Sunday, December 27, 2009

Getting Ready

On a cool, sunny afternoon several weeks ago in Bend, Oregon, I hiked along this quiet trail near Shevlin Park, and reflected on my upcoming volunteer Amizade adventure. Although I have no recollection of any of the particular thoughts I had as I ascended this slight grade, I have no problem sharing that little else has dominated my thoughts over the past months than the details and personal ramifications of this journey.

In less than one week from today, I will start the first leg of a four-month trip which will take me to five different continents, where I will necessarily and directly be immersed in the complexities of vastly different cultures. I have already mentioned that, on the surface, my role is to work as a volunteer on widely diverse humanitarian projects, photograph and write about them and provide useful information for future volunteers. To express this goal in words is easy, but to actually lay the groundwork to pull it off is a stress-filled challenge. The travel preparations, including transportation and lodging, have been daunting. Likewise, it has been no easy task to settle affairs at home to accommodate a protracted absence. There have been challenges predicated by my choice to travel light with only a backpack and a carry-on as to choice of clothing and equipment. Notwithstanding, I have had to consider health issues and have undergone lots of tests, some of which have increased my level of anxiety rather than mollifying me. Last of all, I have had to struggle with an internal battle concerning my separation from loved ones and the effect it will have on my relationship with them. I rationalize that in the scheme of things this trip is only for a short time, and that I'll be back soon, but the reality is that the perils I am about to encounter are numerous and that, as it is often wryly thought at these moments, you never know the last time you say good-bye.

In any case, on Sunday, January 3rd, I leave first for Brazil, with a layover in Rio de Janeiro before heading to the Amazon river town of Santarem. I am excited to share my adventure with you. Yet this blog is so much more than a daily post of pretty pictures and words. It is a lifeline to the world to which I belong. It is a conduit to the people I love. Without it, I am simply alone, the proverbial rolling stone tossed by fickle current down to the sea.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The War to End all Wars Revisited

Yesterday I posted some thoughts on my Bend Daily Photo blog precipitated by the 68th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. I mirrored some ideas about war expressed eloquently by famed historian, Howard Zinn in "A Just War". I have received many comments from followers of my blog, most who see war has a necessary response to a tyrannical enemy. This position is understandable and troubling, because the choice to use force usually means that the victim must assume the behavior of the foe in order to prevail and thus exacerbates the loss of life, the destruction of resources and property and intensifies the disruption of lives of many for a dubious outcome.
As I leave for my Amizade adventure, I know that I will be asked by people along the way my position on America's role in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Iran, my feelings about the Taliban, and generally how I see America's role in the developing world. My responses are important to me personally and as a representrative of America. In my post I suggested looking more critically at the value and purpose of military response. I struggle mightily with the subject of war and understand the positions of those that profess the need to show a tough military posture to dissuade rogue leaders and nations from trampling on the rights of others. Likewise, I am also sympathetic with those who see war and amassing materiels as a completely insane and counterproductive immoral waste of resource and suggest a paradigm shift in which the common man rejects lending himself physically, politically and spiritually as a willing sacrifice to further the aggrandizement of an elite few. At some point I need to choose what is ultimately a more compelling argument.
As I have grown older, my wish is to rediscover and cultivate the albeit naive idealism of my youth. I desire to embrace the idea of redirecting our war machine into a peace machine as an example of proper action. I want to act "as if" being socially sensitive through random acts of kindness may indirectly weaken the grip of power hungry leaders. Call it senility. I know the mean world and the enemy well. It is us. I have such little time left to believe there is anything I can do about it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

In the Beginning...

As my departure date grows nearer, it is natural to become more reflective and to share some thoughts about becoming an Amizade volunteer especially with those of you I have befriended through Bend, Oregon, Daily Photo. Most important to me is to admit that I am not a particularly compassionate person nor do I deserve to be viewed as an exemplary person living on some moral high ground since I am going on this trip. In fact I have lived a particularly selfish existence. I have made some paltry financial contributions to community service organizations and have done some community service, but for the most part, I struggle to find even a modicum of genuine positive feeling toward the poor, the sick, or the oppressed. In my heart I have cared about my survival and that's about it. And I don't feel guilty about it either. I may have presented myself throughout my life as a liberal humanist, but in truth, even though intellectually I espouse an ethically elevated community-minded position, it has been, to some degree, hypocritical. Actually I have felt strangely alienated from like-minded contemporaries and have looked on with suspicion at the alleged purity of their actions, believing that an aura of good will has more to do with creating an identity or job and to perpetuate the illusion of the "caring individual" to spouses or friends.Yet the detritus of this behavior is that actually much kindness is done even if it isn't selfless or altogether heartfelt.

Many years ago when reading Goethe's, Faust, I was struck by the incredibly brilliant scene in the study, where Faust re -translates the opening of the New Testament, the Book of John. "In the beginning there was the Word." He finds the Word imprecise and changes it to first to Mind, then Spirit, and finally settles on Act. The emphasis is placed on what is done and neither the feeling nor the idea of Why is central to creation. In that regard, I am not feeling moved nor have any lofty ideals today about a world community. I just plan to help out. I changed my children's diapers and wiped them up. I can't say I loved it. Only, I was always there for them and they sensed my relentless presence.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

First posting

After reading the renowned travel writer Pico Iyer's essay "Why We Travel" in the journal provided to Amizade volunteers, I realized that the best ideas about journeys have already been expressed more eloquently than I could ever imagine. Therefore it is my desire to share with you my feelings and thoughts on this adventure in a tone neither with pretense nor agenda and as simply and as uniquely me as possible.

Quite frankly, and I suppose with good reason as the departure date grows nearer, I feel particularly anxious. The scope of my trip, even for a seasoned traveler, is massive, although it is boringly simple when compared to journeys of those before me who embarked on sailing vessels across unknown seas to unknown lands. Nonetheless, even though so many before me, certainly younger, more fit, and genetically more confident, have undertaken similar challenges, it is I, who at his own pace with his own unique handicaps, who has chosen to use some of my remaining days to see the world in this manner. Tonight I am feeling devoid of lofty ideals about service and bettering myself. I know these thoughts and many more will come. For now, I am in preparation mode, deciding on proper equipment, organizing my itinerary, and putting my stateside affairs in order. That's it. Somehow if I do this part right, the path will be easier. Then again it has been well established that the unpredictable generally appears as the most formidable opponent on the battlefield and so I suppose it will be the same for me.