War On Children Part II: Forget the facts

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I landed in Detroit to a blizzard. It was a parking lot on the freeway from the airport to downtown, which me a lot more time to get to know my thespian turned server turned Lyft driver. Later on that evening, my phone informed me that it would cost me 25$ to take a Lyft just over a mile to the interview dinner due to the high demand. So I hiked through downtown Detroit in thickly falling snow on my way to a delicious bacon wrapped meatloaf.

Most of the streets had been cleared by the following evening so I  ran along the river of this proud flawed city while looking across its banks toward Canada. The massive GM building seemed to be an almost comically poignant reminder of the inequalities in this country and the unjust way that the rich float during tough times while everything around them crumbles. When I found myself in a beer garden after dinner, drinking a stiff hot toddy with my favorite bourbon, I couldn’t help but be painfully aware of the fact that I was in downtown Detroit yet everyone around me was white.

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The night before I landed in Detroit, I was sitting in a bar in downtown Chicago watching the election results come in. There was a cheer when CNN called that Doug Jones would become the first Democratic senator from Alabama in over two decades. However, it’s also important to acknowledge that it’s a sad day when it takes someone being a pedophile to lose a Republican senate seat in Alabama, even sadder when the racial breakup of the vote showed that both white men (72%) and women (63%) overwhelmingly voted for that worthless garbage person.

That being said, there was something in the air that day that wouldn’t let me give up hope. I spent the whole morning and afternoon taking a twelve hundred dollar medical school exam so I figured I’d treat myself to an Uber pool to get home. Between the Puerto Rican musician turned driver, an older woman from Puebla, a girl from Venezuela, and myself, there wasn’t a moment without laughter during the forty minute ride. Tamales, Lebron, the Bolivar, Prince, mole, and Jordan were all hotly debated. As he was dropping me off, the driver turned around to say that he had never had such a good Uber trip and that he couldn’t wait to tell his wife about it when he got home.

After I found the spare key to my friend’s apartment, I immediately set down my stethoscope, cough drops, and white coat and changed into running clothes to slip out into the cold Chicago night. Stretching my legs over the sidewalk felt exquisite as my breath blew a smokey cloud in front of me. It’s almost Christmas, which means it’s a time to reflect, be grateful, and come together while forgetting politics for a minute.

I can’t even type that with a straight face.

Every aspect of the world we live in is inherently political. Take the coffee shop I’ve been going to by my new climbing gym (aka young bourgeoise white people club). It’s less than a mile from north Minneapolis, yet there’s not a single person of color drinking coffee with me. Our spaces are politicized and white people like myself can conveniently choose when and where to engage with that reality because we live in an insane world in which the pigment of your skin invades every aspect of your life.

I’ve spent the past month basking in this insane white male privilege while flying around the country interviewing for residency. I try to catch myself anytime I start to whine about it because there’s nothing more annoying than a white boy who tries to be woke while complaining about plane rides and hotels. I’d imagine that it’s annoying enough when white boys try to be woke… That being said, I’d rather lean into looking ridiculous and occasionally sounding like an ass in order to be a part of the resistance and fight for those who are marginalized by the racist, sexist, and xenophobic country we live in.

That’s the thing though, sentences like the previous one are the shit that get my Trump supporting extended family members all riled up. Is using that kind of discourse an attempt to be sensitive and engaged or is just a pretentious way to let someone know that you’re better than them? Probably a little bit of both. That’s why as I’ve been drinking craft beer and eating bourgeois foods in different cities I’ve tried to understand the populist rage against the liberal elite… But seriously

This isn’t a bullshit attempt to equate your truth to mine and try to understand how racism, sexism, and other hatreds come from a place of reason. They don’t. So what is it that drives a certain percentage of our population to vote for politicians (and the general Republican Party) who behave in a way that we wouldn’t find acceptable in a kindergarten classroom? Besides the remarkable leveraging of abortion as a single issue voting choice (which warrants a different and deeper discussion), there seems to a cynical group of men and women who have tapped into the worst aspects of our humanity and specifically targeted a population of white-identifying people who are vulnerable to it.

The way I see it is that we humans, let alone we americans, are 99.999% the same. We all share mostly the same genes, have the same wants and needs, and find happiness and sadness in similar pursuits. On a fundamental level we are all human animals and with that humanity comes both beautiful and terribly destructive human traits. So again, what can it possibly be that drives some of us to support such objectively terrible people and politics? I know it can’t feel good to live in a world driven by hate and greed.

