Sunday, November 30, 2008

I don't want to get off on a rant here, but...

I’ve been putting off writing only for the reason that it becomes trying on the mind to have to discuss things one would rather not. Much has happened in the past month. Not so much regarding the day-to-day nuances that make up whatever we have here that we call our homely Peace Corps experiences, but more so regarding the subtle thoughts and insights we’re granted to. And because many of you (Including yes, Rob and Andy) who have asked repeatedly regarding personal discoveries and daily emotional musings, we’ll start there. Forgive me if it seems to train-of-thought and jumping around. That’s just me, and there’s plenty here that I’ve needed to get off my chest.

First and foremost, let me congratulate my country on our new president elect. Obviously we know that his upcoming presidency will not be easy. A collapsing economy, crumbling foreign relations, consistent failings in educational standards set for science and mathematics, and a healthcare system that leaves 40 million Americans behind. But I look forward to the day when I get to tell my grandchildren where I was when the first black president was elected. I get to tell my children about the sexism and racial problems that still exist in America, and point out that they can be and have been overcome. I’m proud of the progress that our country has made in under a century. I can’t wait to see what the future holds. Yes we can, indeed.

In reading Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” I find myself for the first time interested in the pursuit of American History. I’ve always viewed our history with an awkward eye and an apathetic view. We study history to be able to acknowledge how we came to the present course of existence and to avoid the potholes on the road of time that those before us trekked (at least to my own bored attitude - I’d rather be in chemistry blowing crap up.) Unfortunately, I assumed (and still partially believe… ) that we’re just generally too stupid to be able to recognize previous errors in time to avoid current ones. When we do successfully accomplish that, we then even the score once again by committing new mistakes by which humanity has never seen the likes of before.

But I will admit to learning new things, and gaining perspectives previously thought useless, at the most, boring. Seeing the American system that I grew up in, and understanding how (and more importantly – why) such a system was created completely astonishes me. Although I imagine that could have something to do with the fact that the only countries I’ve seen in my lifetime actually institute new systems of government from scratch are those involved in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The Constitution, the BoR, and the Declaration of Independence are all truly, truly amazing. And yes, now I know that all my Gburg history friends will smile and or pounce on me, but at least I understand a little bit better now.

But this topic kind of jumps into the next one, something that’s been bothering me quite a bit recently and therefore I feel compelled to get this off my chest, once.

Let’s face it – If you’re reading this, then the probability is highly stacked in your favor that life is (relatively) simple and easy. In discussion with Peace Corps volunteers, you often forget that the whole world and everyone you’ve known isn’t going through the same personal growth and experiences you are. Ergo the outlook changes. I’ve wisely refrained from commenting on facebook status simply because I have to refrain for my own sanity and the preservation of friendships. I’ll make it clear, and let me say again – I feel as if I have to say this, at least so I can say that I DID say it. It’ll make me feel better. And if you get guilt complexes easily….stop reading.

So here: Your life is better than you can imagine. MUCH better. So if grad school is hard, or you’re trying to find an apartment that comes utilities included, or you’re not sure if she’s into you, or really into you, just remember that I’ve refrained from calling you up and reminding you how difficult life can be. I do not want to sound arrogant, but I’m sorry – if the biggest problem in your life is trying to write a 24 page paper in two days, I will introduce you to a friend that hasn’t had a home or a job in 3 years because he can’t afford decent clothing to work in. Really. And he’s a nice guy. If you’re obsessing over a relationship, I can introduce you to a woman I’ve met with 4 kids. She’s a single mother, and HIV+.

There’s nothing can that blunt the mental blow of realizing that these 4 kids will be orphaned in less than five years. Sorry, but no. There’s nothing. At 13, my biggest familial responsibility probably was to cook dinner for my brother once in a while. And even then, that was at the most what, twice a month? I just had to make sure that I was doing well in school and be sure to call if I had to stay at school late. I’ll make it clear: in Namibia we have what are called child-headed households. These are homes where the parents have either left or died leaving nothing but children, forcing the oldest to work and take care of their younger siblings. Imagine being 13, and having to take care of five younger siblings. There’s nothing you can do to ignore this. And there’s nothing you can do to NOT see it. You don’t know how lucky you are. Said to me by a fellow PCV in confidence, “I now thank God that I’m white, male, and born in America.” This takes me into my next rant, which combines unbearable anger with debilitating depression.

Globally, there are aspects of this world that despite our best efforts that will always remain with us. What positively drives me mad is knowing that it doesn’t HAVE to be. I now read books about global epidemics, poverty, economic reform and social problems and realize that the world doesn’t HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS. That these problems are fixable – that the fates of those millions that are hungry, illiterate, homeless, and sickly need not be so. I read books like “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” by Paul Farmer, \ “The End of Poverty,” by Jeffrey Sachs, and “The Invisible Cure: Why We’re Losing the War on AIDS in Africa,” by Helen Epstein and end up cursing the clouds asking why we’re not attempting to fix these on a massive scale. And then of course my thoughts shift to the big pharmaceutical companies. To the international banking communities that don’t give enough aid for political games. To the corrupted officials and policy makers that plague both the government and aid agencies of the developing world, and the developed. To the individuals that say “What can I possibly do?” or “Why bother?” grumble grumble grumble.

You can ignore all this. Like I said, I just need to rant. Or take a whiffleball bat to international politics. Damn. Happy Thanksgiving everyone, hope you all had a nice holiday.