Thursday, July 23, 2009

Expats, Culture Gaps, and Tourist Traps


My journey is getting closer to end as I finish my sixth week in Nicaragua. It has only become more difficult to define what I've learned. In some ways, I've picked up the specifics- Nicaraguan culture, food, language, lifestyle, etc. But the majority of learning has been more universal, actually. After spending some time with American expats who own an eco-friendly hostel in Jiquilillo, I started to become more conscious about how much I personally create waste and pollution. Interestingly, (by some accounts) our southern neighbor, Costa Rica, is the most environmentally friendly country on this planet (and apparently happiest). After visiting San Juan del Sur, perhaps the most touristic town in Nicaragua, I also witnessed a pretty large contrast between the places that tourism flourishes and the rest of the country. Needless to say, SJDS looked like another country altogether. In all, I formed some ideas for myself. Keep in mind, some of these ideas are merely subjective conclusions I've drawn. I'll expand:

1) I've learned that culture and language barrier are a personality dulling mechanism. When Nicaraguans ask why you are quiet and don't joke more, and this clearly doesn't fit your native personality, you have to explain to them that you are different in your native tongue. It really made me reflect on my experiences with foreigners in the past, where I was given only a small idea of their personality. We tend to think of many (less fluent) foreigners as shy and polite, and we rarely get a chance to pick their brains. A funny thing happens when you are able to surprise people and become more "yourself" in a foreign language. It's quite an empowering feeling.


2) I've learned that the greatest differences in the world are generally between the classes, and across the poorer classes of different nations. As I began to meet more young, wealthier Nicaraguans, many of whom speak English to some degree, I began to realize that we were more alike than I was to poorer Americans. Our ways of speaking, our interests, topics of conversation, ways of thinking and dressing, and underlying beliefs were really not too different. It's the reason why international students at Notre Dame are generally well-adjusted. Once you travel, you start to see that the cities in the world have become more alike. The cosmopolitan global culture has a strong set of universal customs. When wealthy individuals from a foreign country highlight the gap between themselves and their less-wealthy fellow citizens, you start to become more aware of global gaps and your own gaps with other people.

Another observation that I have made is that the greatest gaps between cultures exist between the rural poor. The truly profound differences between America and the developing world, in an overt cultural sense, stand between our rural poor and their rural poor. The idea of distinct music, dancing, cuisine, cultural norms, clothing, and folklore are best exemplified in the rural parts of our nations. Our wealthy urbanites have only become more similar over time. In this regard, students looking to have a eye-opening cultural experience ought to look first in their own cities, in the poorer and more removed parts of America. If they have the chance, immerse themselves in the culture of foreign (less affluent) peoples. Perhaps I am disposed to see the world in a more materialist, Marxian way, but I truly believe that class is the greatest divider on our planet. We ought to acknowledge it.


3) I've learned that we all share so many wonderful attributes that are profoundly human. When you immerse yourself with others who are different, the first things you notice are the differences. For the first 3 or 4 weeks, I felt lonely quite often. Going 4 or 5 days without speaking a word of English can be challenging for the psyche. Then there is a moment of relief when one starts to realize just how small the world is. You realize that 2000 years ago the gaps between cultures and peoples were much stronger than they are today. You realize that written into our genetic makeup are endless attributes that we have in common with each other. In the display of emotion and in social interactions I have found these most profoundly present. Knowing that Nicaragua is a Western, Christian nation, I would love to experience a greater jump, such as Nigeria, or Saudi Arabia, to see what is left of our commonalities.

I know what you're thinking. What does this all have to do with politics?

Fair enough. You've caught me talking about something else, for once. Nevertheless, I challenge you to expand your definition of what is pertinent. After working in the heart of what we call "politics" last summer in Washington, DC, I have little doubt that understanding cultural gaps and economic disparities are any less valuable, and for that matter, any less political. For many of us, it is the latter that we ought to delve deeper to find solutions to our world's problems. And perhaps some of our men and women in Washington could use a little less training in American political machinery, and a little more training in being better global citizens (and I don't mean- by having lovers on different continents, Mr. Governor).

I bid you well,

Henry “Enrique” Vasquez
Masaya, Nicaragua

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Breaking: Chris Matthews Makes Sense

It's always nice to see someone in the media actually press the idiots they interview to give real answers and account for their BS.  

In case you're not up to date with the "birthers"--a new wingnut base of the GOP (because there weren't enough already?!?)--they seem to be a growing movement, both in number and batshit-index, that think the president is not legitimate because he was born in Kenya, or Hawaii before it was a state (even though it was a state), and all sorts of other crazy shit.

To illustrate this further, here's a video that went viral yesterday of some looney-toon at this poor GOP congressman's town hall.  Behold the debauchery that ensues when this whack-job essentially hijacks this poor man's little gathering.  It's how I would imagine the "two minutes hate" in 1984 taking place.  What's truly even more frightening is that the crowd is with her, and she's not just an isolated old wingbat that forgot to take her pills:

Now, here's Chris Matthews interviewing some dipshit GOP congressman who is trying to embolden the birther movement by introducing some bill that would require the president and any future president to produce a birth certificate, blah blah blah (even though HE ALREADY HAS!)  Kudos to Chris Matthews for making this guy look like a fool.

Buzz Aldrin: Astronaut. Ninja. American Hero.

In case you didn't look at a newspaper or turn on your TV all day, today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.  I don't have any grand post at the moment about what an epic accomplishment this was for our nation and the world... BUT, I do have this awesome clip to share with you, of Buzz Aldrin punching some dumbass Moon-landing-hoax conspiracy theorist straight in the face!  Great Success!!!  

Buzz Aldrin deserves mad props for this!

Buzz Aldrin, we salute you!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Evening Tunes

Here's a little rock & roll for your listening and viewing pleasure this evening...

Muse: "Knights of Cydonia," Live at Wembley Stadium ...I would have killed to be at this show.

As some of you may recall, I've argued that Muse is the best rock band of our generation. This can't be determined by listening to one song/video of course. I highly recommend each of their albums; they are all complex, creative, unique and poetic. I welcome any other opinions as to which band is deserving of this title I have bestowed upon Muse, though I have yet to be convinced otherwise.

Sunday Funday: WTF Edition

This little bit of news is a week or two old, but in addition to making us all say to ourselves, "WTF!?! this chick could have been Vice President!?!" it also makes for an excellent interactive Sunday Funday feature!!!

While discussing the possibility of her ever ending up in the White House (LOL) despite resigning the governorship of Alaska in part because of a shit-storm of ethics complaints, the wolf-slayer offered up this lovely gem to showcase her grasp of the executive branch:
"I think on a national level your department of law there in the White House would look at some of the things that we've been charged with and automatically throw them out," she said.
Now, I don't know if Palin thinks she gets a special department as POTUS or VPOTUS dedicated solely to handling her many failures to grasp ethics, or if she was confusing the "Department of Law" with the Department of Justice, (which wouldn't be wasting their time and our tax dollars on that crap anyway) BUT... THIS MAKES FOR AN EXCELLENT SUNDAY FUNDAY GAME...


This is how it works, kids: 

1.) Take any department in the federal government (e.g. Department of Education).
2.) Subtract 20 or so points from your IQ so you're on par with the wolf huntress.
3.) Re-name the department accordingly: (e.g. Department of Education = Department of Gum Stuck Under My Desk).

Leave your submissions in the comments, and let's see who can come up with the best Palinisms!!!