Like I’ve said before, I believe this regressive backlash is in part due to greedy politicians giving people a narrative that allows them to forget reality for a while. This is a privilege that many people don’t have, especially people of color. Being a white Trump supporter in America now is akin to living in a reality TV show or being biblical literalists. You know somewhere deep that all this stuff is probably fantasy, but it’s easier to live in that world than to deal with the harsh reality outside where children starve, all men seem to have sexual violence in them, and people are slaughtered for their beliefs. Heresy? No, it’s looking at the world like a grown up with eyes wide open.

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It’s been a rough year for everyone, even Frankie

Since it’s almost Christmas, I want to end this with hope. As I was waiting at the Jefferson Transit Station in Chicago for the bus driver to come back, one of the passengers already on the bus pushed the doors open in order to wait outside in the cold with the rest of us. This absurd action set off the alarm on the bus which pushed all the other passengers out until the driver arrived.

My man was wearing different shades of garish purple with multiple silver chains and a ring on every finger. He completed the ensemble with wrap-a-round sunglasses even though it was a dark and dreary December afternoon. Dude seemed unhinged at best so I wasn’t too excited to have him sit down across from me.

Less than a minute into the ride my fears were realized when I heard him say “Hey! Hey man, what’s on your t-shirt?” I’d forgotten that I was wearing the hippy t-shirt I bought to provoke other bros at the gym. “Black lives matter…women’s rights are human rights…pro-choice pro-science…love is love.” He was slowly reading my shirt out loud for the rest of the bus to hear. This was a much more effective advertisement than I expected when I woke up that morning. “Truth. That’s a lot of truth there man.” I smiled my thanks while inwardly hating myself for being such an asshole. To top it off, he gave me a bejeweled fist bump before he got off the bus.

A few stops later we pulled up in front of a school and were instantly swarmed by high schoolers of seemingly every ethnic background.  Their laughter and smiles were infectious. I know it’s easy for me to say as a non-teacher, but there was something so essential and human about being surrounded by teenagers. They had an energy and life force that I already can tell I’m losing quickly if I don’t work to sustain it. More than that though, I had almost a half hour to just lean back in my seat and drink up the conversation.

Listening to these boys and girls talk about dating, religion, school and everything in between gave me a little bit of hope. The ubiquitous and addicting technology, disenfranchisement, and structural/cultural inequalities of religion/sexuality/race/gender all push my hopefulness away from complacency. But listening to a Southeast Asian girl talk about dating and being “sort of” Buddhist to a black girl whose parents were Muslim and Christian made me want to scream You already lost M***** F****rs! at the hateful people whose narrow minded idea of America doesn’t include these two.

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If Rick Cousins can turn this mushy, there is most definitely hope. Merry Christmas!

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Guns and children

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Seventeen people dead and fifteen injured at a school in Florida. Seventeen people dead at a school because a young man with no felony history or history of adjudicated mental illness legally bought an AR-15 style gun and shot them. The AR-15 was designed for the US military in Vietnam so that they had a gun that was easier to carry, load, and shoot high velocity rounds. It was used a little over five years ago to kill twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It is now the weapon of choice in mass shootings.

This needs to be a conversation about what kind of country we want to live in. I for one don’t want to live in a country that actively turns a blind eye when children are now routinely murdered due to easy access to weapons. That being said, I’m not going anywhere because I’m an American through and through. I’m an American who sees his country for what it has the potential to be, a place where people from all different cultures live and work to create the best possible version of humanity. To do that we need to look at the gun debate for what it is.

The argument that “Good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns” is bullshit. First of all we’re not kindergartners so we can stop pretending that there are good guys and bad guys. Second of all, civilians with guns almost never stop mass shootings. The US has less than 5% of the world’s population but 31% of mass shooters. We have the highest gun ownership rate in the world at 88 guns per 100 people (Yemen is a far second at 55 guns per 100 people), and have a gun homicide rate more than 25.2 times higher than other high income countries. That means that you are over twenty five times more likely to be murdered by a gun in the United States than in any other developed country. More guns means more people shot by guns. It’s simple math.

