nepal.

Nepal: One of the “Thinnest” Places on Earth

Have you ever heard of a “thin” place? No, not a place without McDonald’s or obesity. (On the contrary, there can be thin places in the US, where both of those things boom.) Instead, a thin place is described as a place of energy, a place where whatever divides the real world we live in and an eternal world beyond our reach is extremely thin, so thin that the two worlds nearly blend. Some people believe thin places are connected to God, but no one can deny that some places in nature – “thin places” – invoke an ethereal sensation, God-filled or not. I’m pretty certain the entirety of Nepal is a thin place.

The spiritual intensity of India can be ethereal, where strangers equate their guests to gods and you can wait hours pressed body-to-body in a sweaty temple just to be blessed by holy men. Waves lapping and then smashing the shores along the Blight of Benin is peaceful, terrifying, and an ethereal reminder of who’s in charge. Standing at a Buddhist temple on Mount Saleve, France, overlooking Geneva, Switzerland under a banner of prayer flags, cold air rushing up the mountain face – that was also ethereal. High altitudes and misty scenery is ethereal. Now, imagine combining all of those: altitude, scenery, the forces of nature. That’s like standing high in the Nepalese Himalayas. Up in these mountaintops, formed by clashing continents and which also host the great Mount Everest, one is greeted by a simpler life that is elevated both physically and spiritually. Picture solemn, dedicated, generous monks seeking retreat. (And don’t picture the ones setting themselves on fire in streets – that’s just to the north, in Tibet. Those are the monks that need to go to a thin place, or Nepal.)

There’s surely a reason why so many Hindus gather in these places, and it’s doubtful that Hindi Ghandi’s admiration of thin places is coincidence. But not all of Nepal is standing on a mountain top amongst trees full of prayer flags, crossing bridges in orange tunics, or eating dal bhat while cross-legged on the floor. Nepal is in fact divided by three regions which run east-to-west: mountains, hills, and the swampy terai. These regions are dissected by the river system, flowing north-to-south, making Nepal truly feel like an intersection of the forces of nature.

Of course, not all of the intersections in Nepal are the most pleasant. Since 1990, Nepal has managed to push through 500 years of governmental transformation in only a couple of decades. Yes, in 1990 Nepal was still a monarchy. This transformed into a Communist lead (well, it does border China) and is now finally a Republic. Yet, no matter how backwards Nepal might have been a few years ago, it is the first Asian country to not only abolish the death penalty but to also rule in favor of same-sex marriage. In Nepal, you can even declare yourself as a third gender – neither man nor woman. Wowzers! Basically, Nepal just wants people to be Yay! happy. And to not set themselves on fire.

The only thing about Nepal that does not lead to a happy, easy life seems to be the complete lack of efficient transportation. Sure, Nepal has 47 airports – but only 11 have paved runways. Most of the population has a 2 hour walk to the nearest all-season road, so don’t even begin to complain about 480 traffic. Basically, everything that geographically assists Nepal in being a thin place makes its transportation feel like a nightmare. And when it’s the rainy season, you can forget it. Fortunately, though, there’s no sense in having a car to get around Nepal. Just get yourself a bovine, load all of your belongings (three blankets, a wok, some tunics) on its back, and you’ll be riding in style, high up on those…15 hand shoulders. (Okay, it’s not 37 Nittos but it’s still cruisin’ for Nepal.) But, seriously, Nepal is one cool, thin place. And you should definitely try to land yourself there some day, in a tunic, on a cow, and while not setting yourself on fire.

Hawai’i: Vacation or Genocide Museum?

