Hi everyone! I know this is getting old - but if you haven’t, you should skim through my other ASB entries to get the context for this one!
After the usual breakfast routine, we headed to IRC again. This morning, we were very fortunate to be able to talk with some refugees!
Hearing about the countries where they are from first-hand painted a very different picture of these places than the news. I talked with two women from Tehran, Iran. They were very honest about their experiences and the country, which was particularily special because, as they told us, saying anything against the government in Iran would probably make you lost your job (at best) or be hanged.
What I am writing in the next few paragraphs is what they told us:
They were both of Armenian descent and Catholic. Their families moved to Iran 500 years ago. I asked them why they considered themselves Armenian after such a long time in Iran (after all, most Americans’ families moved here far after that but they still consider themselves Americans), and they said that it was because they mainly married into other Armenian families. The women both lived in an Armenian neighborhood in Iran.
If women left their house without wearing a scarf (to cover all of their hair), they were either killed on the spot or brought to jail and killed there, the refugees said. Even Christians had to wear a scarf. If someone was brought to jail, they could be killed without justification. Students had to be particularily careful; it was dangerous to protest anything. Both women were wearing tight jeans - in Iran, they said, the prohibition of both skinny pants and any skirt was enforced by the police.
On the other hand, women are allowed to go to schools and universities. They are allowed, technically, to pursue any career and rise to any level of that job. Much as in the US, though, women are still underrepresented in the upper tier of jobs.
In the university, a religion class was mandatory. The women were asked if they would like to change their religion to Islam. It was a hard question, one of the refugees said, because if you said yes, you would have to undergo a process you really didn’t want to do, and because if you said no, the professor couldpotentially fail you out of your university. The professors had a lot of power, and it was not allowed to critique them.They were paid by the government, and even in private universities, it was unacceptable to correct them even if they were blatently wrong.The womenasked us if we were ever allowed to correct professors, and they were suprised when we said we could really just ask the professor if he was sure something was correct, and that the professor would generally correct him or herself - and certainly not be offended by the question, but try to make sure the students understand.
Even though the professors had so much power, they were also under control of their government. Oneof their professors dissappeared after mentioning that he didn’t think the current president was the best man for the job.The universities, the schools, and every other aspect of society was spied on by an FBI-like agency, the refugees said.People were indirectly connected to the government everywhere, and many people were afraid to speakabout their opinions.
Dogs were considered filthy. One of the refugees really missed her dog. We figured out that we have the samebreed of dog, and she showed me a picture of hers. She is very worried about him, who she had to leave in Iran, because dogs are considered filthy there.Legally, if police see someone walking a dog in the streets, they are allowed to shoot the dog.In heruniversity, she had Muslim friends who would not visit her house because she had a dog.
We talked about various other aspects of Iran and their trip to the US as well, but those are the stories that stuck out most for me. I definitely learned more talking to these refugees thanby listening to the news. One of the refugees strongly disliked CNN; the picture painted of Iran in our news wasoften just not correct, she said. Of course, the stories of two people aren’t a complete picture of Iran, but I definitely feel like I gained a better understanding of the country by hearing them.The refugees were all very nice, too, and many of them were not much older than us. I only wish we had been able to speakwith more refugees! We’ll still be talking to more tomorrow though :)
We “hiked” above the observatory on this really flat trail which gave a few great views of the HOLLYWOOD sign. It was raining, though, so to my disappointment [who doesn’t love hiking?!?!]we turned around after the group picture:
We entered the observatory at just the right time - we were three minutes early for the Tesslacoil demo. The guide was asking who had heard of Thomas Edison (everyone) and of NikolaTessla (she was suprised that most people had). As she made the coil light up, she began explaining AC versus DC current and why Edison’s plan for energy was more marktable than Tessla’s, and why Tessla’s didn’t work well. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Teslaif you are interested in what the guide told us.
We had dinner at a Thai restaurant in Glendale. After eating, we got to have …. CAKE! It was Michelle’s 20th BIRTHDAY! HAPPY BIRTHDAY MICHELLE!!!I even had a slice to celebrate (I usually don’t eat food with too much sugar and not enough nutritional value :( )!!!
Back at the hostel, we played a really fun game: telephone pictionary. Basically, everyone gets as many pieces of paper as there are players. First, everyone writes a sentence on the first piece of paper in their stack. Everyone passes their stack, and draws a picture for the sentence they received. This goes around until people get their original sentence back. Actually, some people didn’t recognize their own sentence when it came back around and kept playing! It’s really funny, especially if the sentences are about people in the group.
After a few rounds of the game, I spent some time talking to another hostel guest I had met the night before. He was from Israel, and had just spent the last five months travelling. Our conversation wasaboutas interesting as talking to the refugees during the day.
The person I talked to had graduated high school and spent three years serving in the Israeli military. It was usual for men to graduate HS, serve, and then travel for half a year, he said. He plans to study electrical engineering beginning next fall.
Having already talked with other people in the group about the gender (in)equality of forcing only men to serve in the military, I asked if women had to serve. He said that they had to serve for only two years, while men had to serve for three.I thought this was unfair; he said that studies have shown that women aren’t able to deal with war as well as men. [As a very convinced feminist - I think the term should be equalist, not feminist -I still think it is unfair to force men to fight one year more than women.There are men who can’t deal with being a soldier, too.] It was sometimes possible to avoid military duty while studying – but generally, if you refused to fight for three years, you spent three years in jail instead. His brother had spent three and a half weeks in jail for refusing to fight after finishing his three year service.
I didn’t know much about Israel, so he gave me a short summary. Israel is a “Jewish democracy.” He admitted that this was not reallypossible; a country could inherentlynot be both Jewish and democratic. The majority of Jews in Israelare either Orthodox Jews or Reconstructionist Jews. The Orthodox Jews believe that all of the historically described territory (the land of Israel) belongs to the country of Israel, and therefore often move into Palestinian settlements. The law dictates that the military protect them.This policyis favored, politically, by the right, who was in the majority in the last election and is currently in power.Thisis very dangerous and a huge cause of conflict; these people, who sometimes blatantly leave the country of Israel (“going beyond the green line” - the country boarder as decided in historical conventions - if you are interested in specific details, googling it gives some pretty good sites) often directly provokes Palestinian attacks.
These attacks then “justify” retribution on the Palestinians, he said, much as suicide bombers made them toughen up their safety standards by having even stricter regulations on the Palestinians in Israel and at its borders.(Jewish) Israeli safety must come first, regardless of the cost of Palestinian lives, he said.
I asked about the Palestinians already living in the country of Israel, and about the prospect of peace. He doesn’t believe he will see peace in his lifetime - even when he is 80 years old. According to him, the Palestinians will not stop fighting because their government is unstable and there is nostable, powerful groupto talk to. Because Palestinian culture values family ties more than national ties, he thinks that the years and years of suppression and the Holocaust which unite Israel (the Jews of Israel, at least), will continue fighting Palestine.
As to the Palestinians already in Israel, he mentioned that some of them have something called the Blue Card, which enables them to vote in Israel (kind of like citizenship? I didn’t quite understand the purpose of the Blue Card as opposed to giving them citizenship). They are represented by 12 percent of parliament.He had never asked, he said, but he thought that they would probablyrefer to themselves as Israeli (nationality) and Palestinian (ethnically). I asked if, historically, since he had said that their family ties were much closer than their ties to their country and government, it would have been possible to peacefully integratePalestinians in Israel into the country from the start. He didn’t think so.
When I asked him if the suppression ofPalestinians in Israeland theview that they pose a danger to the citizens isn’t a little like the beginning of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism in general, he said there was a huge difference. The extermination of the Jewish population during the Holocaust was planned and deliberate; the deaths of Palestinians are defensive.
I can’t quite get myself to agree with that. From everything he said about ethnic Palestinians, I really got the impression that more effort is going into fighting them than making peace with them. When a 23 year old can’t envision peace by the time he is 80 years old - that speaks of stubbornness, an unwillingness to compromise even if the Palestinian government, contrary to what he said, were stable and strong enough to control its population. The Palestinian people in Israel sound a lot like the refugees we have been working with in the last few days.
I should point out that I am only writing my opinion, not fact, and that I would be hear other opinions about this (I have never studied Israel extensively, and to understand countries, peoples and conflicts, we really have to be willing to learn more all the time as we go along – human conflicts are so hard to understand on a macro versus micro scale that we need to keep re-informing ourselves and re-evaluating our opinions constantly).
At the same time, when I talked to another freshmanhere who waswearing an “I support Israel” t-shirt a few weeks ago, I asked him why. He cited the good food and the fact that it is Jewish. I have no problem with good food; I don’t have a problem with connections between church and state as long as people ofeach religion are treated equally (i.e. a true democracy). I just think that these elements, which he liked about Israel, could still be had along with peace and equal human rights. When I asked the Israeli I met in the hostel if he thought that a Palestinian and an Israeli could get along (I suppose this was a poorly worded question, as I hadn’t yet asked about the identity of ethnic Palestinians who live in Israel, but he answered anyway) in a non-conflict situation, he didn’t think so. If they didn’t know each other’s nationality, perhaps, but otherwise, there were simply too many stereotypes and too much history. Everyone in Israel, he said, knows someone who was killed in a suicide bombing or in the war.
The longer the war goes on, the more people will lose loved ones and friends; the longer the war goes on, the morepeople will be displaced and legally be considered refugees.
I find it interesting that I happened to meet this guy and talk about Israel just as I was volunteering at IRC.I think that’s what I am really getting out of this trip - I am really realizing how much more I learn by talking to people than by reading the news.Hearing people’s opinions (people who are familiar witha country andits people) makes it much easier for me to understand a situation.
How obvious, right? It’s just hard to talk to people about their experiences inday-to-day situations. It’s personal, and a lot of people are hesitant about sharing things that really matter to them. At the same time, I’ve really come to see how valuable it is to do just that - so that we don’t have only the press to believe, and so that different people can explain their different opinions.
My favorite part about Caltech is the Houses! The easiest way to describe them is as Hogwarts houses: each has their own personality and group of people and the first thing you do at Caltech is go through a “sorting” process. The people are what makes the Houses at Caltech so great. As a frosh, it’s amazing to be able to come in and immediately have a group of 100+ people to support you. Because the Houses have students from every grade, you make friends with upperclassmen and can ask for help on tons of things like:
It’s crazy to think that it has been four years now since I was applying to college. I remember it vividly. This week we’re spending some time reflecting on our personal admissions processes, and how we ended up at Caltech. There’s one question though that I wanted to spin out into a separate post: “what advice would you give to the admitted class of 2025?” And I think the best way to do this is to tell a more detailed story than I did in my other post.
These past six months have been a whirlwind- from having to move out of Caltech housing in March within a week’s notice due to COVID-19, to starting the first term of my junior year, I’ve definitely experienced a lot of change. When I went home in March, it was to a completely new state-my family moved from Chino, CA to New Jersey in January (great timing, huh?). While I missed seeing my friends from home, it was fun to have the chance to explore a completely new place. The pandemic obviously limited what I could see and do, but I got to experience walks through nature and along rivers normally foreign to a SoCal native and had some time to focus on bioinformatics research for the lab I work with on campus.