Saturday, September 24, 2011

Week 4 USA: Wild Rides

Full of wild rides, the highlight of this week included the presentation of flowers to Stany and Shanty at an assembly of over 2,000 faculty, administrators, and staff employed at Portland Community College (PCC). Assembled only on the first day of each academic year, during 2-3 hours of speeches by the President of PCC and a few selected others Stany was allocated time to shared words with all present. His comments were very well spoken and received – leaving a fine first impression that should last throughout the coming months. I think he may not have realized how great an honor those at PCC feel it is to have him as a Fulbright Scholar here. Theirs were the only flowers presented to anyone during this event!

During the few days preceding this annual ``In-Service`` event, Stany and Shanty (together with my wife Kristine and I) spent three days and two nights a little over 200 miles away to the east. Shanty described traveling by car on the freeway as like ``floating on a cloud`` (so smooth and soft, with only an occasional wave of movement associated with a slight up or down in the pavement or sideways shift to the occasionally heavy winds in the Columbia River Gorge. As we floated our way for about 5 hours to Walla Walla in Washington State, we followed the course of the great Columbia River and marveled at the cliffs carved by it over many thousands of years. As we passed swiftly by small towns, three huge dams, and observed wind surfing, the landscape changed from the lush forests of the west to the high desert of the east and I shared memories long buried of life as I had known during a few pre-teen summers spent with my mother and step father at Sundale Orchards (as we drove by it): memories of sand dunes before the dams, of hunting for tribal arrowheads on the river banks and agate rocks in the hills.

Arriving in Walla Walla, we located our lodging at the Vineyard Inn, enjoyed lunch, and found our way to the office of Ashley Esary at Whitman College. It was in Dr. Esary`s ``Democracy in Asia`` seminar that Stany had his first U.S. classroom teaching experience – and where his wife Shanty was able to see him for the first time ever conducting a class! The chairperson of Whitman`s Political Science Department, Professor Shampa Biswas (a Bengali from Delhi who, like me, received a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota), also enjoyed Stany`s presentation which provided insights into the constitutional structure of government in India, how civil society movements relate to that structure, and prospects for reform efforts currently underway. Dean of the Faculty, Dr. Tim Kaufman-Osborne, graciously treated us all to dinner that evening at the Thai Ploy Restaurant where good conversations provided dessert to an eventful day.

Friday, September 16th, was spent at the Pendleton Roundup where we had a great time watching the annual ``Westward Ho`` parade prior to our going in to the stadium venue for the famous rodeo. The parade lasted fully two hours and included a total of 652 horses and more people carrying flags than I can remember anywhere! Covered wagons, marching bands, Native Americans in glorious traditional costumes, stage coaches, children scrambling for candy, and so many memories will remain from that event. Viewing it all were three little blonde-haired girls with family members next to us – two of whom took a great liking to Stany and sat with him. One unforgettably highlight involved a massive horse which stopped in the middle of the street to urinated such a large quantity of water as to have it flow down to the curb on both sides! Many of the horses which followed would balk at the mess and hop over it, providing chuckles in an ongoing manner. At the end of the parade, Stany and Shanty were amazed to see a street sweeping machine immediately using water to clean up all along the parade route. Smiling broadly, Stany observed how ``That would not happen in India``!

The Pendleton Roundup Rodeo was literally full of wild rides. With 101 years of tradition, over 50,000 people attend this yearly showcase of Cowboy and Native American athletic events that include bucking bronco horses, bull riding, calf roping, and bareback horse racing for both men and women. Our affordable $25 seats gave us a good view of both the crowd and the action. In the contests, it would seem the animals won over the humans about half the time, with each inflicting about the same pain upon the other. When the noise of the crowd permitted, Stany and I noted similarities between the violence of this entertainment and what is known of the gladiatorial contests of ancient Rome – though here the objective is not to take life. In fact, two human contestants and one calf were sufficiently injured to require being carried off the field of battle. The courage of the human athletes is admirable and naturally evokes a level of admiration that even a Gandhi might have felt. That the animals are not voluntary participants, however, may give pause to a thoughtful person. That said, what souvenir did I purchase for Stany and Shanty to take back to India as a reminder of this experience?: a set of spurs that are worn on boots used to provoke the spirited horses to buck! How thoughtful is that gift?!!

Before returning to Portland we rode around to other sightseeing. The Native American Museum associated with the Tamastglikt Cultural Institute near Pendleton included excellent exhibits relating to life current and present. Especially touching to me was walking through a replica of an Indian Boarding School where, for many decades, native cultural was systematically undermined with attempts to make traditional peoples become culturally white. We enjoyed huckleberry pie and cookies, fry bread/elephant ears (with sugar and cinnamon), and walked around the many booths set up for tourists in Pendleton`s city center. Stany and Shanti were especially pleased to take pictures of apple orchards near Milton Freewater where they strode amongst trees weighed down with dark red fruit ready for harvest. As in the Portland Rose Garden last week, Shanty observed how ``This is like heaven``! Additional glimpses of the Columbia River Gorge completed the weekend adventure, with stops at Maryhill Art Museum and a replica of Stonehenge (a 1,500 BCE ruin in England) which was built on a site dedicated to U.S. soldiers who died in World War I.

A relative day of rest on Sunday preceded the wild ride of events and meetings that would commence with the In-Service event at Portland Community College (PCC) on September 19th. Included among the additional meetings Stany and I attended were those held for Subject Area Committee (SAC) Chairs, all employees at the PCC Rock Creek Campus, the PCC Cascade Campus Social Science Division, the PCC Educational Advisory Council (EAC), and the Internationalization Steering Committee at PCC. 6 meetings totaling 16 hours in four days (thankfully Wednesday was not booked)! Stany was recognized as a special guest throughout and had many opportunities to begin relationships with people throughout the PCC system. Though quite tired each night, Stany seemed to thrive throughout it all, enjoying the ride and while absorbing a vast amount of information in such a short period of time. As classes commence next week, I believe that he may be declared well-oriented to understand how this institution operates!

Conversations of interest generated through topics inspired by this wild ride of information could certainly fill a roller coaster! The most stimulating of these related to issues that included homosexuality, student leadership development, faculty teaching styles, educational cost and funding concerns, curriculum development, and competing views regarding the role of education in society. At the EAC Meeting, for example, two hours were devoted to small and large group discussions responding to an article entitled ``Libe and Learn: Why We Have College`` by Louis Menand of Harvard University. Summarized briefly, Dr. Menand sought to objectively outline three theories of education he sees as competing for our allegiance; 1) a Merit Theory which sees the role of the teacher to separate the ``more intelligent from the less intelligent`` students via a grading system, 2) a type of Liberal Arts Theory which sees the primary purpose to socialize students to become citizens reflecting the ``mainstream of reason and taste`` in society, and 3) a Vocational Theory which that seeks to prepare students for employment by focusing on developing specialized skills.

Stany and I were among only a few of the 40 faculty and administrators present who took the discussion to a level which questioned Dr. Menand`s claim of objectivity and rejected the three theories all reflecting a common but crippling flaw: All frame the discussion with an unspoken assumption that sees the student as a commodity which the teacher must will with knowledge and somehow prepare to fit functionally into society as it currently operates. The idea that our personal and institutional responsibilities should extend to caring for the social and emotional needs of each student is largely absent. To not enter that realm of responsibility, which (to use the psychologist Abraham Maslow as a reference) is to virtually overlook the addressing of physiological, security, social, and self esteem needs that may be foundational to any student being academically successful. What is more, the lip service we may give to fulfilling critical and creative thinking objectives remain hollow if we are more concerned about 1) ranking students, 2) socializing students, or 3) getting students jobs – than actually helping to empower students to make their own choices as more self-actualized individuals (and more capable of changing society as it currently operates)!

Should not struggling with considerations of what justice should mean be also central to an ideal educational process? Should not teachers of higher education be more than competent purveyors of information and (radical thought?) become Professors? Should not the best Professors be more than evangelists for their own point of view and become leaders among those who seek improved understandings of what is True? I have no doubt that those I look up to would say yes to all three of these questions. People like Buddha, Socrates, Jesus, Mohammad, Galileo, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. are among those who inspire me to say yes. Yet to say yes certainly risks the enduring the wrath of society as it functions at the time. All of those I look up to have had to sacrifice the abuse of others (often giving up their lives) for the sake of greater justice in present and future generations. Shall the consequences of my commitments be any different? Should yours?

