Monday, October 19, 2009

Wales, Lake District, and Ireland

“It is good to realize that if love and peace can prevail on earth, and if we can teach our children to honor nature's gifts, the joys and beauties of the outdoors will be here forever.”
Jimmy Carter

Last weekend I joined a group from the University to go camping in Northern Wales. The trip was oriented around learning survival skills. We hiked down to the beach where we found large cliffs and a rocky beach area. We learned to make water potable and to find food on the beach. Several members of the group and I were responsible for building a shelter in which our group would reside. We built a stone wall to block the wind and then tied our tarp to an abandoned boat to shelter us from rain. Sleeping directly on the rocks was not nearly as bad as I had imagined. I met a lot of really interesting people on the trip including Roni and Guy, a brother sister duo who spent gap years working in communes in Israel. Also interesting was Lawrence who has spent summers working in camps for imprisoned youth in the United States. Lawrence has a keen interest in the outdoors but also gender issues and politics; I didn’t know that people like that existed! I’m going skiing with Roni over part of Halloween weekend.

Having grown up in a land-locked state, I continue to be impressed by sights of the sea. There is nothing in the world as calming or as beautiful as the crash of water against the beach and the view of an orange sunset. The outdoors is therapeutic and rejuvenating. When I am outdoors I serve as witness to something so much greater than humanity; I see a world with many component parts that function together in equality. Nature is everything that I wish society could be.

I joined the kayak team for a canal session wherein we learned a bit more about paddling and entering/exiting the boats in a beautiful (though polluted) canal in Preston. In the canal we had relay races wherein we had to launch ourselves in the water, paddle across the canal, and then get out of the water. We also played tag with wet sponges. Kayaking is so different from canoeing but I think I really like it. I’m looking forward to the Tyne Tour that the team is attending in early November.

Swimming practices continue to motivate and to challenge me, it has only been two weeks and I can already feel myself getting stronger. One of my swim friends was explaining to me her study of sign language. I noticed that some of the signs that she used were different from the signs that I have learned. She explained to me that every country has a very different form of sign language. Though American Sign Language (ASL) is popular, many countries find that ASL cannot describe the world as they know it and accordingly create their own sign language. As more and more of the world converts to English and ASL I fear that we are losing so many of the terms that previous cultures used to describe their world. I’ve heard that Inuits have many different words to describe snow: as the Inuit language dies off do those explanations of snow also die? I’m so afraid of globalization and it bothers me that so many countries are turning away from their previous languages to favour English. Many of the people that I met in Ireland did not even know how to speak Irish. Some people explained to me that Irish is taught only in the countryside.

For the first part of the weekend I went to visit a girl that I met in Liverpool on my way home from Paris a few weekends ago. Carlie is Canadian and works in a hotel in the lake district. On Thursday night she introduced me to all of her fellow employees and we went dancing. Sitting in the employee lounge was like a mini-United Nations. The lounge saw representation of Canada, USA, Jamaica, Spain, Brazil, Poland, Romania, Latvia, and others that I don’t remember. On Friday we visited the Beatrix Potter sights and took a ferry across the lake to a nearby village where we hiked around a bit and saw some wonderful views of Lake Windermere. The superimposition of the mountains and the lake was wonderful and reminded me of Lake Tahoe.

On Saturday morning I flew to Dublin for a three-day visit. I went on a walking tour of the city, saw much of the historical monuments from the 1916 Revolution, learned about the potato famine, went to the National Gallery to see an exhibit on Edward Munch, saw the Dublin Castle and gardens, saw the tomb of Saint Valentine, toured the James Joyce Centre, and went to the Chester Beatty library. Some of the most interesting things I saw included original letters from Paul to the Romans, and ancient illuminated manuscripts. I also attended services at Christ Church which is home to the Cathedral Choir which first performed Handel’s Messiah. As the choir processed during Saturday evensong I was overwhelmed with the beautiful music. I didn’t recognize any of the hymns that were song, but the service was an amazing experience. I went back to the Cathedral for services on Sunday and was once again impressed. I was invited to the coffee fellowship and was surprised to find that the coffee fellowship was held in the old dungeons of the church. The coffee fellowship is to me such a mundane part of fellowship, it was so interesting to experience coffee fellowship in the midst of one of the most lovely places in the world. The dungeons held a lot of the artifacts of the church including communion sets that had been provided by kings and queens of England. The church was absolutely lovely. I love the intersection of Protestant and Catholic tradition within the Anglican Church. I do not consider myself a Catholic, but I find repeating the Nicene Creed and various Catholic prayers to be a very important part of my prayer life. Some of the people I met at the coffee fellowship told me a bit more about the Anglican faith, explaining that the term “Catholic” means “unity” and that in Europe the Catholic church is much more of an umbrella than it is in the U.S. The members of Christ Church also told me a lot about religious struggled between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in which Christ Church had played a role. The man ended by saying, “you know, there seems to be a lot of religion but not a lot of Christianity going on around Ireland.” Interesting.

