Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Hammer Falls. The End is Nigh!

This week the hammer falls. This week the first devastating blow will be struck. This week, months of meticulous preparation and planning will come to fruition. This week the genocide begins. Now is the time for the student’s of Sielmat Christian Higher Secondary School (SCHSS) to finally take back what’s theirs!

Our forces are marshaled. Elite units of teachers, administrators, nurses and volunteers await but a one day training course from their balding American commander. After that nothing can stop us. The hounds of the void will be unleashed and a deadly flood of 400mg Albendazole chewable tablets will fall upon the unsuspecting Helminths. These intestinal parasites have no idea the ungodly firestorm that is about to be rained down upon them.

The assault will take place at day break, before classes begin. The pills simply need to be chewed and swallowed, with a little water, before an unstoppable force of modern pharmacology is set in motion as the Albendazole begins its grim task of starving these disgusting leeches of the glucose that fuels them. As the worms weaken and die they will be excreted by the students and their passing will mark the dawn of a new intellectual renaissance in the soon-to-be legendary hamlet of Sielmat. A dawn which will leave these students free to achieve their full potential. Liberated, because their young bodies can finally absorb the full nutritional value of the food that they consume. Precious calories, vitamins and minerals that had previously been siphoned off by the demonic passengers that these unwitting children carried. And this is just the beginning.

I’m excited about this. Apart from one other idea, I have spent more time and effort putting together this deworming campaign than any other project I have worked on here. From research, to program development, to buying and distributing the 17,000 deworming pills, I was there every step of the way, leading the charge. And I’m proud of that.

Though saying that this first deworming day will lead to an intellectual renaissance might be a slight over-statement, it will, at least hopefully, make a noticeable difference in both school absenteeism and student performance. However, the effects of deworming here in Sielmat will, almost undoubtedly, pale in comparison to the response of the students in the village schools.

Sielmat is a neighborhood in Churanchandpur, which is the second biggest city in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur. As such, knowledge of and access to medical treatment is greater here than almost anywhere else in this underdeveloped region. Residents of the remote villages, by contrast, are lucky if they have seen a doctor in their lifetime.

These other deworming days, however, will have to come later and unfortunately, as my visa expires next week, I will not be around for them. So as SCHSS, at roughly 2,600 students, is by far the biggest of Partnership Ministries Society‘s (PMS) 42 schools, has the best educated teachers and is the most accessible, we have decided to start here and deliver their treatment while I, the worm ‘expert,’ am still here.

That's the big project that worked out. There have been many other smaller projects that I have worked on here that have either succeeded or failed, but the only other big idea that I’ve invested as much or more time and effort into as deworming, looks like it will remain just that: an idea.

My regular readers will remember the post that I wrote a few months ago detailing my idea for a Spirulina tank that uses excess heat from a 35 Kw generator to heat its water so the algae can grow here year round. The generator’s exhaust would be bubbled through the water to both trap the CO2 in a usable form within the Spirulina, and to increase the algae's growth rate.

(Quick note for the newcomers: Spirulina is a blue-green algae that, under optimal conditions, doubles its biomass every two to five days. It has been called the Super, super food and the food of the future. NASA, before it got castrated, did a lot research and testing with it for use in space travel and for terraforming other planets because of how much sustenance and O2 it produces. It is a complete protein with large amounts of just about every vitamin and mineral around, particularly Vitamin A, which is great at keeping malnourished kids from going blind. It also produces 400x as much protein per square acre as beef and 40x more than soybeans. Because Spirulina can grow in alkali lakes and brine, where almost nothing else can, invasive species aren’t a real problem and it doesn’t need to take up any arable land that could be used for something else.)

Thanks to the responses from several friends to my posting, I soon realized that my original idea wasn’t going to be feasible; not enough sunlight got to the generator, and to separate all the harmful stuff from the CO2 in the exhaust would take a gas separator that would have cost more than the project was worth.

So I went back to the drawing board and, over the course of many hours of research, email correspondence with friends, physics professors, Spirulina growers and development NGOs, along with solving equations, whose variables I didn’t quite understand, on thermal mass, algae reproduction and water chemistry, I came up with a new design.

Instead of using the exhaust and excess heat from the generator to keep the water between the 25C and 40C that Spirulina needs to grow, I would use the heat generated by the respiration of the bacteria that are present in compost. Heat which, when the right ingredients are combined and properly aerated on a large enough scale, can reach up to 55C.

