Well it’s been 2 years and nearly 8 months, but last weekend I finally made it back to that bizarre mixture of countryside and suburbs: HAMBURG. I went to visit Lars (the guy I stayed with for my exchange during my senior year in high school, and who stayed at my house for July of last year). I also went to participate in NaJuWo workshop being hosted in Hamburg at the CISV house. CISV stands for Children’s International Summer Villages. Obviously it’s not summer and we’re not children, although I was the oldest one there, since all the participants were either still in their respective country’s version of high school, or graduated this year. The oldest participant I met was 19. People came from different places around the world, and everyone is supposed to do their best to speak English all the time, since it’s the one language that every single person knows. Most of them were Germans (simply due to the location), with other represented countries including the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Austria, Poland, Ecuador, South Africa, Canada, and even a couple Americans.
The theme for the day (Saturday) was Positive Discrimination. We split into groups and talked about what that might mean. Then we talked some more. I had finally started reading Thomas More’s Utopia (thanks Uncle Fran!) on the plane, and made a reference to when the character Raphael describes an imaginary discussion with a king in which he advises him not to control territory he can’t effectively govern. So I offered that maybe discrimination might be a way to appreciate the differences between people, and not lump them together for other ends. Then we were all given the definition, which essentially turned out simply to describe Affirmative Action, so we were way off.
The 80 of us got together and discussed some more. Someone mentioned how discrimination was good, because according to her, if a man is on a date, he will open the door for the women and then pay, despite the fact that she quite possibly works and makes her own money. That got some laughs.
Then there was a guest speaker, a 35 year-old guy named Dag Ziman who works for an NGO (I don’t recall the name, it must not be too important), who spoke to us about the controversies of Affirmative Action, and talked mainly about the histories of the United States and South Africa. He talked about LBJ, and actually managed to misquote both Martin Luther King jr. and the U.S. Constitution twice (though I have to give him credit, he is a non-native speaker). At one point he asked the question: “How many people in this room honestly think that black people are less intelligent than whites?” No hands are raised. “How many people think that black people smell, for instance?” There was one black person in the room, a Dutch guy (I think), and he raised his hand. Everyone laughs. “No, it’s true! It’s because of the food they eat. It creates an odor.”
After recovering from that bit of insight, Ziman asked a different question. “How many people think that blacks can dance better? Or that gays are really good at flower arrangements?” Some hands were raised. This was to make a point about what people consider acceptable and unacceptable to say.
We took a break for lunch. As the day went on I started to realize how much more difficult German is than French. I’d been telling people the opposite, because I can understand quite a bit, but I’d been foolish myself. It’s easier to hear the annunciation of the words for sure, but there’s so many of them….
We returned for a question and answer period. One of the questions went something like: “Is it possible to have positive discrimination without a group having been disadvantaged?” Ziman said no, that positive discrimination is always a response to previous disadvantage. So towards the end I put my hand up, and asked two questions: First, if positive discrimination is always in response to a previous disadvantage, then why are women considered minority groups with respect to affirmative action? Doesn’t that mean that those advocating positive discrimination are inferring some innate inferiority among women; that they’re born disadvantaged? Second, would immigrant groups be considered disadvantaged, even if they came from countries in which they were not oppressed but still disproportionately represented crime in their new country? My questions probably weren’t phrased exactly this well, but my beautiful American English probably sounded impressive to them. That’s how I imagine it anyway.
The answer to my first question was (of course) that patriarchal society tends to exclude women. The answer to the second was that as far as he knew, no country supports immigrant groups with affirmative action. And with that we moved on to the next activity.
We were split into groups and made to go around the campus (so 2 small buildings) and find pieces of paper on the walls which gave us discussion questions. One of them was to make a photo depicting violating someone’s rights. So a brilliant Dutch guy decided to tape my hands together, as well as put duct tape over my mouth, and then hold a megaphone to my ear as if he was screaming at me. Click! Another station had us record 3 things we enjoy about the program. My contribution was singing the word supercalafragalisticexpialidocius, since all Europeans love when people can say this word. We also had to tell a member of staff a joke, and they had to laugh (you know what’s coming).
“There are two muffins baking in an oven. One muffin says: ‘It’s hot in here!’ The other one says: ‘Hey look! A talking muffin!” Success. Laughter was heard that day (Thanks Uncle Scott!)
Dinner time. Pasta. I asked for “un petit peu plus s’il vous plait”, before realizing that I was in Germany, not France. Ein Bisschen mehr, bitte….
Finally we had our last activity, in which we shouted names of international organizations to a guy who wrote them down. Then we split into 2 groups, and one group was again split into groups and had to formulate plans to convince the rest of us to join them. So we re-entered the room and were barraged with encouragement; “Join this group! This way! No wrong way, come with us! We have cookies!” I still don’t know what the point of this was, but it was nevertheless a positive experience because the group I joined came with free massages.
Then there was a party. Activities included (but were not limited to) drinking German beer, talking to Germans, eating pretzels, and practicing my drawing. In fact 2 of my drawings were well-liked enough to be kept…Too bad I won’t get to bring them to my final critique next Wednesday, but at least somebody got a nice souvenir.
We were woken up the next morning at 10am for “the most fun activity” (again, you know what’s coming). Clean up!!!
Most people left at noon, but I stayed with Lars and a group of 8 others for another night. Another German friend of mine came over, and we watched 500 Days of Summer. It was more of a favorite with the girls, and I was the only one who understood all the references to American pop culture.
On Monday it was time for me to fly back to France (well actually it was Brussels Airlines as well since I had a 2-hour layover in Brussels). Lars’ dad picked us up and we stopped at their house, so I also got to say hi to Lars’ mom, who made me a delicious lunch. I had to kind of wolf it down so Lars could get to work on time. I eventually arrived back at the good ol’ homestay, ready for another wonderful week of potraits…