Wednesday, July 30, 2008

am I "other"?

I´ve spent the last couple of days walking around Berlin. I´ve gone to both the J├╝disches Museum Berlin and The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

I left both the Jewish Museum and the Memorial feeling absolutely "other-ed".

The Memorial has one timeline of the persecution of Jews and the rise of Hitler and then has a series of rooms full of personal items, personal stories, and photographs. I imagine that the curator was trying to bring home that the absolutely inconceivable number of 6,000,000 is composed of real life individuals, who did normal things like eat dinner (dinner plates shown) and brush their hair (hair brush shown) and care about their children (photographs of children shown). I felt like the memorial was trying to convince its visitors that indeed, the Jews murdered were indeed people, to whom the visitors could relate. I feel that this is a worthy and understandable exercise, however, I personally do not need to be convinced that the murdered Jews were indeed human beings, each with his or her own personal story.

The section of the Jewish Museum dedicated to the Holocaust had the same theme- a smattering a personal effects to convince the audience of the humanness of the people murdered- the humanness of the Jews.

The rest of the museum was composed of amazing detail documenting the Jewish communities in the current land of Germany since the 900´s C.E. It told of contributions to society, the ever-oscillating attitudes toward the Jews, Jewish traditions and religious laws. There was even a "write your name in Hebrew" computer station. For someone who knows little to nothing about Judaism and Jews, this museum does a wonderful job in providing an awareness of our traditions, and pays tribute to many of the contributions individual Jews have made over the centuries. For me, however, it was slightly disturbing. I´m coming straight from Israel where I stayed with more some more observant friends and spent time in very observant communities in Jerusalem and Tsfat. And here I was, just a few days later, walking in a museum where "artifacts" from daily life were behind glass, with cleanly typed explanatory labels. From the meat, daily, parve stickers, pots and dishes needed for a kosher kitchen, to the prayer shawls, tzit-tzit and shabbat candle sticks. There were explanations that to me are so routine- it was like someone going through a friends house and making it into a museum. Imagine it, your kitchen dishes on display and explained, to be gawked at by museum goers, commented on, misunderstood, judged or the novelty of which to be contemplated. The clothes that your friends wear, taken from their closet, put on mannequins, and labeled. The candlesticks, the menorah/ channukiah from your own home, displayed and explained. Then, since who you are and what you do is so different, so confusing, in addition to the printed explanations to your life, your family´s history, add an audio guide tour.

I just felt so "other-ed", separated from humankind. I just felt like here we are, in 2008, still trying to convince the world that we are human, just like them. That although our traditions are different, that some members of our community further distinguish themselves with clothing or hair styles, that yes we are human and yes, for our proportionally very small part of the the human population, members of our community have made amazing contributions to the world.

Yes, I do think that exposure to other people and their traditions is the key to creating a more peaceful world. Yes, I believe that both the Jewish Museum and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe are important places for building understanding and making sure future generations never forget. Despite the good intentions and the positive benefits, I just left both feeling as if I was not quite part of the human race... that I somehow belonged to the category of other... something to be studied and the observations of which to be labled, categorized and displayed.

Monday, July 28, 2008

I've fallen into the Facebook blackhole

Over the past couple of years people I've met have posed the simple question, "Are you on facebook?" and I've responded, "no".

Maybe my resistance to sites like facebook and myspace seems rather odd for someone who sends mass emails full of personal thoughts and has recently started a blog. I like to console myself with the fact that my name isn't on my blog and that I know exactly where the emails are being sent. I guess it's my own somewhat illogical balance of personal and anonymous in a "google and you shall find" kind of world. Also, as a teacher, I know that in my small community I'm a public figure. Many kids would come back to school and tell me where they spotted me or other teachers. My first year teaching, I went to High Holiday Services at a Synagogue near the school and the next day at work umpteen students (who were also Jewish) were just so excited to know that I was too. After that when I gave feedback questioners to the students, I got some comments such as 'I like my teacher because she's Jewish.' I just wasn't ready for the melding of what I considered personal (religion) with my professional life.

