What type of society have we constructed?

As another week comes to a close, we as Americans cannot, and must not, forget the calculated massacre of last week that left nine individuals dead in their house of worship.

Unlike other recent shootings, the debates surrounding this horrendous event are not filled with victim blaming or questions concerning the intention of the shooter. The facts are clear: the shooting was racially motivated and completed by a man who grew up in a society where it is all too easy to purchase a weapon that can end a life with the pull of a trigger.

Shootings occur everyday in the United States with mass shootings taking place in schools, movie theaters, churches, and other places where individuals gather, in astonishing rates. The act of ending the lives of fellow human beings is sickening in itself, but what I think is almost equally disturbing is that we have become accustomed to these occurrences. When I turn on the news, I am no longer surprised when I hear that a large scale shooting occurred. Instead of exclaiming sentiments of shock, the first words that escape my lips are—how many were killed?

How many innocent children must be shot down in their classroom while they are trying to learn? How many lives of individuals must be ended by a bullet in their place of worship while trying to strength their relationship with their creator? How many families have to be forced to continue to live without their love ones—their mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands etc.—left only with memories that will fade with time?

Studying abroad during such a crucial time in the United States has provided me a new viewpoint from the outside on the shootings that plague our society. Since I am one of a few Americans in my Peruvian town, I represent a face, a voice, and a perspective of the United States to many locals. This ultimately warrants a lot of responsibility to represent the country I love in the correct way, but when countless individuals repeatedly ask me why does the United States have so many shootings? Why can’t the shootings be stopped? I am taken aback. I struggle to compile enough words to create an intellectual, politically correct response, but I am left simply uttering—I don’t know.

I do not know why the United States has so many shootings. I do not know why we, as Americans, allow politics to get in between us when trying to implement social change. I do not know why we continuously elect and sub-sequentially allow our politicians to use politically correct speeches to escape responsibility instead of taking a strong stance against sometimes unpopular political reform.

I do know that we as a Nation must change.

We must stop hiding behind our history and selfish notions about our rights that we use the Constitution to support. Yes, I know you love your gun. Yes, I know the Constitution gives you the “right to bear arms.” I am a Political Science major, do not treat me as if I cannot comprehend the most significant document in our Nation’s history—I have the ability to read.

What I am about to say is going to be unpopular, especially to all my Republican, gun loving, conservative Texas friends, but I hate guns. I hate them and I wish no one had guns. To me, the perfect world would be a place where I did not feel the need to own a deadly, steel weapon to protect me. Unfortunately, we do not live in this world and I do not see the possibility of outlawing guns to be in the near future of the United States.

Instead, we must look to reform gun laws. When many conservatives hear these words spoken, their initial response usually involves a fiery comment in which they invoke support from the Second Amendment. They believe that gun reform equals taking away all guns, but the key word is reform.

I am sorry—actually no I am NOT sorry—but you do not need that high-powered gun that soldiers use during war; you do need a license to carry a gun, a license that should require multiple classes on gun safety and ownership; you do need a background check before purchasing a gun. Gun reform does not equate taking away all guns. Gun reform means changing the current policy in the United States in the hope of a creating a more safe country for all citizens, even if some individuals believe their individual constitutional right is being questioned.

We as Americans must take a deep, long look at the society that we have constructed—a society where streets are named after men who fought to maintain the practice of slavery; a society where the flag of the Confederacy flags higher than the United States flag after tragedy. It is time for reflection Americans.

The Poor Reality.

I am awaken by the early morning sun peaking through the sheer blinds, leaving me wishing—no, begging—for five more minutes, but the sun decides to ignore my request and continue its morning trek across the sky. As it rose above the mountains that surround the city of Cajamarca, Peru, I decide that I too must rise from my three hour night of sleep.FullSizeRender 7

Like most early 20-somethings, the first thing I do in the morning is reach for my lifeline—my iPhone. To my dismay I realize I have only twenty-five percent battery, so I grab my charger and head to the closest outlet to recharge the one device that acts as my connector to the world beyond this tiny Peruvian town. The first outlet does not work, just a faulty outlet I thought; next outlet, same thing; third outlet, same result. I attempt to calm down in an effort not to offend our overly accommodating host, but when he tells me the house has no electricity, my first instinct is to think I misunderstood him. I am learning Spanish after all, the key word being “learning,” so the real reason my phone was not charging probably just got lost in translation, right? Nope. Finally realizing that I was not going to find a working outlet, I decide to resign myself to getting ready for the rest of the day.

