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The Israel Trip.

Since the class decided to do the blog together, I’ll add the link here so those interested can check it out.



Update and New Adventure

It’s been nine months since we’ve returned from Romania and a lot has happened for or Eritrean friends. As far as I know, all of the refugees are placed in their host countries. The several I have kept in touch with have made it to the United States, with the exception of Nora’s family who was sent to Norway. I am able to keep up with a few of my brothers on Face Book and they keep me up to date on what is going on in their lives.

It’s amazing to me what an impact we had on their lives when you think of what a small amount of time we spent with them. Never would I have thought they would keep me in the loop as much as they have. It makes that experience in Timisoara that much more memorable.

I’ve also started a new adventure today. I will be going on a Study Abroad trip to Israel in May for just over a week. It will not be the same type of experience as the UNHCR excursion, but it will no doubt be as adventurous.

The official description is as follows: “This course provides students with the knowledge and direct exposure to key forensic aspects of Israel. Students will have direct access to international experts in the fields of terrorism, counter-terrorism, trauma, and public resilience, as well as government officials. Students will tour Israeli prisons, the Knesset, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Students will also tour a world-renowned mass-casualty unit of a hospital in Jerusalem, as well as a rape crisis center, including presentations from treating professionals at both facilities. Students will study  the culture of Israel, including significant political and religious aspects, along with cultural excersions directly related to the same. Cultural immersion activities will include the Holocaust Museum, the Western Wall, a Shbbat service at a Jewish synagogue, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a Shuk, and a Christian tour.”

As you can see, this is a bit different style of trip, but still in line with my Clinical Forensic Psychology doctorate. I will be posting on this blog as we have classes with some extraordinary guest speakers and of course as much as I can during the trip.

Final things

I added to my world travel map the places we went during our trip. http://goo.gl/maps/ec7t

If you scroll down to the bottom of the list you will see the line for the approximate roads we traveled, though many of them from Brasov to Chisinau were by train, but there was no option for selecting those.

I would like to thank my traveling companions for making the trip exciting and fun, and for putting up with me all day….all night. Thanks to Marie for hosting us, taking care of us, and allowing us the opportunity to have the experience that we did. Thanks to Mariana for all the help she gave us getting things done and the lovely meals we had at her NGO. Thanks to John for inviting us to see the projects that Millennium Challenge Corp. are working on in Moldova and for being an amazing host. Thanks to the refugees at the camp for welcoming us to their circle of friends and giving us an Easter and experiences I will never forget. Last, but not least, thanks to Adrian for coordinating the trip and working so hard with GU on making it happen. I know we didn’t always see eye to eye during the trip, but you provided us an experience unlike anything I’ve ever had before and I will always be grateful.

The trip is done.

Most of us have made it stateside, with the exception of Brittany Taylor. It is nice to be home, but I can’t help to think we left long before we accomplished our intended goals for the class. It was unfortunate that forces beyond anyone’s control played a huge roll in this, but that doesn’t dissuade the thoughts of how much we could have done as far as accompanying the Eritreans and Iraqi’s which arrived at the ETC in the last week or so.

That being said, it was by far one of the most amazing experiences of the last several years. Not only were my eyes opened up to the mass amount of misplaced people in the world due to wars, bad government policy, and just plain bad luck, but I was also given the opportunity to view my own country, which I gave the last 20 years of my life to, in a light that made me proud to be an American once again.

Before the trip I was perfectly happy living the life most of us Americans do with regards to the global humanitarian situation, that is one of an ostrich. Keeping my head in the sand because my only real exposure was to the Sally Struthers and the other “save the children” advertising that was meant to pull at your wallet, rather than educate. Knowing now what other humans suffer through just to have a fraction of what I take for granted on a daily basis makes me what to do and be more than what I’ve done the last 38 years.

