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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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The Ocean

From the road that I stood on, I could see the ocean. With sweat beading on my forehead and rolling into my eyes, nothing could have stopped me from making the trek toward that break. I stepped off of the pavement and onto the faded dirt path that entered into the foliage. It zigzagged, mimicking the river that flowed to my right. I stepped over a decaying tree and took a sharp turn to my left where a skinny cow blocked my way. Shocked by the beast, I froze. Then I laughed. I scooted around her and found my way again. Ducking, dodging, weaving, walking. Sweat was pouring down my face at this point and my shirt was getting darker. I watched every step as I was wary of snakes (my greatest nemesis). The forest was thick with palm branches and bamboo shoots. The healthy dark green leaves were masked by shadows as the 2 o’clock sun shone from above.  A vine caught my foot and I stumbled, but only for a second. I felt embarrassed but I don’t know why.

I heard the ocean now. The waves crashing beckoned me toward them. The river’s current was growing stronger. Its banks had been a dark, rich brown and their solidity was maintained by the roots of the trees. Now the structured walls lost their form and turned to sand. I followed the now sandy path along a gradual bend to the left. Around the corner it emerged in all its vastness and glory. Rolling waves thundered when they hit the packed wet sandy shore.

I picked up my pace until I was running. I kicked off my shoes and waded through the knee high river that was now emptying into the ocean. On the other side I stripped down to my boxers, stumbling over my pants and throwing away my shirt. I ran in up to my waist and then dove into the first wave that hit me! Oh it was refreshing! I couldn’t have chosen a more perfect temperature. It was cold but not shocking, just enough to rejuvenate me instantly. The salt tasted like freedom. I was smiling ear to ear and let the ocean pull me out just a little. I lay on my back and felt the life of the ocean through my whole body. It heals. The ocean heals everything. It heals physical, mental, and spiritual injuries. I could feel it healing me. Healing my cuts. Healing my stress. Healing my longing for God.

I rode a wave to the shore and let it wash me up. I laid there for a moment, letting the waves that followed massage my legs. Finally I stood up and took four steps forward and sat down to study its ways. It’s simple. In that moment nothing mattered. Everything made sense. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath in through my nose. The salty air gave me life. I wanted more. I kept breathing with my eyes closed. In through the nose. Out through the nose. In. Out. In. Out. I opened my eyes and looked out across the empty space that stretched to the horizon.

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Two Extremes

There are two sides to everything, two extremes to every situation. Coming to the Philippines was a great example of that. Before coming here we talked about how there is not much of a middle class in the Philippines. It is one extreme or the other. Rich or poor.

Driving through the Philippines, on the way to Laoag city, we would pass slum communities where houses were made out of plywood and tin roofs. In the middle of the slums there were huge beautiful palaces. They seemed so out of place. It made me realize just how huge the difference between the rich and the poor really was. I was able to see first hand how closely related the rich and the poor were as well. It is heartbreaking to see how some people can own such huge houses and live in such luxury while in their back yard there are people living in huts with no money at all.

Our home stay in Laoag was another example. I stayed with the vice president of North Western University. They had an amazing house. Complete with a spiral staircase, and a bathroom in every room. The kitchen was huge, and there was a beautiful balcony that overlooked the university. There were only three people living in this mansion. These people were rich even by American standards. While we were living in luxury there where others whose home stays didn’t even have running water, some where families slept on the floor. Some  had huge extended families all living in the same tiny house.

Laoag had this mix of rich and poor everywhere you went but nothing compares to what I saw when we got to Manila. Driving through town, my heart broke for the people on the street and the state they live in. As we drove we saw families whose whole life was in bags and scattered along the side of the road. They slept on pavement and begged for money during the day. Every time we passed a person living on the street it made me sick to my stomach. No one should have to live like this. Street children are common here. They walk around trying to get money any way they can, even by stealing and pick pocketing.

I felt even worst when we got to where we were having a museum tour. This was in the rich part of Manila. There were rich people everywhere you looked, Filipinos, Americans, and many others. There were highend restaurants and brand name stores like Hugo Boss, Gucci, Mark Jacobs, etc. I couldn’t believe these lush gardens and beautiful patios were here. There were no street people anywhere.  Only the rich. I couldn’t believe this place was here when such a sort distance away there are families with no money for food or money to put a roof of any kind over their heads. The people in this district walked around with not a care in the world, completely oblivious to what  is happening in their city.

