Monday, December 14, 2009

Home on the Range

Hello, everyone.

My apologies for such severe neglect, but I'm finally home.

I got home Thursday night around midnight after MORE roadbumps (vomiting in the Sydney airport, several hours worth of delays, the usual). Even though I was exhausted, I didn't fall asleep until about 4:00 a.m., and I'm still adjusting to the jetlag. However, I'm home. And that's all that matters.

I went to the doctor on Friday, and they've diagnosed me. Long story short, I had a stomach bug that messed up my systems for a while and I was having a hard time getting back on track, which explained why food looked so repulsive to me: my stomach couldn't remember how to deal with it.

Anyway, I'm slowly improving. I'm keeping down whole meals with little difficulty and my energy levels are slightly more dependable (slightly: I napped for four hours yesterday). Hopefully, I'll be completely healed by the end of the week.

This may or may not be the end. Feel free to check back.

Most of all, thank you SO MUCH for following. Your support has made this whole ordeal easier to handle, and I love you all.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

In which I write something relevant

To you, my friends,

Yes, I’m still sick.

But I have an exciting announcement: today, the blog returns to its original purpose! I’m officially writing about something relevant to the Parliament! It’s shocking. If you need to go lie down, I understand.

So yesterday, I managed to make it to two sessions, both of which were relevant to said project. The first was entitled The Role of Media in Conflict Resolution, and it was a panel discussion led by Ahmed Rehab, Dr. Paul Wee, Hussein Rashid, and Karen Hernandez Andrews.

This panel contained far, far too many interesting concepts to explore here (I’ve been agonizing for an hour over which to choose), so I will whittle it down to one.

Karen Hernandez-Anderson is a Christian woman who writes for Muslim websites and works very closely with Christian-Muslim dialogue. She had some interesting insights on the availability of information through the internet. With social media, anyone can make their voice heard. Anyone can state their opinion. As a result, there is quite a multitude of opinions out there.

This means a few things. Firstly, it is difficult to get accurate information. There is no such thing as a fact-checker for the internet. Wikipedia? Maybe. The world wide web in its infinite entirety? Not so much. You must be very, very careful with what you read as fact and what you read as fabrication. “Do your research!” Karen said.

On the other hand, it is actually quite useful for people like Karen. Karen writes to facilitate healthy dialogue between Muslim and Christian people and communities. Because she has access to so many different opinions, she can actually respond to them in a more thorough way. She knows the arguments and complaints of those who oppose her pro-dialogue actions and can write more effectively against them. In opening their mouths, Karen’s “adversaries” place mediation tools directly into her hands, through social media.

I wish I could write more, but this is a blog, not a dissertation, and so I move on.

The second session was titled Blogistan: Muslims Dialogue through New Media. It was a panel session led by three young, exceedingly handsome, and fabulously funny Muslim men named Haroon Moghul, Hussein Rashid, and Wajahat Ali. You simply could not help but to be drawn to them. All three men are academics and bloggers who address political and interfaith issues in a healthy way, and each addressed their tendency to act as a three-headed unit. And if they find this and read about my admiration, so be it. Free ego boost for them. Anyway my boyfriend's still better looking.

As the Muslim hotties on this panel discussed social media, they gave some terminology to Karen's ideas. They used a term called “democratization of the media.” To reiterate: everyone can get their voice heard through social media. They also mentioned that social media also gave “a voice to the stupid.” To reiterate: anyone can get their voice heard through social media.

I found this difficult to digest (you know, because digestion is coming so easily to me at the moment) even though I heard the same idea addressed twice, and so I ask you, my readers, to answer a question that I asked in both sessions:

Social media gives a megaphone to anyone who wants one, allowing the meek to speak as well as the perverse to converse. In terms of interreligious dialogue, it both fosters communication as well as abets negative comments. Overall, is this a good thing or a bad thing?


Much love, Maggie

Monday, December 7, 2009

Just a quick update...

Hello everyone.

I PROMISE I'll write a nice, long entry later today about everything I learned today and yesterday. I PROMISE.

Yes, I'm still sick. More sick, since my symptoms are starting to multiply. Oh boy, it is so awesome to be me. I've been giving it "one more day" for over a week now, and I'm just done.

As a result, I'm officially coming home on Thursday. I should be back in Plymouth around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. I'm staying for the rest of the Parliament, meeting up with a friend in Melbourne tomorrow (I'll explain later), and then flying to Sydney Thursday morning and then home from there.

Yes, it is an absolute shame that this trip failed so epically. But that's life.

Thank you again for all your love and support. I love you all, and I PROMISE there will be a nice, lengthy, relevant entry later.

Much love,

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Further illness updates

Hello my lovely readers.

So here's the scoop.

