Faith, Friends, and Familiarity

September 10th, 2015 by Phifer Nicholson

I must give two disclaimers before I begin. First: I have never blogged before. Ever. So, bear with me. Second: I am a bit jet-lagged and have been running loose in Istanbul for a couple hours…so here we go!

First, I think I should give a quick intro to my project. In Interim 2015, I had the privilege of traveling to Turkey with Dr. Philip Dorroll to study the history and current state of religious minorities in the city of Istanbul. One day, we visited a Jewish synagogue. The reality of its scarred history was apparent from the moment we arrived, from the blast doors to the mysterious black mark on the sanctuary wall. Soon we learned that the mark was the residue from one of two terrorist attacks, that killed over forty individuals in total, and remains today as a constant reminder of the violence perpetrated against this minority community.

The leader in the Jewish community who spoke to us stated that, as a whole, Jews are stigmatized in Turkish media. She revealed, however, that Jews and Muslims are at peace in the communities where they live, and actually share deep friendship. Both groups attend weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funerals of the other community. She explained that when Muslims meet the members of her community, they call them, “Our Jews,” and therefore are able to see past their prejudices and accept them as one their own.

This is what I am after: stories of interfaith interactions that serve to change the perception one has of the members of differing faith communities. Furthermore, I am seeking to find if deep friendships can be/are forged which are bound in love and respect, and yet engaging the differences in meaningful ways. I have conducted five fruitful ethnographic interviews in my home of Minneapolis, MN with Muslim minorities, and will (at least, as of now) be focusing on Christian minorities while in the Middle East. This is something I am deeply interested in, for I am passionate about learning how to engage difference well as a follower of Jesus. I am happy to say that I have made five new friends in Minneapolis so far in my research, and I am looking forward to more!

Saturday I will meet my first contact: a priest who I met while here in January.

All in all, this trip will take me from Minneapolis to Istanbul to Jerusalem to Haifa to the West Bank (and only God knows where else!). It is about time to delve again into two of the things I love most: faith and people. I don’t know what I’ll find as I seek to collect stories or where the road will take me, but I sure am excited for the ride.

Now, on to my initial thoughts upon arrival in Istanbul. One thing that struck me was a feeling that I expected, but was so comforting when it actually came.

Familiarity.

I must take a second to brag on Dr. Phil Dorroll’s Istanbul interim last year—we spent only twelve days in this massive city, but did so much in that time that when the final day came and we were loading up the shuttle to the airport, we all felt like we could hold our own in this city of fourteen million (!) people. Just to give an example of how valuable this experience was for me: my flat where I am living is in an area I had never been. However, it is near a familiar neighborhood and I was able to navigate my way to the place I’ll call home for the next month.

Phenomenal. Many thanks, Phil.

As I have reflected on that flight home in January, I remember specifically thinking to myself, “I will probably never come back to this city,” as I felt the wheels lift off the runway. Realistically speaking, I would never have that opportunity again.

Lo and behold, I am currently sitting in Gölge Khave with a cup of filter coffee a few meters off of the vibrant neighborhood Taksim’s main street, Istiklâl Caddesi. I am in a state of pure awe. That awe is welling up into thankfulness to everyone that has made something like this possible for me. I could go on for hours, but my family, friends, Wofford faculty and staff, and the countless other supporters that have shaped who I am come to mind, and I thank you (if you are reading this, you probably fit there). I will do all I can to make the most of this opportunity as my (far too small) repayment.

I have been enjoying wandering in and among this beautiful city again, and am looking forward to a good shower and night’s rest (trying to kick that jet lag!).

Always feel free to reach out via email (nicholsoncp@email.wofford.edu) or Facebook with questions, suggestions, and thoughts. I am sending all my best from the streets of Istanbul!

 

 

 

 

 

Asking Her More

January 14th, 2015 by Lindsey Perret

Sitting in the common room of my hostel with a bunch of bummed out kite surfers (it’s raining…again) has given me some perspective how confusing my research question might be to someone who has never met me. Most of my friends and family have been able to ask me follow up questions, some have heard me babble on about it for longer than they might like, and some people are just trying to be polite. But because of the rain, the kite surfers have been asking me questions that boil down to wanting to know the difference between their perspective as kite surfers and my perspective as a student. What do I see that they don’t? What’s going on in this tropical paradise other than vacations? I’ve met a lot of inquisitive people on my journey, and the conversation usually evolves into me explaining that no, I haven’t met the next Malala Yousafzai; I have, however, had the pleasure of talking to some incredibly cool women. Here are some examples of what they are doing:

A woman who was a guerrilla during the Sandinista revolution now works to bring clean water to Nicaraguans.

A single mother in a town with a large out-migration problem teaches her son that staying in his hometown is important, that he should never hurt women, and that you can’t get a girl pregnant by holding hands with her.

A victim of childhood abuse now hosts a radio station that gives women a voice.

A principal encourages children to focus on reading in a community plagued with drug abuse.