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Those are all the facts I’m going to write. The issue of gun control and mass shootings is not about facts, because if it was guns would have been banned a long time ago. However, guns aren’t banned because gun makers make a lot of money selling weapons. They have played on the fear and inadequacies of mostly men while simultaneously creating one of the powerful lobbies this country has ever seen.

  1. I don’t care that you’re a hunter and I don’t care that you like to shoot at target practice. Find different hobbies because your recreation is not worth the lives lost.
  2. You cannot be a responsible gun owner and have a gun ready to protect your home. You wouldn’t be able to unlock the gun and ammunition from separate safes fast enough to shoot an intruder
  3. The time for trite cliche’s like “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is over. People with guns kill people a lot easier than people without guns. And people with guns designed to kill a lot of people are able to kill a lot more people with those guns. If you can’t follow that argument, you definitely shouldn’t own a gun.
  4. We will never be able to definitively solve the “mental health crisis” and therefor avert gun violence. Mass shooters often have no mental health record. We are human beings and are infinitely complex and fallible. Therefore as a society we need to control what we can, and that’s access to weapons.
  5. The second amendment is part of a document written by the same white men who legally considered black Americans 2/3 of a human being. At the time it was written, women and people of color weren’t considered human enough to have a seat at the table. It was also written at a time when muskets were the only personal guns available.

I spent yesterday morning giving a presentation on healthy habits to children ages 5-11. It was crazy but lovely. I barely held their attention, but we laughed through the whole thirty minutes about brushing teeth, eating healthy, and exercising. During my presentation I was stopped dead in my tracks by a first grader who asked me how poor parents were supposed to afford healthy food and take the time to cook it if they were already struggling to make ends meet. I stumbled in Spanish while trying not to smile in awe of her university-level question. Afterwards I mentioned to the school principal that she might want to  check on gifted schools in the area.  As I was packing up my computer, the little girl who I carried up to my apartment during the flood came up to me and silently leaned in for the sweetest hug I’ve ever received. I melted.

I didn’t hear about the Florida shooting until just before I delivered a lecture on sexual health and STIs to the girls at CUBE later on that afternoon. It shook me to my core. I was already nervous regarding how, as a man, I was going to deliver an informative and empowering lecture on sexual health to a group of girls who had experienced heinous violations of their own sexual autonomy. I needn’t have been nervous because I was confronted by the most incredible group of young women I’ve ever met, which is a testament to them as well as the women at CUBE who work with them. Along with one of the psychologists and yoga teachers, we sat for almost an hour talking about what they wanted to know and laughing whenever possible. The lecture finished when the yoga teacher showed a series of youtube videos she had made regarding STIs and contraceptives. I was humbled and honored to be there.

Walking home through the rain I remembered Florida and remembering Florida, I remembered Sandy Hook. I had just spent the day surrounded by children who were learning how to navigate this often treacherous world and remembering this news I felt sick to my stomach. That sadness combined with witnessing the joy a of the children in the morning and resiliency of the young women in the afternoon, reinforced my belief that we must do our best to create the best possible world for the coming generations. We must overcome our fears, feelings of inadequacy, and limitations to fight to do what’s right. We need to invest our resources in education. We need to fight even harder as a society against gender discrimination and violence. And finally, we need to get guns off our streets.

 

 

 

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Waterfalls, landslides, and floods

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Cochabamba with all it’s mud and smog disappeared into the thin mountain air behind us. Ali and I were crammed with two other people in the back cab of a pickup on our way to do rural home visits and observations in a small mountain village outside of town. It was good to get out of the city where it had been raining for the past week. The vegetation grew scarce as the white truck wound its way up into the mountains. Peaks that had previously served only as backdrops for our lives in the city suddenly loomed around us like giants. We stopped as we crested the mountains in order to stretch and take pictures. I looked around and all I could see were waterfalls and jagged rocks reaching into the heavens.

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An hour later Ali and I hiked up into the hills while waiting potatoes and chicken hearts to boil in a small village that was to be the start of our work trip. We were cooking lunch in a one story community center that overlooked a green valley which sprawled endlessly into the horizon. Butchering what little Quechua I learned, I couldn’t do much more than greet people that passed by. It was pleasant though to sit and watch the rains come in as the community got ready for a luncheon of their own. All of a sudden Ali and I heard a commotion and saw people pointing towards the road that snaked along the mountain across the valley from us. This was the road we were supposed to take to the other villages. At first all I could see was a stopped bus and people milling about around it like ants in the distance. Then as they climbed up on the massive pile of something that was in front of the bus, I could see the landslide.