As I sit at Yours Truly at Shaker Square and contemplate whether or not the eggs here were grown on a petri dish, I finish up an article for my column with The Athenian.  I decided to share it on this page because my column is travel satire and this blog is, generally speaking, my satire blog.  The article I’m doing this week is about tourism in Hawai’i.  I have a lot of Native Hawai’ian friends that I met while at AISES National Conference in Alaska last October-November (see my travel blog to read about that amazing trip).  These friends enlightened me on the horrible history behind Hawai’i becoming a state.  All I can do is spread the word and hope that my satirical quip does their Kingdom justice:

 

*****

 

Are you American?  Do you find Hawai’i absolutely beautiful?  Are you dying to go lay on its beaches, drink pina coladas, say aloha a lot, and maybe even surf or see some sharks?  Are you going to show up in a Hawai’ian printed shirt or this cute new outfit that you got just for the beach?  Are you wondering if there will be seashells that you can take some home?  Maybe you’ll run into some celebrities or see a luau?  Can’t wait to wear some leis and start dancing?  Or maybe you want to meet a native on the island.  You know, one of those Americans who were born there or moved there a long time ago.  Right?

Newsflash: Hawai’i wasn’t put in the ocean for American tourism.

Tourism in Hawai’i is a popular thing, but with a very dark history.  People rave about the islands and they don’t even know anything about them, just that there are beaches and resorts.  But that’s not the real Hawai’i.  Apparently no one teaches the history of Hawai’i in school.  (And I don’t mean Pearl Harbor, although that was technically the first attack on “American” soil before 9/11 happened.)  But it makes sense that we don’t learn the real history of what happened in America.  I mean, no one says “The American government committed the greatest genocide in recorded history” because they did (the Trail of Tears).  It’s just like no one says “The American government murdered Queen Liliuokalani in 1893 after throwing her off the throne, then forcefully took the islands of the Kingdom of Hawai’i from the welcoming and unsuspecting native peoples” because they did.  And where is the justice for it?  I guess you could say it rests in the unapproved Akaka Bill.

Hawai’i is probably the only time you’ll hear me say that “a reservation is the solution”.  As horrible as American Indian reservations are – from the reason of their origin to their current conditions – the native peoples of Hawai’i are in desperate need to have their freedoms returned to them.  As my one Navajo friend put it, “There is one line of royal blood in all of America, and that royal blood is Hawai’ian.”  But why did we, as a nation, take Hawai’i?  What justified the evils that were done?  Many argue it was a defensive strategy in terms of military tactics.  Today, Hawai’i is just an enormous tourist population – and the islands aren’t very large.  Imagine living in a small town all your life and suddenly foreigners get the priority on jobs and start moving in.  Imagine that this became a countrywide issue because another government assassinated the president and killed a bunch of people and no one did anything about it.  Imagine the 9/11 site being turned into a casino, a strip club, or an amusement park.  But what does it matter, right?  I mean, what’s said is done… The kingdom is in ruins, the tourism economy is thriving, and we get to eat pineapples.  Oh, drat!  Americans have it so bad.

But don’t let this take away from your long-deserved vacation.  I mean flying to Hawai’i won’t kill any more natives (it will just contribute to the destruction of the planet as a whole, but not segregation in that).  Besides, it’s not like we can change anything now, right?  We can just let the people who care about the Akaka Bill worry about the Akaka Bill.  Isn’t that what we’re told we should do?  Yeah we’re just supposed to let the people who know what they’re doing to fix the problems (like the environment) while we continue to live as frivolously as we’re allowed to and capable of.  In the meantime, let’s indulge ourselves in the American state of Hawai’i and take some awesome cover photos as we lounge on the stolen beaches of the former Kingdom of Hawai’i.  Maybe someone someday will care enough to make a change.

4 Reasons Why Overseas Volunteer Projects are a Waste of Time

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Shanties on a US reservation, no better than houses I’ve seen in rural India or West Africa and unfathomably worse than donated facilities at the Nuevo Paraiso mission project in Honduras.

