Ooooh the Many Social Dimensions

Hello, hello!

Things are very well in Tanzania!

Of significant importance over the past two weeks has been cultural tourism. We have had the opportunity to spend time with the Maasai, Hidzabe and Toga tribes through cultural experiences.

To give you an overview:

Cultural tourism is a way for local tribes to gain empowerment and agency in a world where globalization, colonization and the tourist industry have failed them in many ways. Do to colonial actions and post colonial policies, land was taken from indigenous people and exploited in an irreparable way. Today, though conserved land seems good to us, it is land that was taken from tribes and their livestock. They did this despite the fact that it was not the local people that exploited the land, but westerners. Today, it means that traditional pastoralists, such as the Maasai, compete for grass with wildlife and conservationists.

Connected to this, tourists tend to breed a sense of resentment among local people due to the fact that they care so much the wildlife; it is the local people who face the costs of conservation efforts and the wildlife themselves while the westerners get to benefit and have fun. Additionally, tourists often act in a racist way towards communities, impeding on their space and taking unauthorized pictures in an effort to depict a primitive, savage lifestyle.

Also important is the fact that the culture is being lost as globalization leads to higher rates education as well as new jobs and opportunities outside of traditional cultural practices. Though this is obviously a positive affect of globalization, we cannot negate the importance of preserving culture, while also advocating for human rights.

Cultural tourism means that tribes have the opportunity to preserve and promote their culture in a way that they feel good about. It allows them to directly benefit economically through tourism by giving tourists a memorable experience and by selling them their handmade products. However, does this really go as well as planned????

During our time with the Maasai, my mind was definitely 100% opened and I felt that I had gained invaluable context. Unfortunately, our leader, Paolo, said my reaction to the experience as a student varied a lot from most tourists. He said he feels put on display by many tourists and is frustrated that they do want to learn or listen; they are stuck in their beliefs. They show up, watch dancing (which wouldn’t have occurred without them there), take pictures of their homes and outfits, and then leave. Paolo said he is still grateful because his community earns money through their visit, but he said it is disappointing.

On one hand, the experience is promoting the Maasai culture. Without it, people would have to turn elsewhere for jobs. However, if their day to day activities are being affected due to the experience, and people are not even open to their culture… how much is the culture actually being perpetuated?

Another instance. The hidzabe are the last hunter gatherer tribe in Tanzania, and were some of the most open and welcoming people I have ever met, despite significant language barriers. However, unlike in the Maasai experience, they did not speak any English, and our tour guide was not even from their tribe. We were told that money paid will go towards supplementing their food during the wet season when hunting is difficult, and when food insecurity is an issue; however, I also learned that the income often goes to alcohol which disrupts their traditional lifestyle. On one hand, I learned so much about people, their ability to work with the environment and about a lifestyle I never could have imagined. I paid them and bought two souveneirs. That said, I have some questions: Given that they do not speak English and that our tour guide was not from the tribe, is this something the Hidzabe wanted or was it forced on them as a way to make money? And do they benefit as much as I benefitted?

I have so much more to write about in terms of sociocultural norms and how they interrelate with the economy and ecology. Unfortunately (or fortunately) my van leaves for the Serengeti in 20 minutes, so it will all have to wait until we return home!

When Basic Rights are Privileges

I write having just camped outside Tarangire National Park for five days!!

A few highlights of the past week and a half:

We traveled to Selela, a villlage about an hour and a half away from our home base. There we learned about their land use plan set up by the community with an NGO. Quick overview: NGOs help the community gather $10,000, that money goes towards paying professionals for their recommendations about the most sustainable use of land.
The main source of conflict in Selela is between farmers, pastoralists and the wildlife as they compete for land. The land use plan broke up the land in a fair and sustainable way, and now the community meets regularly to discuss how to improve it.

I did leave Selela feeling disheartened. Though there were water sources, overall, water remains a precious resource, and clean water is not accessible at all. This is undoubtedly an injustice and is 100% dis-empowering the community. Not only is typhoid spreading through dirty water, but economically and environmentally, locals are not able to maximize the farmland or pastoral land that they have… hence why they continue cutting down forest land because it’s all about quantity instead of quality.

Questions I’m going to research more about: is there a sustainable way to fix the water crisis? What kind of research is being done about water? And is there some kind of project I can be involved in to learn more about it?

Aside from Selela, we also spent time at a primary school and a tree nursery! Both super cool places and both examples of local level empowerment! The tree nursery is in place due to the deforestation that is taken place in the past 40 years to allow for land cultivation. People in Tanzania were economically dis-empowered during colonization, and farming allowed for a way forward post-independence. That said, farming is now backfiring as over-cultivation has led to intense land erosion and poor soil quality. Now land is not nearly as productive, the ecosystem has been destructed and wood and water have become very precious and inaccessible resources.

In terms of the school, I was wary upon first going because I was skeptical that it might enable the white savior complex. I was very pleasantly surprised though! Quick overview: The primary school currently provides an education to 1000 students, and accepts any student who shows up and wants an education. Sponsors in Europe and the US are able to donate $1,500 to cover a students educational and Heath fees for their whole educational career! My favorite part of the school is the fact that students do not need a sponsor to receive an education; aka they don’t need a savior. Though the school was dependent on Western funds to begin with, it is now run by locals and empowering students to be leaders within their own communities… super cool stuff! That said, proper education continues to be a poignant issue throughout Tanzania, which is something I am having a very difficult time coming to terms with.