 

Fortunately no one was hurt, but it meant we had to turn back. Evidently the rain which had been steadily falling for more than a week was just starting to create instability in the soil. The drive back was much less entertaining. I felt mildly nauseated after eating too many chicken heart sandwiches and the driver kept stopping to point out new smaller landslides that had occurred since we had made the trip out. That being said, I easily sang along to over half of the late nineties/early two thousands poprock hits that played over the communal iPod. I won’t confirm nor deny singing to “Lucky” by Brittney Spears. It was sunny when we returned to Cochabamba and I took my time cooking mouth-burning locote and hamburger meat atop a bed of quinoa. I washed it down with a Bolivian dry red and passed out.

 

I was startled out of bed by booming thunder and rain lashing at my windows. The lightning made it easier to stumble towards the bathroom. I checked my phone before I went back to sleep and it read a little before 1:00 am. It felt like I had just shut my eyes when I woke up yet again to thunder. I reached over to my bedside table to check the time on my phone. The screen flashed 1:45 and it’s glare showed that my whole apartment was flooded. I walked over to the front door and opened it to a river rushing over my front stoop. I quickly shut the door. What happened after that was a blur. I shoved all my belongings into my backpack, strapped on my sandals, and rushed upstairs to dump everything in Ali’s apartment. I then ran back outside to make sure that the two other houses were okay, a virtual Chaco advertisement in process. When I saw the river hadn’t made it to their doors, I went back upstairs to my new bedroom and fell into a fitful sleep.

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The water receded leaving a thick layer of mud the next morning.

I thought the story would end there, or maybe with the following day when the whole community came together to scrape mud out of my apartment. I had no idea it was only the beginning.

 

Three nights later Ali (my new roommate) and I were finishing dinner when we heard the sirens go off outside. Our neighbor had just told us that he was setting the system up in case anything happened so we thought it was probably a test. Plus it was only lightly raining at the time, far from the flash floods the week before. When the siren went off a second time, we went outside and were immediately informed that it wasn’t a test. Evidently it had been raining hard in the mountains and a water reservoir had collapsed sending water rushing down to the city. We were already out of danger but we didn’t know it. As it was, we spent the next several hours filling up sandbags and placing them down in front of the school and clinic. At one point someone screamed that more water was coming and we all rushed to the upstairs apartment.

 

As I reached the stairs I heard one of the girls yelling that her sisters were still inside their one story house on the other end of the property, so I ran after her. When I reached the door, a four year-old girl ran into my arms. Back in my apartment with everyone else from the compound, she didn’t let go until I promised her that I’d find her a coloring book and chocolates. The night passed in mostly a tense waiting with interludes of frantic activity when we thought the water was coming. We could hear the dull roar of water and mud coming from both sides of us and thought it was just a matter of time until we were hit. We weren’t, so I made good on both of my promises. I found a coloring book and then bought an entire box of bonbons at the corner store. Somehow in the mess of it all no one thought to monitor the chocolate intake of two little girls watching Frozen with a box of bonbons in front of them. They must have eaten 10-15 apiece. The night turned into a slumber party from which none of us knew quite what we were going to wake up to the following day.

 

The roads were almost empty the next morning, a few cars passing but no one giving rides. When I finally made it to the main disaster area, it looked like it was struck by a tsunami. Four or five blocks to the south of where I live, a huge river had flooded, created a landslide of mud, became plugged, and then overflowed with mud and water in three different directions. The main river of mud was over a block wide and several kilometers long, the mud reaching up to 5-6 meters in depth. There were houses down, mangled cars, and hundreds of people in fatigues and other uniforms. I was looking for SAR Bolivia, a volunteer firefighter/EMT/disaster relief group that I was put in touch with by a good friend back home. Today was supposed to be my first shift.

 

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I found two SAR volunteers who were also looking for the main group, it was total chaos. Minutes after we met we heard people shouting from a rooftop that there were two women trapped in a house surrounded by an increasingly massive river of mud. After wading across the mud river with two army guys, we entered a well-to-do house occupied by two trembling older women. Getting the first out was easy as she let us put her in the tractor bucket immediately when it careened down in front of her door. When I turned inside for the second I could see by the body language of the other men that she didn’t want to go. Her eyes were wide with shock and she kept repeating that her house was all that mattered to her. Appeals to family, friends, and even the safety of the rescue team did nothing as we followed her around her house as she paced. Finally, I grabbed a pair of tennis shoes, told her she was coming with me, and led her out of the door by hand. As we swung high into the air above the river in the tractor bucket, she turned to me and said “I’m so sorry. I’m a professional. I’m usually not like this.”