My plan is this: dig out a section of the slight hill behind the kitchen of the bungalow I’m staying in, build a brick and concrete compost container 9 feet long, 33 feet wide and 4 feet high, then put the Spiruilna tank on top of it. The algae tank will have the same length and width as the compost bin and will be 2 feet deep. The compost bin and the algae tank are going to be separated by a metal sheet, allowing maximum heat transfer. The hot air from the compost bins will be bubbled through air tubes at the bottom of the tank then blown back through the bins, where it will reheat and then the whole cycle will be repeated.

The entire structure is to be buried at ground level for an extra layer of insulation, with 6 inches of Styrofoam covered by plastic on the inside of the bricks providing the first layer. The top of the tank will be covered with a clear plastic sheet to let in sunlight during the day and will then be covered by an insulating top at night. I am even going to go high tech and make glow panels by putting red LEDs in plastic sheets, then uniformly scuffing the outside of it to maximize light distribution. Two science papers that I have read showed that this was an efficient way to boost photosynthesis.

I had a physics professor check my plans at several stages too. By the 3rd draft he said he couldn’t prove that it wouldn’t work. I was thrilled.

The idea is to start with this small pilot-project, produce the Spirulina for use in animal feed, then use the money from the sale of the algae to scale up production and move to human consumption-quality. I did some more research and ran the numbers.

If we do everything wrong, but not quite wrong enough for the Spirulina to die, the tank will make PMS around $300 a month. If, on the other hand, we get everything right, which admittedly would probably have taken a few months of tweaking, the tank will make around $1,575 a month. Building the tank will cost, very roughly, around $5,000 and though the tank would does need at least a part-time care taker, hiring one will only be a few dollars a day.

But, alas, it is not to be. My time here has run out, and my boss is so busy with other programs and projects that are already proven and up and running that I doubt my tank will ever see the light of the Manipuri sun. Not in the immediate future anyway.

In a way it is sad, but I had so much fun putting the design together, and the feedback that I got was so valuable, that I’m not too upset. And who knows? I’m not dead yet and there are a lot of places this thing could work. Maybe someday NASA will get funding, realize my brilliance, and send me to terraform Mars. But I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Other things that fell apart…
-Creating positions, listing and training material for year-long volunteer English teacher positions. Why it didn’t work out: Hopefully it still will. I had to move on to more pressing projects but all the material is there and ready. The listings just need to be posted.
-Working a system to distribute the extra power generated by the Bungalow’s generator to the surrounding community using pre-paid meters. Why it didn't work: Despite quite a bit of searching, I couldn’t find a good, reliable company in India to sell us the meters
-Researching the feasibility of creating an Agrawood or Mangostein plantation. Why it didn’t work: There is a reason both Agrawood oil and Mangostein are so expensive; they are ridiculously hard to cultivate and it takes forever

Other things that came together…
-Organizing and calculating the drug bill for a week long medical camp that treated 6,500 people
-Adapting and improving Sielmat Christian Hospital’s administrative system
-Creating an inventory for the entire hospital pharmacy
-Teaching a class for Theology grad students on how to write a good research paper
-Editing the 15 final research papers of PMS’s Theology grad students
-Making the PMS sponsorship department more efficient
-Working on the hospital construction crew
-Making school profiles for the 25 schools run directly through PMS
-Creating, administering and analyzing a survey on the experiences of the Indian Children’s Choir
-Compiling, graphing and analyzing hospital performance records

Preparing to ascend from India into Nepal and China has, like any departure, made me step back and take stock of my time here. And it seems that in many ways the success of my deworming project and the failure of my Spirulina tank are microcosms of that time.

Like the deworming campaign, several of the other projects I worked on ended up coming together quite well, though that is as much to the credit of PMS and its employees as it is to the work that I did. And like the Spirulina tank, many of the things I worked really hard on and wanted to do here, both work-related and social, I didn’t have the time to see through to completion. But I have learned so much from just about every experience, both positive and negative, that it would be hard for me to call any one of them a failure.

I got a great deal out of northeast India, and hopefully I was able to give as much as I got. But now it’s time for the real adventure. There are Yetis to slay, entrances to the esoteric, subterranean city of Agartha to find and authoritarian governments to overthrow. And whether I’m ready for it or not, it’s time to move on.

Though the original goal of this blog was to chronicle the work I did and the experiences I had working for PMS here in India, I have enjoyed writing it so much, and received enough positive feedback, that I’m going to keep it going as I continue on and ascend up through the Nepali Himalayas and into China. So stay tuned!

