Maybe the Middle East needs dictators to keep sectarian violence from getting out of control. Which kills more people and is worse for the country: dictatorship or sectarianism?

Something to seriously consider before we get all gung ho about democracy in the Arab world.



The Moment


I will admit I had my doubts. And I still have my concerns about him being our next president. But on Tuesday night during his speech I feel a great amount of inspiration and… well, hope, for lack of a better word. This truly is a great moment in our history. I’m finally proud to call myself an American for the first time in six years.


Godspeed Barack Obama. I hope you can do it.

Citizenship: Do You Deserve It?

Now, this is an undeveloped thought, but I think those than do not properly utilize their American citizenship should have it revoked, or they should have to go through a regular naturalization process that foreigners go through to recieve citizenship. They take classes on American history, symbols, traditions. The come to appreciate the ability to vote at even small elections and know the necesssity of paying taxes. They see the perks of being a U.S. citizen. But, there are those who are living here, as citizens, and complain about their government, a right of free speech, yes, but something unwarranted if you don’t help make decisions about who is in office. Citizens that don’t vote? Don’t get me started. Citizens that complain about taxes? Hmph. Sure you have the right to not vote. You have the option to be apathetic. So go live somewhere where you don’t have to make any of these decisions and still get  to live in your bubble. Stop taking up space on the freeway and stop acting like the only thing that matters is myspace and your iPhone.

I have high hopes for my generation but sometimes I wonder what it will be like when we actually are in power. Scary.

More to come on this one when I’m not on opiates. Having a hard time putting complete thoughts into a form that is communicable.


Supporting Role is Misdirected; or Just Limelight Hungry

Please tell me why.

Of all the capable Republican females in government out there that are much more able to win over the women’s vote. Why? I was not surprised by the debate tonight. I knew the media was exaggerating her coverage beforehand and she was going to do fine. But fine. She had nothing extraordinary to say. Nothing we didn’t already know. Nothing we haven’t already seen. I don’t know if it’s just me, or if others agree with me on this– I am an average American. I know the types of educated decisions I make, and it scares me that so many of our politicians run on that idea. I do not want an average undereducated American running the nation. I want someone educated, connected, persuasive, extraordinary. I don’t want someone I can have a beer and go golfing with. I want someone who will go go go 24/7 to make sure my country is being run properly. No golf, no beer. Get a cup of coffee and an ironed tie and get to work.

I would love to see a woman in the White House, but the right woman. Of course, to me that woman is Hillary Clinton. If we are going to have a woman with that type of executive power I want one that knows more about nukes and fiscal repsonsibility than hunting and where Russia is in relation to Alaska.

But enough about her. I am tired of seeing her on the news. I want to see McCain’s cranky face in the screen telling us more about how he’s fuck up America. I think she has had her time and it’s time for her to get backstage and let the real players run their scene. But I think she loves the spotlight too much.


Just Relativity

So I had an epiphany Friday night while watching the debate–

How much do we really know about what is happening in the Middle East?

I think I’ve heard a dozen different stories about what exactly is going on and how I should feel about it. There is so much propaganda on both sides of the war that I feel like reality is being lost and we are all just using whatever information we can get our hands on to get our points across. I’m not going to pretend I know about foreign policy. I pay taxes to pay those that know much more than I do. I do know that borders mean nothing in most places. There are countries that have been broken up within boarders and certain ethnic groups living within these territories get screwed because they are either underrepresented or not represented at all. Or they get split up into two or several different territories on account of the ruling party’s (or another ruling country’s) disregard. I also understand that the American ideals do not stretch into other parts of the world. I have finally experienced this first hand in Asia and plan to see it in Turkey soon. People do not uphold human rights and democracy as first priority in many places. We are ridiculous to assume that other countries should be able to uphold a democratic nation in a few years when it has taken us centuries to get to this point and it is still not perfect. We still do not uphold human rights in perfection. Even if all parts of a country were completely nonresistant to as drastic a change as moving from dictatorship to democracy, it would take many resources and much time. There is no instant reform.

Now, pertaining to Iraq, I have heard what the Bush Administration says about it. We need to focus there. They will be a great ally in the war against terror. We need to win there as a big step in the war on terror. War on terror. Blah blah. I’ve also heard what my own party has said about it: it was a mistake, we are misdirecting our focus in the war on terror. We are spending too much money there when we are failing in domestic policy. We need to get out as soon as safely possible. The war on terror is better fought in Afghanistan where major terrorist organizations are located. I’ve heard military friends tell me their experiences. They feel like they are glorified babysitters in a poor sweltering country where they are unwanted. People hate and fear them because they wear American uniforms. They are bored and restless and are sick of constantly watching their backs and feeling like they have no strategy for staying or leaving. And then I read articles about Iraqi leaders saying they want U.S. troops out and are thinking about giving us a time line to leave. They would rather be talking to Iran than America and respect their international policies better than ours.

