Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Emotional Night

Here are a few pictures that were taken after Barack Obama was named the President-Elect. All pictures were taken at the Bluenote in Columbia, Mo.


David Finke, Columbia, Mo. resident clasps his hands. For many Democrats, Obama's election seemed like an answer to prayers.


Bill Monroe, a Columbia, Mo. resident and delegate for the to the Democrat National Convention in Denver, cheers and waves an American flag after the announcement that Barack Obama is the next president of the United States. 

University of Missouri-Columbia students smile as they watch CNN announcing Obama's election on the large screen at the Bluenote in Columbia, Mo.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Believing your Bias

I will be straight forward and admit that I am not a Sarah Palin fan. I could go into much detail about why not, but that is not the issue I wish to address. Why this is important is because last week, Fox News reported that McCain insiders said that Palin did not know that Africa was a continent and did not know which countries were involved in NAFTA. When these reports came out, I quickly send a text to my brother asking him if he had heard. I found great entertainment in this report. Now if you had asked me if I honestly believed that Palin did not know Africa was a continent, I probably would have told you that she most likely knew but misspoke, which was still enough of a reason to criticize her.

But as it turns out, I made a horrible assumption. A couple days after my journalism professor brought up the issue in class, a NY Times article was published revealing that the "McCain adviser" was actually a hoaxer. He had tricked the media into believing he was a true adviser by creating a blog with the name Martin Eisenstadt and by talking to the media.

Here is a link to the article with a picture of the man, whose true identity is Dan Mirvish.

So you see that even I was fooled by this fraud. Clearly, this was not something that should have ever seemed plausible, that is the fact that Palin thought Africa was a continent. However, the recent studies on how little Americans know, combined with my own personal bias, led me astray. As seekers of truth, we must be careful to not let anyone, whether that person be some guy creating lies out of his gloomy office (Mirvish) or yourself, lead you away from the truth.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Out in the Nick of Time

Yesterday, as part of the election coverage, I was assigned to follow the Columbia branch of the NAACP. Throughout the day, they were offering rides to the polls and going from place to place encouraging citizens to vote. So I went with the president Mary Ratliff to go find people and ask them if they had voted. As she spoke, I snapped some pictures and got people's names for The Maneater newspaper. After a couple of stops, we pulled into Douglass Park at what I estimate to be somewhere between noon and 12:15 p.m. There, dozens of men sat smoking and drinking, but Ratliff was not afraid at all to go up to them. She encouraged them to vote, and many of them said they already had. After a while, we left and went around to other areas of town to spread the word. 

We got back to the headquarters, and I took off for one of my classes. Later that evening, I returned to the NAACP headquarters for more reporting and Ratliff came up and told me some startling news. A little before 1 p.m., someone had been shot six times to death at  Douglass Park. My first reaction was to thank God that He got me out of there in time. I could not believe that we had been there only minutes before. My second reaction was one of pensiveness. Was the victim someone I had talked to? Could he have been in one of my pictures? I still do not know the answer to those questions, but I know that my eyes were opened yesterday. I am not sure to what exactly, but they were certainly opened.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

First Time Voter

Today, I voted for the first time in my life. There wasn't any big party because of it, and I surely did not change the world. Still, knowing I had a part in choosing the next president of the United States, as well as several local officials, makes me feel good (at least for now. If the new president ends up making things worse, I may want to pretend I had no part in it.) There really is no good way to describe it. I guess the only thing I can really say is that I do not understand how or why people would not vote unless they truly are in a stalemate in their own minds. Even then, you do not have to vote for every candidate, so at least go and vote for someone. Out of about a dozen or so races, surely they can make a decision about at least one. 

There is not much else to say. I probably will have forgotten about this day several years down the road, and certainly my situation is not unique as millions of people were first time voters today. All I can say is that today, we must simply watch and wait. No one really can predict exactly what will happen over the next four years. No one certainly could have predicted Bush's two terms. So here I am. As I cast my ballot, I felt a sense of power and responsibility. But as I wait, I feel a sense of helplessness. The moment I put that ballot in the machine, I lost all control. So here we are. Let's watch and see.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Every Journalist Needs an Outlet

If you have ever picked up a newspaper, you know that one of the biggest, if not the biggest, issue in the media is how to remain unbiased. Everyone has their own opinions, and reporting on those topics without allowing your own bias to slip in is sometimes near impossible. What I have found, however, is that if journalists are allowed to have some sort of an outlet to speak their views, they will be able to report more objectively. For example, this past week, I went to a Republican watch party to cover some of the responses people had on the Presidential debate. While I was reporting, I found it hard not to spout off my own beliefs, but what kept me sane was knowing that after I finished, I would be able to call my brother and rant and rave all I wanted. I will not tell you to which side I lean in the election (if you can't already guess from my previous blogs), but I strongly believe from experience that journalists should be allowed to speak their mind every once in a while.

To be completely honest, I have become jealous of those people who are allowed to picket in the streets on issues ranging from abortion to global warming. I envy people who can put up signs in their front yard and wear shirts that say "Obama Girl" or "I love John McCain" in big bold letters. People do not realize what a privilege it is to be able to express these beliefs, but I have chosen to forgo this right in order to present the truth to the public as clearly as possible. But this is not being said so that you feel sorry for me. Instead, I just want people to understand how valuable their opinion is, and how it should not be taken advantage of or misused. 

So back to the issue of journalists. Should they be able to speak about their beliefs? I do not think they should be extremely vocal about them because many people would then bring it into their writing. It would be extremely difficult for the public to see past a clearly liberal or conservative filter. But at the same time, journalists should not have to suppress all their beliefs. I think the public should be able to know who a journalist supports and what those journalists religious beliefs are. But that is about as far as it should go. If a journalist feels the need to rant and rave, he needs to find a confidante, like I have in my brother to go "spill his guts out to." Blogs can fulfill this need to an extent, but because of their lack of privacy, they can easily cross the boundary. This is a difficult issue with no simple solution, but the main point is that journalists should attempt to be objective in their method of journalism and need to find ways to control and direct their opinions toward productive outcomes.

Monday, September 29, 2008

My New Blog

I would like to address the new blog that I just started entitled Footprints Devotionals. If you look under my profile, you will see it listed there. I want to address it because I do not see this as any hindrance to the work that I am doing here on this blog. In fact, I think it is better that those who read this blog understand where I am coming from. Although I try to be unbiased in the writings that I present as fact (in contrast with the opinion articles such as the smoking blog below), obviously I have certain beliefs that show through in my writing. I believe that it is better for you to know what I believe rather than being inundated with my biases unaware of what is at hand. I conclude by saying that my being a Christian does not hinder my journalistic abilities. In fact, if anything, it should only make my journalism better because the first loyalty in journalism is to the truth, and seeking truth and being truthful is at the core of my Christian beliefs. I hope this explains my situation. Please feel free to comment at will.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Addiction Affects the Non-Addicted

After coming to college, I thought I would quickly become accustomed to the endless trail of smoke that is left behind students and faculty alike as they walk to their various classes. However, even now, a month into school, I feel as though every time I inhale a cloud of their smoke, I am surely coming a minute closer to my death by lung cancer. Perhaps I am being overdramatic, but I am simply expressing the plea of my stomach, which quickly overturns itself and causes me to feel as though I will vomit whenever I walk behind a smoker. 

Although I do not understand the addiction whatsoever (as I have never attempted to smoke before), I think I do understand common courtesy. And blowing smoke in some innocent bystander's face as you walk by is what I would classify as rude. All this being said without even mentioning the other factors which include littering (one of if not my biggest pet peeve of all time), personal health effects, and indirect influence on others. I cannot help but think that if a person were attempting to quit smoking, they would have to drop out of school because they would not be able to attend any of their classes without smelling that excruciating mix of nicotine and whatever other garbage they place in cigarettes that they say is "pleasant" or "enjoyable" or any of the other equivocal terms they use, sending the pitiful ex-smoker into unconquerable cravings for their captor, nicotine. 

