A Travellerspoint blog

#2: Contamination

Of plants and of people...


con•tam•i•nate [ kuhn-tam-uh-neyt]
Verb: to make impure or unsuitable by contact or mixture with something unclean, bad, etc.: to contaminate a lake with sewage.

To most, a field full of fluffy dandelions is not an eyesore, especially when dotted with occasional wildflowers to brighten up the landscape. However, a single dandelion sitting atop an otherwise impeccable lawn is simply begging for persecution. My family has a weed-eating claw that punctures the earth and tears out unwanted plant pests. My sister gleefully wields the weapon during the summer. Though our lawn is far from impeccable, dandelions have still made themselves a target.

I think we react in the same way to cultural contamination. We feel as if we are under attack when other cultures join our communities. Instead of celebrating and welcoming the incoming diversity, we deem the newcomers as intruders and wield our weed-whackers.

In our ever-changing world, people are like the seeds of a dandelion. One day they are atop a scenic height, the next they have plunged into a shadowed valley. People move with the winds of changing economies, religious persecution, political crises, or dreams of a better life. Our ever-shrinking world, with internet, airplanes, and the spread of information, has allowed people to move more easily than ever.

We become used to homogeneity. I left my school for the summer, interned for a summer in a very culturally-diverse community in which I was in the minority, and came back to realize how white, middle-class my school was. While this can ensure that people have similar hopes, dreams, and mindsets entering college, it also depletes the school of diversity which could make it stronger.

Contamination has a negative connotation, but cultural contamination doesn’t need to. A few more people of color in my school would be wonderful. It would contaminate not in that it would be a terrible thing, but in that it would mix up our sameness. It would contaminate homogeneity.

I personally love puffy white dandelions. When I seem them, I can’t resist picking them up and blowing. I love to see the seeds scatter into the sky, catching breezes and moving to new areas. I always hope that those who will see the grown-up seeds will do the same thing as me. Spreading seeds, like spreading cultures, saves them. It ensures their survival. To keep all of one flower, or all of one people, in one spot is to expose them to risk. Should disease or storm come to this one area, few will survive. But when they spread, they will likely continue to grow. Contamination is a key to survival.

Posted by klewis91 21:48 Comments (0)

#17: American

Ignorant, arrogant, or both...


Adjective: of or pertaining to the United States of America or its inhabitants: an American citizen.

Marie Antoinette was a French royal in the era preceding the French Revolution. She and her husband lived in the decadent Palace of Versailles a good twenty kilometers or so outside of Paris. From the looks of it, every need was met. They had want for nothing. Marie, perhaps a tad overwhelmed by the size and politics of the grand palace, opted to spend time by herself (and her servants, cooks, drivers, etc.) in her own private mansion a mile or so into the gardens. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, her architects built her an equally luxurious peasant village, in which she could visit the goats and the cows and live as the subjects she ruled. As she was attended by servants and spent time playing music and enjoying herself, however, Frenchmen were noticeably put off by her behavior. She simply did not get it.

Marie Antoinette was a in a position of global leadership who lived in such luxury that she was incapable of truly understanding those she led. Rather than dialoguing with actual peasants, she created an idealistic world in which she could play dress-up and role-play the life of a commoner. As she attempted to become like them from a distance, her reputation plummeted. She lived an isolated, fenced-off life

Similarly, I believe that America lives in blind arrogance. We believe we have all of the solutions to the world problems and eagerly voice our opinions. While other nations pray for peace and form alliances such as the EU, America waves a piece of legislation written with the major intention of benefitting the States.

This is a bit bold and surely ignorant. I don’t know much about politics, but I do know a lot about myself, an American. I know how much materialism has blinded my eyes to the needs of those in need around me. I parrot Marie’s “Let them eat cake!” When immigrants struggle to get their green cards, I say, “Let them pursue citizenship!” For someone so incredibly blessed, I should be continually on my face thanking God for all He’s given me. For a mere pauper who’s been raised to the status of princess, I should more immediately locate and love on those on the outskirts of society.

Yet I am a sinner, and I am American. The two aren’t tantamount, but the two are influential. My sin nature has raised me to be selfish. My American status has built on this and raised me to value individuality and personal freedom. Naturally, I have a myopic outlook on life. Yet, though I’m naturally wired to put myself first, I also live in a culture which values leadership and has encouraged me to pursue global leadership. This power, combined with my natural selfishness, has created an imperialist. I go places to add to my list of out-of-the-States experiences to prove my international leadership abilities. But a good leader does not just dictate; a true leader looks for input from those he or she leads.

Out of my multiple opportunities to be outside of the States, this was only the second in which I did not feel as if I was trying to achieve the Manifest Destiny. I wasn’t going to convert, but to converse. I wasn’t going to lead, but to learn.

