I’m so happy I have cool friends!…

Well, I just want to share the amazing blog my best friend Jen is writing about her experiences in Kenya! She’s just starting a four-month long (at least!) trip there doing some really inspiring work. I asked her to explain exactly what she’s doing, so I’m just going to post her own description of the work because who better to explain it all than the woman herself! Here’s what she has to say about the projects:

What I’m doing here is working for two non-profits in the US: Creative Women of the World, and St Joseph United Methodist Church. Creative Women of the World is trying to establish a business relationship with some women here in Kenya. The goal is to buy/sell/market their products to a greater market, so they can eventually sustain themselves with the business they’ve created for themselves… so we’re not giving them charity, we’re teaching them how to empower themselves.

St Joseph UMC has a scholarship program called Kenya Simba Scholars, which is a program dedicated to gathering scholarships for needy children here in Kenya who can’t afford to go to school. We’re meeting with all the kids who are currently a part of the program, getting their stories, taking photos/videos… and taking those back to the US in hopes of using that testimony to grow the program from 100 students to 1000 students over the next 10 years.

Jen is one of those people who has inspired me to do amazing things and go on great adventures ever since our first conversation many years ago before we became college roommates! I’m so excited about what she’s doing now and so happy for her to have this opportunity! If you’re interested in following along as she shares her journey, as I will be, here’s the link:

Adventures of an International Advocate

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Women for Women International…

‘One woman can change anything, but many women can change EVERYTHING.’

~ Women for Women International

So, it being Women’s History Month, I wanted to think of something special to do to celebrate women in the world and to support important causes related to women’s issues. The other day I came across an organisation I am extremely excited about and I am super eager to support.

The organisation is called Women for Women International, and they currently work in eight countries in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East, in communities where violent conflict and war have left women devastated and vulnerable. Through a year-long course, these marginalized women learn valuable work and business skills as well as developing a better understanding of their rights and how they can be active and participating members of their communities and larger societies.

Reading some of the personal stories of the women who have participated in this program, left me touched and inspired. They have had loved ones murdered, homes destroyed, been displaced by conflict and struggled to provide for their families. Through this program they have taken the steps to rebuild their lives and it is amazing to see their successes and how happy they are, despite all they’ve been through.

If you’re interested in supporting these inspiring women around the world, you can give a donation or become a sponsor, helping one individual woman by subsidising her throughout her year-long course. You get to exchange letters with your sister throughout the year, learning about her experiences, and encouraging her during her journey to reclaim her life.

So, I’ve decided that Women for Women International is far too inspiring NOT to support. I’m making a deal with myself that I will give up a few luxuries every week and use the money saved to become a sponsor for one year. I figure if I give up eating take-away lunches at work, I can save the monthly pledge money quite easily, and then some. I’m excited to have such a great chance to celebrate the courage and strength of some amazing women for Women’s History (and future!) Month.

I heart Herodotus…

As you may have gathered at this point, I love history. I can’t get enough of it. And during our holiday, we visited the hometown of the great Father of History himself: Herodotus. I think I want to adopt him as my personal hero.

Anyway, one stop on our coolest-ever holiday was Bodrum, formerly known as Halicarnassus, in southern Turkey along the Aegean coast. We took a bus from Kuşadası to Bodrum. It took about two hours, and it was really lovely to have a drive through the mountains. There were so many olive trees everywhere! I love them! There is  a myth about the founding of the Greek city of Athens, that illustrates the importance of the olive tree in the life of Mediterranean cultures. In the olden days, Poseidon the sea god and Athena, the patron goddess of civilization, war and wisdom (among other things), were in a bit of a competition with each other over who would be the most favoured god of the Athenians. They each offered the Athenians a gift, and wanted the people to choose which they liked best, and consequently, which god they preferred. Poseidon struck the ground and a spring of running water appeared, but the water was salty and not very useful. Athena, on the other hand, gave the people the olive tree. This was clearly the superior gift, since it would provide wood, oil for cooking and as fuel, and food. It was a pretty good gift, and one that is still giving today! I can’t imagine life without olives! In Turkey, and elsewhere, olive oil is used for every type of cooking, and olives are probably eaten by just about everyone in Turkey on a daily basis. I actually think we consume olive oil in some way or another for every meal of the day! Yum. When you go to the markets or shops here, you also have tons of choice in olives. In America, you can get ‘black’ or ‘green’ olives in a can. They’re okay. But here, you can choose from like twenty varieties, or possibly more! You get to sample them, like you’re choosing a nice bottle of scotch or tasting wine. Some are more tart, or fruity, or salty, or bitter. Ah, so delicious. And good for you.

But I digress. So, Bodrum and Herodotus. First of all, Bodrum was gorgeous. It’s a very busy, but very lovely resort town. It was a bit expensive, but we found plenty of cheap and relaxing things to do there. I especially loved sitting at the beachside cafes and bars, drinking a glass of wine while listening to the sea lap up against the pebbly shore. It was so relaxing and the history nerd in my found it really cool to imagine Herodotus growing up in this same town, perhaps sitting on this same beach 2500 years ago, and setting out from this harbour on his amazing world travels!

During the course of the year, I’ve twice read his famous book (or I suppose, collection of books)- The Histories. Back in his time, you could get away with such a simple title for your great work, because essentially, it was the first real history book in western civilisation, hence Horodotus’s title: the Father of History!

Now, I know what you may be thinking: this history book was written 2500 years ago, by some old Greek guy. It’s probably painfully dull and dry and archaic. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite the common (and often faulty) assumption that old things are always boring, this book is quite the page turner. Herodotus travelled all around the Mediterranean world and with his unquenchable curiosity, tried to learn about all the peoples and cultures he encountered, including, but not limited to, various Greek city states and colonies, the Lydians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Massagetae, Ethiopians, Indians, Scythians and their neighbours, Libyans and Thracians, all various peoples that populated Herotodus’s world. He also tells the story of the great war between the Persians and the Greeks, which included the battles of Marathon and Thermopylae, etc. (The film 300 is about part of this war).

What makes this book spectacular though, isn’t just the broad and interesting content; it’s also the way he tells his stories. He was a man who truly seemed to respect the cultures and people he wrote about. He tries to give different versions of stories, weigh up the most likely possibilities, and present things for the reader to consider and come to conclusions about. Overall, the book is lacking a sort of biased cultural superiority that you might expect to find in such ancient ethnologies, or even modern ones for that matter. It seems that Herodotus, a Greek man from Ionia, saw value in every culture he researched and you get a sense that he is writing as a cultural equal and not with the condescending ethnocentrism that many people have even now, when they are talking about cultures other than their own. He also actually went to most of the places he wrote about, spending most of his life travelling around the world. I think he must have been an extremely interesting person with so many amazing insights and so much knowledge. If I could choose anyone, living or dead, to have a conversation with, Herodotus would definitely be a top choice.

One thing that has been so enjoyable about reading (and re-reading) the Histories is that so much of it takes place in what is now Turkey. There were so many important events and interesting ethnic groups and tribes and kingdoms and empires here, and it really adds a whole new dimension to my understanding of Turkish, Middle Eastern, Western and just overall world history.

And this isn’t boring old dry history. It is absolutely full of interesting characters, adventures, dramas, legendary feats, wars and battles. There are brilliant descriptions of beliefs and customs and practices in so many different locations and cultures. He paints the pictures so well that you feel like you’ve visited Egypt or Babylon and seen it all for yourself. You could scarcely find a more interesting, informative or humane travelogue written today!

So, I really STRONGLY recommend reading Herodotus’s Histories. It just might change your view of the world and history and life!

Anyway, more on the Bodrum experience coming soon…

Nine Lives by William Dalrymple…

Last week I devoured this book about spirituality in modern India. It was amazing, eye-opening and beautiful. I highly recommend it as a way to get at least a small glimpse into the complex world that is India, and to get a taste for some very different ways of looking at religion, god, and the meaning of life.

The book is in the form of nine short autobiographies, where essentially the writer lets the people tell their own stories, while occasionally asking questions or adding his own bits of background or experience to illuminate parts of the stories. Most of the chapters feature individuals on the fringes of Indian religious culture, either because they are part of non-Hindu religions, i.e. Jainism, Sufi Islam, or Buddhism, or because they participate in practices that challenge or defy the mainstream Hindu culture and live outside of the caste divides or Brahmin interpretation of religion.