I also want to take a second and thank both Mary Keating and Kevin Link for helping to edit the ramblings that I sent them into something a little more coherent. Were it not for their help this blog would have been far worse.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Surveying Human Geography (Part 2)

While trying to think up the right questions for the Indian Children’s Choir survey, I kept going back through my memories of the times I lived abroad and the different emotional stages I went through. Several times during this reminiscing, I found myself thinking through the lens of the cross-cultural psychology class that I took the second time I did Semester at Sea. Like basic economics, or the foundation of any other academic discipline, all cross-cultural psych really did was quantified common sense. It took ideas pretty much everyone knows, gave them fancy names, and drew clear lines of demarcation between the different concepts.

Providing an objective road map through the stages of development that led to true multiculturalism was the goal of the class. I’m not sure if it succeeded, but it did give me some clear categories under which to file the different obnoxious tourist/traveler stereotypes that I have encountered over the years. Stereotypes that I have found myself perpetuating more times than I would like to admit.

(Note: While none of the characters in this post are based on a single person, almost every one of the things they do I either did, witnessed or heard a reliable first-hand account of.)

A cliché that exemplifies many of those in the first stage of multicultural development can be seen in scores of people at the very beginning of their trip; disembarking from the plane and stepping onto the jetway as if they were Neil Armstrong stepping onto the surface of the Moon. It is the stage of shock, where the would-be intrepid traveler is slapped in the face by how exotic and foreign everything and everyone is. In their futile attempts to try and take control of the situation, they only find that they feel more and more displaced and unsure of themselves.


A good example of these pilgrims are the couples in their early thirties- usually high school sweet hearts- who have never before been able to work up the courage to leave their hometown for more than a Labor Day weekend at uncle Earl’s cabin by the lake. But all that has changed now. They are going on their first big adventure.

One look at them and it’s clear that the phrase, “hey, shit happens” isn’t in their working vocabulary. Their brand new head-to-toe, REI traveler-edition, moisture-wicking, rip-proof everything screams that they have scoured the internet’s multitude of travel websites every night after their nine to five jobs for months, devouring every helpful hint and local custom that their greedy little eyes can find. They have read every single piece of travel literature on their chosen country into redundancy. They have planned every minute of their trip, because it is far too important for anything to be left to chance. They are going to find themselves and each other and it’s going to be perfect.

As they stumble, bleary-eyed off the plane, the pockets of their nylon cargo convertible pants/shorts and Northface backpacks bulging with hotel reservation print-outs, dogeared and highlighted guide books, bug spray, anti-diarrhea pills and laminated sheets of essential local phrases like “how much for hand sanitizer?,” they get their first unpleasant surprise; the anti-jet lag diet the nutritionist recommended didn’t work.

However, they try make the best of this unforeseen complication and immediately set about dividing up the important tasks that need to be completed before they can leave the airport. They take the time to reiterate that every assignment will take advantage of each other’s individual strengths but that each task is still part of an greater goal and requires working as a cohesive team.

‘Shanon’ is going to use the skills she has honed over ten years of working at her human resources job. Her mission is to go to the tourist information desk and find out where the hotel is and EXACTLY how much they should pay the taxi driver to take them there.

‘Greg’ will fuse all the skills he learned in his 1.6 years of high school football (a sprained ankle took him down in his prime, right before he would have made backup kick-return), and the 3 years he has spent in mid-level management at ACME Life Insurance Inc., to retrieve their brand new Lowe backpacks (bought at REI’s semi-annual Adventurer sale; they timed it perfectly) from the baggage claim. They will meet at the Starbucks in 15 to regroup and assess.

So far so good. The bags made it, and despite “a really, really beautiful but really, really hard to understaaaannndd” woman at the tourist desk, Shanon has gloriously risen to the occasion and found out, written down, then double and triple checked, exactly what to tell the taxi driver to get him to ferry them to the Tourista Hotel. Greg congratulates her on the poise and grace that he married her for, as he ticks the first two items off one of their many check lists.

After they finish their double soy lattes, they strap up their poorly-fitted backpacks and head for the door that will lead to the taxis and their long-awaited destiny. Then everything falls apart.

As soon as they step out the door they are accosted by dozens of sweaty, dirty taxi drivers, porters and tour guides. Their pupils dilate and they are seized by the primal terror known only to the relatively rich when they are surrounded, for the first time, by poor people that want their money.

