This is my third 4th of July in the past four years that has been spent outside of the country. This is the first time in those four years that the holiday has passed with no recognition of it. I’m not here working with an American institution, I’m here working with a Tanzanian health clinic. There’s no reason that they should recognize the 4th of July as anything but Tuesday.
Today I am celebrating our country by sitting in the lab at the health clinic and working on a manual for the upcoming trainings. I’m currently working on the chapters about sexually transmitted diseases and infections, so my morning has been spent looking up information on HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. It’s very glamorous, I know. I did find that the local food stand sells chapatti for TSH200 (around $0.10), which is probably the highlight of my week. Chapatti is like a denser flour tortilla that is fried. It’s delicious, and a growing staple in my diet. I may go visit community leaders with Mr. Mabula this afternoon, to drop of thank you letters for attending our meeting last Saturday. I signed 32 of them this morning. Here, in my current life, today is business as usual. There are no fireworks and no hot dogs (although there may still be country music later on… I’ll keep you posted).
I feel like I’ve spent a fair amount of time abroad, and I am starting to consider myself to be fairly well traveled. I still have much of the world to see, and many cultures to experience. I never want to stop travelling, because it expands my thinking. It makes me consider new perspectives, try new food, and get used to alternative forms of normal. Traveling the world also makes me consider what it means to be an American. The perception of the United States varies country to country. The reaction to me, as an American, varies as well.
There are some parts of the United States that I am incredibly grateful for. In times like these, it is easy to think about everything that we want to change. Believe me, I have a long list. Today, I thought I would take a minute and mention a just few of the reasons I appreciate the United States.
- The educational system. As a woman, I am grateful that my access to education was not limited because of my gender. Growing up in Washington, it was expected that I would attend school. Public school taught me critical thinking, independence, and team work.
- The natural beauty. The United States is a vast, beautiful place. There are corners filled with deserts, rainforests, glaciers, and everything in between. I’m glad I can travel the country and see a variety of climates, cultures, and wonders.
- Free speech. There is a difference between free speech and hate speech. Here, I’m focusing on free speech. The fact that we can question, criticize, and praise our government and superiors is wonderful. We do not have to worry about being arrested for saying the wrong thing. We can have open, intellectual debates with people who do not share our views.
- The right to vote. As someone who loves politics, I find this to be great. Not only can we vote, but we can participate in the political system as much. We can campaign, attend town hall meetings, call our representatives, and march in protests. If you haven’t done any of these things, you should. Let your voice be heard; it matters.
- Helping others. The clinic I’m working at is receiving ART for every HIV positive person that goes there. People with HIV can get free treatment that will extend their lives for years. This is made possible because of the CDC and PEPFAR; all the medication and testing supplies are donated by the US Government.
- A wide selection at the grocery stores. You can find Belgian chocolate, Argentine wine, and tikka masala sauce from India all at the same grocery store. Not only that, but you’ll have multiple choices of each. I can pick from 10 different types of macaroni and cheese, and I can’t even count the number of types of yogurt. This is amazing.
- Stephen Colbert and John Oliver. Thanks for keeping me informed and entertained (and yes, I know John Oliver is British).
I recognize that as a white American who grew up in the suburbs of Seattle, my list may vary from other people’s. We need to work together to make sure that every American has access to the same freedoms, services, and opportunities (keep calling your Senators and Representatives!). There’s a lot we can improve, like access to healthcare, reforming immigration laws, committing to clean energy and reduced carbon emissions, and dismantling institutionalized racism. But every once in a while, it’s nice to realize that our country does some great things, and has afforded us some great experiences.