A waitress that helps at the local women’s community center plans protests and meetings when she’s not working 12-hour shifts.

These women have no obligation to be doing this work. They simply have seen a problem in their communities, and they’re reaching out with empathy and doing what they can to try to fix it. They’re listening. They’re serving. They’re leading. Every single one of them was excited to share their story, it’s just rare that someone asks them.

This brings me to the other night’s Golden Globes. Let me explain. Unfortunately, I couldn’t watch it, but I was following it on twitter and noticed some trends that I got excited about. Normally, awards shows are a couple of hours of advertisements and some awards sandwiched in between some catty people commenting on celebrities’ outfits and asking them inappropriate questions. The questions posed to women focus on appearance: “What are you wearing?” “How did you lose that baby weight?” “You got so in shape for that role—how did you do it!?” These questions posed to talented women such as Maggie Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’o, and Amy Adams. Why not ask them questions that men are asked? Their inspiration? Their favorite book? Their first Hollywood job?

cate blanchett

But for the Golden Globes this year, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party, partnered with Miss Representation, challenged that tradition. They started a hashtag, #AskHerMore, encouraging reporters to ask women on the red carpet more thought provoking questions. Now, this campaign has the specific goal of showing the reality that our media often only cares about a woman if she’s wearing heels. But what if we “asked her more” in all situations?

In this project, I tried to be an example of that. I asked everyone questions, from the maids at my hostels to non-profit directors. My goal now is to take that with me to “real life,” as I’ve been calling it. It’s not easy, but it’s important: to listen, to serve, to be empathetic, no matter where I find myself. It’s how you make change, and how you lead it.

Thoughts from D45

December 9th, 2014 by Lindsey Perret

Airports weren’t exactly made for profound thoughts and deep reflection, but here I am at Gate D45 thinking about what the heck I’ve been doing for the past three months.

In sum, I’ve explored four distinct regions of Nicaragua, improved my Spanish, learned more about how to do field research, gained a family, made a network of friends in the states and abroad, visited Cuba, and learned more about the United States from the perspective of Latin Americans. That’s only a fraction of it. But the world didn’t stop turning while I was gone. I’ve started my job search, talked to my family about graduation plans, planned my last semester at Wofford, and missed a Thanksgiving. Beginning this semester I was worried that being abroad another semester would put me behind, but I don’t think that’s what’s happened. So what does my experience in Nicaragua have anything to do with the transition coming up for me in the next six months?

I’ve learned more about my strengths and my weaknesses and I have new skills that I never could have imagined. I thrive on independence and busy-ness rather than very structured time. I am more prone to question power structures and their histories, like US-Nicaragua and US-Cuba relations. I can look at the world from more than one perspective. I know how to get the most out of situations that work well for me and problem-solve in situations that don’t. I’m nicer to myself when I’m feeling homesick or stressed.

On the opposite side of the same coin, Nicaragua isn’t going to stop being Nicaragua now that I’m gone. I have to remind myself regularly of the experiences that I’ve had and the people I’ve met in the Central American country. Construction on the canal in the south of Nicaragua is supposed to start this month and it’s affecting the people, animals, and plants that live there. Once it’s built, it will affect the world economy. Theoretically, it will help Nicaragua’s economy, but is that worth the displacement of so many people and the loss of a lot of natural beauty? Controversy brews over a new law created to protect victims of domestic violence. Women’s lives are also being affected by the heated discussion about the penalization of therapeutic abortion. The people have begun making predictions on who will run for president in Nicaragua’s 2016 election, as the leader for the past six years can’t run again. For many, the revolution still lives on. My host family is waiting for their residencies for the US as they contemplate the move.

The intricacies of my re-entry into the United States after such rich experiences are many, but my personal connection the both the US and Nicaragua is only one representation of the complex relationship that the two countries have. So, as I wait for my flight to Mexico, I’ll be thinking about what part I get to play in the world that grows smaller as I begin to know it better.

 

Nicaragua, the US, and Gender Equality

November 15th, 2014 by Lindsey Perret

A few weeks ago, the World Economic Forum released a report naming Nicaragua sixth in gender equality using economic, political, education- and health-based criteria.

I’ve been in Nicaragua for two and a half months and this struck me as absolutely shocking. Every morning I dread leaving my hostel because of the catcalls that I know I’ll receive on the street—not just from old drunk men or immature adolescents, but also from cops—the men who are supposed to protect me. It’s deeply affecting my mood and my energy, and I’m experiencing a fraction of the sexism that women in Nicaragua face.

Street harassment is only one manifestation of the male-dominated society that prevails in Nicaragua. Many women cannot get access to the healthcare that they need. Young girls are discouraged from playing with boys and instead are helping their mothers with cooking and cleaning. There is a high incidence of domestic violence and sexual abuse committed by fathers and uncles that is being ignored by neighbors because that’s the way it’s always been. The president of the country is accused of raping his adopted daughter.

How might a Nicaraguan woman feel upon hearing that her country is sixth in gender equality?