The Philippines is an amazing place but there is such heartbreak everywhere you look. I could not believe the contrast between the rich and the poor. I had read, and people had told me about it.  But it is so different when you see it for yourself, when it is you that a street woman holding a baby is crying out to for help, and, when you live in the huge beautiful houses surrounded by the poor. It is different when you see first hand the smiles as well as the sad faces of the street children just trying to survive, when you see for yourself the two extremes.

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Reflections on the Philippines

It’s hard to believe that two weeks have passed already and that our time in the Philippines is drawing to a close. We end our time in the capital, Manila, where we began. My first impression was that, aside from the heat it wasn’t all that different from back home, from Calgary. The streets were plastered with huge ads (and to my surprise, most of them were in English too), and filled with Filipinos. My high school experience consisted largely in building relationships with Filipinos, the majority ethnicity of my school.

On the long drive to Laoag my impression began gradually to change. For the first two days there things were comfortable. We stayed in a Westernized hotel where there were hot showers, toilet paper and Western toilets, where squatting was optional.

In our home stay family things began to change. The people were absolutely lovely, but they had a very different way of living. Showers consisted of pumping water into a bucket and then throwing that over my head. But I didn’t mind at all; it saved water and to forced me to shower quickly.

Religion here was also an interesting experience. With the Philippines being the third largest Catholic country in the world, I had set my hopes very highly. At mass in downtown Laoag, the church was so full I had to stand at the back, one of probably over 500 people. Our host mother told us that mass is said hourly at St. Williams on Sundays, and that all of them were this busy.  People leaving mass were bombarded by street children trying to sell  flowers, balloons, rosaries and many other things.

At North Western University, the school we were attending, I encountered more non-Catholic Filipinos than Catholic. My roommate and I had an interesting experience when we took public transit to Pagudpud, two hours away, with our host mother and her sister. As they were loading the bus, a woman began speaking in a loud voice in a language I did not understand. She stood at the front, facing everyone, closing her eyes and swaying as if reciting something; she then opened a book and said in a thick accent a Gospel name and a verse and then continued speaking. She was preaching!  The bus crew worked around her without even batting an eye. She then went around asking for what she pegged in English a “love offering” and then left.
I don’t doubt that the conversation about religion will continue, but in a completely different way, since Malaysia is filled mostly with Muslims.  As sad as I am to leave the Philippines, I am looking forward to the next leg of my journey, as I’m sure I will continue to grow and learn in ways what I could never anticipate!

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The City

 

I came into this world of small alleys and busy streets. The ways are littered with tricycles and jeepneys. The hustle and bustle of this strange world seems like a reflection of myself. Laoag city is very confusing at the first glance, but it becomes a system of confusion and a strange order within itself. For such a small town boy, realizing all of this so soon was weird. Overwhelming. There is a strange phenomenon that happens when one enters the city. The crazy buzzing and humming of the motorcycles becomes something you count on, and becomes quiet, just as the feeling of being overwhelmed becomes ‘normal’?.   You get used to weaving through crowds of people and being the center of attention, and the struggles and challenges of everyday life become as smooth as dealing with the masses. Being the center of attention becomes an intentional humbler: realizing that you don’t deserve this special godly initiation that is presented upon you. The power of being white is strong, but not taking advantage of this weakens it, and I am humbled to do so. The dark smog that overcomes the city is lifted. I realize that in all of the commotion, there is an order, just like in my dull mind.

I miss home. I miss the quiet ignorance of the everyday, the dulling silence that we think sharpens us in our slow, uneventful, and unchallenging lives. The quietness that we are comfortable in, of not having to be aware of anyone else’s comfort, is a soothing thing.  Being a guest in the busy streets creates a lean edge on psyche. Thinking that I am separate from this world back at home destroys our humility; it heightens our sense of self. That aura radiates from us. As we roam through the madness and get lost, we get treated like gods, but we realize that this is our wrong. This makes us humble, heightened in the world, sharp, stronger, harder. It helps lift the chaos of the city, and makes us one with our mind. Because the city is made by us, just like the clouds in our head.

