Friday, December 3, 2010

Adopt an International Student for Holidays

Who said it's bad to be away from "home" for the holidays? It can always be a good opportunity to learn something new about the tradition/culture/history of a "new" place, especially when in good company!

Not that I'd ever celebrate Thanksgiving if I were not in the U.S., but as the saying goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." It's certainly great to receive many invitations for a "warm and yummy evening," but I could not refuse the suggestion to drive almost half-way through the country to... Arkansas, of all places!

My dear friend could not have been a better citizen diplomat...!

So, we went. Here are some noteworthy impressions... from the perspective of a public diplomacy freak.

Flags. Lots of them. Everywhere. Yeah, I never really, truly appreciated flags. But well, they are good symbols. They represent, and tell a story. Here's what I learned about the Arkansas flag:

- AR is the only place in North America where diamonds have been found and mined. Hence, the diamond shape.
- The flag got the 25 white stars, because AR was the 25th state to join the Union. 
- The top blue star in the center represents Arkansas' membership in the Confederate States during the Civil War.
- The other three blue stars represent Spain, France and the U.S.: all the countries that have ruled the land of Arkansas.
(No one's mentioning the the Native Americans, of course...)

Yes. This is the AR State Capitol. In Little Rock. Modeled after the National Capitol, built more than half a century after the one in D.C., with pretty impressive bronze doors, and... very welcoming. Certainly, the need for security cannot be comparable to Washington; and yet, I cannot but mention the welcoming smile of the guard who let us in, despite the fact that it was Thanksgiving day.

Inside the Capitol. Christmas time is here. Yay!

Heh, but of course... We're in Clinton-land!

Fayettville. Formerly Washington. Although the night was frosty, the sunset was very warm.

Thanksgiving! Yeah, missed the Turkey shot. Obviously, we were hungry. These deserve special mention, though. All home made!

The World Peace Prayer Fountain Sculpture in central Fayettville, featuring "May Peace Prevail on Earth" in more than 100 languages. A strong pacifist message!
Couldn't find Armenian. But saw Georgian!

Arguably, America's greatest Public Diplomat! Represented Arkansas for 30 years.

A cute statue in front of the Heifer International Project HQ, Little Rock. Great global outreach, and an integral part of overall public diplomacy. World Avenue in the background.

Hah! Beat that in terms of winning over an Armenian! 6 foreign flags, the second among them Armenian (third from left). They knew I was coming...!

Clinton-land II: The Presidential Library. Unfortunately, it was closed when we were around. Pretty neat-looking building, though. Definitely on the "to visit" list, if ever back in town.

Sneak-peek at the Old State House Museum. Current Madame Secretary's dress from... should be around 1980 some time. Red. Great choice!

Clinton's running shoes: perhaps the most weird item I've seen at a museum exhibit so far. Still, the rumor has it, many decisions are often debated and made while jogging. If only shoes could speak...

..... This was before they came up with the lethal injection. Eerie!

And certainly, the greatest and easiest way of cross-cultural bonding: FOOD. I've got to admit that despite my meat aversion, this beef bbq sandwich will be remembered for years to come. Yeah. We can overcome stereotypes!

To my dear friend: for the thousandth time, thank you for the great week!

And... have any of you invited an international student for Christmas, yet? :)



  1. Heifer International (HI) is an organization that claims to work against world hunger by donating animals to families in developing countries. Its catalog deceptively portrays beautiful children holding cute animals in seemingly humane circumstances. The marketing brochure for HI does not show the animals being transported, their living and slaughter conditions, or the erosion, pollution and water use caused by the introduction of these animals and their offspring.

    By definition, animals raised for food are exploited in a variety of ways. The animals shipped to developing countries are often subject to; water and food shortages, cruel procedures without painkillers, lack of veterinary care resulting in extended suffering as a result of illness or injury.

    A large percentage of the families receiving animals from HI are struggling to provide for themselves and cannot ensure adequate living conditions, nutrition, and medical care for animals they have been given. HI provides some initial veterinary training to individuals and the initial vaccines. But, long term care for these animals and their offspring is up to the individuals.

    To make matters worse, animal agriculture causes much more harm to the environment than plant-based agriculture. The fragile land in many of the regions HI is sending the animals cannot support animal agriculture. Although they say they encourage cut and carry feeding of the animals to avoid erosion, the reality is often quite different.

    The consumption of animal products has been shown in reputable studies to contribute significantly to life-threatening diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and a variety of cancers. Regions that have adopted a diet with more animal products see an increase in these diseases. The remote communities supposedly served by HI have no way of dealing with the health consequences of joining the high-cholesterol world.

    While it may seem humane and sustainable to provide just one or two dairy cows here or there, the long term consequences are an increased desire for animal products in local cultures leading to an increase in production. These communities may be able to absorb the additional water use of one or two cows, what happens when there are hundreds or thousands of dairy cows, each consuming 27 to 50 gallons of fresh water and producing tons of excrement? The heavy cost to animals, the environment and local economies is not figured into HI's business practices.

  2. Yes, but BBQ tastes good....

  3. @Anonymous 1: With all due respect, although you *might* have some valid points, I don't see the validity behind your overall argument. Particularly when it comes to the "sustainability of increased desire for animal products in local cultures." What would be a better alternative, may I ask?

    @Anonymous 2: bbq DOES taste good. but just like everything else, its taste is relative, too :-)

  4. Craig's BBQ is especially good, and so are the pies from acroos the street.

    1st anonymous: I think your cut and paste fromt the PETA website would be more effective targeting McDonalds than an international charity that honestly helps people. You argue about Heifer's business practices but seem to have no understanding of them. While it would seem to imply that a place called "Heifer International" would deal in a lot of cows, and they still do. But if you give a close to their actual programs, they strive to only use local or extremely well adapted animal breeds in the areas they serve. You get a Llama or Alpaca if you're in the Andes, water buffalo in India, goats, sheep, rabbits, bees, trees, pigs, etc. if where you live is most suitable for those items. Eating the animal--especially in the case of the medium and large breeds--is not the main goal but just a byproduct of animal husbandry. You use your ox to plow your field and grow veggies instead of solely a meat source; you milk your animals to provide healthy sustenance to your children, and shear them to provide warm durable clothing. The purpose and use of animals in a subsistence farming situation is completely different than the factory farming that is a legitimate target for attack. To claim the environmental outcomes are the same is just silly.

    Lena, I'm glad you enjoyed your trip! I hope to see you out here again over the Christmas holiday.


  5. I hope you had a chance to sample some of Little Rock's fun nightlife. If not, be sure to do so on a future visit!

  6. Thanks Ian! I do owe much of my bbq experience to your persuasive powers :-)

    As for Little Rock, my nightlife experience was limited to a couple of memorable beers at the Flying Saucer. However, it did look promising. I surely hope to see more of it some time!