34 hours later I was in Australia. 15 flights and two weeks later, and I was back. It’s out of my mental reach to think about how one’s concept of time changes when time zones and jet lag seem to blur all of the boundaries.
This trip was semi-last-minute. When she was visiting me from Seattle, Stephanie and I briefly mentioned spending New Years Even in Australia. A few months later, and we made it happen!
Upon arrival in Sydney, we immediately went to the Great Barrier Reef where we saw turtles and hundreds of different species of fish and coral.
We then returned to Sydney, where we relaxed over drinks and indeed caught the fireworks from a ferry, after some confusion about where to go and how to get there.
We had to forego passes to an outdoor picnic, but ended up having dinner closer to where our ferry departed, which to our surprise also had 9pm fireworks.
For me, it was mostly a piqued curiosity about how people celebrate New Years Eve — at Manly Wharf, it seemed to be about the family — reservations for dinner had long-been made, families lining the boardwalk and the pier in celebration.
The year was off to a good start! Climbing a bridge in Sydney, going on a walking tour, seeing the Opera house, salsa dancing, having my first Servas homestay with Margaret and John, going on marvelous hikes in some of Australia’s national parks and seeing kangaroos with them.
I initially could not find Margaret and John’s address, which I had erroneously copied onto my phone from the directory …
I was then reunited with Stephanie for a rainy day in Auckland and a wonderful dinner with Servas host Liz and her friends and then more intimately between us three girls for a wine night, again filled with wonderful conversation.
With Liz, Stephanie and I learned a lot about New Zealand, including how well they cultivate work-life balance, overall valuing quality of life, which is not limited to human life.
The following day we were off to Queenstown, which, after a mistake with the dates scheduling our Milford Sound tour, we went on a wine and cheese cruise that evening, which was really lovely.
I survived driving on the left side of the road for the first time in my life, which proved my ability to do so — but not without a few mistakes — the hardest part was remembering that the blinkers were on the right handle instead of the left!
We returned to our BnB at Jack’s Point, which was wonderful, surrounded by unscathed nature, which was complemented by our time at Milford’s Sound, which UNESCO rightfully declared a World Heritage Sight.
Stephanie and I parted ways, I heading to Wellington where I spent my last days in New Zealand walking along the board ward, going on a walking tour and exploring the beautiful views from Mount Victoria, where I met some Spanish tourists with whom I had dinner and great conversation with – a lovely way to end the trip indeed!
Best food had: Tim tams – amazing!
Best thing done: Bridge Climb! – I thought it would be underwhelming, but everything about the experience was really lovely
Favorite City: If I had to choose — I would live under water with the fishes at the Barrier Reef!
Interesting things learned:
- On the plane, a guy telling me how the US was a prisoner colony and how Australia was founded directly after the US gained independence as a result of them looking for another piece of land where to place the prisoners. The British began to send people over in ships, which took 9 months at the time, often bringing women into the country who were pregnant “from the voyage” — it took until 1990 for the country to level out the gender gap, and in between, taught these people how to face adversity, in a land where the seasons were reversed and a land that is not so fertile (perhaps why the food is so heavily proceessed/portion sizes are relatively larger too?)
- The spirit of Australia, according to him, is not one of competition, but one of collaboration — dating back to the times when they had to collaboratively look for food. When the British refused to eat “dirty” oysters and that was all they had. They are the only country with ex-felons one their bills and less judgmental because of it.
- A lot of signs in Chinese and English – sign of incredible Chinese influence & foreign direct investment
- “Healthy disregard” for authority – given their history as prisoners
- Macadamia – at the time, the governor of Australia went to Hawaii where he was transferred and planted them there – now really well-known for being Hawaiian but actually Australian
- Ewing and the kangaroo are on the coat of arms because they can’t walk backwards and don’t want Australia to do so either
- They first thought it was uninhabited, but turns out aboriginals were living there for a time that is undetermined
- Initially, in part because the Aboriginals first thought the British were ancestors — ghosts from the past because of their pale skin. Torn between fear and respect — there was seemingly friendship and understanding, but they quickly turned into victims, killed by diseases they were not immune to. Aboriginals currently make up 1.5% of the Aussie population
- 75% of all of the new settlers were convicts
- England refused to send money for a hospital, so they focused on other means. Australians liked rum — so in exchange for money to build the hospital, the government began selling licenses which allowed individuals to sell rum to Australians – the hospital has since been referred to as the Rum Hospital
- Sydney has never been under heavy attack. Napoleon wanted to, but the British began to use a military base that was crucial for the success of this attack, so they did not succeed
- Australia: first to establish plastic money
- Can top up metro card at the supermarket – cap at $15 a day, no matter how far you travel around Sydney that day, not the case at the airport, as it’s privately owned
- 1965 construction of the Opera House paused, as the new government did not like how much money/time it was taking. They reduced the Danish architect’s budget (one who won the global contest for constructing the venue) by 100,000, but did not complete the structure for 15 years afterwards and for 1— million over budget
- Flying doctor – in Australia, the land is so vast and expansive that they have flying doctors that are sent off on planes and are equipt with just about everything needed to maybe even do a surgery!
- Barbecues and barbecuing is huge
- Bush fires are a problem, but some are started on purpose with the hopes to decrease the impact of ones in the future!
- Lyre bird, native to Australia – copies and memorizes all of the sounds made by its surroundings, flutes etc.
