness and roundness even in the smallness of time and space. Especially in the smallness of time and space that none of us ever have or ever can escape. Bruegel makes me feel acknowledged and at home in the world.

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The Language of Art

Over a dozen museums and hundreds (probably thousands) works of art later, I finally found a piece of art that I somewhat connected with.

Hi, my name is Lucinda Kollenhoven and I am here to tell all you left brained, logistically programmed, realistic thinkers out there that there is hope for you. There is hope for you to experience a piece of art emotionally and for a moment, perhaps a very brief moment, put aside your analytical tendencies and get wrapped up in the story.

My connection to a piece of art came through a statue by Giambologna, an artist I had never heard of previous to my travels to Florence. The statue depicted a story of the ‘Rape of the Sabines’, the abduction of Sabine women from their neighbours (the Romans). Giambologna’s statue showed an old man defeated by a younger man who grasps a young woman with quite the forceful gesture. The young man’s hands on the woman’s thigh and shoulders were clenched and his muscles were strong.  The characters were positioned in a way that made it impossible to see their expressions from one angle, causing me to walk around the darn thing over 10 times just to be able to examine it.

Now I’ve given you an idea of what the statue looked like, the piece of art that finally made me have an emotional connection, but I cannot describe to you what that connection was. Where did this intrigue come from? I don’t know. Why did I feel curiosity, pain, confusion and joy simultaneously? I don’t know. How do I express these thoughts? Maybe I can’t. Maybe art is so difficult for me to understand because it is its own language and I barely know the basics. Maybe.

My apologies to my fellow left brained folks out there for a lack of conclusion to this story. Keep hoping. Persevere. You too may soon experience the difficulties of expressing yourself after interacting with the language of art.

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Inspiration

Most of us dream of creating or doing something that will be original, inspiring, or change the world. Sadly, not all of us will get that chance. However, that makes it all the more special when you encounter someone or something that has accomplished the unimaginable.
For me, this happened when we experienced the architecture of Antoni Gaudi. Especially la Sagrada Familia. This structure was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was architecture inspired by nature, formed in a way that causes onlookers to question the beauty of buildings they have considered breathtaking in the past. Your gaze is drawn upwards, and curiosity, wonder, and awe are brought to the forefront of your mind. And, in its own way, it inspires others to wonder about a God that could give such a talent to one person.
Encounters such as these are few and far between. Whether it be with art, music, or what have you, it makes you realize that the things we consider “normal” need to be challenged. As well, it causes you to question where true inspiration and creativity come from. I do not have the answers to these, for that is up to you. But I will leave you with this: “God inspires, we only need to let ourselves be guided.” (Gaudi)

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Perugia Pilgrimage

Not all travelers are pilgrims but all pilgrims travel. As we herded off the bus in Perugia with our lives on our backs, we began to climb the slow incline of the hill ahead of us. At the halfway point to our destination that was a monastery, we were out of breath and ready to rest. But still we carried on. We did not let our heart rates lessen as we pushed our legs to climb higher despite the burdens that weighed us back down. We laughed when Walter told us that our path would worsen as he pointed ahead to the steep and long hill upwards. But still we carried on. Each of us climbed at our own pace but we made it to the top relatively at the same time. One more step, one more breath, and then we’d find relief.

Although this journey was not the most vigorous physical exertion we have all faced, I could not help but think of it as a pilgrimage. SSU trips enable us to walk in the paths of those before us. We have strength in the certainty that other students have accomplished what we are enduring here. Travelling is often romanticized whether before or after a trip. We anticipate seeing new things and experiences. Afterwards we reflect on the good memories. Yet travel brings us to new places both physically and metaphorically. It is an ongoing journey that challenges our expectations, our beliefs, and our identity.

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Raphael Rooms – Vatican Palace

We entered these rooms, the walls being covered with snapshots of interactions between people. I passed through the first two rooms without paying too much attention to the scenes painted on the walls. But as I walked through the next room, the interaction between a few of the paintings’ subjects caught my eye. I walked over to have a closer look. What exactly were they doing? What were the stories in these paintings? What was Raphael trying to show through them? I slowly made my way around the rest of the room, carefully taking in the other characters’ stories. There were so many interesting scenes taking place. The more I studied these paintings, the more my curiosity arose.

This kind of curiosity and intrigue, coming from greater observancy, has been a theme of my trip so far. I have realised that it is easy for me to go around and only partly take in what is before me, and end up not going through the process of paying greater attention to detail in an artwork/artefact/building etc., asking questions, having these answered and reaching a deeper understanding of the person/people who created it, and also the context in which it was created, this leading to an increase in my knowledge of history. I just need to ensure I more actively take in my surroundings and ask questions. When one does this, they discover that there are so many interesting things to learn and discover, even about that which seems everyday and familiar to us!

