So, I’ve been meaning to update this blog for a long, long, long time, and didn’t know how to jumpstart my blogging career again. Honestly, I was a little intimidated to start writing again, so I figured I could enlist the help of the readers. Yes, this is a Mad-Lib Blog. Conjure away, folks! Noun
W&M: The [Noun] I Never Knew
Nape kampe ak Ayiti.
It means “We stand with Haiti” in Haitian Creole, and it’s
the slogan for the “William & Mary Supports Haiti” student organization on
campus. We had our first meeting a couple days ago, and the slogan rang more
true than ever. By 5 o’clock, we were looking at over 200 students who had come
to the interest meeting to see how they could help. It was a great meeting—but
what I remember the best was the sheer energy in the room. There was this incredible,
unifying, almost electric spirit that was this potent combination of everyone’s
collective social responsibility, motivation, and empathy. And it buzzed
between everyone in that room, regardless of what background they came from on
campus. After going through all the information cards we received from all the
students present, the multitude of campus groups and individuals present was
It really was an awesome sight, but frankly, I don’t know if
I would have expected any less from this campus. We always say how much of a
socially conscious campus we are, how the students here relish in being
proactive, how any of us can spout out definitions of civic engagement on cue.
We all (and fellow tour guides can attest to this) love to blurt out our
favorite statistics about how W&M has the largest number of students who go
into the Peace Corps and Teach for America per capita of any institution in the
United States (and trust me, I do. That’s one of my favorite W&M fun
facts). I always thought that there was this civically charged undercurrent in
our community, silently steering students and faculty alike — and sure enough,
it showed up that night, more than 200 times over again. Those statistics,
which I would eagerly spit out during tours to the extent that they’d merely
become eulogizing words, came back to life. Seeing these 200+ students under
the same roof, for the same cause, revealed the depth and the frank honesty
behind the statistics and claims we all hear about this campus all the time.
I could keep going on and on, but I should start summing
this up before I lose you. In the end, I want to thank the community, students
and faculty alike, for proving to me, once again, that this school really is
everything it claims to be. The
WMSH slogan is “Nape kampe ak Ayiti”, and that day I saw more than 200 undergraduates,
graduates, college administrators, and faculty stand with Haiti. I am nothing
short of excited to see what else this campus can and will do in the weeks,
months, and years to come; the mere thought of it is intoxicating. Thank you,
William & Mary.
Alas, I can finally say I’ve settled into school… a whole
month later. Sophomore year has proven to be as exciting as freshmen year.
It’s a whole different experience coming back the second year. I mean there are
the obvious things. You know your way around campus, you can wave and say hi to
friends on the first day of school, and you’re on the other side of the
convocation walk. But at the same time, sophomore year presented me with some
things I was not expecting, and it’s great so far.
The best way to explain it is that you really hit the ground
running. Freshmen year was great—it is great for basically everyone who has the
fortune of spending it at William & Mary. You do ridiculous, spontaneous
things with your freshmen hall, explore and learn more about the campus
everyday, and starting rooting yourself in what you’re interested. Sophomore
year is when it really starts. You literally start the year off right where you
left off— at about the point you were ready to launch headfirst into the
remainder of your three years. I
love sophomore year because I’ve been able to utilize all the growth I
experienced freshmen year and finally apply it. All those freak-outs about what
I’m going to do with my life and the subsequent therapeutic sit-downs with
academic advisors have finally amounted to a major I’m planning on finally
declaring. The 238 interest meetings that you went to freshmen year have
dwindled down to the mere top 20 favorite activities you think about day and
night. It just goes to show you that we’re always, constantly evolving.
Maybe that’s why W&M hasn’t gotten boring yet. While the
surroundings aren’t necessarily changing, our perspectives constantly are. As
students evolve and grow on campus, we keep entering into a new perspective. We
find things we never knew existed before on campus, from friendships, to
resources, to random statues around campus that definitely were there last
year. We keep growing, and everything becomes new again. So, I may be a little late, but here’s
to the new year, William & Mary. It’ll be just as exciting as the first.
