International & Off-Campus
These winning literary pieces were done by St. Olaf College students who studied off-campus on Domestic and International programs during: Semester II and Yearlong 2001-2002; Semester I and Semester I/Interim - 2002-2003 and January Interim - 2003.
We hope you enjoy these literary works.
We thank the winners for sharing a glimpse of their Off- Campus experience.
Lindsay Fimmen '04 (Term in Asia) "Journal Entry" - Ban Taan, Thailand
Beth Kinderman '04 (Spanish 270 Interim: Spain) "Singing for my Supper" - Granada, Spain
Megan Gregory '04 ACM (Wilderness Field Station) "Learning to Read the Language of Landscape" - Basswood River, Quetico Provincial Park, Canada
Beth Kinderman '04 (Spanish 270 Interim) "Walking back from Lorca's House"- Granada, Spain
Ben Mahler '03 (Kansai Gaidai, Japan) "Japanese Cuisine Review" - Osaka, Japan
Jenilyn Swett '04 (SW in Mexico Interim) "Coffee" - San Miguel, Mexico
Anne Johnson '05 (German 233 Interim) "Grun and Grau" - (Green and Gray) Germany
Rebecca Johnson '05 (Soc/Anth Interim-Ireland) "Ashamed" - Northern Ireland
Katie Bonander '03 (Global Semester) "The DMZ" - The Demilitarized Zone between N & S Korea
Kelley Grow '03 (Capitals in Russian Lit Interim) "Shopping for Icons" - Moscow, Russia
Kristi Achor '03 (Env St in Australia) "Ochre"- Numinbah, Queensland, Australia
I came back from interim with a small rhinestone stud gleaming from my left nostril. Walking the streets of London over term break, I was dismissed by dozens of Londoners as another teenage thug. None of them asked why my nose was pierced. I didn't expect them to, but I longed for one person to inquire, just one.
I got my nose pierced because I fell in love. Not in Italy, with a tall, dark handsome stranger, or in Ireland with a cute boy with a cuter accent, but in Bangladesh. I fell hard for a village called Anandapur, a village full of women, each with a stud or post glinting from her nose.
I got my nose pierced because I wanted to remember. When I look in the mirror, I want a tiny, tangible reminder of dirt roads, mud huts and banana trees. Of children with machetes in hand and baskets on their heads, clamoring for a smile or a sticker from me. Of men with tough faces from years of hardship and strong backs from days in the rice fields. But mostly, I wanted a remembrance of the women. Women who are pierced as babies and who stay pierced as they grow - not by choice, or because it looks cute or tough - but because it is what is beautiful, submissive, feminine, expected. It is the way of the village. It is not the way of my world. Bengali women are offered a mold to fit, standards to live up to. I am offered infinite freedom.
And with this infinite freedom, I chose to make a small and permanent decision to honor who these women are. To honor a life lived in realness. A life free from pretense, pressure to meet the beauty standard, masks. A life defined by and measured in wide open homes and hearts, fierce desire to provide for children, eyes hardened by time and condition yet sparkling with laughter, hope determination. By songs and dances and mischievous humor. By joy beyond circumstance and wisdom beyond measure.
I am in love with these women, passionate about what they've taught me. Desperate that everyone I know understand their stories. Desperate to return to them. Desperate to halt their passage from my daily conscious to the corners of my memory.
Ask me why I got my nose pierced. Let me tell you stories of primary schoolteachers and midwives and housewives; of widows and fiancees and wise old souls. And above all, a story of a woman who went on a journey to Bangladesh and back and will never be the same.
No one back home will ever understand what I am doing - what I am seeing or what I am experiencing. Right now I am laying in the hottest weather imaginable, under a mosquito net, on a hard mat, in a wooden hut in the middle of rural Thailand. This is like nothing I've ever dreamed of in my life. This place is something that I would see on the front of my dad's National Geographic. You know you are living a pretty cool life when you look around and never thought in your life that you would be standing exactly where you are standing - seeing the things you are seeing experiencing the things you are experiencing. I thought I might see things like the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Colosseum, the White House, or even the Great Wall of China - but poverty at it's worst? To not only see it but also be accepted into it? To live like a native Thai woman - to lower myself to their standards is one of the hardest, yet amazing things I've ever had to do.
