Friday, April 11, 2008

Seattle student Ali's reflection on the visiting students

Hi! I’m Ali Johnson. I’m 14 years old and in eighth grade at Salmon Bay School in Seattle, Washington. Next year, I will go to high school at the Northwest School. I love playing sports, dancing, singing, traveling, and being with my friends and family.

Recently, at Salmon Bay, we have had some visitors: Tibetan students from the Tibetan Children Village School (TVC) in Dharamsala, India and students from the Hector Peterson School located in Cape Town, South Africa.

When we first met the Tibetan students, I was excited, but also a little nervous. I wanted them to like me, and I didn’t want them to think of me as a spoiled American girl. I don’t quite know what they made of me, but I really like them, they were very friendly, they smiled and laughed a lot and exuded an air of happiness that was fun to be around.

(Photo by Bridges mentor Justin Hoch)

However, I didn’t really get to know any of them until the Bridges to Understanding meeting, where the small blogging group (there are five of us, including our mentor, Cheryl) met up and had a discussion on what we wanted to write about. KT (from TVC) and Sese (the first South African that I met) were in the group. At first glance, both of them could have been American - they wore similar clothes to me, and spoke English well and fluently (I’m extremely jealous of their multi-lingual education). It was only once we started talking about schools and homes that I realized things were very different.

KT and Sese’s countries have both been under oppression. KT’s homeland of Tibet is currently occupied by China and for many years South Africa was under Apartheid rule enforced by the Afrikaans (English and Dutch colonizers). For me, it is hard to understand what having something this important directly linked to you would feel like. Although at one point, America was also under British rule, it was much too long ago to have a direct impact on me.

I have learned about both the Apartheid rule and Tibet’s current conflict with China, but meeting Sese and KT and listening to them talk so calmly and factually about past and present issues in their countries, helped me understand that though bad things have happened and are happening now, its no reason to be pessimistic.

However, the realizations weren’t over yet. Yesterday, Sese, and his friends came and spent the day at my school. They played ultimate Frisbee, Lacrosse, and gave a dance lesson to the whole middle school.

South African students teach dance to Salmon Bay students

My friend Devin and I wanted to talk to them some more, so when it came time for lunch, we sat down at their table and struck up a conversation. At first, it was just the regular things, birthdays, ages, grades, Seattle, but then they asked us one of the hardest questions: “What challenges do you face as a teenager?” I was unsure of how to respond.

Was I supposed to say that it was hard to convince my parents to let me get a cell phone? I doubted it. Devin and I looked at each other; we didn’t want the South Africans thinking that we faced no challenges in life, even though, for the most part, that was true. Sese and Phuti, seeing our confused faces, tried to help us out; “For instance, we have problems with teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS” they offered, adding more as our confusion turned to panic. Of course, we have problems like that in America, they just don’t really relate to my daily life and when it comes to facing challenges, who am I to compete against them? Devin finally broke the awkward silence by mentioning the crime in his neighborhood, and I felt compelled to say something too. In the end, I talked about people doing drugs, drinking alcohol, and having sex when they were teenagers. However, since I live “above the influence” and it’s a rare occasion that I’m in a situation where people would try to peer pressure me into doing any of those things, I felt like I wasn’t being entirely truthful.

If I had it to do over, I would probably talk about the powerless sort of feeling that being a teenager involves. I’m old enough to understand the problems facing the world, I’m just not sure how to go about helping them, and even if I am, I usually am not equipped to accomplish these actions. I’m not using my age as an excuse; I try to help make positive changes in my community and in the world. I’m just saying that it would be substantially easier if people took teenagers, and my, opinion more seriously.

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

Ali - I remember that exact feeling of powerlessness that you now feel. It seemed to me as a teenager that everything in my life had gone right - great family, school, resources, friendships, sports - a d I wondered what I could do with all that "extra" good in my life, knowing that so many people were in need. I think it is an individual answer that only you can find, but the point is to STRIVE to find that answer, to push past the sense of hopelessness. There's always an opportunity to do SOMETHING, no matter how small it seems. Don't let the fact that you're "just" a teen hold you back!