Brooke Goes Global: My final stop, Brazil!

November 27, 2018

Here I am, in São Paulo, Brazil.  The last country of our trip.  The final destination.  The official end to our program.  Yet, there is still so much to do, so much to learn, and so much to experience.  

Our group recently arrived back from our rural stay at a Quilombo and an Agroforest.  Quilombos are communities originally formed by escaped slaves.  These brave individuals ran from enslavement and found refuge in the mountains of Brazil.  In time, their practices of agriculture have been passed down from generation to generation.  Today, the Quilombo of Ribeirão Grande in Terra Seca fights for its right to stay.  The area they are cultivating is a protected area of the forest; there is to be no interference by humans at all.  But the people of the Quilombo have been living on this land for more than 200 years.  And they have farmed this land for just as long.  In the last 10 years, they had to prove their culture and their history to the government, so that they could remain in their homes.  This community is incredibly strong and courageous to fight a powerful force, the Brazilian government, and stand up for what is rightfully theirs.  

Visiting the Quilombo was fascinating.  We saw how their farming techniques did not interrupt the flow of the natural plants and forest.  Instead, they complimented each other as crops and trees simultaneously grew side by side.  We walked through the Atlantic Rainforest as the owner of the land showed us her medicinal plants she uses for stomach aches, stress, and headaches.  She pointed to a fruit tree and picked a small peach off its branches for each person in our group.  The cultivating and farming of the Quilombo does not disrupt the natural flow of nature.  It sustains the community’s life while simultaneously complimenting nature.  

Picture1 (MC44NDA0ODIwMA)

This was the wonderful meal the people of the Quilombo made for us.  They have this amazing business endeavor that involves selling their crops in the city and, in exchange, they have their customers come visit their home in the mountains, so they can see where their food is coming from.

Picture2 (MC44ODAyODIwMA).JPG

The stream that cuts through their property is a source of recreation and fun for the children of the community.

Next we traveled to the Agroforest of Felipe Moreira.  We jumped off the bus and grabbed our overnight bags.  We continued down a rocky path where our host traveled to us via zipline.  Us students, however, traveled in a much less exhilarating form — by boat, nonetheless still enjoyable.  We all hopped into the boat and crossed the river that would bring us to the place we would call home for the next few days.  

Picture3 (MC45NjYzNjMwMA).JPG

A maximum of eight people could fit on the boat, so it took a few trips for all 30 of us to make it to our destination.

Over the next few days, we toured hundreds of acres of the Atlantic Rainforest which just happened to have some crops growing it in as well.  Around 20 years ago, the land of thick trees and heavy foliage was nothing more than grassland.  This particular part of the rainforest had been cut down and destroyed for the grazing of Asian Buffalo.  Nonetheless, in just a couple years, this family was able to completely change the outcome of this part of the forest — with the help of agroforestry.  Agroforestry is the combination of agriculture while also preserving the natural trees and plants that already exist in the area.  With a little help from the humans, and a lot of resilience, this particular part of the Atlantic Rainforest was able to bounce back.  

p4

Our second day of the trip, we were taken to the top of their property where we could take in the beautiful scenery of the nearby mountains.

bl 5

A few steps from the rooms we all stayed in was this beautiful pool that overlooked their property.

 

I was in a small group of students that chose to go deep into the trees to discover all that nature was willing to share.  I was full of nothing less than excitement to hear of the farmer’s agroforestry techniques that sustain his, his families’, and nature’s life.  Agroforestry demands that a diverse set of crops be spread out throughout a large space of land.  This is in contrast to mass factory farming that cultivates one type of plant over acres of land.  The diversity of plants in the forest keeps the soil fertile.  Additionally, when trees and plants need to be cut down to allow sunlight to shine through or room is needed for the cultivation of new plants, the cut plants are left on the forest floor.  This keeps the moisture in the soil so that the crops do not have to be watered.  This particular technique also acts as a natural pesticide.  Bugs lay their eggs in the dead plants on the ground because it’s easier than laying them in living plants growing high above the ground.  However, the eggs don’t survive in a dead plant on the ground.  Hence, very few problems with insects arise in agroforestry.  

The farmer, Damiel, proudly showed us his ample crops scattered throughout the forest.  He had a smile on his face as he cut down a heart of palm tree with two slices of his machete, and then slicing it thinly for all of us to try.  Stomping through the tall grasses, he showed us his pineapple plants.  And reaching high in the sky to get to his berry tree, he grabbed some for us all to try.  We all trampled back to class from the forest with a long sugarcane in hand which would later be made into a drink that complimented our fresh, flavorful dinner that night.  

p6

Their many pineapple plants!

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Banana trees grew everywhere.  This particular species was different from the type of bananas bought at your typical grocery store.  Despite their green color, they were ripe enough to eat and left a sweet taste in your mouth.

We have commoditized and exploited nature. Prioritizing revenue over biodiversity and beauty.  But nature is resilient.  It will bounce back if given the opportunity.  Nature does not need humans.  Humans need nature. 


