I had completely forgotten about the two minute long opening montage of various locations in Paris played to some perfectly stereotypically French sound music. I wish I remembered my initial reaction to the montage because it was most definitely not the same as my reaction this time. This time around, the opening images were my favorite part of the whole movie. I knew every place they showed! Okay maybe I could not name every single place, but pretty close. And it felt really good. I couldn’t believe it—they haad put together a two minute montage of the most beautiful and iconic places in the city of Paris and the images were so familiar to me this time. I felt a sense of pride.
A few days later I was hanging out at a friends apartment and when I walked in the door Big Daddy was on the TV. I hadn’t watched that movie in years, such a classic Adam Sandler film. I sat down on the couch and watched Adam Sandler with NYU’s own Disney twins hanging out in Washington Square Park. I realized I hadn’t watched Big Daddy since moving to New York and as I put together a mental map all the side streets around Washington Square Park and remembered having class around the fountain in the background I felt the same pride I’d felt watching Midnight in Paris. I loved that I knew exactly where they were sitting and where it was in relation to the rest of the neighborhood and the rest of the city.
Having this feeling about Paris was an epiphany for me. I’ve be so consumed in my own issues that I had no idea how much Paris had really become a home. I knew that when my parents had come to visit I loved being able to tell them about various monuments and buildings, mostly verbatim from my lectures, but it had felt so good to talk about Paris knowledgably and comfortably. But despite this, I still found myself missing the U.S. and unsure that my feelings for Paris would ever align with me feelings for New York. Midnight in Paris made me realize how much the image of place changes, not just when you can identify it, but when there are emotions associated with the place.
I’m used to being able to go to Duane Reade and buy everything I need in one place. Here, this isn’t an option. Still, I guess my realization is that slowing down a bit isn’t that bad, and, in fact, is probably a really good thing. It’s kind of nice to be kind of forced to relax since so much stuff is closed. It would be nice if more things were open, like supermarkets, but it also more about the mentality. I think there’s a general mentality that I have really learned to appreciate and admire in Paris.
It’s not that Paris is empty or dead after 8pm and that every street is deserted on Sundays. In fact, it’s the opposite. On almost any given day, even on weekdays, people are out doing stuff all hours of the day. So, I guess, its really more about the “stuff” that Parisians have taken the time to appreciate that related directly to the fact that businesses are closed quite early and that Sunday is basically a mandatory rest day. I’ve noticed, and been told, that Parisians enjoy downtime, but also have a more relaxed general mentality overall. Parisians have much longer lunch breaks, yet shorter hours. Dinners are more common as is sitting out for hours at restaurants.
The Parisians idea of the “weekend” is different than that of most Americans. For us, the weekend is like a shining beacon of hope at the end of a long stressful week when we can finally get good nights sleep and go out. Not so much here in Paris, because Parisians don’t need the weekend to enjoy themselves and go out, which is also why the weekend isn’t an excuse to get blackout. I’m never going to be as relaxed as some Parisians I’ve met, but I hope some of it has worn off on me. I think its really beneficial to do “stuff” all the time.
Homosexuality was once condemned as heresy, punishable by law in Spain’s Roman Age, mainly castration for men. The allegedly ‘pure’ scripture-based forms of Christianity do not tolerate deviation from the traditional and sacred union of man and woman to procreate. Despite extreme repression and strong homophobia during the dictatorship of Franco, stigmas and taboos toward openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals have changed dramatically in recent decades. In twenty-first century practice, followers of Christianity – particularly the dominant Catholicism – identify with a full spectrum of sexual orientations.
Growing up in the very liberal, open-minded San Francisco, I never thought twice about a person’s sexual orientation, especially in relation to religious beliefs. Surrounded by followers of many faiths and raised in predominantly, though not devout whatsoever, Christian area, religious law never seemed to dictate action. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, straight, you name it – all were together, integrated, accepted. Perhaps it is because of the city I come from, frequently referred to as the gay and lesbian capital of the world, but churches and other places of worship and religious gathering welcomed individuals without consideration of sexual orientation – and I see that to be the case more and more here in Spain.
