Saturday, February 19, 2011

Reconciling with God

I'm not angry at God anymore because this Indian chai was brought into my life...
...And the chai guy who made the creamy, spicy, heaven in my mouth...
...And the fact that I am an English teacher and get to travel the world meeting the neatest people ever (here it happens to be in Nepal)...

I used to be mad at God.

When I was a little younger, I wondered why God wouldn't get me the barbie doll I wanted or why this God wouldn't help me make Senior Nationals for swimming. I mulled over the fact that God decided to make me a not so tall or compellingly attractive person. I wondered why this almighty power couldn't keep my parents together, why this entity decided to make my sister's life so hard, and why this spiritual being couldn't stop children from starving in southeast Asia (I didn't know if this was true, but I always heard adults telling me to eat my food because the "starving children in Southeast Asia" didn't have it so easy).

Now, my anger at God for not paying attention to my needs has vanished. What has replaced this anger is a feeling that in this life, we must not be angry about what we don't have, but be grateful for what we do. Maybe this realization is comical or obvious for some people, but for yours truly, it is a beacon of hope that guides me through this life.

After having lived in Afghanistan for the last five months, my perspective on life has shifted dramatically. Before I arrived in the country, I was a self-centered, "me" focused person. Most of the things that I did were motivated by the idea that they could make my own life better.
I am not denying that, to a degree, everyone should do things that make them happy; that enhance their own lives. But while living in Kabul, I have realized that we cannot only be concerned with how our actions affect our own lives; we should also be aware of how our decisions affect others.

Has God been trying to tell me this all along?

Maybe God made it hard for me to get a barbie so that my mom had more money to pay our bills. It is possible that a higher power wouldn't help me make Senior Nationals for swimming because this entity was sending me a message to work harder; to appreciate my athletic success more deeply? I'm still not sure why God didn't make me taller, but I am thankful that my parents didn't stay together because if they did, I wouldn't have Cheril and her family or Jim and his family in my life now.

As for the bigger problems, like the starving children in southeast Asia, or the wars, genocides, natural disasters, or simply the fate that one is dealt...maybe these things all exist so that we will continue to improve ourselves as individuals, societies, and as a global population. If there was an absence of problems in our lives, then what would we strive for?

I once was angry with God. I mistrusted what the idea of a higher power represented; I saw the act of worshiping God as futile; as something that would lead to unfulfilled hopes. Now, I know that I was foolish to think these things.

I haven't suddenly found a certain religion, or been saved or anything like that. I have just realized that life is hard to explain, and believing that there is a higher power helping to show us that there is more to our waking moments than helping ourselves, puts things into perspective.

For example...
Each day I wonder why I am such a lucky person.
Why am I not a poor Afghan child selling chewing gum on the street?
Why am I not a Chinese factory girl, sewing the seams on to Nike shoes for less than a dollar a day?
Why have I been born into my life of constant privilege instead of being born into a yurt with no electricity or running water on a Mongolian plain somewhere?
Why has it taken me this long to ask these questions?

It may be silly to mention that this next quote comes from a book called, Eat, Pray, Love, but it does. Although this book is about one woman's pursuit to find her spiritual balance, while reading it, I realized that her life is my own turned inside out. And if her life is my life its your life too. We all can find pieces of ourselves in each other and this book helped me recognize that. This is one of the most important points that Ms. Gilbert, the author, mentions:

"God lives within you, as you."

What this means to me is that God has made you the person you are for a reason. Among other things, I am an American English teacher because I have the earthly ability to teach and learn from people. I'm God's educational tool and I respect that. And although I can't answer the very hard, sometimes disheartening and infuriating philosophical questions, at least I know this:

I used to be angry at God.
Now, I am happy that God didn't get angry at me for being angry at him, and that he let me experience the bliss that is "special street chai" in India.
Thanks God.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Respect them…then eat their brains

Do you want some more brain curry? The lovely lady behind me does...
Old Delhi. I was too focused on smiling to actually get a picture of the howler monkeys. But they were there...
They are not dead, just well-fed.

As my friend Piyush and I emerged from the metro into the hazy New Delhi afternoon, I noticed a family of howler monkeys bounding along the power lines above the market. Thinking they were absolutely precious, I smiled and said, "Piyush, look! Monkeys!" Unexpectedly, Piyush let out a nervous laugh and said, "Don't worry, they won't hurt you...just SMILE." I said that I wasn't afraid, just excited to see monkeys. He stopped me mid-sentence and reminded me not to look them in the eyes. I glanced around and noticed that almost everyone was smiling as they passed under the howler monkeys. Did they know something I didn't? I wasn't about to find out, so I grinned and carried a healthy dose of fear with me as I silently tip-toed under the monkeys, hoping they didn't decide to sling something not so clean at me...

Although I had already been around for a day before the howler monkey episode, I felt like this was my true welcome to one of the most charming cities I have ever been to, hands down. If ever there was a destination where the people, animals, nature, architecture, and traffic were in perfect harmony while at the same time chaotic, this is the place. Tons of people intermingle with free roaming and well-fed street animals (and scary howler monkeys). I have decided that if I were to travel the path of reincarnation after this life ends, I'd like to come back to the world as a street animal (not a howler monkey...although they do get a lot of respect). It wouldn't be so bad to be a gentle and fat vegetarian canine, lazing about in the streets and on the sidewalks soaking up the sun.

The respect of animals here extends to everything on four legs. Even the cows and boars enjoy the kind and gentle hearts of the Indian people. Basically these animals, which would be caged and mistreated, then eaten, in the United States, rummage through the trash and discarded foodstuff of the city. Watching them, I couldn't help but wonder, is trash-fed beef which is free-range as healthy as grass fed beef?

As I was running a mile through the smoggy morning dew with my Himalaya Crossfit friends and pondering this conundrum, I crashed straight into a herd...uh...gaggle...maybe they could be considered a stampede...of pigs chowing down on last night's leftovers. Those pigs were so content that they barely even noticed me almost half-run into them as I tried to avoid getting run over by a motorcycle rickshaw. Silly pigs.

...But when the animals aren't roaming freely, the non-vegetarians of the city are eating their brains.

Yes, I said brains.

Today at lunch, Piyush took me to Karim's in Old Delhi, one of Time magazine's "Best Restaurants in Asia." I could tell this was a well-known place as it was bursting at the seams with foreigners and Indians alike. Excited for the curries, I decided I'd let my local pal choose; any Indian food seemed good to me. When Piyush asked me if I'd like kidneys, I half thought he was joking and said no.

He then mentioned that the brain curry was spectacular. Hesitant, but open to new culinary experiences, I asked him what it tasted like. He told me it was tender and chewy and that, "...eating soft tissue makes you smarter." Being as though I am sometimes the dullest tool in the shed, I agreed to try it. The best part of lunch was every time I took a bite of the tender vittles Piyush would ask, "Do you want some more brain curry?"

I may not have said yes to more helpings of the special curry, but I can tell you this much; I feel smarter already.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Drop by Drop

The future teachers of Afghanistan!
One of my favorite "drops in the river;" a student receiving a certificate of completion at one of my courses.
More quality "drops..."

Some people are considered hopeless romantics. They go around wishing for silly things to occur like love at first sight, tulips to bloom in winter, music to actually burst through the sky to accompany them on their everyday tasks, and for world peace to blanket the globe. These people are considered romantics because all of these things could probably only happen in an ideal alter reality; they are considered hopeless because this reality may never occur. I am here to tell you, that if ever there was a time for hopeless romantics to grasp on to their otherwise defined as "idealistic notions," it is now.

Admittedly, I am one of these people. Lately I feel as though it is an appropriate time to explain why my chosen point of view is not hopeless, but HOPEFUL. Yes I am an idealist. Yes I believe that one person can be the catalyst for bigger things to happen. Many times people have told me, "it is so nice to be optimistic all of the time, but you are just one person and one person cannot change anything." Obviously, these people are not idealists. Obviously, they haven't read the news lately (Re: Egypt) or met my students in Kabul. Let me elaborate.

First off, hopeless romanticism (reckless idealism?) has just caused one of the longest standing Arab regimes to fall. If you hadn't noticed, President Mubarak of Egypt just stepped down because of mass protest by the people of Egypt. I'd like to wager a bet that all of those people didn't show up in Tahrir square 18 days ago because of a coincidence. No, I would presume that one person started a discussion with another person a few years back about how much they were dissatisfied with the oppressive regime. This discussion spread to many other people and, what do you know...a regime has now fallen.

Second, I get to work with the youth of Afghanistan, teachers in training, everyday. Amidst all of the governmental corruption, poverty, and war, my students show me daily how brightness can emerge from these desolate times. Not only do they discuss a future devoid of war and violence, but they do something about it. They are teaching their students how to be better people; they are eradicating the most destructive weapon in all of this country, illiteracy. All of my students know that they can't change the state of their country immediately. But what they do know is that by educating the people, one by one, they are building a better nation.

So what do the Egyptian people and my students have in common?

Not only do they both weave idealism into their world view, they know that one person can change things. This is how it happens, one person has a hopelessly romantic dream of a different reality, then they tell another person. The other person passes this idea on and then it moves through a population in this fashion. Pretty soon, a bunch of people believe in this once hopeless idea and it becomes a reality. It is that easy.

Last week, before I knew that the regime in Egypt would fall, I learned an Afghan proverb; it immediately became my favorite. It goes like this:

"Qatra, qatra darya mesha."
Drop by drop, a river is made.

Of course, this applies to both Egypt and Afghanistan. Twenty days ago nobody would have thought that President Mubarak would be out of office within the month. Now, because the people, who are all just drops in a huge river of humanity, have come together to protest his unforgiving regime, he is out.

Just like the Egyptian people, my students are drops in the river too. Little by little they are creating a mass movement; an educated populace that will eventually refuse to be ruled by warlords and a corrupt government. This educated populace will understand that religious fanaticism is not part of the Koran, and that Afghanistan can be both an Islamic and Democratic state. They will also realize that they are all Afghans, and that creating division among different nationalities is futile while trying to unite a people and build a stable country.

As I mentioned before, some people are considered hopeless romantics. They go around spreading their idealism like it is the cure for any ailment; a corrupt government, widespread poverty, war, insolence, and tulips not blooming in winter. The irony in this label is that these people are the drops in the river of change. They are romantic yes. As for hopeless, this is a misnomer placed on them by people who do not believe in the power of dreams. Because they (the unromantic) are hopeless.

We, on the other hand, believe that drop by drop, a river is made. So, the hopeless romantics carry on putting drops in the river wishing one day, that seemingly insignificant trickle may become a raging and powerful force to be reckoned with.

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