Holding back tears at the sight of their living conditions ... while smiling at the experience that I am touching with my fingertips...
My Kuhn Yigh* smiles back showing all her black stained teeth from her opium nut - still clenched between her back teeth. She smiles with pride about the place that she has prepared for me, the dinner she has been planning for days, and the bathhouse where I will shower.
In my young eyes, I see a mat hard as the dirty wood beneath it, rice and vegetables picked from their rice paddy that morning, cooked in pans that were washed from the same river I was too scared to walk through minutes earlier. I see a bin of water dirty from the man that just left the bath house which houses a small hole that serves as a toilet, a large clay pot full of "shower" water, and a small red plastic bowl to help dump the "shower" water on you.
My Kuhn Yigh has eyes from a culture different from mine. Her eyes are not young - but old, wise and full of magic. She sees brand new mats, recently bought at the market for the visiting Americans, a mosquito net hanging above the bed, and the only pillow they own - sitting gently on the head of the mat.
She smiles because she made two extra helpings for the fat American- a portion I'm sure
they can barely afford to loose.
She smiles because she is using her special dishes.
She smiles because this is an experience of a lifetime for her.
I am an experience she will never forget ... and she is an experience that I will never forget
Suddenly in my new eyes I see her beautiful face. I see a new language forming between us - solely composed of smiles and laughter. I see her pride, and her love of sharing her culture with me.
I always knew that I would grow and change on this trip, but I thought it would take time ... a long time before I really knew how. Today, I was changed inside and I felt it. I felt it as I spent time with my four-generation host family, trying to guess how they were all related, as we walked hand in hand down the road as they showed me their village, and my eyes felt it as I looked deep into my Kuhn Yigh's eyes...
No one back home will ever understand what I am doing - what I am seeing - or what I am experiencing. Right now I am laying in the hottest weather imaginable, under a mosquito net, on a hard mat, in a wooden hut in the middle rural Thailand.
Am I dreaming?
*Kuhn Yigh is from the Thai language meaning "grandmother"
Singing For My Supper
Chantal's voice calls me away from a leathery-skinned street vendor selling cheap jewelry and gauzy pastel scarves, and we start off up the hill. I only met her six hours earlier when we were forced to share a room in our hostel, but after several hours arguing politics inside one of the many dark and cavernous tea shops that line the Caldereria, I can hardly remember a time when we weren't traveling together. She's a Canadian backpacker who's been in Granada for the past week, and she goes to the Mirador de San Nicolas every night to watch the sunset. As the narrow street steepens, she shifts her heavy backpack on her shoulders and I clutch my new guitar case closer to my body. It's so light in comparison to my old one that I always think the case contains nothing at all. At the corner, I unzip it partway to reassure myself that gypsies haven't somehow stolen my guitar, and Chantal laughs at me. I laugh as well, a thin, nervous sound.
We leave the Albayzin behind and continue our ascent. The light reaches around the buildings and through the branches of the orange trees to paint everything in gold. The street smells of food frying in olive oil and the omnipresent and overwhelming scent of oranges and myrtle I have come to associate with Andalucia. Every so often we pass other pedestrians and boys on mopeds who speed by in the middle of the street with little regard for those who might be walking in their path.
We struggle uphill for fifteen minutes. Then the street levels out and we find ourselves on a wide street lined with houses and bars. From here we can see the white stucco walls of the Iglesia de San Nicolas and a throng of tourists and locals already gathering at the plaza, even though the sun won't set for another hour. Chantal directs me to her favorite cafe, where we sit on the patio and eat patatas a lo pobre drenched in olive oil and tasting of onion and garlic. The waiters and the old men flirt with her, but she doesn't speak Spanish so I translate their vague innuendoes as best I can. A little girl passes our table, singing something incomprehensible and accompanying herself by beating on a rusty coffee can. Her voice is raspy and tuneless, but I throw her a coin anyway. Singing to strangers takes courage.