- Bush, beach, mountains all in once at national park Kuringai chase
- Oldest continual culture in the world – aboriginals in Australia
Best food had: Omelet at Jack’s Point
Best thing done: Driven on left side of road, Milford Sound
Favorite City: Queenstown for the nature, Wellington as a place I could potentially live in
Interesting things learned:
- Known for having: “4 seasons in one day”
- Very intense about customs – 1/2 of population died with arrival of Europeans / deforestation. Strictly won’t let you come in with produce / with dirty boots if you’ve been hiking in a risky place (fear of mouth and foot disease)
- There is barely no security for domestic flights — no need to take out liquids etc or to go through security — can just walk through to the plane. For this reason, it is standard to be present just one hour before a flight
- New Zealand has no large predators: no wolves, lions, snakes, etc. making it a great destination for hikers. They want to get rid of all of the species that are not native to the land by 2014 like possums (from Australia), rats, ferrets, and maybe even cats! – which is causing a division here
- “In Australia the animals will kill you, while in New Zealand, the earth will swallow you whole” due to the number of tsunamis, geysers, and earthquakes they have every year — what an incredibly resilient society!
- Use rubber in between concrete to absorb the shock from buildings from these natural disasters — the rubber then needs to be replaced every 30-40 years
- Birds first inhabited New Zealand
- 99.9 percent of all trees in New Zealand are evergreen
- In the year to June 2009, dairy products accounted for 21% ($9.1 billion) of total merchandise exports
- Free healthcare for all of New Zealand
- Shortage of houses – people selling it to foreigners instead of locals because they earn more
- New Zealanders love to shorten words: pressie – present; they “get it” from the Australians
- The Māori are theIndigenous population in New Zealand: Polynesian completely different from indigenous “aboriginal” Australians who are of African descent. They were the first people to inhabit this country about 800-1000 years ago before the Europeans 300-500 years ago.
- Māori were forced to not speak their native language after world war 2.
- Now, translating things official things into both languages – English and Māori, representative of the attempt at inclusivity by the government
- Māori chiefs often open conferences thanking ancestors for land
- Just now starting to accept “happy holidays” instead of Merry Christmas
- Here required to tell others about heritage when starting a new position in a job, makes people more accepting of other cultures
- She’ll be alright! – phrase said to promote optimism when things don’t go your way
- Get lots of cars from Japan because of very strict emissions in Japan, so they get new cars every 3 years
- 1970s – not many coffee shops in New Zealand, and is now the second most consumed beverage after tea
- “Centrist”: usually referring to a political party in New Zealand that generally appeals to the elderly — they are really against change: against immigration, young people, and anything that disrupts the status quo
- Wellington is progressive when it comes to transgender and gay rights
- Every Saturday, Wellington hosts a Saturday night food market, where they invite new restaurants from different cuisines that have opened to showcase their foods
- Common to order food and sit down for food — even at a relatively fancy restaurants
Via – Eddie and Maria Torres
Last weekend was the New York International Salsa Congress, where, as the name suggests, individuals from all over the world congregated to share in a weekend of workshops, performances, and parties that went on until 3am.
I learned some new cha-cha from Nieves, bachata moves from Alex and Desiree, spin technique from Shani Talmor, and for the first time, was introduced to Bugaloo with the King of Salsa himself – Eddie Torres.
The best part is that I was able to share the experience with a lot of my fellow New Yorkers who I see “in the scene” throughout the year, as well as with my friend Lisa, who was here all the way from Holland — and whom I met about a year ago exactly at a social at Gonzalez y Gonzalez.
Over the years, this art form has become so much more than a bodily expression. It is a method by which my body frees my mind — one of those rare moments throughout the week where I put my phone down, and connect to humanity by the way of music and dance. It is one of the few things in life that I never wish to measure or rate myself on, that cannot be quantified. Physical touch, musical vibrations that consume your existence, friendships that sometimes do not go beyond the dance floor but that are never superficial – that is what salsa is to me.
One of the most beautiful moments from the Congress was a 2 hour story session, where Eddie Toress, the coined “King of Salsa” sat us all like grandchildren in a liitngroom, to hear his stories of how this art has become an international phenomenon.
Photo Credit: The New York International Salsa Congress
While he was growing up, for five dollars, he could dance all night, listening to five different bands at various clubs throughout the city: it was called the Golden era of Salsa. In 1962, the Palladium closed. Eddie Torres was only 12 years old. At the time, however, people started dancing the age of 13, by way of house parties. Friends would alternate houses, and the mothers, often teenage mothers at the time would allow the parties, but not any drugs or drinking, at least not inside the house.
By the age of of 16 or 17, they were allowed to go to nightclubs, which let them stay until midnight, when they started serving alcohol.
In 1966, he started dancing at Hunts Point Plaza, which was one of the major clubs at the time, along with Corso. While these were the most famous, at the time, there were over 10 Latin Clubs where people could party hop in NYC, and the sheer diversity of opportunities is something that Eddie is nostalgic about and laments about the current salsa scene. In the clubs, they would play boleros after 4/5 boogaloo/pachanga songs, which is also something he says is distinguishing about the time.
“Italian, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, or Jew — your color didn’t matter — that is, of course, unless you didn’t know how to dance…”
He never went to the Palladium, but he grew up dancing with all of the dancers that went there. They learned from each other! At that time, there were no instructors — the dance schools — “the Arthur Murrays and the Fred Austeres, would only let you watch for about 5 minutes, and I didn’t see what I wanted there— at the time, you had to look inside yourself to find your dance.”
