This Monday I attended the event “Bridging the Atlantic: The Pitfalls and Potential of U.S.-Africa Engagement.” I found this lecture very interesting and noticed that the general theme happened to be very similar to the theme of one of the readings assigned for class, Suburban by John Ciardi. This theme is basically just doing what you have to do in order to create a good relationship. Throughout the lecture, Emira Woods kept talking about how important it is that we improve our relations with other countries and make change happen in the world. In Suburban, in the same way that Ms. Woods discussed improving our relations with other countries, the speaker does what he can to improve his relationship with his neighbor.
In Suburban, John Ciardi’s neighbor, Mrs. Friar, calls Ciardi to inform him that his dog had “deposited” on her petunias. While Ciardi knew that this could not have been his dog, because his dog was in Vermont at that time with his son, he apologized to Mrs. Friar and cleaned up the area. Although it may seem as if Ciardi is making his relationship with his neighbor worse by saying that this was in fact his dog who had gone to the bathroom on Mrs. Friars petunias, he is actually doing the opposite. When Ciardi takes the blame, he is avoiding all potential arguments and just agrees with his neighbor. This idea of taking whatever measures one can to better relationships, in essence, is what Ms. Woods wants us to do – both as individuals and as a country.
The main thing that I was able to take out of the lecture was that in order to really see the problems and struggles they have in other countries and understand how we can make a difference, the United States needs to be able to put our own country aside for just a moment. When we put our own wants aside, it becomes clear that countries, especially in Africa, need our help. Rather than offering help, however, the United States has been hurting these countries for a good amount of time now. Numerous American research companies and even colleges and universities in the United States have been taking land from African countries and making things worse. In the past two years, two million acres of land were taken from these countries. Even though it was not all taken from the United States, most of it was. This is a huge problem and while some of these research companies aim to help, they are absolutely doing the opposite. The exact quote from Ms. Woods was “we can never discover new continents till we lose sight of our own.” I took this to mean that we will never actually pay attention to the real problems in the world, like what is going on in Africa, unless we stop worrying about advancing our own country, even if it is just for a second.
This idea of Americans doing things fast and not really being able to stop for a second, although it is used in a completely different context, is clear in the poem Ode to American English by Barbara Hamby. This poem is about American vernacular and basically how fast everything happens in America. The speaker explains that nouns go zipping through her head like Corvettes and her “yearning for the hotrod.” These things just show how quickly everything happens in the United States and how the mind of an American works. This can be related to the lecture because Ms. Woods’ understanding of the United States is that as a whole, we need to slow down and take a look around us. Everyone is capable of making a change in this world, we just need to understand what is wrong. We need to realize that there are much larger issues outside of the United States. Despite the fact that the lecture was pointing out the flaws in America and the poem was about how the speaker loves America, I was definitely able to see a similarity. This lecture helped me to see that even as just one person in this huge country, I am capable of making a change.