Thank you Charlie for your thoughts on world issues which inspired me to write down some of my own. They were very much appreciated. My husband Konrad, myself and our two sons (age 12 and 14) have just finished an eye-opening nine-month journey around the world in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. We traveled through parts of Asia (Nepal, India and others), Egypt and Switzerland, where my husband and I were born.
For a number of years now the two of us have been American citizens. A reason to be proud of, right? But this trip somehow has cooled down some of those exuberant feelings. From many local people we heard first hand what the rest of the world thinks of us Americans.
We will never forget the remarks of a Muslim taxi driver in Cairo while passing by the American embassy. Out of the blue he said, "America bad, American bad people." Silence. We were shocked. Little did he know that his Swiss speaking passengers also happened to be American citizens, living in the U.S.
Konrad tried to explain to him calmly that Americans sometimes don't know any better, don't always get the whole picture. Many blindly believe what they read in the newspapers, or whatever the government wants them to believe. The same would be true for the Arabs.
Sometime in late March, I happened to be caught in an intense discussion between several Arab men in a hotel lobby in Cairo. They were watching TV: President Bush, who had just finished a speech followed by footage of the invasion and destruction of Ramallah and the siege of President Arafat's headquarters by the Israeli army. Next they showed Israeli soldiers attacking Western journalists and preventing them from taking photographs.
I was appalled! This couldn't really be happening! The men in the room were very angry, upset and all stirred up, but also thankful to have an American person listening to them. (By the way I had just read an Egyptian paper and was somewhat informed and prepared.)
The men threw it all at me: "Look what's going on, this isn't fair, they destroy everything, kill everybody, why isn't your country America doing something, stop this war. The President, he only uses empty words" Wow, I wasn't quite prepared for such an outburst!
What I was witnessing on TV was totally the other side. I couldn't help but start to understand the Arab world's frustration. I told the men I would make sure to tell my friends back home about their side, their helplessness, but also that it is important for everybody in this world to listen to each other, trying to understand and to be open and tolerant.
And what do the Europeans think of us? The Swiss? Swiss people have a longstanding love affair with America. The U.S. is everything that Switzerland is not. America is vast and wild and free, while Switzerland is small, tame and very civilized.
They imagine Americans as freewheeling cowboys roaming unhindered over immense tracts of unspoiled land while the Swiss themselves are laboring under a strict bureaucratic system and are forced to follow an endless amount of rules and restrictions. But somehow this view slowly seems to change. There appears to be a gap, and it seems to widen.
Again while reading different European newspapers we got a taste of that. Many European nations expressed their disappointment with the U.S. and its non-actions and passiveness during the Israel-Palestine conflict. Many say the Americans think they are everything, the biggest, the best, the loudest who think they control the world happenings.
Why can't we Americans have friends out there? What needs to change? Maybe it is time we start putting our own interest and priorities in the background. Americans are not the only people out there in this big wide world. Yet pretty soon we might start feeling lonely, ignored and left alone by the rest.
I have to admit, though, whenever possible, I proudly would tell people that I actually live in Alaska, not America, in a totally cool place called Homer, where people are informed, open-minded and truly care about others and are taking many positive actions to make a difference in this world.
Thank you all.
Gabriela and Konrad Schaad family