After vomiting two days ago and spending all day yesterday sick in bed, I woke up this morning with rather severe stomach pain and went to the emergency room. I wasn't given a very solid diagnosis, but we've ruled out anything major and the doctor thinks it's stomach inflammation and irritation. Either way, I've been given a few meds, but not much has changed. My stomach still hurts.

The thing is, being homesick is very, very unusual for me. I suffered from a bit of it on a recent trip to Greece (though many of you know that I was quite sick on that trip, too), but at the age of 17 I was in France for a month and experienced maybe one afternoon of homesickness when I'd been there two weeks.

With this in mind, I have conferred endlessly with my loving parents and many others and we have come to the conclusion that I was sick (or getting sick) before I even came, and that's what's making me so miserable.

As a result, I'm going to see how I feel in a day or two, but if I'm not better, I'm just going to stick it out until the end of the Parliament (Wednesday), then take a train up to Sydney and fly home. To be honest, I've pretty much made up my mind that I'm coming home. I have no desire to be here anymore and I want nothing more than to be back in Plymouth. I will stay until the Parliament is over, but I have no real motive to stay anymore. I feel too rotten. There's clearly something wrong with my body and I have no choice but to listen to it.

Now that I'm thinking back on it, I have had stomach issues for the whole week that I've been here. I had trouble eating even in the L.A. airport, and that was before I even made it out of the country. Most foods other than crackers, juice, and bananas make me want to regurgitate them before they've even crossed my lips. Every time I've been made to feel better by talking to my mom or my dad or my boyfriend, I relapse into being upset because my stomach acts up again. There is clearly something more than homesickness going on here.

This trip has been, in a word, miserable. The few times I've enjoyed myself are massively outweighed by the times I've spent crying, trying to resist crying, and feeling absolutely dreadful. If I'm going to feel sick, I might as well feel sick at home where my mommy and daddy can help me.

The one thing that weighs on my mind is the feeling that this whole trip has been a waste. The planning, the money, and the excitement have all been for naught. If I go home, I'm throwing it down the drain. But would it not be equally wasteful to spend another ten days here instead, feeling absolutely wretched and wishing I was home?

It is not, as I'm trying to convince myself, a true waste. I still can experience the Parliament. I still have explored another part of the world. I still have seen a kangaroo, a koala, a platypus, and an echidna up close. I can still do my Civitas project, which is the real reason I'm here. I went and spoke again with one of the women from the Listening Room and she discussed these things with me and made me feel at peace about them. But there's one more thing.

I want to ask a favor of you.

When I come home, I really don't want to have to deal with people giving me grief for coming home early. This is my decision, one that I've made with the help of those around me, and it is not a decision that will impact the well-being of anyone at home. I will happily discuss my experiences at the Parliament and in the city of Melbourne with you, but I don't want to be scolded for my choices. If you want to think I'm a spineless coward, feel free to do so. But please, keep it to yourself. I don't want to hear it. This is all I ask of you.

Sorry for the tirade, and thank you for reading. I will continue to update.

Much love,

Illness updates

Today I did not write a proper entry. My apologies.

I'm still sick. No longer vomiting but still very shaky and weak, with a touchy stomach. Talked to my parents (apparently my brother had something similar) and boyfriend quite a bit today... still petrifying to be sick so far away from home and with so few resources.

Hopefully will be back at the Parliament tomorrow, but we'll see.

Thank you for the prayers and support. I can feel them working!


Friday, December 4, 2009

A breath-taking installment in the epic saga. Get excited.

Today, I apologize, but I will not write much about the sessions that I attend. My friends and lovely, lovely readers, I have quite a story for you. I hope you're prepared.

Some background: my fourth session of the day was an interactive workshop on spiritual directors, led by six women and a man from all over the the world and from all different spiritual traditions. At one point in their program, they mentioned that they were hosting another program that was taking place right after. It was a daily session called "A Listening Place Each Day," a quiet room where one could come to reflect and meditate as well as speak to the available spiritual directors.

During the program, I sat next to a wonderfully kind priest named Tim from Sydney, who was unbelievably nice to me when I had a bit of a breakdown: I was homesick and my stomach was still bothering me. Tim, thank you again.

Anyway, on to my next session. I attended "12 Steps: A Complete, Non-Denominational Spiritual Path for the 21st Century." It was mildly interesting, but I was largely preoccupied by my stomach, which was suddenly acting very, very strange.

I don't know why I decided to go to the bathroom, but it's a good thing I did, because as soon as I was in the stall, I was on my knees in my cute little Banana Republic capris, vomiting.

Yes. Vomiting in the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Center during the 2009 Parliament of the World's Religions.

Allow me a moment of self-pity and let me say this: to find yourself vomiting, in a public restroom of an enormous venue, in a foreign country, when your bag is in another room, and the only other person you know is God knows where, and you are without a phone or any awareness of medical facilities, is very, very scary.

