Sunday, November 23, 2008

on beautiful days and giving thanks

It was a beautiful day.

It was one of those days where you keep trying to take a photograph in your mind of every moving moment and every time the light from the sun catches on your face. A day when finally your soul can rest in the comfort of converation and cups of coffee, when the people you are with are the people you love and the sky seems so wide and full of wonder.

I am so blessed. Some people say lucky, and others say fortunate, but I feel like those words can be a copout because they don’t imply that what you have is given from someplace else.

Two friends and I drove up to Spokane today to take my roommate Adrienne to the airport, to kiss her forehead and tell her we loved her and can’t wait til she is back with us. The dimensions these friends and neighbors of mine have been constantly adding to my life lately is astounding; I keep being amazed by the grace they have for me and that we have for each other ever day. It’s like every day another layer of ourselves is pushed aside so we can grow deeper and closer and more real.

To be honest, my heart craves to leave Moscow some days. I feel suffocated here sometimes, with the nearest city being over an hour away, and where I can’t go anyplace without running into a familiar face. Sometimes I feel like I am trapped, and I look at the next two or three years I will spend at the University of Idaho as a neverending stretch of time.

But more often than not, I realize that my life has found the consistency that it has been lacking for so long. This place, Moscow, is where I belong right now. I realize that these friends – these people I have been able to surround myself with – are my lifelines. My constants. My makeshift and dysfunctional family that supports and loves one another no matter what goes down, no matter who or what wins the battle. And sometimes we fall short, and we lose, and we are let down. But I think that’s okay.

I think we are learning through the rain to appreciate days like today even more deeply. A day when I start my morning dancing with my roommate to Aretha Franklin and ACDC in our pajamas, and cups of coffee with pumpkin creamer sit beside me while I open the shades to let the sun shine in to flood our apartment. A day when my friends and I serenade my mother over the phone singing ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,’ and when the open road in front of you seems like the most wonderful thing on earth.

Thanksgiving week is here and soon the day will come crashing in around us and be gone again without warning.

But when I give thanks, I give thanks for today.

I am thankful for this moment, new beginnings, for my friends and neighbors that have come to support me through the sleepless nights and the rainy days. I give thanks for right now, for the ability to change and to be changed, for how bright the sun can shine, even in my small town, and even in November.

It is true; I am exactly where I was meant to be, and for that, I am grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Friday, November 14, 2008

on fighting for the logical and late-night revelations

I lose myself in thoughts sometimes. Times like tonight.

Trying to be profound and say all the right things. Trying to spill my heart out in a way that is appropriate and politically-correct. I fight for the logical, wanting to badly to make sense of all these things, of all these events and people and places around me.

I'm finally coming to terms with the fact that life doesn't make sense.

I'm finally beginning to realize that I can't control other people. I can't make them want me, I can't make them be friends with me, and most of all, I can't always be friends with everyone in life, no matter how challenging that is for a people-lover like myself. For someone that is used to being the girl everyone wants to be buddies with, that is becoming difficult for me. To know that my actions don't always define what will become of something. To know that I am not always supposed to steal the show and know all the right things to say and when to say them.

It's not about me.

It's even hard to see that spelled out in black and white, because in our culture we are so accustomed to fighting for our individuality. We are raised and trained-up to want to be recognized. In our country especially, we whore ourselves out to the spotlight, wanting to draw attention in whatever way we can. Uniqueness is a wonderful thing, and life would be monotonous without it, but I am finding that there are some things that are more important. Recognizing the everyday blessings, seizing what is nearest and making the most of it, loving the friends that you have and the place you are at in life.

That is difficult for me, lately. Though I'm not sure why.

Maybe it's because for the first time in my life, I actually care what people think about me. I actually worry about it. This is odd, because one of the things I have always taken pride in is my self-reliance, my confidence and security in who I am and what I am chasing after in life. I am still chasing after those things, but I doubt myself some days. I doubt that I am beautiful, that others think I am beautiful, that I am worth chasing after and pursuing. It's not that I don't have people interested in me, it's just that it doesn't seem genuine, and usually they are intoxicated or desperate - sometimes a frightening combination of the two. Finding men-folk to hang out with that can actually carry on a profound and meaningful conversation are few and far between, let alone ones that I am attracted to and that feel the same way.

It's not all about intimate relationships, though. Then again, it rarely is. And, as previously established, it's not about me.

What is it all about, then?

I often think that it is love; that this is the one thing that makes us different from animals and our ancestors. We have the ability to love, to be self-aware, to extend that love to others and to see the fruits of that as we grow older and have deeper and more meaningful relationships with others. I find that the older I get the easier it is to spill out my life stories to whoever wants to hear them, unashamedly. Because I love where I have been, where I am at and where I am going. That's it. Life is about love. Love of neighbor, country, yourself, and dreams.

One of the things I love about Spanish is how it differentiates between different kinds of love, and for this reason I feel like that language is so much more expressive and passionate about deep thought and emotion. In English, we say we love our spouse and that we love food in the same sentence. We equate how we feel about a movie with how we care about our deepest friend. In Spanish, they have a word for loving an inanimate thing, for liking a thing, for being in the midst of falling in love with someone, and for actually being in love with someone. The verb for loving a sandwich or the weather is a completely different and unrelated word to the love you have for human beings and for lovers. I love that.

Yes. That's it. It's all about love. Love is all you need (mentally humming the Beatles).

That's my 2:45 revelation for today. Tune in next week for my views on developing nations and indigenous rights (not really).

Friday, November 7, 2008

on ethics and preserving the yanomami

Sometimes I wish I didn’t care so much.

At times I wish that I had the ability to turn off compassion, to be able to sleep at night even knowing that others are suffering. That's probably not true, in reality. But I am sleepless, yet again, and for a group of indigenous people I have never met.

In my anthropology class we are involved in a project designed to bring attention to one of the field’s biggest controversies – the Yanomami people of Brazil and Venezuela, and their plea to the international community for help. In the 1980’s, anthropologist Chagnon and genealogist Neel took blood samples from these indigenous people, offering to trade them goods and weapons in exchange for their blood. They promised them that it was for medical research; to find out more about the Yanomami people and their diseases and more importantly, to help them find a cure that would improve the quality of life among their people.

In short (very short), because I spent twelve hours reading up on this today and have no good way to sum it up, here is what I learned:

The Yanomami have had no results back, and have received little to no assistance with the epidemics they are facing because of the exposure to the team back in the 1980’s. Neel has been accused of intentionally giving them inappropriate doses of a vaccine to see how it affected them, while Chagnon has been accused of dishonesty while gathering the samples, not getting adequate permission to use them as he intended, and for misrepresenting this group as an overly-violent people.

What’s even more disturbing, in Yanomami culture, all remains of their deceased are to be destroyed. If this is not carried out, they believe that the dead will wander, unable to leave earth, and will furthermore cause problems among the living out of anger for their part in keeping them from eternity. This is as foundational a belief to them as Heaven and Hell is to most of us in our culture. Today, the blood samples taken decades ago are still being stored throughout several locations and universities in the United States, and some Yanomami are outraged. No one told them that the samples would continue to exist, even some beyond their donors’ deaths, and some claim that they were deceived into thinking differently by the scientists.

Again, in short, I am sleepless tonight thinking of all the sleepless nights these people must have endured, knowing that their loved ones are not at rest, that they were deceived because of their previous lack of exposure to the Western world. I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep knowing that mothers have mourned their children, without knowing if samples of their blood were still in existence someplace else, preventing them from their designed course into afterlife. It is as hauntingly and terribly moving as thinking of our loved ones in hell. And it could be prevented.

I am not claiming I believe or find personal merit in any of their religious beliefs, but in a practice like anthropology where ethics and honesty should be key, there is something deeply disturbing to me about this whole situation. It is unethical. It is dishonest. It is destroying the culture of a people most have never heard of. Most of all, it’s just wrong.

Here is the letter I wrote as my assignment… it is a joint letter to Dr. Joseph Fraumeni (of the National Cancer Institute which is facilitating the return of the blood samples on the American side) and to Carlos Eduardo Oliveira (the key official on the Brazilian government’s side) to try and urge them to sign the waiver to begin negotiations to find a way to resolve this issue. I spent hours on it, so I figured I would post it just in case anyone cares enough to research it a little on their own and see what they can do. Pressure from university students nation-wide is what prompted negotiations in the first place.

Think what we could accomplish if more people were aware, eyes open and listening.

Here is the letter I submitted for my assignment.


Dear Dr. Fraumeni and Mr. Oliveira,

There are many controversies in the field of anthropology demanding attention. There are many issues, on large and smaller scales, all crying out for the day when they will reach resolution. It is understandable that proceedings for any of these items are carried out cautiously and with ample time for the voices of all parties to be heard. One cannot deny the importance, however, of an immediate intervention in the case of the Yanomami people. I am writing today in hopes of turning your attention toward the urgency of their predicament; inspiring you to take action and sign the pending waiver agreement as quickly as possible so that one of today's most pertinent anthropological issues may be one step closer to reaching resolution.

First off, when looking at this issue in its entirety, the "Do No Harm" standard should not only encompass physical or tangible harm but also that of emotional and spiritual well-being. I, personally, believe that part of the beauty in anthropology itself is that it studies not only the physical properties of the human race, but also the importance of their beliefs, ideologies, customs and religions. The American Anthropological Association clearly states in its Code of Ethics that “researchers must do everything in their power to ensure that their research does not harm the… dignity, or privacy of the people with whom they work, conduct research, or perform other professional activities” (AAA 1998). How can one deny, then, the significance of honoring the religious beliefs and customs of the Yanomami?

I have recently been provided with ample information and resources on the subject of the Yanomami and the storage of their blood samples in various facilities across the United States, and have been moved by their plight for our international attention and action. In our culture here in America (and in many other countries worldwide) it is customary to bury our dead, to join together with others in reverence for their lives, and to know that they are resting safely in whatever eternity we believe awaits them. If that right were to be taken away, what consequences and what turmoil would that stir up in the hearts of the affected? We would feel violated - we would cry out, we would stand up, and we would make our voices heard.

Unfortunately, the Yanomami do not have access to the same resources or technology that much of the world is now accustomed to. It is much more difficult to make your opinions heard in the international community without these things, and thus they are looking to influential leaders like yourselves to help further their cause and amplify their voices. I am asking you on their behalf because I believe that without ethics and respect for other cultures and beliefs, the foundation of anthropology is no foundation at all. Regardless of the original intentions for use of the blood samples by other individuals, the power to formally return them and to initiate proceedings to resolve this issue lies in your hands.

All in all, I know that I do not have all of the answers - I, personally, have little say or influence in Yanomami affairs. Being aware of your key position in this matter, however, I encourage you to take into consideration the burden this situation has placed on the shoulders of the Yanomami and the way it has challenged and upset their very core beliefs about life, death and spirituality. The responsibility to act has been entrusted to you, and I believe that a resolution in the not-so-distant future is very much within reach.

Sincerely and with hope,

Dayna Buri