I have always thought that in order to reach a goal, you must know what goal you are chasing. On the plane, bound from Houston, I struggled to define what success of the trip would be for me. I knew a few of the parameters that would make the trip a success: the group growing closer, each member becoming more globally aware, the easily expected stuff….but talks with past ambassadors assured me that I was only scraping the top of the iceberg. It was so frustrating because I wanted to prepare myself for what would come, but it seemed impossible. I settled on the idea that we would mostly be participating in service-like projects, and would learn most things through that work. This mindset lingered in the back of my mind during the first few days in country, and surfaced when we learned that we would be “mowing” the grass in front of the school in Piscina. “Yes” I thought, “now we will get down to business!” That mindset lasted about as long as it took us to find out that the field that we were inefficiently hacking away at with machetes, could be cut by a single Honduran in an hour. One Honduran could accomplish in an hour what it would have taken 15 of us several hours to complete. This really changed my whole outlook on the trip. We could “help” the villagers with any of their day-to-day activities about as effectively as they could help us write English papers, hardly at all that is. Suddenly, I came to the full realization that we would benefit most by learning from the villages, not by serving them. I am extremely grateful that I reached this conclusion early in the trip because it made the rest of my experiences in the country so much richer. It is near impossible to truly explain to people how much I learned by milking cows, chopping firewood, hauling trees, pumping water, and giving away my watch. But, experiencing these things has given me an entirely new outlook on my priorities, attitude, and goals.
When rehashing our trip, the activity that always arises is the hike. But “hike” never seems quite adequate to describe the 6 hour journey that we took through the mud soaked Patucah mountains. Beginning in the village of Cola de Cajon, the trek through the rain soaked hills was almost as long and arduous as we had anticipated. Fortunately however, the huffing and puffing was regularly broken up by fits of laughter and deep conversations. It was very entertaining to see the group members in such a foreign environment. I can still see the post-card worthy cloud covered mountains and hear the crazy conversations we had along the way.
The hike wasn’t made memorable just because of the distance, time, rain, mud, donkey accomplice (named squirrel), breathtaking views, hilarious falls, or even the”Dragon’s Toilet” section of knee high mud and “caca.” The hike was, in my mind, so memorable because it was the final leg of an amazing journey that brought us to the village of Piscina. The journey began in my dorm, much too close to the Readership essay deadline, and took over 5 months to complete. It contained a notorious plane landing in Tegucigalpa, hundreds (that might be an exaggeration) of miles spent in rental vans along the bumpiest roads ever carved, hours perched upon life jacket seat cushions in a log canoe piloted by Carlos (our .22 wielding, iguana slaying, wandering eye canoe captain), and our first night spent on the concrete floor of a one room mountain church. The hike was the culmination of all these legs of the journey. I do not believe I have ever worked so hard, or invested so much time in order to reach a physical destination, nor have I ever reached such a destination that was as fulfilling as Piscina. The harder you work, the sweeter the victory.
Uncle Ben said “With great power comes great responsibility.” This superhero adage is never truer than its application in the international clothing industry. In class we discussed where and how a business draws the line between cheap labor and exploitation, between profit and ethics. From the business perspective, these questions are extremely hard to even define, let alone answer. A business is a machine, designed to produce at the lowest cost and distribute with the greatest profit. A machine has no ethics, no moral code, no way to distinguish between a sneaker produced by a child in a sweatshop in China and a sneaker hand stitched by a clothier in Pennsylvania. Profit margin is the only gauge by which a company measures its success. The consumer, therefore, is responsible for providing the human element in the textile equation. In a free market economy; we, the consumers, hold every ounce of power in our Paypal accounts. We are responsible for defining and enforcing the laws that govern the production of our goods. We police the industry by purchasing from companies that use production techniques that we define as ethical, and not purchasing from companies who we deem unethical. This is a charge that I was only acutely aware of having before reading “Where Am I Wearing?” Even after finishing the book and realizing the responsibility that we have to police the garment industry, I still find myself questioning how much more am I really willing to pay for a product that is guaranteed to be produced ethically? I am hoping that interacting with the factories in person will help me answer this question. Regardless of the answer that I discover, I am convinced that the consumers are responsible for where the companies draw their lines.
On another note, I am thrilled with how the class is going. I thought the presentations were exceptional and enjoyed seeing everyone in a more traditional “classroom” environment. 6 days and counting!!!
It’s odd how some of the smallest instances of question highlight the presence of a deep problem. Last week, Kelsey mentioned that he is often judged while abroad by the color of his skin, the language he speaks and the country he is from. Though this is a fairly major offense, it is understandable that people who have limited encounters with American’s will automatically characterize them all similarly. But it made me think about if, shortly followed by how, and why we categorize people in the US.
Public racism in the US is, for the most part, a thing of the past. Yet private judgment based on an individual’s appearance is rampant. They must be good at basketball, or they are probably smart, or they are most likely from the Northeast seem fairly harmless. But assumptions such as these underline a more significant truth; that after only a glance at someone, we categorize them according to their outward features. The line between quizzical assumption and derogatory judgment is extremely fine.
Since coming to this realization, I have bee acutely aware of my judgment on others, and have been severely disappointed in my findings. Walking to class, I have found myself making assumptions about pretty much everyone I encounter. Though it causes no physical harm to assume things about an individual based on their greek t-shirt, sweat pants, cowboy hat, or shoes – how different are these thoughts from more serious ones? Being tall and having an accent does not make me a hick who played basketball. Being white and speaking English does not make an American rich and gluttonous. Hondurans have limited exposure to those they categorize…what’s our excuse? I have come to realize the seriousness of any assumption, and am striving to cease such behavior. I am sure that traveling to Honduras will only reinforce my resolve to take people as themselves, without any preconceived bias.
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” -Romans 2:1
Change is ambiguous. It cannot be predicted, quantified or prevented. As a child, these components of change made me despise it. Why was it necessary to move to the next grade, change schools, and switch teachers? Why couldn’t I just play coach pitch baseball until I get to high school? I just couldn’t see the benefit of diverging from what was known and embracing what was not….Man, has my perspective changed over the past 15 years!! I now appreciate change for what it is: a tool to further understanding, acquire new skills, and experience life. This is the perspective that I have regarding our trip to Honduras. I have seen how, in only 6 hours spent together, our group is already changing. I mean, we are going to be spending that much time together in a hollowed out tree trunk floating down a Honduran river! We are forming relationships and becoming comfortable around each other. I can’t wait to see where we are as a unit by the time the trip rolls around, and how much closer we will be after we return.
Similarly, I am very interested to see how I will change personally during the course of the Readership experience. Past ambassadors have engrained in us the idea of a cataclysmic transformation. Their experiences have produced much more than a change in the way a particular topic or country is viewed. Their experiences have seemed to morph their views on the entire world. I am anxious to see how our trip and will affect us. I know not the destination, only that I am speeding towards it.
PS- The hiking trip was a HUGE success, I am super pumped about the chemistry we have as a group and am so excited to leave!!! The members of our group are quickly becoming my favorite people to spend time with; I’m sure this feeling will only increase as time progresses.
“It doesn’t matter where you are, you are nowhere compared to where you can go.”
Two classes down and pumped does not begin to describe how excited I am to leave for Honduras! Every week, the trip creeps more into the realm of reality. I am probably being a bit overconfident, but I have very little anxiety about the traveling aspect of the trip. Going overseas is going to be so cool, I have never left our little southern corner of the United States, let alone the country!!! The location will be awesome, and I am honestly looking forward to the whole “roughing it” thing (this might be due to an addiction to “Man vs Wild”).
As far as the emotional side of the trip, stories from past ambassadors have really left me with some high expectations. I feel like, for the most part, I have things pretty well together in my life. I have a strong faith, an awesome family, a great group of friends and a good job. I work hard in my classes and know where I want to go in life…..But I wonder sometimes if I am missing something along the way. I really hope that traveling to Honduras- experiencing complete immersion in a foreign culture- will allow me to see the “Big Picture.” I am so blessed to have been given such an amazing opportunity and I intend to show my gratitude by making the most of it.
“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”