The Palladium was magic. If you told people that you danced at the Palladium, then others knew you could dance.
At the Corso, he met an Italian lady, June Laberta, who soon became one of his most avid dance partners. She was a ballroom dance teacher, who has charismatic and charming, but simultaneous demanding and encouraging of Eddie’s trade — she motivated him to start learning music theory and to standardize Latin dance. Laberta was adamant that if he were to pursue his dream of working alongside musician Tito Puente, who had graduated from Julliard, he had to learn music theory. and was a profound musical theorist. Reluctant at first, Laberta further encouraged him by having strangers ask him questions related to music theory. Frustrated by not knowing the answer enough times, he finally decided to learn from her.
His parents and family members, all electricians/plumbers, urged him to follow trades along these lines, but instead, he dreamed of creating a market for this dance, which he did.
June would record his dances at the time with a Super 8 camera, the first which had no sound! When she died, a friend called to let him know of the news and to tell him that she had left him a package — with over 300 recorded videos, which have now helped teach instructors all over the world hinting at the importance of the usage of technology, even in theoretical ways!
Before the videos, it took 2-3 months for his students to learn the shines!
He eventually met Tito at some point after one of his shows, and asked him if he could audition quickly with Maria, whom he had met at one of his classes in the Bronx. He did not have the time, at that point, as he was traveling, but invited them to perform at his next show. ‘Without seeing it,” Eddie wondered? Tito was tired of seeing him dancing at Corso! “Eddie, I know you can dance!”
At first, afraid of his initial performance did not want to ask Tito his thoughts on it — Tito’s smile deceivingly never wavered, which made it hard to read . After following him his next concert, Tito was surprised that Eddie did not tell him about his arrival: “If I would’ve known, I would’ve asked you to perform your number!” — Eddie and Maria surprised them with the costumes in the trunk of their car! And boom, the revolution was started — from local shows to Madison Square Garden to the shows for the president President — they started touring the country and the world, complementing Tito’s music with their dances.
Does he believe that he created “on 2” dancing? No, but he did standardize and create the infrastructure/education necessary for its rapid expansion. He created the methodology necessary to have this dance viewed as an art form.
How did Eddie standardize/name the shines? Well, randomly: “If I cross my feet twice and do a Susy Cue (his first coined shine) — Ok! I’ll call it a double cross, Susy Cue… I learned this one from the Cubans, so it’s going to be called the Cuban!”
Eddie urges dancers to stop thinking in “levels” and to make the connection on the dance floor — to never just give “pity” dances to others, as he used to receive from girls. Instead, he urges them to find a way to connect. Those “pitied” can someday become great teachers and dancing professionals. In fact, he often encouraged ladies to allow him just “one” dance — and that if he embarrassed them (as he was seen as a profession at the time), that they had the right to be slapped in in the face by them and that they were entitled to walk away from him.
“A final encouragement — you are forever a student! Learn so that you can be an individual and have your own style. Dances change every 10-15 years! At some point, my friends were off learning the Hustle and we saw a drop in interest in Mambo, but I told those friends that they would be back at some point, learning from me, and they did! A few years later, they were back in my class. We see the same things going on now with Bachata and Kizomba — learn it all; be creative! But I know that Salsa will never die.”
Someone told him that he’s created more jobs than Donald Trump… I cannot confirm nor deny, but I won’t argue the contrary.
Happy that the Congress has a new home in its home of New York City, he stood up and posed for our group picture.
On August 1, 2017, the United Nations Department of Public Information will host a day-long event, titled, “Intergenerational Dialogues on the SDGs”, focusing on the importance of breaking down barriers that contribute to ageism and all divisiveness based on age discrimination. Instead, the focus is on collaboration, specifically as it relates to enhancing the goals of the 2030 Agenda. More information on the event can be found here, which can be accessed virtually via the UN Web TV. In-person registration is available here.
Indirectly in line with this, I traveled to my first Servas Conference in Washington DC, where I was given the privilege of speaking at the Rayburn House at the House of Representatives.
I presented my discourse in front of our membership, which is largely a community of individuals aged 65+. I talked about Kitchen Connection, my experience as a youth representative to the UN DPI, and my most recent adventures to Peace Boat — and I must say that I’ve never felt more understood by a community before.
65+ on paper, but ageless in reality — the members of Servas, a community of travelers and hosts that do so in the name of peace understand the innate values of human connection, dialogue, and conviviality, some values that I know are not always present, regardless of age.
One of the questions that arose was the “issue” of the membership being an “older” one and figuring out how to engage more youth to be a part of it. I brought up the Intergenerational Dialogues as an example of the demand for such interactivity and of the privilege that it was for me to be connected to individuals who had the time, the energy, and the desire to share a piece of their life with me, and how I was certain that other youth would love to be a part of it.
We spent the next three days, learning from other guest speakers, including Max Amichai Heppner, who is a Holocaust survivor, and author of the book, I Live in a Chicken House, recounting the story of how his family sought refuge in Holland, with a family who hid 10 individuals and who risked their lives to do so. At some point in his discourse he mentioned: “I was the only 8 year old who already had his grave dug out for him.”
Next to Max in this picture is Sheila who represents the estimated 8,300 homeless people who live in Washington DC. As the nation’s capital, all of us see this as an unacceptable statistic.
