The past few weeks of the Kenan project have been very busy, exciting, and at times, frustrating.
During my last two weeks interning in DC, I met with a community of resettled families in the suburbs of Maryland and I visited their apartment complex three times. Once when I went after work, I remember getting off the metro and feeling quite unsafe even though it was only 6pm. I got into a taxi and the driver charged me double the price. Although I knew I was being ripped off, there was little I could do being a female alone in a part of the state I was not familiar with.
It was difficult to gain trust in this community, but I was lucky to get connected to the families through previous contacts who have been working with them on a continuous basis. I interviewed 7 individuals in person, 2 on the phone, and I will soon post a more detailed analysis about about these interviews, which I am still working on transcribing (it takes forever!)
This week, I am back in Massachusetts and have been meeting with community members everyday. Monday and Tuesday I spent both full days in Westfield, MA interviewing families, but also getting to spend some time with them casually—watching Curious George and Bollywood dance shows that they enjoy. Although there were more frustrations with coordinating times to meet with families, I have enjoyed being more immersed and getting a better sense of how the families live their everyday lives.
Today, however, I had a really unique opportunity to do something I love: I taught a 2 hour SAT class for a group of 16 high school Bhutanese refugees in New Hampshire. Continue reading
Little Bruce Wayne walks into his living room one evening to find the bloodied bodies of his parents laying sprawled across the floor, the work of burglars. In his pain and anger, he swears to bring justice. And in that conviction was born the protector of Gotham city.
I catch myself too often in search of similar stories; it makes that almost unnatural drive and commitment in our heroes, a tad more believable. Such deeply personal, and sometimes traumatic stories seem to reconcile the contradictions one must sustain within oneself to achieve something meaningful; an ability to be sober and drunk at once perhaps, to be clear-sighted in action, not delusional about the value of one’s core convictions, yet exhibiting a simultaneous willingness to shield and cultivate an inner realm away from that same constant questioning glare (required for action).
And the stories themselves, they are perhaps but the birthmark by which I identify my heroes, those drunk on the ecstasy of living yet sober in their pursuits and convictions. Because it is my suspicion that it is not indeed incidents that make a story, but a sensitive soul’s desire to create meaning, its ability to sense the significance of events within a plausible wider narrative. And perhaps in the telling of such stories and the search for fitting endings to one’s own stories, is the germ of meaningful action. Maybe here too, all this wild theorizing and my own search for such superheroes in Cairo needs a little back-story.
“I’m Gautam.” The mix of low voice, Singaporean and Indian accents (with a touch of the American), and the relative strangeness of my name, means I almost inevitably get a blank look or a request to repeat my name again. I have learnt to add “like [Batman’s] Gotham City, but not quite…” over the years. I suspect my persistence with this cheesy line may have something to do with ‘The Dark Knight’ being among the guilty pleasures on my all-time favorites list. Having gotten this far, must I stop short of claiming as my twin superpowers, political science and economics? They are my majors.
On why all this talk about Batman may be related to my project: I like to think every good superhero story, has its moments of deep introspection when the protagonist must come to terms with his or her superpower. When he or she must take stock, look deep into herself to find meaning, ask why she must help, and what it means to help, especially when his or her own flaws and limitations are far too evident. I suspect the questions are similar for those who wish to make a cause and career out of helping others. My own aspirations of pursuing careers related to human rights and international development mean that I must face up to these questions. Continue reading