As Shanon shrilly screams, over and over again, at no one in particular, the sentence the tourist desk gave her, Greg chivalrously tries to get in his athletic stance and push the mass of horrid poverty away from his screeching wife, but there are just too many of them. He better take charge or this could get ugly.

Greg: “Baby! Baby, this man says he can take us to the hotel. I looked into his eyes and I believe him.”
Shanon: “Wait, wait! Don’t trust him! Make sure you decide on a price before you get in his taxi!”
Greg: “He says he can do it for $15! That's so much cheaper than back home! Shanon, lets go.”
Shanon: “Greg! Greg! Did you even read the guide book or listen to what I just told you?! That’s way too much! He’s trying to screw us because he thinks you're an idiot! Let me handle this, I deal with people for a living.”
Greg: “I really feel like you are undermining and not valuing me right now…”

Eventually they will find a taxi and get to the hotel, but not for the price Shanon wanted. One may see them again throughout the next 7-10 days, taking thousands of photos of every single thing they see, and faking being happy in front of monuments that they know more about than each other. All this as they count the minutes until they can get back on the plane and get the hell out of this godforsaken country.

I’d like to say this is never me, but you know what I was wearing when I got off the plane in Calcutta five months ago? REI traveler pants I got at the annual sale (35% off!) and a nylon safari button-up shirt (though the shirt was second hand). It’s getting better, and sophomore year of high school I made it onto FIRST string kick return, but there is still a little Greg in me every time I arrive in a developing country.


If one can do better than Greg and Shanon and make it past this first stage, and over the first bout of homesickness, then they have emerged into the second stage and are one step closer to multiculturalism. In this second stage a superficial understanding of the new place is reached, and the traveler is amazed to find that all the differences he thought he saw are only skin deep. That we are all really just people and fundamentally the same.

Enter the dumb-ass frat boys. ‘Slugger’ (alias: Slug), ‘Boom’ and ‘Cock’ have just pulled into the Amsterdam central train station. It is 9:20am on the eighth day of their first Euro trip. They are upset. They have been sober for over 5 hours because the rest of their lame railway car didn’t know how to party. The conductor made matters worse by confiscated their handle of Vodka, which effectively prevented them from showing those pretentious Continentals that American’s don’t need international approval to do whatever the hell they want.

As their three pairs of nearly identical boating shoes step onto the arrivals platform, they decide that it would be best to move on from this ‘super-downer’ experience. Best to ensure that Amsterdam rises to its rightful place as the highlight of their trip and joins the rest of their alcohol and drug dimmed memories of Europe. So, with Cock in the lead, they make haste to the nearest bar. Luckily, this being Europe, they don’t have far to go.

Once inside, there is a good-natured scuffle between them as they try to decide who will have the privilege of using their daddy’s credit card to treat the others to the first round. Slugger wins through a devastating combo of cock-knocking Cock and dead-legging Boom.

Ten minutes and six shots later the bartender, who has been generously tipped several times, tells them what cool guys they are, and that guys as cool as them should take magic mushrooms and go to the Van Gogh Museum. Unfortunately, they completely miss the disdain dripping from his voice. “Wow.” Boom muses, “That’s a fuckin’ great idea bro! Hey, you guys like trippin’ too, huh? See, I told you Slug, their just like us over here bro!” After two more shots and a chorus of “Fuck the French! Lambda forever!” they are off. They follow their new friend’s directions to a coffee shop and procure their produce.

Their psilocybin trip is both great and terrible. Slug spends his time in the museum contemplating how many more sluts he still has to sleep with before his dad will love him. Boom sits in a bathroom stall and cries because he has realized the undeniable truth; that if the Easter Bunny were real than Santa couldn’t be. Cock does end up looking at the paintings, but all the while is greatly burdened with the question of why Keystone Ice, even though it’s in an aluminum can, tastes vaguely like plastic.

Eventually they are kicked out. Apparently screaming “My father never loved me!” and “I will kill Easter!” in one of the great museums of the world is frowned upon in this supposedly cosmopolitan city. This leads to a group sob fest at being misunderstood and marooned in this strange land. However, upon deciding that this experience can only make them stronger and that they will be best friends forever, their jubilation is restored. They decide that the best way to manage their come-down is to get drunk.

They return to the bar with the helpful bartender. Unfortunately, he is no longer working, but it’s nighttime now and the bar is filled with lots of fun looking people. Spending several hundred more Euros buying shots for the bar on daddy’s card warms up the place to these newcomers.