 

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Finding Balance

Journeys: you either have too much time on your hands or not enough. But what do we do in those periods of waiting? The way I see it, there are only a couple of options: 1) converse with others, 2) mindlessly look at a screen of some sort, 3) adventure of any kind, or, 4) take the opportunity of silence and just sit with your thoughts. (Most times I choose the 4th option).

As an introvert I have always understood the value of being alone. It not only recharges me, it gives me time to collect myself and my thoughts. Though, the funny thing is, on group trips you go in with the assumption, or at least I did, that alone time is scarce, that you have to snatch any opportunity you can to be alone.  I have discovered that that is not necessarily the case. No one truly realizes all the time you spend traveling from place to place. As well as the amount of time travel gives you to be alone with your thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wondrous opportunity when needed. But what I am noticing is that it can be a very dangerous thing too.

It can be dangerous when you are in a place of wonder and questioning. Or, when you can feel yourself slowly changing and wanting to change, I think spending too much time in your head can cause you to be sucked into a whirlwind, a chaos that is created by your own thoughts. This is when old things can start to resurface. This is when we get caught up in our own problems. But what we need to learn is to be in the present moment, and, to voice the things we are having trouble with.  Especially on a trip like this.

One of the things I am starting to learn is: there is such a thing as too much alone time. (And all the introverts in the world gasped and said, “Too much alone time?! I have never heard such absurd statement.”) Yes, I said it. But it’s true. Balance is needed in everything we do. As well, you can take the time to be alone, even when people surround you.  It sounds like an oxymoron, but if you think about it, you’ll realize it’s true.

This isn’t a new revelation; this train of thought has probably been expressed time and time again. But we need to discover things of this nature on our own. Alone time is precious, but make sure you don’t miss what this world has to offer.

 

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Lizard Diary

Something you may not know about me is that I am an avid lizard watcher. I love the way they scurry around from place to place, displaying their impressive dexterity and agility. Throughout our stay here in Laoag, I have had ample time to pursue this obsession.

One hot afternoon I found myself down by the river, underneath the bridge, drinking a less than cold beer and chewing on some dried mangoes when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. It was motionless, about four inches long, blended in with the pillar it was sitting on. In the background some children and tattooed teenagers were swimming in the river as a man washed his dishes in the muddied water. I sat and watched this magnificent lizard for a moment, but  when I moved in for a closer inspection, it took off. With lightening speed it raced down the pillar and headed over to where a half-naked man was cooking a couple of fish that he  had recently caught with his spear gun.

As I moved closer, the man with his old portable stove-top offered me some of the fish that he had put the effort into catching, presumably for his family, who were also gathered around. I gladly accepted his generosity and proceeded to eat with them, all the while keeping an eye on my lizard friend.

The lizard slowly made its way toward a pregnant girl, who happened to be 18 years old, and holding a child that looked to be around the age of two. She told me she worked at the carnival nearby, in one of the booths, and that her husband also worked there. They were from Manila, and only in Laoag temporarily. She was very pretty, and made me promise to visit her at her booth later when she would be working. When she noticed the stealthy lizard by her leg, she shooed it away, causing it to dart past where a feral cat was lazily walking along, and, into a crack and out of sight. That was the end of that lizard adventure.

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Considering Habit and Solitaire

I don’t know how much Europe really influenced my zeitgeist (/worldview/opinions/whatever). Europe was a circuit tour where I always felt like my face was up against a pane of (metaphorical) glass. And, honestly, there’s something isolating and experiential in existing in a neutral zone between cultures (yours and your ‘host’s’). It feels as though your walk changes, your eyes scan at a different pace, and one’s soul tenses. I find cities always feel something like this. Yet in a culturally familiar country one is concealed: abroad, this same sensation exposes a person. You feel as though a part of your being is revealed, open, displayed before eyes recreating you with guttural and romantic language systems you can’t hope to intuit. One becomes aware (in both situations) of the existential gaps in understanding, thought, and meaning between any two individuals, and how deep these chasms truly are.

 

But in the same breath, there’s a comfort in being removed from place. Certain habits of thought, quirks of personality, and routines of action loosen when you can’t hope to expect what the people around you care for or how they consider you. If you can work through the pressure something unwinds from your perspective on reality. The contours of the world relax and the horizon widens. Familiar sights, once a comfort, are like blinds released and you feel as though you can see the world as you ought to. What I’m saying is simple: one becomes more in tune with their place on this planet once they lose the social cues and expectations they’ve thrived upon since birth. Despite the angst, this can be wonderful.

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Wander-Like

I have this stubborn drive to get myself lost while travelling. I’ve stuck to this habit since I was 17, and Europe gave me plenty of opportunity to exercise the wander impulse. Contrary to what most people imagine, getting lost in a metropolitan city (during the day) can be relaxing. My first day in Vienna was sparked by stepping off the bus and realizing that my map of the city had gone AWOL. Believing downtown to be somewhere northeast, and not especially concerned, I worked my way northward. Eventually I stumbled on to an urban walking trail (which are pleasantly common to Vienna) which led me through some of the loveliest metropolitan woods I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. This winding, uphill trail took me into a small residential district, and from there I followed a busy looking road eastward. My rationale was that all busy urban roads lead downtown at some junction (I wasn’t wrong; I was maybe 10 minutes outside of downtown). From there I turned downhill (desperately needing a bathroom: every wanderer’s bane) through the longest residential district on the planet. I ended up in a small, smoky bar in a calm shopping and office district, where I discovered that three years of German had equipped me with a valuable skill. Then I saw St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which was gorgeous. Getting lost isn’t nearly as bad as people fear (although, I do have examples of how things can get depressing fast when you’re lost). Getting lost gives you an opportunity to step out of the habit of habit: of needing to be comfortable with your surroundings, to always plan ahead, to never not know for sure what you need to do next. It’s an opportunity to slip out of time and experience something new.

 

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Home, Sweet, Home

Well, its over. I am “home,” in Canada, in Calgary- the land of oil, cowboy hats, oversized trucks, and a general feeling of commercialism. But, it is “home” for right now, right? I’ve got my job, my family, my friends, and my plans. Big plans. Plans to settle down after this great last hurrah across Europe- I mean camping in Europe for 2 months, that’s a right of passage, right? So I’ve crossed, here on the other side, it must mean I am ready to be an adult, right? So I go ahead with my plans, see the apartments, fill out the applications, return to work, even go to IKEA (I’ve NEVER done that before) and pick out cute throw pillows. I guess I’m excited. I guess this is what I want to do. Then a call comes in, the apartment falls through- you’ve got to have some serious assets in the bank in order to convince a landlord here in the “city of opportunity” that you would be a good tenant. I don’t make enough money to rent an apartment in this city. Which is bizarre to me, because my father supported a family of 5 back in Nova Scotia on my salary. Its all relative isn’t it? So maybe I overreact, maybe I do what’s right for me. Maybe travelling across Europe for these past 2 months did teach me something: that my life, is my life! Maybe I did turn 30 this year, but its not over yet! Maybe this adventure wasn’t a right of passage into a “settled” life of fulltime work, and RRSPs, and maybe an annual vacation. Maybe it was a right of passage to a whole new way of looking at my life! Just as the world gets a little bigger when you travel, maybe the parameters of my life also expand- maybe my dreams just got a bit bigger! So I throw the apartment listings section of the paper in the trash, un-bookmark IKEA on my browser, and decide that I do not need to let society tell me what my life needs to look like. Bon Voyage friends!

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Is Your Life Worth More Than Mine?

How do we determine what necessary course of ‘justice’ should be taken against war crimes? What is adequate and fair compensation for the losses of people during and after crimes of war? Is it even possible to compensate for such loss?

Looking at the Holocaust survivors or their children and the compensation received by the Holocaust Victim Compensation Fund (HVCF), a one-time payment of the equivalent of $1300 Canadian dollars, we see that people are still healing, still hurting. The loss that was experienced during the Holocaust not only by the Jews but also by Gypsies, members of the LGBT community, protesters of Hitler and citizens of the countries occupied by the German Regime has been and continues to be compensated for people who apply but to what extent can the wrongs be righted? Is financial compensation the right route to take?

