Friday, August 4, 2006

When Returning is Harder than Saying Goodbye

As has been said one thousand times before, we live in a world of terror. As I sit on a flight to London, a new friend sits beside me, trying not to think that she may never be able to go home because her country is no longer safe. Meanwhile, another new friend goes from gate to gate in the Amsterdam airport after hearing word that the roads from Damascus to Beirut have been bombed. Unsure of where he will be able to go, he tries to find a flight to London or Orlando, where he will watch the news and wait, for better or for worse.

The Lebanese are not the only people scared for their homes—they join the ranks of countless others living in a world of uncertainty and anger, a world in which conflict too often results in displacement, disillusionment, loss of life, loss of home. The events in Lebanon and Israel during the past four weeks only emphasize how important our studies are. As we’ve said, we live in a new world order. This does not just refer to global cities but to the ways in which the world’s parts relate and interact. We live in a world in which the old answers are not enough. We live in a world in which trust is obsolete and security is never guaranteed. To relate it to this past week in Holland, what do we know now? What have we learned on these visits that we can use to smooth the transition of this new world order, how can we look at what we have to find out what we need? To me, these questions are powerful, and we can only begin to consider them.

I have seen a lot in the past week. I now know that states can work together and that they are held accountable for their actions. I know (from OPCW) that the world is interested in a more peaceful dynamic and will take steps to see this change. I know that if we don’t have faith in this, there is not much hope. So where do we pick up from what we have and continue on? How can we start to think and work proactively instead of retroactively? If I had all the answers to these questions, I would be sitting beside Kofi Annan and Tony Blair, implementing something better. But these questions need consideration and I will not give up.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006


After a week here, Amsterdam has grown on me. When I am old, I wouldn’t mind spending my hours bicycling around the canals and reading the International Herald Tribune in a cafĂ©. My great aunt, who in her younger days was a fashion model in Paris, has paid countless trips to Amsterdam precisely for the serenity that comes with a city shaped by water. In her memories, Amsterdam is the great escape, the place where the fabulous people of the 40s and 50s went to retreat. Amsterdam seems to have changed somewhat since then—instead of escaping the rambunctious British men populating London’s pubs, I have encountered them in hoards in the red-light district, where they stumble as at home, cursing and laughing through the streets of Amsterdam. Did Amsterdam have a more glorious day? Is it still an escape? I see two Amsterdams—the tourist’s Amsterdam and the resident’s Amsterdam, the latter of which has been pretty successfully hidden from view.

What I have enjoyed most about Amsterdam is its history and its beauty. Amsterdam is a city that is historically a maritime center, a leader in shipping and oceanic exploration. It is a city of liberal minds and opinionated voices, a city where free will is valued and right answers are important. But to me, most of all, it is a beautiful place to explore—the city’s preservation of facades and height-limits make it feel as though you are walking a path that has been tread a thousand times yet you are discovering it for the first time. Amsterdam also has a strong Jewish history and is home to Anne Frank’s hideaway (now a museum) and a number of stunning synagogues. What’s more, Amsterdam is a city of art—the Van Gogh Museum is here, as well as a museum of Dutch art that includes works by Rembrandt.

While these cultural facets are wonderful, I'm not certain that I could live here. I am realizing more and more that I love the buzz factor of cities like London and New York. The frantic, constant movement of a city is important to me— I need to be somewhere where things are happening, where even when I am not involved (and I’m usually not) there are interesting and important and enlightening things going on. Amsterdam is too quiet of a city in every way; while it is a place of fine art and beautiful architecture, and a place steeped in history, it is not hugely involved in today’s world. I get the feeling in Amsterdam that there are people sitting in the cafes, talking and talking about important things, while the people in New York, London, and Tokyo actually do them.

The Hague is in these respects both similar to and different from Amsterdam. Amsterdam is a city that goes in and out of the global market, whereas The Hague has been consistently developing as an important city. At the same time, The Hague, in its small, niche-specific network, seems to be largely a place for conversation about things that are going on elsewhere. That said, The Hague is the titan of its industry. Beyond that it is a city of wealth, where diplomats dot the brick sidewalks and intellectuals fill quiet restaurants with controversial conversation. I like the way this city feels more than Amsterdam—it isn’t trying to be anything more or other than it is. It markets itself as the international center of peace and justice, and that’s just what it is. It knows its global reach and caters to that, yet it pushes to be a bit more. There is a kind of buzz in The Hague, of a global elite looking to make a change, to create a new world order. But it doesn’t try to be any other kind of buzz, because this is enough. I like this.


In two days I will say goodbye to another phase, another set of people and places. This has been a completely new experience. We, the seven-plus of us, have developed a new way of thinking. We have adopted a new lens which each of us will use in the contexts through which we experience life. We as a group are composed of very different individuals with very different backgrounds, yet we have come together in global cities to consider them and how they impact our contexts, our colleagues’ contexts, the world we share that is, on many levels, continually getting smaller and larger. We have become, together, citizens of the world, not just in our travels but in our dialogues, in the conversations, even casually, that a Beirut-ian and a Bangkok-ian and a New Yorker have together. How do they frame the world differently? How do they understand their role? How do they reformulate, reconsider, reinvent in and after these conversations? When they go back to Beirut and Bangkok and New York where do they fit? What is their perception? I believe that every experience remolds you and causes you to recalculate, perhaps unconsciously, your position. How will we redefine ourselves? We are our own community of fate. Will we contribute to the organization of a new political space? I will be interested to see where my fellow world citizens end up.