Where the motivation started – Part I

I graduated from James Madison University on May 4th, 2013. My pursuit of many years of the educational victory had ended. But what was next? Fortunately, I had applied, and been accepted to, Semester at Sea. I was about to embark on yet another semester of classes – only these classes would be taken while traveling the world on a ship.

The day that we embarked from Southampton, England, I lost my phone. What a blessing! Off the grid on a ship, and now off the grid without my phone. There was no excuse NOT to live in the moment. So I did. In every country to which we traveled.

I found myself taking note of the need that resided in each of the countries on our itinerary. I remember stepping into Russia – our FIRST port – and being overwhelmed by the idea that it was illegal to be gay.

Need for equality

In Germany, I went with a group of students to volunteer on a foster care farm. I should have helped paint the walls of their barn or helped assemble their new soccer (futbol) goal. Instead, I spent the whole time playing with the children. I was so intrigued by the life the children and I brought out in each other, it felt like a waste to ignore it. I knew then and there that children had to be part of my future.

Need for foster care parents

Need for children in my life

As I hitchhiked my way from Belgium through France, I couldn’t help but inhale the curling lines of smoke that drifted off the ends of so many cigarettes. The gnarled images on the cigarette cartons made me consider Europeans either as ignorant or as challengers of death.

Need for cleaner air

We arrived in the home of my ancestors, Ireland. It even reminded me of my childhood in Seattle. The gray skies and luscious green grass gave me a sense of security and comfort. However, that comfort dissipated after learning about the country’s massive debt to Germany and France; the economy’s instability; and the price for beer. I even read on posters that there was going to be a vote to eliminate the Seanad (Ireland’s Senate) which could save over €20 Million per year. There was great discussion about this, but many of the people with whom I spoke were unknowing of the entirety of the consequences.

Need for greater political awareness

Need for greater economic independence

Yo solo hablo un poco de español – I only speak a little Spanish – and no portuguese. The language barrier was present once we docked on the Iberian Peninsula. Within a day of visiting Lisbon, a friend and I started our journey to Granada, Spain via hitchhiking. We were fortunate enough to acquire rides without being incarcerated, unlike a shipmate of ours, and with a few drivers who spoke English. Portugal’s economy was declining rapidly and many people were losing their jobs, including many of the family members of our second driver. The Portuguese economy is on a downward trend due to a decline in small, mom and pop businesses who makeup many of their total businesses. Even though anyone can create a company in 10 minutes and with about €50, many choose to work with those who are close and who they trust. This restricts the potential for foreign monetary exchanges and limits their business possibilities to revive the economy.

Need for a more globally focused entrepreneurial incentive program

Crossing into Spain on the A22 Highway was a glorious sight as we bounded over the connecting bridge. We were introduced to the beautiful country with a very California-esque feel. I have been to California; I have lived in California; I have known Californians who work very hard. But in Spain, it is a common expectation that someone else will pay one’s bills. I am sure there are plenty of hard-working Spaniards, but that doesn’t acquit the entire country from being part of the PIGS – this is in reference to the lot of European countries (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) that were awarded loans from mainly France and Germany and ate them up without any real return.

Need for action

I remember waking up and looking out my porthole to see the shipping containers labeled “Marsa Moroc”. It was my first sight of Africa. The group with whom I traveled disembarked the ship and immediately headed for Marrakech. Taking a bullet train is something I have yet to experience in Japan and this train was far from that. When it finally pulled up, I had a sudden rush of adrenaline as my dad’s stories flooded back into my head. Every night before bed, Papa P would provide the most tantalizing adventures from his worldly travels. He had spent over a month driving through Morocco when he was a few years older than am and it changed his life.

Upon arriving, our tour guide mentioned that we would have some time in Marrakech to wander the Madina. This was where Papa P turned into a bargainer – his skills would later be perfected in India. I attempted to video a dancer in the square, but she automatically rejected my recording and demanded that I pay her.

We traveled to the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains where the native Berber people lived. For the next two days, we hiked and lived with the Berber, eating food they prepared for us. Good food. Food that grew in healthy gardens and fields. Children approached me, as they once approached my father, asking for “Bom Bom” (candy) with scattered-teeth smiles. Many of the children’s teeth had seen better days. That did not stop them from having fun. The boys in the village followed each of my footsteps. Whatever I did, they copied. Papa P told me stories of when he was my age and danced with kids in Morocco. The connection I felt with Papa P standing in a place that he had perhaps once stood was overwhelming. I was so glad to live in those moments and not have a phone.

Need for toothbrushes and dental awareness

Need for children in my life

Our second stop in Africa was Takoradi, Ghana. A bus met us as we disembarked the ship and took us to the front gate of the working port. As we approached the divider, we could see a crowd of Ghanaians waiting for our arrival. We stepped towards the exit and the commotion from the Ghanaians increased. Our arms were grabbed and pulled in each direction. Ours ears were flooded with calls of “My friend” and “Donate to my futbol team”. Shirts were held in our faces. Bracelets with our names were immediately crafted once our names were revealed. I felt my privacy diminish and my anxiety increase. I grabbed my friend’s arms and marched towards a cab driver who distanced himself from his compatriots. We were off to the city center.

As the day’s progressed in Takoradi and then in Tema and Accra, it was extremely apparent how our influence was demanded. Multiple children came up to me and my friends, tugging at our shirttails. “Can I have your phone number? I want you to pay for my education”. A government is only as powerful as its ability to follow through with its agreements. Ghanaian Government would like to follow through on their commitment in their constitution that claims

“All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities and with a view to achieving the full realization of that right-

(a)   basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all…” (http://www.judicial.gov.gh/constitution/chapter/chap_5.htm)

This is not always possible considering the government’s resource distribution or its list of priorities. That being said, many children within Ghana do not have access to education despite their high demand for it.

When returning to the ship, a group of students presented about their trip to the Agbogbloshie – the world’s largest electronic waste dump. It sits on the mouth of a Korle Lagoon polluting all of the water that meanders beneath it. Through pictures and videos, we absorbed the lifestyles of hundreds of people whose job description consists of burning electronics for the purpose of retrieving valuable metals. There was even a meat market being built on the outskirts of the trash dump.

Need for access to education

Need for proper recycling education

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Stefan

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