Entering a new era

It’s been a while since I wrote, but as this blog is meant to be an outlet for an over-pouring mind I suppose this is the perfect day to come back to it.

I’ve never really liked it when people say “America is the greatest country in the world”, however; I normally come around to granting a concession in my scathing reply which is that in many ways it is one of the greatest countries in the world in which to live. Though now I see, given the events of the past few months, that America is going to be a lot worse place to be from this day forward.

At the head, we have a leader who is an expert at riling people around him in fear and petty hatred. With him we are witnessing the degradation of critical thought and reasoned analysis. But this is what he needs, as else no one could follow him if they really considered what he says. For example, he is yet to release his tax returns. The only excuse he ever gives is an oblivious irrelevancy, and it only serves to obscure more important matters. From the start we were concerned that maybe he was not as rich as he claims, and that he would be shown to be a big fake or that he had in fact not paid taxes in 20 years (both have a very high probability of being true), but now there is another dimension being thrust into the spotlight: ethical conflicts of interest.

In fact, one thing that Trump seems to have done incredibly well is create a writhing cesspool of cabinet appointments with all sorts of ethical problems. You have his Housing and Urban Development pick refusing to say that he will not siphon money into projects in which Trump is invested, which is kind strange because we would almost never know anyway as Trump won’t tell us where his investments are. But as he has chosen a neurosurgeon with no relevant experience to lead HUD who really only has a political reputation of being a complete laughable moron, it seems that HUD may turn into a nice siphon of money from your taxes into the president’s coffers.

Then we have his education pick. She has been getting a lot of press recently with her senate interviews where they have figured out that she knows nothing about current issues in education reform and thinks that bear attacks are a relevant threat to everyday American school children. More troubling is that she lied to the senate (a federal offense that should immediately end her appointment) about not sitting on the board of her parent’s company which is a registered hate group at the Southern Poverty Law Center for its position against homosexuality which they specifically lobby to be taught to children! When confronted with this fact with 990 tax forms she doubled down on her lie and said that the forms were are 12 year running clerical error. This is not to even mention that she is the sister of a very shady mercenary who is creeping closer and closer to Trump’s ear and has made his fortune off of privatizing and intensifying warfare.

Next there is SOS pick, the recently CEO of Exxon Mobile, a man who received the “award of friendship” from Vlad Putin for doing good oil deals with Russia, whose old company (Exxon Mobile) has billions of dollars more in drilling deals waiting to go through with Russia once regulations are lifted. You have his General Mattis pick, which violates the law which states that the head of the CIA needs to be filled by a civilian to ensure that the entirety of defense thinking does not go straight through the military arm of power. Then there is his top policy advisor, who is a known and outspoken white supremacist. Donald has also appointed his son in law to a top position, likely breaking anti-nepotism laws in the process.

So, what does this all have to do with making America a worse place to live? Aside from the horror of what these people believe in, and what actions are being supported by our government across the country, we are establishing a further shift in politics where we normalize brazen ethics violations and corruption. The people in power are trusting more and more power with themselves while taking it away from the people. There is a famous quote that the people should not fear the government, but that the government should fear the people. Well, this only works if the people have the means to speak out against and check government power. With the further militarization of the police, attacks on journalists, and anti-protest laws coming down the pipe across the country (really, please read that one if you even want to pretend to care about the constitution) it seems the teeth are being taken away from the people and it will be the government who instead does the biting. It won’t be nice to live in the crushing jaws of authoritarianism, in a state where the powerful are lawless and the common person lives under lash and chain.

As ever, thanks for reading.

A revolutionary notion of justice

Anshin passed me this idea, and I think it is the most revolutionary form of justice I have ever heard of…

To start, thank you to my wonderful 3rd cousin, Anshin, for putting this idea into my head through lengthy discussions. It may have morphed a bit from the original, but hopefully I tell it well.