 

The rest of the day was much of the same, although we didn’t find any more people in the houses we searched. I ended up finding the bigger SAR team which was made up of mostly college students. It was inspiring to watch SAR, the army, the red cross, police, and neighborhood people all working together to try to help one another. I was offered food and drink almost every half hour. It was surreal and then it suddenly it wasn’t. Two other SAR volunteers and I broke into one of the houses bordering and half submerged by the mud river. We created a boardwalk of planks out of the second story and went step by step over the mud until we reached the last house in the middle of the river that hadn’t been searched. Everything was destroyed and mangled. Every single possession that this family had was lost. We didn’t find any people or bodies and we had to get out fast as it was starting to rain again. As I crawled out the window I realized that I was stepping on a picture frame. The family in the picture looked up at me from the mud.

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I went on a run back up into the mountains this morning to clear my head. Yesterday, Ali and I spent the whole day doing health checks for the children at CUBE but had to take a long bus ride to get to town around the landslide that still shows no sign of abating. I ran farther than I had before, struggling up the switchback until my lungs forced me to stop. As I rounded one of the sharp turns I came face to face with an old man who was walking down with a large pack on his back. “Are you jogging?” He asked me. “Trying to,” I replied. Humbled I struggled on for another 5 minutes. Of course this ridiculous path is maintained by people who walk it due to necessity. They walk it every day and carry much heavier loads than my two rocks and pocket knife.

 

I gingerly made my way back down the mountain, searching for footing and taking care not to upset the demon baby in my stomach. During this slow descent I reflected that it’s this day-to-day traffic that really matters. I’m not going to maintain this footpath by running once a week, and I’m never going to be as important in disaster relief or to Bolivia in general as the Bolivians who live here and fight to better their country every single day. The reality is that I’m only a traveler in this country, it’s not my path.

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Duality

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I crested the top of a half mile long hill overlooking Sucre and came face to face with three dogs. I was in the white city for the weekend, spending my days wandering up and down the hills of the colonial downtown and passing my nights drinking wine in the plazas. The lead dog snarled at me and lunged forward, the other two following close behind. I raised my fist which held a rock too small to do any harm. The dogs retreated four or five feet while continuing to bark and growl. I dropped my arm and turned around. Seconds later the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I heard snarling behind me. Turning back around I saw the dogs had once again closed the gap. This was unusual, I’m rarely approached by dogs on the street and almost never hunted by them. I raised my fist again and once again they retreated only to close the gap when I turned back around. We did this dance four or five times until I made it to a rock pile on the side of the road. I crouched behind it and stung the lead dog with a hard throw while loosening two more rocks at the pack as they beat a retreat. Threatening and retreating didn’t work, I had to choose one path.

 

Last weekend I ran farther up along the eucalyptus-lined road behind my house. It wound up into the mountains and eventually bled into a river near a town called Las Molinas. When the river met the road, I saw hundreds of people picnicking and washing their clothes along its banks. I ran across a graffiti’d suspension bridge and found a small path that followed the river to the north. Now the families doing laundry had turned into couples walking hand in hand and families walking their mountain bikes down an increasingly rocky path. I kept running. I was now alone on the path which had quickly gained altitude on the river. Looking down towards the water, I saw a group of nuns walking together. From my height their grey habits gave the impression that they were of the same ilk as the clouds that had started to mist around me. The path started to switchback up the mountain in earnest. At this point my lungs were screaming for air and my muscles were lead rods. The mountains were magic and I was in heaven.

 

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I stepped off the trufi the next morning in downtown Cochabamba and immediately came crashing down to earth. On the corner across the street from where I was standing sat a woman and her two children. Her indigenous dress was spread out on the dirty ground in front of her and in it lay a baby who was crying and covered in sweat and snot. The other boy couldn’t have been more than four years old. He held out his hand for money as his mother wailed something that I didn’t understand. There is no reason for this kind of poverty. After emptying my pockets of the little change I had, I made my way to CUBE.