So often we Americans feel like we have it all together and that everyone else is so less cultured. I’m sure they look at us and think we’re the one who aren’t cultured – they may be right! We feel like we have to help other countries along as if they need training wheels. We think God looks upon our country and smiles and glares at the rest of the world with contempt. We chase immigrants out, forgetting our own roots as outsiders in this land. We forget how we brutally destroyed the original nations here.

Like Marie Antoinette, I think that we Americans look out at the world from our safe boundaries and try to change things that we don’t understand. We pretend to know exactly what the world needs. But just as Marie’s royal lenses kept her from experiencing the peasant’s life and understanding the commoner, so do our American glasses shade our outlook and keep us from understanding the rest of the world. And leading out of ignorant arrogance can only end in upheaval.

Posted by klewis91 20:55 Comments (0)

#12: Immigration

Not here or there...


im•mi•gra•tion [im-i-grey-shuhn]

noun: the act of immigrating.

An immigrant doesn’t belong. Not here. Not there. Not anywhere. Like the subject of this photo, an immigrant feels stuck in a freefall between their old life and their new. Some have made the choice to jump, but some have fallen into this position. Unable to stay home, they seek a place of refuge, a paycheck, a reunification with those gone before them. Ironically, once they arrive, the grass was usually greener on the other side. They are in a lose-lose situation. Stay, and face poverty or persecution. Go, and face alienation or apathy.

They don’t feel as if they belong in either place. If they have children, these second-generation immigrants usually are better able to adapt to the new culture. Yet they still wrestle with being different – looking different – than their native-born peers. And yet they feel unable to connect with their “foreign” family members – those back at “home” in Puerto Rico, India, or Korea.

Thus, immigrants are apt to be in this freefall, bracing themselves to land on their faces. Often they immigrate to a new land, ready to work hard. But their education from their home country is deemed inferior to a Western degree. Though they studied and practiced dentistry in Nigeria, in the States they are limited to office or cleaning jobs, especially if they lack strong English skills.

As onlookers, we see the immigrants struggling. We anticipate the moment they’ll fall. Many do indeed land on their feet, but not without hard work and connections. We look on with dread, fear, and superiority, trying to fathom why THEY would come HERE.

We as the church do no better at taking immigrants as the world does. It’s easier to look on someone who is different with condensation than with compassion. We require them to learn English, often on their own. We lack the aforethought to offer job or language support. We only think about implications for our taxes, and whether or not they’re legal.

If Christ was in my church, what would He do? He’d probably run to the immigrants with open arms. He wouldn’t ignore them or gossip about an “immigration problem.” See, we are all immigrants to God’s kingdom. We’re children of this earth, yet made for a higher kingdom. Were it not for Christ, we would be stuck in mid-air, having no place to go, waiting to fall on our faces.

We need to learn to accept the immigrant. We can start by sympathizing with them. This means to understand their hardships as well as their joys. Short of actually getting involved in the lives of local immigrants, one can read books such as “Palace in the Old Village” or “The Namesake.” They can watch films such as “A Better Life.” This will help us to understand some of their hardships. We can also befriend newcomers to our areas, offering to teach English or help them acclimate to American culture. Finally, we can stop seeing these people as immigrants and rather as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Posted by klewis91 14:16 Comments (0)

#7: Extremism

Just a tad over-the-top...


ex•trem•ism [ik-stree-miz-uhm]
noun: a tendency or disposition to go to extremes or an instance of going to extremes, especially in political matters: leftist extremism; the extremism of the Nazis.

I have this thing for singing vegetables. It started during my childhood when my grandma bought The Toy that Saved Christmas on VHS. Yes, I am that ancient. Anyhow, ever since, I have had an affinity for Veggie Tales. It may be the Sunday-School-Teacher, Early-Childhood-Special-Education-Major, Babysitter inside of me. I don’t know.

One of my favorite classic Veggie Tale songs is a little ditty known as “I Can Be Your Friend.” This is a classic:

Have you ever seen a boy with funny clothes?
A girl with braces on her teeth
Or freckles on her nose?
Some kids call them "odd balls"
Some kids call them "weird"
Is it my imagination, or does Aunt Ruth have a beard?

God makes lots of people in all colors, shapes and sizes
He loves them very much and what we need to realize is
That calling people names because their different is wrong
Instead we need to look on them in love

And sing this song:
I can be your friend
I can be your friend
Any day, in any weather
We can be friends and play together

Yeah, we're all pretty different
Some are skinny, some are stout
But the inside is the part we're
Supposed to care about
Ay, that's where we got feelings
That are very much the same
And so instead of "weirdo"
I think "friends" a better name!