Brooke Goes Global: My experience as an Asian Woman Abroad

November 4, 2018

“I pick you” shouts a tattered, stranger man from across the street.  I look up to see his scraggly finger pointing in my direction.  He stepped off the opposite curb and began moving towards me.  “But I don’t pick you,” I shouted back.  My friend grabbed my arm and pulled me closer to her.  She said jokingly “sorry, but she’s mine.”  In my blue dress, I continued to walk down the sidewalk with five other girls by my side.  To him, I was nothing more than a body.  The body of a woman he felt justified to sexualize and objectify.

I arrived back to our hostel.  I looked in the mirror and saw my exposed arms and legs in my short, blue dress.  I changed quickly into joggers and a long sleeve tee, an outfit that covered my skin and my feminine curves.  Now, looking back, I hate that I did that.  I hate that I let the sleazy man affect my mind and my behaviors.  Because in that moment, I saw only what he saw — the body of a woman.  Nothing more, nothing less.  

“So where are you from?” asked my tour guide.  “The United States,” I responded.  His face said it all.  My answer was not adequate.  Where was my light skin, my pointy nose, my wide eyes?  “No but where…”, before he could finish I cut in.  “I was adopted from China”.  This answer was satisfactory.  He only stopped when his ethnocentric ideals were proven.  I fit the stereotypical mold of an Asian.  I, however, did not fit the stereotypical mold of an American.  Despite me living in the United States and holding an American passport, he would not accept me as an American.  The tour guide proceeded to take out his phone and show me pictures of himself with Asians.  “This is my brother’s girlfriend from Taiwan.  Isn’t she pretty?”.  In my head, I was taking out my phone and showing him all my photos with white people.  But on the outside I humored the bigot’s microaggression and smiled like the passive woman of color I was expected to be.  Now, looking back, I hate that I didn’t speak up for myself, for Asians, for people of color.  I hate that I let the ignorant man affect my mind and my behaviors.  Because in that moment, I saw only what he saw — the body of an Asian.  Nothing more, nothing less.

In these instances, I felt like the only thing I had to offer the world was my body.  My body that just so happened to be female and Asian.  My mind was of no importance.  My personality was of little interest.  And my opinions, perspectives, and experiences — all irrelevant.  

It’s fascinating and heartbreaking to travel across countries all with the binding construct of a social hierarchy.  The amount of respect, dignity, and humanity you receive is based on your placement on this hierarchy.  You have no control.  You have no influence.  Society has the final judgement, labeling you as a superior, equal, or inferior.  Why is this the accepted norm?  Why is this okay to nations, communities, individuals?  I share my stories to demonstrate how rude acts of ignorance, even if small, perpetuate dehumanization.  

There’s growing popularity of the false notion that the way you dress can, will, and should affect the way you are treated.  As I walked down the streets of Cape Town, my blue dress caught a particular man’s eye.  My blue dress caused distraction and attraction.  My dress allowed him to label me as property.  Property that could be easily chosen and then discarded.  I should be obedient and honored that he would “pick” me.  My dress demoted my human status to object status.  If I hadn’t worn such a “revealing” outfit, I would have been treated as a proper woman.  I wouldn’t have been catcalled.  I wouldn’t have been objectified.  As the woman, I am the one to accept the blame.  It is my job to behave within the standards of appropriateness and sophistication.  This idea is ridiculous.  Clothing is not the perpetrator.  My actions, as a woman, should not be dictated by the limited self-control of a man.  Patriarchy and misogyny is excused while women are blamed — while I am blamed.

My program, thankfully, is not short on feminist women and their allies.  I have ample support from intelligent, creative, beautiful women with different perspectives across limitless topics.  Nonetheless, my support falls short in the area of race.  In a group of 25 students, over half of them are people of color.  Nonetheless, I am the only one who identifies as Asian.  I did not understand how much comfort and support my Asian friends provided until they were no longer there.  Within the group, I have sympathizers but no empathizers.  On days when the world seems to grab at my feet, pulling me backward, situations like these make me feel like a blank canvas, an empty body.  My self-confidence diminishes and my accomplishments are forgotten.  These seem to slip my mind but, thankfully, are fully appreciated and vocalized by my peers.  Those days do inevitably come but seem to be few and far in-between.

The past 12 weeks of my life have been hard, but they have also been so full of joy and growth.  I would not trade a single moment of my abroad experience.  It’s been a main contributor to the development of the individual I am today.  I am a woman.  I am Asian.  And I am proud to say that I am both.  However, I am also a daring adventurer who flew over the coast of South Africa, ziplined over waterfalls, and snorkeled with seals.  I am also a vulnerable and compassionate individual who studies with the hope of promoting and progressing health as a human right.  I am also a sarcastic ass who will not pass up an opportunity to make a joke.  These are all things my body cannot show alone.  These are all things society cannot come to understand when they limit me to a spot on a hierarchy.  But I have come to understand, societal constructs are not my loss — it’s theirs.  

Picture1 (MC4xMzE3MTMwMA)

Despite the ocean temperature barely reaching 50 degrees, snorkeling with seals was a great experience!

