Thursday, July 12, 2012

Garden of Eden - In The Beginning

In her novel Crescent, Diana Abu-Jaber writes, "When we leave our home, we fall in love with our sadness." When I read that, my heart knew very much what it meant, and that was a resonating point in some life decisions that followed. // As most of you know, Jonas & I are having a son in October. This little bundle of joy was an unexpected blessing and we can't wait to meet him, but he also threw off some previous plans. I've been out of school for about a year and half now, and have decided to go back and finish a degree in Middle Eastern Studies. This is a choice full of history and meaning for me and one that I am already getting some questions about from friends and family, so I've decided to write a 5 part series (because I'm just that serious about it :)) explaining what I'm up to.

Again, most of you know that I grew up in Central Asia, where my parents were missionaries. We spent 13 years in Western China, in a province with a large Muslim culture and community. For several years, we lived a few miles from the border of China and Pakistan. Most people conjure up images of rice patties and pandas when they think of China (including me, at times), but I just wanted to explain that despite being in China, Middle Eastern culture actually played a huge role in my childhood and that can fairly be put as where this all started. It wasn't really until after I moved back to the United States at 16 that consuming sadness for "home" started to become dear to me and I began to focus on what I had left behind. I'll write more about my vision in all of this in the next installment, but for now I'm going to detail 3 specific incidents that strongly pointed me in direction I'm now headed. 

My husband (then-boyfriend) Jonas and I took a geology class together several years ago and went on a week-long field trip through the Californian desserts & Sierra mountains with our constantly high (?!) professor. Good times. But anyway, on the way home, we stopped by Camp Manzanar, which is now a museum which stands on the grounds of what was essentially an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War 2. I remember reading a story about this part of American history in grade school, but kind of forgot about it until this trip. Honestly, hardly anyone talks about this incident and it seems to me that very few people are even aware of it. Walking through the museum and seeing photos and hearing stories about how unfairly we treated our own citizens because of something people from their countries of heritage  did really struck me and it's been important to me ever since. Some of my extended family was involved in sending Japanese-Americans to camps, so it's extra tied up in my heart. I know this may not seem obviously related to the Middle East, but when I see some of what's going on in our country today as far as general sentiment toward people of Middle Eastern descent, this other piece of American comes quickly to the forefront of my mind.

A second thing that really motivated me dive into Middle Eastern Studies was a conversation with my husband, probably about travel. He said something to the affect of being interested or feeling excitement or inspiration from most parts of the globe, but had no real draw to the Middle East. There's nothing wrong with that, but it awakened something in me that now wants desperately to share all that I love and find fascinating and beautiful about that region of the world. Small, but powerful.

Finally, something some of you have probably heard about if you've spent any amount of face-to-face time with me in the past several months. I listen to a lot of podcast, including "the show for people who love to eat," The Splendid Table. Several months ago, the host interviewed a guy from this little project called Conflict Kitchen. Basically, this art professor (can you tell, I love this?) decided to open a little take-out stand that only serves cuisine from countries that the U.S. is in conflict with. Bloody brilliant, and I'm so bummed we don't have this on the West coast yet. In time, my chickadees, I may just open one myself. Anyway, they serve this delicious food, wrapped in custom paper printed with interviews with people of the country whose food they're serving. They cover a range of topics - not just politics that have to do with America and said country.

The reasons I go gaga for this are a) I love ethnic food and b) to me, this is what our culture needs in terms of international relations; grassroots re-education and evaluation of other cultures; a lens through which to realize that the people of countries that you may or may not agree with politically are  human, just like you and I. This is not a save-the-world approach, but something that's doable in our own home-towns, and frankly, I think that's where change should start. I realize that this sort of idea doesn't exactly affect foreign policy or bring down dictators or any number of very important things. But what I think it CAN begin to do is change the hearts and minds of every day people, who - I'll be darned - just may grow up to lead our nation and have great sway with other nations.

So, there you have the beginnings. I do hope you'll stick around for subsequent installments. I realize that these issues are ultra important to me because they're MY convictions, but I totally believe that some of the points I'm going to bring up are something YOU should be greatly concerned with as well. {all photos via here}

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know you had a blog! Very intersting to read and I intend to return and read more. It doesn't seem to have a follow button:((

    - Mary T


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