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Emily Price

What You Think You See…

By | 2016, Asia | No Comments

Having grown up in a very affluential part of Canada, where I was largely sheltered from the daily realities of poverty, I had unknowingly formed an image of what poverty was supposed to look like. In my head, poverty was shanty towns and poorly dressed, undernourished individuals, with wild hair, which in many cases may be true. I had also imagined that anyone who didn’t have an electric stove or was forced to cook outside must also be poor. But, my experience in Thailand has taught me otherwise. There are many forms of poverty and sometimes it expresses itself physically making it easy to spot, especially in more affluential societies where those with little stand out in stark contrast with those who have much. However, I think that there is a need to be wary of what we label as “poor”.

Due to the wide availability of the media and the general public access to photos taken all over the world, its easier than ever to misjudge something when it is received out of context. Just Google poverty and I am sure that you will see many sad images of outrageous injustice, all which communicate a very real truth: there is devastating poverty in the world and people are dying. However, as a Westerner that is more or less removed from the worst of the living conditions present in our world, it is easy to sort images into categories. This is poverty and that is not.

While in Thailand, I had the immense honor of being a guest in two homes where both families cooked outside, without an oven, in conditions that I had previously sorted into the “poverty box”. But such was not the case. I was first a guest in the residence of my homestay parents. My Khun Mae (the Thai equivalent of mom) cooked all of our meals outside under the protection of the second floor of our house. She stood on a dirt floor and used a propane stove to make some of the most delicious food I have ever eaten. Logically, it makes a lot of sense that she would cook outside in a hot country where it is already a difficult and expensive task to keep the house cool. My second experience as a guest was in the Karen village, a few hours north of Chiang Mai city. Here, of all places, a Westerner such as myself would expect to see physical signs of poverty. Again, all of our meals were made in a common kitchen building that had been setup to accommodate large group gatherings. The kitchen itself was totally open to the elements and there was no access to electricity. To tell you the truth, I am not totally sure how they cooked our meals. I just know that they were delicious and made in conditions that I would previously have classified as a textbook example of poverty.

A glimpse of the DELICIOUS food we ate while visiting the Karen village.


What I am trying to get at is that things are not always black and white and what we think we know, isn’t always true. Certainly, in some areas, I saw rugged shacks that served many people as their only form of shelter and I saw a lot of suffering. But that’s not all I saw and often, what I thought was poverty, was simply just another way of doing life. The children in the Karen village had access to higher education if they so desired and they were some of the happiest people I had ever seen. Their possessions were not numerous as the stars but they had what they needed to be reasonably happy in this life. Sometimes, what you think you see, is not always what it appears to be.

A lemon – picked straight from the tree!

Same Same, But Different

By | 2016, Asia | No Comments

You know those movies were people travel to amazing places? There is always this one moment where they realize just how different their new environment is from everything that they have left behind and that realization comes as such a surprise that it literally takes their breath away. They sit there, paralyzed by the beauty of what they see and feel around them. The smell, the colors, the heat, the view. Everything collides in this one special moment where in awe, they sit, utterly alive to all of their senses. My experience was nothing like that…

If the exoticism of Thailand dawned on my senses at all, it grew on me at such a pace as to possibly rival that of a snail. But of course, none of this is to say that Thailand was not beautiful or that the smells and the sights weren’t radically different than anything I had experienced at home (My local farmer’s market in rural Alberta had not prepared me in the least bit for what I would see at the Sunday Walking Street Market). Its just that, it didn’t really shock me. What I wanted was a big “wow” moment. I wanted fire to rain down from the sky and lightning to strike the earth but what I got was a hearth of slow burning coals and an irritable sense of calm that was undisturbed by things that, in my opinion, ought to have disturbed me.

Of course, I felt uncomfortable (what true born Canadian wouldn’t feel at least a little out of sorts cooking in the soggy heat of Southeast Asia?) and there were many things that caused me anxiety, like attempting to talk to people who might not necessarily be able to answer me in a language I would understand and crossing the street (A challenge comparable to the barrel jumping drama in the old Donkey Kong video game), but I just wasn’t blown away. And for a long time, this really bothered me because I was terrified of missing out on something really important.

So I took some time to think about it and the more I did I realized that part of the reason I found Thailand so “normal” was because what I saw, were people. Regular human beings just like myself. The only difference was the way that they chose to live their lives. I guess I had expected them to be radically different from myself, almost un-human, which I guess is likely due to the way that “the Orient” is portrayed in movies and auctioned off in advertisements as a place of exotic otherness. Regardless, the irritating calm that I had felt from the start, was due largely to the fact that I recognized a bit of myself in the people around me. I saw individuals with emotions, dreams, hobbies, friends, families, trauma, poverty all of which are elements present in my own Canadian society. All of those things, were just dressed up a little differently on this side of the world. While in Canada our humanity was dressed for the sort of geographical and sociological environment we had grown up in, here in Thailand, they had the exact same humanity,  but it was dressed for the sun and followed the traditions of a history that was radically different than the one I knew. We were all human. The Thai people were no different than Canadians. We were, in a few words, same same, but different.

The Danger of an Uncritical World

By | 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont), Short-Term Trips | No Comments

[The third in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

We met with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) on Friday, April 29th, 2016. We were scheduled to meet with Jon Thompson, the Director of Health & Social Development, but were also given the pleasure of dialoguing with one of his associates William David. William David was “the mining guy”, being heavily involved in mining policy at the AFN. He was an extremely articulate gentleman with an incredible breadth of both educational as well as hands-on experience.

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We talked about many things including the AFN’s relationship with the Hill, how change is made in policy and government, First Nations people’s right to self-determination and how to engage non-aboriginal people in conversations about First Nation’s issues. However, by far, what has most securely captured my attention are William’s words concerning people and the terrible things they do.

It is so easy to demonize those that commit human rights violations. Their actions are often so shocking that they quickly become an all encompassing label, excluding the possibility that the subject in question was anything but an atrocious human being. However, William had a unique perspective that helped to frame human rights perpetrators in a much more forgiving and human light. While not removing the responsibility of any given person for their actions, Will added a specific qualifier, which also served as a challenge for those who wished to be a force of positive change in the world. He said that people, as in, anybody, can do the most dangerous things when they are uncritical of what they are doing and the systems that they serve.

It can be easy to do something terrible unintentionally, especially if a person is not critical about what they are doing or what they are supporting. Sometimes, the tendency is to imagine that those who have committed the worst human rights violations were terrible from the start, perverted by nature and only committed these specific crimes after hours of prolonged thought about how to make the world a worse place than it was before. However, Will’s perspective allows for a much more nuanced approach. Anybody has the potential to do terrible things. Everyone is capable of great evil, but they are also capable of great good.

In this case, the worst actions are conceived when people to not take the time to think about what they are doing or who they are supporting. People must learn to take the time to reflect on their lives, especially on how their actions might affect others. Rarely do our choices only affect ourselves, more often, they have a wide reaching impact on both those dear to us but also on those unknown to us. The world is an interconnected web of relationships and systems, therefore, it is imperative that we examine both our relationships as well as the strings that run between the various systems of which we are apart. No man is an island; everyone belongs to the system of the world and each of us is responsible to our neighbor at home and abroad.