Life itself is quite a wild ride. That it sometimes includes honors and flowers is most pleasant. That it must include pain and sacrifice must be equally accepted.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Week 3 USA: Full of Activity

Connected to Stany and Shanty only by phone conversations this week, I will add some of their experiences from this week upon their arrival back to Portland. In their absence, our week has been full of activity that includes political demonstrations, a wedding, birthday celebrations, a religious retreat for my wife, several communications with our daughter in Costa Rica, and my preparations for classes to begin. The featured photo is of the Burnside Bridge in Portland where I (in the shadow) would later join others in holding 7 signs:

1) Bradley Manning, 2) Spilled the Beans, 3) Now War is Deadly by Any Means. 4) Our Lethal Drones, 5) Execute Civilians in Their Homes. 6) Stop War, 7) Free Bradley Manning.

For those who may have never heard about Bradley Manning (or have forgotten about him), he was a young U.S. Army soldier in Iraq who was arrested in May of 2010 on suspicion of releasing classified information (including 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables and footage of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Afganistan) to the website WikiLeaks. This information inspired the New York Times and many other newspapers to unveil many secrets in subsequent articles which, in turn, helped to fan the winds of revolutionary change in Egypt and elsewhere. After being held under inhumane conditions for over 10 months in solitary confinement (and often even without clothing), Bradley Manning awaits court martial proceedings in the medium security military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Local demonstrations throughout the U.S., including ours, seek his freedom and defend the principle that democracy functions best when secrecy is kept to a minimum.

In another event into which I had input, about 100 people gathered to commemorate the attack of 9/11/20 together with its aftermath. We met out of regards to the 2,753 mostly civilians who perished that day, and the over 6,000 U.S. servicemen who have died carrying out U.S. policies over the 10 years following that day. By some estimates, a total of over one million have lost their lives in Iraq, Afganistan, and Pakistan with more than 90% of these being civilians. A debatable combination of lies and erroneous information fuel by a cultural impulse seeking revenge accounts for most of this carnage.

We now know that, prior to the U.S. onslaught, the Taliban in Afganistan had offered to detain Osama Bin Laden pending a trial by an international tribunal, that Saddam Hussein had none of the ``weapons of mass destruction`` which were used by the U.S. to justify a pre-emptive strike against his regime in Iraq, and that President Musharif of Pakistan had been warned of a possible U.S. invasion of his country if he failed to cooperate with our ``War on Terror``. Might much, if not all of the suffering, caused by U.S. policies both prior to 9/11 and after have been avoided if we this country were to behave more as a compassionate neighbor than as an Empire defending its self-proclaimed ``way of life``? What would Gandhi say? Buddha? Jesus? Mohammad? What would you say?

Most of us say ``Yes`` to life most of the time. A dramatic example of that for our family this week were present in our attending a wedding for a friend of our housemate Iris where my wife and I were welcomed attendees of a Spanish Mass where two people of Mexican heritage exchanged their vows of lifelong commitment. Celebrating our former foster daughter`s birthday was another, with Margarita (Maggie) throwing a party for her daughter Hanilyn the next day at her home – with over 40 people overeating while enjoying the excellent music of a three-person Mexican band. Approaching 2 years old, Hanilyn and I played in a sandbox and later sat in my lap for a record 15 minutes (enjoying the scene and fascinated by my camera)! She also allowed my wife Kristine to feed her for the first time! After being neglected by us for the first year of her life (9 months of which we were traveling abroad), it seems that she is willing to forgive her strangely pale grandparents in her second year! All that certainly says ``Yes`` ~~ to me!

Much of the rest of the week was consumed by me preparing for Fall Term courses I teach as well as Kris attending a religious retreat for which she mostly maintained silence for three days. Shaman, Iris , and I managed some mindless entertainment while seeing the film ``Transformers III: the Dark Side of the Moon`` and, in fact, there was a lovely full harvest (orange) moon last weekend. Kris` niece Nicole gave birth to a healthy son with a great new name: Rory Boone (O`Neil). Our daughter Sonrisa has been having a fine time milking goats, picking coffee beans, and learning all about methane while working on an organic farm in Costa Rica. Our housemate Tom continues volunteering with Senator Merkely.