I continue to wrestle with the brutal reality of how education, water and energy are scarce to so many local community members; however, on a more positive note, I look forward to learning about effective policies and community driven NGOs that are shaping a better future.

I attached lots of pictures below (including safari pics)!! Enjoy!!!!

Ecology! Government! Sociology! Oh My!

Hamjambo from Tanzania!

We are all settled in at our beautiful camp in Northern Tanzania, outside of a small village named Rhotia!

The views are absolutely stunning, food is delicious and the people have been warm, welcoming… and very patient as I struggle to learn Swahili.

Already, we have been on a safari, attended field lectures analyzing the different aspects of landscapes, and created a trek sketch demonstrating a local village and its important social and environmental features (one similar to the ones NGOs make when establishing a new program). These experiences along with my current courses have already provided immense insight into this country’s policy, socioeconomics and how they both interrelate with ecology.

The most interesting thing to me has been wrestling with the many human-wildlife-land conflicts. For instance, when I first arrived, I fell in love with the ways farms occupy just about every landscape! Come to find out, the farms are often locals’ only opportunity to earn a sustainable income, so economically they are very positive to Tanzanians. Not so positive is the fact that forests are being cut down to create these farms. First and foremost, the destruction of forests corresponds with the destruction of the wildlife’s habitat which leads to increased human-wildlife conflicts as the animals have increased interactions with human communities. Some examples: wildlife eating humans crops and livestock, increased competition for water and grazing space and the spread of human and/or animal diseases to the other community. Additionally, the destruction of forests leads to land erosion, a loss of biodiversity and intense droughts and/or flash floods that affect the ecosystem.

Another more straightforward example of a human-wildlife conflict is the poaching culture. We had the opportunity to interview two local poachers and learned that they resorted to hunting bushmeat illegally because it was their only economic opportunity. Where it is beneficial that they are able to provide an income for their family, poaching is undoubtedly detrimental to wildlife and their ecosystem.

An overarching theme to all conflicts we’ve explored thus far is that the love towards wildlife is a privilege; very few local residents actually benefit from the wildlife, and often, locals strongly dislike the wildlife because they ruin their crops and eat their livestock. Additionally, the environment is not the main concern (which is understandable given the distant nature of the problem), but rather health and economic opportunities are. I came to Tanzania very socially oriented, and am eager to learn about how locals can benefit from the wildlife, what kinds of economic opportunities they desire, and also how all of this is intertwined with public health.

Enjoy the pics below! As they say in Swahili, baadae!

P.S. I just realized none of my pictures uploaded in my last post… internet here is VERY limited. Thanks for your patience!!

Thank you, Ireland!

Hello from Tanzania! I write having spent a week in Tanzania and two weeks back in the States after spending a month in Ireland.

Things have been very busy and I’ve struggled as I’ve had lots to say with limited internet access, but I feel especially compelled to finish writing about Ireland before jumping into my experience in Tanzania!

I went to Ireland excited to learn about new race, class and gender norms in anew country. In light of this, I found that living in a country with a completely different history, size, government and economy challenged me to allow myself to open my mind to a world beyond and much different from the United States.

The number one lesson: do not bother trying to compare the United States and Ireland because the two countries are just too different. Example number one:  Ireland has an apparently strong welfare system; one that supports the elderly, the homeless, the sick, children and most differently, the middle class. To an American liberal, it is a welfare utopia! That said, context offers insight on different angles to the nuances of the system in place. For example, Ireland has socialist roots as well as a history of being oppressed; both historical aspects that set the framework for modern day society to be especially supportive towards one another, and more open to taxes, compared to the individualistic, capitalistic roots of the United States. Additionally, the United States is massive compared to the tiny (___) that Ireland consumes, and has a population significantly larger and more heterogeneous than that of Ireland.

A few more instances that are easy to draw comparisons from that come straight to mind: the Ireland police force not carrying guns (something both conservatives and liberals in the United States would have very strong feelings about), the low number of black people and the discomfort around topics centered around race, the dark sense of humor aka lack of political correctness that shapes conversations.

My responses to each of these: 1) Ireland stopped using guns because terrorism was so bad at the time of independence, and everybody was so tired of guns and their children being threatened that they decided to make the country safer with what at the time seemed like a very miniscule step. 2) Yes, Ireland has quite a low portion of colored people; that said, this has more to do with its inaccessibility as a distant island off of northern continental Europe than it is due to somebody deliberately saying “we do not want colored people here”. Not to mention, unlike in America, they did not enslave people and FORCE them to live in their country; instead, they were fighting for their won independence and rights. 3) Yes, humor is a lot cruder than it is in America, and the c-word is far more common. Additionally, global politics are seen more as something to laugh about than something to actively debate. Contrary to how this all would be interpreted in America, Irish people are not simply ignorant or unaware; rather, their history has shaped a mentality where it feels funny to take anything too seriously. Moreover, their geological placement and political neutrality removes them from everyday global political banter that can be taken too seriously do to a country’s personal stakes.
All of this said, one common thread that I found between the United States and Ireland was the way that specifically race and class norms interrelate with the government. Ireland is not immune to the immigration policy of the European Union that asks each member country to accept a specific number of refugees. Additionally, Ireland is becoming a very appealing place to immigrate to due to its economy and social welfare system in place.