I can be your friend (la, la, la)
I can be your friend (la, la, la)
If your hair is red or yellow,
We can have lunch
I'll share my Jello!
I can be your friend (la, la, la)
I can be your friend (la, la, la)
It's ok if we are different
We can still play
'cause I can be your friend!!

These lyrics are a great reminder to kids that we shouldn’t look at the outward appearance of someone to determine if they’re worthy of acceptance or friendship (1 Samuel 16:7). We teach kids in school to be friends with everyone. We teach tolerance. But do we practice what we preach?

Centuries ago, witch hunts took place throughout Europe and America. Anyone accused of witchcraft would be burned at the stake (see photograph). Understandably, witchcraft was dark and not easily understood by everyday individuals. Things that we don’t understand threaten us, and we tend to try to escape such things.

While the practice of getting rid of those who instigated supernatural acts was logical, authorities soon began to ostracize and kill anyone who seemed the least bit threatening. If someone had an unusual habit, a noticeable intellectual disability, a wart, or anything out-of-the-ordinary, they would be grouped in the collection of witches. For a comical look on this, follow the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrzMhU_4m-g.

Similarly, the Nazis destroyed not only political enemies, but also the innocent, among them those with disabilities, gypsies, and most famously, Jews. What drove them to such horrendous actions? Perhaps a helping of arrogance with a dash of fear. They had come to revere these groups as being second-class citizens, referring to them in the same terms one would use to describe cattle. They felt that these groups threatened their well-being and the progress of their society.

For others looking on, these acts seem illogical. They seem extreme. That is because they are. Instead of detaining potential threats, the authorities completely destroyed those who seemed hostile. In their arrogance and fear, they elevated the potential damage such groups could inflict, and decided to destroy them.

We do the same thing today with immigrants and Muslims. We assume that their presence could only bring harm. Instead of entering into dialogue with them about their motives and actions, we at best ignore them, and at worst persuade the government to ostracize these “outsiders.” Instead of extending a hand of peace and friendship, we try to smack them out of our space bubbles.

If we are not careful, our natural prejudices and fears will begin to dictate our lives, leading us into extreme actions. As believers called to love our neighbors, we ought to be examples of how we can dialogue with people who are different, rather than scampering for our shotguns the second we see an “intruder” on our turf.

Posted by klewis91 12:43 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

#9: Globalization

Here, there, and everywhere...


glob•al•i•za•tion [gloh-buh-luh-zey-shuhn]
1. the act of globalizing, or extending to other or all parts of the world: the globalization of manufacturing.
2. worldwide integration and development: Globablization has resulted in the loss of some individual cultural identities.

I feel like the sandwich is as American as you can get. It’s portable – perfect for a fast-paced life. It’s a finger-food – no fancy, aristocratic manners for a BLT, ma’am. It’s customizable – top-notch for our individualistic culture. Behold, the American sandwich.

And behold, a Subway in Germany. Ok, so we were in a major tourist trap in Heidelberg. However, that Eat Fresh sign shocked me. It was so…non-German.

This is the face of globalization. Rather, McDonalds and Coca Cola are the faces of globalization. Yet to see something so American as Subway in a German town took me by surprise. I was expecting to see lots of sausage shops, and of course lots of beer. Poor Subway just stuck out like a sore thumb.

Globalization is what happens when a product or idea moves from one part of the world to another. For example, McDonalds. I can attest that it’s everywhere. Like, everywhere.

It makes sense that companies want to expand their empires. They want to move products around in order to gain a larger base of buyers. However, one must remember the culture of the new target audience. For what may be of great value in America may not be as highly esteemed in Bangladesh.

The only people I saw in the Subway shack looked American. If you go to Germany, you want to experience what they esteem. They don’t hold sandwiches in such high honor as do we in the States. Most tourists (Americans included) seemed to gravitate towards the chocolate-covered pastries, the sausage links, and the mugs of beer.

Globalization is a funny thing. It’s product-based, but products don’t always hit it off as well in the secondary cultures. In America, for example, McDonalds appeals to everyone but vegetarians, vegans, and anyone who watched the “Food, Inc.” documentary. In India, however, this foreign entity is more of a show of wealth than a casual dining experience. And the food has had to have been rethought based on customer’s religious requirements. Wherever globalization exists, there’s a give-and-take of culture and consumerism.

The standards of the receptor culture may not hold to the same values as the incoming product, and will have to change or modify their values to ensure that the incoming business will be of some use. The incoming business therefore has to change, either in marketing strategies, target audience, or other means. It’s a constant give-and-take. But that’s part of globalization.

Posted by klewis91 22:51 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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