We finish our meal and walk over to the mirador. By now, it's choked with onlookers, and we have to stand. Musicians and storytellers line the benches and the low stone wall that runs along the edge of the plaza. Chantal runs up to a small knot of jugglers and flags down a tiny, red-haired woman with a nose ring, and I translate their conversation about whether the woman is going to juggle flaming torches tonight. Underneath the granite cross in front of the church, a drummer, a guitarist, and a violinist have attracted a small crowd to the syncopated beat and complex harmony of their improvised performance. The guitarist's case is lined with gold and silver coins like the bottom of a lucky fountain. Suddenly, my guitar feels too new and unpracticed, my clothes too neat, my manner too foreign for me to fit in here. I am an imposter in this plaza like I am an imposter in this country, and I know these eyes that wash over me in the street see through everything I am trying to become.
"Someone just left!" Chantal says, pointing to a gap in the line of people. With a nod to each other we make a dash for the wall. I shove a few people out of the way with my guitar case, and we claim the spot just in time. I throw one leg over the wall and get my first clear look at what we came to see, and my breath catches in my throat. A field of white houses spreads out before us, dripping down the sides of the mountains like melting ice cream and pooling in the valley far below. Across from us, the red stone walls of the Alhambra loom over the olive groves that spill across the rocky soil in its wake. If I squint, I can almost make out tourists on the main guard tower of the Alcazar, looking back at us. Behind it all, the peaks of the Sierra Nevada stand watch, shrouded in snow. The sky has shifted from flawless blue to a smeared watercolor palette of red and orange, and the unblemished walls of the houses reflect its vibrant colors back to it. And now the sun creeps below the mountains and threads of purple shoot through the clouds. It sinks lower and lower until, with a last flash of crimson, it vanishes. Everyone applauds as though we've never seen a real sunset before. Maybe we haven't.
One by one, the onlookers leave the plaza, leaving me with elbow room for the first time. I look at Chantal and she nods. I reach down and take out my new guitar, leaving the case open at my feet. As I tune each string in turn, I size up the crowd. A few people have looked toward the soft twanging of my nylon strings, but for the most part my music hasn't yet been noticed.
I start out slow - a few simple chord progressions to warm up, a song I've known ever since I started to play. My soft singing is lost amidst the low murmur of the plaza. I try something instrumental, then segue into a Leonard Cohen song that Chantal knows so we can both sing. I'm wrestling with "Building A Mystery" at Chantal's request when a man in a denim jacket approaches. "Do you know anything by the Cranberries?" he says in Spanish-accented English. I don't, so he suggests a few other songs, but I don't know those either. He pauses for a moment, deep in thought.
My voice seem to come from far away as I say in Spanish, "I could play you a song that I wrote, if you like. It's a little bit like those bands."
He smiles. "Sí, sí, sí, que bueno." I stretch out my hands, lick my lips, and begin my song. I'm a little worried about forgetting it since my sheet music is back in the States, but the chords and words form just as I wrote them and leave my hands and my lips as if proceeding from a source outside of myself. My voice grows louder, echoing off the walls of the church and drowning out the noise of the mopeds. At the end of the first chorus someone yells, and I struggle to banish a scowl from my face. But then it happens again in the middle of the verse, with a few more voices mixed in this time, and I realize that the people aren't yelling to disrupt my performance. They yell because they like the song. They yell because they're listening to me.
Too soon, it's over. The applause sounds like the rain against my window the night before - not deafening, not overwhelming, but enough. "Gracias, muchas gracias," I say over and over. The jacket guy is grinning like an idiot and everyone in the plaza is starting to wander over to me to see what's going on. I look over at Chantal and there are tears in her eyes. "Are you okay?' I say.
"Just keep playing," is all she says.
So I play until the sky goes the flat black of pavement and my fingers are too sore to press the strings down anymore. I put my guitar away, and Chantal takes out her Discman and gives me one of the earphones so we can both listen to Jeff Buckley. I don't know how long we sit on that wall, singing along to music only we can hear. By night, the Alhambra lights up like a beacon and I imagine that now my voice, small as it may be, can reach all the way to those golden walls. At one point we pause in our singing to switch the CD and a chorus of voices behind us calls out, "No parad, no parad!" Don't stop, they say. Don't stop.