A couple interesting dynamics that I observed during my time in Ireland demonstrated the potential for scary opportunities for the development of prejudice and propanda. For starters, black, South African immigrants often get pushed to the marginalized part of society with Irish Travelers (basically gypsies) due to their lack of money. Integrating into these communities results in these immigrants being trapped in a social group with high rates of crime and illness as well as low rates of education and employment. Thus, specific stereotypes and prejudices develop enabling an opportunity for racist propaganda and potentially the governmental institutionalization of racism. Another example, because any European citizen can benefit from the Irish welfare if he/she has an address, some non-Irish people find a part-time address in Ireland so that they may receive the benefits. Que more anti-immigrant rhetoric centered around immigrants taking housing, welfare and jobs!

In light of modern day current events and looking ahead, Ireland is a particularly interesting country to observe because on one hand, it has an inclusive mentality and a desire to continue to be inclusive due to its dark history; however, on the other, it is a very patriotic country shaped by a very specific history that the Irish hold close to themselves.

Though I always love learning about social issues, the best of my time was undoubtedly spent with friends hiking, biking and enjoying pub culture. I have uploaded several pictures below; enjoy! More to come about Tanzania SOON!

A very beautiful Cork City! Those reflections though!
I made a friend! (Location: Inis More)
DONKEY! (Also taken at Inis More)
A rare pic of Inis More without an animal
A field of RABBITS
Mmmmmm Clifden!
I LOVE BIRDS!
and also HOT CHOCOLATE from O’Conails!
A BEAUTIFUL walk on Christmas Day!
And a wonderful meal to accompany it 🙂

 

From my solo hike in the Wicklow Mountains
It was truly wonderful regardless of what this picture makes you think
Taken in Kinsale…. my favorite place on Earth…. no joke go ASAP
A very beautiful, but also vicious robin looking fierce in Glengariff
Cuz my German friends deserve a shoutout (Hey Louuisa and Eva!)

Contextualizing the World We Know

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

As I reflect on my European travels coming to an end, I feel infinitely grateful for all of the traveling I have been able to do as well as well as all that I have learned. Each experience this semester, whether with friends or while traveling a foreign country, has inspired me in different ways while simultaneously working in tandem with one another, helping me to understand the world and myself better.

Since writing my last post, I have left Ireland to travel to Morocco and Poland.  Both experiences were completely different, yet I have found a common thread in the ways that they have helped me to contextualize the world we live in.

Morocco is a place whose people, food, energy, culture and views hold the capacity to make anybody fall in love.

What’d I tell you about the food?!
S/O to Hamid for watching the moon set with me!! Also, for teaching me to sand-board down desert dunes!
Perfect sun-rise after a night under the stars!
Name something more beautiful!

Seldom can I remember a moment when I have been as happy as I was each moment during my five days in Morocco. I truly felt as though I could have dropped all of my future plans to live in any one of the small towns we visited and/or the desert for years to come. Though I am not moving there anytime soon, I am grateful for the ways the country opened my mind, and allowed me to interact with and learn about a very different part of the world.

A donkey on a farm in Ouarzazate, a small valley town beneath the Atlas Mountains. During the wet season, the Muslim and Jewish people in the community work together to collect water for the next six months to be used in irrigation for farming. All of the water is collected in canals from the snow and rain that drips down from the mountains.
Taken in Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou. The Berber people who still live here work hard to maintain traditional practices that orient around sustainability. They were very bothered when the government built a bridge crossing the river that floods during the winter since traditionally they use donkeys to cross.
Our tour guide pointing to the small community. He explained that both Jewish and Muslim people live in the community, and live in complete harmony. He later explained that his outfit is made out of indigo and will maintain its dark blue color regardless of how often it is soaked.
One of the men we stayed with in the desert. The pride he shared of his home, his excitement to share his desert with us and his openness to singing/chanting in accordance to his feelings warmed my heart.

 

A picture showing houses made of the Atlas Mountains. If only the Western world could go back to the good ole days when we worked with our environment and understood our dependence on it 🙁
The Berber camp we slept at while in the Sahara desert!
A couple from Amsterdam, a couple from Spain, a family from Brazil, a couple from Italy, and a solo traveler from Germany, two solo travelers from Canada and two Holy Cross students! A trip is only completed with good company!! So thankful to have enjoyed the company of and learned from this VERY international group!

Poland, a place with an utterly tragic history, allowed me to confront the oppression that has and continues to darken our world. It further offered me the chance to contextualize Europe’s history while considering how that history still shapes the world today. I also learned that contrary to my preconceptions about the country, and aware of the role that my own privileges play, Poland has more to offer than the brutalities of Auschwitz or the anti-immigrant rallies that occupy the news today.

Having traveled alone, I enjoyed the young energy I found in Krakow during a pub crawl. I also loved the walking tours that gave me insight into Poland’s past and present cultures. I left understanding that had it not been for the oppression afflicted upon the Poles by the Germans and Russians, it would be a very diverse country, rather than the most homogenous country in the EU. In fact, up until WW2, Poland had the second largest Jewish population in the world, as they were the ones inviting Jews to their country when antisemitism  spread in Western Europe (starting in the 14th century).