The last week we were at the ETC, we had daily meetings with Marie who would ask us questions about our experience with the refugees. She talked a lot about the different approaches one has to take with them depending upon the working relationship one has with them. She pointed out the different power dynamics that were at play that many of us didn’t think about. We had to keep in mind that they didn’t have as much freedom as we did. We can walk out of the camp at anytime we choose, we have access to just about everything Romania has to offer, and we don’t need permission to do most things they do.

After bringing up the power dynamic, she asked us how we saw our rolls in this regard. My perspective came from the mentor/mentee perspective. I have extensive knowledge in what it is to be an American and living in this country. I saw my job as one that required me to pass on all that I can to help them integrate into a society that is foreign to them. To this end I attempted to educate them on how to use the internet to find questions to answers they will have, rather than rely on whom ever they come in contact with. I taught them some idiosyncratic Americanism with regards to how we say things like prices, phone numbers, and other tempo-centric items. So for me the power dynamic was not an equal, but as a mentor.

We also talked about the resiliency of the refugees at the camp. There are few faces with out smiles, words with negativity, or actions with despair in the group. They are eager to learn, to teach, and to participate in ways that I would not be able to say I could be had I gone through the same horrible trials they experienced. For the amount of bad luck they had through their lives, they are much happier and thankful than any spoiled brat on MTV’s Sweet 16. I cannot say enough good things about them.

Because I kept my distance a bit more than the girls, I didn’t get to talk with many about what it is they went through, but what I was able to discover is they men had little choice in what they were to do after they graduated school. One of the Eritreans said that he walked down the isle to get his diploma, and on the way back he walked into the army. He left because he saw no future in forced military service with out an end that didn’t require dirt being piled over him. He wanted to learn more, to be a musician. So he ran out of his country, leaving behind his family, his home, and the only way of life he has ever known because learning was more important to him than dying.

Unfortunately they ran to Libya. Many of the men I talked to said the same thing, the Libyans didn’t care about education, all they cared about was satisfying their Id. Drinking, drugs, violence and laziness was the way of life for many of the people they knew.

Though I have traveled to many destinations over the years, it is always nice to learn about other cultures and how they see the world. This was an excellent reminder that our way of doing things isn’t the only way to get them done, and others may have other perspectives that get the job done different, sometimes better. America has pushed its self up from oppressed and humble beginnings, and it’s nice to be reminded that it wouldn’t take much for our fortunes to change and be thankful every day for what we have. I don’t care to guess how much this had to do with the government in control of Libya, because I’ve never been there, but I can’t help but think it was a primary motivator.

Overall I am thankful for my time in Romania, we got to see how people are using education in sociology to improve the lives of troubled youth, motivated people doing anything and everything they can to change the lives of people sold into slavery, prostitution, or other such bondage, American tax dollars providing opportunities for former enemies, and souls who’s lives give them little to be thankful for, yet cherish life in ways I have not been able to in years. Not only have I gained a renewed faith in my country, but in my fellow humans. Not every politician is corrupt, not every government agency is a bureaucratic wasteland, and there are people out there who care enough to help those who don’t have the means to help themselves. I just hope this new found perspective isn’t lost in my own struggles to get through life.

Finaly working with refugees!

The Eritrians we’ve been waiting on have arrived and we have been working with them for the last few days. They arrived from Libya on the 20th to the press and the Romanian Minister of Interior. They are the first refugees to make it out of Libya since the tensions started not too long ago. This link will give all the details so I can focus on the ethnographic portion of my experience and keep the blog post from getting too long.

On their first day in camp you could see the relief as well as tiredness on their faces as they were herded one more place while the press clicked pictures and rolled film. They were glad to finally make it to there interim destination after many hours on airplanes with out much break. Though some opted to take a nap, most of them wanted to stay awake to help shift to their new day/night cycle.

To help keep them occupied, we found an old soccer ball and started kicking it around with them. Though I wasn’t dressed for the activity, I stunned them with my Pele-like skills and assured them that every American is as good as me or better…and when I say Pele-like I mean him as a 6 month old baby.