Same-sex ‘sexual activity,’ as it has been officially deemed, has been legal here since 1979. Gay and lesbian people are allowed to serve openly in the military and transgender individuals can undergo legal gender changes. Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2005, making Spain one of only ten countries in the world that allows it, along with some of the most progressive set of related laws, including the adoption of children by homosexual couples. Although I have yet to attend one, gay pride parades are a part of the city’s culture. Machismo, is, however still a big part of the culture, especially in areas like soccer. But compared with much of the world - including neighboring countries in Europe and the USA - in a legal sense, Spain is leading the way for equality of all people without regard to sexual orientation. And that is a rather good epiphany that I have had while living here in Madrid!
The other day, I turned to my friend Olivia on the subway, could kind of understand the peripheral conversations going on around me, and proclaimed "I Feel Comfortable!"- except I didn't shout, or really say it much louder than a whisper, for the french don't speak very much on the metro. It was three and a half months in, and it finally hit me- I was beginning to get a good footing in the culture, in the way of life, and the french customs.
I was learning to do my grocery shopping on Saturdays becuase not a lot (literally no supermarkets at all) is open on Sundays. I was learning how to navigate the metro by heart, where I could get off and walk to other stops even though they looked dreadfully far from one another on a metro map. I had learned how to deal with rude waiters, and kind waiters, and how to ask for things. I learned the random connecting words that the french say, how to say "I don't know" formally and informally, what to say when you bump into people, and how to respond to creepy men- I realized that I was starting to function successfully in the french way of life, and that I was adjusting.
All of this hit me on the metro going to visit my friends Emily and Kate in their eclectic to say the least (a duplex with a massive living room, bizarre paintings, some stained glass windows, lots of nude sculptures and a sculpture of spiderman perched on the second floor overlooking the downstairs area) apartment at Place de Clichy. It also has massive bay windows and overlooks sacré coeur depending on what room you are in. Anyways, I digress...I was going over for dinner and to hang out and do homework (really watch 30 rock). When I got there Emily and Kate were talking about how we were only here for 15 more days. 15 more days?! There's no way! I grabbed the calendar, counted, and came to the shocking realization that it was true.
Just as i was beinning to feel really settled, had some routines, and make some good friends, it was time to leave. It's interesting to realize how much time flies (duh, alyssa- but, really.), and how it is possible for one to get settled in a culture they spent the first three months feeling completely not a part of...I just wonder now how re-adjusting to New York will feel, having just realized I was comfortable here.
(Photocred: Came across this album cover a while ago, likes it, and saved it- I don't know where the original file was from, but it is not my work).
Then there was a switch that went off. I was going to be here in South America for three more weeks. I could either distance myself mentally from this place and root my thoughts in the future and home or I could take advantage of living down here and the different things it has to offer. I woke before school and it was a beautiful day. I took a shower and walked up stairs afterwards, and still wet I just laid down on my roof at 10 am before Spanish class. This is what I will miss about this place, but before I hadn't even been taking advantage of the summer here. I was living too much in my head and not enough in the place I was in. I could torture myself and count the days or I can live in my present moment to its fullest.
I even borrowed a friend's ipod and bought an audiobook on the power of living in the present moment. It explains how the past and future, and just time in general, are poisons. I think facebook even poisons us. I look at photos of my summer in New York and photos of home and it makes me miss them. Missing seems healthy enough but longing can poison the present. We must not forget where we are living and that is the present. I am laughing a little as I read this because this seems to be "profound realization" but really it was just a change in my mindset. I was going to be here 3 more weeks and if I didn't enjoy those final weeks the only person suffering is me. I couldn't let getting material things stolen turn into having my last few weeks here stolen in a way too. So now as I am wrapping up my last week here I want to end it eating dinner outside with friends, laying down in the parks, jumping into a swimming pool, and going to the outdoor markets. After all it is summer and before I know it I'll be heading back to a wintery New York and the South American summer will all be a distant memory I'll probably long for. This will be an exercise in staying in the present moment with whatever situation I have, because that is all you ever really do have.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the time after the first six weeks. It's in the weeks following gastro-intestinal adjustment, post-culture shock, after you are supposed to be settled in to your new life, getting into the swing of classes – that I began to feel something else – travel weariness. It’s possible that this feeling developed because I had experienced for the first time in my life food poisoning, travellers diarrhea, and the irrational stage of culture shock all in the span of less than six weeks. Both my body and my mind had been thrown for a loop – As a former try anything, sleep anywhere, eat everything, strong-stomached globetrotter I was now a confused, queasy version of my former self.
For the first time since the travel bug bit me at age 14, all I wanted to do was curl up on my couch and watch movies. Travel weariness is different than homesickness. I didn’t need to go back to America or see my family; Skype allows a good constant form of communication. What I wanted was to stop moving, stop being a tourist, stop trying to see and do everything. I had become disenchanted with the idea of traveling. I think my real epiphany is that living in a foreign place is draining in ways that all the vacationing in the world could not have prepared me for a semester studying abroad.
Hopefully a restful, but as is the tradition with my family, vacation-filled, winter break will spark a new and more aware travel itch. My summer spent exploring Scandinavia and northern Europe with almost no time for decompression before going to China is probably what led to my travel weariness.
I took this picture during my first few hazy weeks on a hazy Shanghai afternoon.
A few weekends ago, as part of my commitment to being this semester’s LGBT Ambassador for Accra, I planned and went on a dinner with a few of my colleagues and some queer-identified employees of the US Embassy and other American institutions in Ghana. The dinner was very pleasant; I had seafood pizza at a nearby Italian restaurant and, for a moment, I could have been at any pizzeria on Mott or Mulberry. I was feeling very full and content when I caught the tail-end of a conversation my friend Barbara was having with the assistant director of our program. They were discussing the evolution of our group’s dynamic as the semester has progressed, from one of initial wariness and race tension to mostly amiable mixing, laughing, and the possibility of lifelong friendships.
“Oh, I've totally seen that,” the director laughed. “It’s because you guys cram two years of personal growth into four months. You can’t come out on the other side of that without forming some strong bonds.”
I’ve been thinking about that ever since. I’ve been working on a short documentary on the LGBT question in Ghana this semester, and this past Sunday, my crewmate Ruby and I took our cameras and mics out to a nearby neighborhood downtown, hoping to get some “man on the street” interviews that displayed the public’s opinion of homosexuality in Ghana.
Now, knowing that homosexuality is de facto illegal in Ghana, I knew theoretically what to expect. But once again, knowing in your head that prejudice exists in the world is different from hearing it with your heart, when people say that homosexuality is inherently “un-African,” that Ghana doesn’t have that filthy problem, or that lesbianism can be cured by raping those women who express same-sex desire.
Sitting around a table of friends a few hours later, taking shots of dark rum and swigging sangria, I wondered about my privilege: how I could be so privileged as to have not heard things like this until turning twenty. And I remember thinking how sad it is that the absence of self-loathing can be a privilege.
Study abroad is supposed to be a time for personal growth, for reflection and for dealing with situations and people and smells that are completely foreign to you. And I guess that all came to a head while I stood, headphones on, behind a camera and listened to people say that they would hate me if only they knew one more thing about me. So in the end, I’m still processing my time doing interviews, much as I am still processing most of the past four months, but I wouldn’t hesitate to say that my epiphany has been that I have grown a lot, and I have so much growing left to do. So much more than I could have imagined.
Part of me feels that as I’ve grown up, I’ve lived in continuously, bursting bubbles. To elaborate… first as a little girl, I lived in a bubble in Austin – where I grew up thinking Texas was that greatest place in the entire country -- sweet tea, BBQ, football… what’s not to love? I’ve also always grown up in the bubble of thinking that America is THE GREATEST and THE BEST, and who doesn’t want to live the American Dream? All of that changed once I came to NYU, and it continues to change having been in London now for 3 months. I feel as though another life - encompassing bubble has burst, but in a different way than before. London itself is such a global city, and a good portion of the classes I’m taking here focus on globalization and its cultural implications and effects. Having been in classes back in New York where this subject of globalization was touched before, I now realize firsthand from living here just how tied the concepts of ‘westernization’ and more specifically ‘americanization’ are with globalization.
However, being exposed to a whole new country and set of cultural beliefs and people – I realize just how ignorant Americans can be. The best way to illustrate this point is with a story, which I guess you could say in a way, is my epiphany. This past weekend, I traveled to Paris for Thanksgiving to be with friends and cook a nice, American meal. The thing is, I literally do not speak a word of French. Yes, I know the basic, ‘merci’, but that’s about it. At one point during the weekend – we were stressing to find certain food items to cook with, and I became so irritated in the grocery store when I couldn’t find what I was looking for because 1) I couldn’t read the labels and 2) I didn’t know how to ask anyone for help. I have greatly taken for granted the fact that I’m in London, where I have hardly had any sort of communication problems at all. At the same time, I realized how terribly arrogant/ignorant it was of me to just expect that these little groceries, and people who work in them would be able to speak English, and cater to my wants and my needs. It was quite selfish thinking to be honest, and that is one of the main things I have taken away from this time. We often view our “American” way of life as the right way – wanting to ‘spread our values’, ‘our language’, and ‘our culture’, but realistically who are we to impose on any one else?