 

CUBE is the organization I’m working with that supports and fights for children who have suffered sexual abuse. The staff of mostly women at this organization fiercely illuminate this struggle of duality with their brave and selfless work in caring for children who have suffered the most heinous abuse of humanity that I can imagine. One of the full-time psychologists from CUBE then took me deep into the heart of the city to check up on a woman who was recovering from a cesarean. After our eyes adjusted to the darkness of the mud home, we could make out a woman lying on a bed with her crying baby next to her. With no running water and trash all around, this was not a place to live, let alone recover. We took the baby girl downtown to the hospital for a follow up after cleaning and re-dressing her mother’s wound. After crying non-stop in the house, she slept in my arms for an hour straight through two trufi rides, a hospital visit, and a hike through a crowded market. It’s easy to ignore the plight of the poor, but when it’s thrust in your face in the form of a newborn, all the rhetoric melts away and the injustice of poverty in a world of billionaires is unquestionable.

 

Experiencing the incomparable beauty of this world along with it’s tragedy has forced me to accept that there is more of a duality to this life than I’d like to admit. This duality runs through the world as it does my own body. I’ve been thinking about this lately specifically as it relates to feminism and gender due to the work that I’m involved with here, and the ubiquity of the Me too movement in the news.  The importance of feminism has been burned into me since my mom put up the Feminists Only sign on my fort when I was a toddler. Chauvinism branded into my being just as long simply by being a man living in the world today. The battle between brain and body, reason and desire will probably never resolve. However, as in fighting for change in the greater world, fighting for change in one’s self can start with the simple state of doing what you feel is right and being open to change. The idea of even writing about chauvinism is fraught with problems and hypocrisy, but not to engage seems even more cowardly. The Me Too movement has been fascinating to watch run its necessary course. Hopefully a course which continues to move towards change.

 

Speaking as a man however, I want the conversation to continue to evolve towards challenging men like myself who liken themselves feminists in their words and actions but who still have far to go. Because like racism and homophobia, I see the chauvinism that lies within the dark implicit recesses of my own brain just as does the desire to see these isms destroyed. The same duality exists in our call-out culture as in everything else right now. It’s a necessity in the case of many men including Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein, and problematic in the case of others including Aziz Ansari. More than anything however, I can look at the chauvinism within me and say that it’s not enough. A broader conversation needs to be had, maybe driven by men who want to change in order to attack the roots of this inequality.

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So I guess two things were true even in that moment in Sucre when the rock left my hand. I was retreating and attacking. I was violent and yet didn’t want to do harm. Maybe that’s why later on that evening I made sure to visit the cemetery on the edge of town. I felt a sense of peace as I walked through the towering white archway and between the trees and hedges swaying gently in the afternoon breeze. There were blind men and women sitting on benches knitting and offering up their prayers to passersby. I sat down on a bench next to one of the women and asked her to sing a prayer for my cousin. I let her incantation wash over me. I don’t believe in prayer yet I know I cannot know all there is. I leaned back and closed my eyes.

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Cochabamba

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Saturday morning marked the end of my first week in Bolivia. I woke up earlier than I wanted to  because I wanted to get a run in before helping some guys finish up the brick sidewalk they were laying down at the compound. The fresh mountain air slowly cut away my mental fog. The fog was due to a long night of exploring Cochabamba’s surprisingly hoppin night life. To my surprise I wasn’t attacked by any dogs while running and found my way curving up the mountains on a cobblestone road flanked by eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus always reminds me of living in Ecuador. I finished my run, had a cup of Nescafe, and walked down to the job site to wheel sand and lay brick. It didn’t seem to matter to Juan Carlos when I told him I had no experience doing anything that required actual skill in masonry, so I did my best to lay them straight and level. Anything was better than the three hours of tamping that I did the day before. Tamping with this crew means crushing blood red sand with a 70 lb block of cement.

 

I’m in Bolivia working with an organization called Una Brisa De Esperanza. Ali and I are the first med students to come down here, so we’ve spent the past week getting adjusted and beginning to define our roles. It looks like we’ll be giving presentations on health, sexual health, consent, and anatomy as well as conducting very basic medical screenings and referring to licensed doctors if needed. I’m not sure how much more construction I’ll be doing, but they needed help and I needed to use my body after finding out that my cousin died suddenly of a heart attack. He was 46 years old. That my godmother now survives both of her two sons seems to fly in the face of this world having any rhyme or reason. There are no words to describe my rage when I think about the preventative health care that my cousin could not afford because our national legislators have continued to pander to the lobbying whims of health insurance companies. There is a special place in hell for men like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to name a few.