This piece is the final 'chapter' in a travel narrative about my class canoe trip through the lakes of Quetico. As we paddled and portaged, learning about the natural history of our surroundings, I was intrigued by the stories that the landscape had to tell. The first three sections of my narrative detail the story of the land, the flora, and the fauna of the North Woods. This excerpt contains my reflections on the story of its people, the Anishawbe.
from Learning to Read the Language of Landscape
July 14, 2002
Gliding through the glassy waters of the Basswood River, I felt the peace and calm of early morning surround me. With the golden sun caressing our shoulders, we drifted into a sheltered cove where cliffs of orange and pink granite rose above the lake, and tall red pines peered down from the heights. Just a few feet above our heads, we could discern fading red pictographs: human figures sitting in a canoe, a moose, a heron - traces of the story of a people, the Anishanabe natives of the North Woods. Even to my untrained eye, the pictographs revealed a community very much at home with the land and very attuned to the presence of the other creatures, with which they shared the Earth.
As I sat in the canoe, watching rays of light reflect off the water and onto the rock in rippling waves, thousands of years seemed to fall away. Those sketchy red figures fired the imagination, that bridge spanning the gap between people separated by space and time, yet joined in a common bond of humanity. I wondered: What did these mysterious paintings mean to the people who had stood in birch-bark canoes to paint them so many years ago? Were the pictographs I pondered part of a larger story, now erased by the action of wind and water and time on the rock's surface? Did the light dance upon the rock when the Anishanabe artist painted the red figures as it did today?
In that hushed inlet, I had a strange sense of being in a very sacred place. Those early people needed no towering cathedral to find the presence of the divine; they saw God in the sparkling sunlight, the gently lapping waves, and the cool breeze winding through the trees. My life is very different from that of the native people of the North Woods, but their expressions of wonder at the natural world assured me that we share many of the same values. Gazing at their artwork, I knew that they, too, must have drawn in a sharp breath of surprise and delight when a big-eared, knobby-kneed moose ambled into view, as I did just a few days before. Their hearts must have quickened, as mine does, upon watching a slender heron tiptoe along the shore, then spread its wings and take flight in its gangly and awkward, yet endearing and charming way. Floating in their birch-bark canoes, they must have shared my sense of smallness and awe beside the towering pink cliffs bathed in golden sunlight.
The Anishanabe's pictographs reminded me that the people are just as much a part of the landscape as the plants and animals, for we humans also depend upon the earth's bounty to give us life. However, intriguing red figures of people and wildlife dancing across a rocky bluff are, as far as I know, the natives' most conspicuous mark on the land. They found a way to live so simply and so sustainably that the masterpiece they bequeathed to future generations was a pristine landscape of lakes and forest, signed unobtrusively with the red of iron oxide on pink granite.
For better or for worse, we, people of the twenty-first century, are part of the landscape as well. We will shape the story that our children and grandchildren will read in it. What will our legacy be? Miles upon miles of asphalt roads and concrete parking lots? I hope and pray that we can learn from the native people and follow their example of living lightly and preserving that which sustains us, both physically and spiritually.
There is a mosque in Edirne, Turkey that is categorized as the largest indoor mosque in the world. Its massive dome and incredible minarets act as watchful eyes over this past capital of the Ottoman Empire, while the inside is home to the dominant Muslim population that comes to worship five times a day. On September 11, this mosque played host to 28 global scholars from St. Olaf College.
As our group walked into this masterpiece of architecture, the items on our minds varied as much as the colors of scarves worn by women around the city. Some were thinking how peculiar it is to be visiting a mosque on September 11th. Others thought about family and friends at home, sleeping safe and warm in their respective beds. Still, others could think of nothing but images seen on a television screen a year ago, announcements over the radio, or a school congregation coming together in Boe Chapel.