Ghanaian time is its own entity. There are no rules. No schedules. The stores on the street open when they happen to get there and close when they feel like leaving. The tro-tro’s which are the main mode of transportation for people have no set times what so ever. In a way it is like the subway when you simply go to the stop and wait for one to come because they generally come every few minutes. Except that with tro-tros you can also dictate where they go. On our way back from Togo a few weeks ago we were in a tro-tro and instead of going to the main station in Accra where all the tro-tros are, we asked the driver if he would take us to Labone, the area of Accra that we live in. And he did. Try doing that with the subway or bus driver in New York. I don’t think you will get very far.
Like most taxi’s in the world, they want to get you to your destination quickly so that they can pick up someone else. In Ghana though, they are much more proactive in this manner. To save time, the taxi driver will go around traffic, through red lights, honking all the way to let drivers know that he is coming and get you to where he needs to go. I don’t understand how, but I am pretty sure that every time I am in a taxi, it is my taxi that is the one that gets through first, around the traffic.
Speaking of traffic, something that has significantly slowed down time even more is the increased traffic that occurs in Accra as Christmas approaches. They say it is because many more people come into the city for the holidays. And while I understand that people are coming to see family etc, I do not get why the traffic drastically changes so much. Are these visitors driving around all in separate cars all day long with nothing else to do? And yet I am not surprised and just add it to the list of Ghana's nuances. We have a schedule for the van that takes us to the grocery store 3 times a week and to the university etc. but it has become obsolete because nothing do with time can be predicted in Ghana. There are far to many variables not within your control that can affect it.
I have become accustomed to Ghanaian time now though and I may find it difficult to get back into the brisk pace and schedule heavy lifestyle of America. I may begin going to class when I feel like it, or stopping randomly in the street. Or even demanding a bus take me to my exact address instead of the designated stop three blocks away.
You think study abroad is going to be this amazing peaceful experience. I’m not suggesting that I have not had an amazing study abroad experience, I have. It just has not been a peaceful experience.
Before arriving to Madrid, I had my own set of preconceived notions of this place. I figured I would have a great time and it would not be so difficult since I knew the language and culture.
What I have learned so far, and my epiphany persay, is that study abroad pushes your limits. It takes out of your comfort zone, and makes you feel all alone and scared and sick. At first, I thought I was a pretty strong person, but there have been times where I thought that I couldn’t take one more day here.
The language is difficult, especially taking it in a collegiate level. At first I was afraid that I would never be able to write another paper, but I have. I assumed that I would have a pleasant experience when I come home, but then my homestay runs out of hot water and does not have heat for a week. I figured I would be ok with the food, but then get a terrible stomach bug and am sick for days. All of these things, for some reason, in a study abroad site seem much more frightening and horrible. I thought I would never be able to get through it all and tell this story. But at the end of the day, I’ve learned to laugh it off. Life is not supposed to be taken so seriously at times.
Perhaps it is the environment and the Spanish people that have taught me to enjoy myself regardless of these obstacles. I thought I wouldn’t be able to overcome them all, and I am happy to say that I have.
Study abroad is not an amazing peaceful experience. It pushes you to your limits and you end up realizing this incredible person you have had insider yourself. This person that seems so calm and collected and mature.
Now I know why I everyone loves their study abroad experience. There are those that have been able to discover the corners of the world and others who have discovered the corners of themselves.
Photo: (Sums up Madrid to me)
I already had my own ideas about this before, but it took a while for me to realize that my ideas about culture were happening to me in real life. Probably my first clue was when I stayed with my host family. One of my host brothers continuously proposed to me, asking me to take him to America. But then he would talk about the importance of religion and how it was inappropriate for women to wear short skirts in public. When we were dancing, he watched out for me and steered away other men who seemed too forward. His behavior got me thinking: what if he’s not actually asking me to marry him so he can get to the US, but asking me because that’s what a Ghanaian man is supposed to do when he sees an obruni woman? Yes, some Ghanaian men propose to me definitely because they want to get to the US. However, I’m pretty sure many do as a way of interaction; they don’t necessarily expect that I’ll follow through and marry them. Even my friend back home in the US gets proposed to by a Ghanaian man every time she sees him.
It’s the same with bargaining. Before, bargaining used to terrify me because I couldn’t stand the idea of arguing over money. But now that I’ve had to learn how to bargain, or at least learned how to bargain in Ghana, the practice feels more like a formality than a business deal. I’ve noticed that taxi drivers respond better to bargaining if I smile and put on a bit of a show (“No no no no no, four cedis is too much. Make it three”). It seems obvious that if I’m friendly, I’ll have an easier time, but thinking that idea and actually doing it really do feel disconnected. Both the drivers and I know that there is a certain price the ride is supposed to be, but we still have to bargain to see if we both play the game well enough for that price to hold.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons why people travel: to see how many and how well they can play games. If each culture is its own separate game, with rules and penalties unique to it, then traveling to a new place means being able to play and possibly master a new game. The traveler is someone who has mastered the skill of adaptation and can hold his own. The tourist is someone who needs another to hold his hand throughout the game, walking him through every move. No wonder why the reputation of world traveler, not world tourist, is so sought after. I guess that’s the reason why flipping through my passport, now that it’s filled with visas and stamps, is so rewarding.
While the U.S. is still a major global power, globalization is stripping it of is singularity and influence. As a result, the U.S. seems to be having an identity crisis. If we aren’t number one, where is our place in the world? This shifting of influence shouldn’t be viewed as the downfall of America, but rather as the advancement of the world as a whole. Today, we are so well connected with the rest of the world. We receive news instantly, we have no difficulty in communicating with somebody on the other side of the globe, and we can travel long distances with relative ease. We are witnessing a revolutionary era of emerging economies. Though there are many countries that are struggling to develop, as a whole the world is changing at an incredible rate.
Since leaving the U.S., I have realized just how small our world really is. London itself is a product of globalization. It is an incredibly diverse and cosmopolitan city. The majority of the people I have met here speak more than one language. Many hail from a different country and posses an incredible global perspective. While there are many diverse areas within the United States, I think many Americans lack this global perspective. Some seem to cling to the identity of American power and singularity and we haven’t fully freed ourselves from our isolated views. From our earliest educational experience, we do not receive the global exposure which is critical to understanding the world outside U.S. borders.
Through my experiences abroad, I have come to realize just how important it is to understand the people we share our world with. We are far beyond the antiquated era of isolation. The world is opening up, borders are diminishing, and people’s lives are becoming entangled in an ever-growing web of globalization. As I have learned from one of my favorite rides at Disney World, "It’s a small world after all"…. And it keeps getting smaller.
It turns out I knew a bit more than I let myself believe. On the first night of playing tour guide I led my mother into Prague Castle. The Castle is the biggest in the world and has been renovated into a palace to hold the presidential offices. I showed her historic buildings on our way up to the pseudo-fortress (that’s the difference between a castle and a palace; a castle is fortified) and found myself thoroughly surprised at my ability to reiterate knowledge I thought I had never retained from week one.
I think I had not given my memory enough credit. I was thrilled to realize that as we walked past monuments I could recall obscure facts that had been told to me during orientation, a blurred period of exhaustion. I was even more enjoyed to realize that I had finally figured out the public transportation. I didn’t need to map out my trips before hand anymore. On our second night out, mother in tow, construction had changed the traffic patterns and caused us to get rerouted in the wrong direction. It scared me a bit. At night, in the dark, a plain map in hand; I wasn’t confident that I could rescue us. However I prevailed victorious and with one quick transfer managed to get us back on track.
I wont be surprised though if once my mother leaves I begin to draw a blank. The need to impress may have had something to do with my recollections. Had I not been under pressure to perform I don’t know that I would have retained obscure knowledge or maneuvered the transit system so skillfully. Maybe pressure was all I needed to feel a bit more comfortable in my surrounds. Prague has never felt like home to me, but maybe the ease that comes with knowing something about the area might help the last couple of weeks seem less intimidating.