Our society currently looks at justice in terms of punishment. When someone does something illegal or harmful they are to be punished, so they will suffer their bad deed. Perhaps they will learn their lesson, perhaps not; the point here is the suffering of their bad deed. The criminal justice system/prison system in the USA is set up, to my understanding, to deprive people of their freedom and inclusion in society in punishment for their crimes. I don’t disagree that this cannot be done properly, after a few changes in principles. However, in our current society prison means terrible conditions, frequent acts of violence, rape, homicides, literal slavery, abuse by guards, and unfathomable times served in solitary confinement in some cases. This is not justice, I don’t care what you did. If you raped or murdered it is not justice for you to be sent to a prison where you will be raped or murdered. The rape situation is particularly appalling because people seem so quick to joke about or condone prison rape, as if just because you have been sentenced to prison for whatever reason you deserve to be raped. Yet somehow people seem to look upon our prison system and rationalize the horrific conditions within in the name of justice. Further, our prison and justice system is so twisted that many people go to prison and learn to become criminals even if they weren’t one to begin with. Where is the justice here? It’s not.

Anshin passed me this idea, and I think it is the most revolutionary form of justice I have ever heard of: heal the wound. When a harmful act is done it not only causes a wound, but the very act itself can be traced back to a wound. There are many ways to heal the wound done by the individual harmful act, but I’m not going into that in this post. I am concerned here with the wound that caused the harmful act.

If you follow this blog then you’ll be familiar with my position that people are victims of their culture. Our culture morphs our perception of reality, our thoughts, and our behaviors form a young age. This can be in good or bad ways; when bad things result from cultural influence, but are normalized by culture in society, then the person who posses those bad traits is a victim of their culture. So how do we find justice here? We should not put so much energy into punishing the person, but the culture itself. We need to be critical, we need to deconstruct the culture that gave rise to such bad acts, if it did indeed do so. If we find our culture guilty of pulling people away from actions and thoughts which move our society toward a condition of peace and love then we need to work actively as a society to change these aspects of culture.

Of course, people are responsible for their actions. If a person commits a crime directed by their culture and is a danger to society, they should be given treatment for their condition and society should be protected from them in the mean time. This treatment, however, should in no way be an expression of any notion of punishment, but an expression of a pure intention of healing the wound that their culture has inflicted upon them.

This is just one of many applications of the notion of ‘healing the wound’. There are many wounds existing within society that are not causing people to commit ‘criminal’ acts, but rather wounds that directly induce intolerance, hate,  and violence in people who practice such cultures. My assertion is that any time someone acts in a way that is violent or hateful we need to examine the areas of culture that might have given rise to such an act and address them at the source, instead of just punishing people for something they are taught to be normal.

In this way we can move our condition of society towards peace, and towards love.

This post is intentionally vague. I hope to write more specific examples in the future, but I just wanted to get the idea out there now. Thanks for reading, and, as ever, for thinking!!!

My chat with a 16yo Syrian refugee at a bus stop in Zwolle

I’m living in The Netherlands now, so normally I don’t count my new experiences as ‘travel’, but today was different as I had to go to a city further south, Zwolle, to do some immigration things.

Zwolle struck me as a very nice and chilled out place. The streets were calm and quiet despite it being a Friday afternoon, kids were playing in the parks, and everyone was, as usual, riding around on their bikes. I was moving across the city because I had to take a Blabla Car back to Groningen to avoid paying the outrageous train fare. I arrived to the meeting place for my ride when a young man approached me and asked me for a light of his cigarette.

After I told him, in English, that I didn’t have a lighter, he promptly introduced himself and invited me for a smoke. He asked me where I was from and seemed really excited to learn that I was from the US. “I’ve always wanted to meet someone from the USA”, he told me, “I don’t get a chance to meet people from the USA here”. I asked him where he was from and he told me Syria. I asked him what he was doing in The Netherlands and he was quick to tell me he was a refugee. He said he was studying now, but that he had come to the Netherlands a year earlier, by illegal means, to escape impending danger in his home city of Damascus. We ended up speaking for about an hour, in which time I learned a lot of things. Some of which you would expect to learn from a 16 year old, like how to ask his friend if he smoked too much weed in Arabic, how to introduce myself in Dutch, and that his favorite subject in school is biology.