I must mention that I do find the smell of cigars somewhat appealing, but I would gladly never smell another cigar if it meant never having to smell a cigarette again. I do not pretend to offer a solution to this trend which so enthralls Americans. To be honest, most people probably find me completely and utterable unsympathetic to smokers. After all, is it really their fault that they have become addicted for a lifetime after one or two experiments with cigarettes? If you knew me, you would quickly see that abstinence, or more aptly termed stubbornness, is one of my most strongest attributes. So, I cannot possibly understand why a person cannot simply refuse nicotine.

But enough of my babbling. As I said before, I do not propose to offer a solution to smoking, but only desire to give a different perspective than those that have been proposed before so that people may see a more complete picture of the situation, or I would call it, plight.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Inspired by Humility

What are you supposed to think of a man who has built nearly eighty schools in the Pakistan and Afghanistan, has a book that has been on the New York Times bestseller list since January, is so prestigious that the presidential candidates call him for advice, and is so humble that he still gets nervous when speaking in front of crowds and has large holes in the heels of his socks, underneath his pant suit's legs?

This man is Greg Mortenson, one of the most inspiring men you could ever meet. This summer, Mizzou chose Three Cups of Tea, co-authored by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, as the book for the Mizzou Reads program. All the incoming freshmen are encouraged to read the book, although few did. The sad thing is, this book was one of the best books I have ever read, and many people chose not to experience it just because they were lazy. But this article is not meant to scold those who choose "fun" over knowledge.

The book relays the story of Greg Mortenson, who after getting lost on his way down from attempting to climb K2, the second largest mountain in the world, came to a small village in Pakistan and fell in love with the people. Seeing many children writing in the dirt one day, Mortenson discovered that the children had no school. So after a promise to build them a school, a couple of years in the United States raising funds for the project, and many sleepless nights, Mortenson's work began; and he hasn't stopped until this day. 

So when I went to interview Mortenson for the school newspaper when he came to speak at Mizzou, I felt like I was meeting a celebrity. I had read all the articles that said how gracious and gentle he was, and I began to feel quite guilty for interviewing him when I had heard that he hardly ever had any time for his family because of everything that was demanded of him. So I interviewed him for a short time before his speech, but, although he had some excellent points, what he said was not what stood out to me. Instead, it was his demeanor. Just like I had read, he was kind and gentle. When I first spoke with him that day, it was at a reception four hours before my official interview. Being "such a big fan" of his, I asked him to sign my copy of Three Cups of Tea. He asked where I was from and mentioned that he had just been in my hometown of San Antonio the week prior. At this I was incredibly disappointed that my mom did not have the opportunity to see him speak. But afterward, I casually mentioned that I had been set up to speak with him later that day. Seeing as he does not set his own schedule, I am not sure if he completely understood what I said, but, nevertheless, what he did next amazed me. "Oh, okay," he said. "Let me give you my email and phone number." 

His phone number? This man who barely has enough time to breathe cares so much about this program that he would give me, a freshman at some university's college newspaper, his personal cell phone number?

Well he did. He gave me the Central Asian Institute's main line and their email, along with his phone number and email. I do not think I will be calling him any time soon, but this act of kindness did not go unnoticed. I will never forget this man who cares so much about the children in Pakistan that he will wear socks with gaping holes in the heel so that he put every last penny toward building more schools. This is the kind of celebrity I admire. This is the kind of person I would aspire to become.

I will never forget what he wrote in my book that day.
"Gretchen, when your heart speaks, take good notes."    -Greg

Sunday, September 7, 2008

International Friends

Leaving home to go to college for some people is bad enough, but what if you had to leave your family and travel half-way around the world, entering into a culture with completely different traditions than what you know? In June of 2006, 583,959 international students were enrolled to study in colleges in the United States, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. At Mizzou, the university I attend, there are approximately 1,300 international students. 
I thoroughly enjoy learning about other cultures, so when the opportunity presented itself for me to become involved in International Friends, a ministry to help internationals in Columbia adjust to life in America, I was thrilled. I expected to learn a great deal about other cultures, which I have. I expected to have a little difficulty understanding some of the people I would meet, which I did. But what I did not expect is how much we had in common. The first night I went, we had a fellowship dinner. Everything was going extremely well. I was meeting new people from China and other places across the globe. After we finished eating, the leader of the organization stood up and explained a little exercise we would do at our tables. I do not know how the exercise led to it, but somehow, we began to talk about how much influence families had on our lives. 

After two weeks of being several states away from my family, I was getting to be quite homesick. I knew it was just part of the process of adjusting to a new life, but during that time, I realized how great a role my family had in my life. 
As we talked, one of the students from China spoke up about how he did not realize how big an influence his family had had on his life until he moved away from them just a few weeks ago. Although this comment was very common for such a setting, it moved me deeply. Here were two people, from the opposite sides of the world, who were having the same emotions. Both were just homesick students, trying to adapt as best they could to their new life. Somehow, knowing that other people understood how I felt made me feel more at home. Here I was, supposedly helping these people adjust to their new life, and I felt like they were helping me to adjust to mine.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I'll be honest. Today, I am not blogging because I have anything important to say, but because I am bored. But what I have realized being at college is that boredom is an interesting thing in itself. First of all, I believe that man was made to work, so when  he is not being productive, something triggers in his mind making his thoughts first fleeting, then a constant static. This, we call boredom. So, in order to correct this problem, we occupy our minds with such things as music, Internet, television, and the like. While these things are not inherently bad, when someone relies on them so heavily that his mind is no longer productive but simply a mundane collector of information, doing nothing with that information except to let it mold in his brain, something is very wrong.
Now the picture that is most likely in your mind at this moment is not very realistic, because I cannot think of anyone who sits on the couch all day staring at the television. But I do think that we, as a society, often allow ourselves to be fed information without question until our mind is filled with junk, like a attic full of unorganized boxes. Instead, we should sort through the information we are given, filing it in our memory for current or future use. In order to do this, I believe it is incredibly important not to allow oneself to become empty-minded or bored. Be productive. Take up art or read a book. Contribute to your community and those around you. Invest in others.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Curious Life

Day two of actual college classes, and I am feeling a bit more confident than yesterday. While my French class still seems as though it will be very difficult, I am getting the routine of things a bit better. As I sit here outside, I watch people walk by toward their different classes, and I realize that I love watching people. Sometimes I wonder if it is healthy, being so curious about other people's lives. 
Look that girl walking by is wearing a hijab, a Muslim head scarf. I wonder what thought process causes her to wear it? Yesterday I saw another girl wearing a hijab while working out at the recreation center. I also noticed she was wearing pants as not to show her legs. Unfortunately, I do not recall whether or not she was wearing a long-sleeved shirt. Here comes a girl who is overweight. Now I hold no hatred toward those who are overweigh, but I do wonder why they do not take better care of the body they are given. A male student walks by on the telephone. I wonder if he is far from home. Is he talking to his friend back home? That helped me get adjusted to college life, talking every once in a while to a friend who is going through something similar as you.  A professor walks by in a straw sun hat (I guess that is what you call it). He has probably taught here many years as most of the professors have.
I could sit here all day, watching people pass by. Oh look, a young woman with a little boy. Is she a student? That must be hard--raising a child while going to school. Although I have known people who have done it. I do not know what spurs on my curiosity of all these lives. Maybe it is the greater view of things, seeing how, despite all of our differences, we ended up here at the same place, at the same time. Life is curious, and that is why I love it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Busy Week for the World and Me

This week, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan announced his resignation, presumptive presidential nominee Barack Obama announced Senator Joe Biden as his presumptive vice president, the Beijing olympics hosts its closing ceremonies, and I complete my first week at the University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou). You ask, what do all these events have in common? Absolutely nothing. But I mention all of these to point out that the world does not stop for anything or anyone. Nobody waited for me to make a smooth transition to college life, and although both Musharraf and Obama most likely consulted countless individuals about when to make their announcements, the majority of the people they affected were not asked if it was a good time. Maybe all these events do not appear to be of any significant influence on the general public, but I say all this to make the point that you better run with the world if you don't want to get left in the dust. The world keeps spinning no matter what you want or feel. 
This past week, everything has been so out of sync with what I am used to, I don't know what to do. The news reminds me that the world continues, but since I moved away from my hometown of San Antonio, Tx, it feels as though life everywhere except for in Columbia, Mo, should have stopped. It seems as though I should go home soon and find everything exactly as I left it. 

