American experience: boys and girls club, apple pie, and the federalist paper

Bethlehem Steel Company used to be one of the powerful steel companies in America, but what is left for us to see is only the factory building. It closed down in early 2000s, the cause is according to some people (by people I mean the people that I talk to in the program) it failed to compete with other companies, it then got worse from the labor strikes, the production stops, company couldn’t make any money, it bankrupted. The shutting down of the steel company gave a huge impact to the community. In fact, many people came to Bethlehem to work in the steel company which means, the shutting down left many people unemployed. I didn’t get the condition up until now, but it turns that Bethlehem has the very wealthy people as well as the poor living in its area. Shannon told us that she lived in one area in where her neighbors are the ex executives of the steel companies, and that they are all living happy and wealthy life. Meanwhile if you look down from the mountain, you will see the poverish area where the ex labors is living. I never really got that until today, when our group visited the Boys and Girls Club. The club is basically a place where teens get together and do activities, it runs by volunteers. In the school year, kids go there after school to get helps for their homework and play with their peers. Meanwhile in the summer, they do bunch of activities start in the morning until the afternoon. Almost all of the children who go to the club are come from low classes. And, stealing Debra’s term, Bethlehem might be as wide as these kids are going to see.

Some of the boys in boys and girls club

Boys and Girls Club decided to make a program for them, called something like passport around the world. Every once a month these kids will learn about other countries, and then they will receive paper with stamps in it, just like a passport with visas. Lehigh decided to take us, the participants of USIPP, to the club this morning. We’ve prepared stories about Indonesia to tell. I taught them how to greet in Bahasa, Cindhi described Indonesian foods, Ola showed them kebaya, she and Uwi taught them Saman dance. That one was personally my favorite part. Ola and Uwi did very good, and then kids just sat on the floor and followed the movements! Lehigh girls also shared their stories: Angela told about Merapi volcano, Ellie shared the experience about komodo dragon, Theresa showed her picture with Jogja Hiphop Foundation and Shannon too. Out of my expectations, the children were so excited. They asked questions, and among those questions, some kids were asking about prison. They were like, “What the prison in Indonesia is look like? What are the juveniles in Indonesia wearing?” We were confused at first, but then we realized those were things that these kids relate to. However, these ‘sad questions’ were eventually drown by the cheerfulness of the kids though. They were so cute and friendly. The boys sat next to me at lunch and asked questions about game and my life, they showed us some break dance, and when we ready to leave for the next destination, this cute little girl came to me, said thanks and told me that I am a very nice person. I hugged her back and I swore that I’m about to cry. No one ever told me that I am nice, especially kids. The experience in the Boys and Girls Club today left me memories than I thought I would get. Maybe I spent too short of times with them to see how their life are, but I definitely will always remember that enthusiasm and kindness.

Our apple pie and vanilla ice cream

We also had another American experience today by going shopping in Wegmans (it is like a grocery store where they sell fresh fruits, vegetables, spices and many kind of foods), cooking (I’m not a big fan, of course. But Jen made me, and I actually ended up enjoying it. We cooked spaghetti, garlic bread, and apple pie. Jen, who by the way is an ex chef but I guess will never stop cooking, promised me to give the recipes and I promise you I will put the recipes here on blog), and went to Emmaus theatre, a classic theatre, where you only need to pay 3 dollars to watch movie, there are only 2 movies are played in a day, and most of the audiences are elderly people.

So those are my fun day, and considering the way we started today, we deserved all the fun. We started today with a lecturing from Dr. Rick Matthews, a professor of political science in Lehigh. It was a great and serious lecture, and I will try my best to write it down here, because it was too precious to be missed. Our discussion is basically about the beginning of American politics. Our pre-read is the Federalist Paper by James Madison. I have to be honest, the language wasn’t the language that I can easily understand. But Dr. Mathews tried to explain it. Madison was one of the 55 framers who created the constitution, they actually did it in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When the idea of United States came up, many people were pessimistic including Madison. He was afraid of unstability, because he sees human as factions who has different interest, and they fight for everything, and it is impossible to cooperate. Moreover, giving the interesting fact that the country used to be consists of 13 separated states, which are very individual. Dr. Mathews gave us the example, if at that year you met Vermonters abroad and you ask them where are they come from? They would certainly answered that they come from Vermont, and not United States of America (actually Dr. Matthews was using different state for example. I just like using Vermont). Imagining these 13 states were willing to ratify the constitution was a big dream. That was why three men; Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote series of essays to promote the ratification. What we read and discuss today was the one written by Madison.

Along with the concern, Madison and the other 54 men had the solution. To deal with different interest groups or faction, they believed that they need to extend the size of the country. From 13 states, US expanded to 50 states. The principal was basically, the more the merrier. Same thing goes to religious life in the US, in which Madison also concerned with due to his observation in the domination of religious leaders in his hometown. US then decided to separate between church and state, and invited more religious believers to come and live here. That’s probably where to concept of the land of the free came from. So that all people, religious believers from all around the world, move to United States looking for religious freedom. The framers of US constitution also designed the federal government to check and balance each other; legislative (with two branches: house and senate), executive and judicial. This system, according to Dr. Matthews, was designed to say no. That is why, amendment of the constitution is almost never happen. Civil war was probably the only even that could make a major change in the US political life. Dr. Matthew’s lecture gave us ideas where the political, even individual attitude of the US and US citizens came from. Its individualism is for instance, in where individual’s rights are the most important thing above everything else. I almost think that it is above the public interests, but I will hopefully make that clear in our next lecturing session with Dr. Matthews which is going to be this Wednesday, about liberalism.

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