As our tour guide began, he made sure we noted the placement of the different symbolic figures within the building, the low level at which the candelabra hung from the ceiling, and the translations of different Arabic scripts plastered along the walls; however, it wasn't until the Imam, the caller of prayers, came to the middle of the room, that we really began to understand what September 11 meant to us, a group of students from a small, Lutheran college in the Mid-West. The Imam began to chant ... to sing ... to project a prayer specifically to bring peace to all those affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks. It was an unexpected moment of prayer, one where his voice simultaneously brought tears and silence. The goose bumps on our skin lasted long after the overtones of his song, and the idea of terrorism lingered in our minds throughout the day. A small faction of Americans believe that the Muslim religion had some play in the terrorist attacks a year ago. I speak as an American who has witnessed Turkey and Egypt (both predominantly Muslim States), heard the call to prayer five times a day, visited with people from around the globe on the bazaar-filled alleyways, and played with children on the streets. My message is simple, yet loud and clear: no God had a hand in the events a year ago, only those people with hard hearts and no sense of compassion.
Riding the bus for the rest of the day, we made our way across the Dardanelles in Western Turkey, crossing from Europe to Asia. We listened to our music, blaring through our headphones. We told stories of family members at home. We stared at pictures of friends, a couple continents away. We held hands. We ran fingers through hair. We slept. We cried.
Though sights of American flags and tunes of "God Bless America" and "The Star Spangled Banner" were in full flare back in the United States, Western Turkey was full of half-built homes and unrealized dreams. We quickly came to the realization that terrorist attacks are also all too common in this Middle Eastern state. No place is free of terrorism. No place is free of hard hearts.
With these newly found revelations in our mind, our group gathered that evening in a single hotel room to share our thoughts, our prayers, our fears, and our hopes. Outside, belly dancers were dancing down the street to the loudest of Turkish music' but inside, guitar melodies were all we could hear. A candle in each hand was the only light.
A candlelight vigil in a nameless Turkish city on the coast of the Bosphorus ... our very own tribute to the country we love.
Previously thinking that home was the best place for me on such a day, it all too soon became apparent that Muslim Turkey was actually it. Where a group of world travelers faced the truth with listening ears and observing eyes, we gathered to light our candles, say our thoughts, and educate our minds.
Many would think that traveling around the world on a five-month global program might force one to forget about events from the United States, but from the beginning of our travels, I could already say the opposite was true. For when those in the States were in church paying tribute and singing, we were in a mosque in Turkey, doing the same thing. When students were gathering in the hallways of St. Olaf Campus, checking their P.O. boxes or holding hands across Mellby Lawn, we were doing the same on a bus following the Sea of Marmara. And while thousands were lighting candles and waving red, white, and blue flags, we were doing just the same in a small hotel room across the world. Though we were not able to touch and feel the familiarities of American soil, the feeling of home was never far from our hearts.
Walking Back from Lorca's House
The old man who built my guitar,
his fingers dry and calloused as they
showed the chords to mine, said
you had a mind like a mirror,
reflecting all that surrounded you.
Retracing the path by which I imagine
you may have marched, eyes open,
to your death, I tried
to let myself reflect in turn.
The air was myrtle and oranges and
the high heels and hurried horns
danced in clumsy counterpoint.
The loose stones in the sidewalk
rattled under my feet, dry bones
paving the way for you. Across the street,
a crowded bruise of granadinos
knotted around a prone body, his moped
crushed and discarded Eke a cigarette,
a one-way mirror returning no light.
until I walked your streets I never knew
what made this city worth so many words.
But now I begin to see
why a man might ride his moped so fast
over these hills, wanting to lift off and fly
into a sun as fat and red as a traffic light,
why you would trade your burning life
for one last sunset, the shadow
of these palm trees against a shroud of snow.
I have eaten more mushrooms in Japan in the
last week than I have in my entire life.
I've always been turned off when it comes to the fungi family. Just look at those soggy little black impurities in pizza. Ew. Or big fat white mushroom searchlights peering through salads. They've simply never appealed to me in the least. But in a different setting where I make myself try everything no matter how strange it may sound, mushrooms have been ingested and occasionally even enjoyed. Here's a list of foods that are popular in Japan that an Olive Garden-eating American suburbanite would only eat when encouraged by a double-barrel shotgun.
