Dollar a Day

The most difficult aspect of living a lifestyle similar to the people who inhabit Peña Blanca is the lack of consistent employment. The people in Peña Blanca mostly work tilling their own tiny plots of land and receive occasional employment as day laborers. The problem with this structure is that the crops on their plots of land take time to grow, and during the growing period, the people do not have an easily available source of income. The day laborer income is not available every day, and this leaves the poor having to have no income some days. Even when it comes, it pays very little. This lack of stable employment may be the hardest problem to fix facing the residents of Peña Blanca, as Non-Governmental Organizations can help expand clean water, or help fund educational programs. However, educational programs would be useless if the children are too busy helping their families out on the small plots of land they hold like the kids in the video. The problem is with the land holding within Guatemala. The wealthy two percent of land holders, according to the video, hold seventy percent of the land in Guatemala. This means that small farmers in Guatemala are often operating of a very small scale. If more of land in Guatemala was distributed fairly, there would be less a problem. I would not solve the problem of the crops taking time to grow, but it would allow the farmers to make enough money to save up for the non-productive time periods. The government could justify seizing at least some of the land in Guatemala by focusing on the native heritage of the farmers, whose ancestors had the land taken away from them by the Spanish, who are the ancestors of the landholders. The government should not take all of the wealthy landholders’ land, but at least some of it, especially those areas intimately connected to the native groups. 

Problems I have been having with joining an International Group

Unfortunately, I have been unable to participate in an international organization, because the organization that I want to be a part of, the French Club, has their meetings at 4:30 pm and I am working then. I tried to sign up for OU Cousin but have not received a response from them. I talk to Bushra Asif during my meeting with her on this topic, and she said it was probably too late to do anything about this. Anyhow, next semester my work schedule may allow me to join French Club, and I have been asking Dr. Annie Doucet, who is in charge of French Club, what has been going on during the meeting, so I can kind of stay in involved. Bushra Asif said that I could attend an additional event instead of joining an international organization.  

Important Advice I recieved on Studying Abroad

The most important advice I have received so far on study abroad is the advice on thinking about whether to study abroad in large groups. The teaching assistant in my Global Engagement course, McKenzie Cowlbeck, was the person who brought this topic to my attention. McKenzie Cowlbeck’s relation of the differences of her experiences in a large group versus in some smaller groups has definitely changed how I thought about this topic.

I had previously not particularly put too much thought about the group sizes. I had more thought about things like where I wanted to go and how much it was going to cost me. I have had, and still do have, worries about studying abroad financially, so that was the only critical thoughts about the topic that I had had. Mostly, the main question to me was where to go first. I am very excited about study abroad and was not really worried about anything besides money.

Once McKenzie Cowlbeck discussed how much better her experiences in smaller groups while studying abroad were than her experiences in larger groups, I realized that I needed to think about this topic. Would I like to study abroad with a larger or smaller group? The benefits to a larger group include a decreased likelihood of getting lost or having to go somewhere by oneself because it increases the likelihood of someone else being interested in doing something. Another benefit is that one would have a lot of Americans with them and that could make one comfortable and less isolated from one’s home.

However, the large groups could restrict many activities because of the unwieldiness of large numbers of people. Also, one would have a decreased likelihood of developing close relationships with the people on the study abroad with them, since one would be in less contact with them. Third, a large group of Americans is likely to attract a lot of attention and crowd out a lot of potential positive aspects of study abroad, like getting to know locals.

Based on the comments made by McKenzie Cowlbeck, I have been able to decide that I would probably prefer a smaller group size, though I acknowledge potential benefits of a larger group.     

White Privilege

White privilege is an often debated term. People argue about it without knowing what it means. So, as I begin to examine white privilege, I will define what I mean by it. (Note: I am white)

I often hear from white people like myself that they have suffered some unfair things, like being poor, and some not-white person, often Barack Obama, was able to become really important, thus white privilege does not exist. The problem with this is that these are individual cases. No one is denying the reality of struggles that affect certain white people. Poverty strikes people of all races. The meaning of white privilege is not that all white people have no problems at all and that non-white people have nothing. All white privilege is that a white person gets certain advantages from being white. This advantage can be minimized or erased by some other advantage that a non-white person has, such as being wealthy.

Imagine a job opening. This job has two people that want it. These people have the same intelligence, the same age, the same gender, and the same sexual orientation (This is necessary to remove other privileges). One of the applicants is African-American. He has a P.H.D. in the field since his parents were able to pay for him to go to a university. The other one is white. He has no degree since his parents live in poverty. In this case, the job would go to the African-American man. White privilege is obscured in this situation. Now, let us imagine the white applicant’s parent right before he graduated from high school won enough money to put them in a financial equivalency. The white applicant was able to go the same university as the African-American applicant and was able to get the same degree. Now, when they both apply for the same job, what is likely to happen. The white man is likely to get it. Why? His white privilege gave the employers the assumption that he is more competent for the job even though that he is not. The assumptions made about white people versus African-American people would make a huge difference in the second situation, where the vast economic privilege overcame that in this first.     

White privilege is definitely real. Unfortunately, it is unclear what the full extent of this privilege is. There are times where it seems that economic inequality trumps racial inequality, but it also seems that racial inequality, along with other social inequalities, drive the economic inequality. My thought on this topic is that it is probably pointless to try and completely separate these problems. I do not believe it is possible to attack one and leave the other. I believe that attacking both inequalities simultaneously, maybe not the same attacks but coordinated ones, is the best strategy to defeat these evils.

Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival

      I went to the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival in Kauffman Hall today as a cultural event. The Mid-Autumn Festival takes place on the full moon during the eighth month of the Chinese calendar. Unfortunately, most of the talking at the event was in Chinese, but here is what I understood. Also, I only was able to attend about 15 minutes of it because most of it happened during my English Composition class.

 

        At the front door, I was greeted on by a woman, probably a professor, who greeted me and asked me if I spoke Chinese. I think that it is likely that she meant to ask me if I spoke Mandarin. I said that I did not speak Chinese, which is the truth. This woman then offered me something called a mooncake. She said that mooncakes are pastries that are filled with some type of spread (I believe it was lotus seed), and that mooncakes are the special food of the Mid-Autumn Festival. The mooncake I got was in a pink cupcake wrapper. It was round and golden, with Chinese characters decorating the top of it. It tasted somewhat sweet, maybe similar in sweetness to this Iranian candy called gaz (gaz is eaten at Nowruz, which is the Iranian New Year). The texture of the filling was a lot like gaz but even the pastry part reminded me of it in flavor. It is a subtle sweetness with a nutty (meaning like tree nuts) profile. Anyway, it tasted good.

              

      Then I had some really hot orange Chinese tea to drink. By orange, I do not mean the fruit. I mean it was a translucent orange. The flavor of the tea was not that noticeable. It mostly tasted like tea. It may have been slightly more acidic than your average tea, but that is about it.

 

      Then I saw a brief presentation. By brief, I mean it lasted between one and two minutes. In this presentation, a man told the audience, in English, that every week at the Couch Cafeteria there will be a table where people can practice Chinese over lunch. Now, this has nothing to do with a non-Chinese (Mandarin?) speaker like me, but I thought it was a good idea. I should investigate whether there might be a program like this but for French.  

 

      Anyway, I think it was good to go, even though I probably could have got more out of it if I had been able to attend more of it.

Where I would like to Study Abroad

If I got to study abroad, I would probably visit France. I can think about fifty things I would like to do in France, but France has an interesting history and politics. I would get to practice my French skills also.

France has a very lengthy history, with many well-preserved sites. In fact, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) list a total of forty-four World Heritage Sites in France. http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/fr Among the original sites to be designated with this prestigious status include five French sites: Vezelay, Church and Hill (a medieval abbey that served as an important staging ground for the Crusades)( http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/84); Chartes Cathedral (famous for its flying buttresses and stain glass windows)( http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/81); Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay (a gothic abbey standing on a small island in the middle of a bay)( http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/80); Palace and Park of Versailles (the famous French royal palace)( http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/83); and the Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley (cave paintings)( http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/85). If I were to visit France, I would to visit these sites. I would honestly like to visit all the World Heritage Sites in France, but that seems rather unlikely.  

I am also very interested in French politics and would enjoy getting a closer look at it. I am interested with the rise of the Macron and his party La République En Marche! and how these recent developments play out within long term battles between the French left and right. Emmanuel Macron’s political coalition has long been somewhat mysterious to me in the sense of which party his voters had previously been supporters.

I would get to practice my French skills in context and outside of class. There is a limit to the usefulness of an enclosed setting like a French class, while in France, French is used in almost all settings thus can have a fullness and authenticity lacking in the classroom. I would be able to learn to use French in the manner that common French people use it. I would get to learn the accents of different regions of France and discover which word choices are the most common.

In conclusion, I would probably study aboard in France, though I might get overwhelmed by the number of things I want to do within a limited period.

On the Opening of the Ethiopian Embassy in Eritrea

The prompt for this blog post was to write about the international news article that I read for class on September 6th, 2018. The fact is, I read many international news articles on September 6th, 2018. This was the easiest reading assignment I have ever had, since I read international news articles daily. One news article I read that stood out to me was on Ethiopia reopening its embassy in Eritrea. Here is the link to the article on Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ethiopia-eritrea/ethiopia-reopens-embassy-in-eritrea-in-further-warming-of-ties-idUSKCN1LM0S4. This, along with the July opening of the Eritrean Embassy in Ethiopia, is a positive sign that the political crises in the Horn of Africa may hopefully coming to an end.

            This continues a trend of reform in Ethiopia since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2018/09/12/new-leader-rises-ethiopia-its-diaspora-dares-dream-returning-home/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.4866edaf14d7). Prime Minister Ahmed has made calls for a multiparty democracy in place of the corrupt state that currently runs Ethiopia. I hope that this trend continues. Eritrea and Ethiopia both have legitimately horrifying human rights records (https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2018), especially Eritrea, which is comparable to North Korea. Hopefully the sudden thaw of relations along the promising growth of freedom (or at least a decrease of tyranny) in Ethiopia will help spur the people of Eritrea to work for greater freedom. I believe this to be possible as many people on both sides of the border likely have connections from the other side, since Ethiopia and Eritrea were one country until 1991 (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/er.html). The historically strong ties between these nations allow for the opportunity for the opening of one nation to help the opening of the other. I hope that these reforms in Ethiopia go through and begin to bring democracy to the Horn of Africa.  

The Danger of a Single Story

The danger of a single story is that you have only one view point on a person or place or group of people. In many ways having a single story about something is one of the most damaging one can think about something. A single story can cause much misunderstanding. For example, if you heard that my family’s dog Gizmo chewed on shoes a few times, you may think he is a very naughty dog. However, he has stopped doing this and one time when he escaped from his leash on a walk he just sat there and did not run off. I know this is a simple example and lacks complexity, but it does illustrate the basic concept.

 

Let us think of another example. I have heard that people in other places believe that Oklahoma is a place full of cowboys and farmer. This is because of media portrayals like in the movie Oklahoma, even though that film is from a long time ago. There have not really been any more accurate portrayals of Oklahoma since then, and those that have shown Oklahoma in a different light are often not associated with Oklahoma. This is of course not an accurate portrayal of Oklahoma, which is dominated by the large cities of Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Many people still think that Oklahomans are a bunch of rural hicks, which is another example of a single story about a group people.

Another danger is that you may not do something because of your misunderstanding. This can even apply from a people to themselves. I have a friend, who will not name to protect his privacy, who says he is not planning on voting this November because he does not believe the Democrats can win. This is of course not true, since the previous Governor of Oklahoma was, in fact, a Democrat named Brad Henry. My friend’s misconceptions about Oklahomans, a group which includes himself, is causing him to not do an action he would otherwise do. I believe that this type of behavior will perpetrate the single political story about Oklahomans, which is that we are all Republicans, rather than helping change it.

I think it is important for all humans to reject these single stories and help undo stereotypes. I, for one, will resist this political single story and encourage my friend to do the same.

 

About Me

Hello, my name is Benjamin Bottger. I am from Edmond, Oklahoma and I am going to the University of Oklahoma. I am a Political Science major and I am interested in elections. I am also interested in various international cultures and speak French.