I have been back in the US for about 2 weeks now. Past fellows, and a very wise adviser and friend, did advise me that I will perhaps have all sorts of interesting feelings to sort through. And that has been the case. It’s hard to articulate how I’ve changed this year, all that I’ve learned, how my perspective on life and what I value have developed in new ways. I know that I will never stop looking for adventures, and never be afraid to just show up somewhere new and have trust that I will make friends and find purpose. I am headed to DC next and working out my options for a job. I am very happy to have a place to move to for a whole year and after lots of moving this past year I am looking forward to nesting.
I also got to meet all the Watson fellows this past weekend and I am still blown away with how awesome and inspiring they all are. It was only 3 days we had together but I feel I now have such an amazing new family! It’s given me a lot to reflect on an process. I’ll share some of my final reflections after I sort through my thoughts and get my final report together. More to come!
So today was an odd day that made me smile in some ways…
It was gray all morning well into the afternoon. So gray you have to have your lights on inside. And at some point I thought, geez this is so depressing, I should capture this Argentina winter moment on camera…
And then seriously less than 20 minutes after taking this photo, the sky looked like THIS!
It was such a hilarious world is mocking you for letting yourself feel the depressing gray. Nope instead sunshine smiles and gray does eventually go away.
The best thing about my Watson experience is that my reflections and learnings come all the time, and most often through just chatting with young people. Today I went with some friends to have afternoon tea in Puerto Madero. It was not any formal kind of meeting, but just an invite from friends. I ended up meeting another guy from here in Argentina and another Mexican friend of theirs.
Their friend from Mexico ended up talking about his work on indigenous peoples and farmers issues in Mexico, and about the many issues Mexico has these days with the borders and drug violence. It’s a pretty overwhelming reality and he spoke about how he had been connecting with youth organizations throughout Mexico working on a variety of issues- human rights, immigration, environmental, etc. It struck me as really positive for Mexico’s future that so many young people across “issue areas” so to say were coming together and supporting one another to ultimately work towards a better future for Mexico.
And that’s when it hit me, I’ve been saying my Watson is focused on environmental issues all year long, and yes in a lot of ways it is, but the label environmental kind of excludes a lot of the important interconnected issues that I’ve seen youth working on this year and I think are equally important and connected to “environmental issues”. Youth working on things like empowering young citizenship and democracy, working on immigration issues, poverty, women’s rights, human rights… working towards a better, more sustainable, future.
For me the connections between environmental issues, poverty, youth empowerment, democracy, human rights, women empowerment are many and when I talk about one, I think and connect to many others. I think it’s the human ecologist in me for sure. And yet what I realized today is that this is not evident to everyone. And I even emailed the Watson folks to say hey, my abstract should not say youth empowerment in “environmental decision-making” but “building a sustainable future”. I think I initially avoided this terminology because it encompasses a lot. And of course over a year ago, when I built this proposal I thought, hmm I can’t sound like an unfocused flake, my passion and experience is environment and youth- keep it somewhat focused. And yet this year keeps bringing me to many youth doing all sorts of things in and out of the traditional concept of “environmental work” They are doing way more then planting trees and are in fact often connecting to work together and on a myriad of issues. And I see it as a really strength to the work of youth and as part of my hope for youth building a better future in all aspects. If we focus too much on issues that get boxed and separated we are going to get stuck.
There are distinctions between many issues, we face in the world today, but we can also find many connections. To me it’s like this: you may say, yes I care about climate change and I am working on that. But if you say you don’t think sexual education and resources in countries to help control population growth isn’t part of your work, well then I’m confused. It may not be the first answer to addressing climate change or the first connection people make, but the rate at which the world is growing is related to our environmental resources and capacity to live happily without depleting all we have and need.
Although we need to focus on tangible projects and changes, we also need to see how our work links together and do more to support one another. Just as youth networks in Mexico are coming together to build a better future for Mexico: networks, different actors, different levels of governance all must work together more, share more information, support each others projects, and empower one another to build a better future.
This past weekend, I traveled with a few friends in Uruguay. It was a lovely time and I hope to post some photos and updates. However, in traveling together Dr. Seuss and his ‘Oh the places you will go!’ came up and my friend Chris had never read the story. I love Dr. Seuss and decided this was something that I had to share in my blog. I read Seuss when I was younger, but my real love and appreciation for his work came when I was in high school and through the SLTP program (www.sltp.info). There Seuss stories were not just rhyming fun, but a way to teach a lesson. And I began to see Seuss, and many kids books, in a whole new light. For me, I love ‘Oh the places you will go!’ because it’s the story of life and adventures- of the ups and the downs- and of hopes and dreams. All too often just a little bit of this work is quoted at graduations and such, but here I wanted to share the full story. Enjoy :-)
Oh! The Places You’ll Go!
by Dr. Seuss
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
You’ll look up and down streets. Look’em over with care. About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.” With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down a not-so-good street.
And you may not find any you’ll want to go down. In that case, of course, you’ll head straight out of town. It’s opener there in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.
Oh! The Places You’ll Go!
You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights.
You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed. You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead. Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t.
I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.
You can get all hung up in a prickle-ly perch. And your gang will fly on. You’ll be left in a Lurch.
You’ll come down from the Lurch with an unpleasant bump. And the chances are, then, that you’ll be in a Slump.
And when you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.
You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?
And if you go in, should you turn left or right…or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite? Or go around back and sneak in from behind? Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find, for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.
You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. Everyone is just waiting.
No! That’s not for you!
Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying. You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing. With banner flip-flapping, once more you’ll ride high! Ready for anything under the sky. Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!
Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all. Fame! You’ll be famous as famous can be, with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.
Except when they don’t. Because, sometimes, they won’t.
I’m afraid that some times you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win ‘cause you’ll play against you.
Whether you like it or not, Alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.
And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some, down the road between hither and yon, that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.
But on you will go though the weather be foul. On you will go though your enemies prowl. On you will go though the Hakken-Kraks howl. Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. On and on you will hike. And I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are.
You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)
Kid, you’ll move mountains!
So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!
Generally when traveling my cultural observations and blog posts center around food and the wonderful people I meet. Today I have something completely different: fashion. I myself have not been fashionable at all this year. In fact, at on point I ended up in a club in Delhi that Bollywood stars go to in my Teva sandals, faded jeans, and old black tank top, but that’s another story. Everywhere I’ve traveled this year has various aspects of differing fashion.
In Istanbul, Turkey, women rocked the most fashionable head scarves I’ve ever seen with bright colors and prints. In India, women somehow manage to wear a single piece of fabric elegantly draped around their body called a sari and still do housework dressed like this. In Holland, women can easily ride around on bicycles even in high heels and a skirt.
Here in Argentina, however, I am completely dumb founded at the fashion trend I am finding… meet what I call the ‘hoof shoe’
They seriously look like goat hooves! Now the shocker is that every day walking around in Buenos Aires, I honestly see at least 20-30 people wearing these types of shoes! And they have these shoes for both men and women. Why someone would want to separate their big toe from the rest of the little ones in their sneaker is beyond me. I ponder this almost every time I am out walking around, that’s how much I see them and are still a bit amazed by the phenomenon.
The funny thing is that since I haven’t been awkwardly taking photos of people’s hoof shoes, I had to look online for a photo. I started my google image search with “hoof shoes”. All sorts of weird but hoof like shoes came up, apparently this style is also catching with boots and flats. But it wasn’t the sneakers I see everywhere. So I instead decided to search for ‘zapatillas (shoes) nike 2011’. Somehow I knew they were nike brand and sure enough the third search image that came up: a pink pair of hoof shoes.
How this is the 2011 shoe phenomenon here baffles me, but it also amuses me greatly.
This is an article I wrote for my university’s (College of the Atlantic) magazine about my trip so far…
Total sensory overload—looming buildings, endless shanty towns, undistinguishable chaotic lines of traffic, delicious new foods and spices, swarming masses of color as thousands of people weave through the city, giant Ganeshas parading town the streets to the beat of drums, and all sorts of smells both good and far less appealing. This was encounter with Mumbai was my first with India and her major cities of Bangalore, Pune, and Delhi this past September as part of my Watson journey. Most people who have been to India understand this mix of chaos and beauty, and also know what I mean when I say there is a wide array of smells. Often, when riding in a rickshaw, I could tell I was about to go by a river just from the foul smell in the air.
Over coffee one evening in Delhi, I began explaining to a few friends my Watson quest- I was in search of young people who are building movements and raising voices on environmental issues in their country. I wanted to understand the challenges that are both unique and similar for youth working on these issues all over the world. And most importantly, I wanted to find success stories that could inspire others as future models of how youth can be empowered to shape their futures and work with decision-makers. After explaining this, a friend insisted I meet a young man named Vimlendu.
On a hot Friday afternoon in Delhi, I made my way to the small office of ‘Swechha- We for Change’ to meet him. The building did not seem like the typical office space, and appeared to be mostly family residences. After accidently walking into a family’s living room, I found their office tucked away half a floor up. Scattered all around the small office were cardboard posters calling for action to clean the Yamuna river.
Vimlendu founded ‘Swechha’ in 2000 because he was horrified by the state of the Yamuna river running through his city and wanted to take action. India has a number of heavily polluted waterways, one of the most polluted is the Yamuna in Delhi. The Yamuna begins hundreds of miles away from the city in the Himalayas, but the river that winds through Delhi is filled with an insurmountable amount of raw sewage, industrial waste, and endless amounts of trash that chokes the flow of the river. Vimlendu told me that a dirty river reflected a dirty society, and he wanted to change that. He explained that in Hindi ‘swechha’ means ‘one’s own free will’ and he understands it as a call for each individual to be and create the changes in the world.
Vimlendu began by mobilizing youth volunteers to help clean up the river and raise awareness about its pollution. They became a voice for the river and utilized theatrical performances, photo exhibits, film, workshops and public meetings in school to educate others. Today, they now bring together over a 1000 people a year to help clean the river and raise awareness of its condition. They have successfully lobbied the local government for larger efforts to clean up the Yamuna river and for policy changes such as fencing bridges over the river to reduce and change the culture of throwing trash directly into the it. Swechha’s programs have expanded to include not only environmental issues, but education, and active citizenship for youth.
What struck me most about Vimlendu, and many of the other youth I have met this year, is the ambition and caring at the heart of their work. Environmental issues unfortunately do not have simple solutions, especially in areas like the sprawling metropolis of Delhi. Despite over a decade of work, the state of the Yamuna river is depressing at best and poses a daunting challenge for anyone. And yet Vimlendu has overcome this challenge and inspired many people to take action and work to revive their river. The Yamuna is far from being clean, but Vimlendu’s organization is working to ensure that a generation is better connected to it—a connection that has given youth a reason to reclaim their river.
For me, Vimlendu’s story is what my Watson journey has been about. It has been about discovering the many, and sometimes diverse, challenges young people face in having a voice in decision-making processes while fighting for a cleaner environment in their futures. And in my journey, I continue to be inspired by their stories of change in spite of these challenges. Traveling through Turkey, India, Belgium, Holland, Peru, and now Argentina, I have seen how culture and government norms shape how youth are empowered on such issues. Holland has a very active national youth council that is supported with funding from the government, but maintains autonomy in designing programs and priorities for those funds. Whereas in Turkey, I found that youth had to fight a deeper level of tokenism. The local government was happy to ‘work’ alongside a youth group, but they seemed more interested in a photo for the press then actually engaging with young people on meaningful service projects.
Despite varying cultures and context, within each country I have found young people transcending norms and challenges to influence and shape environmental based decisions. They are mobilizing and educating others to take action, and even building their own NGOs or businesses that are creating a more sustainable future now and not just waiting for political leaders to make the change. Nearly one in five people, or over 1.2 billion individuals, are between the ages of 15 and 24. It is a generation that will inherit many daunting environmental problems, such as the polluted Yamuna river. The inspiring initiatives and education of youth is therefore essential to a sustainable future. Vimlendu’s story is one of many. My Watson experience has shown me that we can learn from efforts like Vimlendu’s and empower youth to work with government, business, schools, and on their own to create a better future.
Somehow time has flown by and I have become a delinquent in regards to updating this blog. Lots has happened since my last update…
I left Lima, Peru at the end of March. My time there was really excellent and I had meant to update and share more. I saw so many amazing Inca ruins, went to Colca Canyon and saw condors, and enjoyed my time with wonderful people. And got swept up into the political election craze…
Then I landed in Buenos Aires. After lots of bouncing around this year, and at times almost a couple months straight of sleeping in different places, I needed to be grounded a bit for my sanity. So I was lucky and found a beautiful little apartment in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Also being in one place long enough I have been able to take dance classes again! So right now life is good and a bit more balanced.
My Mom also came to visit me in April and the two of us made a trip up to Iguazu waterfalls in the northern part of Argentina along the Brazilian border. It was an amazing trip and having my Mom around to share Buenos Aires’ glorious culture, excellent wine, and live performances, was really wonderful.
At this point, I have a little less than a month and a half left to my journey! This week also happens to be World Environment Week and there are more youth environmental events happening in and around Buenos Aires that I will be checking out. I have been lucky to connect with a few great youth organizations in and around Buenos Aires and continue to have really great conversations with folks here.