In between making some really cute noises, I was wondering, What am I going to do? I had no idea to whom I could turn for the help that I so desperately needed. And then I remembered the listening place, and the kindly women who promised to be there. So, once my stomach had stopped performing gymnastics, I stumbled, shaky and crying, into the listening room.

I was immediately led to a chair and surrounded by Lynette Dungan, Bernadette Miles, and Liz Ellmann, three of the kind women who had led the previous session. And for the next hour, they cared for me.

They brought me water and tissues. Lynette covered me with her shawl to help with my sudden, incessant, and violent shivering. They were understanding and forgiving of my pathetic whimpers. "I just want my mom," I sobbed. "Well," they said, "now you have three!" They asked me about home, about my parents, about my work at the Parliament, about my wonderful boyfriend, about Margaret, and more. I told them about all these things, and about my homesickness. They talked with me for an hour, keeping my mind off my illness and helping me with my homesickness. They were fascinating women, one of them from Minnesota, and I really enjoyed talking to them. When the session was over, they walked me down to meet Margaret and wished me goodbye.

These women were among the kindest, warmest people I have ever met. If they had not been there, I don't know what I would've done. But I went to them, and they cared for me as if I were their own child at a time when I may not have been able to help myself. I am so, so thankful for them, more than I can express with mere words. If you women are reading this: thank you so much for your love and kindness.

As for my illness, I'm on the mend. I'm under strict instructions from Liz, Lynette, and Bernadette to stay in bed and drink water and eat crackers for the next 24 hours, and I won't dare stray from their orders (I think they're all moms, and it's really foolish to defy a mom who is on a diagnostic rampage). Perhaps tomorrow I will write about the sessions that I did manage to attend without purging my innards. But for today, I can only be grateful for the love that I received today. And I am so incredibly grateful.

I'll keep you all updated on my condition. Thanks for reading.

Love and peace,

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Parliament has officially begun...

The Parliament, my friends, has officially started. But first I must say, I have had a wide range of religious interaction today.

After registration this morning, Margaret and I were in a shop that sold aboriginal art. I started talking to a woman working there, telling her about the Parliament, and about the recent turmoil within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) regarding homosexual, partnered pastors. This woman was very, very opinionated. She wouldn’t, as Margaret later observed, let me get a word in edgewise, and I ended up finding her rather insulting.

She was very adamantly against homosexuality at all, which is not what I have against her. That is her belief, and though mine is different, I wasn’t going to challenge her. However, she said of the ELCA, “That church cannot flourish, because God is not there.” She said this to me after I had told her that my own mother is a pastor of this church, someone who built her career and her life off of this church. People I loved were part of this church. And this woman was dismissing all of them as sinners who do not please God.

And then, from this, I went to the opening plenary of the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions, where everyone is accepted.

It was, in a word, amazing. There were speakers, dancers, singers, and more. We received blessings from Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Baha’is, Shintos, Aborigines, and Zoroastrians, all of them so unique. We heard incredible music from students of a Hindu music school. We saw a girl do wonderful Jain dancing. We listened to a Sikh prayer that had resounding responses from the Sikhs in the audience. All of these things that I had never experienced before were happening right in front me, and it was so amazing.

Now, a word about our seating. I was seated five seats down from Uncle Bob Randall, one of the most prominent leaders of Aboriginal people today. Drool, my friends. Drool with jealousy.

However, more fun that Uncle Bob was the man seated next to me. In a gathering of about 10,000 people, I sat down next to Brian and his wife, Julia, both of whom are from Wisconsin (for those who do not actually know me, I am from Minnesota). They were thoroughly enjoyable folk, these two, and we hope to see them again tomorrow at Communities Night. But my point is this: the world is so small! I flew halfway around the world in order to meet a couple who live mere hours away from me!

The best part of the night was Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. His Holiness is a humanitarian who works very hard for a violence-free world. He spoke at the plenary and I must say, I adore him.

He said that, these days, we see violence as a heroic thing, something to be celebrated. War heroes are decorated while peacekeepers are called feeble and cowardly. And then he spoke, with absolutely heart-wrenching honesty, about how sad this made him. How sad he was that the world had turned completely on its head, and that we no longer value the things that keep us together as a global family. This Parliament, he said, is a “family reunion,” a place to get to know each other and recreate the things that once held us together, like peace and love.

He then spoke of a thought that had come to him while listening to the orchestra. He said that while everyone played their own instrument (like the didgeridu, which is unparalleled in coolness) and sang with their own voice, they all watched the same conductor and together made one beautiful sound.

This is an extremely accurate picture of what the Parliament is trying to accomplish. Rather than fighting over our differences, we should embrace them and focus on what really matters, focus on a common goal: a happy, violence-free world.

Thanks for reading, and keep your eye on the conductor.

Love and peace, Maggie