And then there is Israel. What is the big deal about it? Americans can’t get enough of them, Iran wants to wipe them off the face of the earth. I realize that the area is prime to control trade, allies, nuclear weapons, etc. But other than strategic placement for the conflicts taking place there, how are they an asset or a burden to anyone? I feel like Israel is some kind of red herring but no can figure out what its supposed to be distracting us from.

There is so much relativity going on in these situations. There is no way for me to actually know in truth what is more correct to believe unless I go see everything for myself. But even then I’m seeing it from a skewed perspective– I want to see our taxes spent elsewhere. Yes, it is a purely selfish reason. But I work hard for my money and I’m not seeing any of it come back to benefit me. I have no health insurance, no college grants, there are potholes in my streets, parking tickets are ridiculously expensive, my school and work have no budget because my state leaders cant come to a compromise, and I can barely afford food, rent, and gas every month because the people I pay to run the country are stuck in a corporate-ass-kissing sickness. It’s sad that I focus on my own struggles when others have it so much worse, but that’s the price of a capitalistic country: a sense of ownership. We want it that way so we better deal with the consequences. Period.

Please vote this election. It’s not hard to do. It’s the only say you get for the next four years because as far as I’m concerned you shouldn’t complain if you didn’t vote. As much as I railed on Obama for his mantra for change, I’m really wanting some change right about now.


How Am I Supposed to Care for My Health?

My dad is retiring and I now have health insurance for another month. Since my girl Hillary is undeniably out of the race for good reason, which candidate is going to give me an option that will make it so I can pay for health care on top of rent, education, bills, and groceries? I’m not sold on McCain or Obama. I think they both have policy flaws, McCain much more so than Obama, and frankly, I’m just sick of this corrupt two-party system. But unfortunately I’m a realist and so I will vote accordingly because I know no one has a chance outside the two major parties.

But enough about politics. I’m in college. I’m a waitress. I have no career, but in order to get my career started I have to finish college. In order to get good health insurance I need to have a career that gives me that option, and I also need to be living in an economy good enough to find companies that are actually hiring skilled people.

I feel like all of us are in a catch-22. And I feel like I understand my friend Lucky from Cambodia more and more. All I can say for now is that I hope I don’t come down with West Nile Virus before I graduate. And I also hope the economy gets noticeably better before then too.

I hope a lot of things.


My Hope for the Khmer

In June of this year I went to Cambodia. I went for a study abroad program with school. Before I left I heard all about how studying in a different country changes you forever. How it broadens your perspectives and changes your life forever. You meet people you will never forget and see things you will keep with you forever. Now, being a cynic on anyone else’s opinion but mine, I thought this was a load of bull. I was going to one of the poorest countries in the world– I knew I would think about things differently. I’m not ignorant. But I didn’t realize the extent to how I would be changed. How it would change my motives, my aspirations, my story. My existence.

Before my trip to Cambodia, I did not know much about its history or about the Khmer Rouge. In fact, I had never stopped to think about how WWII and the Cold War had affected Cambodia at all. The required reading was my first taste of the Khmer story. And its wretchedness left me in grief for all of those like Loung Ung that lost so much.

Loung Ung , author of First They Killed My Father, is a survivor from the desperate years of the Khmer Rouge regime– a time when over two million Cambodian people were killed by slaughter, starvation, or being worked to death. When Sihanouk was moved to Beijing and denounced as head of state, the Lon Nol government was in control, and it was very corrupt. The Khmer Rouge was just a whisper before, but now it gained more support and followers out of the crooked political situation and sour sentiment. In 1975, they evacuated the entirety of Phnom Penh and it was the beginning of a four year struggle for the Khmer Rouge to stay in power and for the people of Cambodia to stay alive and sane.

Ung’s father was a member of the Lon Nol government and thus was a victim of the regime’s antagonism. Her family was forced to leave Phnom Penh, traveling the countryside searching for food and anonymity from Pol Pot’s spies. They made a living at various work camps, but the family was gradually split up and broken. After losing her father, mother, two sisters, a brother, and her childhood innocence, Ung was left alone to fend for herself. Without her determined spirit and strong resolve it would have difficult for her survive, though it is amazing to think she did survive this terrible time. She was eventually reunited with her brothers and sister, and fled to America, where she now resides and works as an activist and author.

Ung’s story captivated me. I started reading it on the plane ride to Bangkok and was finished in less than six hours. I knew how her story would end, because she is obviously still alive and well, but I had to know how it happened. My sick sense of curiosity had to know the suffering, the starvation, the despair– I had to experience it with her in her five-year-old mind. For those six hours I was running with her and the other frightened people from Phnom Penh. I was scared of being caught, scared of never seeing my home again, and scared of losing my family. I was salivating with her at every grain of rice she picked, except every time the food cart on the airplane came by it was a sickening reminder of how privileged my life is and how I will probably never know what it is like to be truly starving and afraid. I was immersed in that book. Everything was so incredibly real to me. And then it was over. We landed in Bangkok (eventually) and I got caught up in the excitement of a big foreign city with my friends and forgot about the land of literature that I had just come from. Because that was all it was to me then—literature. I read my fair share of books every year: memoirs, classics, fantasy, thrillers, religious works, political analysis, histories. And yes, this was a memoir, but I forgot that. I was thinking it was just another one of my fantasy books and that someone dreamed this out of their own disturbed mind and though that it was touching and profound and desperately sad, it couldn’t have been real. Deep down, I really thought this, until we got to Battamgbang.

The first thing that I remember feeling uneasy about on the way to Battambang was the red checked Khmer Rouge scarf in the dirt next to the bus. It was eerie how it was so visible to everyday people, of course the type of village we were in wasn’t exactly westernized and wouldn’t have been the object of wrath from the communist ideals of the regime, but the visual was still startling. It was the first thing I had seen that was described in Ung’s memoir. I had other moments of uneasiness in that city, but when we got to the Killing Caves I had a hard time separating fact from fiction, until I realized that what I was seeing and what I had read were both real. The book from the plane was finally becoming more than just a book. As my hands shook and my lips trembled I tried to keep my calm and not be too emotional about the fact that people rolled down into those caves dead or spent the last moments of their lives lying in a pit surrounded by corpses. I had a hard time walking back down the mountain after seeing where infants were thrown into the cave while their mothers watched. And that night I wept for humanity and all the evil it is capable of. I cried out my sorrow for families that had to see their loved ones die like that. I have experienced much death in my short life but I couldn’t even fathom having to witness something that barbaric and hateful. I sobbed in self pity because I felt helpless to do anything to make the world a better place. How could anyone be in their right mind commit a crime as heinous as murdering innocents? My reaction to the Killing Caves put me in a more somber mindset but the S-21 prison was an even bigger reality check for me, and also a lesson in world views.

I knew seeing the Killing Fields Memorial and S-21 was going to be heavy. I had prepared myself for it quite well actually.

Of course, that was before I knew there would be mug shots in the prison. I wandered into the B building first, which was a mistake because it numbed me to the rest of the prison and made me angry.

Icouldn’t believe they had kept all the pictures of the inmates. But I still walked through very slowly. I told myself, “This is what you have read about. Real people. The real people are right here. They lived here and they died here.” And so I forced myself to look at every photograph. I saw dejected children that looked like my sister and hopeless women with black eyes that looked like my stepmother. Those similarities didn’t get past me either; these people were the same as me and my family. They were living life as they always had, and then in one day their families were ripped apart forever. They were pushed into a tiny cell and treated like something less than human. It made me so angry, so I went and opened the door to every cell on the second floor in the prison. There is no reason for them to be closed anymore. The people are gone. That era is gone and a new generation that wishes change upon their country is coming into their moment to be revolutionary.

I talked with a few young people while in Battambang and Phnom Penh about the political status of Cambodia. There is so much passion and love for their country and yet so much hopelessness and frustration with their government. But the spark is still there. I would love to see them turn Cambodia into a flourishing country again. I would love to see that spark ignited into something beautiful and into some uniquely Khmer. The students in the democracy forum we attended were asking how they can have a democracy like America’s. I think the key to Cambodia’s future is realizing that they have to become a democracy in their own way. Ung has turned her experience into a stepping stone for activism, and so many other survivors could do the same.

I had a lot of time to think about Cambodia when I got back. I have been reading more on its history and I look for news articles on the upcoming elections—of course there are not many. But I still look. I will remember the temples, the botany, the monkeys, the nightlife, and the friends I made. Although most of all I promised myself I would always remember the people. I want to remember the people and their stories. I need to remember because if I don’t I may as well have gone to Europe or Australia for a study abroad program. I used to scoff at people who came back from studying abroad saying it had changed their life. Now I understand, and now I have a passion for helping people like I have never had before. Now, I know I am eating my words, but Cambodia changed my life. It made my experience as a young adult richer, more beautiful, and it gave me a story that needs to be told, a story of sadness and brutality, but also of hope.