Picture2 (MC45NTk4MjUwMA)

True friends cheer you on as you fly over waterfalls.

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

We went dwelling in the Congo Caves that were formed millions of years ago from something as simple, yet as powerful as water.


Brooke Goes Global: South Africa’s Fight for Land

October 29, 2018

For the past few weeks, I have wandered between realms of ignorance and reality. My role as a tourist, as a student, and as a local, has immersed me into one sphere, then forcefully dragged me into another. Each sphere lives its own separate life, yet social and political consequences successfully transcend these borders. As a tourist, I have gasped and awed at the picturesque South Africa. The mountains have been climbed. The restaurants have been visited. The tickets for adventure have been paid for. As a tourist, I have the money and the time to experience the luxurious — and predominately white populated — areas of South Africa. Here, I live in a sphere of ignorance.

IMG_5647.jpg

The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront — a popular tourist destination.

As a student, I have been awestruck by the powerful history of this powerful country. I learned of the racism, the inequality, the systems of oppression of the past and the present. I listened to lectures on colonialism. I read journal articles on the nation’s economic inequality. “South Africa has one of the highest Gini Coefficients in the world,” they tell me. It enters one ear and goes out the other. Surface level knowledge and surface level comprehension of a life in South Africa. Here, I live in a sphere of awareness.

Living in a homestay, I have been pushed into the life of a local — to a life beyond beautiful pictures. I have lived with families who have very real struggles with gentrification, land rights, and economic opportunity. These struggles are no longer ignored. They are no longer just a written fact. These struggles are real and immediate. As a local, I see how the oppressed overcome hardships to find dignity and humanity. Here, I live in a sphere of reality.

IMG_5973.JPG

My homestay mom is on the left, Mama Thembsi, with one of her best friends, Elizabeth.

 

From 1948 to 1991, South African citizens lived under an oppressive Apartheid regime — apartheid literally meaning “apart.” In an attempt to make Cape Town an all-whites city, people were categorized according to their race. These classifications, including Indian/Asian, Colored, Black, or White, determined everything. If you were not white, you were forced to live in the outskirts of the city. If you were not white, your daily movement was restricted and monitored. If you were not white, manual labor jobs were your only economic opportunity. You did not vote. You did not own land. This was the law. And if you did not obey the law, you were subject to brutal whippings or execution. Children included. The oppressive and racist Apartheid government focused on protecting the population minority and repressing the majority.

The African National Congress (ANC), a protest grassroots organization, gained popularity in the latter part of the Apartheid government through promotion of its core principles. After people of color were stripped of their land and homes and herded into segregated areas outside the city, the right for land became a main pillar of their political platform. In 1991, the Apartheid government “peacefully” ceased power after years of protest from the ANC. I simplify this cession that includes stories of brave South Africans, powerful and peaceful protests, violence, and international relations. Instead, I wish to concentrate on a less popular topic — South Africa’s expectation of democracy versus its reality.

In 1994, the African National Congress came to power with something as simple yet as influential as the right to vote. Nelson Mandela, backed by the ANC, was elected President of the newly formed South African democracy. The ANC created a progressive and powerful constitution, granting its citizens the right to health, education, water, and housing. And land — its redistribution was mentioned in the constitution. Though to this day, land redistribution still has no explicit plans for change.

This brings me to where I am today, the rural community of Zweletemba. I went from center city Cape Town, known as the Europe of Africa, to a former blacks only township created during Apartheid. The 200,000 people population in Zweletemba are unique in their stories but not in their struggles.

IMG_8677

A main road in the neighborhood.

In the center of the neighborhood, most roads are paved and houses are constructed in neat, straight lines. Electricity poles stand erect at block corners. Hidden pipes bring water to homes. Children jump rope on the dusty roads. Dogs roam looking for attention. But as you move to the outskirts of the town, electricity poles become more and more rare, eventually going extinct. Public toilets become the street’s only source of sanitary plumbing. And houses take the form of four walls constructed of sheet metal.

Zweletemba is a neighborhood of subsidized housing. People, families move in because they can’t afford housing anywhere else. They construct a house out of the supplies they have, apply for government housing, and wait. After many years and much citizen advocacy, the government finally constructs the housing it so plainly labels as a human right in the nation’s constitution.

IMG_8655.jpg

An informal settlement in the outskirts of Zweletemba.

IMG_8671.jpg
Zweletemba is in the district of Worcester. Three families own over 70% of the land in Worcester. This land was attained during Apartheid when it was stolen from people of color and distributed to whites for farming. Most of this private property today is unused and vacant. Much of this land surrounds Zweletemba. Families are desperate for land and desperate for houses, so they build informal settlements on this vacant, privately owned land. The desperation of poverty is forgotten by the rich, white land owners. In an attempt to remove families from their unused land, they call the police to enforce eviction. Barbed wire barricades are put up so the land cannot be further infiltrated. And lawsuits are filed against the families.  And so goes another fight for the land, as there are merciless efforts by the rich to push impoverished families out of their homes.  Yet the actions of these families are hardly affecting the everyday lives of the rich.

