Tuesday, April 3, 2012

President Bush (from 2007)

Today was another unique day. But, first a story. A few years ago I was on a plane with Tex Winter, a former coach for the Lakers (and you know how much I love the Lakers). I wanted to talk with him and thought that once the plane made a stop I would go sit next to him. Well, of course, Tex left and I never had the opportunity to speak with him. As a huge b-ball fan I vowed to never let any kind of opportunity like this slip away from me again.

Last week it was indicated in the local newspaper that President Bush would be visiting Lancaster. Members of the Chamber of Commerce could pick up a ticket by waiting in line at the Chamber offices this past Monday. Tickets would be given out starting at 10 AM. I thought why not, I may not agree with the man but this is an opportunity to really see someone who is in the public light. I made it to the Chamber about 9:30 AM last Monday and there were already a room full of people, some having arrived as early as 5 AM! I was given the number 60 and waited about two hours to be three tickets away from obtaining one to see the President. I saw a young man in his late 20’s who had gotten some tickets interviewed by the local media who had received a couple of tickets. This young man talked about how much he loved the President, supported the war and then he did a little parody of the President. I thought how can someone so young be so conservative? I put my name on the Chamber waiting list and yesterday received a call from the Chamber saying that I could get a ticket! Last night there was a demonstration in the square outside of Market which I wanted to experience. I stayed in the background but saw many signs along with lots of chanting. I agreed with many of the signs but as I left I said to someone, “OK, so now how do we make changes?”

This morning I made it to the site where the President would speak, about 7 miles outside of Lancaster, around 9:45 AM. Driving on the road to the site, one could tell that the President was on the way, lots of police and ambulances, etc. I waited in line for about 45 minutes and made it into the site which was set up in a town hall meeting style, the President would be in the middle with about 400 people sitting in bleachers around him. The national media of course covered the event. We started out with the star spangled banner and then the President of the Chamber was introduced and then the President walked in. Whether you agree with the President or not it was quite an electric feeling to have George Bush about 10 feet away from you.

The President gave about 30 minutes of prepared remarks including addressing some of the Amish whose families were involved in the horrible Nickel Mines shooting and then opened it up to questions. The first question was about the Iraq war. The President was very adamant about needing to stay until we were successful. He really spent a lot of time answering the question. Next it was my turn to ask two questions. I said, “Thank you for coming here and for being open to answer questions. I also told him that I wanted to gain a better understanding of him, which he thanked me for. I asked him to talk about the Farm Bill and how it helped Lancaster County farmers and also asked him to talk about how we were being leaders in combating global warming.” (Apparently I was also on the local news asking my Farm bill question). The President spent a little bit of time on the Farm Bill but went into quite an explanation about global warming. He looked at me quite a bit as he was answering my questions. There were some very tough questions for the President and he answered all of them to the best of his ability. He seemed sincere and personable and is of course a real ideologue. Someone asked him if his daughters should go into business or politics and he said that they should do whatever they want to do. He talked a bit about HIV/AIDS in Africa and said that he felt that we should help to relieve the suffering overseas and that we should help people in other countries to become free. He also stated that he didn’t like the fact that politics in Washington were so personal and that we should show respect for one another. He again did seem sincere. He talked a lot about not raising taxes and I kept thinking about how we were paying for the war besides cutting lots of programs?

As the President left around 1 PM, I handed him my latest US News and World Report with a cover picture of Hillary for him to sign, he asked me where I farmed and I stated that I ran a market with lots of farmers. The President did sign the picture of Hillary and laughed. (During the 72-73 b-ball season the NY Knicks defeated the Lakers in the finals. Keith Erickson of the Lakers was at a local drug store to sign autographs after the defeat. My friend Bernard and I went to obtain an autograph. Bernard, who always had a good sense of humor, and is now living in Paris, brought the cover of Sports Illustrated with Willis Reed of the Knicks for Keith to sign. Keith just laughed and signed it and I thought of this as I handed the picture of Hillary to President Bush).

All in all to be able to ask the President of the US a question and get an answer, regardless of whether I agree or not, is remarkable to me. It is very difficult for me to find much right with the policies of the Bush Administration, he had just come from vetoing a bill for poor children’s health, but I do have to say that I have an appreciation for the person George Bush and the tremendous pressure that he is under as President.

The lesson for me is to take advantage of whatever opportunities life presents. Why not?

The Amish Church (from 2007)

As I drove down Route 340 about 8:30 AM on Sunday, September 16th, 2007 the road was alive with Amish in buggies, Amish walking with their families, and Amish parents pulling their children in wagons all on their way to their own church. The church that I attended was at the home of one of the Market standholders in Gordonville, next to Paradise. I decided to try to look as “Amish” as possible, so I put on black and white clothes and wore my Amish hat. I was greeted by my hosts and then I was shown the barn where the Amish men and boys were waiting for the service to start. The Amish males were all standing in a line shoulder to shoulder and as someone new came in one would go down the line and shake everyone’s hand. (A few of the men actually kissed each other on the lips). As new buggies came in the horses were also put in the barn to be watered. At about 9, one of the Amish elders asked me to follow him into a building which is typically used as a workshop. There were maybe 15 benches in the room with about 8 on one side for the women and 7 on the other side for the men facing towards the women. In the center were 10 chairs facing each other for the elders. I was placed in the center with the elders. When I entered the room with the Amish elders all of the women were in the room, lots of children, along with the Amish men. We still had our hats on until the Amish male teens entered the room and then we removed our hats. The service lasted about three hours, I believe in German. I understood the following words-“Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and Go in the grace of God”. That was it! I didn’t fall asleep although it seemed that many of the men were dozing throughout the service. I think that there were three sermons and some chanting. At times we got on our knees and placed our head on the chairs. I could tell that many of the Amish children were looking at me, this “English” person. They did seem rather curious.

Once the service ended I was instructed to stay in the room as the long benches were transformed into two long tables, one again for the men and one for the women. In between this transformation I went outside to play some basketball with the children. I also asked used to use the bathroom in the house, but was turned down as the women were using the house as their area. I was instructed to go out into the fields. I sat with the elders to a feast of freshly made bread, fresh p-nut butter, cup cheese, some type of apple pie, water, coffee. It was just delightful to be so welcomed into this community so unlike anything that I had been aware of. After lunch the volleyball court was being prepared, but I had to leave for another function, so I was unable to play.

I’m not sure that my description captured my experience , but it really was just incredible! There definitely was curiosity about me, especially what I thought of the service. When I responded that although I didn’t really understand the service, but thoroughly enjoyed myself, there was a definite connection. I hope to be invited to another service so that I can stay to play volleyball!

India Dreaming

I was supposed to start working in India yesterday, on April 2, 2012. Instead I’m still in California “visiting” my parents, trying to take some action on what I’ll do next in my life. I was supposed to be still living with the Tyagi family in my second floor flat with all of my “stuff” adorning the walls. Instead I spoke to the family on Skype this morning talking about how they’ve put all of my “stuff” into boxes in the spare bedroom until I’m ready to have it shipped. Fortunately for all another VSO volunteer will be living in the flat. I was supposed to be in New Delhi with all of its people, cows, dogs, traffic, pollution and garbage, where I’m so very happy, truly being me. Instead I’m in an area with blue sky, lots of walking trails, no garbage, hardly any people, a swimming pool, where I’m not overly happy, (yet that is). My heart and mind are still in India, where my selfish self wants to be.

I ran out of time in trying to renew my visa in India. In retrospect I should have just stayed until I had a decision one way or the other. I thought that there would be no issues in obtaining a fresh visa in the US. But after being rejected, and as I came to find out, I seem to be in the middle of some politics i as the US has been rejecting Indian professional visas at a very high rate. In the IndiaMIke forum I read about a young woman in a similar situation: “But what frustrates me the most is that there is a job of my dreams at the organization where I did my internship with a lot of pleasure and most importantly in the country where I want to live…”

As the month of March has gone by and I try to obtain assistance from my Indian friends, to see if they know of someone in the Indian Embassy, and my father pushes me to send e-mails to various US legislators, I realize how central India has become in my life. New Delhi has become my home. I so much appreciated the everyday contact that I had with my host family. Although my Hindi is fairly non-existent, I had relationships with all of the shop keepers, a smile and wave every morning on my way to the bus stop, a “Namaste” from the people living on the sidewalk, a greeting to any child that I passed on my way home in the evening, a “conhei?” or “who is it?” in Hindi when I rang the bell to be let into my home.

Three years in a country, building relationships, thinking that one could stay here for some time and be happy, contributing to another way of life stopped by the stroke of a pen. Intellectually I can understand this, countries have to promote that they are protecting their citizens. Although in the longer term, as I’ve come to realize from living in India, understanding how others work and incorporating this knowledge into how we work, benefits all. Emotionally, I’m somewhat of a mess as I tell myself that, “everything will be ok”. Internally my rumblings are great, as my body attempts to adjust to the lifestyle I once knew. My good friends and family have been very supportive, but now my contacts, my professional network is in India and in this moment I can’t go back.

So, what to do? I try to be hopeful, tell myself that there might be some way to talk to someone and make the case that this particular foreigner, out of all of those that have been rejected, should be given a visa, that I’m not taking any work away from citizens of India and actually creating some, that I really can help to make a difference for Indian society. On the other hand, I know that I need to start building some infrastructure for myself in the US, that I can’t be unemployed for a long period of time as I already know something about this from my part-time working life during 2008. I also know that living and working overseas is something that I just don’t want to give up.

It isn’t easy, but I know that. All of us go through “stuff” and it comes down to how we deal with the spouse that is sick, not having the money to do what we want, staying in a job because it is secure, growing old and not being able to do what you used to.

I’ll go on because it is the only way. I won’t give up and will get back to India if it is at all possible. Maybe it won’t be in the capacity that “I want”, but in another. I certainly won’t give up my dream of living in other countries once again. But for now if I must stay in the US, I’ll do what I can to make it “home”.