As the night progresses they become close with a shadowy, foreign looking gentlemen of uncertain origin, who informs them that no one has really been to Amsterdam until they have been to the red-light district. They agree with his statement. Buzz, their fraternity’s Eminent Archon, had drunkenly told them the same thing at their going away party, as the four of them relieved themselves out of one of their frat house’s fourth story windows.

The shadowy man offers his services as their guide and seals the deal by assuring them that he knows some girls around there that love Americans and like to party. “You were fuckin’ right Boom! These guys are just like us! They like to trip AND party with sluts!” Home really is wherever the heart is.

On the walk to the red-light district, Cock realizes that the terrorists will win if he doesn’t jump into the canals. He informs the others of his epiphany. Boom and Slug are not as sure, but after the bonding their triumvirate has been through today they are willing to support their friend’s conclusion.

As Cock’s gagging, shaven head, followed directly by the soaked collar and mother of pearl buttons of one of his 13 Lacoste shirts (ya, “fuck the French,” huh?), erupts from the surface of the canal he is greeted with thunderous applause from his three friends on the bank above. His frat brothers begin chanting “U.S.A!!! U.S.A!!!” at the top of their lungs, celebrating this victory of freedom over tyranny, as they help Cock back onto the road.

“Man, you guys are crazy. I like you.” Their new, shadowy friend purrs. “You know bro, fuckin’, George Washington was right, people really are, like, just people, fuckin’, you know bro?” Boom slurs as he throws a muscle-bound arm over the Shadow’s purple velvet jacket. By the time they see the nubile forms of young, eastern European women gyrating seductively behind the glass panes of the red-light district, all the days woes are forgotten. They love Europe.

Though I have never stooped quite this low, many of my international nocturnal escapades, particularly on both Semester at Sea trips, came dangerously close to some of the antics of Slug, Boom and Cock.


If one can get past this advanced level of cultural awareness, then they are ready to plunge into the third stage. In this stage feelings of human unity are eclipsed by a new awareness of the vast superiority of everything about this new country. The truth and profundity of the place is overwhelming. It is easy for one to mistakenly identify this as a deep spiritual connection that will forever keep them tied to this new and holy land.

A good example of the people stuck in this phase are the holier-than-thou, newly-Vegan hippies that can be seen littering the streets of all of the most unashamedly touristy cities across India. And not just India; no third-world country with even the remotest cultural links to Buddhism or Hinduism is spared from these seekers.

These wayward souls, who both wander and are lost, have already been in-country “for like 2 whole weeks, but it might as well have been forever, you know? And maybe it has been… Wow…” They won’t shut up about how deep every experience they have had is, from using a squatty toilet to not bathing for 2 weeks (hint: locals bathe rarely because they are poor and there is no clean water, not because they don’t want to) to the god-like respect they get from local shop owners for being so unbelievably culturally sensitive in picking up the custom of bargaining but unknowingly still pay five times the local price. They compete to pay $50 a hour for a ‘yogi’ to teach them meditation, in a country where the median income is $3 a day.

And no matter if they completely fail at there attempts to gain enlightenment, because that is it’s own form of revelry; the realization that things are just out of there hands and that, when the Gia earth spirit (or Shiva, or whoever their deity is that week) ordains it, they will see what they must see.

Despite the incredible and truly one of a kind experience that every single one of them has had of their chakras blooming beautifully with the new and powerful release of their chi flow, an event which was unleashed by the seemingly ordinary act of a temple beggar putting a dot of Sandalwood paste on their forehead for $5, as well as the life-changing liberation of their Kundalini energy, which has granted them a transcendental and extra-dimensional perspective, one which might have also enabled them to communicate with whales and dolphins. Despite all that, and their total conviction of their own superiority, they still desperately need validation and outside approval of their new gifts from every passing Westerner that is not rude or smart enough to ignore them and move on.

While I hope I have now finally moved on, this is the stage that I have probably spent the most time stuck in. It has been far too common for me take the personal growth I have gained through travel and project it, as a false and shallow sense of superiority, on others. But I’m not yet sure to what degree I have escaped this trap; the only reason I’m not going to an ashram ‘to find myself’ while in India is that my visa is about to expire.


The final stage in becoming multicultural is attained when one realizes that different cultures are not better or worse than one another, just different.


The road doesn’t stop here though. Once the traveler realizes this then there is the long, hard road of consciously deciding and discovering where he fits in with all these different systems of beliefs and traditions. Which ones he really believe in and values rather than which ones he simply grew up with. If one can achieve and actualize this, and I certainly haven’t, then that traveler
has truly found their center and a level of confidence that few ever reach.