My study of Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France” has raised many questions for me about the role of revolution and independence in the international community. Spending a weekend in the midst of a relatively newly independent state helped me to better contextualize those questions. In Ireland I witnessed a political protest to Spanish control of the Basque. I also chatted with a Filipino womyn about independence movements of the Muslim population of the Philippines. Is the search for independence a mechanism through which we refuse to negotiate with a dominant government or is independence necessary for the development of different political interests? How do we justify the American Revolution while also denying a right for the Confederate States to secede in 1861? I’m going to continue studying these questions and maybe allow them to become my senior thesis.

I am happy to be back home and to face a brand new week.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


"I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I'm free" Anne Frank

It has been another wonderful week in England! I’ve gotten involved a wide variety of clubs and societies at the University including: newspaper, Christian Union, Law Society, Swim Team, Mountaineers, and Kayak team. I am hoping to soak up every bit of Europe that is possible on my short four-month stay. My days are busy and filled with enriching experiences.

I have always enjoyed sports and exercise and through college I have really missed my experiences swimming for a competitive team in high school. There is a sense of motivation and team spirit that comes only when exists a team. I believe I am naturally very determined, but having a team behind me encourages me to push myself a bit harder. The first swim practice was yesterday, it was tough and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to walk afterward. I’m really excited for practice tonight and the adrenaline rush that goes hand-in-hand with swimming. I think I like sports so much lately because sports alone mirror the intensity that I take toward life.

Last week was my first day of rock climbing practice with the mountaineers. I have always been so afraid of repelling down rocks. I know that I will be safe, but the substantial drop gets me every time. From the top of the climbing gym I told myself, “If I can go to Paris by myself then I think I can repel 60 ft.” I leaned back and allowed myself to be pulled down the cliff. Slowly but surely I am debunking every fear that I have in life. Every challenging workout or experience that I have had is just weakness leaving my body. I don’t have to be afraid anymore.

Last weekend I went to Holland to visit my close friend Sahara Meyer who is studying abroad in Leiden, Netherlands. Sahara and I went to Amsterdam for the day on Friday. We saw the general tourist sights: Homomonument, the Royal Palace, the National Monument, the Red Light district, and we toured the hiding place of Anne Frank during the Second World War. The business where Anne Frank hid was quite spacious. The floors creaked with each step I took, the eerie nature of the home still present. I read Anne Frank’s diary in 4th grade and had an image in my mind of a cramped dank attic where the family members were crammed together. The hiding place was actually quite large, providing spacious living areas and bedrooms. Anne’s diary does a phenomenal job of describing the horrors of being in hiding; of remaining quiet throughout the day and treading lightly at night. Anne writes about wishing she could play outside, or have access to more books. The psychological impacts of isolation become so evident in Anne’s writing. It is strange to think that such a wise and candid writer could have been only sixteen years of age at death. Perhaps the most moving part of the exhibit was a picture of Anne’s Father in the house a few years after the end of the war; in the photo Otto braces himself against one of the walls and holds his hat over his heart. Anne died just weeks before Auschwitz was liberated. Anne’s friends are quoted as explaining that Anne believed her entire family to be dead and lost her own will to live, “she died when she choose not to live.” Maybe that is true outside of war situations as well.

I was lucky to be in Holland for the celebration of “Leiden Day” which is a Dutch independence celebration. Leiden was blanketed in roller coasters, hot dog stands, carnival games, and dances. On Saturday morning we went to the Leiden Day parade. Each year, Leiden selects a different country’s movements toward independence as the theme of their parade, celebrating independence throughout the world. This year the theme was “The American Dream” detailing historical events in the United States since colonization. There were floats for Native Americans, Amish, and other immigrant groups. The parade ended with a tribute to American pop culture including floats representing High School Musical and Titanic. I don’t think that I have ever seen a more high quality parade of American history than what I saw in Holland! The celebration of the independence of other nation’s on Leiden Day reminded me a proverb I learned in Haiti that, “my independence is intrinsically connected to yours.”

In England, students attend high school for a few years and then go to “college” which is the equivalent of the upper years of American high school. Sometimes my flatmates will reminisce about their “college times” and it always startles me. I can’t believe that I am already more than halfway finished with University. Someday I too will speak of fond memories of college… I just don’t want that to happen quite yet!