I really struggle with this, I’ve found, when I’m abroad. There are normally three reactions from people when I tell them that I’m from the United States 1) they get really excited 2) they get mad at me for everything that the U.S. has done 3) they stop talking to me.
A few days ago, I experienced number 2 while I was getting breakfast in my hostel. I entered our kitchen to hear a man pushing my fellow delegate about why we were here working on climate change issues. He was arguing that climate change is in the past and that we should be focusing on current issues (his example was “people in Africa don’t have water!” to which I responded, “yes, and increasingly more people don’t because of climate change). As we kept talking a bit, we realized it was not so much that he was against us working on climate change, it was more that he was upset about what the U.S. government is doing to his home country and he wants us to make them accountable for it. According to this fellow hostel dweller, the U.S. is sending the chemical weapons from Syria to Albania to be “destroyed”. What bothers him is a) he’s from Albania b) according to our fellow hostel-er they don’t actually have the facilities to process the weapons- they will just be buried in the area where people whom Albania cares the least about live.
This conversation quickly shifted from us being on the defensive about why we were there to work on climate change to listening to our new acquaintance air his grievances. It’s true that my country continues to dominate other countries. It’s true that my country continues to push burdens that they don’t want onto other, less noticeable countries . It’s true that my country is not taking a firm stand with climate change and continues to block progress in negotiations. What do I have to be proud of?
The export of this?
It pains me sometimes to, what it feels like, confess that I’m from the United States. What I’m proud of is that myself and my fellow delegates recognize that we do not come from a perfect country. The United States is not a perfect model- and we want to change that.
I may not be proud of all the my country has done, but I am definitely proud of the individuals that I know. I know so many wonderful and innovative people who care deeply about one another and the work that they’re doing. I’m proud of where I come from and the people I know.
This is an internal struggle that has been a part of me before COP and has since been exasperated. Other traveling folks from the United States, how do you (if you do) experience this?