Currently, the government is trying to buy this privately owned land for its people. The land, after purchase, would be public land. Houses would be built on the government owned land and given to families in need — this of course is an extremely simplified version of the process. One of the main bureaucratic dilemmas is the task of negotiations. The government has very little leverage power. They, the government and the people, are desperate for the land while the rich land owners are not desperate for the sale. The last sale of land, bought for the townspeople of Zweletemba, was valued at 6 million Rand. The government purchased it for 17 times its worth at 102 million Rand. The wealth gap keeps growing. And the profit of stolen land seems to be contributing to this exponentially growing gap.

In 1991, whites were greatly advantaged politically, economically, and socially. They had been given almost everything for over 40 years while the people of color had almost everything taken from them. In 1994, all races were granted political, economic, and social equality. Opportunity was now available to all. But, there is a tragic flaw in this logic. When someone starts a marathon 10 miles ahead of you, how are you expected to finish at the same time, let alone within the same hour? This illustrates the historic effects of inequality that still manifest today in South Africa. Linda Norling, a freelance journalist in Cape Town, writes “although political power has been in the hands of the black majority since the dawn of South African democracy 24 years years ago, economic power remains with white people: white households in 2015 earned 4.5 times as much as black households, and whites hold more than 60% of top management positions, despite accounting for only 10% of the working population. In universities, black people account for not quite 35% of academics, despite making up about 80% of the population.” This is the reality for many. As a tourist, student, and local, I have the privilege to move out of this sphere of reality. With this privilege, it is my responsibility to speak up and make a change.

IMG_6007.JPG

Here to make a change for this adorable generation of South African citizens.


Brooke Goes Global: South Africa

October 18, 2018

The birds sang their morning song as I began to wake.  I blinked my eyes continuously and rubbed last night’s sleep from their lids.  I slipped on long pants, a cozy sweatshirt, and some warm socks.  I tiptoed out of the room and headed up the stairs.  I crossed the lawn to the metal staircase, twirling and winding up the side of the building.  Quickly, I ascended the stairs and struggled to catch my breath at the top.  The hostel roof, unmistakably, offers its best views before 6:30am.  I sat close to the edge so as to not miss a single wave produced by the vast blue ocean.  My cheeks burned as the salty ocean breeze brushed them red.  The morning mist dotted my hair in a layer of damp cold.  The weather invited families of clouds to scatter across the sky.  But the waking sun was not to be silenced.  Finding the only break in the clouds, the sun peaked its way into existence.  Sun beams slowly reached their arms out of the dark clouds and spread across the sea.  I smiled and turned my head to what I once ignored.  To my surprise, the green luscious mountain, standing close behind, applauded the performance.  I closed my eyes tightly to fathom this moment, this experience, this life.

Muizenberg, Cape Town sunrises became my first friend on the continent of Africa.  After the third day at the beautiful ocean town, I reluctantly waved goodbye to the hostel and said hello to a new homestay, in a new country, in a new continent.

07EED665-43F3-43F9-BCFC-F8F02DCA4BE2.JPG

The morning’s view from our hostel in Muizenberg, Cape Town.

Here I am, in South Africa.

My homestay in Cape Town is in the historic neighborhood of Bo Kaap.  Houses stand side by side in organized, bright, colorful rows.  People are neighbors streets away.  Neighbors are friends and friends are family.  The Bo Kaap is the epitome of a community that cares for one another.

We had just arrived to the Bo Kaap, when we starting following the lead of my homestay mother, Omi Mia.  She led us through the streets, pointing out houses and pairing them with her many friends’ names.  All conversation in that moment was ignored as my brain concentrated on what the eyes were sensing — beautiful, bright rainbow houses.  All connected.  All so inviting and radiating.  My daydream was abruptly ended when Omi stopped us in front of a bright yellow home.  We emerged into a quaint and cozy living room filled with family photos and memorabilia.

IMG_5475.JPG

One of the beautiful streets of the Bo Kaap neighborhood. I live in the very last yellow colored house you can see in the photo.

Dinner after dinner, I excitedly sat at the table and listened as Omi shared her life story with us.  Omi is an intelligent, witty, and incredibly caring woman.  She is the oldest of four children.  At 72 years old, she is the hub of social gatherings among her family and friends.  On the night of our arrival, the table was set for seven.  She apologized for the small gathering that night, and I chuckled thinking back to normal family dinners with just my mom and me.

The Omi Mia household is one of 24 other households in the Bo Kaap housing IHP students.  The families hosting us students all know one another.  They adventure together.  They vacation together.  They eat together.  This is a community.  This is a neighborhood that cares for one another.

From 1948 to 1991, the Apartheid government attempted to make the city of Cape Town a whites only city.  This resulted in the Group Areas Act of 1950 forcing the segregation of different ethnic and racial groups.  Families were forced from their homes, told they only had minutes to put their belongings in a truck that would drive them to their new government issued house.  During this era of segregation, the Bo Kaap was, by law, deemed a Muslim only area.  The neighborhood’s history shapes its present.  Today, the Bo Kaap is a community of mostly Muslim families.

