Monday, December 28, 2009

Building Sustainability

This is the first documentary that I made with a group. It was produced with students from Portland Community Media and it's about the rebuilding movement here in Portland, Oregon. I find this subject to be very inspiring.

Building Sustainability from Liz Grover on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Before You Call Me Crazy...

More and more, I'm sharing my story of how I got to Afghanistan with the world. I've been waiting for this for years. See, I originally went to Afghanistan for many reasons, but one of them was to share my experience of Muslim culture when I returned home to the states. It was my intention because I was sooooo tired of Americans--the ones who had never been to Afghanistan--telling me what Afghans and Muslims were like. In February I will go on my first speaking tour ever, and it's so incredibly exciting. My dream is becoming a reality.

Last week I did a talk at a small intellectual meet-up in Portland, Oregon. I did the usual. I spoke, I connected, and I made new friends. One acquaintance said to me, "Liz, I tell a lot of people about how you got to Afghanistan with only $100 and no job. People first say, 'Wow! She's crazy' but then they see it in a different way when I tell them why you did it".

This was an interesting statement. It's not a surprise that people instantly say that I'm crazy, but I want everyone to stop and think about what crazy really is. I'm crazy. There's no doubt about it. I can function as a typical human in western society, hold an amazing career and do things that most people do, but I know that I look at life and the world in a much different way.

Before you call me crazy, think about what it is. It's crazy for me to go to Afghanistan with nothing but $100, but westerners aren't crazy for working 70+hours a week to pay for luxury cars and palatial suburban homes where it's hard for the average three to four family members to occupy all the rooms? And what about our American obsession with weight? Are you telling me that I'm crazier for following my heart to Afghanistan than western women who strive to look like photoshopped emaciated models in Vogue Magazine? Am I crazier than the Americans who are addicted to movie and reality TV star gossip, and don't understand that innocent people die everyday in other countries because of our country's nastier habits of war mongering and oil consumption (to name a few)?

Think about it. I've got a good kind of crazy going on. I followed my heart and free spirit to places that most will never see. I have a global family, a world wide web of human connections so extensive that I always see someone I know no matter where I travel. If you still want to call me crazy compared to those who I just mentioned, I'm happy to keep my title.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dream Life

My relationship to dreams is an evolving story. Like everyone, I've been dreaming all my life, but the value I place on it has changed. I definitely had my dreams as a child. I chose only a few because I didn't want to bite off more than I could chew. I wanted to travel the world before getting married, I wanted the world's biggest music collection, and I wanted to adopt if I ever had a child because I thought there were already too many living children who needed love. This is what I thought about when I was seven.

As I grew into my 20s, the mp3 was invented, so that took care of my music dream. I now have about 100 gigabytes of music, and I have to say that I don't feel the need to acquire much more. It's not the world's biggest music collection, but that part of my ego doesn't need to prove itself anymore.

I traveled the world--15 countries to be exact. I'm married now, but the part I didn't include in my childhood dream is that marriage isn't an end. I continue to travel with and without my husband. Our idea of marriage is an ever changing unique design that doesn't adhere to what my society unsuccesfully tried to force on me.

As far as kids are concerned, no, I don't have any. Actually, I want to say this dream changed, but it didn't because I always left it open-ended. As a child, I always made sure to install the big "If I have kids" when I put any energy into this dream. I'm still a child. I have friends who are kids, but no, I don't think I'm the one to have them.

Looking back, I can say most of my major childhood dreams did come true. There may have been small parts that didn't pan out, but I know that's because I modified the dream, like with the "biggest music collection in the world" bit. I realized that wasn't what I really wanted and 100 gigs was enough.

About the only remaining childhood dream is that I would like to have a coffee with any of the remaining members of Monty Python. I'm still alive, and so are they (minus one-Graham Chapman rest in peace). There's still time, and I'll update this entry when it happens.

What is so different about dreaming as a child and dreaming now? As a child, I didn't realize that I could make all my dreams come true. Now that I'm an adult, I made most of my dreams come true. For the past couple of years, I've been focusing on what to dream next. Yeah, I have new ones. They're personal, but they don't seem to matter as much anymore. Dreaming for myself is fine and necessary to some extent, but what I do now is dream for the world. I dream of peace. This is my number one dream now and I believe it can happen, because I have no other choice but to believe it.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

My Trip To The Taj Mahal

It was almost a year ago when I went to the Taj Mahal. The one-day trip went beyond all expectations, and it was one of the most intense days of my life.

It began in Delhi early in the morning. I just had my big fat Indian wedding. I’m American, but my husband was born and raised there in a Punjabi family. The morning was cold and smoggy. My friends from the USA, Europe and Australia were there for the ride. They came to my wedding and we thought the Taj Mahal would be the perfect way to bring all the celebrations to a close.

Since the Taj Mahal was about five hours away, I assumed that the smog would eventually thin out, but it didn’t. It actually grew worse as we drove on. There was a burning chemical smell in the air that closed car windows couldn’t deter. My lungs felt like they were on fire with every inhalation. The fumes made me feel like my head was trapped inside a diesel barrel. Until that day, I never knew air could be so dirty and that people could actually breathe it in. Keep in mind that I’ve been to many polluted cities around Asia, including Bangkok and Kathmandu. This was by far the worst I had ever experienced.