We eventually gave them a break from our horrible soccer skills and they took the opportunity to rest and we left for the day. Though they were weary from their travels, many talked to us, with rather good English, and gave us some of their back story.

Many of the refugees came from a prison in Tripoli where they spent anywhere from a few months to a few years waiting to find out about their refugee status in Libya. They were not being held for crimes or offenses, but for administrative hold while their cases were being looked over. Because they weren’t criminals, they didn’t have access to cells and were left in the prison yard to fend for themselves day and night. This led to many of the being abused physically, sexually, and mentally.

Several were from the same village and fled Eritrea to either escape the compulsorily military service that had no length of term attached to it or deserted for the same reason. And despite these terms for leaving their country, and the treatment they suffered at the hands of the criminal element in prison, they seem to have a very positive outlook on life and are hopeful to start their new lives in America.

A New Perspective

For the last several years I have become somewhat jaded towards my government and its foreign policies. More often than not, I felt that we should spend more money on those in need in our own borders long before looking around the world to help others. My thought process went along the lines of “if our own people are suffering, why can’t we take care of them first and let the other countries worry about their own?” That stance has taken a noticeable shift in the last three days.

We took a trip to Chisinau (key-shu-now), Moldova to visit with a representative of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), John Wilson, the husband of Marie Wilson, the UNHCR representative we are currently working with. His job is to oversee a $262 million dollar fund designed to help the Moldavian people reduce poverty and combat corruption in the government. They do this by assessing the needs of the country and finding the highest rate of return for the Moldavian government after each project is done. It was decided to go with building a road between Chisinau and a northern town, Soroca, across the river from the Ukraine and an irrigation improvement project that would greatly increase the yields of the crops along the length of the country.

The road would increase the amount of traffic, specifically commercial and industrial, to and from Chisinau and Kiev enough to increase the amount of goods swapped between the countries, which would in return increase taxable shipments to give the government more funds to operate, and improve the commercial and industrial profits that could be put back into the economy to help it grow. We travelled that road from start to finish and I can tell you first hand, it would be a huge improvement over what they have now. The best part was the “chicken” lane. This lane was a third lane between the two lanes of traffic that allowed vehicles to pass, but was not designated for one direction or the other, hence you are playing chicken with the oncoming traffic who is passing when you decide to.

It is easy to see how these two projects can help with the poverty piece, but you may wonder how they will help with the corruption part. First this area of Europe, the former western bloc of the USSR, is rife with human trafficking. Romania, Moldova, the Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, etc. are all sources of people for the slave trade. To help combat this, the US is using the $262 mil carrot to entice the government to change its laws, enforce them, and prosecute those arrested in the criminal enterprise, including government officials. And because all the companies who build roads in Moldova are state run, outside contractors will be brought in to do the road work and a triple check system will be in place to make sure the work is being done.

Though the MCC acts as an oversight entity, the locals are responsible to set up an organization to run the projects so they can continue after the MCC is gone. They take the “teach them how to fish” tact to helping them up by their boot straps. Because there are a lot of government officials who learned their trade under communist rule, there are some severe roadblocks to the 5 year time line that must be met in order to get everything done. They are used to miring themselves in paperwork and not actually producing anything. One of John’s many jobs is to show them that the old way isn’t working for them if they hope to make progress and become a more productive society.

It is this aspect of the MCC that has shifted my perception of our foreign policy. Moldova’s government can not take care of their own. They are stuck in a government model from the 1950s designed to stifle innovation and original ideas. They could keep themselves at the level they are at, but would be a third world country in 30 years because they have not progressed and have fallen behind the rest of the world. That country needs mentorship from another that has progressed with if not in front of the rest of society. We are that country.

I understand the political and economical reasoning behind these programs, but that doesn’t short circuit the positive effect that will help a whole country get back on track with the rest of those close to it and allow it to be productive and competitive.