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Look at 9/11, for example, and how specified funds to the Red Cross were divvied up between the families of the fallen (after much controversy) but the formula for which they determined the amount each family would receive was based on the loss of income according to their future projected earnings. Does this mean that one person’s life is not equal to another’s? This was a question being asked by many people during the time and continues to reflect the struggle that humanity faces while trying to right the wrongs done to them.

Just a few things I’ve been thinking about. If you are interested in chatting more about this topic please feel free to message me, I would like hear what you think!

Marissa Wiebe

 

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A Change in Perspective

I realize now that being in a different country was not the only dramatic change, after stepping off of the plane in Barcelona. In an instant, we began a whole new routine, in a new home, living a completely different way of life. It’s quite shocking to leave your normal routines of school or work behind in Canada, and dive into a new nomadic way of life in Europe. We visited 8 countries in 2 months, while living out of tents. Our bodies were constantly on the move, and our minds were constantly busy with new information, seeing new sights, and meeting new people. Of course, this unique type of journey would have a strange effect on our minds! When we  experience more externally, our minds perceive time slower. When we were in our normal routines at home, time went by faster, because everything was familiar. But in Europe, there is an abundance of things, information, and ideas coming at us, and it’s difficult to process.

My perception of time and the constant flood of new experiences caused me to be in a strange head-space for the duration of the trip. Like I’ve explained, I seemed to perceive time slower. My head was so flooded with all of these new experiences that it began to get drained.  Time also seemed to go by rather quickly at some points, depending on how you looked at it. I was constantly dealing with this contrast. Near the end of the trip it seemed like we had been in Europe for a year, but looking back, the weeks seemed to fly by in a blur.

We barely had time to begin processing one experience or piece of information, before another one took its place. My head was either too overloaded, or too tired to ever really be in the moment: to ever really allow new experiences and information to sink in. Because of this, the reality of where I was never really hit me. This is one of the reasons I believe coming home is one of the most important parts of any journey. Now that I’m back home, my mind can have time to process the trip normally. I can now be in a normal state of mind. Looking back at the trip, I realize just how awesome of an opportunity I have had.  I begin to contemplate the reality that I’ve just been in Europe for 2 months, and have had the chance to see all of these incredible places I’ve been hearing about my whole life. I’ve camped for 8 weeks straight, and have seen some of the most famous things in the world. Now there are no more tent set ups, breakfast shifts, bus days, museums, or new places to see next week. All of this is now behind me. Now I can look back at the trip as a whole, process it, filter it down, and appreciate how great it was.

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Adventurous Moments

When traveling, timing can be everything.  Being in the right place at the right time could mean three free packets of Roman Ramen Noodles, walking into Notre Dame Cathedral just as a girl’s choir is about to start, or even waving to William, Kate, and baby George as they exit Buckingham Palace (okay, that last one never happened).  On the other hand, being in the right place at the wrong time could mean missing a protest in Vienna because of leaving the square two hours early, standing outside the closed Harlem Jazz Club in Barcelona on the only night out of the week it wasn’t open, or even walking down the streets of Assisi just after the Sprouse twins from Disney’s Suite Life had been spotted (yeah, that last one really happened).   

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It was at one of these right place, wrong time moments, when Laura, Marrissa, Hayden and I missed the last bus to our campground in Paris because we jumped on the wrong train and had to back track to catch the right one.  This “train wreck” ended in a dramatic five minute sprint through the subway, only to have the bus stop’s electric sign trick us into thinking we had made it with minutes to spare.  We waited at the bus stop for close to 15 of those spare minutes.  Needless to say, our bus never showed up and we realized that those spare minutes had never existed.  With the wee hours of the morning upon us, we decided to follow around a guy living in Paris who worked for Telus because we thought he would know what he was talking about.  He didn’t.  After wandering the streets for an alleged night bus stop and having countless taxies pass us by because we had a fifth wheel leading the way, we finally decided it was time for a tire change and left our Telus guy on the curb. 

Over three hours had passed from the time we decided to start our journey home until I handed our taxi driver the 15 Euro fare needed for returning us to our beloved campsite.  I tell you all this to say that moments, whether they be in the right place at the right or wrong time, always have potential to turn into adventures.  SSU Travel semesters lead the way for many adventures, both the big golf ball sized hail murdering your tent type, and the excited we found cheap gelato on a side street type.  Both are worth it.

