After I learned of Malala Day on July 12th, a day honoring the work of Malala Yousafzai, I was curious as to what other UN holidays existed. There is a huge quantity of international commemorations, celebrations, days of acknowledgement, and the like. Ok, It’s not my fault; I just happen to enjoy celebrations and honoring wonderful people. I will attach their calendar here, http://www.un.org/en/events/observances/days.shtml. It’s quite extensive! I wasn’t kidding when I said it was long. For example, who knew July 30th was the Day of International Friendship? That’s rather apropos as I hope to build new friendships next year while I’m away. It may be deserving of a little belated party in Oman, we shall see! Administered by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) every 11th and 12th of May is World Migratory Bird day. Who would have thought of that one? I have enjoyed countless hours with my family at the Mt. Tom lookout tower in Holyoke, MA mesmerized by not only a bird’s eye view, but some actual birds as well. The hike itself is relatively short an from the top one can see a lovely sky scape of New England, from steeples to sprawling farm fields and all the way up to University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Come fall, when the hawks no longer appreciate the cold, we watch them soar on wind currents towards warm solace miles away, probably Florida or Mexico, some pleasant tourist destination.
Like I said earlier, my curiosity was peaked after having watched Malala Yousafzai speak to the UN on July 12, the newly minted Malala Day. But, I want to get back to writing about Malala herself. It is so exciting listening to such a strong female presence articulate the importance of education, especially considering she just turned 16. Malala is Pakistani girl who gained a media presence reporting on her experiences and struggle for education under the Taliban on a BBC blog. The Taliban, concerned that their political influence was being undermined, sent a hit man to quiet her and she was shot in the head while on a school bus in 2012. Thankfully she survived and after a lengthy recovery period is thriving and able to articulate the importance of education for all children. Her courage and resilience have inspired people even 4 times her age. It’s cool to think about someone my age who has made such an impact on the world.
Like many peace activists before her, at the UN Malala expressed a belief in the power of nonviolent action as opposed to reciprocating with the same brutality as her oppressors. I think it is extremely important the role she is taking on, considering the scope of the issue. Just today, there was an article in the New York Times about school systems in Afghanistan. The amount of international aid has increased and reported school enrollment has as well; yet, actual attendance in many places has not gotten any better. There are many factors including some pressure for girls to marry young once they have undergone puberty. Another notable challenge mentioned was a bit of disconnect between funding and resources. For example, though they are receiving sizable financial aid, because of war and upheaval there is not a large pool of teachers to employ and the schools are often under staffed. Also, actual teaching material like textbooks is often difficult to obtain.
Coincidently, the first book we are reading as part of an unofficial YES book club, is Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. This book is a culmination of ground research and impact stories collected by the two journalists. Neither of them from their journalist background expected to be so involved in “women’s issues” as they are often dismissively referred to. These stories are often stigmatized as untouchable and unprofitable in the media. Ignoring disturbing stories is a small sacrifice to the harmony of society, as an Indian police officer put it in the book. So many times these stories do go unreported even though the violence and discrimination are right under the surface. During Kristof’s and WuDunn’s research, they were amazed how a political dissident could garner so many articles and attention, while the daily sex trafficking of thousands of girls never even got a second glance. Both of them have dedicated their careers to pursuing these little known horrors and documenting them for the world to see. I have actually had the chance the hear Sheryl WuDunn speak in Springfield, MA and I think it is very cool how each of the stories featured in the book has such personal resonance for her. I will try to write more when I finish the book. I am almost done and I highly recommend it.
To relax between studying Arabic and preparing for my trip, I have also spent quite a bit of time recently at Forest Park a little known Springfield legend. Frederick Olmsted designed it around the turn of the century after already developing his resume on other projects. If that name rings a bell it is probably because it’s the same man who designed Central Park in NYC! Pretty Impressive! But how did little Springfield, MA become home to such a tremendous public park? For the record, Springfield is the second largest city in Massachusetts. This doesn’t help my case but hey, Edith Wharton mentioned Springfield in her
19th century classic Ethan Frome, as a refuge from the bleakness and despair of her fictional agrarian town of Starkfield. But back to Olmstead, now this guy was a good friend with a man Barney. Don’t worry, this wasn’t your furry purple and green neighborhood dinosaur, as awesome as that would be, he was definitely human and his last name was Barney. He was good friends with the architect and had him design his entire 735-acre residence. When Barney died he generously donated his entire property to the city of Springfield.
Forest Park is one of the largest parks in the country and I have really treasured it growing up. Now of course I do have to be careful walking by the ponds in the park, as I have an irrational fear of honking geese, and let me tell you the geese of Forest Park are not to be messed with. They’re pretty intimidating, especially when protecting their fuzzy goslings in the spring. They even hiss! However, there are plenty of other more mellow animals. Actually, every summer the zoo opens with a dromedary camel named Max. Interestingly enough, the dromedary camel is the only species native to Oman at the Forest Park zoo and Max is also my favorite by the way. We’re tight! Max is really acclimated to being around people since he grew up at the zoo. Every time we stop by he is pacing around looking for his next cracker or some other fine sustenance. He really is amazing. If only everyone was as friendly as Max the Camel.
Until next time,