Standing side by side, what we realized is that Homeless or Holocaust – although in many ways incomparable are representative of the power of human injustice. Our presence there, however, is a testament to the desire of its reversal, however. And we do not stand alone.
Carolyn Powers shared stories of her work at Internews where reporters risk their lives in honor of the importance of the flow of information in conflict zones. The individuals working on the ground, often with makeshift radio stations help to disseminate vital information in war zones, refugee camps, and areas affected by natural disaster – often as basic as where to get water or how to access help from the various NGOs that come to assist in times of crisis.
Other highlights of our time together included:
Meeting and learning about the incredible work of UNA-USA – I can’t wait to collaborate!
My induction into the membership as a board member. When I first received the email requesting calls for nomination, I honestly ignored it: “I may consider it when I’m 50, I told myself.” Months later, I was nominated and asked to join. Above you have a visual of our virtual meeting with the treasurer. This is symbolic of Servas’ commitment to intergenerational dialogue and collaboration.
Getting to hear from Elizabeth who is a conflict specialist about the same polarization and climate of “otherness” that has been happening in conflict zones for decades happen here in the West.
Learning a bit about the Quaker lifestyle and the importance of divine silence.
Being encouraged by Raymond and Richard to focus on my dreams and most importantly, on the quality of those dreams.
Following her escape from East Berlin (and risking 6 years in prison for it!) learning from Helga about her adventures to all seven continents and getting chills when she said that there is “nothing in Antarctica that doesn’t belong!”
Hearing about Nancy’s experience working as a librarian at a women’s prison and bonding over our mutual love for Orange is the New Black.
The many delicious vegetarian options.
Gathering at the Lincoln Memorial to celebrate the 64th anniversary of the 1953 Korean Armistice.
Going on a post-conference tour of Washington DC guided by Hayden Wetzel.
Presenting with Jeanne on the work of the UNDPI and of the SDGSs.
And getting to see my friends, who happened to meet for the first time a month before, and who already get along incredibly.
Cheers to humanism instead of ageism. #NGODialogues
Special thanks to:
Phyllis Chinn, US Servas board chair
Hayden Wetzel, Conference organizer
Tracy Jordan French, US Servas Administrator
Darryl, Jeanne, Mary-Jane, and all of the lovely new friends that I have made.
I was graciously awarded the opportunity to serve as a scholar onboard the Peace Boat this summer for its 94th voyage around the world.
As we learned at our orientation, Peace Boat was started in 1983, after a group of Japanese students wanted to promote peace and understanding as a result of the “Textbook Scandal, when Japanese students wanted to change the misrepresented views/information in textbooks of South East Asian countries. The students decided to do this by traveling on a small ferry that has since then evolved into a mid-sized cruise ship – And very soon (launching in 2020) into the world’s first “Eco Ship” – which will be a sustainable vessel, sailing as a literal flagship for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It will feature amenities like wind and solar power, and a dance floor that captures the energy people exert while dancing on it.
The ship, which travels to over twenty countries every 3 months is open to anyone, regardless of nationality or age. However, aside from our program, which calls for youth from all corners of the globe, one must be aware that the ship is “heavily Japanese”, as most of its marketing and operations are based in Tokyo, thus attracting a large Asian crowd.
This calls for a very interesting experience onboard, including, Cuban-style salsa lessons, held in Japanese (luckily, you only need to know 3 numbers and about 5 words to follow along), lots of great Japanese foods for all dietary requirements, and in general, the opportunity to learn a variety of languages, including English (for the non speakers), Japanese, and Spanish.
For me, personally, it was an opportunity to become a student of the SDGs, mainly seeing how a very theoretical system of goals is practically applied and viscerally benefitting the lives of many.
I shared this with the DPI: While there is an innumerable amount of summer programs for youth, the Peace Boat provided me with the unique opportunity to travel to Latin America “through the lens of the SDGs” — we met with government officials and farmers alike, much as we do at the UN, but this time, we were on the ground with them, having a tangible learning experience. We stayed with the Embera Quera Indigenous tribe in Panama and learned, as best as one could, what it means to live sustainably. Also in Panama, we met with the UNDP regional office, which shared how the SDGs are being implemented in Latin America. On board the ship, we hosted a Peace Forum with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in El Salvador. As a youth scholar for the SDGs, I was invited to present on the SDGs that I closely resonated with, ran workshops on Social Enterprise and Design Thinking, as it is relates to promoting the SDGs. The experience complemented my recent completion of a Master’s degree in Food Studies and Social Entrepreneurship. This truly emphasizes the importance and autonomy that is given to youth as part of this program, which I am eternally grateful for.
I’ll give you a brief run down of how the next two weeks unravelled:
June 20 – Orientation at Peace Boat Office
June 21 – Fly to Panama City, hotel check-in, and welcome dinner
June 22 – Visit UN Development Program regional office, session on Sustainable Development Goals in Latin America
Today, we learned about the rapid development of Panama City, in the greater context of Latin America, about the importance of the Panama Canal, and of the great history of colonization and liberation that has greatly impacted this beautiful nation.
At UNDP, we learned from Javier M. Blanco about the importance of the three principles of the 2030 Agenda: universality, integration, and leaving no one behind — as it relates to the greater context of ensuring that countries are first and foremost able to adhere to the Agenda. We learned about how, in spite of suffering from other violations, like those of human rights, Cuba rates relatively high on quality of life for a relatively low level of income.