I think that the list that the World Economic Forum released is dangerous and uninformed. I realize that much of the data may have been based on improvements, but that’s no excuse for ignoring the daily, lived reality of women in a decidedly male-dominated country and heralding statistics to call that country gender-equal. Labeling Nicaragua as such is excusing the transgressions that are committed against women every day and on every level in Nicaragua. Because the World Economic Forum is respected, male Nicaraguan leaders can use this as fuel to dismiss the concerns of Nicaraguan women, and that’s just not acceptable.

I read the article just as I was beginning my independent study project and decided to incorporate it into my list of interview questions. When I asked some of the women I have been working with about the statistic, they unanimously answered that it is completely false—Nicaragua should not in any way be lauded as a country with a high level of gender equality. One woman responded, “How can a country be equal if I am a woman and I don’t feel safe?”

Some of you might react to this post with worry. “Lindsey’s writing about how Nicaragua is a difficult place for women, yet she’s there.” The reality is that the United States is not faring much better than Nicaragua. In the United States:

I’m not trying to make a case that the United States is better or worse than Nicaragua at gender-equality (for what it’s worth, WEF rates the US as number 20 on the list). I’m simply trying to call attention to the gender-based inequities that fill our world. Gender based violence kills 1 in 3 women worldwide, so why don’t we do something about it? This project is me doing something in tribute to women’s resilience and a world with fewer catcalls and more justice.

"The revolution will be feminist or it will not be." Nicaraguan graffiti.

“The revolution will be feminist or it will not be.” Nicaraguan graffiti.

Cuba, At a Glance

October 27th, 2014 by Lindsey Perret

My friend and I were at the beach and a man plopped down behind us playing loud music. We, obviously there to relax, were frustrated. I asked several of the men who rented the beach chairs if they could please ask him to turn down the music, to no avail. Being raised in the US, my instinct was to talk to the higher up in the situation. Trying to do this, I asked one man, “Who is the owner?” He looked at me and said “Fidel” and I could hear his mind saying “obviously, idiot.” This was one of many learning moments that I had while in Havana, Cuba*.

“Enjoy my country, but don’t try to understand it,” was the advice of one man we spoke to in Cuba—advice that we, admittedly, didn’t follow.

Though I certainly don’t understand Cuba, my ten-day experience there was the tip of the beautiful, confusing, and historically rich iceberg. We arrived as students from the United States who knew what most US citizens know about Cuba: the embargo is strict, the cigars are great, all the cars are old classics, and Che Guevara is on all the t-shirts. We left with more questions than we came with, and for that I am grateful.

One of my greatest surprises was that everyone was thrilled to talk to us even though, and often because, we are US citizens. Before, I had the perception that there would be tension between the two groups because of how hard the embargo has been on the way of life there. At least half of the people I spoke to hoped to someday visit the US, if not move there.

“La vida es dura.” Life is hard. Words that were repeated to me many a time over the ten days. There are debates about whether or not the struggle there is due to socialism or due to the embargo. It depends on who you ask. Many people told me that they believed that the US was afraid to lift the embargo because US citizens would realize how well socialism has worked, and others argue that too many people are benefitting from the black market for the embargo to ever be lifted.

Housing is an issue that our group struggled with a lot. People are either randomly assigned houses or have homes that belonged to their families before the revolution. Here is the bed and breakfast that I stayed in, an example of a home that the family there has had since the late 1800s:

IMG_0152 IMG_0153

Here is the outside of some other Cuban homes:

2014-10-22 10.30.30

We kept asking everyone, “How is this fair?” My family there is lucky to have the home that they do; they are able to make more money than other families because they are exchanging services for tourist’s money. To me, this doesn’t seem like the idealistic equality that Che Guevara and Fidel Castro fought for. Despite the disparity (albeit the disparity is through my eyes), the Cuban people have an amazing amount faith and hope for Cuba. All over the city is propaganda for the socialist party and for the revolutionaries that made the socialist state possible. As our academic director there said, Cuba is a land of contradictions.

I’ve been thinking for a couple of days about how to write about Cuba. Socialism is a controversial topic, and following that, the United States’ relationship with the socialist state of Cuba is controversial. What I’ve written only tells bits and pieces of the story of my time in Cuba, and even a smaller fraction of what life is actually like on the island. I am not well read on Cuba, but after visiting, I’m passionate about understanding the intricacies between its relationships with the United States. I’m also disappointed that I can’t return in the foreseeable future due to the embargo. I hope that someday soon the leadership in the United States will take a step in reconciling with Cuba so that others can widen their horizons and learn about a culture, despite being 90 miles from Florida, that is so far removed from ours. And I hope that those of you reading this will choose to look at the situation with open eyes and an open mind before you pass judgment on it, which is a challenging but rewarding thing to do.

 

*I think it’s important to note that Fidel is no longer the president (his brother Raul is), nor did he ever “own” any enterprises. What the waiter was trying to say is that the service at the beach is run by the state.