Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Everything Old is New Again

One of the first big ‘items’ in the travel portion of my Sabbatical is a 2 week trip in September to Haiti to do some volunteer work. We had a team meeting last night and I was reminded vividly of all the things I loved, and hated, about the country. I first visited Haiti in 1996, at the tail end of my first Sabbatical. It was, with the exception of a driving trip up to Thunder Bay, Canada, my very first trip outside the US.

Traveling to Haiti was the clichéd ‘baptism by fire’ in terms of Intercultural experiences. Everyone looked different, sounded different, was different. Of course, given my blonde hair and blue eyes, blending in was out of the question and I hadn’t expected to. Neither had I expected the pointing, stares, and cries of “blanc, blanc” by the Haitian children as we went past. Before that experience, I had never thought much about my whiteness. Jane Elliott, creator of the famous blue-eye/brown-eye exercise, says that,

"White people’s number one freedom in the United States is the
freedom to be totally ignorant about those who are other than white.
We don’t have to learn about those who are other than white. And
our number two freedom is the freedom to deny that we are ignorant."

Jane Elliott, The Angry Eye
To say the least, this was me.

Fourteen years (and travel in 29 other countries) have passed. I’ve intereacted with a few more people from different cultures during that time, and hope I know a little more. Yet, I was reminded last night of the feelings of complete difference I experienced during that first trip abroad. Somehow, I suspect, that while I may have more ‘experience’ and be more culturally aware than I was back then, that the differences will still be the first things I feel.

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