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Snapshots

I took a few ‘word snapshots’ while on the road in Europe. I wanted to capture the kind of moments that could not be caught by a lens. You know, those moments that happen too fast and you don’t have time to whip out your camera, or when a person or scene is so beautiful but it would be really rude to snap a picture, or maybe it is the day you decide to not take your camera because you want to be present in the moment and not thinking about how this would make a good picture to show someone when you get home. I had a number of those moments while traveling. I had to cement them in my memory somehow; my sloppy words had to do. Here is one of my ‘snapshots’ of a man inside the Basilica at Montserrat, in Spain.

Snap:

He was among those who remained after the boys choir had sung their two beautiful songs. People left in hoards on either side of the pew he sat in. They came, they saw, and now they thought, “Get me outta here!” I suppose I would lump myself in with the hoards needing to get out. Not him. He remained sitting there, near the back of the Basilica. With his head cupped in one hand, he leaned on the pew in front of him. On his face was a most beautiful look of contentment. I walked quickly by, hurried, not only by my own desire to get out of the crowded dark church, but by the people behind me, also eager to see the daylight. Not him. He was not eager to leave. He sat, as if stunned into silence, content to rest and soak in the music. It was as if the music still bounced around in his head; he stared out and watched the notes still reverberating and bouncing around the church.

End Snap.

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Slow Down

Sometimes you don’t know what to say or how to process all of the things you are feeling and thinking. I will be honest and say that beginning to process this trip has proven to be a challenge on par with experiencing the trip itself. I do not believe I have felt more alone in my entire life than I have these past few weeks. When I was traveling throughout Europe with thirty people I was irritated with the lack of privacy and space; now that I am home I am surprised by how much I miss all of the beautiful people that I had the pleasure of spending the last two months with. I have been in a rut, one that has encompassed the normal day functions of life and has made it seem impossible to complete my homework as the last thing I desire is to dig deeper into my post-trip feelings. Now I must do so.

I spent the first few days at home in a whirl of feelings that I wanted to ignore: what’s my purpose? Is it to binge watch gossip girl? Probably not.. ha. Now that this initial moping has passed I am ready to continue my life and work towards the things that drive me. At first I thought this meant jumping on the next international flight I could find a seat on and continuing my adventures without taking the time to slow down and face the mundane. I realize now that this is not the answer. For me at the moment I think being home is about moving forward and allowing myself to enjoy the mundane. Today I met a guy on an adventure himself, he is biking across the coast and we began to talk about how people can live in a town their whole life and never appreciate the beauty of it; I do not want to be one of those people. If I wasn’t forced to slow down from time to time I don’t know if I ever would. This reminds me to be thankful for my homework and a small coastal town that has supported me in my travels and welcomes me home with open arms after every return.

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The Challenge Continues

In my first post about this trip I talked about how I was struggling to love the people I was traveling with. A month and a half later, I am not sure that I achieved any kind of loving “nirvana”. I shared in a small group time while we were finishing our program in Maidstone, England that this had been the biggest cloud over the trip for me. Fran, one of our New Zealanders, asked what I had learned about this throughout the trip and I think I responded with something along the line of, “what I have learned is that I am still not very good at it.”

Looking back on the trip after having traveled solo in Holland and having spent a couple weeks at home, I realize that while I still struggled to be able to love my fellow travelers in the way that I felt they deserved, I did the best that I could. I am also coming to the realization that perhaps they were having similar struggles – a realization that hit me after having conversations with some of my classmates and reading some of their blog posts. So I wasn’t alone, and maybe that provided us with some small sense of solidarity in our common struggle.

Here I am after the trip – here we all are. We all survived and as far as I can tell, our friendships are still intact! I know that I still love everyone, and I hope they feel the same. So maybe I made some small progress. That transformation certainly will not stop simply because the trip is over. I will continue to strive for improvement in my loving capacity. I am hopeful that I will get better at it with time!

One of our last gathering times on the beach by our campground in Belgium.

One of our last gathering times on the beach by our campground in Belgium.

