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Posts Tagged ‘new zealand’

I caught the travel bug when I was a kid. Not during family vacations, those were always filled with tension and fighting and I could never wait to get home. The first time I realized how beautiful travel could be was during my 7th grade trip to Washington D.C. As part of the National Junior Honor Society, we were given small freedoms and allowed to reasonably explore things on our own. The next year, it was Disney World and my first trip to Florida and my first time on an airplane. I was hooked.

When I was sixteen, I earned a place on the Michigan Lions All-State Band’s trip to the international conference in Brisbane, Australia. I convinced my mother to let me go and spent months fundraising. Enduring the world’s longest plane ride, we visited not only Brisbane, but also Sydney, and spent a lovely three days in Hawaii, all the while performing in parades and concerts over a two-and-a-half week period. Even after dealing with a vicious stomach bug shortly after arrival, staying in a dorm with mice and giant cockroaches, a haunted hotel room in the red-light district section of Sydney (complete with gunshots in the walls), and getting lost in the not-so-great section of Honolulu, I was in love with travel and learning about the world outside my own country. This is also when I learned that I don’t like Vegemite, but that’s an different story.

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In the years since, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, and Italy. (My layovers in New Zealand and Amsterdam technically do not count, but they did stamp my passport, so there’s that.) I don’t count Canada because it is literally (and I’m using that correctly) about twenty minutes away and I’ve been there frequently throughout my life, especially after I turned nineteen, which is the legal drinking age there. Don’t judge.

All of these places taught me lovely, wonderful things, not only about the places and people, but also about myself. I learned how to make myself understood in another language, not perfectly, not even remotely close, but enough to order at restaurants, find the restroom, and ask for towels at the hotel. I learned that I am perfectly capable of navigating through unfamiliar places and can sort out the London Tube map on my own. I’ve made amazing, life-long friends in other places, even though we keep in touch only online. (Sabrina, I SWEAR I will get back to Italy, no worries!)

One of the most important things I’ve learned, though, is the importance of other perspectives. The American viewpoint is not the only one, people see things differently in other places. There are different norms, different customs. Travel has made me much less arrogant and more tolerant of others, more open to listening and understanding, even if I don’t agree. Granted, the places I’ve visited aren’t as far removed from me as a remote village in Kenya might be, (another place I’d like to visit), but they’re definitely not the same as where I’m from. Different cultures, different histories, different mindsets. I find it all fascinating, learning that will never end.

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The point of all of this is to motivate. Don’t have a passport? Get one! Plan, save, do whatever you can to enable to you to get out and see the world, not just your own backyard. While there are many universal truths, seeing the world through someone else’s eyes will open your own. My own list keeps getting longer, to the point of I’m considering becoming a flight attendant when I’m done teaching just so I can travel the world over. Of course, if my Mega Millions ticket ever hits, I’ll be able to do it a lot sooner.

Even with all of its problems, our world is a beautiful place. Go see it.

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Well, it’s happened again. In case you’re living under a rock, there’s been another mass shooting, this time in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Forty-nine people. Muslims. Immigrants. Men, women, and children, were massacred at their place of worship, the place where you should feel the safest and most at peace. Another mass shooting, sure to be followed by more, if the past twenty years are any indication. It’s almost commonplace now.

If you think this is going to be a blog on gun laws, at least directly, you’re wrong. It’s about hate.

You see, I’m a teacher. More than ninety-nine percent of my students are Muslim, true story. They range in age from 11-14, old enough to be aware and somewhat interested about what is going on in the world. I encourage them to discuss world issues that are important to them (this leads to good research and writing) and, especially in my first hour, we’ve had some really good talks this year.

When I saw the news last night, and then again this morning, I knew that there would be questions in first hour. Real, honest, questions that I didn’t have any good answers for, especially as someone not from their background, someone who can represent ugliness to them because of the actions of others who look like me.

I fought back tears watching the footage this morning, the disbelief and horror still fresh on the faces of the survivors, standing in their blood-spattered clothing and speaking to reporters. I shut the TV off and left for work, dreading what I knew was coming.

First hour came in, got settled quickly, as they always do, and began their morning work, journaling and reading. When we came together after their reading time, we started the day by sharing out answers, and then, as I always do, I asked if anyone had something else they wanted to share before started the day’s assignment. A hand went up, I called on him, and the question came.

“Miss, did you hear what happened in New Zealand?”

Twenty-nine other faces stared at me, some nodding a bit because they had already heard, some questioning what had happened. I wondered how I was going to tell them, what I was going to tell them. This is the internet generation, I’d rather that they heard it from me first. But that’s not what bothered me the most. The worst thing was that I had to tell them this at all.

How do you look at a roomful of adolescents and tell them that there are people in this world who hate them just for being who they are? How do you look these kids in the eye and tell them that there are people who would rather see them dead than get to know them because they’re Muslim? It’s not that they haven’t already experienced racism, they hear it all the time. They’ve been called terrorists, among other horrible things. They and their parents have been discriminated against before and it hurts them, but they are, sadly, used to that and a lot of them have great parents who tell them to not pay any attention to that, to be proud of who they are. But this is different. This was massive bloodshed, people like them who do what they do every week were shot dead for the simple fact that they were Muslim. They don’t cover how to do this in college.

I took a deep breath and explained it the best I could, as honestly as I could. My voice broke a couple of times and I had to take some deep breaths to stop more tears from coming and upsetting them, but they knew. They know I love them. This is a pretty awesome group of kids, my first hour, and I didn’t want to upset them more than necessary, but I was upset, too. I still am. I’m upset that someone with such public, racist, views, who spews vitriol all over social media, is cleared for a gun license. I’m upset that such hate festers and warps, whether it’s due to mental illness, drugs, or a dysfunctional upbringing, enough to carry out an act as brutal and as senseless as this. I’m upset that parents lost children, wives lost husbands, children lost parents. I’m mad as hell that there are people like that in this world. He grinned while being arraigned. Did you know that? I just read that on Al-Jazeera tonight.

As expected, they were horrified. You could have heard a pin drop as I briefly spoke about it. I talked, again, about our lockdown drills, that they needed to take them seriously because there were sick people like that out in the world. We talked, again, about what we would do if it were ever a real situation. The same hand went up again when I was done.

“Miss, why do they call us terrorists, but when a white person does something like this they’re called a mass shooter?” I sighed. This was definitely not going to be an easy morning. I told him that the Prime Minister of New Zealand had, in fact, called this man a terrorist and that’s who he was. I also said that he was right, that many times that is the case, but that things were starting to change. More people are standing up and speaking out, demanding fairness. I told my class that we had a long way to go when it came to race, that their generation had a really good chance of making their voices heard, of changing perceptions of Muslims to ignorant people. I hope I’m right.

They probably could have gone on all day, but I didn’t want them to dwell on it, so I brought our discussion to a gentle end and got them started on researching the Greek gods and goddesses, a project that they are excited about. It morphed into a more normal class time. I got a lot more hugs on the way out today, though.

I can’t let it go, though. Do you know what haunts me right now? Their eyes, their eyes that ask me, “Why?”

I don’t know. I don’t know how to solve the problem. I couldn’t give them a good answer. This is what I do know: There is evil in this world and it kills. It spreads through social media, through fear, through ignorance. We have to stand up to it, whether it has to do with race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, sexual preference, or disability. We have to make it uncomfortable to spout that crap, even when we’re scared. I’m guilty of staying quiet, I know I need to step it up, especially around people I know. If enough people speak up, maybe minds will open, hearts will change. Maybe love will win.

I don’t really know how to end this, so I’ll let Lin Manuel Miranda.

“Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside.” ~Lin Manuel Miranda

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