Taken at the front gate of Auschwitz. Arbeit macht frei: work sets you free.
I originally hated that the sun was present in this photo since it does not match the mood of this awful place. After reading Night by Elie Wiesel, where he metaphorically compares the concentration camp to one long, completely dark night, where even God is not present, I came to appreciate it as symbolic to the theme of his book. I think this not in an effort to rationalize a place which holds a history so brutal I will never be able to conceptualize it, but more as a reminder that this light was not always present on these gates, or more broadly, in this country.
The ghetto wall from WW2 in Krakow. Right up until the 1939, Jews and Christians lived in harmony, and were each other’s coworkers, neighbors and friends. Germans put them against each other by forcing Christians to murder Jews, then photographing the killers with the dead bodies and using the pictures to spread propaganda… a good way to fuel hate, huh? They then isolated the Jews into ghettos, such as the one this wall surrounds where they were forced to live and work in awful conditions.
After the ghetto liquidation in 1942, all Christians found in buildings were chairs. This memorial represents the only thing left of Jews in Krakow that year.
A picture from a museum in Wroclaw showing the Orange Alternative’s movement where dwarfs were used to mock the communist, Russian authorities. Imagine how humorous it would have been for the Russians to arrest somebody simply for carrying around a dwarf!
Today, dwarves are scattered around the city. This dwarf in jail was one of my personal favorites!!
An orphanage where women can leave their unwanted babies in the window during night. This is a response to the strict abortion laws currently present in Poland.
The Christmas market in Wroclaw. Would you believe that prior to WWII, there would have been an equally large Jewish market this time of year? Today, Poland is the most homogeneous country in the EU, so only Christmas markets are present.
Mulled wine is my favorite thing about Christmas abroad!
Poland has EXCEPTIONAL food!
My new favorite food!! Best part is that these dumplings are available on every other street vendor during the Christmas season!
A mural from the underdeveloped part of Wroclaw painted during the communist era just 30 years ago. Pigs and red… think anti-communism!
A more recent mural representing the fact that people are willing to give up their basic values for the sake of safety. Given the fact that this is the first time in 200 years that things are well for Poland, one can understand why they might be quick to give up their basic morals for safety.
This mural reads: “if you love your kids, don’t burn garbage in heating systems”. It’s in reference to the fact that Wroclaw has very high rates of pollution… some days it is worse than Beijing! The EU is working on development projects to clean the city up and also initiate job growth.
A protest advocating for animal rights; merely 30 years ago, this would have been illegal!
This tree installation demonstrates the tension between city life and nature in Poland. The city is working on finding a proper balance, putting significant effort into revitalizing the nature that has been destroyed by cities. I saw this here, as well as in murals and in several art exhibits across the city.

In terms of my public health major, it is fair to say that other than my courses themselves, little has provided me with textbook material about health. That said, as a friend once told me “don’t let school get in the way of learning”. In light of these words, which are equally as funny as they are wise, it is fair to say that each experience while traveling has provided me with the context needed to understand different governments as well as the race, class and gender norms on a broad level that affect public health every day.

Beyond this, my experiences have also instigated genuine curiosity, leading me to read and research far more than before. It is fair to say that traveling in correlation with my classes, free-reading, socializing with strangers, learning to enjoy my own company, spending time with friends all in compliment to the lessons from Holy Cross has allowed this semester to be truly transformative.

I have 8 days left in Ireland before I head home! There is simply not enough space in this post to gloat about Cork and Ireland and about the time spent with new/old friends, but for those interested, stay tuned!

I fit as many pictures/videos of Morocco below as I deemed appropriate; enjoy!

Art made out of indigo, green tea, sugar and saphrine. They burn it, and no matter how much water is spilled, the colors will never fade. Yes, I bought one!
HAHA! A dog trying to get the chicken locked into the basket!
I know you’re a stray and could be sick, but you’re just soooooo cute!!!

Me (with yellow head scarf) and another tourist dancing with Berber men after being politely taken from our dinner tables!! 10/10 recommend. 

Given to me by a little boy named Mohammad after we traded his European and American currency for my Moroccan currency.

Tea with a Berber family, and an introduction to the rugs they made by hand. 

Joe and I pre-desert… head scarves are used to be socially appropriate and also as added sun/wind/cold protection in the desert. During the winter, it’s hot during the day, and very cold at night! During the summer, the sun is constantly causing blistering heat, but there are also severe wind storms.

The camel trek on our way to the Berber tent, where we would stay for the night! 

S/O to my new friends for sand-boarding with me down the desert dunes!
From our camel trek to the Berber tent!
Having myself a time!
His name is Bob Marley…. no I did not just make that up #one #love
Bob, we’re going to take a picture, and it’s going to be fun… look like you’re having fun!

The camel trek back in the morning!! Yes, I was talking to the camels, don’t hate, #one #love.

A picture from the evening after our desert tour, when my new friends and I met up for an afternoon of bargaining and food in Marrakesh!
If you look closely, you will see monkeys on these men’s shoulders! Beware… they will charge you if they catch you taking a picture. Also beware of the fact that they will put these animals on you and refuse to take them off unless you pay! But who doesn’t enjoy some good haggling?!
Pro-tip… walk with your video recorder underneath your scarf… you’ll capture it all without being charged!

 

Even more exciting is the snakes that will be wrapped around you if you do not pay attention!! Is it worth letting your guard down and allowing snakes to be wrapped around you for the sake of a clearer pic and to support the tourist industry?!
A Berber street market… check out all of the spices as well as the dead shark!
A second shot of a Berber street market!
If you know me at all, you know donkeys are my favorite!! Be my friend, pleaseeeeee!
A picture of Marrakesh with its two mosques and the sun setting! A perfect last night!
The view of Marrakesh as I enjoyed a glass of wine with my new friends and before I enjoyed two precious hours of sleep before leaving for the airport! Experiences > sleep!

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the Holiday Season!

Happy belated Thanksgiving!

I write having spent a great weekend with people from the Holy Cross community, and feeling particularly grateful for the College I call my own. To be honest, this is the first week I have truly missed being at Holy Cross. Of course a piece of this is simply due to loving the novelty of living in a foreign country; however, I think it is also partly due to the fact that I often felt frustrated at Holy Cross due to the limited space I had on the small campus. Put in other words: social and academic pressures often felt maximized on the tiny hill. While I’ve been abroad, my lifestyle has been completely transformed. For the first time, I have the time to go on long hikes, have a walker’s accessible city five minutes away from me and have the ability to constantly meet new people. I cherish the ways that I am thriving in this new environment. 

That said this past week has been a ~Holy Cross takeover~, and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more.

Last weekend, my Holy Cross friends studying at Trinity in Dublin came to visit all of studying in Cork! We all enjoyed each other’s company as we explored Cork, argued about politics and danced to a gig that night. The next few days were spent with my HC friends studying in Cork as we enjoyed the Holiday spirit. We eagerly joined the start of the Christmas season in Cork as we watched the city light up with live Christmas music Sunday night. A few days later, my Holy Cross roommates and I decorated our kitchen from top to bottom with Christmas decorations. Additionally, those of us who will be in Ireland for Christmas, brainstormed how we would make the holiday season magical despite being far from those we love most. Following, the Holy Cross people in Cork for Thanksgiving managed to prelate a massive feast together.  With way more food than we were able to eat, munless wine, Irish coffee and lots of smiles – the American holiday spent in Ireland was undeniably a success.

I realized this past week that cherishing my experience abroad and loving Holy Cross do not have to be mutually exclusive. I appreciated for the first time in a while the ways that Holy Cross shaped me into the person I am now just as much as travelling continues to. I smiled thinking about pparties in Loyola 523, team sleepovers and tireless debates in Kimball. I felt nostalgic as I reminisced on mine and my best friends from Holy Cross’ relationships, considering all of the laughs we shared together as well as the ways they had challenged me to be a better person. I felt fortunate as I considered the ways the people do make a place, already exceptional due to its transformative clubs and academics, even better. It was in this series of moments that I realized; I can enjoy every second of my time away from the hill, while still being thrilled by the relationships I have made and all I have learned during my time at Holy Cross.

 

So here’s to Holy Cross;

 

To analyzing the identity as a Crusader for 3 hours straight; to dissecting the hookup culture with people of opposite mentalities; to taking up the entire dance floor at a pub as Irish people uncomfortably watch.

***A rare moment of Mithra not debating HC social dynamics***
When Holy Cross students are the only ones dancing… and why were we wearing party hats again?

To a beautiful and warm holiday season far from home; to eating chicken wings on Thanksgiving Day; to learning from each other how one even cooks Thanksgiving sides.

Volunteered to make sweet potatoes without the slightest clue as to how to make them; huge thank you to Veronica for showing me the way!
Hi Joe! (Peep the chicken wings!)

 

HC came THROUGH!

To people “who wouldn’t otherwise be friends” realizing our commonalities; to allowing one another’s company to comfort us as we explore new, daunting paths

Direct quote from Haley! (far left)

I’m sending lots of love and gratitude to all of those back home during this holiday season!  Though I will not be home for Christmas, I look forward to sharing the holiday with three close friends after having spent an amazing semester together 🙂

More pics below!

 

Emily in our VERY decorated apartment kitchen. The nativity scene on the fridge was ALL MY IDEA (no big deal)!
Joe and Galen in Cobh! Awwww, friendship!
Elizabeth with Cork-esque homes in the background

 

The HC Cork crew at the Cork Christmas lighting party! Cork goes HARD for Christmas; video below!

The Gifts of Mindfulness, Perspective and Science

Three weeks ago, I spent a weekend alone in Portugal. Following, I visited Amsterdam (S/O to my good friend for his extra ticket) and hiked Croagh Patrick on the Northwest coast of Ireland. All the while, I also always found time to enjoy Cork. As I wrote about in my last post, each place was completely different, yet there are undoubtedly common threads connecting each. Specifically, during the past few weeks, I have been considering three recurring themes: mindfulness, perspective and science.

Portugal was supposed to be a trip oriented around hiking the Algarve Coast and enjoying their famous beaches. Because it was a solo trip, I also intended for it to be an opportunity to grow in my social skills. Though it was incredible to spend time outside in 85 degree weather, and socializing with strangers became significantly easier, the highlights of the trip ended up being far more complicated than originally intended.

I ended the weekend fascinated by the ways the cliffs had evolved, disturbed by the coast’s dark history in the slave trade and contemplative about the best way to travel (literally through different counties, and figuratively through life).

In case geology is of any interest to you, the horizontal lines arose from the the the minerals in the water interacting with the limestone as the current dragged.
Ugh, I just love staring at the indents and caves created from the crashing sea! An amazing 15 mile hike, I’d say!
Who knew that Lagos was one of the first slave trading ports in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade? Henry the Great from the age of conquest sits in the middle of Lagos. His presence and the way he is still honored in this city added a dark, ominous shadow.
The stunning water transforms when you realize it was through this same body that people were dragged unwillingly to live an enslaved life, separated from their loved ones.

One of the most poignant moments in Portugal happened as I socialized with a New Zealander (named Eliot) who had hitchhiked Afghanistan-Iran-Georgia-across Northern continental Europe-down Western Europe to Portugal. Not only did he avoid public transportation, but he also only stayed in a hostel for two nights during his year of travels. His stories were incredible, and his social skills were impeccable. What fascinated me the most though was the idea of him drifting from country to country without a set plan of when he would arrive to the next destination, how long he would stay or what he would during his time there. Moreover, the fact that it was all dependent on human connection and relationships was even more enticing. When I asked him what was next and he replied: “I have no idea. New Zealand has nothing for me, so I’m just waiting for something to fall into place”. Never had I met a 28 year old more content with not having a long-term plan!

