Thursday, May 28, 2009

No To War

I am a pacifist. I am a Quaker. I believe in turning the other cheek. I do not believe in killing other human beings. I do not believe that making war can be justified.

Human life is special and precious. We are unique amongst the animals of this earth. The gift of self-awareness is an incredible one. It allows us to feel empathy; it allows us to imagine the plight of another. How can any human, exercising this gift, wish the destruction of another human being like him/herself? Self-awareness and empathy are what separates us from animals. Failing to exercise these feelings is to lose what it means to be human.

I am aware that this is not the world that I live in. As a student of political science, it is clear to me that self-interest and competition dominate world politics. Cooperation is only exercised if it is beneficial to a country’s self-interest. Under these norms, war is sometimes a necessary means to ensuring one’s survival or bettering one’s self.

These may be the norms accepted by most people in our world, but I reject them. I want to live in a better, more peaceful world. I know I am not the only one who dreams of a world without murder. I know that there are others who dream of peace. We are in the minority and our dream may never be realized. But we will keep dreaming.

The most difficult part of holding this position is knowing that I only have the liberty to express these beliefs and others because others have fought and died. Millions of Americans have risked life and limb to protect our rights. They have squeezed the trigger and ended others’ lives in wars throughout our nation’s short history. I greatly respect their principled sacrifice on the behalf of liberty and freedom. And to express these beliefs of pacifism to a veteran would make me a little shameful, for she has legitimate reason to call me na├»ve and foolish. It is paradoxical to be grateful for the freedom that I have, yet reject the means by which it was achieved, through war.

There are two sorts of war that make me question my convictions. First is war for liberty. Oppressed and in chains, a slave has no freedom. How can the slave be expected to show empathy for the master who has no empathy for him? I cannot imagine what it would be like to be enslaved, so I can pass no judgment on the decision of a slave to fight for freedom.

The second is war in the name preserving life, however paradoxical that may seem. Genocide is all too common. Should a more powerful, outside force intervene in the name of saving the lives of tens of thousands of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? millions? Are the lives of those who have decided to murder worth less than those that they kill? Perhaps a successful intervention with pure intentions could be justified. All too often, however, “humanitarian” interventions are motivated by politics, perverting the goals of the intervention and jeopardizing its success.

While both of these justifications for war give me pause, fighting for peace can reduce the frequency that we have to make this difficult choice. The war for peace is a preemptive one, with many different manifestations. It’s battlefronts are endless and everywhere. But the fight for peace is just and worth fighting.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Report From America

I just spent 2+ weeks in America. It is a land of wonder and discovery. Wow.

In America, a man can talk to females of any age and it’s totally appropriate. Most women feel comfortable talking to men! At times, women even approach men they don’t know in order to speak with them. They can wear whatever they want. Many young women take advantage of this freedom and wear clothes that expose their heads, legs, arms, and sometimes breasts! They have no shame. Paradoxically, women are ashamed to breast feed in public. It is a culture that values sex over the health of its children. Inexplicably, women get angry if one whistles or shouts something about their looks to them from across the street. I thought that all women were prostitutes in America until my friend told me otherwise.

In America, alcohol is everywhere. I attended a wedding, and there were bottles of wine on every table. Outside, there were three large “kegs” that had a seemingly limitless quantity of beer. Everyone drank to their heart’s content, including women. The beer was delicious, not like the crappy beer that we have in Morocco. I drank 8 glasses the night of the wedding and no one thought that was strange! Most nights I drank 3 beers and that was OK.

In America, everyone has cars and drives them everywhere. They drive their cars when their destination is only a kilometer away! Maybe that is why they are so fat.

They also might be fat because they eat so much food. In Morocco, I am known as a big eater. However, the first few days I was in America I could not eat such large portions. I believe it is because Americans eat so much meat. Meat is often the main course of a meal, with vegetables and starches as the side dish. Americans eat lots of cow and chicken meat. Thankfully, I quickly accustomed myself to the large quantities of meat and was able to stuff myself regularly. Also, the food in America is much tastier than the food in Morocco. They have many more dishes that they prepare than we do.

Although Americans eat a lot of food, they throw even more away. When people do not eat everything, they throw it in the trash can. They have no animals to feed the food to so it is wasted. Restaurants take the food that their customers do not eat and throw it away. Americans throw lots of useful things away. But for some reason they will not throw trash on the ground. I was chastised when I threw garbage from the window of our moving car.

There are no sheep or goats in America. I saw some cows, but very few. I do not know where the meat that Americans eat comes from. I asked someone where the cow we were eating was slaughtered, and he said he did not know. He said it was bought at the supermarket.

Although there are no sheep or goats, there is lots of grass in America. Lot’s of grass. Every house has a large plot of land (called a lawn) in front of it, with only grass. There is no garden. Sometimes the lawns have a tree in them, although never a fruit-bearing tree. I do not know why the trees are in the lawns. The grass in the lawns is thick and the Americans irrigate and fertilize the lawns to make the grass green and grow fast. Paradoxically, although the Americans spend so much time and money making their grass grow fast, when it grows a little bit, they cut the grass using something like a small tractor. This cut grass is thrown away or simply left to dry on the lawn. There are special fields that Americans use to harvest and dry grass, but mostly it is wasted.

Everything is expensive in America, but Americans do not notice. They do not like to talk about money. They are all rich.


I really enjoyed my time in America. It was great to see you all!

My trip back to Morocco was long. My Dad and I drove 8.5 hours on Friday from Iowa to Ann Arbor Michigan. I went to the Detroit airport the next day at about 2:30 pm for a 4:30 flight. I ended up waiting until maybe 8 pm for the flight to take off. There was some miscommunication with air traffic control and our take-off time got bumped. By the time we landed and taxied in New York, it was 10:30 pm. I had missed my flight to Paris. Because of some weather in New York, there were lots of stranded people in the airport, trying to figure out their travel plans, so I stood in line with them. The airline people put me on the next available flight to Paris at 7 pm the next day (Sunday). The attendant told me she wouldn’t give me a hotel voucher because “we don’t give vouchers for weather related cancellations.” I told her that my problems were not weather related, but due to air traffic control. She said that was also not covered. Bullshit. So I found an empty lounge to try to sleep in. There was a television with CNN playing in my lounge (and every other lounge). I found an airport employee and asked her if she could turn down the volume. She said, “We can’t control the volume of the televisions.” Really? I didn’t sleep too well that night. Unfortunately, I had picked a gate that had an early flight the next morning so I was woken up early. That morning was when my luck changed: I discovered that JFK has free wireless! So I was on my computer for several hours that day (Sunday). I also watched the first half of the Lakers game (boring) and Obama’s speech at the Notre Dame commencement (inspiring). Once on the flight, I inexplicably could not sleep. So I watched Valkarie (Tom Cruise), Yes Man (Jim Carrey), and Australia (Nicole Kidman/Hugh Jackman). We landed in Paris at 8:30 am (Monday) local time. By amazing coincidence, while I was in New York on the Internet, I got in touch with some old Swarthmore friends who were in Paris so they met me at the airport in between my flights. My flight from Paris to Rabat took off at 12:30 pm and landed at about 1 pm local time (there is a two hour time difference). On my flight I sat next to an older Moroccan couple who have a house in Meknes. They invited me to their house (not even back in Morocco yet and I’m getting invitations). I took a taxi from the airport to the bus station (100 Dhs!) I got on a 3:30 pm bus from Rabat to Midelt. On the bus I sat next to this 50 year old retired teacher who has houses in Meknes and Midelt. He spoke English and Tamazight, so that was awesome. He was a Berber pride guy so he loved that I spoke Tamazight. He gave me his number to call him the next time I was in Midelt (he was on his way to Meknes – did I want to stay with him there?) I slept a little on the bus. We got into Midelt around 9 pm and I headed over to my friend’s house in Midelt where I stayed the night. For some reason, I slept through the alarm that I had set for myself the next morning (Tuesday), so I missed the early bus from Midelt to Boumia. I got to the bus station at 8:30 am and someone told me the next bus would be 9:30 or 10. So I walked to the taxi station with all my bags and the situation there was not promising. Walked back to the bus station. I ended up waiting in Midelt until 11:30 for the bus to leave. I got into Boumia at around 1 and went to this building where a project that another volunteer and I had organized was going on. Stayed in Boumia for the rest of the afternoon, then headed the rest of the way home, which was uneventful.

Despite the long trip, it was definitely worth it to go home. And as much as I enjoyed America, I’m really glad to be back in Morocco. I’m excited for the next year. Work is promising. I have so much more to discover in this country.

The big news here is that new volunteers are here and old ones are leaving. There are several new volunteers in the region. I met my first one Thursday night (he stayed at my house). As excited as I am to meet the newbies, it’s very sad to see my friends leaving. I will miss Mara, David, and Kristin especially.

The other news is the project that I returned to in Boumia on Tuesday. Another volunteer (Mara) and I organized two days of pelvic exams for local women (targeted towards sex workers). It was very well attended. One disappointment is that the doctors did not do physical exams, just asked the women about their symptoms and gave them medicine. We’re still waiting on the statistics from the day, but it seems like (as we expected) the incidence of STIs is very high. The other disappointing part of the day happened after the exams were finished. Mara and I went to wrap things up with the doctors. One of the doctors (who works at the Ministry of Health in the provincial capital and had helped us design the project) had gotten totally drunk during lunch. He was very abrasive with Mara and told her that the project was no good. Despite the drunk doctor’s advice, we have some more work planned.

One more thing. I just finished a book called The White Man’s Burden by William Easterly (who is from Bowling Green, OH!) It’s about the failures of Western aid in the developing world. I recommend it highly. I have another book called Dead Aid on the same topic. Expect a nerdy book review of the two books in a few weeks.

Well that’s it, take care in America!