1.) OCTOPUS: Osaka is famous for it's
octopus dish called tokoyaki. The first night I got here I went out
with the guys I shared a room with for orientation. Where did we go?
A takoyaki stand down the road. Takoyaki is kind of like a pancake
batter with chopped veggies in it that is poured into pan griddles
that are riddled with small half-sphere indentations. After a few
minutes the batter is turned around with hashi (chopsticks) until
they form browned balls. At some point in the process a, small piece
of octopus tentacle is put in. We each ordered 8. The mental image of
the suction cups in my molars was a little distracting and by the 6th
ball I simply had to dig out the octopus and take a look see. Yup,
they're in there all right. I don't remember the flavor real well,
but it wasn't really the flavor that was the primary focus - the
little buggers are chewy as hell. I felt a little funny later that
OVERALL GRADE: C Not terrible, but I didn't really enjoy it enough to choose it off a menu in a restaurant. There are other ways of cooking tako though, so I'll keep the door open for this eight-armed food source to squirt through.
2.) MUSSELS: Maybe less of a bizarre
food for westerners than octopus, but still a first for me. There
were 6 or so small ones that were in a bowl of miso shiru (miso soup
is a basic staple of cuisine - like chowder or chili for the U.S.,
but more of a side dish or appetizer). Once I got over the fact that
I was eating an invertebrate, it was enjoyable. As most foods do,
this one tasted like chicken. Just a little more chewy.
OVERALL GRADE: B+ It's actually kind of fun to pull them out with hashi. And it's not even playing with your food. Maybe I'll try other shelled goodies. I'm pretty sure they were mussels...
3.) EEL: Had it Wednesday night. Was
pretty sweet for a fish, which I'm not sure I liked lots, but I had
it straight, over a bowl of gohan (rice). Maybe it would work better
mixed with other things, a dish of sorts. Unfortunately Mr. Eel and I
didn't get along soon after dinner. I woke up the next morning with
hands down the worst stomach ache I've ever had. Staying home and
getting to watch some of the Olympics in the late morning seemed
nice, but I then ended up sleeping until 7 and still feeling
terrible. I didn't even get to throw up and get it over with.
Needless to say, I have a new enemy in the world of food. The
OVERALL GRADE: F I'm not sure that I was made to consume a fish that starts with two vowels.
4.) SQUID: I had squid in ring form.
What I had was cross-sections of the body - like onion rings, except
for the fact that they weren't onion rings. It was squid! The taste
wasn't that overpowering fishy taste but wasn't chicken or pork or
anything either. A nice in-between. A snorkeling chicken perhaps. The
first time I had it was just plain rings with a dipping sauce,
another time in dried strings as a snack food (though it tasted more
fishy - not as good), and the most recent time was on a Japanese
pizza. Japanese pizza and German pizza have got to have some of the
strangest toppings in the world. Both include corn on everything
OVERALL GRADE: A+ Great with beer. Chewy, but not Octopus gum like.
5.) COW TONGUE: My, my, my. All those
years living in my Wisconsin cow-riddled backyard and I never even
thought about eating their tongues. For shame. It definitely had a
different taste than normal cuts of beef. It was alright, but not
something I'm going to write down on a caf suggestion/request card at
Olaf. I had a ton of the stuff - that evening my host mother's sister
and husband and child came over and we ate in a sort of BBQ method.
The husband cooked the meat and sweet potatoes, lettuce, mushrooms,
carrots, etc. in a griddle/bowl thing. They brought two packs of
tongue and he kept putting more and more in my bowl. By the end of
the meal I'm sure I'd (however obliquely) french kissed an entire
OVERALLGRADE: B Tongue and get it.
6.) TOFU: Okay. I've had tofu before
but I am starting to really like it a lot more. It's great in miso
shiru and it's great in other dishes too. Don't worry. I'm not
turning into a tree-hugghing, legume-eating, long-haired hippy vegan
wacko tofu fan. Just an appreciative bystander.