Okay, I’m going to be straight with you. I’ve
been procrastinating about writing this blog for quite sometime now. Like maybe
3 weeks. It’s not that I’ve been lazy or lounging around and doing nothing,
milking my summer for every last, idle minute. The situation’s been quite the
contrary actually. I’ve just been avoiding writing this blog because I was
afraid I couldn’t, probably for one of the first times in my life, adequately
articulate my experiences and thoughts. Well, three weeks in, and I think it’s
about time I flaunt what I’ve been doing and where I am for all its worth. Here
I usually write my blog entries in the
comfort of a suave coffee shop, with chill lounge music softly playing in the
background. Well, not today. Not for the next two months, actually. The
earth-toned coffee shop has been replaced with white walls and a tin roof, the
lounge music with a symphony of roosters, trucks, and stray dogs. That familiar
coffee smell still lingers every now and then, though considering I’m in the
heart of one of the world’s best coffee-countries.
Well, I’m writing this entry from Magdalena Milpas
Altas, Guatemala, a tiny pueblo in
the mountains surrounding Antigua. I was fortunate enough to be given an
opportunity by a grant from the new Office of Community Engagement to spend my
summer in Guatemala, interning for a social entrepreneur organization and
researching the effectiveness of various non-profit models. I’ll be spending two
months in Guatemala; and, honestly, it’s already been one of the most
eye-opening and rewarding experiences I’ve had yet-and I’m not even halfway
Let me tell you a little about Magdalena. The
streets are narrow and the houses small. Stray dogs are as common as the
squirrels on William & Mary’s campus. I’m currently in a house that has
three rooms: a kitchen, my room,
and the bedroom that all five of the family members sleep in. There are
businesses in every home. The oldest son just went next door to get a haircut,
while the daughters were sent two houses down to get some bread. Water only
runs two hours of the day here, from 6:30am to 8:30am, so the entire village
fills up these big sinks called pelas,
and use that as their water supply for the entire day.
And Magdalena is one of the more developed
areas I’ve been able to live in. Just a week ago, I was in Nebaj, Guatemala,
which resides in the heart of the Ixil Triangle. The town was absolutely
surrounded by huge mountains (the altitude there is 1900m) and, honestly, the
culture is as rich as the landscape. This area represents one of the
smallest minorities in Central America, and it’s obvious. Walking around, you would
immediately notice that all of the women wore the traditional guipiels and
cintas still, which were adorned in bright red, green, & yellow
prints. The people of Nebaj were proud of their culture– there’s no doubt
about that. What’s even more incredible about all of this is what these people
went through some 20 years ago. There was a huge effort from the Guatemalan
government to wipe out the guerilla armies that presided in these areas. The
villages are still spotted with bomb craters– there were literally massacres,
where entire villages were wiped out. The government was, in essence, trying to
eliminate this culture from the Guatemalan landscape. But it’s pretty
empowering to see these people still holding onto their culture with such an
incredible amount of pride. It reminded me a little of a phoenix rising from
the ashes. Despite all the destruction and horror that literally everyone in
the area experiences, they still stand proudly by their culture and heritage,
maybe even stronger than before. And on top of that, everyone I’ve worked with
in Guatemala so far has this incredible drive to work.
This all ties into what I’m working on while I’m here in Guatemala.
The company I’m interning with has already helped set up a couple businesses
that have in turn been handed off to locals to own and run. We essentially
travel to various villages within Guatemala and set up businesses that sell
everything from lenses, to water filters, to solar lamps. All the products
address community issues (i.e. blindness, unsanitary e.coli-ridden water, and a
lack of electricity, all of which are very common here), and we train individuals
within the community to set up businesses to sell these products themselves. And
these individuals are probably some of the smartest and most motivated people
I’ve ever had the honor of working with. It’s all really incredible to be a
I’m back around Antigua now, but I’ll be traveling around to other
parts of Guatemala as well, continuing to do some development work. As
expected, I definitely don’t think that I got across how beautiful and,
frankly, inspirational this country is. If you’re interested in seeing more,
visit my photo-blog at www.kavehsinguate.shutterfly.com. Aside from
pictures of us climbing a live volcano, visiting Nebaj, and a bunch of other
things, I also have a mini-blog going on there accounting for some more
specific experiences (some of which I used for this blog). I think the pictures
would speak a lot more effectively than I have been able to thus far.
Anyway, I’ll end on this note. If there’s one thing I’ve learned so
far it’s that, while the people of this country may not be rich in their
finances, their wealth in traditions, culture, and sheer drive are amongst the
most abundant of any place I’ve ever been.
Okay, so here’s a disclaimer. This
is the longest blog I’ve written yet, mostly because it’s about the absolute
most ridiculous thing that’s happened to me yet. So, I apologize in advance,
but it’ll so be worth it.