This conversation triggered a broader philosophical dialogue in my head. One that considers the rhythms of connecting with people, new cities and environments. How could I connect more deeply with each? What knowledge do I need to gain? What personal and/or societal norms limit the depth of my connections?

Mindfulness, perspective and science consumed my mind as I tackled these questions. I’ve come to understand that it is through mindfulness that we are able to understand our innermost emotions – what distracts us day to day. Mindfulness reveals the ways that we limit ourselves because of societal norms. It reveals the emotional pains that preoccupy our mind. Perspective allows us to dissect these emotions by pushing us to consider them more broadly. It gives an individual moment context marked by history and its connection with the modern world. It further reiterates the ways we are interconnected with countries near and far. And then there is science. A discipline that has incited fear in me for over a decade is ironically what consumes my mind the most nowadays. Evolution, hydrology, ecology, geography, geology, astronomy, the anatomy of the body, the psychology of the brain – science provides tangible knowledge about the connections we make in a way that allows us to understand them better.

Stop to smell the flowers!
From a taxidermy art exhibit in Amsterdam- disturbing, yet it makes you think doesn’t it?
Just consider it…
Coragh Patrick – the mountain some consider to be the Irish Pilgrimage. On St. Patrick’s day, people climb this barefoot or on their hands and knees. All I’m saying is…. the climb was challenging in hiking boots….
My attempt to capture the steepness of the worst part of the climb! Now imagine doing that barefoot or on your hands and knees…..
Between the views and the simple church, I swear the top was capable of making an atheist consider religion.
Saint Patrick’s bed where offerings are made at the top of the hike… also where I made my first offering to a Saint 🙂

Spending days considering connection is a funny thing. My whole life has been oriented around getting better and moving up in society. Though I have never had a long term plan per se, due to social pressures, I have certainly drafted ideas about what I would like my life to become in the future. I am certainly not ready to scratch those ideas, yet these moments of connection truly do push me to consider what living a more horizontal life oriented around connection would look like long-term. How will it shape my life on an upward-onward college campus? How will it fit and/or transform my career aspirations?

I still have 7 more months abroad. I am satisfied realizing the ways the best side of me from home reveals itself here, overseas. I am enlivened when I gain new insights here, and am excited thinking about the ways my expanded mind will continue to evolve as I travel more and once I return home.

Some Banksy anti-consumerism artwork seems fitting right about now!
As well as some very politically charged Banksy work!

Not mentioned in this post up until now: the scabies infestation I brought back to Cork from a hostel, as well as the many memorable days wandering Cork City and nights lounging in a pub with live music. Fear not though, pictures are below, as well as more pictures from my travels!

S/O to my roommates who did not complain once about having to wash everything they own or about having to sit in scabies ointment for 12 hours!

From Jazz Fest weekend in Cork! Goooood vibessssss!

Just in case you would like to experience more Jazz Fest!

Will 100% miss these Sunday nights!

A secret cave with a rope attached…. cooooooooooooooooolllllll.

 

Aloe lines the beaches of Portugal! Sad part is that even the aloe is having a difficult time surviving right now because of Portugal’s extreme drought.
The berries that are used to produce Lagos’ infamous 65% proof vodka., Fire Water!
Once again, just consider it!
Hmmm….
Disturbing, yet utterly intriguing… am I right?
If you’re anything like me, there is nothing quite as compelling as a politically charged Banksy!
Are you compelled yet?
When you stumble upon a houseboat filled with cats that’s actually a cat sanctuary…. ok Amsterdam!
Joe and Brooke weren’t nearly as amused by the ~innovative~ shoe store I dragged them into… but seriously… if only you could see how incredible these 600 euro shoes were!
Ugh, Ireland!!!!!!
Sunset in Donegal… Ireland is truly a beaut!

Considering the Language of the World

Between traveling Ireland with close friends, city-hopping across Italy and adventuring Iceland, I felt troubled trying to find the words to express the past three weeks. To condense completely different experiences into one post for the sake of maintaining a chronological timeline of my time abroad originally felt the same as diminishing each experience to its simplest form. That said, discombobulated, surreal, completely unrelated experiences are the perfect words to explain the past three weeks. Though I strive to focus on the present moment, I am finding that when life moves this fast, I tend to come to new understandings about the experiences of last week when contemplating a landscape in a completely different country.

 

My past three weeks began in Ireland, on a Ring of Kerry trip around the Western peninsula of Ireland. I was surrounded by good friends and also had on hand Paul Kalanithi’s book, When Breath Becomes Air, and  Maya Angelou’s audiotape,  Letter to my Daughter. These books in correspondence with the surreal landscapes and the comfort of my friends around me triggered a conversation in my head about the purpose of travelling.

~don’t mess up my feng shui~
I’d live here!
Yes, that is sun shining in Ireland!
Friends’n’Views!

The weekend touring the west coast of Ireland was filled with a range of moments – some utterly hilarious, others deeply contemplative. I returned to my apartment in Cork feeling closer to my friends, a deeper love for my new home in Ireland and captivated by the worldly perspectives I had gained through Kalanithi and Angelou. 

