Dec ’16 Update
Hello family, both biological and chosen!
I hope this update finds you healthy and happy, with your 2016 wrapping up smoothly and the holidays providing the opportunity to spend treasured time with your loved ones. A small road bump aside, the past five months following my last update have been really good to me – a lot, as always, to be grateful for.
As usual, no pressure to read the following update. Rather, these updates are a manifestation of my desire to maintain better contact with the meaningful relationships of my life (you), and spark and invigorate past conservations and relationships left dormant. As such, I would sincerely love to hear from you in how recent months have treated you; in doing so, please do not feel intimidated by the length of the following update – even a few sentences regarding how your life has developed in recent months is welcomed and treasured. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Change of Plans
Last I wrote, I was packing for my impending departure to Nicaragua to serve with the Peace Corps. Unfortunately, the day before leaving for Nicaragua, and after already having flown to Houston for my pre-departure briefings, I was informed that my medical clearance had been revoked due to the arm fracture I had sustained in early June (in conjunction with a number of miscommunications along the way). While initially bummed, an invitation in the following week to serve in a different program for the Peace Corps in Nicaragua was successful in filling the void and uncertainty regarding the plans for my immediate future. I’m now scheduled to leave for Nicaragua at the end of February to begin my service with the Peace Corps.
This change of plans led to a significant change of pace in my life that, while unexpected, has been much appreciated. Having left directly from the completion of my undergraduate degree to a few months of constant travel through South America, the opportunity to spend a number of months at home empowered me to slow down and focus my attention on a number of areas I have all too often found easy to neglect in the past:
Having already said my final goodbye to my parents for the coming two years at the airport on my way, I thought, to Nicaragua, I returned home with a reified and intensified appreciation for the time I was given to spend with them, and have really enjoyed the opportunity to enjoy intentional and sincere time with them. I was also given the opportunity to visit family members out of state, family time I found to be immensely rewarding and fulfilling.
The unexpected time at home also afforded me the opportunity to invigorate my study for the LSAT, the admissions exam required to enroll in Law School. I had been planning on continuing my study of the LSAT while in Nicaragua, and scheduling a visit home in the coming years around the administration of the exam; in retrospect, it was a deficient plan for a number of reasons, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to dedicate the time and energy I wanted to towards preparation for the exam. I took the exam on December 3rd, and felt that it went well overall. I am expecting to receive my score anytime in the coming days – fingers crossed!
Finally, it has been really nice to allocate a lot of serious time towards personal development: cognitive, via reading; spiritual, via yoga and meditation; and health, via diet and calisthenic exercises. In the process, I have been able to finish a dozen or so books that have been patiently waiting on my reading list for years as well as make noticeable progress in my daily yoga and meditation practices, progress in both respects that has been very fulfilling and rewarding.
During this interim, I had the opportunity to travel to Standing Rock in North Dakota to stand in solidarity with the indigenous water protectors fighting for their sovereign rights to clean water and the life it gives and against the Dakota Access Pipeline. It was one of the most moving and powerful opportunities I have had the privilege to experience.
In September, I made the 900 mile journey to Standing Rock, accompanied by a close friend and towing a Uhaul filled with 1,000+ pounds of supplies collected by a Greenpeace donation drive; these donations ranged from sleeping bags and tents, to canned food and vegetables, to art supplies and materials for the school organized for the children living in the camp.
We were welcomed with open arms and open hearts from the moment we arrived. Upon entering the camp, we were quickly surrounded by volunteers to help unload the contents of the Uhaul, and afterwards were invited to camp at a section of the Oceti Sakowin Camp (the main camp at Standing Rock, at times home to thousands of Water Protectors) colloquially known as “Cali Camp”, led by the Hoopa tribe from what is now called Northern California, and accompanied by tribes from across western Turtle Island. I filled my days serving in whatever capacity I could: chopping and distributing wood, organizing the kitchen and foodstuffs, washing dishes and cleaning more generally, setting up and tearing down camps, and the like. These activities were filled with thought provoking, uplifting, and educational discussions with others at the camp. Each night, before dinner, members of the Cali camp ranging from 20-100 in number would join in a heartfelt prayer circle: one by one, we would each introduce ourselves, explain why we were at Standing Rock, and share anything else that felt right. It was a moving practice, and, combined with a shared resonance in the value of social justice that pervaded the camps as well as the daily volunteer work alongside one another, helped to foster a tremendous sense of community, one that I have never experienced before. After dinner, I would talk with people around the fire and drum circles into the early hours of the night.