So, my friends and I went on what we
thought would be a fun, average hiking trip up through Williamsburg the other
day. Well it was anything but average– we ended up holding a mammoth’s tusk, a
dinosaur bone, and basically went on the single coolest field trip ever.
I don’t even know where to start to
explain how this happened. It was the most bizarre series of events. So, I
guess I’ll just start from the very beginning, when I reluctantly got out of
bed. I really didn’t want to go hiking, and I knew exactly what would happen.
We would get out of bed at 9:00am, we would get on a bus, go on a hiking trail,
hike for 5 miles, sweat through everything, and then come back to school by
1:00pm. Well, by the time we actually got back, which was closer to 5:00pm, I
think I would have literally kicked myself in the face if I hadn’t gone.
The trip didn’t start so grandly
though. My original suspicions that it would be lackluster were only being
confirmed. The bus ride took about 20 minutes, and then the hike to the start
of the hike trails was about a mile itself. Best of all, we forgot to fill our
water bottles for our 5 mile hike. Well, on our way down, we passed this older
guy who was gardening diligently in this small-enclosed garden. He was in his
mid-seventies, balding, and sported a thick white beard. We made small talk and
moved on. Once we got to the trails, we realized that this would be pretty
unrealistic without water, and since there were no water fountains in the area,
we figured we’d hit up the guy we had just seen in the garden to see if he knew
where there was running water.
We walked up to him, and he
immediately perked up and asked in I think a Dutch-German accent, “Vhere are you
“William & Mary”, we replied.
“Vhere is that?!”, he retorted back.
At this point, we were getting a little antsy about this guy. And we were by
ourselves in the middle of the forest, so we were starting to get sketched out.
But, there was one of him and four of us, so we kept going.
“It’s up the road… in Williamsburg”,
one of us answered.
“Vell, vay is Villiam & Mary so
flat?!”, he fired back.
“It’s because it used to be the bed
of the Chesapeake Bay! DUH.”, he said excitedly. At this point, the wrinkles
around his eyes carved in by his many years of laughter deepened as he gave out
a chuckle. We stood there in silence, totally sketched out at this point. He
dropped the accent and said, “I’m just messing with you. I’m actually a retired
geology professor at William & Mary. Pleasure to meet you.”
The rest is history. He was actually
in the area doing research. He led us through his garden, showing us all the
different species of plants and trees. You could tell he was in his “professor
mode.” It was obvious that he conducted one of those classes that everyone
wanted to take. Regardless, one thing led to another, and he offered us a ride back
to William & Mary, so we could avoid that annoying 20 minute bus ride back.
We made a pit stop though, at his house. The house in itself was incredible. You could immediately tell that a
handyman lived there. This same 70-some year old man had already added a deck,
a birdbath, and an entire extension to his home. He was working on a waterfall
feature when we were there.
We also met his high school
sweetheart, and wife of 50 years, who immediately poured us all glasses of
water and warmly invited us in. We talked about his years at William &
Mary, their trips around the world, how he proposed to her by putting her engagement
ring in a geode and having her break it open– it was just an incredible
conversation. Then, he kicked back into professor mode, giddy that he could
teach once again (and trust me, the excitement was totally contagious).
On our way out, we made one last
stop, where he showed and talked us through all of the fossils that were in his
front yard. He would never tell us what the fossil was though; he would talk us
through it until we could guess. We were actually learning in the process. A
mammoth tusk, a dinosaur bone, a 2.65 billion year old rock, and a whale rib
later, we were like kids in the candy store, giddy and overwhelmed from our
surroundings. I think I may have actually giggled with excitement when I saw
the whale vertebrae sitting in his driveway.
The whole experience just went to
show me that once you’re at William & Mary, you really don’t leave it,
ever. The man was a retired professor (and a true renaissance man). He ran into
W&M students and was still, after 5 years of retirement, itching to teach
us. It was a really defining day for me in that it reminded me why I came to
this school. There’s a really potent combination of curiosity,
trust, and passion that makes learning painless—we didn’t even realize
it was happening. William & Mary has a tendency of making that happen.
And now, one of my friends who was on that trip is taking
geology next semester to further quench her curiosity. It was nothing like what you would expect a hiking trip to be, but amazingly enough, he was everything you would expect a William & Mary professor to be.