OVERALL GRADE: A Only country I've been to where there are T.V. commercials for tofu with cute little jingles.
7.) RAW EGG: This was the first food
that I came across where I was going to put my foot down and say no.
But due to the intense peer pressure from my 5 and 8 year old host
siblings, I cracked and tried it anyway. It's basically served as a
sauce for beef/veggies/udon noodles cooker. You break the egg and
whip it like you would when scrambling an egg, and then take some
beef/veggies/udon from the communal pot and put it in your bowl. It
was suprisingly good. I've grown up in the U.S. with the overblown
fear of salmonella, so it was quite exciting to be eating a raw egg
and not see Death with his scythe standing in the kitchen doorway
beckoning with a long bony finger.
OVERALL GRADE: A I'm invincible!
8.) SNICKERS: They have Snickers bars
here that are both smaller and more expensive. But then I discovered
that they also have almond Snickers. Worst food-related
discovery to date. I can't afford to pay Y120 ($1) for a fun size
candy bar every day.
OVERALL GRADE: A+ Regular Snickers are so last year.
Many more reviews to come - a guy's gotta eat!
January 23, 2003
Talking to the kids at the primary school today was pretty enlightening. They seemed somewhat overwhelmed by our presence, and it felt like there was a lot of time spent just staring at one another. That's not such a bad thing though - how often will a bunch of (mostly) white Americans and a bunch of Mexican indigenous children have a chance to really get a good look at each other, face to face? It's not something that happens every day, and I feel that the brief interactions we had with these kids were priceless.
Unlike many of the kids at the Centro Escolar's primary school in Puebla, the kids today didn't ask us many questions. One question that almost every class asked, though, was, "What do you produce where you come from?" This isn't a question I'm used to answering (in English or in Spanish), so it took a lot of thinking and collaboration with others in the group to come up with a list of five or six things. After the first grade class asked us this question, we answered it and then directed the question back to them. All of a sudden, the entire class was talking, with every child listing fruits, vegetables, nuts, and many other things that grow around here. They went on for a good three or four minutes - I couldn't believe it! But, it makes sense: these kids' lives and families depend on those crops, and though they're young, they've probably already spent time out in the fields helping to tend and harvest crops. They know the land, they know their place in it, and it is a huge part of their lives.
As Americans, we are so far removed from the land and the way that things are produced - we are mainly concerned with consumption. We go to the grocery store and never give a thought to where the oranges come from, and we rarely consider where the beans that were ground for our morning coffee were grown, who grew them, or how much they were paid. But here, in these tiny villages where kids walk miles to school, fathers work long days, and mothers often work even more, is where it all begins. We've hiked through the woods and seen the coffee beans growing on the trees, and the locals have showed us what they look like when they're ready to be picked. We've seen families, groups of men, and elderly women picking coffee, and we've seen the beans drying on the front steps of the houses in the village. I'm thankful that I've been able to see that, and as a result, I know that my coffee will never taste quite the same.
Dieses Gedicht handelt von meinem Erlebnis in Deutschland. Ich habe nach nur einem Monat etwas besonders gemerkt. Deutschland ist sehr grün und sehr grau. Gebäude sind noch kaputt wegen des zweiten Weltkriegs und traurig wegen des kalten Kriegs. Sie haben eine schwierige und schändliche Geschichte. Arbeitslosigkeit ist sehr hoch. Aber Deutschland ist unverwustlich! Es hat überlebt und gewachsen. Die Mauer hat gefallen. Viele Auslander finden jetzt eine Heimat dort. Die Grün Partei bluht. Deutschland bleibt demütig über die Vergangenheit aber mütig über die Zukunft. Meine Freundin hat mir gesagt, Du muss Deutschland im Sommer besuchen. Es ist grüner." Aber ich fühle, ich habe das schon gesehen...
Ich habe eine Reise gemacht.
Ich schlafe," ich habe gedacht -
zwei Welten erchienen vor mir...
Ich habe einen Spaziergang gemacht
und habe mich etwas gefragt:
Wie konnen zwei eins werden?
