Oh man! Clean air! Clean water! Uncrumbly buildings! Holeless roads! Speeding tickets! And preservative-filled foods!!! Mmmm, chemicals! For those of you who think I've overstated the significance of these luxuries - you have no idea how most of the rest of the world lives!
Some of the highlights I've experienced over the last couple weeks: cheddar cheese, bacon, more than one flavor of wine, 24-hour stores, cheap crap that I probably don't need, organization, friendliness, logic, friends, and family! I can't tell you how amazing these things are! You can't appreciate these things without having lived without them! Or maybe you can, but I couldn't. And now that I'm back, I can't stress enough how amazing it is here!
Okay, there's an economic crisis... Okay, there's super high unemployment rates... But people in this country are still so much better off than most people in the rest of the world. In this case, "better off" means a healthier life and a society with far more opportunity - even despite the hardships people are experiencing and hearing about in the news.
I've seen people work their asses off, breaking their backs day in and day out for less than minimum wage. Their standard of life is much lower than anything that we would settle for, yet they maintain a happiness the likes of which is nearly unseen here in the US. These occurrences were real, but didn't happen as often as one might like to think. In fact, most people had nothing, did nothing, and complained about not having anything. Their stories are far more complex than I'm illustrating, of course. But it's hard to feel pity for someone that won't work in order to benefit themselves.
My explanation is that they don't work hard to benefit themselves because they can't. Not that they're not physically or mentally capable; they are. They simply don't have the opportunity. And that is what makes the USA so amazing: Opportunity! A hardworking person can create any kind of opportunity for themselves here: jobs, internships, fellowships, companies, relationships, anything! It just takes dedication and discipline! There are minimal governmental and sometimes societal hang-ups, but in the end, if you have a dream - you are allowed to chase it, and if you do, there is a reasonable chance that you will achieve it!
It's something completely overlooked by most of my friends who like I, took everything for granted.
Now, I know what you're thinking, "Andrew, I've been to Paris. I've been to Rome. I've been to London. I've been to Phnom Penh. And I love those places!" Okay, fine, that's great. They all have wonderful things about them! But try being away from what you think is "normal" for four years! There is no place like the United States of America!
How's that for a "reverse culture shock"? Complete joy in just being a part of here! It's the same feeling I had when I first traveled: The shock and amazement of something new! Now I'm experiencing the shock and amazement of something I never quite recognized or appreciated!
I'm currently living in Portland, Oregon, in the "Nob Hill" part of town - the trendy and happening place that is always filled with something to do. I have a beautiful two-bedroom apartment in the middle of everything, and it is less than five miles away from where I work! I've been able to reintegrate with my friends and family easily enough, as well as with work and some local community events! Summer was a perfect time to come home, though I suspect there will be community activities and friends and family all year long! One of the best things I've got going, outside of friends and family, is a running club with Nike at the Niketown in downtown Portland. We run every Monday and Wednesday and I'm meeting all kinds of wonderful people! It's great! In addition to that, I've included a few pictures of home as I know it.
Star Trek in the Park
Hottest Day of the Year Ride
I'll close on a note that will hopefully lead to some thoughts and discussion. I've just ranted and raved about how wonderful my home is, but it is not without fault. There are many bad things about this place. Things that desperately need improving. Take, for example, the following picture that illustrates America's culture of fear and over-carefulness of things. During the "Hottest Day of the Year Ride" there were several rest stations set up before the grand finale of the "World's Largest Squirt Gun Fight". On one particular rest station, the organizers built "Oregon's longest Slip and Slide" and most people were loving it. They would get a running start and dive onto cheap plastic to slide down the wetness. Well, occasionally someone would dive too late, ie - they were still running when they got to the plastic. That was the case for our victim, a young boy that I've endearingly named Nancy. Before he was able to dive, he lost is footing and fell on his ass. It looked like he may have hit his head, but not hard. It was on a grass area, anyway. His mother saw the whole terror unfold and as the announcer stopped the slip and slide to come running to the boy's aid, his mother had already assumed a Doctor Mom role. Before anyone could say, "Hey, he's a little kid and he fell down. That's what they do. He'll be fine.", a medic came rushing over and dawned latex gloves to examine the child. He was given an ice pack, some water, and a chair on which to "recover" from his terrible spill.
Perhaps from flying Super Biker in the background you'd think this was an adult event... Well, the next picture puts that theory to shame.My observation, disgust, and question is: When did parenting (and society) get so weak? What happened to the bootstrap mentality that gave people admirable character and skills to conquer adverse odds? Why wasn't this kid told, "You're okay, Nancy. Get up and get back in line so you can do it right next time."?
I understand the desire to protect, especially those close to you. But there is a line between protection and overprotection. One obviously keeps a person safe, while the other conditions a person for weakness and never knowing how to deal with pain or defeat. Okay, so I'm not a parent and don't fully know how "it is", but I can kind of see how "it will be" if kids are babied during their prime developmental periods: They'll expect to be babied forever! So dear Reader, what says you?
On a side note, I shot Nancy and his mother at the end of the ride with a squirt gun.
Like grant proposals through the hands of USAID, these are the projects of my life!
University for Peace! 2008-2009
Peace Corps! 2005-2007
An obligatory disclaimer: Everything I have written, has been written by me. All of my own views, expressed hereinafter, are my own views. If you needed to read this disclaimer to know these things, you're a silly goose!