It’s hard to believe that the year is coming to an end already. It’s the final countdown before the last day of classes and the recent 93°F weather’s already been teasing everyone on campus, reminding them that the summer’s coming right around the corner. So, I sit here in the suitably air-conditioned Sadler Center and wonder how it’s summer-weather outside already.
I literally don’t remember when the campus turned back to its violent shade of green. I don’t remember when the flowerings started blossoming. I literally did not see this coming. So, all I could ask myself as I was sweating my way to the Sadler Center a couple minutes ago was, “Where the heck did all the time go and when did this even happen?”
It was kind of a freaky moment. I still remember that random snow fall that we had earlier this semester. I remember the 5+ layers I wore. I remember the midnight snowball fights in the Sunken Gardens. I remember the middle-school excitement that resonated throughout the campus when a snow day was declared. I remember it like it was yesterday. Well, it wasn’t. It was exactly 8 weeks ago from today. So today, when I had my sweaty epiphany, my surroundings were a little different. Instead of two wool sweaters, a waterproof windbreaker, and ski gloves, I’m sporting shorts. Instead of throwing snowballs on the Sunken Gardens, people are tanning on the Sunken Gardens. But that third-grade excitement is still the same. That anxious anticipation that you felt in elementary school, during that last week of school—well, it still exists in college.
I don’t remember where the last 8 weeks went. I really don’t. But it was totally one of those moments where those annoying clichés that are overstated (like “Time flies when you’re having fun” or “It’ll be done before you know it”) all actually meant something to me. It freaks me out that I’m only here for another 3 years now. Before I know it, I’ll be saying four years ago…
The title lies. There’s no such thing as a typical weekend at W&M. Don’t
believe me? Well, the other weekend, I stayed up overnight with more than 600
other students, painted breasts on people’s faces, and got arrested. All in one
night. And all in the honor of cancer research.
It was all at W&M’s Relay for Life. Partnered with the
American Cancer Society, 605 William and Mary students fundraised like crazy,
stayed up all night, walked a countless number of laps, and ultimately raised
over $43,000. And if the money the event raised wasn’t incredible enough, the
experience itself was.
This was my first Relay for Life. My freshmen hallmates and
I created the “Spottie Hotties” team (we’re from Spotswood Hall, therefore the
ingenious name). I had heard from my other teammates that Relay for Life was so
much fun and so beautiful and so touching, etcetera, etcetera. Obviously, I
didn’t really take it to heart; I just thought it’d be cool to stay up overnight
and put a tent up on Busch Field.
I was proven wrong within the first 30 minutes of the event.
Relay tradition has it that the first lap around the field be the “Survivor
Lap”. So, all the cancer survivors at the event took their first lap around as
all the other 600+ students clapped and cheered on. It set the tone for the rest
of the night. For the next 10 hours, everyone was buoyant and excited, but
everyone still remembered why we were there.
In the end, Relay for Life was a big, huge overnighter
party. It was a celebration for the people who have survived and a party to recognize
the lives of those who haven’t. There was never a moment of mourning or
despair. No one, especially the survivors, showed an ounce of cynicism or
depression. Rather, the cancer survivors at the event only expressed
thankfulness and hope, something that seemed to then resonate to every student
Yes, Relay for Life was a massive party. This is where I can
start explaining to you why I drew breasts on people’s faces and was arrested.
Well, all the teams could continue to fundraise at the actual event. So, you
would think teams would bring cookies and brownies and sell them, but W&M
students like to spice things up. So, my team, the Spottie Hotties, decided to
do some face painting. Coincidentally, because we were advocating breast cancer
awareness, a couple students asked us to paint, well, boobs on their faces with
a breast cancer ribbon next to it. Little did I know, but I was actually a very
adept artist. Other teams thought of extremely creative fundraisers as well. There
was one point that I looked across the field and thought, “This can only happen
here”. A team was dragging around a wooden wagon and offering rides, while a
yoga class was meditating behind me, while another team was issuing arrest
warrants on other students. This is
how I got arrested. The pre-law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta, appropriately sold
arrest warrants as their fundraiser. A student could buy an arrest warrant,
have one of his/her “friends” arrested, put into plastic handcuffs, and then
put behind bars until someone else posts bail.
Anyway, it was about 4am, somewhere between the somersault
lap and the log roll lap around the field, that everything my friends had told
me about Relay hit me. It was that perfect juxtaposition of honoring and
celebrating cancer victims and survivors, all with that distinct William and
Mary spirit. Over a weekend, William and Mary students camped out, partied for
12 straight hours, and raised over $43,000, all at the same time.