With what love I have,

Kay

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From Top to Bottom

Along the trip there were not a lot of opportunities to spend time alone. When you’re camping with thirty other people there are not many places to hide. Because of this constant group immersion, a little ‘me time’ can go a long way. This is why I chose to fly solo during our day in Assisi, which also happened to be my birthday. We spent the first part of the day in San Damiano, which is the church that St. Francis repaired and lived in for some time, now serving as a monastery for Franciscan monks. After a liturgy and some quiet reflection on the hillside, I felt primed and ready for a day of introspection. I took off on my own and walked up one of many large hills in the city. Something about the human condition seems to drive us to high ground. I often feel this incessant need to reach the highest peak or tallest building, and so I continued on streets that would lead me further up. Eventually I reached a fortress that I had seen from the streets below. I stood there amidst the birds looking down on miles of Italian countryside.
From there I meandered back down to the city and found a trail that took me lower still through many switchbacks and hills that would lead me to the fields that I had previously seen from the fortress in the sky. The end of the trail brought me to a small chapel beside a river. This was not a place to cross off a list of tourist destinations, I’m not even certain it had a name. I entered the humble church on that Pentecost Sunday and sat in one of the pews. I was the only person there, but I did not feel lonely. In that small building I took a break from the world, and was allowed to simply be.

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Hotel Rooms

For a week after the SSU gang broke up I was fortunate enough to visit my brother and his newly expanded family in Upper Frankonia, a region located in Bavaria, Germany. Unfortunately they did not have room for me in their home so they rented me a room at the small hotel down the street. Unexpectedly it turned out to be the most culturally difficult experience of the whole time I was in Europe. I was alone. Away from the comfort of English speaking voices. There was only Deutsch.

Every morning I got up to eat German hotel breakfast, a dining experience I am not at all foreign to. I brought a book as to not look awkward being alone. Every guest would great me with a friendly, “guten morgen” and I would reply politely with that or, “good morning”. Then, I would promptly get my meal and sit down to enjoy it while reading. I was the only single table there and everyone else seemed to be carrying on inter-table conversations that I could not understand. This was all a little isolating. On the first day a server asked me in German if I wanted an egg and I did not understand. I tried to tell her that and then promptly felt like an idiot when she came out with it. I could have taken the patience and tried to figure out what she was saying but instead I just said that I only speak English.

Though it was very difficult to be the only English speaker in the small hotel community for a short time I valued the cultural experience in such a way that I hadn’t been able to when I was traveling in a large group. I learned that I need to figure out how to communicate on my own in places where I am not understood. Also, words are not everything and I often just smiled pleasantly when others acknowledged me and went about my business. As hard as it was, I loved this experience and hopefully I can practice more patience in the future when faced with similar issues.

 

Naomi

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Pompeii Sleeps; Vesuvius Weeps

In my retrospective reflections of the Europe trip I consistently find myself settling upon one day in particular in which Dan, Steven and I took a day trip to Naples, Italy to explore the ancient city of Pompeii. The experience is worth sharing, I think, and the following is a revised excerpt from my Europe travel journal, describing my initial reaction.
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Pompeii is strange to me. Upon walking through the gates I was faced with a mixture of emotions; it’s exciting, of course, to be somewhere so famous and spend the afternoon exploring the ruins of an ancient civilization, but every now and then little things would attract my attention. Insignificant details would offer themselves as reminders that this was once a functioning city with real people.
A water-well conjured images of people collecting water; an oven of baking and cooking meals. Tables, chairs, pots, jars, all perfectly preserved acted as gateways to imagining these people’s lives – these human, feeling, breathing beings living ordinary, mundane, day-to-day lives not so terribly different from our own.
And then, as I wandered the streets of this vast city, I would turn a corner, and there, beyond the end of the road was Mount Vesuvius, rising above it all just as it always has and in that moment I’d remember how it ended.

Pompeii is a city of death, pain and tragedy. This is its legacy.

People flock to see the ashen casts of long since dead Pompeiians, twisted and contorted in ways that make it clear they suffered greatly in their last moments. A man lay on his stomach, covering his face; a woman crouched with her head in her hands; a dog lay on its back, feet in the air, kicking at the hot dirt as it was buried alive. This city represents destruction of an enormous scale, the painful deaths of its inhabitants forever frozen in time, cast in hardened rock.