(above) The columns stand in front of Jesse Hall, the admissions building for Mizzou.

Michael Phelps should still be swimming, hoping to break the world record, just as he was when I left. Barack Obama and John McCain
 should still be arguing about how best to solve the nation's and the world's problems, and Pakistan should still be ruled by the military hand of President Musharraf. 
However, when I finally go home for thanksgiving, none of this will be so. The olympics will be long over, the world will know who the next President of the United States will be, and Pakistan will have a new president. 

I wish right now, I had a solution to this dilemma of mine. I wish I knew how to make the world stop spinning, but I don't. So all I can do is run. I will become involved in this new community of mine. I will meet new people and discover new hobbies. I will fulfill my duty as a student and as a Christian. 

(above) Memorial Union is the building that houses many of the student activities at Mizzou.

And when I do finally make the flight home that fourth week in November, I will give thanks to God that I have a family who will be at home, waiting for me with outstretched arms as though I had never left. At that point, I think I will know that there is at least one place where the world can stop turning.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

On Comments

Recently, a few comments have been published concerning the articles written. I want to make it clear to my readers that these comments are not in any way affiliated with the author's opinion. However, unless the comment contains profanity or other outrightly inappropriate material, I will allow it to be published. I do promise to warn my readers when a comment recommends an off the blog Web site. On the "Obama Supports Same-Sexers" the material on the recommended site does have some graphic content. Although all nudity is covered, the acts and positions are quite clear to any viewer. 

By Their Fruit You Will Recognize Them

Because I so despise journalists being biased in what is supposed to be straight news, I am going to tell you up front that in this article I am trying to be as unbiased as possible. However, I do not doubt that my personal inclinations and opinions will seep into this article. Last night, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lakefront, CA, interviewed both presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain. 
Surprisingly enough, from a Christian point of view, their answers did not vary to great extremes. I mean to say that while their answers to the questions differed, they were not more or less acceptable as far as the typical Christian standard is concerned. The two points that did divert from general Christian beliefs were Barack Obama's stance on abortion and homosexuality. While he has made it clear that he does not personally believe in either, he also says he will take no stance against them. Viewing this in light of having a president for eight years who has opposed both but taken no successful action against either homosexuality or abortion, a Christian constituent might absorb this fault (if you will allow me to call it that; not for my sake, but for the majority of Christians) of Obama, in order to elect a president who is more agreeable in other areas. On the other hand, many Christians believe this to be completely unacceptable and will therefore, alienate all of Obama's other stances because, in their opinion, abortion overshadows all other issues. What most people do not hear, however, is that Obama and McCain's view on abortion is almost identical as far as action is concerned. Neither will make any federal law, and both desire to leave the decision in the hands of the states.
Still, putting these two issues aside, Obama and McCain were on fairly equal footing. Obama spoke of his faith personally, relating the times Jesus has helped him through hard times and reciting Scripture as a buttress for his domestic and foreign policies in aiding "the least of these." McCain recalled many stories of his war days, even relaying a story about a Vietnamese Christian guard who gave him slight relief from his torture.
Therefore, the method which I believe is best in choosing for whom to vote in the upcoming elections, from a evangelical viewpoint is to take into consideration Jesus' words in Matthew 7:20, "Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them." I am not saying one candidate is more "Christian" than the other. But I am saying that words are not enough. Look at their actions. Whose actions match their words. If it is Obama, then do not be afraid of scrutiny from your more conservative counterparts; vote for him. But if it is McCain, then do not shirk because you believe that America is run by liberals. Vote for him. Listen, learn, watch- then choose. No one can ask any more of you.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Childhood Dream Satisfying But Not Fairy Tale

For ten years, I have dreamed of going to a Yankees dream to see my favorite athlete Derek Jeter. Although it may not appear at first glance, Jeter and I have much in common. First of all, we were born on the same day. Secondly, we both play shortstop. Thirdly, we both bat second in the lineup. The first time I had the opportunity to see the Yankees was in fifth grade. My parents planned a night when we would go up to see them play the Rangers in Arlington, Texas, which is about five hours from my home in San Antonio. However, one of my elementary friends suddenly had to move because her dad was transferred out of the state. Looking back, I probably should have gone to the game since I think I spoke to her about one time after the day she left. But elementary school friendships always seem to be more important than they are, the childhood mind imagining that every friendship will last forever. As children rarely have a good concept of time or distance, I decided to go the going away party. That night my friends and I got all dressed up and went to eat at the Tower of Americas. That night, Derek Jeter hit a home run in the Rangers Ballpark. I don't recall completely, but I am quite certain they also won.
So eight years later, before I left for college. My parents planned a day to go see the Yankees play in Arlington. I had a fabulous time. The game was exciting, I had just receive a nice zoom lens for my camera, producing fabulous pictures as keepsakes; and my second favorite Yankee, Robinson Cano, hit a home run. The only bad thing about the evening was the heat. Starting at a hundred degrees, the temperature only went down about one degree each hour according to the ballpark thermometer. Bottom of the ninth, five to five, the Rangers are up to bat. After three hours already, I am ready to stay another three in extra innings if that is what it takes. However, Yankee pitching did not seem up to the job. It seems like a blur now, but somehow, the bases became loaded. Before I know what is happening, fireworks are going off in the stadium and Ranger's fans are in an uproar of cheers. Marlon Byrd just hit a grand slam to win it.
My family and I hurry out of the stadium in an attempt to beat the crowds. As I walk out, decked with a Yankees cap and shirt, I feel like a sore thumb sticking out in the crowd, waiting to be picked on. Another Yankee fan, of which there were quite a few for it being an away game, come up to me. "It's okay Yankees!" he says, giving my his fist to bump. My face cheers a bit...but not for long. "Go home Yankees!" I hear a Ranger's fan yell. I wish to get out as quickly as possible. I know that tomorrow brings another chance for my team, as this was only the first game in the four game series, but it didn't matter then. I would not be there the next night. 
As it turned out, the Yankees lost the next night too, only to come and win the last two games in the series. Despite the horrible ending, I did enjoy my night watching the Yankees. Even being in the same stadium with Derek Jeter and others of the like was thrilling. When I look back on pictures, I do not think I will remember much of the grand slam or the malicious calls of Ranger's fans. Instead, I will remember what my role model athletes inspired me to do throughout my own sports career, and the joy of knowing that dreams can be accomplished. Dreams are not fairy tales. They may not turn out exactly as you want, and that line about "them being even better" is only for the movies. But that does not mean that you cannot still fulfill your dreams, and enjoy them all the while. I hope to see another Yankees game sometime, and maybe it will turn out a little better. But either way, I think I loved every minute of that game as best I could. The thing that is better about my life than a fairy tale is that the end of my dream coming true is not the end at all. New dreams arise, which to me is much more exciting than happily ever after.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Plea for Haiti

After years of turmoil, Haiti has finally established Michele Pierre-Louis as the new prime minister. However, I have to question whether or not this will make any difference in the manner in which Haiti is run. For the past thirteen years, Prime Minister Pierre-Louis has been the Executive Director for a George Soros organization called the Knowledge and Freedom Foundation. President Rene Preval nominated her as his third nominee for prime minister, after his first two nominations were not approved. I hope that through her work in education, Pierre-Louis can understand what Haitians truly need. If I could send her a letter, this is what it would be.

(Pictured above: Children wait after school at a home of the school master who provides a meal of rice and beans with one piece of chicken to a group of about thirty children each day whose families do not have enough money to feed them. For some children, the school master says, this will be their only meal that day.)

Dear Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis,
Please take some time to hear my plea for the children of Haiti.
Each day they pray that someone so kind, would hear their voice and take the time, to give them one meal that day.
They pack their bag and head to school in hopes that one day they will pass the test that sends them to the university and onto a better life.
All this they do on one meal a day, made of rice and beans and one piece of meat- that is, if they are lucky.
2/3 of the population sit in unemployment, looking and hoping to find something that will bring them a dollar a day to feed their family.
On the distant shores at Labadee sit tourists with pocket fulls of money, wanting to spend it on an exotic adventure. Behind that beach sits a world in poverty.
Tourism at the citadelle and shops at Labadee could cure this country of its poverty, but officials sit with their arm raised like a pompous police- "Stop! This is our country."
Please, see the people with the hope in their eyes- it fades like the waning moon. Please, see the children with the empty stomachs-they need a little more food.
Please, see the mother, trying to nurse her now AIDs infected child. Please, see the people who are willing to help, if only for a little while.
Please see the people of Haiti, once strong in their fight to be free. Please, be the hero they need; not for me, but for the people of Haiti.

(Right: Horseback riding up the trail to the Citadelle La Ferriere is one of the potentially popular tourist attractions for travelers. Unfortunately, due to political unrest tourism in Haiti has all but vanished.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Recognizing Biased Media

The other day, I opened up the morning paper, which for me is the San Antonio Express News, as I do most mornings to read the front section. I mostly enjoy reading about the world news, but I also peruse over the political news, especially with the presidential elections coming up this fall. However, the other day, I was slightly disturbed by what I saw when I turned the pages of the paper over to find two pictures, one of Barack Obama and one of John McCain. Recently, the Express has begun each day to put in a picture of each of these men, recording what they did the previous day. 
One this particular day, the picture of Obama was typical. Having been sojourning across the world, speaking with various international leaders, Obama was pictured sitting with General Petraeus in a solemn manner, most likely discussing the policies and progress in Iraq. This seemed completely harmless, but the stark difference between this picture and the one of McCain is what I found to be so disturbing. The picture of McCain showed him riding in a golf cart with Bush Sn. On the cart, the sign read, "Hands off," indicating that it was not public property. The message was loud and clear. Surely, McCain had done many other things that day, including giving at least one speech. Surely the Express had another picture that would have sufficed. Yet they decided to publish a picture of McCain with Bush Sn. and a sign that read "hands off," both of which alienate him from the American public. Now I am certainly not a supporter of McCain, and this not because I am a hard core conservative either. Although I do not consider myself an Obama supporter either, I do tend to lean to taking his side on most issues. Still, when the media is so blatantly biased, something is wrong. 
If anyone is reading this right now, they may ask why I am spouting about this issue on the Internet instead of writing a letter to the editor. I could write a letter to the editor, but I do not feel that one mistake deserves a letter of reprimand. However, if this bias continues to occur, I will certainly take more direct action. For now, I simply desire to educate the readers as to what biased media is, so they may recognize it when it occurs, rather than being duped into believing everything journalists say or do. As a journalist myself, I can confidently say that it is not our goal to deceive. Rather, our goal is to bring truth to the public. However, even we fall prey to our own biased and may not realize this bias until someone else brings it to light. So do not be so harsh on journalists, but be aware that we do make mistakes. So please recognize our bias and bring this bias to light so that we can better reveal the truth.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Melting Pot or the Divided Country

Lately, I have heard more talk and signs of prejudice than I have in many years. Perhaps this is because I did not recognize the inuendoes when I was younger, but I now realize just how injurous and ignorant these comments can be. Being from Texas, I often hear people make derogatory remarks about Hispanics, but I have realized that this talk is not limited to any one group of people. In just over a month, I will be heading off to college, ready to begin an new part of my life. Because I am going out of state, I will know only one person when I arrive in the fall. However, instead of this being a challenge, I see it as an exciting opportunity. I have the ability to meet an extremely diverse array of people, different from anyone I have ever met before. When I see people of different cultures, I want to meet them and see how their background has shaped them into who they are today.
The other night, some friends and I went to Starbucks. Outside, a group of young Asians were playing some sort of card game as they spoke in a language neither of which I would probably ever be able to learn or understand. However, I was completely intrigued. I watched the way they interacted. They were intense in their game, but laughed and enjoyed each other's company at the same time. Unfortunately, my friends did not see their lifestyle in the same light as I did. They did not make any particularly degrading remarks; they did not have to. I could tell by the way they looked down on them, scared, disturbed, and confused by their actions and mannerisms. My friends made it clear that they desired to move as far away from them as possible. I was distraught. Here was an opportunity to learn about someone else; why they lived like they did and how it was to be an immigrant in America. After all, my brother currently rooms with an Asian student (even though he grew up in America, he does have some family connections abroad), and my brother has learned a great deal about other cultures through him.
Someone on National Public Radio (NPR) today mentioned that the US is no longer a melting pot. I had always been particularly fond of this term because it described how so many people could congregate and still get along. However, I began to think that this term was just an idealists' dream. Instead, we have become a divided nation, each ethnic group its own segregated people. I hope that soon, we can again become a true melting pot, learning from each other's differences, embracing our similarities. It takes one little step at a time. Be inquisitive, not derogatory. Be open-minded, not set in your own ways. In this way, we can become a united nation, rather than one divided because of its diversity.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Something is Wrong With Law Enforcement

     Although saying that there are problems with law enforcement in my city may appear to be a huge understatement to some people, it is, nevertheless, true. Last night, a few of my friends and I went to a local neighborhood park in to enjoy the cool night air. As we were swinging, we suddenly saw police lights flashing. A police had pulled a car over for speeding. After a few exchanging words of how sorry we felt for the "victim," we saw the car drive off. Subsequently, the policeman also pulled away, only to turn back and return to the spot where he was hiding, watching for other lawbreakers. 
     This scene may seem completely mundane for some, but I must explain a little further. The neighborhood road where the police was idling has a rather low speed limit considering the speed at which a car could safely drive. The speed limit, I believe, is about 30 mph, whereas, at night with no one on the streets, it would be perfectly safe to drive 45 to 50 mph, if the police were absent. In fact, I must admit, I myself have sped on this road multiple times. However, on this particular night, the police were on the hunt, stalking their prey, attempting to fill their hungry stomachs (aka ticket quotas). Not five minutes after the police re-parked, he pulled out, turned on his lights, and pulled over his next victim. If this was not bad enough, soon, another police drives down the street and pulls into the hiding spot where the other police had been previously. Only a few minutes later, while the first police is still handing out his ticket, the other police pulls over another car driving the other direction. 
     Maybe it is just me, but I can't help but think that there are better things that these policemen could be doing on a weeknight than pulling over car after car in a middle-class neighborhood. These headlines, which appeared that night and the next day, make me wonder where our policemen truly are during violent incidences: "Man shot in face in East-side complex" and "Boy riding on hood of mother's car critically injured in fall." I know the police cannot be everywhere all the time, but maybe they should pick their battles more wisely. So where were the policemen when the article about the man who was shot was being written and published? They were pulling over middle-class neighborhood residents for going ten miles over the speed limit. So which offense is more serious? Shooting a man or speeding when you are the only car on the road? Apparently, the police think it is the latter. 

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The United Nations of San Antonio

Each year, thousands gather at UTSA's Institute of Texan Cultures to participate in the San Antonio Folklife Festival. With over forty different cultures represented, one can easily become immersed in the festivities. Countries such as Chile, the Philippines, Japan, and Germany are represented in the three-day event. With dancers representing nations such as Lebanon and Israel, the Folklife Festival brings together people who would naturally have enmity toward one another. But here, only celebration occurs. Celebration of culture and life, traditions and heritage. The San Antonio Folklife Festival reminds its participants of the uniqueness of every individual and how important that individuality is to the worldwide community.
Whenever the United Nations gathers together in an attempt to provide solutions to global dilemmas, the differences appear to divide them into factions reminiscent of elementary school days when the girls were determined that girls were better than the boys and vice versa. The interesting thing is, as adults, we realize that neither females nor males can survive without one another. Due to biological design, we must coexist in order to perpetuate. In the same way, the members of the United Nations understand that no country can exist without the existence of all the rest. International economics breaks down the Berlin wall of isolationism, and the new focus on global climate has destroyed that wall's very foundation. Of course, nations can inhabit the same planet and become involved with international trade in the same way that an elderly couple stays married though love has long vanished simply because they know not what else to do. However, if nations treat each other in this manner, the path to making history will be long and arduous, unpleasant for the monarchy and torturous for the peasant. Therefore, man must search for the missing link in the UN. What is it that causes tensions to flare and self-interest to overtake negotiations like the tsunami of Sri Lanka?
Despite all the entertainment and joy at the San Antonio Folklife Festival, I could not help but feel a sense of lose. Soon, my friend and I discovered why the festival felt so empty. Not one African culture was represented. Not even Egypt or the more modern cultures were represented in the array of events. Peoples from almost every other continent had gathered to celebrate, but a key member of the world, Africa, which makes up about a fifth of the earth's landmass, was completely absent. I do not know the reason that such a key part of the global community (and the United States' heritage) was not represented, but I do know that these such happenings are at least one of the reasons for the failure of the United Nations. Not to say that the United Nations cannot succeed. But so far as they have attempted to "unite the nations," they have done a pretty pathetic job. I do not feel the need to list the UN's failures at this time. I rest my case by challenging anyone to name five times in which they effectively brought peace to a violent or potentially violent situation.
Therefore, the United Nations has failed to reach its full potential because it continues to leave out key participants in its discussions. Of course, many people already know that the UN does too much "talking" and too little action, but involving all of the players of an international situation creates a much easier task of "doing" when they are all on the same page in the discussion. International cooperation is not a simple task. In fact, I do not believe complete cooperation can ever be achieved due to the selfish and power-hungry nature of so many individuals. Those who are strong must hold up the other members, possibly disciplining or breaking them in order to make them heal even stronger. Yet even more so, when one link is missing, the entire chain is useless. So, we must remember that when we embrace one another's heritage and abilities, not leaving out any member of our world, we can walk down that arduous road knowing that we have one another to lean upon.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Connecting the Old and the New

This past weekend, I traveled down to the McNay Art Museum in my home city of San Antonio to view the new exhibit that was open to visitors free of charge for two days. Surprisingly, considering my appreciation for art, I had never been to the McNay. For the most part, it contained what I expected, but what I did not foresee was the manner in which the old connected with the new. The McNay is a two part museum connecting an old mansion containing classical and cultural art with a new $50 million center full of modern and post modern painting and sculptures. The division was quite clear but did not feel forced. Somehow, it seemed proper that Auguste Rodin would be in the same facility as Jason Pollock, despite their obvious differences. While I tend to gravitate much more strongly to one than to the other, I understand that I, as the observer, cannot give standards that these artists must follow in order to fulfill my likings.
Life is the same. In life, I am mostly an observer. Yes, I can make decisions, and I believe free will often overrules Fate. Yet at the same time, a human being cannot determine the manner in which his or her life changes over time. As I prepare for college, I realize that I cannot choose the day it will begin or end. Although I may wish to turn back the clock on some things, and push it forward toward others, I realize that over this change, I have no control.
So, I see only one option for us "innocent by-standards" who are constantly tossed about by the sea and its winds of change. We must take life with a grain of salt. When I stood in a room filled with art that I found extremely difficult to appreciate, I found one piece that I enjoyed and focused on it. I noticed the other works, but I cannot tell you their details. On the other hand, that one painting that I found to be a complete masterpiece, I studied. I analyzed the artist's thought process and what the colors and shades could possibly represent. I relished in its beauty and in the skill of the artist's brush strokes. All this time, the other works of art attempted to distract me. To my right, a painting of squirrels invading a cottage; to my left a portrait of a man where the paint is bleeding down the canvas. Still, I stand and stare at the masterpiece in front of me. A ocean view of a horizon with a glare from the sun gleaming yellow, orange and blue in the layers of a sunset on the deep blue sea. A gold pocket watch hangs in the center of the painting, attached to a cord. This painting makes me realize once again that time is always an object. Time, even in the most peaceful of places, marches on. So savor it. Find that one piece of art in the midst of hundreds that captures your attention and don't take your eyes off of it. Though others distract you all around, do not be disturbed by their complex messages. Take the samples of life that you enjoy, and enjoy every minute you have with them. As the things of your old life fade and new changes arise, do not forsake either, but connect them in glorious harmony. By learning from the past, you will better understand the future. Learn to connect the old and the new, filling every moment with the things you love most, and you will surely find that your life is a musuem, holding all of the masterpieces of time, from beginning to end in a beautiful panorama of color and beauty.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Sun Sets on a Chapter of Our Lives

We have all known each other for many years, and now, it is time to say goodbye. Our small class of 79 at San Antonio Christian Schools has gathered for the last time as a class before our graduation in a few days. The ceremony that is now taking place is not fancy. Most of the class wears plain shorts and shirts, some of which bear the symbol or name of the school they will attend, bearing witness to the change that will soon become a reality. As the wind blows upon my face, I wonder where this wind will take each of us. Most people in the class know where they will attend college, but what happens there can certainly take anyone in a completely new direction. We sing a few worship songs and ask God to bless us as we each set out our separate ways. We plan to leave Branson, MO at 1:00 a.m. after five days of fun on our senior trip. Since this is our last night, I hurry back to my room after the prayer, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sun setting on the lake over which my balcony looks. I make it just in time. The sun is barely visible, but it is just enough to catch a couple of photos.
My only comfort of leaving this paradise is knowing that I will return to Missouri in a very short time since I will be attending the University of Missouri-Columbia in the fall. Still, knowing that the next morning I will not be able to wake up and have breakfast on the balcony, looking out on the water as smooth as glass and hearing the peaceful call of the geese, is painful. As the sun sets behind the hills overlooking the lake, so does this chapter in our lives. We know that our friendships will end, even though the memories will last, and our lives will dramatically change. Fortunately, we also know that, soon, the sun will rise again. New memories will be made, and a new day will dawn.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Restaurant Focuses on Reducing Disease

The outside of the restaurant looks like a typical Mexican restaurant in downtown San Antonio. Painted a pale pink, the small square building made of stucco was not a place I would ever choose to go to for lunch. In the small parking lot were only three cars at one o'clock in the afternoon. However, the little restaurant called La Sol caught me off guard. I went to La Sol to meet San Antonio Express News Travel Editor, Tracy Barnett for lunch. She informed me that the restaurant made Mexican food in a healthy manner, using whole wheat and low fat ingredients.
When the owner came to greet us, it was clear that he and Barnett were good friends. They quickly started up a conversation in Spanish. After a while, he presented us with our menus and left to bring us back teas to drink. During this interim, Barnett explained their conversation to me. The owner, who spoke English as well as Barnett spoke Spanish, had opened this restaurant because he saw a need in his community. Many of the Hispanic population who live downtown cook with unhealthy ingredients. The owner wanted to show them that they could cook food that was just a good without the food that eventually leads to diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments. It amazed me how this man was doing so much good for his community.
The only problem is the lack of exposure--the only people eating at the restaurant while I was there were Barnett, myself, and another young white woman. Hopefully, with time, La Sol will become an even greater success in the Hispanic community. One thing I learned- you can't judge a restaurant by its color.