The rest of what he told me I found much more interesting, however. He agreed to let me ask him questions about his experiences as a refugee in The Netherlands. He said he came by illegal means, but I never asked how. He said that as soon as he arrived he went right to the police and turned himself in as a minor refugee. He told me that his first 5 months were living in a refugee housing facility. He remembered that life there was really nice, which is a stark contrast to the horrific reports coming from refugee housing facilities in other supposedly helpful nations like Australia and the USA. He said while living there he had lots of parties and that life was good inside the place. I asked him how he felt about the way the media and people in Europe/USA talk about refugees (ie. they are terrorists or people who want to see the destruction of the country they are going to). He told me something really interesting here. He said that there were some criminals in the refugee houses, people who had done terrible things back in Syria, usually in war. But he said that these people were looking to escape that old life and start new, he said that there aren’t any terrorists coming over but just people looking to escape their old situation and continue their lives.

He told me that once he got out of the refugee center he got moved into a place with another refugee roommate. He told me that he is living off of an actually sufficient government stipend; he is never hungry, always has his roof, and is even able to stay plenty warm in the winter! He had nothing but good things to say about the Dutch government, only that it could only be better if he made it to Canada! I asked him more about his life here, like if he ever experienced racism or discrimination. “Never”, he told me, “not once have I been in a racist situation”. This genuinely surprised me as I know the far right is gaining popularity in Europe at large and in particular in The Netherlands. He told me that sometimes people are cautious with him for about a minute when they first meet, but he said that “after only a minute or two talking to me they realize who I really am and are totally fine”. I couldn’t help but imagine what kind of a reception he would be likely to receive in my “country of immigrants”.

He had some good news for me. His family has obtained visas to come live in The Netherlands with him! I asked him if this was made easy because he was here and he told me that yes, especially because he was still considered a child. Near the end of this month will be the first time in over a year that he has seen his father or his sister. I asked him if he or his family were religious, he said that they weren’t. Further to this, he said that most people in his city were not very religious, and that many people even outside major cities were not so religious in Syria. He said that there were a lot of Christians in Damascus, but that there was nearly no religious tension or problems there among the people.

The most surprising thing I heard him say was support for the USA. It wasn’t absolute, he seemed to recognize that the USA was not a wonderful force overall in the region, but he expressed happiness that the USA was supporting the Kurds in their fight against IS. I don’t think his excitement to meet an American was based in this, but more about new perspectives and meeting different types of people. He was a pretty open guy and seemed to just want to meet all different types of people. He told me that he really wanted to shake the hand of a Jewish person because he had never met a Jewish person before.

As our talk was nearing an end I told him that I thought it was such an important thing to express the human side of the situation, and to spread individuals’ stories to inject some -much needed- humanity into the increasingly un-human storm. He totally agreed, so I hope he won’t mind me telling you all what he told me today.

De Kale Kip (Pino squat) vegan experience Groningen!

From happycow.net to a wonderful evening of vegan food and great people in a new city!

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the Pino squat no longer exists 😦 however, the squatting community in Groningen is still going strong and there are plenty of other events around, just just need to know where to look!

Back to the vegan side of blogging, and my first post since I have moved to Groningen. I come with good news! Tonight me and 13 of my best friends here in Groningen went out to a once weekly vegan dinner that I found on the happy cow website. If you don’t know happy cow it is a great resource to find veggie and vegan things happening just about anywhere! Here is a story where it has pulled through with such great success once again 😀

It was a rainy afternoon as we pushed off on our bikes from our student housing toward the place we would come to learn is called the “Pino squat” -after the pizza place that used to occupy this space. I was nervous because I was going to what seemed to be an unstable pop-up vegan restaurant with an international crowd of picky eaters and non-veggies. Upon arrival we were greeted with a slurry of good smells and lots of laughter and smiles in a rapidly filling small dining space. Our 14 person arrival came as quite a surprise to the volunteer staff, but we were warmly welcomed nonetheless. After we set up the chairs that they had to pull from the back for us we got served our soup course.