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Having a break from the constant stream of news media has been a welcome reprieve. Posting up Friday evening in the Plaza Principal and watching people stroll by was almost enough to forget the fact that our country is run by a mentally feeble white supremacist. This statement of fact, that Donald Trump is a white supremacist, evidently rang so true for the nouveau-autocracy that they called for the firing of ESPN anchor Jemele Hill when she tweeted it last year. I almost feel guilty for this mini vacation from our politics, because I believe more than anything in the world that everything in life in inherently political. Hill eloquently articulated this when she was asked on the podcast Code Switch about the interaction between sports and politics. “People pick and choose when they feel like politics should be in sports depending on how they feel about said politics,” Hill said after laying out the intense nationalism that permeates American sports, specifically football.

 

So here I am, momentarily free of the head ringing bass that permeates my apartment when the chicaria down the street decides it’s appropriate to play club music for the three guys drinking by themselves. It’s an enormous privilege to be able to use international travel as a reset button to re-energize so you can come back to your country and fight for fairness and justice. It’s a privilege that I’m going to try\ hard to take advantage of.

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War on children

I believe that it’s time for us to look at the GOP for what it is, a political party that is cynically waging a war on children. They are fighting to keep undocumented children out of this country and treating them like criminals once they’re here. They are systematically undermining public education. Their economic policies exacerbate economic and social inequality, setting many children up for failure before they’re even born. This ideology is clearly sinister through and through, but I want to start with immigration.

Immigration is good for our economy. There is consensus among economists that immigration, especially with the second generation of immigrants, has a net positive effect on the US economy in terms of innovation, workforce education, and overall economic productivity. Federal, state, and local budgets all benefit from immigrants. The UPenn Wharton School of economics has a nice summary about how immigration affects the economy for anyone interested. Furthermore, studies by the National Bureau of Economic Statistics, The Sentencing Project, and the Cato Institute among others have consistently demonstrated that immigrants have decreased criminality when compared to native born Americans.

In regards to the validity of the scientific method and the quality of academic studies, it’s absolutely true that they’re imperfect. However, they’re also the backbone of the medicine that will save your life if you ever find yourself in the emergency room, need any kind of medication, want to operate a vehicle, or require any kind of surgical procedure, etc etc. In the gendered words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

We are spending millions of dollars deporting men, women, and children who have risked everything to come to America to work hard and make a better life. I’ll spell out this insanity: We are spending money we don’t have in order to keep people out who would help generate more money. How the hell did losing money to appease fearful racists become conservative?

We native born Americans did nothing to be born in this country. Let me repeat that, we did nothing in order to be born in this country. By any kind of moral and philosophical ideology, especially libertarian and personal freedom systems of thought, we are not born into the right to own land that supersedes our fellow world citizens right to that same land. Of the many reasons that the United States was founded, an escape from a class based monarchical system was paramount. As was the commitment to immigration that is etched on our Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” she wrote. “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” From The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Even if immigration weren’t supported by economics and the very philosophy that our nation was founded on, the morality of the issue would be enough. We are spending millions of dollars to deport and turn away children who arrive at our doorstep fleeing violence, poverty, and destitution. Since so much of this hatred finds twisted justification in Christianity, I thought that I’d see what the bible says about this issue. It’s not subtle.

I, the Lord, command you to do what is just and right… Do not ill-treat or oppress foreigners, orphans, or widows(Jeremiah 22:3)

Rich people who see a brother or sister in need, yet close their hearts against them, cannot claim that they love God. (1 John 3:17)

Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!” – if you don’t give them the necessities of life? (James 2:15-16)

What kind of a sick joke is it that we don’t open our arms and care for children who have  suffered hell to make their way here instead of locking them in a detention facility called “The Icebox,” forcing them to find their own legal representation, and then deporting many of them back to countries from which they have just fled for their lives. These. Are. Children.