Four days later, in Italy, I experienced pure magnificence in a completely different light. Between picturesque architecture lining the streets of Florence, the charming canals in Venice that replace hustling streets, the warmth of Lake Garda as the sun beats on your shoulders, and the picture-perfect Tuscan vineyards – each day was a fantasy full of bliss and an overwhelming sense of peacefulness.

From the top of the Duomo in Florence — ooooo Firenze!
Gondola-ing down a Venice canal 🙂
Seriously though… these streets are impossible to navigate!
Crystal clear lake with rocky mountains behind — Lake Garda is niceeeee
Are Chianti views or Chianti wine better?!?!! LMK!

I, without a doubt, had the time of my life; however, by the end, I could not help but feel a sense of uneasiness. I was drawn back to earlier introspection when I considered what the point of travelling is. I am so fortunate to have opportunities such as this one, but I struggled to conceptualize what it means long term.

Traveling and considering existential questions is undoubtedly outside of my comfort zone. A year ago, I was focused on everything happening around me. National politics as well as the ways oppressive systems revealed themselves on Holy Cross’ campus consumed me. Agitation turned to passion and I became obsessed with understanding race, class and gender norms, constantly feeling inspired to do more.

 

Though I am still the first to talk politics at dinner as well as the first to bring up American race relations while out at a pub, I am realizing that to sufficiently understand the world, I have to venture outside of my mental comfort zone. Being present in my travels calls for me to separate from the “known” back home.

In some ways, this separation is liberating; financial anxieties seem more trivial than ever.  In other ways, I am intimidated and uncomfortable by the unfamiliarity and seemingly endless depth of my new explorations. It seems that each time I reach a new understanding about the purpose of traveling and it’s connection with the greater meaning of life, I simultaneously feel a wave of discomfort as I realize the depth of this exploration.

This past weekend in Iceland, I reached new ground. I felt a sense of comfort as I realized that the most beautiful places, people and ideas in this world all seem to hold a common thread. In Iceland, I witnessed the most dazzling, dreamlike views I could have ever imagined. The surging waterfalls, the black sand beaches contrasting with pieces of an ice-burg, the perfectly clear night sky with stars that could pierce a soul, the steam rising out of the ground on a 35 degree day, the powerful mountains standing next to a crashing ocean – it was hard not to be left speechless. 

Goosebumps, right?!
More goosebumps… am I right?!
Thermo-temps on a freezing cold day though….
Yes, that is all steam, and yes it was very cold outside!
Yes, those are pieces of an iceberg!
What did I tell you?!

My breath was consistently stolen by the Icelandic views, yet I realized that the core of what  I felt was not much different from breathing in the aroma of fresh vineyards, stargazing with close friends in Ireland or conversing with a stranger about a world without prejudice for 3 hours. The questions dawned on me: Are these moments even much different from stargazing at home with my little sister? Or passionate discussions about community organizing on the Holy Cross campus? Though each moment is completely different in nature, I realized that there is undoubtedly a common thread between the world’s most beautiful sights and other day to day interactions. For the first time, I appreciate that it is through these moments, in completely different countries, with completely different people, that the world offers clarity about God, about ourselves, about the meaning of life and about love. What this means going forward… I am not sure. For now though, this glimpse of clarity provides something to cling onto as I venture into foreign countries, and push myself to consider abstract ideas.  

On that note, enjoy more beautiful pictures below!!

Making friends!!

 

(That’s my happy face)
Very tired but had to force a smile for the scenery!

 

After 2 full days of driving around as a group, Joe and I only yelled at each other once 🙂 Enjoy the sunset!!
A hot river awaited us at the top of our morning hike!

 

To be a Traveler

Over the past couple of weeks, I have experienced two very exciting trips. The first was to Doolin (right outside of Galway) where I travelled alone for the first time! The second was with my two Holy Cross friends up to Northern Ireland – a place we could not have visited merely a decade ago.

I could easily spend this entire post writing about the murals in Belfast, but I really do believe the city has more to offer than its dark past. So, instead, I posted the murals I found significant at the bottom, and wrote instead about the two lessons both cities taught me about travelling. Enjoy, and I hope my lessons correspondingly convey the beauty of each city!

LESSON ONE: Travelling solo does not correspond with being alone for multiple days on end; travelling with friends does not justify being anti-social

When I boarded the bus in Cork to depart for Doolin alone, I was anxious as I anticipated how I would feel happy and excited for the next two days without my friends. Yes, I did have to embrace alone time, but I also was not by myself all weekend.  I learned that when travelling solo, I had to enjoy time alone, while also being completely open and ready to socialize. In any given moment, a stranger, who I could share great memories with, might enter my life. If I had not been  open and friendly, I could have missed a moment to connect with the stranger. Yet, as I was in Doolin, I could not remain in standby mode, anxiously waiting for the next person to talk to. Had I not embraced alone time, 40% of my trip would have been wasted yearning for something else. By the end of my weekend, I had become confident in my ability to embrace alone time while also embracing every stranger as a potential friend.

Three women (2 from Spain, 1 from France) who went from strangers to hiking buddies within seconds
A pic from my bike ride on the Aran Island Inis Mor. I experienced minor culture shock as I was the ONLY PERSON biking down the street. Instead of cars, there were seals accompanying me.

A week later in Belfast with my friends, I considered how open I was to strangers when I was travelling alone. I realized that when you are with your friends, it is easy to be so caught up with your group, that you forget to be open and friendly to every stranger that passes through. As I continue to travel, I aim to find the balance between enjoying abroad experiences with my friends, while also embracing every moment as an opportunity to befriend somebody completely different.