About two hours into our road trip we stopped at a tourist restaurant/truck stop. It looked like hell on earth. The land was cracked, barren and dry. There was very little greenery and nature. Suffering people were everywhere begging on the streets, either looking emaciated, high or deformed in some way. I wondered if they could still smell the chemicals in the air after living there all their lives. I wondered what the drinking water like, but there was no way I would try it. This whole land was toxic, and it made me appreciate my clean green home in Oregon more than ever. I’m not sure if most Americans can even imagine the severity, for I have never seen it so bad in my own country. Not even close.

As we pulled into the parking lot, I saw several Indian men sitting on the side of the road with several chained up monkeys that were dressed in tattered & dusty circus clothes and makeup. They looked like the worst imaginable Hollywood stereotypes of weary and enslaved hookers. But they weren’t even people. They were monkeys! I was disturbed and hoped that I would never encounter such a reality again. I even felt horrible about the cobra that the same men kept in a basket. I just wanted to set it free, even though snakes usually freak me out. I felt really bad for this trapped life form. In moments like these, I question life and the world. I hope that death is really a relief and the heaven that cultures around the world have longed for it to be.

We got to the Taj Mahal and it was a fantasy island, a monument of incredible wealth and artistry. Its glossy beaming pillars of hand carved stones were stunning, picturesque and added to the whole image of what India is to me: a place of extremes with very little in the middle. The postcard image of the Taj Mahal is exactly what I saw, but there is this whole other world just outside it’s gates and ticket line. It’s a world of poverty, starving street children, environmental disaster and ignorance that the pretty framed picture does not capture. It was memorable and I’m glad I did it, but I mostly see other images from that day when anyone asks me what it was like. The greatest castles and holy monuments will never impress me as much as social justice and a clean and peaceful world.

What made this trip even more challenging was that some of my American friends had never been outside the west before and they were having a hard time processing all of these severe examples of life. It brought out their darker characteristics that I usually don’t get to see. It was hard for me, but it was still a little bit easier than what they were going through because I had seen similar situations throughout most of my 20s all around Asia. This was all new to them. I had to be a tour guide and counselor all in one for my friends that day. God bless ‘em for coming so far just to experience my wedding.

During the long drive home, we passed through a town that my new mother-in-law told me to look out for. In Hindu mythology, it was the place where Krishna was born. My husband Sam pointed it out as we drove by and I had to laugh or else I would have cried. In Hindu culture, it is important to treat the land, air, soil and water with respect because it is alive and holy. Yet that day I saw the paradox of Mother India. Without any exaggeration, Krishna’s hometown was another dump that was taken over by an oil refinery. There was a high tower at the refinery that had a large and very evil looking flame shooting out from the top. Don’t get me wrong. I love fire and practically worship it, but the flames had a weird green tint to them that made me feel like I was looking straight into Tolkien’s Eye of Sauron. Tolkien had it nailed. The dark side doesn’t mind killing the earth to have the power, and this oil refinery was a fully embodied example of what The Lord of the Rings was talking about.

Luckily a dear friend named AJ was there for the journey. We went to high school together, and one of the reasons I appreciate him is because he uses the same darker shades of humor to process the more intense moments of life. Not everyone can appreciate this about me, but sometimes it’s the only way I can get by and it was the same for him that day. We were an hour outside of Delhi when he started to play “In The Ghetto” by Elvis on the radio. It made it all the better, and all of the sudden things weren’t so serious. The best was that I couldn’t even sing the falsetto “In the Ghetto” chorus because my voice had almost completely shut down because of the pollution. I just squeaked along to the lyrics, but I did it with all my heart and that’s what really mattered. It was my release from the horror that I had witnessed that day.

So yeah, I’ve been to the Taj Mahal, and it literally left me breathless in more ways than one. My best advice? Bring a dust mask and some tissues to wipe the tears away, as it is not for the weakest of lungs or heart.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Looking To Speak Out.

I thank you for reading these words on this page. I appreciate all your interest and support. Right now I'm making my transition into being a public speaker and I need any help that I can get. It's my goal to speak out publicly about my wonderful experiences with the Afghan people. I want to illuminate the stereotypes that have been so wrongly created here in the USA. Most Afghans are not Taliban. Most are not terrorists. Most just want to go about their business, take care of their families, and live in a peaceful world.

It's also my goal to speak of this world that holds unlimited possibilities. Yes, I talk of how I got to Afghanistan with nothing and created a job situation and a life for myself there, but that's not the only time that has happened. Most of my adult life has unfolded this way, and I want others to know that they are totally unlimited. All dreams are possible, and it's time for more humans to recognize their full power.

So, this is where you come in. If you have any place where you go, whether it be a weekly art club gathering, a church, or school, please ponder if it's a place where I can come and share my story. Also, if you or anyone you know has a blog, a podcast, TV or radio show that would have an interest in my story of Afghanistan, or any of my world travels, please let me know. Your help is deeply valued, and please know that I'm not geographically limited. I can also come to your town.

Liz Grover
Twitter @lilbutterfly