Friday, May 2, 2008

I Am Still Learning

A while back, National Public Radio aired a story discussing how difficult it could be at times for journalists to get people to tell their full names. As a journalist myself, I have come across the same problem. I cannot help but wonder why people are so afraid to let people know what they believe. I find it interesting how people always want to speak their views, but if someone wants to right them down on record, people all of a sudden retreat into self defense mode. Should people not take care to speak only what they would be willing to have someone write down?
I have found that many people are so unsure of their own beliefs that they are terrified that someone else might challenge them. Clearly, this is not a beneficial attitude. I, myself, have been hesitant to speak about my political and social opinions, not because I fear someone will reprimand me, but because I do not wish to deliver false or faulty information to those who hear.
This past weekend, two people I know spoke ignorantly, and I must say that this perturbs me more than most other actions. I do not mention these two individuals to call them into rebuke but rather to use them as examples of what I have witnessed over my lifetime. First of all, the one girl, about my own age, began to speak about the Invisible Children fund, which gives money to assist the children in Uganda who are often forced into the military. When she was explaining the topic to some of her relatives, she said the money went to children in Uwanda. Having heard of this organization before, I quickly listened to see if I had heard correctly. Again she repeated, the children were from Uwanda. I realized that she was quite mistaken, as she combined the countries of Uganda and Rwanda, the country directly south of Uganda, into one word. Later on, the country was straightened out, and the girl understood her mistake. In the same day, I was talking politics with someone, and he said he could not support Barack Obama because of Reverend Wright. As most people had, I had also heard this often over the past month, but what suprised me was what he said next. He said he did not like Rev. Wright because he said, "God 'f ' America." I quickly corrected him, telling him that, in fact, Rev. Wright said, "God d**** America." In no way was I attempting to defend Rev. Wright for his comments or Obama for his spiritual affiliation, yet I could not bear to hear someone so distort the facts.
Lest one believe these two individuals to be uncommon examples, I want to clarify that they are two intelligent individuals. Although the first girl is not the most intellectual person I have met, she does attend a fairly elite private school and excels in the environment. The man most likely is one of the most intellectual men I have ever met. He is likely more informed on most every topic than most legislators are, and his only downfall is his extremely conservative bias. Still, what I have seen is that overall, most people make many mistakes when they are relaying information. The only action I can take is to inform others when they speak wrongly and encourage everyone to research and become extremely familiar with your information before publicizing it. On everything you say, you should be willing to put your name. I have had my share of downfalls. Speaking uninformed is one I have committed many times. The best we can do is learn. Maybe all of our mottoes should be this quote by Michelangelo, "Ancora imparo." "I am still learning."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Beating Heart

Just a little bit of my poetic side.

The Beat, Beat, Beat of Your heart
I rest my head and close my eyes,
To the terrors of the world,
How I long to silence their cries,
This empty life is like a mural,
Here, in Your arms, I lose all ties,
My old life soon is furled,
By the Beat, Beat, Beat of Your heart.

My mind is perplexed by Your ways,
I cannot understand these pains,
The non-complexities of childhood days,
Now leave me naked and lame,
The questions of life I attempt to delay,
But the answers I quickly gain
In the Beat, Beat, Beat of Your heart.

A storm approaches on both sides,
I stand to choose between them,
One brings death and one life with their tides,
I cannot avoid; they hedge me in,
I close my eyes- no open- I run full stride,
To the one that echoes above the sin,
With the Beat, Beat, Beat of Your heart.

Hold me close, to me sweet words impart,
Sing me to sweet peace, a lullaby start,
And never cease, lest You depart
And I lose me guide, my navigation chart,
The Beat, Beat, Beat of Your heart.

Friday, March 21, 2008


This Easter weekend, I am spending my time at the Lakeway Resort and Spa in Lakeway, TX near Austin. The money in this area is, to put it simply, overflowing. Because my family is not particularly wealthy, I still find the abounding wealth staggering. Multi-million dollar houses line Lake Travis on all sides with towering columns and magnificent fountains atop perfectly landscaped and manicured lawns.
Call me legalistic, but I am not fond of such flaunted wealth. Nevertheless, the architecture of such homes astounds me. The creativeness and ingenuity put into these designs are incredible. I do not wonder at the amount of money that it takes to build the house but at the intellect it takes to create it.
However, on my first night at the resort, after a completely overpriced dinner, my brother, father and myself went outside on a balcony to view the landscape of the lake. Under the light of the stars, the lake reflected the white and red lights of houses against the dark blue water in a pure and surreal melody of color. As my brother and father were once again admiring the architecture and design of the homes and the resort, I noticed a small spider upon the railing. This small creature made me begin to think.
It appeared to me ironic that everyone around me in all of their wealth were wondering at the man-made architecture, but this small invertebrate was spinning a web that rivaled, if not completely surpassed, the greatest of all architects with its intricate designs.
Not long after noticing this one little spider, I realized that an entire colony of spiders inhabited the balcony rails. I stopped counting after thirty spiders, fearing that I would soon come to the point of subjecting myself to nightmares of spider attacks that night. The manner in which their individual webs lined the balcony reminded me of the houses that lined the lake, each with its own unique characteristics, but all a masterpiece of design. Perhaps I am personifying the small creatures too much, but I could not help but think how similar our lives are to theirs, just on different levels.
When I returned to my room, my brother informed me that our personal balcony was also "infested" with more than ten spiders. It appears that no matter how much we believe ourselves to be alone in the world, we are not. We find ourselves to be subject to the ways of society and of nature. Fortunately, we are provided with intellect to choose our way of life, not based solely on instinct. One truth we must remember, however, is that we are not alone. I am not one to promote a "united nations" mindset or any stereotypical international community, but everything we do affects others.
Maybe the best thing we can do is follow the spiders examples and adapt to our surroundings. When someone builds a wall on top of your home, take the wall and make it a masterpiece, full of our individual, unique webs—our contributions to the world. Although a global community may be an idealistic concept, it could become a bit more of a reality, not through governments or laws, but through each person's love and concern for others. Each trial we receive in life is a piece of lumber, a strand of silk, which we can either toss to the wind or use to create our homes, our webs, our community.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Nightmare Continues

This short entry is in response to Theresa Flores' book The Sacred Bath: An American Teen Girl's Story of Modern Day Slavery.

I sit, my heart racing, my hands shaking, hardly able to hold the book, which reveals such torturous events, yet not able to put it down. I feel as though tears want to well up from within my, but the anger of such cruelty holds them down. How could anyone be so evil! My heart cries. What have they done? Unfortunately, this is not the right question to ask. Truly I should be asking, “What are they doing?” For the horrors have not stopped. The injustices continue day in and day out. Every moment, every secret she tells, seems to be the pinnacle of evil. But the horrors keep unfolding. At the end of each event, she reminds you…there is more. It seems impossible, but it is true. More and more, days and days of torture that is too hard to bare, much less to think about someone actually experiencing. What is this? I ask. The story seems like something out of a horror novel. People taking advantage of an innocent soul! Ripping away her very innocence! I am enraged, and yet, because the story is of the past, I can do nothing to stop it. I long let the book drop from my hands, but I cannot! No, I must endure this, so I may share in her pain! Share in her grief! In her utter misery! So I do, until the very end. And the end is no less comforting than the beginning because the end reminds that the nightmare lives on for 27 million people around the world. It is the nightmare of modern day Slavery. It is the nightmare of Human Trafficking. The nightmare continues; to stop it, America must wake up.

If you want to know more about Human Trafficking, please look into different Web sites including humantrafficking.org, http://usinfo.state.gov/gi/global_issues/human_trafficking.html, and traffickfree.com

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Simple Complexities

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to have someone else's life? In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens says, "A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other." In the book, as the main character looks upon a city at night, he ponders that "every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it."
Yesterday, I drove with my mom and brother from my home in San Antonio, TX to Graham, TX, a city with a population of about 8,700 and a drive of approximately five hours. Fortunately, I'm used to these sorts of drives. When I was younger, my family and I would drive three days every year to visit family in North Dakota. During these journeys, I've learned to entertain myself with music and books. But nothing compares to the time that I have to sit and reflect on the lives of others. Perhaps the most mind-stretching concept for me is the thought of farmers' way of life: every morning, rising before the sun to perform their daily tasks of feeding the animals and preparing their tractors.
Such simplicity, and yet, I wonder what they think of me.For I hold in my heart as many secrets as they. Both of us are doing what we must for survival. Both look at the same moon every night and keep time by the same sun. Maybe we are not so different after all. But who would ever really be able to tell because neither of us are willing to completely open up our hearts. Even the most honest person fails to expose himself to being completely transparent. No, the human heart is one thing that can never be taken apart. It cannot be fully simplified. It is interesting- the desire of man to simplify life. Man can never just allow things to be complex. We never want anything to be larger than ourselves.
An article in the March issue of National Geographic discusses a research project attempting to find a "God particle," which would provide a more simple explanation to life than the current theories. However, I find that knowing there is something greater than myself is the very fact that comforts me. Few things please me more than standing beneath the towering trees in North Dakota and looking up at their branches reaching toward the heavens.
So, with this digression, I resolve that Charles Dickens was correct: the secrets of hearts are "a wonderful fact." We must not mourn that we do not know all things, but, instead, rejoice that we do not. For with knowledge comes a responsibility to correct wrongs. And although we should help fix those we can, it is clearly impossible to cure all the wrongs of the world. Therefore, personally, I would care to leave this task in the hands of the same One who made the intricacies of the human heart and the branches of the magnificent firs. I rejoice that I can be simple and the world can be complex, and all the while, Someone is watching over us both.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Haiti: A Forsaken Paradise

I wrote this article after my trip to Cap Haitien, Haiti, in the summer of 2007.

The deep green mountains rise gloriously into the thin sheets of white clouds as small houses speckle the mountainside. The beach only six miles northwest is a haven of peace and relaxation, the therapeutic spa of nature as the ocean waves sooth the mind and the perfectly placed trees provide the exact amount of shade needed for a respite from the harsh rays of sun while still allowing enough UV rays for a beautiful tan. Seventeen miles in the opposite direction lies a history buff’s paradise of ruins including a palace and a 108,000 square feet (10,003.5 square meters W) fort located atop a 3,000-foot (914.4 meters W) mountain. The beach is Labadie; the palace is San Souici, home of Henri Christophe; the fort is the Citadelle la Ferriere, a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site; and the city over which the mountains keep watch is Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city after Port-au-Prince.
Behind the media coverage of political violence and civil unrest lies a place of indescribable beauty waiting to be rediscovered. However, the reports are not without great truth. The decades of political turmoil and corrupt government are evident from the central plaza of Cap-Haitien to the small thatch roof homes in the mountain villages. The hardships of living in a poverty stricken country are engraved on the faces of the hundreds of citizen who sit everyday on the busy streets waiting for work or for buyers of the few goods that they have refurbished for sale. Stores of automobile and bicycle parts, the products that seem to be in highest demand, line the streets. With few paved roads, cars do not run for long before they must be repaired. Although few residents own personal cars (most ride small motorcycles or bicycles), taxis calls “tap-taps” stuffed full with passengers crowd the streets. The “tap-taps” are named because whenever the car needs to stop for a pick-up or drop-off, a man who rides on the back will alert the driver by tapping the top of the truck. In the center of town, young men sometimes pull 10-foot long carts loaded with hundreds of pounds of goods, most often charcoal. This job is a death sentence for all who take it on as the average man lives less than ten years after beginning this daily routine. The main streets run in a grid fashion with alleys that lead to housing jutting from the sides of the streets. Because of the lack of drainage and litter control, these dirt-road streets are lined with garbage often sitting in stagnant water that is overlaid with a meadow of algae, creating a stunning stench. Motorcycles drive by as the children play or do their chores and animals including goats, chickens, and canine muts excrete in the midst of trash piles.
Despite the complete absence of sanitation or wealth, signs that read “Merci Jesus” are painted in bold font that would be considered graffiti in some countries. These spiritual messages are written not only on churches but also on the walls of businesses and on the hoods of taxis. According to the CIA World Factbook, eighty percent of Haitians are Roman Catholic and sixteen percent are Protestant. However, these practices are often mixed with voodoo rituals that continue from their tribal ancestors.
This summer, ten youths and two sponsors from Oak Hills Church traveled to this place of great poverty and growing Christian faith. The team prepared for this journey as much as they could. Meeting together once a week for a month, the team prepared lessons, learned Creole phrases and songs, and checked and rechecked the packing list. They listened to stories from missionaries of the past years, perhaps did a little extra research on the geography and history of Haiti, and prepared their minds as best they could for what they were about to face. But nothing could prepare them completely.
The first day came, exactly how others had described it, but certainly not what most of the team had envisioned, that is except for those returning for their second year in a row. Everyone having their own idealized picture in their mind, they now realized the reality of what they would face: poverty, insanitation, unpaved streets and lots of heat. I was a part of this team, and I was surely not prepared for what I was about to face.
As the team stepped off the airplane, it was obvious that we had entered another country. After about twenty minutes of sweating in the un-air-conditioned airport, we walked out into the streets of Cap Haitien. We loaded into our Diahatsu truck and traveled to the orphanage that would become our home for the next week. My first instinct was to pull out my notepad and start recording everything I saw, but I quickly realized that there was just too much to take in at once. It would have been impossible to even captured everything on camera. We drove down what you could call “paved roads,” although the more precise term would probably be “tar road with potholes four feet wide and a foot deep” in the center of town. I could pick out certain French words from the muddle of messages that adorned the stores lining the streets. One sign had the days of the week (at least the days on which I assume the shop was open). Another building had a picture of an ice cream cone, which sounded rather tempting in the scorching heat. However, I knew it would not be safe to consume ice cream in this town. I was already told how careful we must be with our water, and we had all brought a large selection of food for our lunches when we were away from the orphanage.
Our first meal was at the only “nice” hotel in Cap-Haitien, the Picolet. Still not air-conditioned, but with a nice breeze and a few fans, we had our first taste of Creole food as we sat on the patio looking out toward the sea. Spaghetti, pasta with Creole spices, seems to be a Haitian favorite at many restaurants. After eating this Haitian spaghetti, I realized (I seemed to be doing a lot of that this trip), that nothing would be like it was at home. At lunch, Alfred, a pastor in Benjamin, told us the story of the village where we planned to travel later in the week. Though it was difficult to follow the translation, we were still able to understand the work that God was doing in that community. Unfortunately, rains had come shortly before our arrival, creating a possible roadblock to our journey to Benjamin. We also received a short lesson in Haitian currency as James pulled out the money to pay for our meal.

The children did not come running as we entered the orphanage, but they simple sat and stared as they became accustomed to our presence. Once we pulled out the balls, Frisbees, jump ropes and other toys, the children came to life. I was amazed at the unselfishness of the children. Because of the few toys they have, I expected them to covet the toys and keep them to themselves, but I soon found all the boys playing catch with each other as well as our team and the girls taking turns with the jump rope. After spending the day getting settled into the orphanage and building our relationships with the children, we ate our first “home-cooked” meal in Haiti. The fruit was a welcomed refresher, its juicy goodness filling our quickly drying mouths.
That night, as on all the nights that the children do not attend church, the kids of the orphanage held a devotion before bedtime. Rodely (pronounced Woodlee), an eighteen-year-old member of the orphanage who is fluent in French, Creole, English, and is working on Spanish, led the devotion. To begin the devotion, everyone started singing a worship song in Creole. I was in awe. To the professionally trained ear, it might not have sounded like much. But in the poverty of Haiti, this was the sound of angels. Every off-key note produced from the lips of the children was a perfect harmony that connected this family of orphans as brothers and sisters in Christ. The most amazing part of the devotion was that there we no adults present. It seemed that no one told them they must have devotion. No one made sure they were acting properly or singing the right songs. They were doing this out of their own free will, and they enjoyed it. On the last night, one of the young boys was looking at a magazine he had received from another visitor to the orphanage. Without saying a word, Rodely quietly walked over to him during a song and took it out of his hands. The boy did not resist, but calmly submitted to Rodely’s authority. They truly are a family as they hold each other accountable, the older ones acting as the parents, and the younger ones looking up to them with respect.
When I first began my journal entries I wrote down the time that I began writing, but I soon realized that was worthless here. Time is almost irrelevant. Everyone awakes with the sun, which, because Haiti did not cooperate with Daylight Savings this year, is approximately five o’clock in the morning. Everyone eats when their stomach tells them to, that is if they have enough food, and they begin to get ready for bed when the sun sets since many of them lack electricity.
Our first couple of days we visited two different schools in Cap-Haitien to teach the students the creation story and provide them with an arts-and-craft activity. During our first day we also accompanied our head translator, Moise to his house that he transformed into a feeding center once a day. Here, children from the community were able to come and receive a free meal of rice, beans, and a piece of chicken each day. For some, this one plate of food was the only meal they would eat all day.

On our third day in Haiti, the team traveled to the Citadelle la Ferriere, the fort built at the command of Henri Christophe. Christophe, acclaimed for having defeated the French, is generally portrayed as a hero in Haiti, as his portraits and statues adorned the country including at his palace, Cap-Haitien’s plaza, and even the airport. For a small fee, the team rode up the mountain on horses and was given a tour of the site. Although the government had hired workers to refurbish much of the grounds for a more tourist friendly environment, the fort was still standing almost as it was originally built in 1807. No guardrails were in place to prevent tourists from falling over the edge of the fort several stories up. Cannons ornately designed with royal seals and the slogan, “Liberte, Egalite” “Freedom, Equality” lined all sides of the fort seemingly still awaiting the imminent arrival of French forces.
After returning from the Citadelle, our team traveled to the Children of the Promise Aid Rehabilitation Center. These babies were the children of AIDS parents, and the dedicated volunteers were doing their best to revert the children to normalcy from HIV. One little girl I held named Jennifer was about one and a half years old and could not have weighed more than ten pounds. Those few hours could not have past more quickly than while we were holding their frail bodies in our arms.
Saturday, we loaded up into the now famous Diahatsu for a four-hour ride to Benjamin. As I always did, I put on my Yankees baseball cap and black sunglasses in an attempt to keep the sun off of my faces and the dirt out of my eyes. I am afraid that I see the whole country Haiti in the same way, through tinted glasses that allow me to temporarily touch the Haitians’ world but remain comfortably detached, allowing me to enjoy the view but keep the dirt out of my eyes. To me, Haiti is both a beautiful place because of its simplicity and a harsh place because of its poverty. Yet I know that unless I take the time to take off my rose-colored glasses and stay in Haiti a while longer, I will not be able to understand their way of life. I cannot understand why some children are always smiling and waving to us, others seem in constant fear, and others flick us off as we drive by. I cannot understand why they have such harder lives than me, but every other care I see has “Merci Jesus” written on it. I cannot understand why the government cannot see the people’s needs as simple as they are. Perhaps it is because the government officials do not live among the people. Like me, they live above it. I fear that for many more years, the politicians of Haiti will continue to sit in their air-conditioned offices, drinking purified water, and wearing their sunglasses that filter out the harsh rays of the sun unaware of the needs of their people.

Because someone donated two colors of soccer jerseys, we were able to play a real soccer game in Benjamin. Watching the Haitians play with two of our male team members was an incredible sight. No longer was race, ethnicity or culture a barrier; all was diminished in the game of soccer. We played with some of the children from both the orphanage in Benjamin as well as from around the village. After we presented the Bible lesson, we went to the local pastor’s house where we would be staying for the night. The lavish meal that was prepared for us put me in awe at their great hospitality. After attending the local church service the next morning, we once again began the four-hour roller coaster ride down the unpaved streets of the mountain to Cap-Haitien to stay one more night in the orphanage. The next day we recuperated with a day at Labadie beach and spent the evening savoring every moment we had with the children who had become like our family. The morning of our departure greeted us with a gleaming sun that seemed too happy for our less heartening departure.
I am not an emotional person. The changes in life normally occur to me slowly as the effects slowly filter through my wall of resistance. So though I could not fully comprehend my emotions at the time, I can recall them much more accurately now that I have had the opportunity to reflect on my last moments in Haiti.
Before we left, I wanted to say a special good-bye to Duchan, the little boy to whom I grew very close. Now, the day before we left, four girls had come to stay at the orphanage for two weeks. Two of them were sisters and their family was the sponsor to one of the boys in the orphanage. However, I found it extremely difficult to have them come in so unexpected and begin playing with the children. I will admit that I was, in fact, jealous. I had built a relationship with these children, and suddenly they came in and the children are sitting on their laps and hugging them.
I was especially shocked at how Duchan had suddenly gone from standing at the bottom of the stairs every morning, waiting for me to wake up, to almost completely ignoring me now that the other girls were here. Now that it was time to go, I looked for Duchan and found him sitting in one of the girls’ laps. I leaned over to hug him. “Au revoir!” I said, hoping that he would respond at least with a hug. “Allez!” he replied, “Go!” I was crushed. I climbed into the truck, trying to savor the last images I would have of Haiti and the orphanage, but his last words kept ringing in my ear. He might have just as well said I don’t want you here anymore. I now realize that it was just his way of dealing with the fact that he would probably never see me again. I am glad that there were others there to take care of and love on him for the next two weeks. He is too young to understand that I just could not stay, that we come from two different worlds, that he is the stronger of the two because though I left my home to come to his, he lives in the harsher world. He is the one who must overcome the larger of the two hurdles. Compared to him, I live in a paradise. I hope and pray that I will not forget to every once in a while step down from my palace called America and reach out to my stronger but less fortunate brothers around the world.
There is so much more to tell of the lives of these orphans and the people of Haiti. However, I am afraid that it is impossible to accurately convey the experience. Through willing hearts of both the people of Oak Hills and our brothers and sisters down in Haiti, we are slowly being used by God to further his kingdom. Pray for the people of Haiti. It is the simplest and the most powerful gift you can give.
Call it ironic, symbolic, or coincidence but on my last day in Haiti, on the way back to the airport, my sunglasses broke into an irreparable state. Perhaps I do not see Haiti in its complete reality, but I know I see it a great deal more for what it truly is than when I first stepped onto its soil. Haiti is a place of natural beauty that has been distorted and destroyed by selfish men. Whether those men were the French lords, the Haitian kings, or modern day politicians, Haiti is a country desperately attempting to climb out of the canyon into which it has been flung. Some of them climb with a smile that comes from their faith, others with a scowl that has been permanently chiseled into their brows through years of hard labor. But the most important thing is that almost all of the Haitians climb. The least we can do is lend a hand to hold on to, a shoulder to lean on, or a word of encouragement to help them along in their journey ahead.