The soup was good, quite plain, but perfect to warm up from the cool rainy bike ride we had to get there. Carrot, tomato, and cabbage. We sat around talking for a little bit when one of the volunteer staff came over and ‘reminded’ us that we had to do our own dishes. Did I mention it was a 3 course menu for 4 euros each? Yeah, so there we go. Doing your own dishes is a small price to pay; and between 13 of us the workload was quite light for most 😀

The second course was (I think) a seitan product cooked in a dark rich savory sauce served with course mashed potatoes. It was really excellent, I could have eaten about 3. As implied, the potions were not huge, but sufficient for most. After we finished these dishes the dessert came out. It was a heavily spiced mixture of freshly cooked fruit on top of a pancake. It was too strong for many in my group, but I really loved it. Consequently I ended up eating about 4 of them! Great stuff! My initial nervousness quickly subsided as the evening progressed as I saw all my friends happily chatting and eating their food. It was really the best situation that I could imagine for the evening, better even!

The ambiance was really special as well, plenty of great spirited and smiling people among a subtly lit room of stickered, posterd, and graffitied walls. We were constantly getting wafts of different herbs coming, not only from the kitchen, but also from others’ cigarettes as well. There was a rotating display in one corner full of information about local protests, small concerts, local vegan activities and much more!

I managed to catch a few of the volunteers for a bit more information about what the place is and what they do. They apparently run a “bike kitchen” as well (sounds familiar <3). I hope to get involved when I can and get my hands greasy! They are beginning to host more activities that I hope to get involved with as well, particularly “chill Mondays”, which I am sure I will be needing during this masters course. They really emphasized to me that people are really free to organize what ever they want to do with the space.  I am so happy that I have discovered this place so early in my time here; I hope to enjoy it much more for the rest of my time in Groningen!

All of the good that america does…

Get ready for another of my extended metaphors…

I have been brooding over this post for quite a while after someone criticized my blog by saying that I should not forget all the good that America does. There is no doubt that America does some good things around the world. We give aid when countries are hit by natural disasters, we sometimes give aid to other countries in times of dire need, we have attempted governmental overthrow in some countries in the name of ‘the good of the people’ and in the process taken some very bad people out of power. The aid we give for natural disasters is great, if only we gave more. That’s all I can say about that, no real criticism. However, the rest of it is a different story.

Imagine you tie someone to a chair, light them on fire, wait a minute or two before putting out the fire, then apply burn cream to the wound (it does not escape my attention that burn cream is universally denounced by medical professionals, thus it is fitting for this analogy). This scenario is similar to what the USA (and the UK) does to many countries in the world that we are “helping”. We light them on fire -sometimes literally-, wait until there is a gaping wound, and then we apply a semi or ineffective treatment to make it seem like we care what’s going on while ignoring that we maliciously lit them on fire and left them to burn in the first place.

Let’s look at a few examples:

The USA took Saddam Hussein out of power. Saddam Hussein was a corrupt, murderous thug. Seems like he was a bad guy right to the core. We took him out, and even semi-staged a statue tear-down propaganda film to show how great we are and how happy the people were to receive our aid.  A Development Fund for Iraq was set up using money seized from the corrupt regime. We can look past the fact that this fund has undergone multiple audits for dodgy management practices. Using the money from this fund we did manage to accomplish a nice change for the Iraqi people, but a better PR show, of taking Saddam’s face off the currency.  Above is the bit where we put out the fire and applied the burn cream, however let’s not forget that the USA and the UK are largely responsible for Saddam’s rise to power. Here is a good compilation of the evidence leading to that conclusion. We paid him, we trained his regime, we armed him with guns and chemical weapons, we installed him into power, then we acted surprised when everything went to hell and acted like heroes when we went in and deposed him.

(I’m here struggling to think of more good things we have done. I asked a friend of mine and they replied “I don’t know…….. literature?” Yeah, Americans have written some really good books. Anyway…)

There is USAID or, U.S. Agency for International Development. If you go to their webpage it is full of a lot of really nice stuff. I remember from my time in Perú being in some reserves and national parks where there was an occasional USAID emblem in the corner of a research display or on a donor wall. These parks and reserves are very important for protecting what’s left of the natural and cultural heritage of Perú. I am sure such indications of USAID’s involvement in other nice projects could be found all over the global south. This all being said, USAID is just about the closest thing that you can get to the figurative burn cream that we apply to the world. Right there in the name, “International Development” comes a multitude of issues. From the get-go, the USA helping other nations to develop is really mostly done so there can be new developing markets for our businesses to exploit. I mean, the “bettering” of people’s lives probably plays a big factor in the motivation behind this action, but it is no secret that undeveloped or struggling economies are not good for international economics and a primary goal of the USA is to improve the international economic situation in their own favor. However, this “development” often comes at huge losses to local cultures and environments. Check out Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh by Helena Norberg-Hodge (1991) for how this can be, or her organization website. (This reference and link is largely unrelated to USA international relations, but more about how “development” can be detrimental to  local communities.) In addition, look into Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano (1971) for an extensive review of how US-given “aid” has “helped” Latin America over the years. In short, the aid we give to countries often is either loaded with stipulations that end up creating a dependency on US trade (see: obligatory economic restructuring in the economic philosophy of comparative advantage), or only really goes to benefit the developing pro-US business upper-middle and elite classes within the country, leaving the poor behind to endlessly toil in a country where rampant inequality rips apart the fabric of their society and their lives.

Further to this issue we have the fact that so many of the problems that USAID is trying to remedy have been caused by the USA and USA corporations. For example, I clicked on the first header of the “What we do” section of their website which is “Agriculture and food security”, and I found the following paragraph.
“A spike in world food prices in 2008 hurt economies across the world and led to destabilizing riots in over 30 countries. In order to feed a population expected to grow to 9 billion people by 2050, the world will have to double its current food production, all while climate change increases droughts and leads to less predictable rains.” -USAID website 16 Aug 2016

Ok, right, fuck off. A world economic crisis in 2008 largely caused by US banks in the name of high-risk private profit with a publicly funded safety net which was OK because they knew they were “too big to fail”. The world does not need to double its food output, we currently produce more than enough food to feed the world. As the linked article rightly pointed out the issue is not scarcity of food, but poverty of people. This poverty is directly caused by the globalized economic system which has been forced upon people, one which the USA is a very strong proponent and endorser. In fact, I am pretty comfortable saying that over the past, at least 100 years, we have been a dominant, if not THE dominant, influencer in global food markets. For a more in-depth analysis check out The End of Food by Paul Roberts (2008). And finally, climate change. Do I even have to write about how the majority of our government rejects current science on climate change, how the US government time and again refuses to sign into binding climate change mitigating treaties due to their potential impacts on business, how the USA is constantly in the top 2 countries driving climate change and shows no intention to slow down, and how we are being left behind in the world in our pseudo-debate over climate change with an angry and stupefied populace who believes what they hear from a Koch Industries representative on Fox News? No, I don’t, I hope. And this is just my comments from one paragraph of one topic on one page of the site. Clearly we are applying a USbandAID to problems we caused, or are doing nothing to challenge the root of said problems.

I could go on. We fight terrorists (I could write a whole post just about this), we support international democracy (I have written posts about this), we defend the world from the terrors of socialism and communism (I have a post in the works about this). To conclude, the USA does do some good things internationally, but these things are really just simple, largely ineffective patches for problems we caused in the first place.

Did I miss something great that the USA does in the post? Do you know of things other than disaster relief that the USA helps with that it didn’t, at least indirectly, cause?  Please let me know and I will add them.

As ever, if you want to look into any of the books I mentioned then check out your local libraries or your local alternative bookstores. Thanks for reading and for thinking!

Some reflections on modern Basque culture

Change of scenery, I am here in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country! It’s not my first time out, and it won’t be my last. It hardly feels like travel any more, but I think it still applies.

I really feel many ‘developed’ industrialized nations could do well to take a good hard look at the Basque Country; they have a lot of really cool things going on over here. I mean, beyond some of the classic European charms like free/nearly free university, free healthcare, progressive working conditions, great cycling infrastructure and generally healthier lifestyles. But there is something more special in the Basque Country.