It’s hard to describe what those who do reach this level of awareness look like. There are not very many of them and those that do exist are not easy to find. They don’t hang out in places were other travelers go. They don’t need pictures of themselves in front of famous places to show off to their friends. They don’t need monasteries or bars, museums or posh hotels. And when one can catch a glimpse of these wise souls, one probably won’t even realize or appreciate what they are looking at. Because at first this person doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. It’s only after watching them or talking with them for a few minutes that one starts to notice how much more aware than everyone else they are of themselves and everything around them. They don’t usually talk much, preferring instead to listen, but when they do speak every syllable is worth paying attention to.

From what I have seen from the very few of these individuals I have met, what makes them leave home is not usually a set goal or destination. Their goal is meeting new, real people. Their goal is learning about and bettering themselves and the world around them through new experiences, whatever those might be. They don’t superimpose some over-thought-out meaning on the encounters that they have. They just accept them, take them as they are, then consciously decide how they will respond. They are detached, but at the same time intensely aware of every experience and emotion they have. And though Greg, Shanon, Cock, Boom, Slug and the narcissistic hippies don’t realize it yet, that is what being human really is, that is what’s really deep.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Surveying Human Geography (Part 1)

I had never heard that access to T.V led to suicide in rural, underdeveloped areas. Not until my friend Victor, the eye specialist at Sielmat Christian Hospital, brought it up about a week and a half ago on one of our tea breaks. Apparently it’s a well known fact here. That night I looked it up and turns out there has actually been a fairly large amount of research done on the correlation between recent access to modern amenities and depression.

I would imagine it happens something like this: a remote village, one where people rarely travel more than a few miles from their home in a lifetime, gets a T.V and BAM! Suddenly the world opens up to them. They see shows depicting things they had never even heard of and technology that can do impossible things. How silly they were to be content with what they had, when everyone else, from Bombay to Boston, isn’t happy and they all drive Mercedes, live in 10,000 square foot Victorian mansions and have the bodies of Greek gods! How foolish they were to think they had enough! This feeling of want, inferiority and a helplessness to change their situation eventually becomes overwhelms them. After searching in vain for solace in alcohol and drugs they turn to the only avenue of escape they have.

I talked with Victor about it again the next day and he said that it wasn’t until he got to travel to America, as part of the Indian Children’s Choir (ICC), that his view changed. He realized that there where very few similarities between the real USA and the one he had grown up seeing in movies and on MTV. When he was little he wanted more than anything to move to America. After visiting he decided that, while there were certainly aspects of the US he preferred, he liked home better.

Before 2009, Bibles for the World (BFTW) had sent a group of kids from the northeastern states of India over to the US almost every year, starting in the early 1990s. These kids would spend a year traversing the country and singing at hundreds of churches in an effort to raise money for the schools back in India that BFTW runs through Partnership Ministries Society (PMS). They called this group the Indian Children’s Choir.

BFTW is thinking about starting the ICC back up again, but before they do it needs to be decided if it was actually worth the effort that was put into it. Financially it was, kind of; the budget almost always went into the red for that year, but the sponsorships gained from the concerts would usually ensure that it was worth it in the long-run. But was it worth it for the kids? It was for Victor, but one point is a long ways from a trend.

The big question is was it a positive and eye opening experience or did some of the kids get left with a foot in each culture, with neither place feeling like home. The worry is that BFTW took them, dunked them in America, made them rock stars, then expected them to just go back to their old lives; no more doting host families, no more singing in front of packed pews and no more traveling to 4 or 5 states in a month. Just go back and pick up your old life where you left off.

A few days ago Mary, my boss’s sister, asked me to make a survey and give it to a bunch of former ICC kids. The object being to figure out if kids like Victor were the exception or the rule. I’ve put together the survey, so now the mission is to give it to enough of the former participants to find that answer.

The bad part is that hatred of surveys seems to be pretty ubiquitous in every culture, so cornering and interrogating 75 ICC members may be a bit of a challenge. The nice part is that, having had the program for so many years means that, if I can ensnare enough data points, we can get a good snapshot of both the short and long-term attitudes and opinions of the participants, as well as how these might change over time.

From talking to the five or ten ICC kids I have run into during my time here it sounds like, by and large, they had an overwhelmingly positive experience. That their time in America dramatically improved their English and made them more confident and comfortable in who they are and where they come from. And while I don’t know if it has prevented any suicides, it certainly seems to have given the kids a broader perspective.