We must be better. We must all fight to push our nation to do what’s right. What we’re doing now is clearly wrong and the people behind these policies as well as those who are enforcing them are miserable excuses for human beings acting from the grimiest part of whatever is left of their moldy souls:

https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/mb3gva/ice-followed-a-child-to-the-hospital-to-detain-her-after-surgery

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration/a-girl-with-cerebral-palsy-is-being-held-in-immigration-detention-the-aclu-just-sued-for-her-release/2017/10/31/8453eb50-be53-11e7-959c-fe2b598d8c00_story.html?utm_term=.659a7217bd29

 

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Narratives

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This is dedicated to the memory of Mahnaz Kousha, one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had, a kind, beautiful and fiercely intelligent woman who taught me about narratives among other things.

It’s been hard to know whether or not to keep writing with about what’s going on in the world. Words seem a paltry defense against the hatred and fear that’s spreading like a malignancy. However, working for the past month at the Minneapolis VA has reminded me that fighting for our country, in any way possible, is a never ending duty as an American. Just the other night I admitted a veteran in his eighties. When I walked back to the wards to check on him, he asked the nurse to step out of the room and give us a minute. He said he had something he wanted to say about one of his responses to my neurological assessment. You know the funny look I gave you when you asked me who the president was, he asked. I just want you to know that even though I don’t like what he’s doing, especially towards those Hispanics, I respect the office. It was tender to watch this sick old man working hard to stand in his integrity as both an American and a veteran in the face of mindless stupidity. I’m sure there are many veterans who support Trump, but I haven’t met any yet at the VA.

The veterans I’ve met, many of whom have served their country at the expense of their physical and mental health, seem baffled by the lack of basic integrity of a draft dodger who they now find as their commander and chief. Whether one agrees with even the basic idea of the military or not, it is undeniable that these men and women have suffered to pursue the ideal of a greater good. My resident and I joked about how almost every vet that we admitted assumed I served and asked me what branch of the military I was in. What surprised me though was the universal reply of That’s serving your country just the same, when I responded that I served in the Peace Corps. My service was not the same and didn’t come with the same kind of sacrifices, but working at the VA reminds me of the feeling of greater purpose and community with my fellow Americans that I had while serving abroad. It’s this feeling that compels me to keep fighting in any way that I can. For me, part of this means trying to deconstruct the current political narrative and replace it with a better one.

It’s always dangerous for an imperfect man to attack an ideology because I know I fall prey to the same mental pitfalls as anyone else. Therefore I’ll state at the outset that I’m deeply flawed and know it. I’m a glutton, I’m often unaware of my privilege, I can be careless regarding the consequences of my decisions, and I’m not a vegetarian, to name a few. I want to simply acknowledge that I know I’m no better than anyone else when I advocate for a better world. However, although I often fail to live up to my own values, I still believe it’s my obligation as a human being to fight for justice when it’s being circumvented.

The current state of politics is not and cannot be about partisanship. I say that because there’s no equivalency. The Democratic Party holds a multitude of dissenting opinions. There are advocates for change, advocates for restraint, spenders, fiscal conservatives, war hawks, and pacifists. They are made up of inspirational leaders like Bernie Sanders and monsters like Harvey Weinstein. They aren’t liberal or conservative, they are simply an amalgamation of a multitude of political parties that find themselves joined together in an unlikely alliance. The Republican Party on the other hand, led with their own complicity by Donald Trump, is a party which has centralized its values around anti-science, xenophobic, chauvinist, anti-intellectual, and racist policies that reinforce the status quo and further exacerbate inequalities in race, gender, and socioeconomics. These policies leverage the fear, faith, and anger of mostly white people by dangling a narrative of white Christian superiority as a carrot to consolidate power in the hands of those who already have it.

Draconian immigration policies, a complete and utter disregard for the environment, an assault on education and reproductive rights, and tax policies that benefit the super rich have been the bread and butter of Republican policies since I could vote. There is an important role for dissent and differing political opinions in a democracy, but that role shouldn’t be based in a morality that is rooted in fear, ignorance, and hate. Like I’ve said before, I think this country has the potential to be a force for good in building a better world. What I’m going to write about isn’t a matter of partisan politics, it’s a matter of morality and common sense. We cannot get to that better world as long as the Republican narrative is given any kind of legitimacy. I will therefore try to deconstruct that narrative in spare moments where I’m not rotting my brain on Netflix or navel gazing with a tumbler of whiskey. I want to do this in order to better understand how to fight for justice, but I also want to uncover and create a common sense narrative for what’s going on.

 

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