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Keeping art alive

Europe: the place of old buildings, old history and old art. Despite the many centuries of history, she seems to have aged well; like a bottle of wine. Yet despite her graceful aging, I keep on having the eerie sensation that we are merely looking at architectural bones. The sensation began when I was in Bath, England. The Roman baths are interesting, but all that is left are skeletons of what was once there. Granted, the Roman baths were not very well maintained until recent years, but the feeling insisted on following me throughout Spain and Italy, and is not limited solely to architecture, but all art.

The people who created many of the paintings that we see on a daily basis are dead and have been for years. As a result, I’ve been finding it difficult to connect with the art I see, which is the opposite of what I expected, considering the fact that I’m an artist myself.

But the art I’ve seen has simply felt… Dead.

I’m learning that there is a difference between live art, and dead art. Live art are the musicians we pass in the streets, or the Shakespeare play I had the privilege of seeing in London.

Live art, was the artist who sat just outside of the frantic leather market filled with men and women trying to convince tourists that their merchandise was the best. However, this man sat and painted with a calm countenance and wise eyes that gazed at the people that passed him by in the streets of Florence. I sat down next to him and watched him paint for awhile. He worked quickly and efficiently, but his work was beautiful.

We talked about life and about art. As we talked, I realized that the best way to experience art is through people.

People breathe life into art and without them, art is dead.

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one journey, many mistakes

My journey to Europe started well with my overnight flight landing early in Rome. Connecting with the group at Roma Termini was a bit of a long shot so I raced through customs, grabbed my suitcase and dodged a salesman pretending the Fiumicino shuttle didn’t exist. At Roma Termini I got my Perugia train ticket and took the security lady’s directions to Platform 5. As the train began to move I looked for the group and reached for my suitcase…and reached again. Shoot. Ticket booth? Security lady? No. No. Fiumicino shuttle? Yes. I had set it on a rack before sitting down and focusing on making the 9:30 train. I made the train, but forgot my suitcase.

Before long my suitcase would be a road side yard sale, so I found a staff member (not my group, they caught a different train) who told me I was on the wrong train and my ticket wasn’t validated, so I needed to switch trains at Foligno. She handed my ticket back satisfied she had helped this poor traveller. I then conveyed the problem I had first tried to communicate– my suitcase was on the Fiumicino shuttle. Her face told me she may not be able to fix that.

A call to Roma Termini told her it wasn’t there so the police checked the Fiumicino shuttle. Using my passport, luggage tag and cell number, the suitcase was located and taken back to Roma Termini. She signed the back of my unvalidated ticket so I could reuse it and directed me to the police station at Platform 1 to get my suitcase. Later she said no, it had to be Platform 24. When I disembarked I asked her name – Nadya. Grazi Nadya.

I caught a nap on the ride back, and awoke in Rome to the train slowing down and many people getting ready to step off, so I joined them. Platform 24 had no police station, because I was at Roma Tribuna, so I took the Metro to Roma Termini. Once there I was directed to Platform 1 – but I had been told to go to Platform 24. Oh, in that case, it’s on the right. On the way I came across security lady, who insisted I go to Platform 1. I’m never asking her anything again.

The police station had twelve buttons to buzz in with, all with abbreviations. ITALPOL looked right. No answer. Another try. Nothing. Another abbreviation. Nothing. Three other buttons I had no confidence in. Nothing. Then a lady who looked like a tourist walked up and let me in. There were no signs inside so I guessed and went up three floors where I found the police office, gave my passport over again, and was rewarded with my suitcase.

Off to Perugia again, but without asking security lady. The Italian countryside stretched past for a couple of hours before I saw a sign for Perugia, got off and looked for my bus stop. But I was at Perugia Ponte San Giovanni, not Perugia. Seriously? One more stop, two buses up the hill to Casa Monteripido, and I joined the group just in time for dinner. Just far enough away from my plethora of mistakes, I accepted their warm welcome.

New friends gained, one not new friend, an extra city visited, and successful entry to a slightly sketchy police station. Lessons learned? Sleep on the plane, especially when going to new places alone. Chain your luggage to yourself. And get off at your actual stop, not one that sounds like it.

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The cost of getting away

I have many stories but I’ll keep to a few updates: yes I almost died, no I haven’t been arrested and I am doing well. We went hiking at Montserrat here in Spain. I got lost on the trail at a dead end and started climbing a a few rock shelves seeking breathtaking views. So naturally I climbed more and eventually ended up on a shelf with a majestic view of the valley. It made me reflect on the struggle of the Catalonians and how this was their place of refuge when the Spanish were oppressing them. Seeing the view and having a small window into what kind of energy was required to reach such a place left me awestruck. Then I started a steep descent which resulted in the soil beneath me giving out, I went head over heels 15 feet down the hill and landed straddled on a tree. Despite initial fears I did not break my left leg and instead walked away with many cuts and a fairly swollen shin. After being lost for another half hour or so I did find the way down. This small experience helped me understand that this trip has a lot to offer if you take the time to seek out quiet places and take a few minutes to rest in where you are.