On another note, the cheese in Moldova is the bomb, as was most of the other food we had while there. I can’t say enough what it’s like to chow down on the excellent food they have here. I think it’s because they don’t lead a sedentary life of sitting behind a computer screen or in an office that they can eat foods that haven’t been processed so much that any calorie, fat cell, and ounce of flavor has been extracted in the guise of “healthy food”.

From sunburns to snowshoes

Because we have another week with out refugees, we are taking our trip to Bran early and adding a trip to Moldova to meet our UNHCR host’s husband who is working on developing the country for long term growth. Once we meet him, I’ll be able to give you a better description of what he does.

To keep us busy, Mariana has been doing an excelent job coordinating visits to different organizations that deal with the less fortunate. Though we haven’t been able to start the work we originaly came to Romania, through no fault of Marie or Adrian, we have been lucky enough to have an experience few, if any, college student/tourists have had.

As an example, we visited a government sponsored camp for young males who have made poor choices in life. The camp’s philipsophy geels that no boy in their care is useless. The use the assets based values to positively reinforce change that the boys may have not had a chance to lrpearn at home. They see everybody as a diamond in the rough that needs guidence and positive support to shine them up. I was supprised to see such a far forward thinking program that received funds from a government that still has a comunist-ish run idology. I would even be supprised to see such a program in many of the states back home sponored by government funds.

The fact that the had no punishment, past social seclusion from the others, easily scaleable fences, guards with out any tools of control, and regular interaction with the local schools, was amazing seeing how there charges offenses ran the gambit from petty theft to rape or assult. The warden spoke of very few kids escaping, that didn’t come back shortly after, few major discipline problems, and a recidivism rate, after five years, in the 15% range. They are able to acomplish these feats with a $500 per child per month rate. (compare able programs in France and Spain operate at $5000 per child with the same results)

The next day, we travled to one of the universities in Timisoara. There we meet with the president of the university and had a chance to talk with one if his classes. The school specialized in communication and journalism and all the students we talked with we undergrads in a … class. We gave them a brief overview of why we were in Romania and then allowed them to ask us questions.

They were interested in our views of Romania and the people there, how we felt what we were doing would effect things back in the states, and our thoughts on other similar topics. I enjoyed the wide range of views on topics like “the US starts all the wars now, we all know this”, to “it is important to teach my children how things are done right, I can’t take in every kid from the streets and try to change them”. I especially liked watching the other students in the class when the more vocal ones voices their opinions. It was easy for me to see that the quiet students were used to those opinions and what they thought of them.

After their class was over, some of the students asked us to join them for coffee. We traveled across the street to a local college hangout, and talked more in depth with those who spoke excellent english and had further interest in chatting with us.

The next day, Wednesday, we border a “bus” to Bratislav. I put bus in quotes because it was actually a 20 passenger van that traveled for 9+ hours with 23 people in it. thankfully our group was able to sit together and weren’t as cramed in as those sitting on stools in the isle…that’s right sitting on stools with no access to seatbelts and the only thing keeping them from flying around is the grace of god keeping us out of any accidents.

On e off the “bus”, we traveled to Brad, the town at the base of the famous Castle Braun, also known as the home of Vlad the Impaler and Dracula’s castle. We had planned to hike up to the castle today, but few of os were prepared to travel by foot in the snow that started falling in the night and all through the day.

We did manage to find a nice coffee bar in which to sit out most of the snow and looked around the tourist stands selling vampire junk. I did find a nice present for Michelle, but she will have to wait for me to get back home to find out what it is.

For dinner we found an excelent reseraunt that served organic, made fresh meals. They also had this delightful drink that was local wine boiled down to increase the sweet flavour and strength. It was a welcome warming drink, so much so that a few of us partook in a second mug. We had the pleasure of speaking with the propriator and he told us the story of the building and a little of his personal story.