Unfortunately, gentrification and greedy politics are forcing families out of their Bo Kaap homes — homes that have been in their families for generations.  With the growing popularity of South African property, the Bo Kaap has become a hotspot for development.  It is in the central part of the city.  The waterfront harbor, museums, and countless amenities are all within a short distance’s walk.  As a result of this perfect storm, the demand for Bo Kaap property has exponentially grown.  This increase in property value causes taxes to soar.  New city regulations require monthly fees never charged to families before but are now deemed required and necessary.  Older generations pass and their children are unable to afford the adjusted finances of the now million dollar homes.  In turn, families who’ve grown up in the area are priced out of the Bo Kaap.

Gentrification is pushing history out of the neighborhood.  People move in for the convenient location while ignoring the community’s culture and individuality.  South Africa’s oldest mosque, over 200 years old, is located on the streets of Bo Kaap.  In practice with the Islam religion, the mosque plays a call to prayer at certain times of the day.  Within the past few years, an individual from Europe bought a house in the Bo Kaap.  Annoyed by the daily 5am wakeup from the call to prayer, he complained at a community meeting.  He demanded for the call to prayer to be stopped.  He believed as a foreigner, an outsider, and a non-Muslim that his needs should come before everyone else’s.  He willingly bought the house in the Bo Kaap.  He willingly moved in to this historically Muslim neighborhood.  But now, he is unwilling to accept the community he moved himself into.  Thankfully, his request was denied.  And at 5am, I happily lay in my bed listening to South Africa’s oldest mosque’s call to prayer.   

Another problem within the Bo Kaap is the consequences of tourism.  The Bo Kaap is deemed a must-see destination for South African vacations.  Tour buses park at the entrance of the neighborhood so their customers can get out and take photos.  Tourists ignore the privacy and property of the street’s natives and climb on their porches to snap the perfect photo.  Tour guides lead groups through the community’s sidewalks, spewing ignorant and downright wrong information about the neighborhood.  Omi has overheard tour guides tell groups the houses were painted different colors as a solution to them not being able to identify their own home when they come home drunk.  Yet, as a predominately Muslim neighborhood, most individuals do not drink in their town.  Tour guides still continue to share inaccurate and disrespectful rumors about real people, living in this very real place.  Tours of the Bo Kaap are advancing tourist companies, the city, and the outsiders.  Those living in the Bo Kaap are not reaping any benefits from tourism.  Instead their reputation is tarnished and their property is trespassed.

Nonetheless, I am thankful to say I am part of the SIT/IHP abroad program.  As a student of IHP, I am contributing to the preservation of the Bo Kaap and its stories.  Our homestays are compensated for housing students.  These working class families are paid generously by our program for kindly inviting strangers into their house.  Students learn from the families.  They learn the truth, the facts, the reality from citizens of the Bo Kaap.  But also we share our experiences, lives, and stories with the families too.  It is important to remember reciprocity when you’re abroad.  As much as we take from a foreign country as American students, it is just as important to leave a compassionate legacy behind.  I am honored to share the stories born and cultivated from Bo Kaap history.  I do not take this task lightly.  To have the opportunity to share someone else’s story, through my eyes, is truly a powerful adventure.  I am grateful to have this platform as an occasion to share the stories of these beautiful people in Bo Kaap, Cape Town.  

XZVJ6582.JPG

The sea and the mountains — what more could you ask for?


Brooke Goes Global: The Caste System

September 26, 2018

Goodbye has inevitably arrived.  Its long awaited arrival has brought gifts of humbleness, compassion, and independence.  Here I am and here I go with faith in the process of hellos and goodbyes.  Goodbye, India.  Hello South Africa.

Still, feelings of bitter sweetness and surrealism consume my mind as I prepare for the next adventure.  Something as simple as a plane ride becomes my gateway to a new and exciting experience, moment, life.  My reality becomes the categorization of the past, present, and future.  India my past and South Africa my very near future.  And for the present — it lives in its own purgatory, fighting for the existence of both realms of the past and future.

This state of temporary madness causes the past few weeks to stir in my head.  My mind connects this with that, analyzes this, questions that, and ponders everything.  It bullies the rest of my body as all physicality fights to keep up.  Fighting the jet lag.  Fighting the weather conditions.  Fighting the sickness.  Fighting the need to sleep.  Yet my mind continues to grow, expand, and explore.  It needs not to fight any barriers.  It’s the one pushing me to keep going.  Temporary relief of my body’s contradiction only comes when writing.  So here I am, writing as my fingers become the newest victim of my brain’s wandering.  My mind thankfully settles into a steady pace as it chooses a topic of choice for my last post in India.  A topic that stirs up controversy, history, and oppression.  A topic that even Indian natives are unable to fully comprehend the consequences to.

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

Before I begin, I want to remind my listeners that my writing originates through the eyes of a female, an American, a student, and an outsider.  By no means do I claim to have a overarching understanding of the complications of the Indian culture, but I do claim the right to share my experiences and interpretations of what constituted my life for the last month.