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big place of refuge

Our time here in Barcelona has been very quick, it seems like yesterday we landed from London. Yet, soon we leave. Yesterday, we visited Park Güell and the Sagrada Familia, two great monuments designed by Gaudi the famous architect. After crossing the city we scaled what seemed to be 100 flights of steps before arriving at the forest like park which overlooks the city. The park struck me as ancient with its red rocks but its crushed rock paths and rock columns create a semi man-made feel. The trees were somewhat ordered placement but it really did have a forest like feel. The day wore on, spending time talking, pondering, feeling and being in that park and its inspired Gaudi monuments (he also designed the park). The whole park felt like a big place of refuge. Many gathering places, places to perform, places to play, and higher up on the hill there were places for quiet, away from the rustle of people who flocked to the lower section of the park armed with cameras. Amid this experience, I was grateful for the space in the city to be, to stop, and reflect. How am I affected?

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white circle

In The Vatican, I was herded from one room to the next amongst the droves of tourists. I felt like a cow being led to my slaughter. The paintings themselves reflected the chaos as scenes of war, heaven, hell, and history were packed full with the characters of stories and legends. It was in this atmosphere of chaos that I found one piece that stood out and amazed me beyond understanding and expectation. It was one of those contemporary pieces that many, including myself, struggle to understand the reason for their place in the halls of fame; one that many may deem to be too simple to be beautiful. A black canvas with an imperfect thin, white circle stood amongst the likes of Chagall, Dali, and Picasso. For the first time, I was able to draw incredible meaning from an abstract piece that I would otherwise struggle to understand. It was exactly its imperfection and simplicity that captivated me. My original thoughts were simple, mere observations. White on black. White circle and perfection. Then I thought of the imperfection of the white circle and my thoughts grew deeper. Is this representation of purity more true to the reality of purity; something that is less than the expectation? I began to compare my understanding of its commentary on purity to its place in the Vatican. My thoughts spiralled out of control and sent me into a trance that will forever exist in eternity. Certainly my writing cannot explain my trance, but there was a theme of humanity’s attempt to contain what can’t be contained. The space inside the circle was just the same as that outside of it. This piece (of which I don’t know the name or artist, nor care to know for it may pollute my perception) changed me. It was the first time that my mind feasted on something so annoyingly abstract and it was delicious.

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Our Wander Over Yonder

Goodness gracious. Haven’t we had a merry collection of experiences already. Chasing film sets from childhood films, wandering down streets that had previously only been known from photographs and time diluted stories. Monuments known across the globe become buildings that certain among our numbers have taken selfies in front of. Not so sure how I feel about that last one. So too do we look into a collection of parts of the world that have seen their hey-days and begun to shine out to the world through interactions of legacy and floundering societal control. We have wandered through the seat of power of the empire that, for better or worse, made our homes possible. We have seen its relics and walked where paragons of human developmental fields have learned their trades and passed on ideas to their peers. But so too do we go through streets that are only reflections of those times. Smoky air and sky-scraping towers of glass and steel erupt all around those relics of times gone and dusted. There is a sense of crumbling mixed into the stabled facade of these old towns. It can be somewhat threatening.

But all in all, everyone seems to be well. High spirits are voiced, unique scenarios and locations become interesting accounts, and unusual inside jokes take root. Were I to write “pwoft,” or “uncle that steals the silverware,” a smile might cross a face or two in times to come. Time will tell whether that will truly be the case. It will be good to find out in the coming weeks. Onward we go then.

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Migrants are People

[Alannah DeJong, a 2nd year student at SSU, recently participated in Uprooted – a Learning Tour with Mennonite Central Committee to the Northern and Southern borders of Mexico. The three week tour explored themes of migration and peace building. This blog post originally appeared on the Uprooted blog.]

This past semester I learned about dehumanization. Simply put, dehumanization happens when a group of people is seen as “less than human” by another group. By giving a different name and attributing only a single story to this group, it becomes easier to justify their mistreatment. In my own experience, these kinds of dehumanizing tendencies are sometimes shown when it comes to migrants. Naturally, on this learning tour which focuses on migration and peacebuilding, we have had some important discussions about migration. These have continued here in Mexico City. We have learned that there are many different reasons for which a person might migrate. Someone might decide to leave their home because of economic opportunities elsewhere, or because of environmental dangers. Someone may migrate in order to be reunited with family members, or simply for a change in scenery. Some people leave their homes because they will be killed if they stay. There is no single migrant story.

Being on this trip has allowed me to broaden my understanding of what a migrant is. I have come to the realization that a migrant is someone who has left one place to move to another. I am a migrant if I leave my home country for fear of persecution. I am a migrant if I move to another province for a job. Migrants are not all victims. Migrants are not all criminals. Migrants are not all poor. There is no single migrant story.

During our time in Mexico City so far, we have been able to visit some of the spaces that shelter migrants along their journeys. Within these shelters are incredibly beautiful pieces of art painted by some of the people who have stayed there. I would like to share pictures of a few murals in CAFEMIN, a family migrant shelter that also provides workshops in areas such as baking, sewing, and computers for the people staying there:

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This mural pictures an angel overseeing Mary, Joseph, and Jesus during their own migration.

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This mural shows Jesus carrying his cross, and migrants after him carrying theirs.

The message of these murals is one of humanization. They bring humanity to the topic of migration in a powerful way; by countering the disassociation that sometimes occurs when migrants are concerned. It is important not to fall into the tendency of dehumanization. I know that the pain in the world is so great, and it is often easier to talk about people as though they are a little less than people. It makes life easier to bear. But if I take a step back, I remember that Jesus was a migrant, and that I myself am a descendent of migrants. Yet I also remember that migrants are people deserving of human rights and dignity not because I am related to migrants, or worship a God who was one, but simply because they are people.

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Pick your art, I like mine live

London is an incredible city, known for many things, such as the theatre culture that exists. I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Phantom of the Opera, which has been playing in London for over 20 years. This is one of the many musicals that calls London home, as one could attend a different theatre performance every night for a month and still not see all that London has to offer. The theatre life is a source of evening entertainment for many people, as each theatre holds several hundred people if not a thousand.

It has been my dream to attend the Phantom of the Opera and I was willing to pay whatever it cost. It was worth every penny, as the play came alive through all of the different songs and performers who act out the roles with everything they have. The musical was spectacular and a vast contrast to the types of art that we explored in London during the day. I consider museums and art galleries to be filled with dead art and musicals and plays to be filled with live art. There are so many different types of art in the city that there is something there for everyone. I really enjoyed my time in London, and would gladly go back to have another experience of the rich culture that exists.

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Same same but different

After arriving in Barcelona, we unpacked and had a wonderful 3 course supper. On Monday morning we took our daily bus into the city center to explore and learn about Barcelona. This form of transit was quite different compared to our ‘tube’ Underground experience in London, as a bus isn’t quite prepared for an onslaught of 25 extra people. Nevertheless, we jammed into the bus and headed into Barcelona. Personally I love looking at new and unique buildings, and as we traveled this was my first time experiencing this Catalonian city. As we got close to Plaza Espanya, I saw a large circular stadium approaching. I became more and more excited and was in awe, as we approached the home of Barcelona FC, the football “soccer” team’s stadium.

Indeed, I love sports and it energizes me to see where they are played. So as I admired the largeness, colour, and architecture of this majestic building, Stefan spoke to me. He said “Isn’t it beautiful.” To this I responded, ‘Yes.’ There was a moment of silence and then I realized what he was actually talking about. Stefan was looking at the beautiful monument, which was right in the middle of the traffic circle. This became an aha moment for me, as to how we can be seeing and experiencing all sorts of different things. In London, I loved looking at monuments, but here in Barcelona the football stadium was the building that stood out to me.

Posted in 2016 | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Fighting The Flu

[The final post in a six part series from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

I have never quite been able to wrap my head around the concept of working with a corporation to solve a problem that they have caused. I have always thought it to be like trying to treat a flu with the influenza itself. While the symptoms of a flu cannot be lessened by further exposure to the virus, prevention of the infection’s recurrence can be achieved thusly.

The application of this sickly metaphor to the situation of corporate-social responsibility in Timmins, Ontario is entirely appropriate. To briefly summarize the history of Timmins’ industrious past, it would suffice to say that mining is the purpose and the sustenance behind this community. The town’s geography is credited to the long stretch of mines that border the highway, making Timmins one of Canada’s largest municipalities in terms of landmass. It is as though there is something in the water in Timmins, (other than high metal qualities) that infuses residences with a passion for the mining industry.

Entrance to the Goldcorp Dome Mine in Timmins

Entrance to the Goldcorp Dome Mine in Timmins

Recently in Timmins, the remaining active mines and mill have been acquired by a massive gold extraction company called Goldcorp. As a part of this transaction, Goldcorp was required to assume the responsibility of restoring the old tilling sites, (these toxic waste pits are ecological tragedies aesthetically comparable to Mars, and chemically post-apocalyptic). In years past, Goldcorp had simply blockaded these areas, before coating these former tilling sites in a layer of spray-on grass. Standing on this softwood and straw covered property, I could sense that something was not quite right within the underlaying soil.

A reclamation site in Timmins

A reclamation site in Timmins

Before my conspiracy theories could grapple me into a Jesse Ventura-like trance for the remainder of the afternoon, we were hurried onto a bus to visit a reclaimed tilling site dedicated to the regions First Peoples.

Timmins is a city rich in cultural diversity, with approximately one third of the population being of Aboriginal descent. Here, we continued our dialogue with our Goldcorp representative Mary and her associate, Martin. Martin is a First Nations man and a traditional healer. He has decided to partner with Goldcorp in their efforts to reestablish a Native presence on the once uninhabitable land. Martin has been encouraged to plan what sounds like a retreat-oriented educational facility, where participants could participate in traditional dialogues and healing practices, such as the sweat lodge.

Learning about traditional practices in the sweat lodge

Learning about traditional practices in the sweat lodge

As much as I would love to be totally optimistic and believe that Goldcorp will fully follow through with their commitment to the First Peoples of the region, I am not entirely convinced that Goldcorp is a lone wolf in the corporate world. Canadian mining corporations are famous for disturbing the sacred lands of our First Peoples and never quite making things right (at least outside of the scope of the public eye). However, in this case, I would be thrilled to be proven wrong and see Goldcorp fully take responsibility for the irresponsible waste that has occurred and empower the region’s First Peoples to reclaim their territory.

My most realistic outlook returns to the initial flu metaphor: although the symptoms of influenza cannot be treated by the virus itself, it’s future occurrence can be prevented by it’s presence. In order for this to function in a community similarly to a vaccine, a community must work like a body to form an immunity towards the virus’ future detriment by recognizing it’s manageable presence. The community must lose it’s soft spot for sickness, and learn to stand guard against the symptoms of illness. With an appropriate presence and responsible management, Goldcorp’s mineral extraction can continue peacefully in Timmins while the First Peoples are permitted to preserve the land that is rightfully theirs.

Posted in 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont), Short-Term Trips | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding Identity

[The fifth in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

Driving into the Mattagami First Nation I was taken aback by how beautiful the area is. Situated along the Mattagami river, spruce and birch trees line the community while the lingering rain clouds add an air of mystery and green signs of spring to the forest floor. The houses were plain, two stories with trucks in the driveway. The buildings, small. As we drove in we kept turning left, up the hill to the band building. Our big group walked inside and was ushered through a small curved hallway into Chief Walter Naveau’s office, there he greeted us.

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Only a few could fit inside the office and, as my attention turned, I heard him quietly tell Lyndsey, our MCC representative, that his own son had asked if the residential schools actually existed. Continuing on about miseducation, Walter said that after 150 years of learning someone else’s history, it was time the people learn their own. He said, “how can we learn someone else’s history and culture when we don’t even know our own.” His office has taken three years to develop a module curriculum in which the people of Mattagami are able to learn their people’s history. The people of Mattagami are now able to learn their own history and traditions in order to find their identity.

I have been learning that a result of residential schools and restriction of First Nation peoples to a reserve has resulted in a loss of identity. Symptoms of that loss include addictions to drugs and alcohol and most importantly; suicide. For generations Anishinaabe people have been told that their traditions, such as sweat lodge, smoking pipe, engaging in ceremony, and doing round dances (all part of their culture and spirituality) are evil. They adopt the mentality of the white man but at the same time are not accepted in the white man’s world.

Today elders in Mattagami do not approve of playing the drum, or performing ceremony. They are scared of the spirituality the actions bring because they believed the white man’s lie. The lie that their spirituality is wrong. Instead, ignoring and losing their traditions has resulted in loss of identity and brought on a reality of youth suicide pacts like those in Attawapiskat. Losing their traditions has brought more harm than good and Chief Walter is doing everything he can to bring back native customs by teaching their history and the real truth behind residential schools.

Once, in his youth, Walter was addicted to drugs and suicidal. The first moment he experienced a drum circle he knew who he was and his life turned around. Now he dedicates his life to rebuilding his community by giving his people identity through education and experiences like the one that changed his life. The admirability of his story impacted me. I believe that First Nations people can bring themselves out of their identity crisis as long as they can find who they are once again through the renewing of traditional practices.

Posted in 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont), Short-Term Trips | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moose Bones and Truth

[The fourth in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

Well folks, here we are in Timmins, a city so dusty that many of the graffiti tags are done with fingertips on glass windows (I don’t know whether to blame the spring, the mining, or the unfrequented selection of roads along our route). This marks the beginning of the segment of our journey with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) for the Aski Learning Tour. Today was a day of exploration. We started with a presentation by CreeGeo Mushkegowuk Information Services, and from there set out on winding back roads that surrounded our train of vehicles with grey clouds of dust to get to Miken-otaski. When the tall teepee and glow of the warm fire became visible, we were welcomed with smiles and got the opportunity to participate in a traditional cookout consisting of goose, moose, bannock, dumplings, and Labrador tea. After our stomachs were stretched to their full capacity, Annie pulled out a box of freshly caught whitefish to smoke over the fire. We stood in awe as she dexterously decapitated and gutted the fish. However, we were not warned that we were standing directly in the splash zone of the gory deed. That’s a story for another time, but I just had to mention this incredible feast.

The real highlight of my day was what began as nothing more than an impromptu stroll. Amanda (the 14-year-old daughter of our MCC Learning Tour coordinator, Lyndsay) led me down the trail to see an older cloth teepee on a nearby site while pointing out different plant species and their uses along the way. We found that the teepee had been taken down, but I learned a lot from the 4-foot-something wealth of knowledge on the expedition. In addition to the typical conversations about school, pets, and family, she told me about exciting and hilarious encounters with animals in the woods we were travelling in, identified droppings, and explained several traditional ceremonies. By this time, we had been joined by a few more members of the group. We decided to make the most of this time by doing some exploring in the area surrounding the trail. In the clear, flat area where the old cloth teepee once stood, we came across scattered bones of some poor unfortunate soul that were picked clean. Among these remains was a spine, the size of each vertebra comparable to a small dog’s pelvis. Based on this enormity, it was unanimously decided by our bunch of unqualified people that this thing must have once held a moose together. In myself, this discovery revealed a possibly morbid fascination in skeletal systems and paleontology.

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Don’t fret: this little excursion did not pass by without a lesson. If I hadn’t gone on this little hike or cut up my legs by trudging through thorns and branches in the woods, I wouldn’t have found those bones. I wouldn’t have had my interest in historical traces peaked, and I wouldn’t have learned from Amanda. Something I’ve noticed in my observations of the First Nations cultures is the great amount of value they place in the passing-down of knowledge and tradition. Amanda (an indigenous girl herself) is more aware of her culture’s traditions than any non-indigenous person her age that I’ve met. I myself know close to nothing in comparison about my own ancestral history, but a new determination to dig for it has been placed in me. Like the moose bones and truths about First Nations, it will have to be intentionally sought after. In the same way, if you don’t go out seeking answers and truths for First Nations issues, you won’t find them. They are intentionally buried, and you won’t just stumble upon them by walking along the beaten path. The government and the public make sure of this by working hard to conceal the abominations to this nation and to our own unearned European dignity. If we sweep all of our unflattering history under the rug, we won’t ever need to address it– out of sight, out of mind. But the truth is that it did happen, and it’s time to move the rug and clean it up. The key is knowing where we come from and who we are, awareness, and education– whether it be self-education, curriculum-based education in school, or educating the public on corrected misconceptions of indigenous issues and the people themselves.

On another note: although today I ate moose meat for the first time- heck, I even held the very core of the animal’s physical body in my hands- I still have yet to see a living, breathing moose. I’ve made it one of my goals on this trip to spot at least one of these (increasingly likely to be mythical) creatures, which has proven to be a challenge. Wish me luck.

Posted in 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont), Short-Term Trips | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Danger of an Uncritical World

[The third in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

We met with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) on Friday, April 29th, 2016. We were scheduled to meet with Jon Thompson, the Director of Health & Social Development, but were also given the pleasure of dialoguing with one of his associates William David. William David was “the mining guy”, being heavily involved in mining policy at the AFN. He was an extremely articulate gentleman with an incredible breadth of both educational as well as hands-on experience.

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We talked about many things including the AFN’s relationship with the Hill, how change is made in policy and government, First Nations people’s right to self-determination and how to engage non-aboriginal people in conversations about First Nation’s issues. However, by far, what has most securely captured my attention are William’s words concerning people and the terrible things they do.

It is so easy to demonize those that commit human rights violations. Their actions are often so shocking that they quickly become an all encompassing label, excluding the possibility that the subject in question was anything but an atrocious human being. However, William had a unique perspective that helped to frame human rights perpetrators in a much more forgiving and human light. While not removing the responsibility of any given person for their actions, Will added a specific qualifier, which also served as a challenge for those who wished to be a force of positive change in the world. He said that people, as in, anybody, can do the most dangerous things when they are uncritical of what they are doing and the systems that they serve.

It can be easy to do something terrible unintentionally, especially if a person is not critical about what they are doing or what they are supporting. Sometimes, the tendency is to imagine that those who have committed the worst human rights violations were terrible from the start, perverted by nature and only committed these specific crimes after hours of prolonged thought about how to make the world a worse place than it was before. However, Will’s perspective allows for a much more nuanced approach. Anybody has the potential to do terrible things. Everyone is capable of great evil, but they are also capable of great good.

In this case, the worst actions are conceived when people to not take the time to think about what they are doing or who they are supporting. People must learn to take the time to reflect on their lives, especially on how their actions might affect others. Rarely do our choices only affect ourselves, more often, they have a wide reaching impact on both those dear to us but also on those unknown to us. The world is an interconnected web of relationships and systems, therefore, it is imperative that we examine both our relationships as well as the strings that run between the various systems of which we are apart. No man is an island; everyone belongs to the system of the world and each of us is responsible to our neighbor at home and abroad.

Posted in 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont), Short-Term Trips | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Education for Reconciliation

[The second in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

 

View from the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill

View from the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill

It’s a beautiful morning here in the capital as we gather ourselves to cars and head down to the Bronson Center. We are scheduled to meet Ian and Katie from KAIROS this morning and the group seems to be buzzed to see what’s in store for us. We arrive into a jungle of an office; trees and plants climbing over stacks of books, the sun streaming in the windows over the ensemble of broken furniture patched together to form a communal table. We gather and share names and stories.

KAIROS, a Canadian Ecumenical justice initiative, partners with existing advocacy groups in countries and communities that ask for help to support the local efforts around advocacy. Today, we learned that, on the Canadian front, KAIROS partners with the Legacy of Hope Foundation. The two have put their efforts into raising Canadian awareness around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action which focuses around the impact of residential schools and their negative inter-generational impact.

Right now, their approach to the conversation is through education as practical action. To accomplish this goal KAIROS’ employees and teachers use the acronym EPIC: Engage, State the Problem, Inform about Solutions, Call to Action. They provide material such as Education for Reconciliation Action Toolkit to engage audiences. Anyone can obtain this toolkit, take it back to their communities, and introduce these topics to groups, students, and friends. In the booklet they state that their goal is, “to ensure every Canadian child learns about the Indian Residential Schools, Treaties, colonization and the contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to Canada’s past and present and can then be a leader in the long-term work of reconciliation.” Approaching education through truthful story telling will teach children, as upcoming leaders, how to make better decisions for our collective future.

Through this conversation the inclusion of the Indigenous voices is the only way to change perspective and approach for this conversation to continue within each specific community across Canada. The goal of KAIROS calls us as citizens to acknowledge a responsibility we have to our country–peoples to share the true history of our ‘home and native land’ so all it’s residents can be ‘glorious and free.’

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My intention after hearing their passion for the education of individuals and after gathering their materials is to practically apply this to my life back in Halifax. Ian and Katie have connected me with some local partners in my area and I am anticipating how I can contribute my skills in a practical and helpful way when I return home.

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Community, Conversations & Wonder

[The first in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

We have started off our Learning Tour in the nation’s capital.  We have quickly found that Ottawa is filled with many kinds of people. We met with the staff at Mennonite Central Committee’s  (MCC) Ottawa office this morning. This was a great way to start off our trip seeing that we will be with MCC in Timmins next week. Rebecca  (policy analyst) and Esther (intern) had a great amount of wisdom to share with us about advocacy work.

Throughout the day the significance of community was brought to my attention. There is value in spending time with people over a long period.  Nothing can replace this time it takes to build a strong community. Yet there is also significance in finding others to partner with.  Individuals and groups can and do make a difference but they cannot make change alone. As Rebecca and Esther shared about their work it was apparent that they have the same heart that the SSU community shares.

Rebecca and Esther are constantly learning and sharing about people and the issues that they face. For them every person they meet matters. They celebrate when one person sees victory in a situation that they have been facing. They shared a story about one indigenous man in Canada who had been stateless for most of his life. This means that he didn’t have a birth certificate and therefore could not get necessary documents for living in western society. He could not get a driver’s license, health card, loan, or even legal guardianship of his children. When our goal is seeing the value of people, we shift from trying to make an issue go away, to helping find a solution for each person.

We learned that we each have different roles to play in advocacy but there are key political actions we can all participate in. The first thing to remember is that the politicians we elect into office work for us.  It is important to tell them what matters to you.  One way to talk to an elected official is to set up a meeting. Another way is to write them a letter.  Writing a letter is easy and the great thing is that there is free postage when sending a letter to your MP.  Another great way of supporting an issue that matters to you is to either start or sign a petition.

By the end of our time at MCC it was clear that education matters and can make the greatest difference. I am so thankful that we have this time to learn from people who are devoting their lives to listening to and helping others. It is like a web that will be ever extending: after this trip we each will be going home to our communities. We have an opportunity to share what we have learned and hopefully those we share with will tell others too.

Visiting Parliament Hill!

Visiting Parliament Hill!

When our group was touring Parliament I saw the potential influence we each have.  We stepped into the elevator of the Peace Tower at the end of the tour. We were filled with awe and wonder and apparently bubbling enthusiasm.  The tour had just taken us through elaborate architectural feats where we heard about some Canadian history and saw many pieces of art (these are some of our favourite things).  As the elevator reached the top of the tower the attendant told us to turn around to see the bells.  We were amazed! The attendant said that she never saw anyone get so excited to see them.  Our excitement and questions opened up all kinds of conversations with everyone we met during the day.

Some may say that we are just a small group of nerdy young people. This is probably true but at the heart of it all we are filled with wonder. Each of us in our own way has a passion for seeing the greatness of our world.  We are going to take this opportunity to learn and understand.

Posted in 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont) | Leave a comment

Market Morning

We’re in Laoag city. Walking to the market this morning, the air’s warmth hugs my body. It’s eight a.m. and the sun’s rays are delicate but assuring. Getting anywhere requires the utmost alertness of the senses since the vehicular and pedestrian traffic are off the hook and sometimes indistinguishable one from the other.   People just hang off the sides of buses, bikes and jeepneys, jumping on and off as they please. To cross the street is to risk being run down by a swarm of tricycles or a big truck carrying boxes of fruit or cases of glass bottles of coca cola.

We miraculously manage to arrive at the market. All of us. In one piece. As soon as we go into the tent we are enthusiastically approached by several vendors with menus all boasting a number of dishes I have never heard of. These women are brilliant; all four of us buy an empanada and watch as one woman’s experienced hands roll out the bright orange dough and stuff it with fresh papaya, mango, local longanisa and then crack an egg into it.

As our empanadas sizzle in the deep fryer we fidget with a box-like machine that apparently produces coffee. I jam a five peso piece into the money slot and a small paper cup pops out of the bottom of the box which then fills the cup with a murky liquid that looks just like river water. I shyly ask the empanada lady if this is normal. She shyly tells me to “taste” as though if I liked it she would confirm its normality but if I didn’t she would do what she could to remedy the situation, obviously eager to please. After I awkwardly and apologetically reject the river water, she makes me a new coffee. It’s sticky and sweet.

By this time the empanadas are hot and crisp. We sit down at a table with a red gingham plastic tablecloth, which is promptly equipped with local vinegar and banana ketchup. I douse my empanada in vinegar and crunch into it; the egg is yokey, the fruit sweet and the longanisa spicy and rich. I’m in the Philippines and I’ve just bitten into the beginning of a two month long oriental adventure.

Posted in 2015, All Things Travel, Asia | Leave a comment

Movements

The sound of the tires reminds me of the speed and power around me. This bus is moving us towards our goal. Dimly it is lit, with red lights beckoning for attention. Headphones are in, and we are engaged with tones. Twenty-two of us. Sitting and waiting for movement.

This grey tube whining in the darkness, saying, ‘here I am, here I come.’ Screaming with energy and force, its hundreds of working parts are placed together to form a solid, automation of movement. Here I sit amongst it all. An impermeable membrane that tends to sweat in heat. A mass that has connections that make a consciousness that is aware; that it is aware.

Like the automobile the membrane is made up of hundreds ,if not thousands of parts. Working together to make movement. But is there a difference in the purpose, in the nature of the moment?

Both have destinations. The vehicle runs till it breaks down and cannot support the movement any longer. The membrane or the body, is the same. It goes till it cannot go anymore. It all depends on the make and model.

If we derive purpose from consciousness aren’t we just fooling ourselves. The body function is to carry the being that lives in infinity. Who lives in a world of pulses and chemicals; semi-connected to the rest of the world. The automobile carries people to their destinations. It takes people places, it kills people. But yet it is not conscious.

The bus keeps whining as we come around the turn. It is quiet. It’s 2:30 in the morning; darkness surrounds us. While the bus keeps moving my thoughts turn to my past travels. The warmth of the East, the people and its smells. The smell that gets into your senses. Rising up even in your thoughts. Words become the smell. Grimy,dirty, garbage and sometimes the subtle smell of the fragrance of the breeze from the mountains. At last the bus stops whining, but other voices are heard.

Excitement is impeded on the soul by careless people. They don’t know what’s ahead. The pain, the smells, the last memories of leaving a home that was so foreign, yet had become like home.

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Mr. And Ms. University 2015

Never in my life have I known what attending a beauty pageant is like. After this experience I cannot say the same. Northwestern University put on a “Mr. And Ms. University” beauty pageant. Why? I will never know, but I can speculate!

Filipinos love to perform in the spotlight. Normally, they are modest and shy but they love to put on a show when given the correct outlet. Naturally they are attracted to the glitz and glamour of a beauty pageant. It allows them to dress-up in rolls of sparkly sequins and seven-inch heels. They have the confidence to strut their stuff on stage and show the crowd how good they are at entertaining.

So there I was, one of twenty white people on campus being ushered to sit well near the front (the 2nd row to be exact) in order to see best because we are guests. The sound booming from the speakers pulsated in my ears and palpitated against my heart. I sat back to experience the show for what it was. A college organized Filipino beauty pageant.

The girls in the bleachers went crazy when their favorite male contestant gave them a twinkling shoulder, while the men waited for the swimsuit competition so they could gawk at the women they would never obtain.

When the swimsuit competition finally started I had no choice but to watch as fourteen 15 to 19 year olds strutted their stuff on stage. Luckily Ate Jonah, my host mother, sat next to me and used her uproarious laughter to help me see the humor in the displays of half-nude, half-legal collegiates. Together we chuckled at the young men and women who tastefully bared it all in hopes of winning the pageant crown. Several times we broke out laughing when the young men posed as if they were highly sought after hunky models.

Northwestern University used local celebrities as judges and gave away awards from sponsors. The pageant contestants received grants and prizes as round one of awards seemed never ending. The students who participate have the opportunity to receive grants and prizes from local and national businesses. Receiving such prestigious awards can be an enticing incentive for any student to join in the competition.

As the loud award ceremony came to an end my Ate told us it was time to leave. We would be unable to stay for the evening gown competition and second round of awards. It was only 9:15 and the crowns would not be awarded until midnight! Thankful to make it out of there with my eardrums still intact, I could not help but take the whole experience as a Filipino cultural event. That night I went to bed feeling like I understood Filipinos just a bit better.

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