And now they lay in a display case; they will not rest in peace.

Pompeii is a terrible, wonderful, hideous, and beautiful place. It stays locked in time forever, sleeping now in the open air, once again introduced to the sun. And Vesuvius sits, watching over the sleeping city, abandoned and alone, mourning for what it has lost and weeping for what it has done.

 

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The Sunburnt Id (A Reflection Mirrored)

Travel strips away the luxury of controlling the state of one’s appearance. It makes sweaty thighs stick and rub together, it makes hair frizz and kink in odd directions and skin break out in bright flaming colors and peel. At first I viewed these troubles as being the ‘enemy’ of travel. However, being a psychology student, I have discovered an unexpected perk of travel via way of camping: shared bathrooms, more specifically shared mirrors. This is a unique opportunity to observe how women from various cultures observe their reflections. Although I have witnessed the usual grimaces and sighs over unwanted folds of skin, calloused heels and dirt encrusted fingernails, I have also picked up on a different sort of vibe. These fellow travelers exude a sort of freeness and comfortability with the human anatomy that I am unfamiliar with. They embrace their bodies, bug bites and all, and what they can not change, they commiserate over with empathic glances and laughter.

Our reflections are the aspect of travel we tend to avoid talking about maybe even avoid looking at, yet they follow us everywhere we go from airport to rest-stop to museum. So why not embrace the sunburned face of travel? Rather than criticizing my sunburned skin, I see it as a sign of many hours spent exploring city streets. Tangled hair is evidence of nights spent sleeping in the comfort of a crowded tent. Moreover, my overall disheveled appearance is a testament to the fact that I have been making the most of a grand adventure.

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System Overload

The Europe trip is constant stimulation. Your brain feels like it is working on overload for two months trying to take in all the information, beauty, and experiences that are occurring daily. At the end of it all, you’re not sure what just happened to you. Being slightly introverted, I feel as if I need a good solid month of silence in order to process everything. Yet, this isn’t the case; life goes on. New responsibilities emerge, assignments need to get done, and life plans have to get figured out.

Yet these memories will remain in the back of my mind for years to come. And they will rear their heads from time to time, I expect. The adventure of living in tents and the daily grind of appreciating art, peering inside churches, and walking unknown streets will soon appreciate with time. Like a good wine, I believe these memories will produce the best results once they have sat in the back my mind for a while. Our experiences shape who we will become, the information that all of us on the trip just gulped up in the short amount of time will therefore form more well-rounded individuals.

Europe has been for generations, a place travelled by many as a rite of passage. I think the same is true of us. We’ve seen and experienced some incredible things, and began to attempt to see the world through a variety of different lenses. Though the journey has had many challenges, I am thankful for the trek, and I know the full results have not yet even come to fruition!

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Reflections on ‘Seeing the Other’ through the Ordinary

Some of us are blinded by the golden colour of the flowing fields. The fields, which have fed the mouths of our ancestors- those that fill the bellies of the world today. The vineyards that burst with flavour giving permission for our thoughts to dance around inside our heads. The land here is a combination of patterns, like that of a quilt, providing coverage, security and a sense of belonging for the people whose lives depend on it. It produces tastes, smells, traditions – culture.

Some of us are moved not knowing where it is we are going but, the simple fact they are moving towards the faith of an unknown destination. Movement is a powerful force, a force which has allowed for growth by which has witnessed destruction. Movement that has seen both integration and separation, poverty and progression, God and man. A faith that has given us hope, but has resulted in both miracle and doubt.

Some of us, our emotions are stirred by the mysterious wonder of a place, a painting, a window, a door, a building, a tree, a face, a simple gesture… not necessarily because it is the work of a great artist significantly impacting our lives. but because we are left in awe of not knowing. A not knowing which leads us to dig deeper or just simply accept that part of being is not knowing.

Some of us who walk in the footprints of another, to let our imaginations run wild in order to feel what it is like, possibly be like, or what it could have been like to be the other. To live in another time. To imagine. To dream. To feel. To experience. To wonder.

Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment