My Journey through Informal Education
One of my favorite author Mary Anne Radmacher once said, “I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” Well, when it comes to traveling and touring new places, my dad is Columbus. We have traversed the earth, by foot, by sea, and by land and gazed upon the beauty of Mother Nature from touch to touch, scene to scene. As Radmacher literally said, it is never the same watching the moon from the other side. The feel of been taken apart while traveling to a new destination, and placed together piece by piece at the new location is as satisfying as knowing tomorrow will be better than today.
Truth be told, I feel extremely fortunate having grown up with a family that traveled as a hobby. By the time I was twelve, my lust for wander had been permanently cemented. Through these journeys – some sudden of cos – I have experienced the greatest memories, and the wildest fun I can imagine. Other than that, the best part is that traveling has instilled the greatest of knowledge and the best of lessons I could have acquired anywhere else on earth – not school, not the library.
Though an advocate of formal education, dad always said that there is a lot to learn beyond the four walls of class. Through lavish travels above and beyond, lunching at Paris cafes to dining in Kilimanjaro, my father presented opportunities for humanitarian acts. One summer, we had to volunteer in a rhino conservation camp seminars in Kenya. Apart from that, I have witnessed first-hand the riots of the third world countries, to the ill-fated lives of refugees. Honestly, traveling has introduced me to cultures I knew not, made me humble, and opened my heart to appreciate my life, and be compassionate to others.
While traveling, there are experiences one must encounter. First, you came to terms with the different cultures and how diverse the world is. While I immersed myself into different foreign cultures – in India, Mongolia, Kenya, Tanzania, and China – you realize that things are distinct from the ones in the US. The dressing, the talking, the cultural norms, and the cuisines are different from what we have at home. A direct experience into the culture is the best way to get the sense of what that culture is like.
With culture, comes food. As nature intended, people must feed. Anyway, through traveling, one can notice the different varieties of foods or even the same food across cultures. While New York City can boast of having world-class restaurants, you will never taste a better chicken than those cooked in Africa. While globalization one can get anything anywhere and from any place these days, it has failed in authenticating the taste and the presentation of food like the one you will eat at a restaurant, say, in Brazil. Besides, you learn that what you eat on a daily basis is different from what other cultures consume. In fact, there is no better way to expand one’s palate than immersing oneself in a different culture altogether.
Have you ever seen the portrait of the Mona Lisa? Not in the book or pictures and videos on YouTube, but in person? Well, the aura in the museum of arts places one in a spectacular feeling of peace and amazement. Other than that, traveling lets, you know that there are better arts and painting from different cultures that only your camera can understand.
Well, after going to East Africa, twice, I was able to pick on their language. After several years of struggles to learn French, a visit to Paris had me marveled at the great scenery. In fact, I managed to practice the language on the waiter, and we had good laughs at it. The pronunciation of a native French speaker is nothing like reading it in the books. As you travel, you encounter the need for using certain phrases and words that one has learned in school.
Another word that comes to your mind at the sight of the word “Travelling” is “Adventure.” Personally, traveling from the US to Thailand through Egypt, I have petted elephants, rode camels, moved through the desert, and spent memorable nights in New York City. Adventure and spontaneity come along while traveling, forcing you to do the things in life you probably would never could (FYI, Bungee jumping is not a sport for everyone. Peed me while at it).
Moving from one place to another may humble one, teach one of the wonders of nature, create amazing memories, but above all, makes one learn about oneself. Traveling gives you a perspective that breaks the bubble we cage ourselves in. Notably, after every trip, you are never the same person. One makes huge decisions based on the things you see and hear, the experiences you encounter and much more. In fact, there is nothing as introspective as placing oneself in unfamiliar grounds. It changes your goals in live, curves and smoothes the edges of your dreams while sharpening its tip to catapult them into heights never realized.
As Gustave Flaubert, a famous novelist ones said “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” The fact is, I am a person who sees the world from a different perspective. Fellow youths may dream of being doctors and great politicians while I appreciate the efforts of volunteer work, of being a nurse for the UN or a scientist at NASA. I have learned through experience and shaped my life on such fantasies. Moreover, I came to the realization that a narrow mind fuels the ills of society, such as sociological perspective. Traveling through the smiles of beautiful people of Africa, and the love and warmth of the Mongolians eliminate the demons of racism from one’s intellect.
Travelling, as my form of informal education, has led to my development as a person. First, through traversing different cultures, you not only appreciate the beauty but embrace the uniqueness of a person. Each of the cultures I’ve had the opportunity to meet has brought with it the sense of uniqueness. As one appreciate the unique character of the other person’s culture, they appreciate their own. Secondly, the “Real World” can only be experienced by traveling. That is, as we read about things in class and see on social media and news how things happen in other locations in the world, we develop our conclusion of these places. By actually visiting the localities, one realizes how untrue situations are: The beauty and the secrets of a place are only visible to those who stay and those who visit, and the only way to get the story is by doing either one of the two. Lastly, the world is round. Meeting people from different cultures and localities opens one’s eyes to the fact that there is never a unique problem, that is, people experience the same challenges, it is their response to the experience the problems that make the difference.
TASP welcomes students from all over the world to experience personal and intellectual challenges. My informal education has shaped me into intellectual curiosity, motivation to experience more, and a chance to learn from others. Through TASP, my open-mindedness, appreciation of culture and support for the community can be expressed.
My education has presented me with an opportunity to appreciate the uniqueness of a community, of a region and, of a person. The beauty of uniqueness is a gift that can only be understood by those who have experienced them. I think TASP appreciates that since they admit students from all walks of life. My perception of uniqueness to a person from a different culture and background is that of appreciation, and as such, I can only encourage one to be unique and be happy for where they come from. The unique culture comes with unique history, unappreciated arts, and monuments, and adventures other people would kill to experience.
My experiences have taught me the real world is different from the worlds we see and hear. TASP is probably the best arena for understanding other people and learn from then on a peer-to-peer level. Instead of hearsay, being in a community of similar people from different localities presents a fantastic opportunity to teach one about me, about my country and the truth. It is a chance to change the view of an individual about life, and about themselves. Experiences have taught me never to assume but learn every day. Furthermore, TASP is the best place to have one mind opened with the real experiences of real people from different career fields.
I believe that my presence in the camp can benefit not only me but those around me. As eager as I am to learn, I am also anxious to have someone else learn from me. As a youth in America, I need to continue exploring and expounding my boundaries. At TASP, the opportunity to give as well as to take puts a smile on my face. More so, TASP is a book, and as an enthusiastic learner, I do not intend to read a just single page.
How a Piece of Art Changed My Mind
When I turned seven years old, my dad brought me one perfect present: A Labrador retriever, called Skittle. His kind eyes, smooth fur, and presence brought in an aura of peace, love, kindness and protection I had lacked since we moved into the new house. My parents were the busy type, working days and sometimes night shift, and I was in the care of Lily, my sitter, for most of that year. Skittle was playful, and most of the times, we could run around the house, forgetting the challenges and all things outside the four walls of my room. Heck, sometimes Lily had a hard time keeping Skittle and me in one spot. Our bond was unbreakable, and that was the start of a beautiful friendship that lasted for three years.
I remember my tenth birthday like yesterday. Instead of the ordinary fun-filled, over-the-hill, sparkling and joyful moments that is expected of such an event, my birthday was an exact opposite. The atmosphere of the house was soggy, the kitchen was a mess, and two adults – my dad and my mom- were having one of the worst arguments I had ever encountered to this date. I was coiled with Skittle in my room, sobbing, and looking like he understood this emotion, my companion was also in the same mood. The screaming outside was escalating, and just as it seemed to go on for hours, dad stormed out of the house banging the door. I swear I could feel a mini-earthquake resulting from the bang at the corner of my room.
Silence. That was the only thing the house felt the whole night. I fell asleep unknowingly, waking up in my bed, and Skittle missing. I called on him, but he did not come, nor even back. That was atypical of him. The house was dead quiet, and the only thing I could hear is a sobbing sound from my mother’s bedroom. I thought he was still upset with the previous night’s arguments, and went in to comfort her.
“He is dead” cried, my mother. You could have seen how pale and numb I had gone. A wave of emotions engulfing me, and in a capsule of horror, I found the strength to ask.
“Mommy, what are you talking about, Daddy can’t be dead, he just can’t” and before I could proceed, she yelled,
“God No! Not your Dad… Skittle. Skittle is dead.”
Every ounce of strength in me came out. My mind was so far off that I couldn’t feel myself hit the ground. I was shocked and perplexed, appalled by the moment, and the loss. When I thought my impending parent divorce was going to be the worst thing that will happen to me, Skittles death felt like a sharp razor cutting through the cardiac vein, and a red-hot pin slowly puncturing my small heart. I was hopeless. I could not even remember the events that followed.
My mother saw how much Skittle’s death had affected me, having taken a most three bites of food for the next four weeks after his death. I had not attended school all that while either, as I locked myself in the room, staring at the oblivion thinking about nothing. Suicide always crossed my mind, and all I wanted is to go to the world where Skittle is. My dad had already received the depressing news and came home to comfort me. However, their efforts to comfort me was as frustrating as my life without Skittle.
Seeing the pain I was in for four weeks, my parents pulled some strings, and decided to take me to a vacation. That day, they came home with different fliers of several destinations around the world that I could move me. I was sure I never read any of those fliers; I just picked one. I cannot tell whether it was meant to be, or God wanted me to learn something, of all the fliers, I chose St. Peter Basilica in Rome, to see Pieta-Michelangelo. This was the turning point of my life and one decision that I treasure to this day.
I was not so much into the trip per say, but the picture of a sculpted woman holding her dead son on her lap, caught my attention. I could not tell what it was, but every part of me wanted to see this piece of art, and two days later we were in Rome. All I could think of during that time was, why a calm face stared into a calm dying son. Death was supposed to be horrific, and terrible, and warrants many things except a calm face. The much I thought about it, the more I wanted to visit the sculpture.
Rome, especially around the St. Peters was overcrowded, and my dad had to shift from holding me and carrying me on his shoulders as we soldered through the crowds of people and many tourists who, like us, came to see the museum. Our arrival was a hard as the journey, and the silence that was started at home was still ongoing. No one is talking to another. We finally got to the church and moved to the front where the sculpture was.
Michelangelo Pieta was just a magnificent depiction of Mother Mary holding her son. My first glance was the elegance, the beauty and the restrained yet so intense emotion that accompanied the sculpture. Such a poignant, awe-inspiring and majestic piece of art. And as the docent explained to us, the fine art symbolized the divine sacrifice Jesus Christ had for humanity, as well as the epitome of a mother’s love for her only and beloved son.
I knew the history of Jesus, and how he suffered on the cross to save humanity. However, I was not a Christian. Our family was not a religious one, and as my father always said, “learn first of all religions and never accept anything blindly.” But he was there; Jesus was there. I may have stared at the monument for a minute, an hour or over five hours; I could not tell. It consumed me.
I examined how Mary was holding the lifeless body of Christ on her lap, as her face emanated with sweetness, serenity and a majestic acceptance of such immense sorrow. I was a Jesus just about to awaken from the tranquil sleep after the suffering he had already gone through. I felt a tear falling from my left cheek racing down my shin, and dropping to the ground. I imagined how much suffering the Son of God may have gone through to liberate the world.
But still, I could not understand why Virgin Mary appeared so calm; face tilted downward and so radiant. In contrast, if I had experienced the same moment, I could have held Stilled tighter on my lap, and cried so hard. He was my world just as Jesus was Mary’s.
“Mom, was Skittle that calm after a car hit him?” I managed to ask.
“He was. Skittle was really calm, and his face had no signs of suffering sweetie” said my mother.
At that moment, something come over me. Here, Mary was presenting us with a piece of salvation, and almost saying, “It is all over; the suffering is over son.” I wish I could have had the strength to bid Skittle goodbye, to see his face and to understand that his demise was a chance for me to start afresh. He may have suddenly gone, but I was old enough and instead of continued suffering, I should get out of the house, stay a little longer in school, make friends and be social. I could hear Skittle talking to me, and telling me that I was growing up, and he had to move on to make sure that I did the same. He loved me enough to leave at the perfect time, and that I had sufficient time to make a social life before I joined high school, and later in college.
As we were coming to the close of the day, I had stood at the one point for seven hours, and never felt tired. The dark face, the heavy heart and the sadness I had were all left at there. I had decided my mind, not to mourn Skittle anymore, but to move on and become a better person, and to spread the love that he taught me. Since his death, I reverted my introvert self to become an extrovert, and through pain and gain, I have maintained Virgin Mary’s face: Calm. I may not tell what will happen tomorrow, but I know that I will get over it, and be happy. Moreover, I learned that sometimes, things happen for a reason, and instead of crying, we better be grateful and appreciate them. That is how we learn.
There is No Excuse for War and Disrespect
Speeding through traffic on the opposite lane, with police cars, hummers and choppers pursuing my Mercedes e350. Shifting gears, speeding through the nearest tunnel losing four police cars and the helicopter in the process. I know well that on the other end of the tunnel I would find a fleet of angry police SUVs waiting for my fugitive self to appear. Checking my side window, my competitor is approaching at threatening speeds of around 124 an hour and an assurance of a first place in the race. Moving through garbage and accelerating onto the pavement, I block his way and rush towards the tunnel. I know well that one perfect drift and I will be taking the first position. I am almost at the finishing line, almost winning my umpteenth medal of the Need for Speed video game challenge. Suddenly, my mother walks in and stands in front of the screen
My mom had been calling for me carry out some chores at the kitchen. Consumed by the graphics and the mighty races of the game, I kept ignoring her. In front of the screen am a deaf mute, with hands and legs, and functionless brain. The “one-spot” kid that would not move, until the rumbling sounds from the belly forces, makes it a necessity to make progress to the fridge and grab a snack. It is safe to say, gaming was my heaven, and the gaming video pad the benevolence to the heavenly boon. With it, the world shuts down: no chores, no parents, nobody but me.
These were the regular activities that would prevail every day after school and during the weekends. My love for the game was undefined and the events around it inexplicable. No one was allowed to come between our companions or disrupt it in any way. No matter how many minutes, days or years I spent with this cohort, our love never faded, and the lights never dimmed. However, there was one adversary to the game time I was accustomed to; My Mother.
Unlike other days, my mother was in some sort of distress that day. I did not care – even bother asking – what was wrong with her. To be fair, my Need for Speed had all the attention I had, and I had nothing left for my mother. At that instance, she was angry and shouting at me to go and complete the chores she had told me more than a hundred times in the past four hours. But I was angry too, angry that she had disrupted my friendship so suddenly, and in a minute, I could have been celebrating my medal, and price for being position one.
The standoff between my mother and me took an ugly twist. I shamelessly opened my mouth and said, “Maggie, I want to play my game. I will not do the dishes or whatever because that is your job. I am trying to enjoy my weekend.” My mother’s face turned red, anger brewing inside her, slapping the taste out of my mouth. In response, I hit her on the forehead with the gaming pad, pieces flying in a different direction, leaving a bloody scar on her face.
I think I had learned several things up to that moment except for Behavior 101 part that stated, “Never hit your parent.” It dawned on me at the jiffy that what I had done was unacceptable, irreversible and I was done. My mother shed a river of tears, holding the gush and moving to her room to patch herself. The whole of that day, my mom never came out of her room. The traumatizing after-effects of my actions were extremely traumatizing; I could not play the game anymore. All I thought the whole time was how much I have messed up. That was my mother, and respecting her is not an expectation by necessity.
Instead of waiting and apologizing to her, I sneaked to my neighbor’s house and pretended like everything was okay. Luckily, my Alex was around, and so we moved our conversation upstairs. I did not give out any information on the events of the day but instead insisted that we play video games. At around 10 pm, my mother must have worried about my whereabouts, and with a stitched face, came looking for me at my neighbor’s.
From the room, I heard the McCain’s asking concerned questions about her injury. She explained the whole story, and before she could finish, Mr. McCain was in the room, angrily asking me to get out. I was a rotten potato that threatened the destroy Alex. Being escorted to the living room like a juvenile delinquent was so humiliating I felt like crying. I was in the presence of three angry parents all looking at me like a disgrace to the community and the whole town. I honestly could not look at my mother, as the stitch on her forehead was a testament of my stupid actions. Tears were streaming down my left cheek as the jury of parents said nothing, as they stared at me.
I was on my knees, crawling towards my mother. Even as she looked away, I still moved closer. I was wet with tears, and with a trembling voice, I said, “Mommy, I am sincerely sorry. I admit that what I did was unforgivable and terrible. I don’t want you to forgive me, mother, just lets me repay for the wrongs I have done.”
I honestly my actions. I loathed Need for Speed. The other two parents just stared at me as though I had not done enough. My mother, on the other hand, looked at me into the eyeballs. I felt her sight reach my soul and open the taps of guilt. She said, “I am your mother, and I love you. You have changed so much and grown so much. I never thought that you would hit me some day. Anyway, I will let it pass as the heat of the moment. Never repeat such an action.”
I felt so relieved. Like the sun was shining at me for the first time. As we left the McCain’s, I knew I had to do much. I needed to grow up and learn to deal with my problems. There was no excuse for disobedience, let alone violence in anyone’s life. Throughout the entire day, I vacuumed the house, mowed the lawn, cleaned the gutters and ran several errands including shopping albeit with my money. Though she was concerned about me handling the chores, I was adamant. All I wanted to do was see her smile; a smile that would cover the fact that I hurt her. As a bonus, the Mr. McCain waved at me that day and gave me a thumbs up for the lawn. From that day, I limited my gaming time, respected my mother, and took up several chores that I would do every day. I became more responsible and weighed my actions before making them.
Two things I learned from the experience were: obedience is paramount, and apology is key to harmony. If I had just followed the initial instruction and done the chores in time, I would have finished and played my game. But, the stupid act of disobedience deteriorated the situation. Moreover, if I had taken my mother’s slap as a sign of correction, I could have been the child and her the mom. At the time no one could have been hurt. Secondly, an apology for acting and conducting actions that hurt other people leads to peace and harmony. When your behavior is questionable or upsetting to the community around you, the best thing to do is to own up and apologize. This way harmony can be restored.
My actions were lousy, and the follow up fallacious. Given the same situation at the moment, I would have listened to my mother and apologized to her before the actions turned violent. Moreover, having known that I had hurt her, I would have stayed behind and wait for the consequences instead of the sneaking away. By apologizing, we create an avenue for forgiveness and chance for the return of harmony. It is the gateway to a peaceful society, where people own up to their mistake, apologize and turn over a new leaf. In the same case, realizing and owning to a mistake shows maturity. Instead of running away from a mistake, admitting that you did it creates an avenue for change, and for doing better the next time round. Apology and owing to mistakes committed are thus an epitome to a peaceful community as it promotes peace, tolerance and overall harmony. Just as Laini Taylor said, “Peace is more than the absence of war. Peace is an accord. Harmony.”