He continued with examples of how, while Brazil is developed, the rates are not inclusive, as some are geographically left behind
In the US and Europe for example, lots of crops are used to feed animals and not humans, which creates an inefficient use of these crops; whereas in India, one can see a relatively low level of meat consumption and high crop usage for human, which leads to a lack of universality amongst participating members
In Haiti, the integration of SDGs when natural disasters happens is key — i.e. access to water, resilience of its infrastructure, and the reparation of its cities/zero hunger
From Romeral Quintilla, we learned about the importance of UN volunteers, particularly youth volunteers, in securing the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. She emphasized that volunteering is a powerful means of implementation of the SDGs, as oftentimes, the volunteers were working on the ground long before the Goals were established, which gives them a unique leverage in the field.
Lastly, we heard from Adriana Zacarias who heads UN Environment and who shared key personal and governmental suggestions on the implementation of the SDGs, as it relates to the protection of the environment.
On a personal level, she advocated for decreased consumption, and urged us to think about this in terms of food, housing, mobility, consumer goods, and leisure. To complement this, she focused on 4 tenets, which are common in sustainability: reduce, reuse, recycle, and respect — these, she emphasized, could only be achieved after a change in attitudes, paired with facilitators and the infrastructure to allow us to achieve these goals.
We continued our day with a visit to the Panama City Mayor’s office where we learned about the importance of positive reinforcement, as it relates to encouraging youth who are leaders as representatives in their community. The city has established three programs: Joven a Joven, Vivir Con Propósito and Foro Juventud Por la Paz – all with the purpose of encouraging youth, even those who are “trouble makers” – to divert negative energy into positive energy.
June 23 – Visit RET (Resilience, Education and Training) program for refugee youth in Panama
By sharing in a series of SDG – focused activities with youth who had been exposed to some of the most callous sides of life, we learned about the impact that government crises have on fragile populations, especially youth.
What is remarkable, however, is that the youth is resilient, hopeful, and some of the most energetic human beings I have ever seen. I was in the midst of filming a 13 year old girl Venezuelan who gave her testimony before she proceeded to passionately crush an egg we were supposed to keep intact throughout the day break), because she was so dedicated to share the inequalities of her current educational system.
These are the kinds of stories we need to continue to tell.
June 24 – Study Program and cultural exchange with local indigenous communities in Panama
This was the day that I fell in love with a monkey. Manolo had lost his mother, and the Embera Quera community, which we called home for an evening, also welcomed him.
The 3 month old spider monkey will remain with them until he is an adult, at which point he and his fellow adopted toucan will be freed.
What I loved most about our stay is the true sustainable nature of these indigenous communities — while some of the women gloss their lips and the children sing some of the latest songs, they manage to keep some of the traditions of their ancestors, which have also kept them alive for thousands of years.
Unfortunately, the government no longer allowed them to plant in their region, as it was declared a protected area, so they had to relocate. A comment from a friend shed a lot of light on this situation: “…the indigenous people weren’t indigenous enough for the government” — this is so true! In this case, the plants and the land were more important than its people.
In spite of the injustice, the children seemed to be more knowledgeable than many adults I know — some spoke French and Japanese and one recounted the history of The Great Wall.
Some highlights of our stay was cooking with the women — which involved finely grating rice for a sort of wrap, learning about traditional healing plants, including plants that remove fever and the bark of a particular tree, which they use to paint their bodies for protection from insects and disease. Lastly, we learned how to make traditional bracelets, which I was surprised to know was not all that easy – even for the simplest of designs!
I can’t forget about our sleeping situation, which involved us sleeping hoisted above one of their wooden houses with a mattress and mosquito nets — I would pay for this experience alone!
June 25 – Embark on Peace Boat in Cristobal, Panama, onboard orientation
Today we boarded the ship for the first time, which was really a fun experience, especially having the opportunity to share it with our friends at RET, who joined us for a visit.
My peers and I practiced our presentations on the SDGs, which allowed me to learn a lot about the SDGs through what they were specifically passionate about.
I ended the the day, taking advantage of the gym on board and singing to the tune of many songs at Karaoke.
June 26 – Panama Canal passage, preparation for lectures and study sessions onboard
I’m still not sure that I know exactly how it works, but I can tell you that it was very exciting to pass through the Panama Canal.
We spent most of our day outside, again preparing for our presentations, and figuring our the mechanisms of the canal.
I changed Karaoke for salsa dancing onboard, which allowed me to practice Cuban style salsa dance for a second time in my life!
June 27 – Onboard lectures and workshops
Today, I finally tracked down the matcha ice cream, which I had not indulged in since my time in Japan in 2014 — for future Peace Boat voyagers — it’s in the gift shop!
I returned to a group salsa class from 11:30 – 12:30pm, proceeded by lunch with my peers and our presentation on our respective SDGs, which was concurrently translated into Japanese, Korean, and Chinese – a mini UN!
From 6 -7pm, we watched the documentary, Paper Lanterns, which told the story of the American prisoners of war who were killed during the bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki.
After dinner, the film was complemented by a private conversation with four Hibakushas, survivors of the nuclear bombs. As some of the only survivors left to tell share their testimony, this was truly an honor.
I was especially motivated by their advocacy work, which takes the form of talks on global voyages to 80+ countries on and off the Peace Boat, emphasizing “words instead of wars.”
In support of SDG #16 – which advocates for peace, the Hibakushas are unrelenting promoters of clean energy and continue to work with the UN on a nuclear ban.
June 28 – Arrive in Nicaragua, Climate Action study program and mangrove forest visit. Return to ship for departure.