While my interest in traveling to Standing Rock was initially motivated by my desire to support the social and environmental justice activism there, my purpose and direction rapidly evolved. The opportunity to learn from and appreciate the tremendous knowledge and culture of the First Americans in such an intimate way was life changing. The discussions I shared throughout my days at Standing Rock changed me, and I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to have humbly served in the camp. I sincerely believe Standing Rock is a model for creating a just and sustainable society, and that it has a the medicine our society so desperately needs to heal.
On October 18, Donald Trump hosted a rally in my home town of Grand Junction, CO. The rally occurred shortly after the video leak of his intensely misogynistic and repulsive comments bragging of his ability to sexually assault women without consequence. With this backdrop, I decided to protest at the rally with the messaging #GOPHandsOffWomyn and #EndWhiteMaleSilence.
It was a very difficult and sad space to be in. The people in front of me in line to enter the rally wore shirts reading “Black Guns Matter” emblazoned above the image of a black AK-47; the security guard who patted us down after passing through the metal detectors praised the shirts, saying (perhaps not verbatim, but close enough to quote) “I’m not supposed to say this, but I really, really like your shirts. No, seriously, I really like them.” The racist, misogynistic, chauvinistic, nativist, Islamaphobic, and overwhelmingly prejudicial chants and conversations I heard throughout the hours spent in line and waiting for Trump’s arrival were as upsetting as they were devastating.
Unfortunately, we were apprehended by secret service as soon as we began our chant – “Sexist men in the GOP, Donald Trump doesn’t speak for me.” In the kerfuffle that followed I was tackled to the ground and kicked, and then escorted by members of the secret service through the crowd and their verbal attacks as Donald Trump explained to all of his supporters that we had been given $1,500 dollars and an iPhone by the DNC to protest – ha!
However, I left feeling nothing but compassion and love for each person there. Despite hearing so much hate from many of the rally’s participants, I was struck by the humanity of everyone there. Rather than being driven by hate, it felt like the majority were driven by a frustration at not being heard – at being shut up and locked out of the system, a system that they (accurately) believe is not working for them. And unfortunately, it is understandable that the prejudicial and hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump resonates with so many.
I’m convinced – Love, Compassion, and Truth is the answer to the hateful insurgence led by Trump; not more hate. It is easy to point fingers and criticize others for supporting Trump; it is more difficult to listen and empathize – and yet, I strongly believe that is the only path towards a just and sustainable future.
A picture taken from the Daily Sentinel, western Colorado’s main newspaper.
With the understanding that the time leading up to my February departure may be some of the last time I will be able to spend at length with my parents, they invited me to join them on a final family vacation. After much discussion (and lobbying on my part – ha!), we decided to visit the Middle East, a region none of us had had the opportunity to experience, and a region we were all interested in learning more about.
The day after taking the LSAT, my parents and I boarded a plane en route to Cairo, Egypt. After a long day and night of travel, we arrived in Cairo late the next night and hopped in a shuttle to our hotel in Giza, which has been consumed by the sprawling metropolis of Cairo. Traffic was horrendous; our driver laughed, explaining that there was no such thing as rush hour in Cairo, but rush days; on work days, the whole day through the night, the streets are constipated with traffic. Cairo is one of the largest cities in the world, and I surmise the viscous nature of the traffic is the inevitable consequence of cramming over 20 million people into an urban center constrained by the city planning of centuries (if not millennia) past.
Each day in Egypt was breathtaking, humbling, and awe inspiring. We spent the first in Giza, visiting the great Pyramids, the Sphinx, and the Egyptian Museum, home to ~120,000 thousand ancient artifacts including mummies, sarcophagi, and countless other treasures. The next day we began our tour down the nile visiting ancient temples including Abu Simbel, Karnak, the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Philae, Kom Obmu, Edfu, and the Valley of the Kings. While I had anticipated being most moved by the majesty of the pyramids, I found myself most mesmerized and impressed with the scale, detail, and preservation of temples over three millennia old, which in some cases look like they could have been constructed only a few centuries ago. The preservation of these sites is superior to anything that I could have imagined.
We spent the final day of our Egypt trip in Cairo. Here, we visited some of the oldest and most important/influential mosques in the world. We also had the opportunity to visit Tahrir Square, an Arabic word that translates to Freedom, which served as the focal point for the Arab Spring revolution that overthrew the military controlled dictatorial regime of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. After having read and watched so much about this square, it was powerful to see it in person. The tangibility of the square, combined with my discussions with Egyptians across the country regarding the Egyptian revolution and the status of the country since then, transformed my understanding of the Egyptian revolution from one of theoretical and abstract significance to one reified with both the potentiality of post-modern revolutions and their real world impacts on people and the planet.
The Egyptian people were incredible, and I relished the opportunity to engage with and explore the predominant influences of Arabic and Islam within their culture. Up until this point, I have had limited exposure to these shades of the human experience (my time spent in Istanbul was fleeting, and my Indian experience was largely constrained within circles influenced primarily by Hinduism, despite the significant role Islam plays in the country), and really appreciated the insights and lessons gained throughout. If my travels have taught me anything, it is of the unity of all humanity; despite the fear mongering regarding the purported radical cultural differences promulgated by mainstream western media, people are people, and are largely fueled by the same hopes, dreams, and desires. I find the complexity of the Arabic language poetic, and the foundations of Islam to be beautiful, humbling, and thought provoking.
It was heart-wrenching to see the devastating state of Egypt’s economy and its impact on the Egyptian people. Five years ago, the Egyptian pound was worth ~$6; today, its comparative value is closer to ~$19. This dramatic devolution is largely the result of tourism’s precipitous decline in recent years due to individuals of the global north feeling insecure and uncomfortable with traveling to this region. From my experiences traveling in Egypt, I feel these fears to be more rooted in myth than in fact; I was never concerned for my safety while in Egypt, and often felt more secure than I do in the United States. Egypt’s tremendous history and international influence are perhaps second to none, and the opportunity to explore this country with my parents is a memory I will forever cherish.
Following our week of travel in Egypt, we flew to Israel/Palestine. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is something I have become increasingly passionate about in the last year, and I was eager and grateful for the opportunity to explore the dimensions of the conflict first hand. I formatted our trip’s itinerary with the hopes of gaining a more balanced and nuanced perspective of the issue (by spending the first half of our tour with an Israeli guide in Israel, and the second half of our tour with Palestinian guides in Palestine), concerned that my perspective was perhaps overly biased against Israel and in favor of Palestine, and wanting to further educate myself on the issue before becoming a more vocal advocate. However, my experiences in the countries only served to emphasize my original point of view through underlining the severity with which the Israeli state oppresses and violates the human rights of Palestinian people every day. The status quo in Palestine today makes Apartheid South Africa look like a welcome advancement towards justice. In fact, I am not aware of a more egregious violation of human rights the world over that is not only condoned but actually supported and legitimized by the western zeitgeist.
(Unfortunately) a full narrative describing the historical and present conflict between Israel and Palestine is out of the scope of this update. That being said, I’ll do my best to summarize my experiences without overly inundating you with facts. However, if the following discussion is of further interest, I shared a number of photos with brief commentaries on my Facebook, which can be viewed here, and am otherwise very interested in speaking about this issue with you.
We spent the beginning days of our time in Israel/Palestine touring around the land that, with the exception of the Golan Heights (land which Israel illegally occupied in 1967 and that international law still considers to be Syrian territory), is deemed by the International community as legally belonging to Israel. It is land that Israel captured following their operations of Ethnic Cleansing targeting the indigenous Palestinian population throughout 1947 and 1948 with the purpose of forming an Arab-free Jewish state. Our tour guide for these days was a wonderful Israeli citizen, who along the way shared with us prominent religious sites including the Mount of the Beatitudes, believed to be the location where Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount, and Capernaum, the village where Jesus is believed to have lived in the three years he spent around the Sea of Galilee growing his following and performing many of his most famous miracles.
Next, we spent two days in Jerusalem touring the Old City, which served as a transition between the first half (centered on the Israeli perspective) and second half (focused on the Palestinian perspective) of our trip. The old city of Jerusalem is home to a number of sites of central significance to the Abrahamic religions, including:
The Western/Wailing Wall, which today is the holiest site for prayer for the Jewish faith and believed to surround the historic Temple Mount built around what Jews believe to be the center of the Universe and where God created Adam.
The Church of the Sepulcher, which contains the two holiest sites in Christianity: Golgotha, the site where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, and Jesus’s empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected.
The Dome of the Rock, one of the three holiest sites of the Islamic faith, where the prophet Mohammed is believed to have ascended into heaven to speak with past prophets (Jesus, Moses, etc.) and receive direct instructions from God.
We spent our first day in Jerusalem with a progressive, yet more mainstream Israeli guide, and the second with an Israeli guide with a more critical perspective of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The old city of Jerusalem is one of the most significant sources of conflict within Israel and the Middle East as a whole. Like the Golan Heights, Israel illegally occupied it in 1967 following the six-day war. Their continued military occupation of the old city, combined with their expansion of illegal settlements throughout Eastern Jerusalem, is irreconcilable with the government’s stated commitment to developing a “two state solution” whereby the Palestinian people would be liberated and given freedom through the establishment of an autonomous and viable state of Palestine.
We spent the remainder of our trip in the West Bank, living with a wonderful Palestinian homestay in Bethlehem and touring around the various Palestinian cities and illegal Israeli settlements, all of which the International community considers to be Palestine despite Israel’s military occupation of this territory since 1967.
Every day I was stunned and devastated by the scope and severity of the military occupation: canisters of tear gas and rubber bullets littering the streets of refugee camps where the children play; segregation and discrimination so severe that Palestinians are forbidden to use the same roads as their Israeli counterparts; massive separation walls larger than the Berlin Wall ripping through Palestinian cities, constraining and suffocating Palestinians within small Bantustans alienated from their ancestral farm land; the omnipresent presence of Israeli soldiers carrying automatic machine guns in the streets – soldiers who make the draconian practice of racial profiling and Stop and Frisk in the United States look benign; the once wealthy and independent Bedouin communities now ghettoized and impoverished beyond imagination. The disparity between the Palestinian cities and illegal Israeli settlements can be likened to the setting of the book/movie Hunger Games between the wealthy Capitol and the impoverished and oppressed surrounding districts under military occupation. The descriptions above only scratch the surface, and combined with the countless other ‘security’ measures enforced on the Palestinians daily, serve to dramatically dehumanize the peaceful communities that have called this land home for millennia.
Israel’s continued expansion and escalation of its military occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people will continue, unabated, as long as the US maintains its carte blanche support of the Israeli regime. These human rights abuses, like those in Apartheid South Africa, will only come to an end through the international community, of which the United States must be a party, alienating Israel as a pariah state until they end the occupation and free Palestine. That being said, those of us who are American provide the greatest hope to the Palestinian people in their unceasing struggle for liberation. This support begins with sharing the atrocities being committed by the Israeli state on the Palestinian people throughout your network, and must be strengthened and reified through practicing and advocating for the international Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) campaign against the Israeli occupation – click here to learn more about BDS and how you can help.
Until Next Time
Thanks for taking the time to read/skim this update. As articulated above, the central purpose of these updates is to maintain contact with each of you, and as such, I’d love to hear from you!! As always, I will plan on sending out my next update in ~3 months.
Love and Light,