On Propaganda

Today my grandma told me about an email she had sent me. My grandmother is one of those grandmothers that have to send every chain letter they recieve for fear of [insert something terrible here] happening. She said I would really like it because it was about the holocaust.

I would like it?

She said that I would like it because it contains pictures from the holocaust featuring piles of dead bodies.

I like these things?!

So tonight I checked my email, and yes, I read my grandmother’s email, and yes, the pictures were horrendous. But this is not why I am so overwhelmingly pissed! The reason I am so vivid is because of the message the email was trying to convey. The email had the very true message of how we should not forget, but then it goes on to say that “the UK removed The Holocaust from its school curriculum because it ‘offended’ the Muslim population which claim it never happened…Now, more than ever, with Iran, among others, claiming the Holocaust to be ‘a myth,’ it is imperative to make sure the world never forgets.”

Since when does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speak for all Muslims!!! Do the crusaders of old or the Spanish conquistadors or the early colonizers of America or pedophilic priests speak for all Christians?! Does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speak for all Iranians? Does President George W. Bush speak for all Americans?! Just because one Muslim extremist says the Holocaust didn’t happen doesn’t mean all Muslims believe that! One of my best friends is Muslim, and not an “Americanized” Muslim either (she lives in Turkey, a Middle Eastern country with the national religion being Islam), and she KNOWS the holocaust is not “a myth.”

Don’t people realize that this very kind of propaganda is what started the holocaust! Hitler turned everyone against the Jews and now people are trying to do the same thing to the Muslims. What I hate is this isn’t the first email I’ve read with this theme of “us versus them.” My aunt sent me an email a while back explaining just how Muslims are terrorists and that we should not complain about the high airport security. Don’t people know that like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is a religion based on the foundation of Love? Just like there are extremists for Islam there are extremists for Christianity (or any religion for that matter).

It saddens me that these students in the UK have fallen for the propagana of Mahmoud Ahmadinehad and that the UK is taking out The Holocaust from the curriculum, but we must not fall for the propaganda our own government and media is feeding us. We need to be intellectual activists and speak truth to power.

-Brant

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Published in: on May 5, 2008 at 11:31 pm  Comments (1)  

Crazy But Not Alone

My roommate was telling me how he was listening to these girls at work talk about fair trade products and how he thought of me. I love how I am now being associated with social justice! Today in class we were talking about just how we have been changed and I think we all agree that we have all become units of change, but we’re having trouble becoming catalysts for change. This was one of the biggest things that hit me arriving back from Poland. I came back inspired with all this enthusiasm to change the world, but it seemed people weren’t sharing my enthusiasm. I remember the day we arrived back, I was eating at Chili’s with my mom and sister, and when they would ask me questions about Poland, I would answer back with things that were to come. I was spilling out all these ideas for having a street performer day to raise money for various human rights organizations like Save Darfur or International Justice Mission. Their blank stares hit me like a bag of bricks.

Some other comments made in class concerned how weird it now is to hang out with our other, pre-existing friends. I was eating dinner with some friends from high school and felt so disconnected from them. They didn’t understand to avoid using words like “hate” or “gay”. I was walking after class with one of my best friends, whom I once considered one of the funniest people I know, and I know longer found his jokes funny but racist and in bad taste. I was looking at Dr. Anderson’s photos on my computer, and was tearing up when pictures of the camps started popping up, when my roommate walks in, talking on his cell phone, and says to me, “You’re still Poland sick!” He doesn’t understand. None of these people understand. For me Poland doesn’t represent a free trip. It doesn’t even represent the country. The word “Poland”, for me represents an experience 23 students had that changed them forever. “Poland” represents the desire for social change. “Poland” is a synonym for resistance or to resist.