After a morning of walking through the hectic, densely populated streets of Cajamarca, we settled into a quaint café for a little breakfast before the hour and a half drive into the mountains. FullSizeRender 3As we left the city, one could easily tell the gradual increase in poverty the higher we climbed in altitude. Cajamarca, a city full of markets, ancient European style churches, and tourist destinations, such as the Inca baths, began to transform. Apartments that rose above the noise of the city were replaced with hillside homes that lacked not only electricity, but also the basic essentials like running water and a sewage system. Driving through these roads, it would have been easy to gaze at these harsh living conditions, snap a couple of photos, and continue on our merry way because, in reality, we were four foreign girls here on a fun summer vacation being shown around by three local men. We simply could have allowed the devastating images of poverty to slip our minds just as fast as our car was driving down the road. A blink of an eye and the depressing sight would be missed, gone forever, and we could have saved ourselves from having these visual scenes sketched into our minds.

I think that is whats wrong with the world today—we do what is easy. It is easy to acknowledge a problem, but not work to change it. It is easy to take a picture of an impoverished area, but quickly forget about it once you return home. It is easy to talk theoretically about how to change the world, and even easier to resign into the depressing notion that the world cannot be changed.

Simply put—it is easy to do nothing.

The reason many individuals do not take an active step toward ending injustices, such as poverty, is due to the fact that we do IMG_2151not allow ourselves to connect with our fellow human beings. Instead of realizing that we are all simply humans trying to make it through this harsh world, we segregate ourselves into “us” and “them” categories that breakdown our abilities to help one another. One of the reasons for this categorization can be attributed to the countless invisible lines drawn by nations and labeled as boundaries between “our country” and “your country.” These boundaries create sovereign states, but along with this separation of independent governing powers, comes a separation of languages, cultures, families, and economies, among other things. Too often we use these differences as excuses. They speak a different language then me. That practice is just a part of their culture. We make excuses when we do not want to take the responsibility that by not addressing an issue, by not helping someone in need, we are ultimately allowing injustices and hardships to continue.

I am not trying to project the notion that I have all the answers because, in reality, I often feel as if I have more questions bouncing around in my head than I have answers. But what I do know to be true, or at least wholeheartedly believe, is that individuals can create change; our generation can leave this Earth better than we found it, in the hopes of creating a better world for future generations to inherit.

In order to be successful in creating change, one must always maintain perspective on the issue at hand. One must realize that they cannot solve all of the problems of the world, not matter how much one wishes. Trust me, I wish more than anything to be able to create a world full of unrelenting happiness and love, not sadness and hatred, but this simply is not possible. If I remain stuck on this depressing notion that I cannot help everyone that inhabits this Earth then I run the risk of becoming discouraged and therefore minimizing my impact. Instead, I reflect back on one of my favorite quotes:

“As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.” –Paul Shane Spear

By looking at change on an individual basis, the notion that one can create something meaningful from their years on Earth appears much more feasible then when one looks at change on a global scale.

Take me for example. While countless individuals throughout the world struggle to survive on less then a dollar a day, I “struggled” to survive on twenty-five percent battery. The thought itself disgusts me, but “problems,” such as this one, are often the very issues that individuals who call the United States and other affluent countries home talk about or even complain about.

I only have TEN percent battery left! You have forty percent left, which will easily get you through the next couple hours. Let me use your charger!

I have three exams this week, plus practice, plus work.

I cannot wait to move out. My parents keep setting a curfew—do they know I am a college student now?

Often we are so self-absorbed in our own lives, in our own problems, that we fail to realize or appreciate the hardship of others. I am not saying that everyone does not go through difficult times or have personal problems, but overall the issues that a majority of individuals face in more affluent countries do not even compare to the issues, such as female genital mutilation, honor killings, or lack of education, that a multitude of individuals encounter daily.

In the end, the world will never fit into the perfect mold of an idyllic place where everyone not only has enough of the basic essentials, such as food, water, shelter, but are perfectly happy—this simply is just an unrealistic dream. In reality, political corruption will continue, bloodshed will continue, starvation will continue. All of these negativities will continue to plague this world for decades to come, but that does not mean we should stop hoping, trying, and fighting to make this a better world. Instead, individuals who have the resources and power must be willing to use their opportunity to help someone who is not in as fortunate of a situation. At the end of life, it will not matter how much money you have accumulated, how many degrees you have earned, or how many places you have traveled. All that will truly matter in the end is if you have touched, changed, impacted a life—that my friends, should be everyone’s life goal.

I will leave you with my favorite Hawaiian parable.

A man goes out on the beach and sees that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water.

“What are you doing son?” the man asks. “You see how many starfish there are? You’ll never make a difference.”

The boy paused thoughtfully, and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean.

“It sure made a difference to that one,” he said.

Why don’t you just travel?

Why don’t you just travel?

These five words have been uttered to me more times than I care to count by the people closest to me along with individuals I do not even know, but all of them have one thing in common—they just don’t understand. It is not necessarily their fault, for they are usually the souls that have not experienced the pure joy one has when “studying” abroad. I use quotations around the word studying because, in all honesty, studying abroad is more than sitting in the dark corner of a library wasting away one’s life. Studying abroad entails immersing oneself in a different culture and language while living in an unknown land that is just begging to be explored.

I first started my romance with studying abroad last summer in Costa Rica, a country I must note, is much more than the expensive, lush resorts that line the coast. 10448779_10202704661763070_1463218427241854647_n-1My time in Costa Rica far exceeded my {low} expectations and gave me everything I did not even know I wanted: new life long friends, a host family I adore, a town I desire to return to, and this new love of living in a country not my own.

This new love pushed me to take the leap again, but this time in Peru. Peru is most often known as the land of the Incas and Machu Picchu, otherwise known as the single most photographed foreign destination to appear on a college students’ Facebook page. Don’t get me wrong, I desire to know this Peru, but I did not want to be just another tourist passing through the streets of Peruvian cities refusing to embrace the beautiful language of Spanish and observing the cultural practices of Peruvians from the outside.10568889_10202704663803121_3571597458582665410_n

So that is how I found myself here, in this small fishing town that no one has ever heard of and that appears in no travel books. The first week in Pimentel had me replaying the question “why don’t you just travel?” in my head, followed by a multitude of self-doubting thoughts. These thoughts had me rethinking my decision to travel thousands of miles to a country I do not know by myself. My brain would not stop telling me that I made a mistake, got myself in over my head—why did I do this to myself? Why couldn’t I just listen to the countless individuals who said I should just travel? Why did I have to be so difficult and stubborn?

I found my answer in the strangest of places—on the beach watching IMG_2038people unload fish. Yep, my entire reason for choosing to study abroad is based on my new found ability to watch individuals carry smelly marine life from a boat to baskets, sounds fun right? Well in reality it was. As I stood awkwardly, trying to avoid the all too common “you are the only person here with blonde hair and blue eyes therefore you are obviously a foreigner” looks, I began to fall in love with studying abroad all over again. I was able to see the lives of a Peruvian through the eyes of Peruvians themselves. Young kids ran around me, yelling in Spanish and providing a reminder of how a five year old can speak Spanish better than I can. The adults clustered together around the baskets hoping to score a free meal. Later, I was told that the majority of individuals there that day were from the section of town, just a few streets away, that people I have spoken with deem a “slum” due to the lack of running water and electricity. 

IMG_2042 In reality, if I had just simply been traveling through Peru there is no chance I would have stumbled upon Pimentel, let alone took the time to stand on a beach at sunset to watch this local, mundane practice. While traveling we are often too busy thinking about the next destination, or taking the ultimate Instagram selfie, that we sometimes forget to experience what is occurring right in front of us.

As I turned to head back to my beachfront home, I was left smiling at this new realization. Then, to my distaste, a guy decided to whistle at me like a dog in order to catch my attention, put his arm around me, and request that I accompany him to dinner. In this instance I was thankful that the word “NO” needed no English to Spanish translation. In the end, I will forever be a gringa, but I am starting to be okay with that.