Das Rasen war grün und die Bäume waren grau,
zerstort und kaputt war jede Bau -
zu traurig lange dort zu bleiben.
Grüne GieBkanne wurden gelassen,
und die Vögel flogen und fraBen,
auf der Mauer des grauen Friedhofs.
Mein bitteren Kaffee wurde kälter
und alles um mich wurde älter;
die Vögel sangen ein Lied.
Das Lied hat das Grün-grau erklärt
und ich glaube die Geschichte fährt
jetzt mit mir nach Hause.
Das Grau begann mit dem Leid des Landes.
Ein Krieg ganz zerstörte des Bundnis
zwischen die Liebe der Menschen.
Anstatt einer Hochzeit, Ehescheidung,
wegen eines Manns falsche Führung,
keine höchste Zeit, nur Verlust.
Noch leer sind die groBartige Kirche.
Zeit ist langsam wie dichte Farbe
und der Himmel wächst, sehr wolkig.
Die Menshen wollen eine Antwort
aber alle sagen kein Wort.
Eine Mauer wird hier gebaut.
Aber dieses Land ist besonders kühn.
Sie verfolgen wieder das Grün -
eine Vereinigung der Zwei.
Es ist schwierig, weil sie ändern wollen.
Sie müssen einlassen, sie sollten
anders machen, jetzt ist neu.
Eine alte Legende hat gesagt,
Rotbart hat den Ast grüner gemacht,
aber ich weiB, es war anders.
Ich bin ganz stolz auf diese grüne Land.
Ich freue mich auf diese Welt, die ich fand
und baue eine Denkmal mit dir.
Every time it happens again I am ashamed. I ask myself, again, how could you forget to pay attention? Every two years or so I need a reminder. With each country I visit I learn about it. People I meet ask. They ask if I know. The response is always no.
The question is if I, as an American, know what my country has done to their country. Of course I am ashamed, I never know. Not all the things I learn about my country are good. Then again, not all are bad. Wars, treaties, trade, aid, and compassion. A mixed bag of foreign policy for a mixed bag of circumstances.
This time was different. While being ashamed of my ignorance what I learned gave me pride. This time the death toll got smaller, this time we helped, he helped.
The country is Northern Ireland. Terrorism in a divided society was the cause. Clinton was the agent of help, bringing peace to thirty years of war. Yet I am still ashamed, because all we knew, as Americans, was his scandal.
I feel cold and confused
Standing on this concrete platform,
Surrounded by North Korea.
Unable to wrap my mind
Around the unsolvable riddle
Of the DMZ
I gaze around me, searching.
Leaves fall from the trees
As a cold, light wind
Grazes through the branches
Rustling the grass below.
Overhead, a bird soars
Scanning the distant ground
Where human feet cannot pass.
Beyond my left shoulder
Worn buildings hover silently
Guarding a wary truce
The massive flag pole
Looms over them
in a position of defiance.
Beyond my right shoulder
A small blue building is nestled
In the crevice of a dry streambed
Where water once ran
And men died.
Behind it, the bridge of no return,
Last crossed in 1953
And sealed ever since,
A symptom of the aged tensions
Between North and South.
I gaze into North Korea
Searching desperately for a sign
To confirm what I have been taught
About the madness, anger,
That is said to live there.
But, bewildered by what I see
My gaze falters.
The land and sky are the same
And my bird flies
Free, between the two.
I find peace watching it glide,
Swooping down and ascending up
Free to call anywhere home.
"Shopping for Icons"
He brushes the snow dust from the elongated
face of Mary
and offers me a price. "This one very old," he says.
I want to look longer, look closer, to hold Mary
just inches from my nose, examine the cracked paint
on the miniature Jesus poised on Mary's palm,
run my fingers along the wood's imperfections.
But I am too cold.
I am thinking about survival,
concentrating on my frozen flesh,
not on artistic detail.
Jesus will have to wait until after coffee.
Coarse liquid potions
up one body
as we create each other
under a thin greasy layer
bottoms of feet
with mother's earth-mana.
Our reborn red-brown
buttocks and bosom
will crack dancing.
At this joyful ceremony
of a visiting nation.