This is why we are doing this insane amount of presentations. This is why we won’t stop talking about Poland. We can’t shut up! I remember when Eva made the heavy realization of how easy it was for us to walk in and out of the camps, when the prisoners did not have it so easy. Now I’m beginning to realize though, that it wasn’t as simple walking out of the gates as we initially thought. We have these images burned into our minds now, and while people would rather not hear about the holocaust, we refuse to shut up. We refuse to stand idly by. We are rebelling against our own indifference. We are resisting the norms of our society and choosing to live more unconventional lives. We are displacing ourselves to represent the 1.6 million people displaced in Northern Uganda and we are walking barefoot to represent the 40% of people who don’t have shoes. We are resisting everyday in small ways and big ways; in the way that we talk and the way that we treat others. This is our task, it is the price we paid for entering the camps. Our burden is the normality of the world and our burden is heavy, but we are 23, and we are strong!

…And people are beginning to listen, though many are not. People are being converted to our way of thinking. Along with the warm spring weather, and the blooms in the trees, is a wind of change in the air. The most radical thing we can do is educate people and that is just what we are doing. We are intellectual activists. Hate is contagious but so is love, and although love is the slower of the two it is the most powerful.

So you see we are catalysts for change. We are all crazy, but so were all the other great catalysts for change.

Dr. Martin Luther King? Crazy.

Mother Teresa? Crazy.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi? Crazy.

WT Readership Ambassadors? Insane!

We are all crazy! Crazy because of the books we choose to read, because of the news that we choose to watch and the news that we choose to filter. We are crazy because we choose to associate ourselves with other crazy people. We are crazy because we can’t and won’t stop talking. Whether it is to our friends or some random lady that develops the photos at Wal-Mart, we will not remain silent. Dave Eggers sums us up through the voice of Valentino Achak Deng in the novel What is the What:

“Whatever I do, however I find a way to live, I will tell these stories. I have spoken to every person I have encountered…because to do anything else would be something less than human. I speak to these people, and I speak to you because I cannot help it. It gives me strength, almost unbelievable strength to know that you are there. I covet your eyes, your ears, the collapsible space between us. How blessed are we to have each other? I am alive and you are alive so we must fill the air with our words. I will fill today, tomorrow, every day until I am taken back to God. All the while I will know that you are there. How can I pretend that you do not exist? It would be almost as impossible as you pretending that I do not exist.”

We all have our own voices. For some it is writing, some speaking, for others it is music and art. We are growing, we are no longer 23. Every time we tell our stories, we are changing the world, even if only one person hears our message of refusing to stand idly by. We are gaining in numbers. We are crazy but not alone.

-Brant

Published in: on April 15, 2008 at 4:32 pm  Comments (1)  

Letter to Aaron

This is a letter I wrote to my friend Aaron who is, as I write, at boot camp for the Marines. It contains some inside jokes and personal stuff (I also took out somethings that were in the original letter), but I thought I would post it on the blog anyways since I haven’t posted anything in awhile:

Hey Aaron!

Sorry if this took forever but the day after I left for Poland your letter came. Poland… hmmm… what can I say? I’ve been giving everybody else the short answer “it was fun” but really it was something more. If I were to put it in one word I would say that it was meaningful. Dude, I cannot wait until you are able to go to like Japan or something because then you will know exactly what I am talking about! Going to another country is so eye-opening to how big the world actually is. There are so many people with so many different opinions and worldviews, but the weird thing that gets me is all the similarities. You’ll see this soon!

It’s hard to talk about how I felt at Auschwitz-Birkenau, mainly because everyone has this preconceived idea that what I felt was sadness, which it was, but it is more solemn then melancholy, really. Auschwitz, which was the work camp, pretty much has the atmosphere of a museum now, which is not necessarily a bad thing because it was a great educational experience. There was a couple times I got choked up in Auschwitz, though. There is this one room that is full of shaved hair. I was sort of flabbergasted when I saw it. We had just been through like 3 rooms containing stuff like documents, and then without warning from the tour guide we enter this huge room (it is more like a long hallway, really) and it is full of hair! It kind of knocked me back with the un-expectancy of the whole thing. Then there were other rooms full of shoes, suitcases, peg legs and other instruments for the handicapped. It was all very hard to take in. Another eerie thing was the crematorium. They have where you can actually walk in. It was so silent inside. I know that God is everywhere, but he does not speak there. There God is silent. It was raining that day and I don’t remember it being this cold but when I was inside the crematorium I could see my breath and then got freaked out, not of ghosts per say, but of the evil that once lurked there.