Like I said, there is no such thing as typical weekend at
William and Mary.
“Pavaraccia” (pronounced Pa-Var-Asha). To me, it sounds like an exotic jewel that’s so big it could eat the diamond Rose stupidly threw over the Titanic, or a rare, luxurious silk woven by virgins in the lost lands of Atlantis. Pavaraccia.
Okay, so I wish the origins of the word were as magical as I make it seem, but really it’s just a word I made up for my favorite sandwich at the Cheese Shop, an awesome small restaurant on DoG Street. Pate and havarti cheese on focaccia bread = pavaraccia. Why I picked those three things is even less magical. I picked the three things on the menu that I couldn’t pronounce. Pate was “Pat-eee,” havarti was “haa-vaa-rat-e,” and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to write how I said “focaccia.” Anyway, I would never have guessed, but it ended up being a sandwich that Rachel Ray herself would drool over.
It’s the only thing I order when I go to the Cheese Shop. And then I thought about it, and I think almost every student has that one sandwich that he’s obsessed with – the sandwich that’s “his” sandwich at the Cheese Shop. Well, I tested this theory out. I approached two people, one whom I’ve never met before, and asked them what their Cheese Shop sandwich was. One said, “Roast beef and cheddar on whole wheat” (or, in my Cheese Shop lingo: roaseechedareat) while the other, without hesitation, shot out, “Corned beef, provolone, and mayo on French bread!” (aka Coreevolonayoench). W&M students have a cheese shop sandwich as unique as their DNA.
And aside from the fact that the Cheese Shop has these delicious sandwiches, it’s also an awesome place to go and relax. There is nothing more satisfying than sitting at a table with my friends and my beloved pavaraccia. We eat, talk, tourist-watch, eat some more, and realize how insane it is that we’re going to school in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg. We’ve even had some tourists come up to us at the Cheese Shop and ask questions about the area and campus. If you’re a student, the tourists here are as interested in you as they are in the 300 year old buildings they came to see.
William and Mary definitely has its perks. Yea, it has a bunch of academic qualifications, a super-cool student body, an awesome faculty, etc, but one of the biggest perks doesn’t even have to do with the school. This school’s in Williamsburg, Virginia – home to one of the nation’s most renowned living museums, home to the College, and of course, home to my dearly loved pavaraccia.
Here’s a story about Steve. He is naive. He’s an incoming freshman and doesn’t really know what to bring with him. So, he brings everything. I mean, everything. This means his entire wardrobe, including multi-colored knit sweaters he got as gifts from his parents’ culturally dissociated senior citizen friends. This also includes, but isn’t limited to, a slough of silverware that will never be used, an industrial-sized box of printer paper, and his seven favorite childhood action figures. Yes, Steve the Naive packed everything.
Well, when Steve finally was about to move into his room, after a grueling 10 hour drive, he realized that his room wasn’t as big as he had imagined. Well, he never expected it to be very big, but surely it could house every single one of his possessions, right?
WRONG. Steve’s parents ended up taking back the winter jackets he packed in August alongside an abundance of other useless things that took up space in the car both to Williamsburg, and then from Williamsburg. But that still wasn’t enough. If Steve’s room was a cell, its membrane would have ruptured and the innards would have spilled all over the place. There was virtually no room to breathe. Steve realized that this was not a way to live, so he downsized. He sent some things back; he’d bring clothes he realized he really would never wear or miss, like lime green pants, back to his home in NJ during breaks. And slowly, but surely, things started getting organized and efficient.
Well, here’s the twist. Steve is actually me, Kaveh. I would’ve just used my name from the start, but my name doesn’t actually rhyme with “naive” and then I wouldn’t have had a clever title for the blog entry. This is a word of advice for all students in college, and especially the ones just getting into college. Downsize. Life at school is simple. You might not have the luxuries of placing your shampoo and soap in a shower stall. They would go in your room. All of your clothes would go in your room. Your bed, your pictures, your desk, your books, your guitar, your tv, your fridge, it all goes in your room. Now, multiply that by two, or three, or four, depending on how many roommates you have. Don’t get me wrong. I love dorm life. You live with your best friends; it’s seriously like sleep-away camp with intermittent tests and homework. But, just don’t be naive, like me. You won’t be able to live the same way you did back home, but that’s a good thing. Just ask Steve.