Friday, February 27, 2009

There are blogs I read because the writers are clever and make me chuckle. There are some I read because the writers face some of the same issues my wife and I face in parenting our children. There are blogs I read because I love that they have such different viewpoints and stretch my mind. One such blog is written by a professor who typically writes on economic issues. However recently he blogged about taking a class of college students to Italy. He was able to download some pictures and wrote so well about the visit I felt like going out and getting gelato to eat while I read!

It is good to have the internet handy to keep my brain engaged at a slightly different level than my day to day reading. I have almost no time for personal reading right now. I am busy with work and our part time job. KC has decided that although he is only 4 he wants a more active homeschool experience so he has been working on math and "AR" words and "AT" words. Rob has been delving deeper into algebra and the mysteries of negative integers (heavy on the mystery! LOL) And I need to develop a study guide for the book Goodbye Vietnam. I was fairly appalled to see that his English curriculum wanted him to read the book but sort of dropped it there. No followup. Rob needs followup. So that is on my plate as well.

The blog about the Italy trip also made me realize how much more that particular trip offered its participants as opposed to the trip to Mexico that I took with my junior year Spanish class. I was very excited to go. We were originally supposed to be in Mexico City and see ancient ruins, a museum and a lot of cultural things. Then the trip got really expensive and they changed it to a week in Acapulco. OK being 16 and in Acapulco did not lend itself to much in the way of intentional culture. Food, pool and drink it lent itself to. Lots of the latter. After all, we were not supposed to drink the water. (chuckle) There was no really concerted effort to have us do things as a group. We just went off for a week and did our own thing. Mine consisted of walking the beach until i learned that this was where the sewer pipes from the hotel were emptying. Seriously. I remember loving the plants and taking lots and lots and lots of pictures of the foliage.

But I also discovered true inequality in a society on that trip. Our hotel seemed truly palatial to me at 16. I remember there were multiple bars, even ones in the pools which seemed especially decadent. Our rooms were pretty nice and we had a balcony which i adored. But one day when I walked literally just around the corner from the hotel I discovered a dump. Well it looked like a dump. Probably it was in part. But it was also a sort of shanty town. People living among the refuse, taking discarded bits of cardboard, metal if they were lucky, and making a shelter for their families. Cooking mostly happened on little braziers in front of the shelters that they created. I was shocked to my core and distressed even further to find out that some of these people worked in the very hotel that I was staying in. We were also visiting in the rainy season. Every afternoon there were deluges of rain from about 4 p.m. to early evening. I wondered what people did in those hovels in the rain.

I remember feeling very helpless to do anything that would truly help. I decided I could tip a bit more generously when I ordered something at the hotel and I stopped bargaining with any of the vendors who sold the brightly colored pottery that I was collecting. Whatever they said, I paid. I knew it wasn't much and wasn't enough to really make a difference. And oddly enough, because our teacher and chaperone wasn't really a chatty type, I never felt comfortable trying to talk with him about how suddenly sad the whole experience was making me.

However, although I never got to see the ancient ruins, or any museums or the capital city, I guess in a round about way I did get culture shock if nothing else. I got a wake up call on being a "rich" American. (a truly funny label since I know how much we scrimped and saved for that trip) I thought I didn't have a lot of money and compared to my classmates that was true. But I saw the faces of real poverty for the first time and that did change me. To this day, my favorite gifts (other than something handmade for me) are if someone will donate money to heifer project or a relief fund in my honor.

And I have always involved my kids in helping others. When Chet was a middleschooler we helped serve a Thanksgiving dinners to homeless in our city. He and I also worked on the SHARE New England program which helps families to buy food at a reasonable fee. Our present church is now opening a food bank and we will find a way to work there sometimes as a family. We have a change jar in our kitchen. It is one of those that tells you how much money is in it when you put another donation in. The deal is we all add our spare change to it and at the end of the year we decide how the money will best help. One year the kids picked UNICEF, one year they picked the ASPCA. I am not a do-gooder, but I think the best hope for our country's future is to teach compassion, and to realize that even small bits of help and justice work are worthwhile.

1 comment:

Rambleman said...

We 'give' by giving the stuff we no longer need to places that give other's stuff for free to people who can't pay anything.