My aversion to social networking sites increased when, during my third year teaching in the US, it was announced that a teacher in the district had been fired due to the contents of her myspace page. She was a first year teacher fresh out of college and her myspace page was what I imagine many college myspace pages to be- silly jokes, pictures taken in a drunken state, references to drugs and alcohol that just seem so cool when your 20- but some of her students and their parents found that page and she was out of a job. With a nameless blog that student don't know of and a mass email, I've felt pretty safe in my oneline endeavors.

However, as I travel around and meet people and have some really awesome conversations with them, I keep on getting bombarded with the unassuming, let's keep up with each other question, "Do you have facebook?"

And as of the last 5 days the answer has been "yes". I've finally submitted to this aspect of pop-culture, even though I am still quite weary of it. And in those past 5 days my in-box has been inundated with friend-requests and wall-writing notifications- the number of people with whom I had lost contact that I've heard from since Facebook is incredible- people from my master's program, summer camp, high school, Birthright trip, college, etc.

So, Facebook is an amazing tool and I'm now one of it's many members- albeit maybe a more dubious one.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

2nd Tractor attack in Jerusalem

My basic Israel itinerary is one week in each city in the following order: Jerusalem, Tzfat (Sefad), Tel Aviv. However, I've been charged with the mission of hand-carrying posters of the Coexisence Exhibit from the Museum on the Seam back to Dhaka. (In case your wondering why I'm being a personal schlepper instead of just shipping it, please remember that Bangladesh-along with various other nations- doesn't recognize that Israel exists, even as it celebrates its 60th year. I personally think this denial is quiet dangerous for Israel, but that's a theme I won't expand at the moment.)

So, when a friend, B. called me in Tel Aviv late last night and asked me if I wanted to take a day-trip to Jerusalem with him today, I pounced on the opportunity to pick up the posters and check off my list my one major "job" for the trip. So around 8am, we hoped on a bus to Jerusalem.

B. has gone to apartment hunt and study for finals and I went to the Museum on the Seam. As I walked from the bus stop to the Museum I saw a multitude of police and emergency vehicles with sirens blaring heading quickly in the direction from which I had just come. As my mother taught me, I said a quick prayer for the success of their efforts and the safety of all people involved in the accident/ emergency- whatever that maybe- and walked into the museum.

After seeing the current exhibit at the museum and picking up the posters I hopped into a cab and headed for an internet cafe. First of all, the cab driver, Ori, was the absolute nicest cab driver I've ever met and a really good teacher of Hebrew. When many (all for a while) of the roads we needed to follow were closed I recalled the sirens and asked what happened. Ori told me that there was another tractor attack today near the hotel where Obama was suppose to stay upon arrival tomorrow. The information was delivered very factually, without any demonstrative change in emotion. The delivery seemed to make the conversation almost normal and commonplace.

Needless to say, I wasn't in the area of the tractor attack. I'm still waiting to hear from my friends, but I'm pretty sure they were away from the attack as well.

Obviously there are so many thoughts running through my head- however, since my recent peeps into the gripping depth of Jew-hatred in Bangladesh and consequence reading, my brain seems to be constantly returning to this subject. For the moment, I'll let the thoughts run through my head. I don't want to write anything here until I have the exact facts/ references that support them. For the meantime, know that I am well.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Eretz Israel

I've spent the last two weeks In Jerusalem and Tzfat (Sefed) and tomorrow I'm hopping on a Taglit/ Birthright bus to Tel Aviv. I've been very busy having fabulous experiences- including mini-miracles (yes, Tobias, the lifting of my burdens at the Abby is just such a mini miracle), talking, volunteering and wondering around and have very limited computer access- but I promise that there will be blog entries! (Including a clip of my deriere on Israeli television- I'm just waiting to get the version with English subtitles)

To leave you all with one totally random and meaningless observation- I have the best (worst) farmer's tan- my forearms are a completely differnt color (bright red) than the rest of me (glaringly white)- but how I got that fabulously sexy look is linked to my butt on television- and you'll all just have to wait in suspense.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The difference a Goat makes

So, I live in Bangladesh. When I was discussing my decision to move here, my dad asked me poignantly, "Do they export anything besides poor people?" It might be considered a crass comment, but, sadly, it's spot on.