A delay in the passing through the Panama Canal caused the ship to arrive in Corinto, Nicaragua in the late afternoon instead of in the early morning, which sabotaged our visit to the mangrove forest.
It was, however, the perfect reprieve for us. We rented bikes, which toured us around the peaceful town. I was surprised to see a poster of Chavez, Venezuela’s former president, which I was told was put up by the local government, which was grateful for the support that he provide the people with.
Being here reminded me of a briefing I attended at the UN, which spoke about how Nicaragua did not sign the Paris Treaty, as it felt that it would be disadvantaged if it did sign, given its low level of development, which would only be aggravated if they committed to high levels of sustainable energy usage without having the necessary infrastructure.
Before I could continue to think about this, we danced for a bit on the streets, and the ship called us home.
June 29 – Arrive in El Salvador, disembark from Peace Boat, cultural exchange program
We hosted students from the University of Don Bosco in El Salvador for a Peace Forum, where we learned from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the ways that the SDGs are being prioritized and implemented in El Salvador.
As a country previously divided by civil war, priorities are on SDG 16: restoring peace, justice, and strong institutions because as was repeatedly emphasized by many of the panelists, peace is not the absence of war.
The government has decide to delegate the tasks of the SDGs among 71 groups that work to implement them on a national level.
We got to hear from the youth, who play a particularly important role In El Salvador, as, unlike in more industrialized nations, the population is very young. They urged the government to establish programs that would involve youth to assist in the process of SDG implementation.
Of course, we took a break to eat a pupusa, a Salvadorian pocket of corn stuffed with an array of beans, vegetables, and/or meat — which we ended up having at least once a day for the rest of our stay.
Our visit continued to a school in the town of Santo Domingo de Guzman, which houses the country’s sole language learning center for children to learn the indigenous Nahwat language. The is the language of the Pipil people, who are “cousins” of Mayans, but direct descendants of the Aztecs, as they came from Mexico to Central America, but were more culturally integrated as Mayans. Their roots were nearly obliterated, after an ethnic cleansing by a dictator in 1932.
For fear of persecution, the indigenous people chose to be clandestine about their practices, often changing their clothing, religious traditions, and slowly forgetting their language.
Fortunately, a partnership between the University of Don Bosco and the Ministry of Education was established in 2010 to revitalize the Pipil language, the result of which is a school where children, ages 3-5 years old join elderly ladies who cease to work in order to become teachers at the center.
The incredible thing about this is that the classes are taught by these ladies who have never gone to school and who are themselves illiterate! Regardless, the Ministry of Education has recognized their teaching capacities as surpassing that of many formally trained instructors throughout the country.
Dr. Lemo created this program, which now has a partnership with the University of Navarro, Spain, which sends student-teachers over for 3 months to assist in the teaching process.
He urges that the grandchildren of these ladies are the hope! There are 7000 different languages that are spoken around the world, but more than half will die in 50 years because of the same situation as Nahwat languages, the inability to use language publicly i.e. on the radio, in places of worship, in court etc. which forces people to speak other languages.
Is learning this language even practical? Well, as a person who has long advocated for bilingual education, I can attest to proven scientific benefits, which Dr. Lemo is cognizant of – however, for the local community, it means the preserving the way in which future generations will acquire their values and maintain their culture.
Most biodiverse places in the world are also the most linguistically diverse, which does not seem to only be a product of causation.
We “don’t expect El Salvador to become bilingual, but we have to have this community preserve its culture.”
June 30 – Visit University of Don Bosco in San Salvador, forum on Peace and Sustainability
We completed our exchange with Don Bosco University by visiting their campus and listening to a few of their professors discuss peace and how it is manifested in El Salvador.
We learned that for various reasons, 200,000 youth drop out of school every year – 8/100 have access to college, and only 21/100 have access to a baccalaureate degree.
The first professor urged that for a small country, El Salvador’s “only asset” is its people.
The second professor who spoke was a former member of the military who emphasized that friendship is hard between the rich and the poor, between the rich and the rich, and between the poor and the poor, which often incites conflict, and at the base of that conflict is a relationship of different interests that are constantly in flux.
For him, war is a result of unresolved conflicts. His belief is that humans are the most violent of beings, which means that conflicts are often violent.
His experience as a military officer led him to test his ultimate ability to be resilient, and wants El Salvador to be the same because “no one negotiates with the weak — in El Salvador, there are never any negotiations – even the dollarization is imposed on us!”
“Are we in peace today? No. We are still in war.”
25 years after the Peace Agreements were signed in Mexico, he believes that social movements are necessary in order to live in true peace.
Youth, he urges is the key: for him, it’s not about age, but about the capacity to see the world, to make a difference, and to have the courage to make a difference
July 1-2 – Cultural exchange in El Salvador with local community groups focused on the SDGs
Panchimalco is a small colonial town in El Salvador. Just 4 years ago, there were a lot of problems with a gang called the Maras in this area; there were armed people everywhere, but for as long as it has been in existence, it has been known as “Ciudad del Arte” – “ Art City.”
And that underlying beauty is what healed the town.
Artists in Pachimalco were convinced that art is the way for peace, and with a supportive mayor, they started programs to support folkloric dance, paint, music lessons, and sculpting for the youth.
They used this as a tool for violence prevention and the construction of peace, which to date has decreased homicide rates in the town, by decreasing the amount of free time that the youth has, diverting the energy into positive skill building.
We were honored with a showcase of all of these art forms.
In the afternoon, we visited the Alberto Masferrer Univeristy, with a student-run presentation about the culture of El Salvador, as well as its Civil War.
From 1981 to 1992 El Salvador was historically marked with war, leading to a loss of infrastructure, economics, and above all, its people.
It began as a result of a series of human rights violations, resources being concentrated and controlled in the hands of a few, overall inequity, 60% of population being marginalized, and the organization of these peoples in the name of national liberalism.
Development of the war: many organizations merged to form the FMLN Political Party in 1980 to incite/instigate the insurrection. They were not strong enough to deplete the government, but they clearly left their mark on the government, fighting for the next decade until amnesty was declared.
When the peace accords were signed, much of the damage was reflected on its educational system, which now leaves my peers to revitalize it.
The day concluded with a visit to San Isidro, where we learned of the importance of corn, as a member of the community said: “we belong to corn – because corn is the foundation of our diet”.
We also learned about the Mana Ojushte project, which aims to revitalize the ojushte seed, which was forcibly forgotten by the locals as a result of the 1932 ethnic cleaning, which promoted assimilation and an obliteration of indigenous practices.
Also known as the “sacred seed”, “maju”, and “ramon” in Mexico, Ojushte contains vitamins and minerals like protein, iron, zing, vitamins A, B, C, E, fold acid, potassium, triptofane, calcium, and fiber and is naturally gluten free and low in fat.
in 2010, Zacarias, a Peace Corps volunteer came to San Isidro and liked the way that our host, Ana Edith made all-vegetarian food. He first tried ojushte in the house of an elderly member of the community.
Zacarias thought the town should rediscover the crop as a great source of protein since the community didn’t have enough money for meat. He brought it back to Ana – who then joined him to visit the lady who had first shared it with Zaharias but who refused to share the secrets with them. Eventually, they figured out how to cultivate it on their own and since then have won multiple awards for reforestation, as a way to combat hunger and malnutrition in the region.
This is particularly important because after Haiti, El Salvador is the second deforested country in all of Latin America.
Ana not only employs the farmers, but also those who cultivate, and gives scholarships to local students who want to be in the culinary fields.
For lots of youth, their only hope in the San Isidro, is going to the United States, but she believes that there are lots of opportunities right within San Isidro.
- Buy seeds from local cooperative
- Cultivators are paid $8/day ($3 above average) to dry, toast, and grind the seed for drinks, breads, crackers, or as a supplement for food
- Can last for 5 years in perfect state, unlike corn and beans
Blessing of the Seed:
- Use tree bark that is blessed by the Catholic Church as incense
- Partake in a “monkey” and “jaguar” dance
- “All humans walk on the earth, but we think about the sky
July 1-2 – Cultural exchange in El Salvador with local community groups focused on the SDGs
We had a pretty relaxing day before our departure, hiking up a volcano, visiting Mayan ruins at Joya de Ceren – a World Heritage Site, and different from all of Meso American Mayan ruins, as instead of displaying temples and religious sites, this archeological site is a showcase of normal life, a community where people coexisted 1500 years ago.
They lived among homemade gardens, agave, cacao yucca, and guayaba cultivations, with three to five people per family, and each family sharing something with the community, be it his/her shaman abilities, a communal sauna, and of course some of the crops from their gardens.
This spirit of communality and equality is what El Salvador is craving at the moment.
We had coffee and shopped a bit in Santa Tecla, where an artisan handcrafted a dream catcher for me, in my favorite hue of turquoise.
Back at the hotel, I had the honor of co -leading the rest of the Design Thinking workshop on the SDGs.
July 3 – Return home
Before parting ways, we had the honor of sharing our time with former guerrilla warrior, Ana Francis.
After 1992, she did not pick up a single weapon, and upon her reinsertion into civil society, she started working against the exploitation of all of civil society and is now an incredible advocate for women’s rights.
She co-founded Las Melidas, a center that now serves as one of the primary spaces for advocating for women in El Salvador, leading efforts to fight the criminalization of abortion, domestic violence, and a paternity law, which forces fathers to be emotionally and economically responsible for their children, even retroactively, and even if they are out of the country.
She also advocates for women’s rights as workers, sex workers, intergenerational dialogue, and against the wage gap.
On the 26th of July, the center celebrates is 25th year in operation.
For the first time in years, I decided to travel without planning to make plans. Normally, I plan the bare minimum, expecting to be very flexible with my itinerary, with a few specific places or activities in mind.
After graduating with my MA a few days earlier, and feeling like this has been the fastest year of my life, I decided to book a stay at a resort (fancier than normal for me), and to not leave.
This was 50% a success. While I did manage to relax, unwind, and enjoy the retreat (there were only about 5 other people at the resort for my entire stay) — I did end up going to some Mayan ruins and went snorkeling on the Blue Hole. What can I say, I tried!
Here’s a bit from the journey:
Where I stayed:
El Secreto is about 11 miles north of the town of San Pedro, which means that it is completely remote — the best/only way to get into town is via a chartered speed boat.
I managed to hitch a ride on the speed boat with one of the outgoing hotel guests, which got me into town, also running errands for the hotel, like buying chickens 🙂
I drove one of the golf carts that I drove (and managed to run over my purse/camera – hoping it still works!) #donttrustmewithyourlife
The following day, I decided to stay in for most of the day, so I worked a bit, managed to lose my balance on a hammock and fell into the water with my phone (thank the heavens that it’s somewhat waterproof), watched Master of None, and then went out on the charter boat for a bit. With the captain of the ship, I saw sharks and stingrays, and he even let me drive the boat for a bit!
