March 18, 2003
Another week has come and gone, and so has another country. I left Turkey three days ago and I now find myself in Bangalore, India. I have traded in my overcoat and wool scarf for a light shirt and thin scarf to wrap around my shoulders; the intense heat here is such a sharp contrast to the biting cold of the Middle East. India is as incredible as I remember it from last year, and as different from anything I could attempt to compare it to for you.
It is chaotic and loud; on my taxi ride from the airport there was a near rickshaw pileup when a horse ran across the road-not an unusual occurance. And it is also sweet and colorful; the smells of curried food emanating from restaurant doorways and colorful saris and scarfs decorating the already beautiful women who I walk past down the street. I wish I could describe more of what I see out my window to you; I wish my words could do it justice.
I spent a lot of my last week in Ankara with the CRC crew. I attended their one of their seminars in which a great discussion was held about the concept of "political correctness."
Why, the question arose, does the United States place such an emphasis on being politically correct? And what are the origins and effects of such a culture that stresses this correctness? This was such an interesting question, especially because the students, myself included, had encountered comments that were very much not politically correct and we were forced to take a look at our own culture and where this idea comes from. One of the comments addressed the fact that US culture likes to makes clear distinctions between "good" and "bad." That, as a culture, we like to get rid of the gray areas by making everything black and white-- in legal terms. Our laws address everything from sexual harassment cases to hot coffee spills: an international stereotype of the States that I have heard many times is that people from the US sue each other over the smallest disagreement. For this reason, it is called politically correct, instead of morally correct or even just correct. We do not want to be offensive in our comments so we make laws to draw the lines as to what is and what is not offensive. But is it really this black and white?
Another interesting response was that the idea behind being politically correct is that less offensive talk with bring about more peaceful and respectful interactions among people. But, the student asked, is making the discussion of offensive opinions illegal really solving the issue? Or is the issue just being pushed to the background where it goes unnoticed and unchecked? If we think that not talking about an issue makes it go away, I think we are being ignorant and possibly more harmful to ourselves than if we had allowed the offensive discussion to occur out in the open. The discussion brought about many perspectives on the issue, and while the issue was never really "solved" or the questions answered, it was recognized. I have kept this discussion in my mind during the past week and have many encounters with people and recognized their "lack" of political correctness and my awareness and use of it.
My friend, Margie, and I spend Thursday walking around Ankara. I haven't taken much time to just walk around the cities I am studying in, and it was such a relaxing way to finish my time in Turkey. We stopped for lunch and bought doners, which are freshly cut meat sandwiches that can be found in stands on every corner in the big Turkish cities. We ate our sandwiches on a bench overlooking part of the city, and in our view was Ataturk's Mausoleum, where the revered founder of the Republic of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, rests. The building looks a lot like the White House in that it is a large, white building with many pillars in front. The Mausoleum stands tall above the city, and on that day in particular the clouds formed in just a way that let the light shine down just over the building. It was quite a sight, and also quite telling of the importance and respect that Turkey feels for their leader who brought Turkey to where it is today. Pictures of Ataturk can be seen on every wall in every building in Ankara, watching over the people.
This week also marked the half way point through my trip. This thesis has truly been a process and I have watched my opinions and ideas take shape and, in some cases, drastically change over the course of the past months. One of the most fascinating things to see in my travels from Center to Center is the stories and legacies that different students leave as they move on to different places. As I travel I have the opportunity to meet many of the faces that match these stories. The community and network of friends and stories that runs through Friends World never ceases to amaze me. At the end of this semester, my story will be added to the neverending pile?
I miss you! Take care and have a great day!