The thing I love most about this book is its humanity. These personal stories are so real and touching and full of life. I think the author certainly makes an effort to show the ordinariness of these human experiences, which I imagine is a challenge when showing worldviews, practices and beliefs that can be so wildly different from the beliefs and worldviews of most westerners. The first story in the book, about a Jain nun dealing with the death of her best friend, literally brought tears to my eyes, it was so moving and beautiful; uplifting and tragic. And I loved, loved, LOVED the final chapter of the book and the way the whole reading experience was brought to a close, with the life affirming story of a blind minstrel, expressing his love of god through song and fellowship with his fellow minstrels, and singing that the only path to divinity is found within the human heart. After reading that final chapter I felt so happy to be alive!

I always find it uplifting, challenging, and inspiring to consider the way other people think and believe. I am ceaselessly amazed by the great diversity of human experience and culture. It is wonderful, awe-inspiring, strange and exciting to be a part of the human race in all its variety.

Positive lifestyle choices…

Environmental responsibility, simple living, thrift, non-consumerism: I’ve been hearing and reading and thinking about these ideas more and more throughout the course of this year. I’ve been really inspired to make some lifestyle changes in relation to these things, and I’m happy to say that I know other people who are doing the same.

I think people are making these lifestyle changes for a variety of reasons; the current financial situation which has made it necessary for people to re-evaluate their spending and consumption habits; people are choosing to improve their quality of life by working less and living in a simpler way materially; many people are realizing the benefits and the necessity of living in a way that is less harmful to the environment, etc. I’m sure that there are tons of different reasons behind the changes, but its interesting to see people coming from many different starting points and motivations but coming to similar conclusions.

My cousin Anne, for example, is doing some pretty great stuff with her family. She’s a young stay-at-home-mom with three little kids. Her and her husband have made a deliberate choice to allow Anne to stay home to raise their children which I think is pretty cool. Anne is into re-purposing (which is basically re-using what you already have in new ways) and is a rather thrifty lady. She’s recently switched from disposable diapers to reusable cloth diapers for her babies. I think she lives in a very simple way, and is ticking lots of boxes when it comes to non-consumerist lifestyle, some environmentally-friendly choices (i.e. no more disposable diapers!), and I think its cool.

Whatever the reason for people adopting these lifestyle changes, be it primarily financial, environmental, or for the freedom of simple living, I really hope they’ll spread the word and that more and more people will jump on the bandwagon! It’s all about the little incremental changes that people make in their lives. You don’t have to make a 100% change in the way you live. Just think of one or two small things you could do to be nicer to the planet or simplify your life and work on those. And tell other people about your successes and experiments! I always find it super encouraging to hear about other people’s experiences and it helps me stay committed to what I think is important.

I’d love to hear about your adventures in non-consumerism, environmentally-friendly living, and simplicity! Leave a comment and share what you’re up to!

Disease and intelligence…

Having started watching the series on malnutrition in the world and its devastating effects on children and their families, I thought this article from the Economist was somewhat related and certainly interesting.

Obviously hunger and malnutrition are serious threats to the healthy development of children, but as this article discusses, so are infectious diseases and parasites.

The main premise of the article is that in parts of the world where parasites and diseases are most prevalent, many people, on average, have a lower IQ than people who grow up without contracting serious diseases and parasites, such as intestinal worms or malaria. For example, if a child’s body, which is meant to use most of its energy on building up the brain, is forced to use valuable body resources fighting illness, the child’s cognitive development is negatively, and often seriously, effected. Similarly, if a child suffers from intestinal worms, this parasite prevents the child’s body from absorbing valuable nutrients from food, and therefore, brain development suffers.

Basically, the point is that there is a vicious circle in some developing countries which lack such things as clean drinking water, adequate heath care, etc, which leads to more childhood disease effecting the development and intelligence of its population, which again, makes the country less able to improve its situation. Eliminating serious diseases in the developing world must be a priority.

The US standard and a double standard…

So, because YouTube is blocked in Turkey, I can’t actually watch the video I posted on my blog yesterday. I’m not certain, but I think I’ve posted a different video than I intended, although that one is just as good.

Anyway, here’s the link to the one I thought I was posting, on a government sponsored program in the US works to prevent childhood malnutrition in America, and on the fact that America sends food aid to developing countries in the form of nutritionally-poor grains that would never be given to American children. Important for highlighting the importance of such government ‘welfare’ programs in the US and for showing a major problem in food aid America gives to other countries.

Will someone please tell me if I’ve posted the same video twice! I just can’t tell.

You can also click here to go to the Starved for Attention website and view all the documentaries. I’m working my way through them now. I also recommend supporting Doctors Without Borders, because I think they are definitely in the responsible-and-effective category in terms of charity organizations.