Birkenau, the death camp, was the hardest to go to because it looks the same as it did in 1945; nothing has changed. My first glance of the camp keeps on playing in my mind. We were on the bus talking and what not, trying to forget where we were going, and then as soon as we turn the corner and get first sight of the camp, a light snow starts falling. It is so weird to have one of those moments when a bunch of people are talking and then they see something so somber that everyone just stops whatever they’re doing and just stares. The entire time I was there I couldn’t stop from shaking, in retrospect I suppose my shaking could have been due to the weather, but at the time, my being cold was the last thing on my mind. There were so many emotions I was having there that they just kind of blended into this dark mauve-like color of an overwhelming amount of sadness, hatred, guilt, disrespectfulness, anger, and numbness.  What I hated most though is that I could not bring myself to cry. My bottom lip was quivering, I was twitching like a crack addict; I had all the symptoms and yet I could not bring myself to cry. Then we went to this area called “Canada”, which was a new building the Nazi’s had just built before the Russians came that they have turned into an exposition (other than this everything is exactly as it was). Inside “Canada” there is this room that has individual pictures and stories of prisoners before the Holocaust. They were so simple, just short biographies with information about their family, what they did for a living, what they did for fun, etc. I wanted to read them all! It was so weird the teeter-totter play of happiness and sadness I had while reading these. It was like I was reading about people I knew! Like I was reminiscing with their families! There was this one about a girl and it said that she loved to pose in front of the camera and it had all these funny pictures of her with her friends at the beach or in the mountains. This girl in particular reminded me of myself as I thought back to all the crazy pictures I have taken. Especially all the group pictures, I just kept thinking of what all the comments might have been before (and while) the photos were being taken, and of course in a large group picture it seems someone has to be the clown lying down with leisure in the front. While reading these I hadn’t even noticed I had started crying. I probably looked so funny the way I was crying with this huge grin on my face (considering where we were). This was the last thing we saw before we left the camp, and it is what has stuck with me the most. Seeing other people’s memories displayed like that made me think of my own memories. I left the camp with this new sense of inspiration because I realize how much I cherish simple memories with friends and family and I want to fight to preserve those and to create new ones.

Wow. Sorry, this was incredibly long (I hope you have time to even read it) but I needed to share with someone on the outside (of the now close-knit group that went to Poland with me) and someone that I trust, what I was feeling. Also, before you left you said to write you about the concentration camps to remind you that you could you be in a much worse place. I’m trying out your “how time flies when you’re having fun” theory to get you back home sooner! Is it working? I haven’t got a hold of Mexican, but I haven’t tried either. I just keep hoping for the day that he calls me. I know that you are bound for greatness and I am still praying for you! Just don’t let them brainwash you!!!

                                                                                         Your Brother in Christ,

Brant

 

Published in: on April 14, 2008 at 2:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dobry Dzień! Hola! Bonjour! สวัสดี (sà-wàt-dee)!

I’ve always wanted to learn another language and this week I did just that, except for not at all. I think my problem was I didn’t try to learn just one language… I tried to learn them ALL!

  On Monday we had a crash course in Polish taught by Dr. Clark. I learned some words, basic conversations, and their 32 letter alphabet, but seriously there was little chance of me retaining any of it. What really got me thinking was that her son, whom is barely of speaking age, could speak both Polish and English (I’m assuming). I learned in Psychology that when you are young like that your brain is still developing and it is easier to learn things like language, but when you reach your twenties it is near to impossible to learn another language! So I figured if I was to learn a foreign language I needed to start right now!  

I was watching Conan O’Brian one night and he was interviewing some Italian supermodel who came to America speaking virtually no English but was able to learn it by watching TV in just two years. 

 Enter Telemundo! 

 My plan was to leave the TV on the Spanish channels, day and night, until I was fluent. This lasted the first day (not the night), and half of the next day until my roommate had had enough and made me change the channel. With such a short time until I HAD to quit, I think it is totally plausible to learn Spanish by watching Telemundo. I still don’t know Spanish, but I was able to recognize some words I had previously known, apply them to the situations on the show, and have a decent idea of what was going on! 