LESSON TWO: Behind all of the main tourist sights, communities always offer a deeper way for you to connect. 

First things first… it is hard to connect with places that are overly touristy. Sure, they are a great experiences; however, you’ve seen the best of the best pictures already. Plus, there are always way too many people around to enjoy. Here are my tourist-esque pictures with more significant pics to come! 

Giant’s Causeway… a MAJOR tourist attraction in Northern Ireland. So many tourists visit that within 5 years, they are going to have to put grates over the rocks to protect them.
Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge: another major tourist sight and something Game of Throne fans will likely recognize!
As you can probably guess: the Cliffs of Moher. Super beautiful, but you must do the full 20k walk to escape the massive amounts of tourists.

 

Beneath the main tourist attractions, very community has someway for you to connect more deeply with it it. In Doolin, it was the Aran Island where I biked the ancient streets completely alone. In Belfast, it was the murals that allowed me to connect with its troublesome history. I also loved Culture Night as well as the Victorian market that led me to experience the bright future the city seeks. 

The view overlooking the smallest Aran Island, Isin Mor showing pre-historic architecture
My 2 HC friends and I talking with a former IRA member who was in prison with Bobby Sands during the hunger strikes. He shared lots of stories. My favorite: IRA members used cigarette filter paper to pass notes to America… in return Irish Americans would send financial support back to Ireland.
Me signing the Peace Wall that separates Catholic from Protestant communities. Yes, it is still standing, and yes it is only only during certain times of day. ***Que American politics and ‘the Donald*** **History shows common threads, I guess**
Best cafe ever!! You only pay how much you think it was worth! Even better than the prices was the cafe’s fun decor.

If nothing else, Doolin and Belfast made me realize that I can feel exhilarated 85% of the time while I am abroad… it is just a matter of embracing every opportunity to explore new culture, embrace new people and to step outside of my comfort zone. Here is to chasing thrills in the best way possible!

(More pics below of the murals in Belfast! They truly do capture and past and the present of the city. I hope they speak to you especially given today’s modern conflicts.)

Bobby Sands mural from the Hunger Strikes; found in Irish neighborhood, Falls. Fun fact: Bernie Sanders was the only American politician to write to Margaret Thatcher about the terror Bobby was enduring.
A mural found in Shankill (the Protestant neighborhood in Belfast) that depicts how kids would wake up many mornings to their home being destroyed and their parent telling them to stay away from their old friend.
Another mural found in Shankill showing the guns that watched everybody during the years of troubles. No matter where you stand in relation to the guns, it looks like they are pointing at you.
A very positive mural found in Falls (Catholic community) about Belfast’s future.
Found in Falls; representative of Ireland taking Palestinians’ side in the war.
Mural of strong civil rights leaders who influenced Irish Catholics in their fight for rights; found in Falls
A beautiful mural about climate change; found in Falls
Words of wisdom; found in Falls
My favorite!! More words of wisdom; found in Falls
Found in Belfast city outside of a college pub; embracing culture and a bright future

 

 

Mood: A Kid on Christmas Day

I had the most enchanting weekend… maybe… EVER.

My Holy Cross friends and I travelled to Dingle on the West Coast of Ireland for two days. Simply put: 10/10 would recommend.

The first sight I saw upon arriving in Dingle was a dressed up donkey!! As an Eeyore-enthusiast, this donkey instantaneously stole my heart.

But I knew the weekend was bound to be especially grand when we casually saw a REAL LIFE dolphin on a hike through the cliffs. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the dolphin; however, I do have pics from the cliffs overlooking where the dolphin was swimming.

What made the day even better? A quick, spontaneous swim in the harbor. Yes, the water was very cold, but once again, 10/10 would still recommend.

Proof that we did indeed go into the very cold water.
Cold, but still smiling!! 🙂

As we made our ways back towards town, we stopped multiple times to socialize with Irish animals. I’m ashamed at how pathetic we must have looked to locals as we excitedly talked to the animals that they see hundreds of every day.

Our night ended strong as we watched world famous Irish step dancers in the local pub, and slept well with 40 strangers in a hostel.

Sunday morning, I wanted everyone to be up and going by 8. Contrary to my wishes, everyone was finally ready by 10:30. As the saying goes, ya win some, ya lose most. Nonetheless, we wasted no time.  We spontaneously decided to rent a bike from a cheap shop in town, so we could easily explore the Dingle Peninsula.

Biking along the Dingle Peninsula reminded me of what Christmas felt like when I was in elementary school. Between the fresh air, magnificent views, animals lining the streets and endorphins pumping through my body; I simply did not want the afternoon to end.

As I dreaded our perfect bike ride ending, it dawned on me that this can be the first of many enchanting weekend like this. Nothing we did was completely out of the ordinary, nor did it cost a lot of money. In that respect, here is to seizing every opportunity to swim spontaneously and to enjoy perfect bike rides. That said, this weekend also prompted me to reflect on life for an extra minute. It pushed me to be mindful. To consider the fact that as I felt totally at peace with myself and nature, ordinary civilians in countries near and far were fearing for their basic safety. I have not figured out how to handle the juxtaposition that comes with realizing this. What I will say is this: if you feel completely safe right now, I really hope you take a moment to say thank you to the Man upstairs and consider how you can make this Earth’s gems more accessible to everybody. Peace and blessings, friends 🙂

Made a horse friend!! Peep the views she gets to look at everyday as she grazes!

 

Dingle Peninsula Views!

 

More Dingle Peninsula views!