So I dive in, and here I emerge, knee deep in a 3,000 year old system of oppression — the caste system.  The caste system is unique to the Indian sub-continent.  Although other oppressive hierarchies, based on uncontrollable factors, have existed across the world and across time.

The caste system has roots in the Hindu religion.  In which more than 80% of the Indian population claim to practice.  The religion’s core foundations teach special individuals were formed from a particular body part of the Hindu god, Brahma.  Each body part represent a certain status within the earthly society.  For instance, the priests and teachers of the Hindu population were said to have been born from the head of Brahma, the highest honor.  The warriors and rulers were born from the shoulder of the god.  The farmers, traders and merchants were born from the stomach.  And the laborers were born from the foot.  This foundational teaching of the religion created a social hierarchy, justified by faith and culture.  The caste system expanded past the Hindu religion and spread to other religions including Islam and Christianity in India.   Over time, people’s occupation no longer determined caste.  Today, people are born into a caste.  They remain in this particular caste for the rest of their life and then pass it down to their children.

To go over some basics, the first three caste tiers are called Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas — born from the three highest places on the body.  These three tiers constitute the upper caste.  The lowest tier is called Shudras.  These four castes are born from the god Brahma and so deserve the corresponding respect and dignity paralleling this official status.  Then there are people who are considered the least pure in status.  They have not been birthed from the god Brahma.  These people make up what is called the scheduled caste.  This is the politically correct term for the Dalit caste, Untouchables, and tribal individuals.  The majority of the Indian population is part of this scheduled caste.

All of these individuals were deemed “untouchable” by the government, by religion, by society.  The scheduled caste was not permitted to use the same silverware as the upper caste.  They were segregated from the rest of the world because their “impure” bodies would contaminate the upper caste’s so called hygienic and luxurious life.  Culture decided the majority of the population did not deserve to be treated like a human because of a social label.  The scheduled caste became victim to horrendous and heinous crimes because of the nation’s caste hierarchy.  Massacre of the unarmed Untouchables in their homes became justified.  Rape of Untouchables became justified.  Brutalization and abuse of Untouchables became justified.  Police turned a blind eye well thousands suffered.  All justified through the caste system.

In 1950, the Indian government abolished the practice of “untouchability”.  It is 68 years later, and here I am, visiting a country with a rich history of violent inequity.  And 68 years later, the stigma and physical violence against the scheduled caste has decreased tremendously.  Nevertheless, I argue structural violence against the scheduled caste still exists.  It is perpetuated by institutions repressing the social rights of a large portion of the population.  This top down systemic violence causes a normalization of oppression and persecution for people of the scheduled caste.  History explains the present, so it is important to understand the context of the caste system.  I remind myself this as I try to understand the perspective of an upper caste, upper class individual who so blatantly told me that if you are educated in the least bit, you know the caste system does not exist.  But, here, I write out my contradiction to this statement. 

Today, more than 98% of manual laborers in India are people of the Dalit caste.  To illustrate the day of a Dalit worker as a manual laborer, I describe the job of a sewage worker.  In nothing more than a t-shirt and khaki pants, they are lowered into an underground pool of shit.  They submerge every inch of their body into the city’s cumulation of poop, piss, and toilet paper.  Diving into this disgusting mess of feces, they are forced to unclog the sewage pipes.  Two to three individuals die a day doing this work.  Yet, the caste system does not exist.

I had the opportunity to talk to an individual who worked at the National Dalit Campaign for Human Rights.  This individual was an advocate and activist for the Dalit community.  He was able to overcome persecution from his own country and climbed the economic ladder while still inevitably remaining at the bottom of the social ladder as a Dalit.  He now has a master’s degree in sociology and continues to fight for Dalit human rights every day.  His life trajectory, nonetheless, is much easier said than done.  He grew up during a time of post-abolition “untouchability” laws.  Yet, still labeled as a Dalit, he faced incredible instances of prejudice and bigotry.

He had successfully completed his senior year of high school.  This in itself is a great feat for someone of the Dalit caste.  Too often they are forced to drop out because they can no longer withstand the mental and physical abuse they receive from upper caste classmates and teachers.  Or too often their family decides the child will contribute more to the family by dropping out of school and working instead.  This was not the case for this determined student.   During the last week of his schooling, his teacher informed him he would be graduating as top student in the class.  He would graduate as Valedictorian.  When he read the list of names posted on the school wall, to his surprise his name had been printed next to number two.  The school refused to have a Dalit as their Valedictorian.  The school refused to let a Dalit represent their academics.  His studies, effort, determination, and intelligence had been invalidated because of a societal label.  Yet, caste does not exist.