It seems like, growing up, the cool thing for kids to do who went to my fancy private school was to be sent off by their parents on some overseas volunteer project in a third-world country.  I never did anything like this until college, mostly because my mom always shot the idea down.  I never fully understood her reasons until I went on a trip of my own and began reevaluating such overseas volunteer projects.  I decided that I agree with my mom.  The only people these trips really benefit are the travelers themselves, giving them something to put on their resumes.  And although the benefits operate on a case-by-case basis, it is my experience and observations that suggest how these projects are often just a waste of time.  I will outline my reasons below:

1. GIVING OUT FISH.
My family strongly believes in the motto: “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man how to fish, he eats for life.”  I’ve grown up knowing that expression and beginning to see the truth behind it.  Although my parents use that approach in their political views and anti-welfare standpoints, I see how this fish comparison directly relates to volunteer projects.  It’s easy to give a monetary donation and let someone else handle what happens to the money.  That’s obviously no way to help an impoverished community.  But too often we are still transfixed on materialistic things to improve an entire village.  Why save up money to go build a building?  Most of these communities have all the resources they need to build a building that suits their needs.  Why not lend a physical hand instead?  Why not teach and do less of handing these people supplies and new, shiny things?  Give them all of these donations and the only thing they’ll think is “Wow, Americans have nice, fancy things.  When I grow up, I want to get out of here and go somewhere where these things can be handed to me.”  Not only does handing out fish not allow these people to fix themselves, it encourages them to seek out where they can be handed more fish and prevents them from fixing their old mistakes.  Indirectly, it could also cause communities to disband and lose culture as the younger generations with more potential greedily seek out a life outside of their community for shiny things they don’t need.  And I’m not just making up a hypothesis; it is a serious issue I learned about while on some community projects this summer in rural India.

2. BROKEN THINGS THAT STAY BROKEN.
When I signed up for Engineers Without Borders, I though, Gee, this is cool – I get funded to travel to a really unique place and practice both my French and engineering skills!  The experience helped land me a job and gave me some real world perspective on what life is like in West Africa.  But my trip to Cameroon benefitted myself more than it did the community.  We spent endless weeks organizing, building, delivering, preparing, teaching,…all to end up with empty wallets and a failed system.  We visited a nearby project similar to ours: a solar panel-powered well system installed by the University of Delaware.  What did we find?  An empty water tank at the top of a hill next to a school.  Why was there no water pumping up here?  We found the lower pump where a few kids were squeezing out the only drops they could get.  Why was there not even water at the taps with the greatest hydraulic head?  My colleague found the answer: the solar panels were coated in weeks worth of red, Cameroonian mountain dust.  No one had been cleaning the panels, despite clear instruction from the volunteers to do so.  Back at our own project, we even set up a committee dedicated to clean the panels once a week.  You would think that a quick cleanse isn’t much to ask from a slower paced, rural community, but even our village had to provide an incentive by offering weekly pay to the volunteer.  When I returned to the States and shared my story with my friends, my best friend gave me a link to a video that discussed exactly how EWB projects are inevitable failures.  There is no water coming out a year later.  All of this money and time, and for what?  Why is this happening?  The answer is multi-faceted, having its roots in my fish theory.  Plus, things that break in these rural communities often stay broken.  Why?  Well, what resources are there to fix them?  To fix these projects that are not the standard way of life?  What motive is there to gather the information and to find a way to bring back something that these villages have survived for thousands of years without?  And that brings me to my third point…

3. DON’T FIX WHAT’S NOT BROKEN.
Why are Americans so in love with themselves that they think their way of life is the solution to the planet’s suffering?  The wasteful, materialistic American way of life is not only greedy and corrupt, but it could easily be contributing indirectly to the suffering of these remote areas.  The environmental impacts of our decisions in the States causes a global reaction that can directly impact the weather conditions and water cycles of these victimized areas.  Still, they thrive the way they have known to thrive for thousands of years.  Throughout history, ancient civilizations have survived and thrived without the assistance of outsiders.  In fact, if anything, these outsiders have obliterated these civilizations before ever significantly impacting them in a positive fashion.  For example, think about the situations in America.  All of the tribal peoples who have lost their identity and land.  All because we think the way we live is the right way?  The sophisticated way?  Go to West Africa and you will see a collage of old and new.  People living in huts who have cell phones.  Why is that?  Well, they want to take advantage of the best of both worlds the best that they can.  But, at the same time, not everyone wants to jeopardize their old ways of life.  It’s what they know.  It’s their comfort zones.  It’s how they have evolved to believe they should live.  I’ve had countless political arguments with sheltered people and friends who felt that invading countries and transforming their governments was the correct solution to everything, but is it really?  Is our government system really the answer?  Is it our business to decide that for anyone but ourselves?  How do we know that we’re right?  I’ve seen first hand how these “less fortunate” people actually believe we’re the unfortunate ones, leading stressful lives and answering to people we hardly know, not understanding anymore what living is or how to appreciate life.  But it’s not just how their systems aren’t broken but how we try to fix them and break them to pieces.  How we strip people of culture.  Perhaps the worst offender of such things is religious cleansing.  I am absolutely opposed to mission trips and anything that operates in another community by the “light of God”.  Can’t people do good things for the sake of life, living, and kindness?  Why is religion attached to any good notion when religion is in fact the cause of so much evil?  So much war?  I see people going to Africa every year on “mission trips”, and all I can think is I hope you feel good about yourself when you shove Bibles down these poor peoples’ throats and rob them of any cultural identity they used to have.  Why not teach them how to read and write?  So they can buy books and learn the newest herbal medicinal discoveries or how to fix their water issues naturally and without the use of energy and pumps?  This religious debacle leads me to my last reason…

4. HELP YOURSELF BEFORE YOU HELP OTHERS.
Even airlines tell you this before your plane leaves the runway.  While we are so transfixed with being the heroes to people in communities that will never remember our names once we have parted, why don’t we take a look at our own country?  And I don’t mean just soup kitchens and giving handouts to homeless people who continue to drink away their handouts.  I mean the thing that I’m most passionate about: poverty on the reservations.  It’s not because I’m biased because my grandfather is Indian and it’s my focus of work.  It’s because I strongly believe America is responsible for the situation it’s created.  You can’t invade a territory, take over completely from peoples who you don’t even acknowledge as people, set up a system familiar only to the invaders and only at the advantage of said invaders, and then expect the natives to thrive.  That’s just it; they weren’t expected to thrive.  They weren’t considered people, they were murdered without consequences, and they weren’t even accounted for on the census rolls until tribal counts were created.  By that time, most of the less powerful tribes were wiped out or assimilated to a different culture anyway.  The territorial borders kept pushing back, tribes were hit with European clothes, weapons, alcohol, and Bibles, all in an effort to strip them of their identity if not kill them off altogether.  The answer to this problem, when peaceful terms were supposedly going to be met, was to shove these peoples onto a hodge-podge of lousy land parcels called “reservations”.  That was no solution, but everyone seemed to “roll with it” until the Dawes Act sparked up in the late 1800s and unconstitutionally revoked the rights of thousands of American people – American Indian people.  What efforts have been made since to right these wrongs?  A similar wronging was in the African-American slave industry around the same time.  That dispute divided our whole nation until it was resolved and, although we still have racial issues, the States made an enormous effort to right its wrongs.  Can you say that about the native people to whom this land really belonged?  Whose voices aren’t being heard despite their protests?  As an example, Gilmour Academy near my university (and where several of my friends went) sends students annually to Honduras on a mission trip.  Ignoring the fact that it’s a mission, can we ask ourselves why these people are spending thousands of dollars for the glory of assisting (handing fish) to people in a remote, foreign village that will likely stay broken?  One that maybe wasn’t all that “broken” to begin with?  One that actually used to be full of native peoples that were conquered by the Spaniards?  But we’re continuing to perpetuate that wrong as a right by influencing our western ways on the rural populations?  And if the reason of choosing that location is solely based on the poverty level in Honduras being under 50%, have we stopped to consider that a few of the largest Indian reservations in the US with a majority of the native population is in fact exceeding that level of poverty?  Within our own borders?  Okay, so South Dakota or the desert in Utah maybe isn’t as “cool” as Honduras to visit…but is it a volunteer trip or a vacation?  Spend your money wisely.  Don’t blow $1000 on airfare to fix a problem that doesn’t concern you.  10 students’ airfare to go to Honduras could send multitudes more in a workforce to address the issues in our own country.

So there you have it, my rant for the day: how overseas volunteer projects don’t teach a village anything life-changing, how they have a tendency to be short-lived, how they aim to fix things that may not be considered a problem internally, and how they take our attention away from our own neighbors suffering.  I’m sure there are plenty of people who think differently but, until I see some serious changes within our own country and in these overseas projects to be more economical and sustainable, I see no reason to advocate my opinions in anyone else’s favor.

American Pride or Unconstitutional Selfishness?

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Every year that the 4th of July rolls around, I become more and more disgusted by this country. Here are my biggest concerns with this holiday:
1. It’s all about the barbecues.
2. It’s the only day we give a sh*t.
3. We desecrate the American flag.

1. What does this holiday stand for anyway? It should represent freedom, remember those who fought for us, and remember those who still do fight. It should remind us of our strength and why we work towards a better tomorrow every day. What’s sad is that we are forced to remember a day that meant victory for the European immigrants, but which marked the beginning of the end for a lot of native cultures. Something is lost in translation when we root for “America” and I’m not sure what the real answer is. All I know is that, more and more, we see advertisements for picnics and food and events, not for moments of silence or any of those things that really matter. What has become of this country?

2. Just because it’s the 4th of July doesn’t mean we aren’t patriotic on the 3rd, the 5th, or three months later. What is it with national disasters and national holidays that spark pride for a moment and die when the excitement becomes passé? Are we really that easily bored or distracted? Do we not know how to be patriotic when we are continually spoon-fed by the government and each other? When we can sue anyone who mildly offends us? Every action should be done with an intention of bettering the community, the country, and the planet.

3. Patriotic colors are wonderful and hanging the flag is even better. But what in the world ever happened to RESPECTING the flag?? Do you even know how to hang a flag properly? How to fold it so it doesn’t touch the ground? How to burn it if it falls? Did you know it is unconstitutional to wear the flag in any way? To DESECRATE it?? I see all of these girls bubbling over pins of American-flag skimpy tops and bathings suits on Pinterest and I just want to GAG. What has become of this nation? When these girls are our elderly, we might as well sell our souls to the Middle East and live in Oz. There’s no hope for this future if we don’t pull our act together, respect our country, grow up, and realize we don’t live in a bubble that will keep us safe and protected from all of the bad things in this meanie of a planet.

And that is my rant that I rant every year come the 4th of July. Thanks for your time.

What Really Matters to Americans Anyway?

Today, the top headline in Google News is in regards to what appears to be a genocidal act against an innocent group of people amongst those stereotypically associated with terrorism in America.  As described by AP, “An ex-Army man who was reduced in rank before his discharge, Wade Michael Page, carried out the shootings at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin that claimed six lives, a federal official said Monday.”  Judging by the name Wade, I would venture to guess that this man had no association to the Sikh Temple apart from some grudge he held against the culture as an ex-Army man.

What is wrong with people these days?  And how must it feel to be part of a targeted group where, realistically, you should be concerned about your safety at any given moment?  At least while these lunatics are still running around.  It particularly frustrates me because I am a strong advocate of the 2nd Amendment, but these whack jobs keep sacrificing our constitutional rights to bear arms.

Of course, while these people are suffering and I am busy judging the kinds of people who commit such horrible hate crimes, I can’t help but notice what’s captivating American’s today in the news.  It’s not the shooting, that’s for sure.  It’s not Syria, it’s not even National debt, it’s just a lump of irrelevant topics.  Maybe most people get the “important” information from the TV or newspaper?  I really highly doubt it.  But, either way, here is what Americans, according to Yahoo! trending topics, care about today amongst all the global tragedies:

Celebrities.  The Olympics.  Gossip.  Oh, when we detonated a city years ago.  And diet pills.  Yes, looking skinny per means that reflect America’s shear laziness whilst the world self-destructs.  Perfect strategy, US of A.

Maybe I’m a little too bitter, but I’m simply not impressed.

International Independence… and the One Great Thing about Taxes and American Sports

As Americans, our sovereignty is at stake.  We have come to interpret “freedom” as meaning “inherited right to anything and everything I want”.  One common train of thought seems to be: “If they have it, then I want it too because you can’t tell me I’m not entitled to it.”

Between these mindsets and our constant need to push each other down and come out on top, we are ruthlessly taking advantage of cheap foreign labor and superfluous fine imports.  We fail to recall the novelty in our scant American-made products, thereby refusing to invest in and support the services of our own brothers.  Meanwhile, we continue to race our imports around the world and across our draught-impacted expanses, devouring energy sources we don’t have and undermining our own global independence.

America might be balanced on its high-horse now, but one little upset and what’s going to keep it standing on its own two feet?  What has become of our fighting spirit, of our national pride?  Have we forgotten the centuries of struggle that granted us these now abused freedoms?  Will it take an outside threat on our freedom to remind us that, despite its being a misnomer, freedom doesn’t come for free?

According to Economy in Crisis, the purchase of consumer goods in the US constitutes 70% of its economic growth.  That same 70% translates to 30% of global spending.  Yes, that means 5% of the world population (the US) contributes to 21% of the global spending through our consumer good purchases alone!  Here is a breakdown from Tax Foundation (http://www.mymoneyblog.com/the-average-americans-spending-breakdown.html) of American major spending from 2006:

32% of our spending goes to taxes.  These taxes, federal or not, contribute to the expenses of running our country, like paying for our infrastructure, our school systems, and our financial programs.  Feel confident in at least knowing that 1/3 of your expenses are going directly towards keeping the dialysis machine of the US running.  Then there is your 14% for health and medical care, which is applied to you, your benefactors, and the companies that make your insurance possible.  So that’s not too bad.

How about that transportation?  You’re spending an average of 8% of your income going places.  In the old days, those expenses came down to what it cost to buy a horse, to feed that horse, and to feed the people who took care of the horse and maybe even built that wagon for you.  Nowadays, we are importing foreign-assembled cars or cars with foreign parts, supporting foreign engineering and cheap labor, then burning fuels we dragged across the polluted open seas.  Our infrastructure might have been paid for by the government with our taxes, but what about the American companies contracted to complete the job?  Are all of those steel piles made of American steel?  What about that bulldozer?  Is it American-made?  The parts?  The fuel to run it?  Hmm.

That is exactly how to view the 17% of your income which goes to housing: importing trees and metals to complete the task of building new homes, importing fuels to run appliances, oh – and buying foreign appliances,… 4% on clothing and accessories which are most likely made in Bangladesh or some other country that you couldn’t even find on a map if you were asked, but whose residents are forced to accept meager wages because that’s what it takes to keep up the exporting demands in those poor countries, the exporting demands that you support by purchasing these “slave labor” items.

Then there is the 8% for food.  But we don’t exactly maintain our own rice paddies in the US.  We do, however, have extensive coastlines and yet our seafood imports are outrageous.  In fact, here is one breakdown from the FDA:

It’s funny, they always tell us how the three things needed for survival are Water, Food, and Shelter.  Water, we’ve got plenty of it.  That probably goes in to the smallest fraction of housing spending, less than 1% or the 17% that is dedicated to Shelter as a whole.  So, in other words… our Three Things Needed to Survive comprise of 25% of our total spending.  (I wonder, did they factor in beer?)

That leaves us with 11% for “All Other Days”… What is that, vacation?  Savings?  (I’ll admit, that one is a bit ambiguous, but I didn’t make this chart.)  And, finally, my last point: 6% for recreation.  Things you do for fun.  Hobbies and activities.  Even if your karate teacher came from Korea, he is now American.  One great thing about this category is it most likely consists of an American or mostly-American pastime.  American films seen at theatres with American workers, American amusement parks and nature reservations run by more Americans (and even government positions),… and how about sports?  Truly American sports would be basketball, baseball, and football.  I mean, in terms of modern times, how American can you get?  Amen to that 8%.

So the next time you feel like being American and protecting our global independence and overall sovereignty, go to a baseball game, grab yourself a Yuengling, and take solace in the fact that UnderArmor is made in the USA (although your fan shirt may not be).

An interesting article about non-American US Olympic uniforms: http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-capitol-hill-joins-criticism-of-made-in-china-us-olympic-uniforms-20120712,0,1586224.story