Back at the hotel, I took advantage of the Jacuzzi, which was such treat — this area alone is about the size of my NYC apartment hah.
After not seeing many people for a few days, I decided to satisfy my history craving with a visit to Altun Ha — the Mayan temple that is famously depicted on all of the Belkin beer bottles in Belize, both cultural icons which they are very proud of.
Some more interesting facts about Altun Ha are included below, but I will say — in the middle of the forest, and in the blazing heat, it is not a good idea to forget your water, especially if you’re planning to climb up the stairs of the temple.
Physically exhausted, I went back to finish watching Master of None.
The following day, I was up at 4am to join a tour of the Blue Hole, the only sink hole of its kind in diameter, structure, and geological grandeur. It’s a perfect circle! Unfortunately, my diving license was expired, so I had to resort to snorkeling, but as I learned, it was better for the sea life. If I had an underwater camera, I would be able to show you the adorable sea turtle that we saw!!!! And the many dolphins and starfish and stingrays. Quite frankly, it was absolutely incredible, and a perfect way to end my time in Belize.
I arrived in Belize on their Labor Day, which meant that literally no one was on the streets; it didn’t seem to change much after the
They seem to have a reggae mix to everything – even to Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball”
Someone told me that in Belize, “Bob Marley is like Jesus” – and just like in Christian homes, a picture of Bob Marley is virtually hung in everyone’s home
I’m sure it’s not unique to Belize, but fishermen spend up to 2/3 weeks at sea, living together in tiny sail boats; In general, this depicts the grandeur and great importance of the sea and sea life to coastal-living Belizeans
Belize has mennonites of African decent who converted to it after the arrival of German mennonites (originally settling in the US, then Mexican, and then Belize in the 1950)
There seems to be a very peaceful, appreciation, and reciprocal acceptance for people of different cultures and ethnicities in Belize
Approximately 50% of Belizeans self-identify as Mestizo, Latino, or Hispanic and 30% speak Spanish
As a former British colony, Spanish was banned in schools is now commonly taught as a second language, which is greatly due to the size of Belize in comparison to its Spanish-speaking neighbors
What I mostly heard spoken, however, is a “Kitchen Spanish”, a form of Spanish mixed with Belizean Creole/English
Fast food in Belize isn’t really “fast food” as it is known to much of the world – in Belize, this normally means a home cook has food prepared and heated on the street or on a stand
It’s small in Belize!!! With a population of 350k people, and most of the land uninhabited (which means that populations are concentrated), everyone seems to know each other and as such calls one another “brother” — confusing at time when you don’t know who is a blood-related brother
You can ask for “to go cups” for your alcohol at bars
Belize was struck by a pretty catastrophic hurricane in 1961, which led the country to move its capital a bit more inland
Belizeans make some really great handmade chocolates from locally/organically grown cocoa.
You will not find a McDonald’s or other fast food chains here
Belize is home to many luxury resorts and jungle lodges. However, there are not many all-inclusive branded resorts here. I did, however, see a Wyndham hotel being built along the coast of San Pedro
The tallest building in the country is Canna Temple, a Maya pyramid at Caracol.
An old Mayan trading post
Had 10k residents at its peak
Dedicated to the sun god
Holds the remains of elderly priests
Mayans inhabited Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, which make up the “Mundo Maya”
Found a jade head – kept at central bank of Belize; Jade came from Guatemala, which was most likely traded here
Jade — green represents growth and fertility
For those to be accepted into elite family — had to have flat forehead and cross eye
Babies were applied wooden boards to the front and back of their heads and then wrapped in order to make their heads malleable and adapt to this shape/standard of beauty
Means would have red beads hanging from a tree and would have their babies focusing on it swinging back and forth until s/he would end up with a cross eye from straining his eye for so long
11% of current Belize population = Mayan people
Mayans copied Incan style of building
Mayans introduced chocolate into the world; cacao beans were their main form of currency — mainly for flint — like diamonds
Human sacrifice for pleasing of the gods was common— but not so much at Altun Ha because it was used as trading center
They believed in 9 levels of the underworld —- which one would need to fight off to get up to the upper world, which had 13 levels
Structure of Altun Ha has 9 levels underneath, which represent hell
Played basketball with limbs -the winners (***not losers) were sacrificed to the gods
People sacrificed = went to heaven – not having to fight off the 9 level, so people were happy to be sacrificed
Would burn the bodies & incense would go up to the heavens
Both males and females would pierce themselves
Males thought the female tongue is the most powerful part of body; they would pierce their tongues and nipples
Men pierced their penis
Would bury Mayans with al spice to keep the smell down, as they lived among their dead
1961 = when they discovered Altun Ha – covered under vegetation after the hurricane
The fall of the Mayans was greatly credited to the conquistadors who would have the Mayans trade their expensive things for a mirror for example (previous to this, they had never seen themselves and thought this invention to be magical)
Some believe that peasants revolted against their rulers and that this led to demise of Mayans at Altun Ha
Others believe that the soil lost nutrients because of lack of sustainable farming
The Mayans from Altun Ha went other places where life was better after 1150 AD
First Mayans believed to have come originally from Asia – following buffalo and other large animals across Bering straight – and ended up over to Western Hemisphere