During our week long visit to the rural Indian district of Bahriach, we stayed in the neighborhood’s private elementary school.  Here, a Dalit cleans the bathrooms.  He has worked as the school’s janitor for 4 years and has worked for the community municipal building as a street cleaner for 9 years.  Nine years ago, his family asked him to stop attending school and to instead find a job.  At the age of 14, he was the only one in a house of two parents and 4 children who brought in an income.  In 9 years at the municipal building, never has he received a promotion.  In 9 years, never has he received a raise.  I asked him, “do you feel your job compensates you fairly for the work you do?”.  I watched as he took a moment to comprehend the translator’s interpretation of my question.  His eyes shifted as his lips created foreign sounds unfamiliar to me.  Then, the translator spoke, “Anything they give me, I am thankful for.”  I stood in shock as I attempted to digest his heartbreaking response.  He doubts his ability because his employer, school, society, religion, and government have all told him he is nothing.  He is replaceable.  He is unsuccessful.  He is not a worthy member of the Indian society.  Structural violence has shattered his self-confidence and his self-worth.  Systems and institutions all play a role in oppressing his life.  He has lived in a state of structural violence for so long he sees no path towards opportunity.  Yet, caste does not exist.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Bahriach

The caste system does not exist, but no one I talked to married outside of their caste.  The caste system does not exist, but official government forms still ask for your caste.  The caste system does not exist, but Dalits are still experiencing structural violence every day.

We’re six weeks into the program and in six weeks my life has been turned on its head.  My standards of normal have been challenged.  My culture has been ignored as a new one forcefully replaced it.  And the funny part is, it’s happening again today as I move to South Africa.  And then again, in one month when I move to my final country of Brazil.  But this is what I asked for.  I asked for a challenge and an adventure.  By all means, I have not been disappointed.


Brooke Goes Global: Jaipur Travel Weekend

September 21, 2018

I have been on my abroad trip for 5 weeks and in India for 3 weeks.  I have told you ample about my classes and experiential learning.  However, I have dropped the ball on providing information about my touristy, free-time experiences.  Last weekend, IHP, our abroad program, gave us the opportunity to have a travel weekend.  A large group of students decided to go to Jaipur, a popular city in Northern India.  

From New Delhi, we headed on a 5 hour train ride to the city.  After many hours of staring at the “touristy Americans” throughout our transportation experience, we finally arrived in the city.  That evening we arrived at our hotel, the Anuraag Villa.  Consider this post to be a Yelp review for the Villa.  Every employee was kind and helpful, allowing their guests to make the most of their visit.  When we stepped inside the hotel, you were transported to a time when India was under British rule.  British colonialism seemed to be the decor theme of the hotel with their light blue bedroom walls, with adorned doors and large sliding locks.  Also, helpful tip: hotels are deemed some of the best places to eat authentic Indian food.  Professional chefs are hired by hotels, and because hotels cater to tourists, the food’s cleaning and cooking process is safe for a foreigner to enjoy.  Anyways, back to my Yelp review.  I certainly got the most bang for my buck at this hotel.  I shared a room with another girl in the program, and for two nights we paid $1,300 rupees.  This in terms of USD comes to about $13 per person for both nights.  It was not the most extravagant hotel I have ever been to, but it certainly contributed to my exciting time in Jaipur.  

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

Me eating breakfast at the Anuraag Villa, enjoying the feeling of eating like a queen in India

Unfortunately, our time in Jaipur was too short to see everything the city had to offer, but I certainly saw a lot over the two days.  Our first stop on Saturday, was to an elephant farm in the outskirts of the city.  Our group was very concerned about the well-being of the elephants, but we were assured by the staff and reviews of the farm that the animals were treated humanely.  We had the opportunity to meet six different Asian elephants, each with their own individual handler.  Elephants are some of the smartest creatures in the world.  In the four hours we were with the elephants, we are able to make such a strong impression on them that if we came back three years later, they would remember us.  It was such a fascinating and invigorating moment to spend time with such large, yet gentle animals.  

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

Playing with the elephants has been a highlight of my time abroad so far

 

After, we took off to the historical and iconic city of the Pink City.  The rumors are true.  Every structure within the boundaries of the city is pink.  Shops and vendors align the streets with colorful food and clothing.  The rainy weather caused a thin layer of mud to form on every inch of every sidewalk.  The bumper to bumper traffic caused a symphony of car horns.  And on occasion, a camel or an elephant made an appearance as a form of transportation.  We stopped for lunch at a rooftop restaurant.  We were able to eat some amazing food while enjoying some amazing views of the city.  The juxtaposition of the rolling hills against the building structures of the city created a sight that took my breath away.  Is there a better location to build a city than in the valley of a hill? 

Picture4.jpg

The beautiful view from our rooftop restaurant

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

The Hawa Mahal in the Pink City

We spent the evening at the Amber Fort light and sound show.  The hour long performance gave a detailed history of the royal fort through narration, lights, and song.  The Amber Fort sits at the top of a hill, with a view of the city below.  With the mountain breeze sending a chill down your spine, it was a refreshing night to a long, tiresome, and hot week in New Delhi.  

Picture6

Amber Fort lit up at night

And to end the weekend, we spent Sunday morning at two historical sites including Jantar Mantar and the City Palace.  Jantar Mantar is a culmination of thousand year old sun dials that are able to tell the accurate calendar day and time of day based on the light from the “universe’s goddesses” — better known as the sun and the moon.  The City Palace constituted incredibly detailed buildings that showcased textiles, a royal and political meeting space, and chandeliers triple my size.  I appreciated the time we were given to experience a different part of India.  