Overall, our lives this week have been fairly full of activity!From their week visiting relatives in Florida and Texas, Stany and Shanty had much to share. Their Florida adventure began with a long drive from Ft. Lauderdale down to the very bottom of the Florida Keyes. The beauty of the Palm Trees and tropical environment reminded them much of Kerala, though traversing the seven miles of bridges linking the islands was a sight almost beyond the imagination. Numerous waterways were reminiscent of the Kerala backwaters, though the alligators they saw in Florida are a contrast to what may be found in India. The weather, however, including the seasonal rainfall was much like that of Kerala, prompting Shanty to tell us that ``It was much too hot and humid, Uncle.``

In the way to Key West they had stopped to watch the launching of a satellite (Delta II) from the Kennedy Space Center where a whole day was spent. As the rocket made its way into the sky they were able to better imagine the reality of space exploration which they could see documented at the Space Center. There they learned all about the Apollo trips to the moon, together with artifacts from that time. There also was a Space Shuttle on display, open enough for them to see its inner workings. How amazing is the technology we humans have managed to create! Yet if we applied that energy to making peace on Earth, might that be an even greater ``giant step for mankind``? Perhaps a small step in that direct could begin with India and Pakistan working together to relieve their peoples suffering from a second year of belated and behemoth monsoon rains?

On their way back from Key West their tour stopped at Miami Sea Aquarium where they enjoyed viewing seals, sea lions, and dolphins. Apparently the dolphins were most impressive in the skills they displayed, leaping out of the water and high into the air seeming to smile all the time in accordance with their trainers instructions. Shanty observed how she had tried to use some of the hand signals on Stany but without much success (ha). I suggested that maybe Dolphins were smarter than her husband and I, and that she and my wife might have to employ other strategies on us to get what they want!

While there was no time during their few days in Florida to go to Disney World, Stany and Shanty were given the experience of going into a Casino. Stany observed the behaviors of folks ranging from younger people seeming to have a good time to a disproportionate number of senior citizens who appeared to take their gambling more seriously. Upon his return, we talked about the ``get rich quick`` attitude that many see as a growing cultural trend in the U.S. with many adverse consequences. For the few who do get rich quick, there is often a feeling of somehow deserving that which was not really earned, and a corresponding lack of willingness to share with others their good fortune. For the many losers the myth of the American Dream continues, together with the hope that only a little effort is needed to really score big! Ironically, Shanty played a little on the slot machines and won $100! Rather than celebrate and go for more, they stopped and gave the money away to help cover the cost of gasoline for the car transporting them around.

It is good that Stany and Shanty were able to share Saturday, September 11th in the company of family and friends. This is the climax of the Kerala harvest week of ONUM celebrated by all religious groups and economic classes. There children are released from schools for the week, family feasts are common, and traditional events are jointly celebrated. Had they been with us in Portland, Stany and Shanty might have been far more homesick. Skyping relatives in India provides some emotional sustenance – but there can be no real substitute for sharing with family in person at times like this. When I phoned them that day, I could feel the happiness in Stany`s voice.

Their flight to Dallas, Texas was like from a steaming pressure cooker into a fire. The dry heat of Texas was overwhelming for Shanty who was reluctant to leave the comfort of air conditioned rooms. ``It was like a desert, Uncle``! In fact, Texas is not unlike a burning furnace these days, with autumn heats still into the 90-100 degree Fahrenheit extending an historic period of draught which is still feeding wildfires near Austin that have consumed well over 1,000 homes. It is in this context, including extreme water rationing and livestock dying that Republican Governor and Presidential hopeful Rick Perry confesses his continuing skepticism regarding whether or not global warming is affected at all by human behavior. Such denial, perhaps, is made more possible by the most popular distraction (drug?) enjoyed in that state: American Football. Might sports be described as a great opium for the people? As long as the Texas Longhorn team (whose massive stadium Stany and Shanty were able to gaze at from the outside) stands tall, the painful death of longhorn steers can be of less concern those not too directly affected….