The most striking thing one notices upon visiting is the activism of the people. Scores of people are involved in, or are at least are openly vocal, about issues (note, not sound bites) that are important to their communities and the region as a whole. There are protest banners everywhere! “Bring home Basque prisoners” to call for the return of Basque prisoners to closer prisons so their families can see them, especially since some people are unjustly locked up on pseudo-terrorism charges, “No Fracking!”, “No to Nuclear Power!” “Feminism!”, “End sexism” in response to a recent surge in horrific crimes against women in the recent months across Spain (and the world in general), “Welcome refugees”, “Free Palestine/End Israeli Occupation” and, of course, general Basque independence things. You see it in graffiti, and no, the city government nor uppity do-gooders do not rush to remove it, you see it in publically placed banners that people don’t get citations for putting up that may stay up for weeks/months/years. There is politically charged graffiti that I have seen stay on walls for years. It is common to see people wearing “FRACKING EZ” or translated “NO FRACKING” tee shirts with a picture of a fracking rig topped by a skull.

This is a photo I took in Bermeo, a seaside village.

People are concerned and they show it! They talk about it, they move ideas around their communities and take actions. Obviously it is not everyone in the society, and there are plenty of criticisms that can be made about how certain groups go about their social activism, but there is something to be said about what’s going on around here. The Basque Country is championed around the world for their progressive treatment of social issues (read: feminism), their solidarity with other oppressed minority groups, workers’ rights, and a general progressiveness within society.

Another cool thing that’s going on here is people’s sense of deep cultural connection. Aside from a tremendous pride in local cuisine and listening to culturally important music the Basque people celebrate their unity as a distinct culture in other ways. For instance, right now is the time of the fiestas or parties. Most people going out dress in traditional garb where they go out on the town to move around the bars, playing both modern and traditional music, and dance all types of dances. During the day there are parades in the city that involve lots of drinking, dancing, and fun for all ages. The Basque people around Vitoria, young to old and everywhere in between, come out to enjoy the 5-day party in some way or another. Today Naroa and I went out to watch some Basque sports in the central town arena. The past two nights I have been out on the town with Naroa and her (our) friends dressed up in the traditional clothes and dancing in the jam packed streets with what seems like almost everyone else in the entire city. What I found really striking is how you can see a crowd of hundreds of people, mostly between the ages of 16-50, but not exclusively, listening to traditional music being played and, with no orchestration whatsoever, dance a specific dance to the song. And do that for half a dozen songs in a row! It’s just not something I, as an American, get to see, well, ever, in my own country. You are lucky if you can get anyone to even jump in for the electric slide…

In short, Basque people rock. AUPA EUSKAL HERRIA!

My second trip into the jungle and what I learned there, part II

One of the toughest moments of my whole trip…

(This is Part II of my story, you should probably read Part I before you read this, if you haven’t already…)

I left off my last post with adrenaline pumping through my veins, quickly walking back to camp after running into a “big” cat on the trail in the forest on an evening walk to go find glowing moss. I was thinking two things at that moment (other than “is there a big cat behind me?”). The first was how to translate into Spanish what just happened so that I can tell the family, the second was how funny it was that I just went out to see some moss and my walk got ruined by seeing one of the most difficult to encounter animals in the forest! Well, I was chuckling off the latter, while not doing so well with coming up with a suitable solution for the former.

When I arrived the family was all up waiting for me and I went up to them excitedly. “Aye un gato en el bosque! Asi, y asi! (I motioned with my arms the realtive size of the cat) Con…(here I made little motions to indicate spots on my body) en su cuerpo!“. Well, I wasn’t sure what message came across, but something surely did. Segundo, the father, ran inside and grabbed a flashlight and was excitedly running around the camp, shining it into the forest, all the while I was pathetically attempting to explain that I saw the cat a few bridges down the trail. Then he ran back inside the hut and emerged with a rifle! He was exclaiming something about “Mi pollos!” (my chickens!) as he ran into the forest after the cat I had seen. I knew that this situation had the potential to be bad, but I knew that I could not handle it alone, not with my Spanish, I needed Naroa. Well, Naroa was already up in the loft, in the tent, ready for bed. I had the only light and she could not find her pants. So as I waited for her to make it down from the tent a tragedy was brewing in the forest beyond.

Naroa eventually emerges and we begin to run into the forest after Segundo and the gun. We make it to the first bridge before we catch up with him. We asked him what he was going to do with the gun, he indicated he would shoot the cat because the cat would eat his chickens. He was dead set on protecting those chickens. I convinced him that I had seen the cat much further down the trail, even though it was a lie; I just wanted to get out of that situation. I remember staring at him down the trail with only the light of my head lamp on the moonlit night beneath the canopy of the loud forest. I also remember vividly also staring at the gun, hoping the whole time that we could be successful in ensuring that it never was fired that evening.

Eventually he gave up on the idea that he was going to hunt down the cat and came back to camp with us. When we arrived I gave him an earful about the implications of what he had done. I didn’t bring up the illegality of it (he would have probably gone to prison for 2.5 years if he had killed that cat), nor did I mention the fact that he is here to protect the forest, not to kill it. Instead I told him in very impassioned, broken Spanish about how Africa and Asia used to have many big cats in their forests and mountains but have lost many of them due to humans killing them and that if Perú has them it is a treasure that needs to be protected. I think I also mentioned that his chickens did not matter at all relative to the life of that cat, and that there is no justification for killing the cat to protect them. But I went on too long.

When I calmed down a modicum I noticed the look of deep shame on his normally proud face. I was pumping with multiple rounds of adrenaline when I went on that rant and in the mean time I was not considering my situation beyond how best to get the idea across. But here he was, a proud father, in front of his family, in a place where he calls home, being told off by a highly respected visitor (I don’t think I have gone into detail about the ways I was treated in Perú, but I will in a later post. Trust me though, it was freaky the way I was treated so many times like royalty for no apparent reason other than my assumed wealth, class, and nationality). Ashamed, and trying to save face, he backtracked. He said first that he thought it was an otorongo (a jaguar), and not the smaller tigrillo that I had seen, and that he was fearful for all of our safety. Then he switched to saying that he thought I had seen bandits coming down the path, and that he was going to protect his family. I left it at that as I began to recognize that I had overstepped my intention as an environmental activist and stepped on some toes, that my real message had been received, and that just moving on with life was the best solution going forward.

I went to bed a few minutes later, but I did not sleep. I could not sleep the whole night; I just kept running over my encounter with the cat first, and Segundo second, in my head all night. I was having half asleep dreams of cats coming to the camp to take the chickens. I kept hearing Segundo get up and walk around outside all night long, I could not see him, but I was still so scared that he was going to go looking for the cat. I did not want to push the situation any further, so I just laid there sweating on top of my sleeping bag, hoping to never hear the shot of the rifle. Morning eventually came without a shot, and I got up early like I was accustomed to doing, to sweep the leaves of the previous day with Segundo and Mary. I fought though being sheepish and avoiding Segundo, and decided the best path for healing would be through normal interaction and continued friendship. After a few tense moments we warmed right back to each other and completed the morning tasks of the day.

I learned a lot from this second part of the experience. I had tried to be a good environmental educator and teach an important idea of conservation in an critical moment, but I got carried away with my emotions (and adrenaline) and I over stepped. I did not consider my social status, and the weight of my words. A constant theme while Naroa and I were in Perú was how we, especially I, a very tall, bearded, white, American, Male, influenced situations just by being in them by the way that people would behave differently in our (my) presence. I had forgotten this during my speech, and I am afraid that the weight of my privilege and my passion caused unintended harm.

In that moment I think I wielded more social and emotional power than I ever have in my life. I realize that so much of that power was the result of an unearned, privileged respect that I had in his eyes for little reason of my own doing. This fact drives me mad, that I have so much power, and that this power can be directed in such ways (and many more that I have never seen!) that can influence and cause harm to others, such as the shame I clearly delivered that evening. I not only never want to yield that undeserved power again, but I wish that it would just no longer exist. There are many aspects of my social privilege that I can influence and mitigate, but there are so many that exist within the fabric of society that I cannot individually deconstruct in certain situations. If I never want to exert that privilege again then maybe I just shouldn’t travel? No. Of course travel itself can also be considered a part of my social privilege, but it is such a great thing with the potential to benefit so many, myself included, that I keep a belief that there must be another solution. I hope that by learning from my experiences though a continuing habit of critical self reflection I will more deeply learn the nature of my privilege and learn to lessen my exercise of it in new and healing ways. Also, through continuing my practice of mindfulness I hope to learn to better control my words and actions, even in passion, to direct them with constructive purposeful intent towards a condition of peace and love.