This post will be a long one, because I plan to span the globe and many years in this story. So prop up your feet and have the No Doz handy. As most journeys start at home, so must this one…. back to my PA childhood once again. Reading about people around the world in our set of World Book Encyclopedias just wasn’t enough, I wanted to meet people from all over the world. I pondered this dilemma, with not a single clue of how to do that from whence I sat looking at the lonely woods and fields around me, from a rock perched half-way up the mountain, which served as my thinking spot. Providence or luck, depending on your viewpoint, comes in many ways and mine arrived in the form of my junior high school German teacher. What an amazing teacher: a retired soldier, who had served as a translator in the Army, trained in both German and Russian (which he later began teaching when I was in high school and I added to my German classes), and possessor of what I often thought must be every piece of WWII film footage in the Army vault ( he showed them all and explained them in detail). I could hardly contain my joy when he passed out a little form one day with information on how to get a pen pal. I quickly filled out my form and mailed it off to Finland, of all places.
I started with a pen pal in India, but quickly added many other friends over the next few years. I longed for friends in China and the Soviet Union though. One thing stood in my way of achieving my goal – communism. I mentioned my disappointment to our pastor’s wife, the lovely Jewish lady from my previous post. Months later, she handed me a name and an address of a girl in Czechoslovakia, whom she had located through some friends of friends in their missionary work. It wasn’t Russia, but at least I had broken through the Iron Curtain. China proved a bridge too far and I settled for corresponding with a boy from Hong Kong or Taiwan (I forget which), who lived in England. He showed my letters to his best friend in England. Next thing I know, his friend wrote to me wanting to correspond with me too. Who knew our boring little life in the backwoods could be so entertaining…….. And I had several more pen pals, missing only Antarctica ( laugh, that’s supposed to be amusing).
Considering the present state of the world, I wonder how parents would react today if their daughter started writing to two boys in the Arab world. I had a pen pal in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The boy in Saudi Arabia came to the US to attend college in 1978 (ouch, I’m dating myself). During his first year of college he wrote to me from the Mid-West where he was attending school and at Christmas time he described his plans to stay there, but the dorms were closing. I immediately called my mother and she agreed, we must invite him to come to our house for Christmas; no one should be alone for Christmas. I arrived home from college and my busy mother hadn’t had time to bake Christmas cookies. I agreed to stay home and bake cookies with one of my sisters, while our parents drove to the nearest city to pick him up. It was a wonderful visit and this boy really liked my Dad a lot and over the next few years he called my parents to see how they were doing. I left college and went off to join the Army.
I only served in the Army a short time, deciding to hang up the combat boots and leave the soldiering to my husband, which worked out well, as I sure was better at being a homemaker than at soldiering and he liked doing crazy things like jumping out of airplanes and screaming, “Airborne!’ In that short time I learned more important things about myself and the world than probably at any other time in my life. Aside from learning about things like nuclear deterrence and what national defense really means, I learned some simple things that seem to be in sore need in our society today. I learned about setting goals (mission) , being part of a team, the importance of planning and planning ahead, how to face challenges when things don’t go easy, among many others. And on top of that, I developed my world view.
Over the years I’ve watched this alarming trend of our American efforts in the world to fall flat, despite our best intentions. As we fixated on “multiculturalism”, we seemed more and more tone-deaf about other cultures or ran off organizing aid efforts that didn’t reach those they were intended for or didn’t fit the needs of those we wanted to help. Much of this I attribute to relying on shoddy “experts” in academia, who spend most of their time projecting their radical politics on their judgments and assessments of what’s going on in the world. Repeatedly I saw TV reports or read accounts about American efforts at helping in the world, both governmental and private, ending up unwanted, unneeded, or unable to reach the hands in need, due to failing to understand the basic ground truth of the situation we were dealing with. We often short-shrift considerations of corruption and civil strife, which dramatically impede our effort, yet we rush to get rape or grief counselors on the ground. In the process we often seem to throw away opportunities and much-needed basic aid that could meet basic survival needs.
Admittedly, I am just an observer from the cheap seats here at home, watching this game play out in the world arena. And I’ll toss in this truth in advertising message, for the sake of honesty, I am a staunch conservative, so that means anything I’ve said will be completely ignored, mocked, ridiculed or otherwise discarded by the elitists on the left. Additionally, I’ve spent most of my life as a homemaker and what would I know beyond the confines of my cozy country kitchen (where I plan to get some split pea soup going in the slow cooker as soon I get done solving this world problem blogging). But wouldn’t it make more sense to talk to people actually in these places where we want to help or send out some emails and say, “hey what can I do to help you”, than to rely so heavily on “experts” in academia or pop culture mouthpieces. A small bright spot of someone in the media doing something to help that struck me as sensible and practical is liberal news analyst, Ellen Ratner, who started “Goats For The Old Goat”(here) , a relief effort to raise money and awareness to fight hunger in the South Sudan, one goat at a time. In our interconnected world, it sure seems like we could do a better job at lending a helping hand and figuring out more efficient ways to help.
To wrap up my pen pal saga, over 30 years later, my very first pen pal in India located me shortly after I set up a facebook page. She remembered the names of my brothers and sisters and located me through one of my sisters, because she didn’t know my married name. With the next generation being so much more adept at using technology, let’s hope they still remember that personal connections matter more than being an “expert” and getting to know people personally always trumps getting to know “about” people. And if you’ve survived this meandering post, please do check out Ellen Ratner’s website – it really is a worthy cause