Shown great hospitality by their many cousins who live in and around Dallas/Ft. Worth, Stany and Shanty were encouraged to shop with them, but resisted in preference to good conversations in which they could affirm relationships which, in some cases had gone 15 years without personal contact. ``My father taught me well``, said Stany, ``that people are much more important than property``. ``Having more things does not bring happiness. Having loving relationships can do that.`` So it is that the Fulbright Scholar from India displays a more philosophical and spiritual side – a side that affirms to m that he and I have far more in common regarding basic values than I had realized when we were in India.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Week 2 USA: Seattle & the APSA

Stany and Shanty seem very small in this photograph of the most massive escalator I have ever seen. Inside the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle, there are three tiers cascading one after the other while extending to the fourth floor of the building! It is like a metal waterfall carrying people rather than water! By comparison with Portland or anything before seen in their experience, everything in Seattle seems massive: 60 story buildings (Shanty counted), extreme traffic on the streets, and the famous Space Needle rising to 605 feet (184 m.) making the skyline appear quite unique.

Driving 3.5 hours to Seattle from Portland, I decided the most dramatic entrance into the city would be by ferry boat across Puget Sound from the U.S. naval shipyard in Bremerton. It had been many years since Kris and I had taken this hour long ride and our timing allowed for the sun to be at our backs near sunset so as to have the best photo opportunities of the skyline from the water. My nostalgia was rewarded with sunshine as we drove our 10 year-old van onto the massive ferry (designed to transport up to 120 automobiles). An elevator up to the observation deck gave us access to an open platform on the front of the vessel where the only negative required us to endure a fairly cool evening breeze of salty air. The departing view of Bremerton was spectacular with three aircraft carriers docked in plain view. Large jelly fish could be observed in the waters passing quickly far below. Views of the Seattle skyline emerged as amazingly as expected. The ride was further enhanced by friendly conversation with a lone passenger, Paul, a software salesman now from Pittsburg who surprised us all by generously offering us drinks!

Upon arriving in Seattle nostalgia prompted me to suggest dinner at Ivar`s Restaurant on the waterfront. When I was a child living with my single parent father just south of this city, my Dad and I would take a pilgrimage to Ivar`s every time my grandparents visited from Kansas. Grandpa loved the fish & chips while Grandma liked the famous clam chowder and prawns. So it is we enjoyed the sunset over Puget Sound eating at Ivar`s. Only my nectarine salad was moderately priced and Stany successfully won the battle with me to pay the bill. Stany`s generosity was consistently present throughout this trip and he and I struggled to accommodate one another by generally taking turns on spending issues. He can be very insistent yet compromise was possible!

Our primary reason (excuse) to be five days (4 nights) in Seattle was for Stany and I to attend the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) that was held at the Convention Center featured in this week`s photo. We soon discovered why such a massive venue was needed, as this year`s event had over 7,000 people registered! Book publishers present were housed in a huge ballroom, with at least 75 displays enticing attendees to browse, adopt texts, or buy. Stany and I spent hours in this ballroom and I left with five books (3 at no cost and 2 at a discounted $10/each), with 4 additional complimentary copies to be mailed to me. Together we also collected a large variety of pens and other souvenirs available free of cost by the vendors – a stash that will help satisfy the need for Stany to provide gifts to many acquaintances upon his return to India! In these ways we helped recoup the substantial APSA membership and conference registration fees!

A most pleasant surprise was when we found Andrew Reiss at a display promoting Fulbright applications. Dr. Reiss had come to Portland Community College in the Fall prior to my departure for India – and remembered me from that brief visit two years ago. Very impressive! He, in turn, was impressed with how Stany and I had organized ourselves to each be granted a Fulbright to one another`s institutions in quick succession. It seems that such a thing is quite rare and, Dr. Reiss thought, likely worthy of having an interview arranged by Fulbright folks in Washington, D.C. (probably via phone or teleconference). Stany and I agreed to cooperate with any such request as we both, with great sincerity, feel indebted to Fulbright both for the opportunities we have had and for positive future educational outcomes that cannot fully be now seen. Dr. Reiss and I will be in ongoing communications regarding how Stany and I might be helpful.

Other activities associated with the APSA Conference included attending several panel presentations (often with only as many people in the audience as there were members of the panel), my attending a meeting of the Political Science Education Section(PSES) of the APSA, and making contact with many folks who may evolve into future relationships. At least two such people may apply to fill forthcoming teaching vacancies at my home institution, while I may share with several others multiple common interests at the APSA Teaching & Learning Conference now scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C. next February. At the International Reception, Kris and Shanty joined Stany and I in sharing with many Conference attendees coming from all over the world. Conversations with Political Science Instructors from Ghana, Turkey, and Argentina were especially stimulating, resulting in photograph gifts being sent out by me after our return to Portland.

We also managed time to play tourist, taking three afternoons to explore the famous Pike Place Market area and Seattle Aquarium as well as the Space Needle and Seattle Center (where I had attended the World`s Fair in 1962). Memories too many to mention would include watching children play in the massive fountain at the Seattle Center, listening to live music from an Ecuadorian folk group while Shanty and Stany went up 605 feet to the top of the Space Needle (=184m), and listening to a lecture from a scuba diver while she was among the fish in a huge tank at the Seattle Aquarium (seen through a widow at least 10 meters high and 15 wide. Most tasty of all our meals out, by far (in my opinion) was an all-you-can-eat Indian lunch buffet at Pablo`s at 3rd and Pike. Stany and Shanty also seemed very happy with their first native food in at least 10 days!

During our nights of sharing a large (2 queen sized beds) room at La Quinta Inn, the four of us lived as harmoniously as members of one family should, excited with the prospects of each new day. Stany was able to achieve email contact with a former classmate of his from India living in the Seattle area, resulting in he and Shanty having dinner out with Krishna and his wife (a reunion after 25 years)! We hope that these family friends will come down to Portland to continue the sharing begun in Seattle.

Our 4th night in Seattle we stayed at the home of my former step mother Ellen and her new husband Al who live in Mill Creek (about 30 minutes from downtown Seattle). Stany and Shanty were in awe of their fine home (including gargantuan bedrooms) as well as the recreational vehicle (RV) in their driveway (complete with its kitchen, bathroom, living area, and bedroom with queen-sized bed). My step-brother Mike and step-sister Carrie (with her daughter Katie) joined us for a fine meal provided by Ellen and we were able to talk well into the evening. Very pleasant. The next morning, after calling my Aunt Eunice (who was not feeling well enough for us to visit), we decided to postpone attending church so as to get an early start towards Mt. Rainier
(a substantial detour on the way back to Portland).

How could we not go to Paradise, when we had the chance? The drive to Paradise Inn (as high as any road goes on Mt. Rainier) was slow due to traffic associated with the Labor Day Holiday. Nostalgia again was mine as we slowly wound our way up the two lane highway I recalled from my childhood. I last traversed this route with my father and grandparents when I was 12 years old. 50 years ago. Even in early September, there was still snow when we arrived at Paradise Inn (much to the joy of Shanty), but not the Ice Cave I had hoped to enter again. A park ranger told me that the famous Ice Cave in my memory had fallen victim to global warming some 20 years ago. Perhaps that can also be explained away by those politicians still denying the reality of global warming and the human factors contributing to it….

Having missed by 15 minutes an evening Sunday evening Mass in Portland, we attended church at The Grotto on Labor Day morning. The Grotto is maintained by the Servite Order of the Catholic Church and is an area full of tall evergreen trees set against a cliff that rises to about 50 meters. Quite, serene, spiritual. Close to The Grotto we went to the top of Rocky Butte where, from a fortress-like structure, there is a fine view of the Coulumbia River Gorge, the Airport, and (about 4 miles distant) downtown Portland. Later in Labor Day, our housemate Iris joined Stany, Shanty, and I to visit the Pittock Mansion in Portland`s West Hills (with an amazing view of the Willamette River, downtown Portland, and Mt. Hood). From there we went to one of the largest rose gardens in the world at Washington Park. Recalling how much her deceased father loved flowers and trees, Shanty there proclaimed how ``This is heaven``! The roses were still almost entirely in bloom, displaying a variety of colors almost beyond belief. Stany and Shanty will certainly remember Portland as many do: the City of Roses.

On day 13 of their time in Oregon, I gave Stany and Shanty a short tour of all three campuses of Portland Community College from smallest to biggest starting with Cascade (about 25,000 students), to Rock Creek (about 30,000), to Sylvania (about 35,000). Urban, to rural, to suburban. We managed to have time to meet and share with all three Division Deans with who Stany will be working Nancy Wessel (at Cascade), Karen Sanders (at Rock Creek), and Loretta Goldy (at Sylvania). We also met with two of three campus Presidents, David Rule (at Rock Creek) and Linda Geis (at Sylvania) – both of whom invited us out to share future meals prior to Shanty`s scheduled departure on October 10th. Judging from photographs taken, my impression was that Stany and Shanty were very taken by each campus – but may have liked the physical presence of Rock Creek the best, with its 240 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and farming area.

Tomorrow Stany and Shanty will begin their third week in the U.S. in Florida (where they will be for 5 days), followed by Texas (where they will stay 2 days). This hectic schedule is to see relatives from Kerala living in the U.S. while also finding out there is much variety to this country beyond the Pacific Northwest. They willo return to Portland in a week`s time full of new adventures to tell us all about!

Week 1 USA: Many Things New

Fulbright Scholar Stany Thomas and his wife Shanty arrived safely to Portland on August 25th after 22 hours of flying from Kochi to Mumbai and through Amsterdam! Our reunion was heartfelt as these are family to us and it has been 16 months since we last shared. Pictured here near Timberline Lodge on the slopes of Mt. Hood, we can see the excitement in the eyes of Shanty at having seen and touched her first snow! This was their favorite photo from week one of their time in the U.S.. Stany is keeping a detailed journal from which he intends to compose an account of his own impressions of the experiences coming at him fast and furious. We are agreed that I will continue to relay my impressions of what we experience, at least until he adds his own commentary.

Many things new for Stany and Shanty is an extreme understatement. Even if we had not arranged such a busy schedule of activities for them, the list of what has been new this first week would go far beyond enjoying the remnant of snow on Mt. Hood. In terms of food alone, new tastes would include a first time for strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries; cantaloupe, pears, and nectarines; crepes, waffles, and dutch babies for breakfast as well as Mexican, Italian, and Middle Eastern meals. Knowing Stany quite well, I had expected him to fully welcome every opportunity to experience new things, Shanty surprised me by do the same – and with gusto! Wide-eyed at the life that was coming at her, she embraced it all, honesty assessing everything according to her preferences: strawberries, waffles, and spicy enchiladas were all definite winners!

A recurring theme was established even from the short trip from the airport to our home: ``Everything is so very clean, Uncle, and so organized!`` It is odd that this was not much in my consciousness before. Having seen the rubbish typically to be found on the sides of roads in Kerala and experienced the normal chaos that is involved in traveling there, it occurred to me: they are right. Our streets in Portland are pristine by comparison – and so well paved and managed by stop lights as to be no adventure to us! Yet for Stany and Shanty that first evening, circling the downtown area of our city on a freeway with three or more lanes on each direction (and in only minutes at 55 miles per hour (about 90 km/hour), must have been nearly miraculous.

We finished their first full day ever outside of India with a trip to a video rental store (Movie Madness) which doubles as a small museum (including Julie Andrew`s dress from The Sound of Music) and some pie at a neighborhood café (The Bipartisan), where coconut cream was preferred by both of them over Marionberry. ``Clean and organized`` was also the impression left by this counterculture café with the rough timbered floors, when Shanty was observed by me starring at the tattooed waitress with the colorful hair who was sweeping the floor. As I asked her what she thought of the waitress`s appearance, Shanty replied that it was the broom that had been the focus of her attention. ``It is very different from what we use back home.`` Both she and Stany seem to be completely accepting of the diversity of cultural expressions that are found here and are most astonished by things like the freeways and brooms! Upon reflection, I wonder why that should be surprising? In the multicultural environment of India, a wide variety of appearances is not unusual, but seeing radically new physical environments is cause for wide eyes.

Oregon is known for the great beauty of the natural environments we take great care to preserve. On day two of their time here (and after resting to begin recovering from jet lag), my wife Kris and I took our guests on a 30 minute drive from our home to Vista House at Crown Point, a structure built in 1825 to provide a panoramic view of the Columbia River Gorge. This and nearby waterfalls remain breathtaking even to those of us who have seen them many times. We hiked halfway up to the top of Multnomah Falls, with waters crashing into a pool 620 feet (over 200 meters) below where gravity begins the descent. Blessed with a gloriously beautiful sunny day also on day three, we drove out to see the blueberry farm where I had picked my fill two days before, enjoyed a picnic at Wildwood Park on the Salmon River, and completed the nearly 2 hour trek up to Mt. Hood. All events associated with this lovely Sunday to see snow were enjoyed with in the company of Reynaldo Jr. (8 year old step son to our foster daughter Margarita). He also had never been to Mt. Hood, so he and I had a short snowball fight there (until my sandaled feet became numb with cold).

Before returning Reynaldo to his home (where Shanty was most pleased to hold our granddaughter Hanilyn), there was the traditional stop at the Dairy Queen for ice cream. I mention this only because it illustrates how small things that are often taken for granted become worthy of becoming photographed! Inside and out Shanty was taking pictures, including one of Stany coming out of the bathroom! When I laughed and asked why she did this, she simply replied ``So clean and organized, Uncle``. Again, should I be surprised? There are no such restaurants (if we can call them that) in Palai, Kerala. Not even in Kottayam, and hardly in Cochi. No McDonalds, Olive Gardens, or Thai restaurants. It is all so new. Being with Stany and Shanty helps Kris and I become more aware of small pleasures that abound in the environment we now share with them. It is like seeing life anew through childlike eyes. Hopefully they will not become too accustomed to everything too quickly, as this is a most enjoyable experience to be with them as they explore all that which is so new.

My wife and Shanty visited The Dollar Tree (a store filled with cheap stuff which all costs one dollar). We also went shopping to Target, to WinCo (a worker-owned grocery store where we buy most of our food), and to Fred Meyer (part of a chain now owned by Kroger Foods). Each of these stores are in size far beyond anything that has been seen by them before. As Shanty was taking photos inside the Fred Meyer store, I found myself remembering with fondness the small markets where we would purchase produce in Palai. Few of the corner grocery stores I knew in my youth remain in the U.S. now. Is big really better? Certainly more stuff is readily available – but does that stuff make us happier? Does the bigness of our stores today do much to build relationships? I think not.

Relationships are much more tight in Kerala. Stany and Shanti brought gifts with them from home, including my request for toothpaste! Five tubes of Meswak (a non-fluoridated mix of ingredients including a rare herb combined with a licorice-like fennel taste)! The funny thing is that I could only describe the color of the tube to Stany before he departed from India. He got the proper brand by going to a small store which we had gone to (maybe five times) – and the cashier there remembered what I had purchased (over a year and a half ago)! Even the fairly superficial relationship I had with that cashier, half a world away, allowed Stany to find it. What are the odds of such a thing happening in the U.S.? Traditional, rural, societies where businesses are small and people know one another – have much to be said in their favor. My wife hopes that this may encourage me to brush my teeth more. It probably will! I like licorice! This toothpaste is like candy!

The remainder of our first week together was all about building relationships here. Shanty and Kris attended church several times (a daily practice they both share), with Stany and I tagging along once. The Mass at Ascencion Parish was far less formal than they are used to, but was enjoyed by both of them with the same grace with which they embrace other new experiences. On day four we were invited to the home of T.K. and Cathy (for a pot-luck associated with the homeless program at the church), where Stany and Shanty were also able to share with other volunteers including a refugee from Vietnam and his wife, as well as a person of Italian heritage who came with her daughter and husband (who has advanced Alzheimer`s). As if talking with the church crowd were not enough, the following day we were all at Kris` sister Maria`s home for a dessert extravaganza/party for Elise (a niece who is relocating to Hawaii). It was there Stany and Shanty were able to meet a portion of the Pierie Clan: my wife`s family) as well as see our son (Shaman), two daughters (Sonrisa and Mira), as well as Mira`s friend Naomi all in the same place at the same time.

Shaman, Sonrisa, Mira, and Naomi had all enjoyed the hospitality of Stany and Shanty` extended family during their time in India with us. The reunion of all here was heartwarming for me to witness. It was wonderful to see how the former hosts (Stany and Shanti) can now be so well hosted! Needless to say, our two guests have been staying up late into the night processing photographs, writing emails, and talking together (in Malayalam) using excited tones. Excited tones go off the scale during the daily Skype sessions they have each morning on their laptop computer with their three young children (back in Kerala) as well as several other households of family members who have downloaded the free communications program. Kris and I are also invited into some of these sessions (giving all an opportunity to practice understanding our difficult, for them, American English accents). We really are ``Uncle`` Michael and ``Aunt`` Kris!

In short, this first week was a whirlwind of things new. So much fun. Details were easily taken care of with regards to setting a bank account up for our guests, arranging for cell phone service, and applying for a Social Security Card (required of Stany). Each day was another adventure for them as well as for us!