PICTURE 7, 8, 9: The above three pictures depict the City Palace, a structure with exquisite detailing and architecture.


Brooke Goes Global: Globalization

September 13, 2018

Disclaimer: This post is not my attempt to make a blanket, political statement about capitalism.  Instead, this post is an attempt to illustrate the institutional systems role in perpetuating poverty, which is stimulated by globalization.  As a result, there are structures put in place that advance the middle and upper classes while inevitably hindering the lower class. 

Globalization

This picture depicts the common life of a child in the rural area of India.  Despite his isolation from the city, globalization contributes heavily to his life.

Starbucks — a franchise recognized across the world.  It’s a caffeine boost.  It’s a free wifi hotspot.  It’s a familiar logo of home.  Because Starbucks is such a recognizable part of many people’s lives across the world, it is an ideal artifact to study in relation to globalization.  The local is the global and the global is the local, and the Starbucks franchise fits into both the interdependent categories perfectly.  

According to a news report by CNN, the first Starbucks cafe in India opened in 2012.  This change to the environment and culture of India has its foundation in globalization, utilizing the ever connectedness of countries, corporations, and markets.  India’s new economic plan in the 1990s — encompassing liberalization, privatization, and globalization — paved the way for the multi-billion dollar company to open its doors within India’s borders.  Studying the key fundamentals of the larger corporation and its individual cafes will help understand the structural oppression that is shaped to advance the health of only a portion of India. 

In order to analyze the effect of this artifact further, Starbucks industry’s source must be identified.  The headquarters are located in the United States, in the state of Washington.  There are over 27,000 Starbucks locations across the globe; more than half of these locations are in the United States.  Comparatively, there are around 100 Starbucks cafe locations in India.  The chain store began in the western hemisphere and migrated to India 41 years later.  Nonetheless, this flow of business, capital, and frankly, Starbucks coffee is relatively new to the area — considering its first store opened only 6 years ago.  The chain, however, quickly spread.  For each year since the opening of the first Starbucks in India, another 17 stores were opened annually.  

Additionally, the business’ motivation for spreading is a key element to its global flow.  This motivation is fundamental to understanding its health effect on the overall population of India.  For example, the first Indian Starbucks was opened in Mumbai, a location specifically and strategically chosen by the corporation.  Mumbai was discussed in class as a relatively wealthy area.  It is a movie producing hotspot.  It is a tourist destination.  These aspects of the city point to a particular lifestyle — a lifestyle of luxury and expense.  The citizens of Mumbai have a disposable income that can be spent on breakfast sandwiches and overpriced coffee.  Starbucks chose Mumbai as a location that would bring in revenue.  Mumbai chose Starbucks as a business that would benefit the city.  The global is interacting with the local and vice versa, each contributing to the worldwide spread of people, goods, and services.

In addition, the meticulous placement of Starbucks is emphasized by my personal experience in India.  Our homestay is in the wealthy neighborhood of Greater Kailash; and down the street is a Starbucks.  People come to reap the benefits of clean water, free wifi, a sewage system, and nutritious food at the cafe.  These are basic elements of the Starbucks franchise.  Therefore, wherever a Starbucks is built, these factors of wellbeing are built into the neighborhood as well.  

However, this strategic and revenue maximizing business plan further stretches the gap of social capital between the rich and the poor.  The rich live in areas like Greater Kailesh and Mumbai which have stores like Starbucks.  The poor live in areas where Starbucks and similar businesses would refuse to open a location.  To demonstrate the contrast, two illustrations must be drawn. 

Example one: A local of Greater Kailesh decides to go to a nearby Starbucks cafe for a cup of coffee.  There, they have the opportunity for free wifi, aiding them in their studies.  They have the opportunity to get a cashier job, benefiting their finances.  They have the opportunity for a hygienic social environment, benefiting their mental health.  Therefore, it is fair to say Starbucks indirectly provides resources that advance life for only a portion of the Indian population, its customer base.  

Example two: This information is gathered from our class’ recent visit to a New Delhi “slum”.  Within the group of small and connected houses, I noticed two places the families of the particular neighborhood could purchase food.  Both places were small snack stands.  The vendors provided bagged food — processed and high caloric.  No kitchen for fresh meals.  No bathroom with running water.  No wifi to help complete homework.  No hiring opportunities.  The food “cafe” of this neighborhood is merely a provider of unhealthy junk food.  It provides no additional advancements to the community.  

With this stark contrast in mind, Starbucks in India — a product of globalization — provides resources that advance life for only middle to upper class individuals.  Therefore, the artifact of Starbucks demonstrates a motif of the larger problem of systemic oppression.  For those living in low-income neighborhoods are not able to reap the benefits of a Starbucks cafe because they don’t have access to one.  Outsiders seem to be ignorant of the institutional oppression that creates this perpetuation of poverty.  It’s a cycle with outside influences, influences that flow from the home country and the entire world. 


%d bloggers like this: