Friday, November 18, 2011

Confessions of a Geography Geek

I came from an over-protected childhood that anyone from a strict Irish-Catholic family of my age or older would recognize. As a wee child, whenever our parents took us to visit our grandparents, I often perused my grandfather's copies of National Geographic magazine. The people in the pictures looked radically different than my friends,  family, or myself.  They dressed more colorfully, sometimes with piercings and feathers, sometimes with wild face or body paint. In a few pictures, the people were practically naked. They lived in far away places, had houses that looked very different from ours and had different rituals for worshiping God. The magazine sometimes came with a folded-up map inside. I was very young at the time, and whenever my grandfather saw me taking a map out, he would take it away from me saying that he was afraid I would ruin it. The magazine was a great curiosity to me, and I recall my grandfather acknowledging and esteeming my interest. It was his affirmation that was the origin of my fascination with other cultures.

In grammar school, geography became my favorite subject--besides being fascinated by other lands, ethnic groups, cultures, religions, as well as the statistics that went along with them. I was also fascinated by maps--of states, countries, and continents. I especially liked those maps in our textbooks that used icons to indicate the locations of things like natural resources or different ethnic groups.

My grandfather, and occasionally my parents, also subscribed to Maryknoll Magazine, published by the Maryknoll missionaries, a Catholic religious order.  If you donated money to Maryknoll, you got a subscription. Each issue had stories about the people that the missionaries were trying to help--the poorest of the poor in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. That little magazine was my first education in global poverty and international development.

Today, in my spare time, I am a volunteer with Nomi Network, an organization that is doing development work overseas, also with the poorest of the poor--human trafficking victims--and it has given me license to continue to indulge my fascination with geography.

My grandfather would approve.

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