  So at this point I have forgotten all the Polish I had learned from class and was FORCED to give up on my telemundo experiment, so I decided to give French a go via internet. I have always wanted to learn French because it is such a beautiful language and I found a really great site to help me do just that! However, to actually benefit from this site you must have money, which I am lacking, but the site did have a free French demo! I learned how to say salesman (vendeur), horse (cheval), bakery (boulangerie, this is my favorite to say), pencil (crayon), big (grand), quick (rapide). I also learned how to form sentences: Le cheval est rapide! 

Since I had learned all the French I could I decided to help out my roommate, the “destroyer of dreams”, who has a crush on this girl from Taiwan by learning Thai using the same site as before. Together we learned how to say chicken (gai), duck (peh, pronounced pet), and coffee (gar fayr). This unfortunately, was not enough to impress the girl. 

After all this I am a little discouraged, but still as determined as ever to learn a foreign language. Right now I am listening to the language exercises Dr. Clark provided on WT Class (along with the music, which is awesome!). In just 3 days, 7 hours, and 30 minutes I will be able to put my Polish skills to use! 

-Brant

Published in: on March 10, 2008 at 4:19 pm  Comments (1)  

Less Talk, More Rock!

I am panicing.

  …and it’s a totally legitimate feeling, right? The thing I’ve been waiting for since last semester, this major event in my college career (and really my life) is practically here! 9 days and counting! There is so much I have to do before I leave! It is so weird too; this wasn’t something like Christmas that seems to take forever to arrive, either. This trip is speeding right towards me like a train!

 I’ve been reading some of the other blogs and it seems that everybody has said some version of what I am about to say:

“It still hasn’t completely sunk in that I am actually going to Poland.”

When I won I relished in the thought, sure, but I don’t know if I ever really saturated in it. This is such an incredible opportunity, but that’s all it appeared to be, an opportunity, and now it is a reality, it is here! I am literally (in 9 days and counting) about to board a plane! We have so much to do in such little time to prepare for this trip, that I’m having trouble finding time to soak in my Poland anticipation. But I know it is all going to be worth it once we are there with all the information we have gathered. So, panicking; yes, but in a really good way! 

I have always loved to travel, with the early morning air and the open road in front of me, it is such a liberating feeling, but this past summer was my first time to actually travel abroad, and I have to say it became an addiction. My eyes were opened wide to the world around me, outside of these confining American walls, into a world that, hence forth I’ve only experienced within the safe realms of my TV. I met so many amazing people from all over the world, each with such a unique cultural background, that I could have read a biased book about, but then would have never appreciated the uniqueness of the individual. I say it became an addiction because “World Traveler” was never something I played when I was a kid; Spider-man, Ninja Turtle, Power Ranger; sure, but never Carmon Sandiego. It’s like a childhood fantasy that I never had, except now…I’m (kind of) grown-up! I don’t want to, I HAVE to go everywhere! See everything! Meet everyone!  

Listening to all the presentations thus far has really caused my anticipation to grow. This week Adriana and I went over transportation, Angela and Monica went over packing, Janelle and Heather went over clothing, and Eva and Allan went over the perception of Americans. It is really getting too much, the reality of this all is starting to set in and it is getting unbearable just sitting in class learning about this amazing culture and not actually walking the streets, tasting the food, or hearing the language! I really enjoyed Eva and Allan’s bit about the perception of Americans. I think every American needs to experience another culture, because as I said before, America can be very confining, and actually blinding to other cultures unless we are at war with them, or not in agreement with their country’s policies. I just hope to learn something from this culture, and hopefully give something back. 

It is hard to believe that this trip is already upon us! I can’t wait to see what we will encounter!

-Brant

Published in: on March 3, 2008 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

My Weekly Pick-me-up!

