Monday, September 29, 2008

[Fiction] My Falafel Journey

I had just finished watching my fourth hour of television when I noticed a deep grumbling in my stomach. All that TV had made me hungry and I had a strong craving for some greased-up falafel. Perhaps this primal craving had begun when I was watching the Simpsons, or maybe when I watched Batman Begins, but for whatever reason I knew that I had to get some low-quality falafel fast. And I knew just the spot.

I hopped into my Toyota, put the windows down, turned the Flobots up and was off. I coasted down US-41 while contemplating how bloody hot it was in November and why Florida had no winter when I noticed the car next to me was trying to get my attention. I wasn’t in the best part of town and the person in the other car didn’t look very educated (his lack of a shirt and shave spoke volumes…) but I turned to listen to him anyways. “Ey boy, how you get to the Wal-Mart?” As I attempted to stifle my laughter I told him how to get there and he headed out. My thoughts of Falafel had now moved on to a reflection on Wal-Mart and all the things that it represented.

Wal-Mart was really the epitome of America. It is a behemoth of a store with cheap, disposable goods at a low-price. I strained hard to think back to the last time I had come to Wal-Mart. It had been in the midst of another snack-driven delirium and I ended up finally going there at 2 in the morning. When I got there I was shocked to see that the parking lot was completely full and that people were trudging along buying various trinkets and novelties as if it were 3 o’clock in the afternoon. This small-town sized building held the cheapest goods money could buy and the lowest paid workers money could afford. I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness for all of those people I had seen in Wal-Mart—all of them looked overworked and completely burdened down by their own troubles. Was this really what the American Dream was all about?

I was jolted back from my daydream to find that I had finally arrived at Uncle Mo’s Kebab Palace. I went in and immediately looked for something to quench my thirst. I couldn’t find any crab juice so I grabbed a Mountain Dew instead and then finally ordered a falafel. As I took my first bite into the sub-par sandwich I couldn’t help but wonder what life would be like without falafel.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What to do after Graduation?

At the end of one’s undergraduate education, many students face the difficult question of what to do next. Almost overnight, graduates enter into what is deemed the ‘real world’. For many people, the only charted territory is to directly continue their studies in some graduate school. However, I think that—for the majority of people—this is a mistake. I believe that it is critically important for people to take at least a year off in between undergrad and graduate school to get a full taste of the ‘real world’.

Time off from school allows an individual to explore their ancillary interests and expand their horizons. Far too often, people are in a rush to finish up their formal education so that they can begin working. It is believed that by rushing to get into the work force, one’s true life begins; however, the important journey in between work and school is often shortchanged in favor of an end product. This journey should not be ignored because it is critical for both personal development and learning. Part of one’s journey through life should be time away from school gainfully employed toward one’s interests.

One way to usefully spend a year off is to pursue some form of research. For example, I graduated last May from New College of Florida and will be doing a Fulbright in Malaysia this year. The Fulbright Program is run through the State Department and it funds scholars to pursue research abroad for a year. Anyone can apply for scholarship to virtually any country in the world and in any field of interest. For example, my research proposal was focused on International Relations and Foreign Policy. Specifically, I plan to study the impact of Islam on the development of Malaysian foreign policy. Through the Fulbright Program, I’m going to enjoy spending my year off from school to pursue this research and teach in Malaysia.

Instead of rushing to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or other professional, I think almost everyone should take some time off from school to pursue their other interests. The Fulbright Program is but one example of many things that graduates can do with their time off. Many people decide to take a year off to volunteer, work, or pursue independent study. I would highly recommend upcoming graduates to look into a variety of options, including Teach for America, teaching English abroad, pursuing lab research, studying a foreign language, volunteering in the community, working for an NGO or non-profit organization, doing an internship, joining the Peace Corps, getting a job, or any of the thousands of other options that you have. The bottom line is to take time off and do something that you enjoy. It will make your journey more pleasant and will be an excellent time off for personal fulfillment. Don’t rush through life—it is definitely better to stop and smell the roses.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Hate Not Heritage

I am angry. Every morning during my commute to work, a giant Confederate flag greets me like a slap in the face at the junction of I-4 and I-75. This virulent symbol is a constant remainder of the South’s failed attempt to defend the unconscionable practice of slavery.

The Confederate flag is a powerful symbol of both slavery and segregation. When the South seceded from the Union to defend the institution of slavery, all slaves in the South came to fear the Confederate battle flag. To slaves, the flag represented the cruelty of the slave system and the idea of the indefinite bondage of human beings. The flag still carries this historical baggage and by 1948, the Dixiecrat party used it as a symbol to galvanize support for segregation. The flag has thus morphed into a potent symbol for slavery and oppression.

Some proponents of the flag argue that it merely represents heritage not hate; however, this statement is flawed considering the flag’s historical usage. It represents a racist call to the Old South in which both slavery and lynching’s were the norm. The Confederate flag is similar to the Nazi flag in that they both represent an evil past in which the hatred and subjection of a peoples was acceptable. Proponents of the flag merely appear to be couching their thinly-veiled prejudice behind the Confederate flag.

This flag is unacceptable in our society. Our country has made incredible strides towards healing some of the wounds from our checkered past. My drive to work reminds me that there is still much work that needs to be done to overcome our difficult heritage.

A version of this article was published on September 12, 2008 in the St. Pete Times:

And in the Tampa Tribune on September 13, 2008: