Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Foreign Food

I have been asked to describe my favorite meal. However, I eat way too much and have far too many isolated, favorite food & drink experiences to ever write about just one. Unfortunately they never would align themselves at one time, in one meal. Instead I will tell you about my favorite eating environment, though the food itself wasn't bad either. The environment I am talking about was when I spent a month in Ukraine, the summer of two-thousand and seven. I stayed with a host family of four and one roommate from our group, Kevin. Every morning we had breakfast with Natasha (the mom), and this is where I begin my story:

At dawn I would wake up without a single shred of “tired” left in my body. I can’t explain this. Normally I am the sleeping giant who wakes up swearing vengeance at the morning. But for some reason all of that unexplainably disappeared. In Ukraine I would wake up refreshed and ready to go. Then I’d get ready, take a shower, brush my teeth, and make my way to the kitchen. Most of the time Natasha would be standing in front of the kitchen counter tending to various simmering pans or steaming bowls. I will never forget the smell. A fresh smell like something you would expect from a garden. It must have been herbs and plants and vegetables all combining to create one amazing smell. Sometimes I would walk in and she would be cooking alone. She would turn and greet me with a smile and a nod. I would do the same. Other times Kevin would already be at the small table that was positioned in the corner; the seats that lined the walls wrapped around part of the table creating an “L”. He would be in the corner eating away, sometimes making small talk with Natasha; who by the way spoke no English whatsoever. Most of the time she would sit with us and try to talk about things. It was really pretty amazing how much we were able to communicate. With Kevin being proficient in Russian and with Natasha’s translation book, we could almost talk about anything. Throughout our morning visits we discussed politics, sports, food, education, and many other topics that have since slipped through my remembrance. Of course we could only go so deep into the details. It was just enough so that we all understood to the point where languages didn’t have to do the explaining. These were perhaps the most unique times of the trip. Nothing can replicate or come close to those mornings in that small cozy kitchen, sitting before Ukrainian food and piping hot tea, sunned by the morning, cooled by the breeze, and listening to totally different people try and talk to each other.

The Tale of Two Carpenters

One day in 1939, two carpenters were building a house in the middle of a wide-open field. Each carpenter carried his tools in a big wooden toolbox. While they were eating lunch, the field caught on fire and burned one of the toolboxes, partially damaging the wood handled tools inside. One carpenter said to the other, “This Julys been awfully hot. Fires have been popping up all over the state. I bet we can do most of the work with just my tools.” So they cut their losses and finished the house with the tools they had.

One day in 2009, two carpenters were building a house in the middle of a wide-open field. One carpenter, in the spirit of the past, decided to use his grandfather’s old toolbox. Yes, it was rusty and worn and the tools were well beyond dilapidated, but he knew the toolbox and the tools inside were true. They had built his home, they and his grandfathers’ hands. It was the home that withstood his childhood, standing strong to this day. The other carpenter wasn’t into sentiment, and used a modern toolbox mostly made of plastic and metal. While they were eating lunch, the field caught on fire and burned the wooden toolbox, destroying the already weathered tools inside. The carpenter laughed at the antique remains, “I told you that old wooden toolbox was a waste of time. Now we’re only going to get half the work done, and in double the time. That’s what you get for your sentimental malarkey.” Eventually the smart mouthed carpenter quit the job, leaving the other carpenter to finish the house on his own.

The moral of the story is two-fold. First, with fewer commodities and harder work required, we learn more and are sharpened as people. Convenience is too shady a trap, yielding quicker results, lazier work ethics, and sub par quality. Where convenience was intended to compliment time, it had no intention of enriching the substance of people. Lastly, we may advance as a culture, in intellect, technology, and knowledge, but that does not mean we are allowed to lose our compassion along the way. Furthermore, though the times do change, that does not concede the right to forget what morals and care have taught us since the beginning of the world. People have grown accustomed to changing their values as humanity changes its costume. I am one to believe some things are worth holding onto, no matter what. Progression as a culture is a shady mix between voluntary and involuntary, some would even say vital, others would argue to tread forward only with extreme caution, but for either stance – regression as humans gets us nowhere, it even leads us down.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Manifest Destiny

Driving has taught me something about the nature of people, or maybe even the nature of America. I shall explain. Maybe I am just a slow driver, but I'm always confronted with eager speedsters who find themselves stuck behind my slow set of wheels. So they ride the bumper until open road is available, where he (or she) zooms off towards open road and freedom. Yet 90% of the time I meet them at the stoplight (or in extremely satisfying cases up the road getting a ticket). This insatiable need and desire for possession is the same need and desire that defined Manifest Destiny, or exploration of the West. After all its advances, these hurry-stricken road hogs are my best example of the destiny still at work, at least on a simple day-to-day basis.

The problem with me and the problem with where I am, is this:

1. How I define my own personal Manifest Destiny

2. When I deem my "destiny" reached

3. And how to sooth its ravenous nature

Let me exemplify. Not long ago I overheard an ECU student talking to a professor. He said to the professor, "I'm gonna be honest with you. I gotta get the [expletive] out of here." He was referring to Ada, Oklahoma, the town I have lived in for most of my life. He went on to greater details about where he came from and where he would rather be, when he said that I immediately thought about the eager car stuck behind the content car; an inhibition of sorts. I realized that's what Ada was to many people: a roadblock, the slow car blocking you on the freeway of your life.

Why is Ada like that? What makes it a roadblock to peoples hopes, dreams, ambitions, desires, freedoms, peace of mind, etc.? Why can't Ada be that feeling when you speed past the slow car and find yourself in front of open road? At times I feel like I'm stuck behind Ada and my life is raring to put the pedal to the metal, other times I feel like I am comfortably driving the Ada mobile, and my life is in perfect, content sync with the geographic location of Ada, OK, and on the rarest of occasions, I feel like Ada is somehow that open road feeling.

While others have defined themselves by what our culture has to offer. I have somehow managed to avoid that pull. And people feel deprived because they need things out there that places (such as Ada) cannot offer. Maybe this is why it feels like a life-draining town. I only suffer from the dilemma because so many I am around are apparently stuck behind Ada and not happy about it. It's hard for me to connect to people when they don't care or have no desire to identify with what I am at peace with. Does this mean I don't wish to see the world, or automatically close off options that reach beyond Pontotoc County? Obviously not, but I will not subject my life's direction to change simply because I have allowed my identity to be defined by huge, over reaching, near insatiable riches. I think in peoples' attempts to find life, they are really missing it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Blog sense

My blog sense is totally off. If I were to try and make my blog sound like other blogs, it probably would. But I don't want my blog to sound like other blogs. I want my blog to sound like a semi-interesting dime novel. Nevertheless, if I keep going after one writing style for too long, it will be impossible to change the pattern. Until then I will just write down thoughts.