For once in my entire life I am actually looking forward to Mondays. They reason you ask? Because I can enter into my Poland class completely drained from the week before and leave with the same excitment I had the day we won this trip! It is so fascinating for me to be learning about this whole other culture that before going in I didn’t know much about. Until now, for me, the word Poland became synonymous to the Holocaust and oppression throughout their very long history, but I’m beginning to see why the Polish people are so proud of their culture.This week we learned all about Polish customs, entertainment, and current events. Some of the Polish traditions I found really funny, most notable, was the tradition of setting an extra plate out for an unexpected guest, who I guess is supposed to be God. I really wish we were going during Christmas so I could walk into random peoples houses and they treat me like God! (Is that sacrilegious?) It was quite morbid, however, when we learned that you are supposed to have and uneven number of people at Christmas dinner or somebody will die before next year! So…. maybe, I wouldn’t crash random peoples dinners. I can tell that this is going to be such an amazing experience! I am looking forward to meeting new and fascinating people and visiting such beautiful places like the Tatra Mountains and all the castle and cathedrals. But I also hope to grow a lot during this trip. I have to admit that going to Auschwitz is something that I am dreading, but I feel that it is something that I need to see to better understand the Polish people, and in doing so better understand myself, my world, and my heart. To look at the remains of what was pure evil and to refuse to stand idly by!-Brant

Published in: on February 20, 2008 at 5:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Is Awkwardness Going to be a Factor for this Interview?

I’m not the best at interviews. Actually, I’m thinking my social skills are somewhat lacking. Sure, I can be honest, witty, funny and charming when I write but that is where I can be free. Free to think, free to process, free to—yeah… So anyway, I’m always afraid that when I’m in an interview that I’m going to say something stupid or do something dumb (I’m a pretty clumsy person. Just walking for me is an incredible feat—ha, feat, feet, walking). I have no control over the sweatiness of my palms or the shakiness in my voice. I’m not that quick on my feet (feat! Ha!), when asked a question I just blurt out the first thing on my mind, which I guess is what the interviewers want, but I don’t really have any faith in my answers to their questions.

So when I heard that I was to endear yet another interview, a final, scary interview, I was a little discomforted. I thought I was a mess in the group interview, though I was a little at ease considering I knew both Marisela, from high school and David from a class.

I have to admit I spent maybe an hour before the interview prepping myself. Breathing iiiiiiinnnnnnnn and ooooouuuuuttt nice and slowly, talking to myself in the mirror, and pacing, lots and lots of pacing. This is something that I really wanted and I didn’t want my awkwardness being a factor for me missing out on such an amazing experience.

Night was a book that really touched me. I read it first in middle school and then a couple times while writing my essay. For me it was something that inspired me. I’ve studied the Holocaust, I’ve read books like What is the What by Dave Eggers, and seen movies like Hotel Rwanda and my response is always the same: “I have to do something about this!” I mean, I’m still unsure on what I want to “be” when I “grow up”, I’m currently a Social Work major, but I’m still a little iffy on what I want to “do”.

I’m drifting some—but the future is a scary issue for me.

My point is that the world is a dark place, and I want to be a light to expose it. But to expose it I need to better understand the darkness. I think this is why I wanted this trip so much (that and freaking free trip to Poland!).  I can’t really fully understand the evil of man reading books or watching it on MSNBC, but maybe I could a little better if I saw this devastating piece of history with my own eyes. Walk the actual footsteps of Eli Weisel instead of just reading about it.

Anyways, I’m awaiting my interview with the other contestants, palms sweaty and everything, when it is announced that we may enter the room where the interviews will be held. I decide to pair up for this “speed date” type interview with Marisela and we sat down with two professors I had not met before. I was making small talk, trying to appear as un-awkward as possible to the two professors when it is announced that we are all going to Poland.

WE ARE ALL GOING TO POLAND!!!

Honestly, I thought Russell was playing some kind of a joke (he seems to me like a jokester), but after they started serving punch and cookies I concluded that this was either a very elaborate,  very mean joke or we are actually, in fact, all going to Poland.

I just want to say that I am incredibly psyched to be a part of this amazing experience and I know that we are going to have a great time together!

-Brant “Better Late Than Never” Nelson

Published in: on January 22, 2008 at 4:56 pm  Leave a Comment