Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Big Apple and A Bigger Bagel

         After a week with my head in the clouds in Cambodia, we returned to the US to reconnect with our home culture and our families in New York.  A rough fever on the 13 hour flight didn’t make me feel too great, but nonetheless the girls sang in excitement as we approached New York.  The weekend was chaotic as I didn’t quite know how to act around my parents, what to say, what to do but sleep.  I had my first good steak in a year, saw “Spiderman”, went to a fancy lunch with the rest of the TBB families, had a great weekend looking solely at what we did.  Our hotel was incredible, an atrium with statues and stone floor, but it all didn’t quite fit.  My stomach couldn’t take the steak I had eaten with ease before the trip, the hotel seemed absurdly big compared to the modest hostels I was accustomed to.  My first meal in New York was a bagel with salmon and cream cheese, but the first thing I noticed about it was the size.  It was massive.  After hounding food over the trip from the rest of the group, I barely ate that weekend and had little ambition to see any parts of New York.  Commercials appeared excessive and foreign, and with so many people and lights in the city I felt constantly lost and distracted…a space cadet’s worst nightmare.  Everything around me just felt too complex, too complicated, and why did everyone go so fast everywhere?  Everyone was in a hurry, and I struggled to make sense of a lot of what I saw.  Going back would definitely prove harder than leaving. 
Throughout NY and DC we continued to visit different organizations and the confusions continued.  I committed myself to asking questions at meetings like Planned Parenthood, Iris House, the UN, Global Financial Integrity, but after immersing ourselves in a country and a service project, I couldn’t grasp many of the organizations’ purposes, and more importantly how those purposes related to work on the ground.  With such short meetings, I couldn’t understand actual work that the organization accomplished- it was all general, all statistics, all abstract ideas and motives and reasons that had little meaning compared to the detail we went in with each country.  I could no longer nod my head in satisfaction that an organization fought poverty or helped empower others because such words no longer have a set meaning or definition.  Development has become more broad, and thus harder to understand in an office when the actual work does not happen in that setting.  I expected to feel satisfied with such examples of change in the US, and I did feel hopeful, but generalities no longer mean as much as work on the ground.
          In DC we had the chance to learn how to lobby with an organization called RESULTS, a chance to do our own research on bills and budgets, to voice our support to our actual representatives in our home states.  I had no idea that anyone could really do that!  But looking through the bills and acts I understood the incredible difficulty of policy.  I didn’t know what to support and even if I did find a bill or appropriation ask that interested me, I couldn’t begin to understood how the language of the bill translated to action.  It was too large scale, too sweeping for me, so disconnected from the real implementation. 
My fellow Connecticut resident Katherine and I set out prowling the streets of DC in search of a bagel before our meeting with staff of Joe Courtney, Jim Hymes, Richard Blumenthal, and Joe Lieberman.  I felt a bit stiff in my suit but thankfully I fit right in with the citizens of DC.  I guess there are a lot of important jobs there or something.  We were off to lobby for the Education for All Bill, and surprisingly got through security in all of the buildings, it was pretty easy really.  They didn’t even ask who we were seeing or if we had an appointment…US security.  I felt very intimidated looking at all the flags and plaques of the representatives lining the stone interior of the building, the immaculate carpet in the office, the tv showing live broadcast of voting on a recent bill in the House.  But all of the staff agreed with our points, agreed that we should support education, and in many cases our representatives already supported education.  I’m not sure if I really felt that fulfilled because the meetings were so short, and though the staff did take notes they have many meetings a day with many different issues to try and solve.  Did I make an incredible difference?  Probably not, but at least I could have the chance to, and never before did I realize I could.  We met another Connecticut couple with a man lobbying against budget cuts for science classes in school, and even being so close to DC, I never had interest in such political procedures.  I probably won’t in the future either, at least for a job, but unfortunately I need to realize that change can happen in that environment, and politics is a vital part to making change anywhere else in the world. 

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