Simply put, Bangladesh has half the population of the United States (approx. 150 million people) all crammed into a space the size of Iowa. Now, most of that land (I've read estimates for 80-90% of it) flood during monsoon season. And some of that land simply doesn't come back after the flooding subsides and thus, is permanently claimed by the water. Many people are still trying to recuperate from last year's horrible cyclone Sidr, and we're already into the next monsoon/ cyclone season.

If you want a really depressing read, check out this article from the Belfast Telegraph my friend send me. A scary quotation from the article:
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – whose predictions have consistently turned out to be underestimates – said that Bangladesh is on course to lose 17 per cent of its land and 30 per cent of its food production by 2050. For America, this would be equivalent to California and New York State drowning, and the entire mid-West turning salty and barren.
The bottom line: Bangladesh is disappearing- and fast. It's a huge humanitarian crisis happening right now.

Poverty, even in my really wealthy neighborhood, is ever-present. One on my co-workers, Lulu, recently wrote a entry detailing the reality on her blog.

All the talk and images of poverty can be daunting- and overwhelmingly depressing. But while I was reading the New York Times I found a rather uplifting story about a girl and a goat and a college degree. It doesn't happen to be about Bangladesh, but a general story about how such a little act to help (in this case, the donation of a goat) can make such a big difference (a poor rural girl, Beatrice, in Uganda getting to go to school and eventually graduating from Connecticut College in the USA.) There is also a children's book about Beatrice and her goat (search amazon) that talks about giving.

Here's a link to Global Giving,the grassroots organization mentioned in the article and also for Oxfam Unwrapped which I really like. I've given some nice sheep, and honey and trees through them. (I wanted to give an alligator, but since it was as wedding gift for a couple who requested donations to charities, I didn't think something with scales and claws and big snapping jaws full of sharp teeth really said, "congratulations on your marriage". Sheep (soft, cute) honey (sweet) and trees (grow old together) seemed such the better choice. Oh... but the alligator was tempting...

TOPPER (doggy) survives deadly plant attack!


I called my Dad and asked for an update on Topper, his dog that decided to munch on the sego palm. Apparently, without any vet intervention, Topper pulled through!

Dad, of course, has theories- remember he read about all these pups who died after eating sego palms.

1) Topper is a much larger dog than the dogs he read about
2) Taking dogs to the vet and putting them on IV's etc probably put the dog into shock after already being in a bad condition

So, that's the farmer's son's theories.

Bottom line: Daddy still has two doggies!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Beautiful but Deadly- Plants (not a woman)

I just got a call from my Dad- he said that he had found one of his dogs, Topper, foaming at the mouth and vomiting. At first he thought rabies, especially because he had found a dead (killed by the dogs) raccoon in the backyard. The dogs' other favorite hobby is chewing up plants (well- more specifically- chewing up anything to be found in the backyard- plants, raccoons, toys, piping- )

This time, they had managed to reach through the fence and grab a plant that was two feet away- a Sega (alternatively Sago) Palm (a misnomer)- and Topper may be paying the ultimate price for his chewing habit- Sega Palms cause liver malfunction and death in dogs (and humans) when ingested. We'll see if Topper makes it through the night (Dad found umpteen websites detailing heroic efforts to save poisoned dogs- which just made their death take longer and cost more. -Dad, having grown up on a farm, is not of the spend thousands to prolong your pet's death type. He's has a good healthy separation between pets and humans)

Just for good measure- if you have chew happy pets or children- check out the wikipedia list of Poisonous Plants: