Coming Home

Trip Start Jan 15, 2005
Trip End Apr 28, 2005

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Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Thursday, April 28, 2005

Dear Friends and Family,

The voyage is over. At this moment I am sitting in my room trying to piece it all together. You have shared so many of my experiences and now I would like to tie some of the ends together, to explain what events have left lasting impressions on me. More simply, I want to attempt to answer the straightforward question of "what have you learned?"

Distribution is a bigger problem than production. More people in the world are starving because we can't get the food to them than because there isn't enough. I saw this again and again in Africa and India. And in Venezuela I learned about farmers who have more produce than they can ever use but no truck to take it into the city.

Global problems affect real people, especially children. Common phrases from newspapers and poly sci classrooms have suddenly been matched with faces. Overpopulation becomes the streets of Chennai swarming with people and full of beggars. AIDS becomes Moona, sick at age 3. Malaria becomes the empty seats at the Kenyan school I visited. Mudslides becomes La Guaria, half empty and struggling to cling to the remnants of a town that lost 15,000 people in one disaster. Political unrest means soldiers in the streets and a tension that kills small businesses.

Some of the most beautiful places in the world do not have postcards. In Mombasa, they sold pictures of lions while I took pictures of the dirt. In India, I bought a postcard of a temple but remembered instead the vibrant saris.

See and you'll forget, touch and you'll be changed. If you want to understand a country you have to get close. Step out of the bus and its protective glass windows and into the chaos of the street. Into a place that's dangerous, vulnerable, and uncomfortable. When you sweat with people you understand them. Eat their food even if you get sick, speak their language even if you really can't. Listen to them and soon their perspective won't seem nearly as foreign. Gradually the world changes from a four-colored map into something real, tangible, and vibrant.

You also must indulge me in a spurt of patriotism. There is nothing like leaving your country to make you fall in love with it all over again. God bless America; that is the cry of my heart currently. It's a land of possibilities, of education, of productivity. A land of drink refills and Walmart discounts. Where social stratification is scorned and freedom fought for. China made me love religious freedom. Brazil made me love a trustworthy police force. Venezuela has filled me with gratitude for our electoral system and the lack of volatility in our government.
This Fourth of July I will be celebrating. American foods like apples, peanut butter, and my dad's chicken soup. American football and high schools with spirit. Summers spent outside with a grill and fireflies. We are a nation of rebels, freethinkers, and in general all the fiery troublemakers that got kicked out. We're proud and fiercely independent. We love frontiers and a challenge.
On this trip I haven't just explored what was different. I also learned a lot about my own roots. I've come to appreciate every drop of my ethnicity. My friends all know I am Arab and have learned to expect a violent attack if they say Ay-rab or make ethnocentric comments about Middle Eastern culture. They can all now find Lebanon on the map and the guys have learned to say habeebee (sweetheart/my girlfriend) and kahwa (coffee). I only taught the essentials. Between watching Braveheart and hanging out with my friend Grady I've come to appreciate whatever tiny amount of Scottish blood I have within me. My friend Katie Boyle and I quickly bonded when I realized her name was also spelled the Irish way. Some of her green pride has rubbed off on me.
And as for my Pennsylvanian Dutch pride, where do I begin? The words knixnutser and chowchow have been added to my friends' vocabulary. There have been a lot of ports where some German efficiency would have really helped in my opinion. I've also never shared so much Hershey knowledge is so little time. They know the history of the company as well as our main line of products. They know that M&M's and Snickers are the enemy and have even avoided Nestle on occasion. I have never felt so homesick and happy as when I bit into a Hershey's bar found in the back corner of a Mercado in Brazil. Thank God for the Great American Chocolate Bar. Wherever you go, no matter how far, you're always near a Hershey's bar.
Once off the ship, everything faded and suddenly all the countries seemed so much farther away. They became otherworldly and foreign and I wondered what mattered. What parts of my trip were significant? All I can think of is the children, their smiles and their tears. Their fight for existence in the midst of global problems. The weary sigh of an AIDS orphan and the chuckle of a Kenyan high schooler haunt my dreams. Why did God have me experience the things I did? What does he want me to do with these images that fill my mind?
I don't know what my future holds. But I do know that went I boarded a plane in Harrisburg four months ago everything changed and I took a step that will have profound consequences in my life. The answers to many of my questions are shrouded in a hidden future, but I have faith because God has brought me safely home. So, for now I'll be in Hershey, PA awaiting the next adventure.
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