One of the main issues I have been struggling to process is my personal reaction to the extreme poverty we are so often smacked in the face with. One of the worst examples of this happened on a program trip to the second largest city in Ghana; Kumasi. One minute you are engaging and excited to indulge a child’s natural curiosity towards you, and the next minute they are grabbing at your clothes, asking for a pencil, an empty water bottle, your shirt, your hair. I rationalize that even by giving them the things they are asking for, it really does no good in the long term, so you are forced to walk away. We get back on our bus, sanitize our hands, take a sip of purified water, and we’re back to thinking about what is for dinner or how far we have left to drive. I then immediately skip to the thought that, “Well, this is why I’m studying abroad here, to be exposed and to see things like this. It’s not supposed to be easy and simple. It’s incredibly complex and awful. ” While I’ve realized that I can’t feel guilty for the life I was born into, it’s been really difficult for me to accept someone else’s life and entire being as my personal “learning experience.” We’re talking about another human beings life. At times this has felt so incredibly self indulgent, but I have no idea how I can otherwise help the society that surrounds me, except to learn and expand because of it. Many of the things I’ve seen make you just want to throw your hands in the air and give up.
We had a somewhat disheartening and all-too-honest presentation from an NYU Alumn and Peace Corps volunteer in Mali a few weeks ago. After this experience in Ghana, and the presentation, many of my peers who were initially considering service or internationally oriented jobs have reconsidered. I sat through the entire meeting and came out of it thinking, “Well I think I could survive that.” The helpless feeling I felt in Kumasi finally had a solution. I may not be able to donate massive amounts of money to this community, or institute a trash-recycling reform, or influence politics at all, but I believe I can help via international service. I realized it’s not that you have to give up on finding a solution, but rather you must give in to the situation. My pre-Ghana self had a very romanticized idea of the Peace Corps, as I believe many of my peers had. Now that I’ve gotten closer to what the actual experience might be like, I know more what I’m getting into.
My epiphanies have been many and gradual. Because everything around us is unlike anything any of us have ever experienced, it takes time to process everything. I’m certain that many of the things I will “get out” of this experience won’t be realized for months to come, once I’m back to my normal life in the States. I’m interested to see what change others perceive in me as well.
My biggest realization is that development is still a far-fetched dream. Back in the U.S., it’s easy to read about organizations providing clean water to rural communities or saving women’s lives through better maternal health care and feel inspired. I’m sure these organizations are doing good work, but I now see beneath the optimistic façade. For every person they help, there are thousands more suffering. For those lucky enough to get assistance, their lives don’t necessarily improve that much. A community might now have water, but they are still left without healthcare, adequate food, and an education. Of course, I knew these types of facts before I came to Ghana, but it didn’t deter me. I knew that seeing poverty every single day would be overwhelming and difficult, but I expected to still have some hope, to believe that things were getting better. And yes, Ghana is developing, but very slowly. There are still so many problems that any improvement feels small, like it is not enough.
I’ve learned this over time, from walking past the handicapped beggar on our street every afternoon or hearing yet another sob story from a patient at the health clinic where I intern. All of their multiple problems build upon each other, adding up to make you feel powerless. What can I do for a woman whose husband abandoned her because she had AIDs and left her with sick, with no money and a newborn child? I could give her money, but that’s just a temporary fix. I could give the beggar some change, but not what he really needs. He needs a culture that doesn’t stigmatize those with disabilities, but allows for them to have jobs, to pay for their own food and housing. That is something I can’t drop in his hand.
Two weeks ago, when we traveled to the northern, poorer region of Ghana, I had an especially poignant reminder of my inability to help. We visited a widow’s village, where widows are exiled if they refuse to marry their husband’s brother. These women have few resources, but a number of NGOs are attempting to help them. The women now weave and sell baskets to earn money to support themselves and their children. We visited the village and bought a lot of items, but there was little else we could do. I’m sure the money helped them, but it’s only so long before it runs out.
As we were leaving the village, we gathered together our empty water bottles from the bus and began handing them out to the children. They started fighting over them, punching and shoving each other to grab our trash, to get a few pennies by recycling it. Meanwhile, we sat on the bus, some of us already engrossed in our iPods or books, others looking at the scene through our windows. The children behaved like a group of pigeons squabbling for breadcrumbs. Our actions, our trash, made the kids behave like animals. We were trying to help, but I wondered how much harm we were inflicting in the process. If giving an empty water bottle causes fighting, how helpful is it? More importantly, how much of a difference do all the small actions of development really make?