Tribe: On Homecoming & Belonging – A book review

maxresdefault

I read Sebastian Junger’s Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, on the trip from the east coast to Chicago. He is famous for his book The Perfect Storm which was made into a movie in the late 90s. I saw his excellent Afghanistan war documentary, Restrepo. The book is almost a long essay at 158 pages, perfect for a day of travel. The book resonated with me and gave me plenty to think about. Although a bit simplistic, he does make a strong argument for his point of view and the writing is clear and concise.

My big takeaway is the importance of community for our happiness. It is fundamental to our happiness to have a greater interest than ourselves and have intimate, close relationships with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, clients, customers, etc. Junger asserts that our modern, Western lifestyle disrupts community and relationships. He takes the point of view of returning soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq. He spent a year embedded with troops and experienced the intense camaraderie that comes from living together in a stressful situation.  The affluent and urbanized society the troops come home to is nothing like they experienced in the military.

Junger goes on to give many examples and statistics, things like the high incidences of mental illness (depression, loneliness, poor health) that are symptoms of us putting extrinsic values over intrinsic ones. Our long evolution of communal, tribal living, sharing our life with extended family in dangerous environments, has shaped what makes us human.

The book details American colonists preferring to live with the Native Americans over staying in their rigid societies, or despite seeing their community being destroyed, the residents of Sarajevo missing the intensity and close connections the siege created during the breakup of Yugoslavia. (Junger was a war journalist for many years.) He sees the current Republican versus Democrat divide as the tribe wanting all members to contribute to the common good of all balanced with the need to help those who cannot take care of themselves.

The book inspired me to promote closer relationships in my work as the head of an international school. Teachers sharing ideas, frustrations, accomplishments with each other in what can be an isolating profession. Teachers going beyond the normal classroom instruction and truly getting to know their students and their parents. Reaching out to parents to help them raise their children in this age of personal technology and access to so much information, good and bad. And most importantly, all school stakeholders keeping the interest of others and the school community first. If we are all looking out for one another, all of us individually will be happier.

 

 

35386557504_fd357c5d9d_z
Lakeshore Bike Path near Adler Aquarium 

 

The highlight of our second day in the city was riding bikes along the Lake Michigan trail. We rode over 25 kilometers round trip south to the University of Chicago campus. I love the Great Lakes and swimming in the cool, fresh water was invigorating. We stopped at one of the numerous beaches for a quick dip. In the summer, in my opinion, Chicago rivals Miami and other coastal cities with its proximity to the water. Beaches do not come to mind when one thinks of Chicago and perhaps they should promote them and invest more into developing them. There were not a lot of people using them. A beautiful summer day in a city of 7 million people, I would have thought there would have been more people on them. I love bike paths and parks and this part of the city abounds with them. The rental bikes were good quality but expensive. We stopped heading south in part due to the amount of crime in the south part of Chicago.

We stopped heading south in part due to the amount of crime in the south part of Chicago. The city has the largest number of gangs in the USA and a murder rate much higher than LA or New York, but not as much as other smaller cities like Detroit or New Orleans. In reflecting upon the crime statistics, it is a symptom of poverty and lack of opportunity. Most of the victims and perpetrators are African American young adult males. Lowering the crime rate would need a huge investment in the poor neighborhoods to make a whole-scale culture and economic change. NPR’s This American Life did an excellent podcast on Harper High School, which is close to Hyde Park, where we stopped our bike ride yesterday. They really define the daily challenges faced in the crime-ridden sections of Chicago.

 

36085796091_afdb381efb_z
Ocean with the Chicago River in the background

Last night we had dinner at the Saigon Sisters which is owned by a childhood friend of mine. His family belonged to our parish in my village and it was great to see him after such a long time. We had a delicious meal and I recommend it. Thanks to Dan for the special treatment! It was another example of people from my village moving to cities and doing quite well. It is sad that economic opportunities are not available in small towns anymore.

 

35415179803_6bd1f0c7d5_z
Caspian Reunion at the Saigon Sisters

 

 

 

Visiting Chicago

 

35806686960_542f5064af_c
Chicago River

 

This is my first time visiting Chicago as a tourist. My previous visits were for transit purposes, as the city is a hub for flying to my birthplace of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  My brother and his wife live downtown, close to Lake Michigan in the heart of the city and we are here for a few days to see the sights and spend time with them.

 

36031439702_0dcf2f179d_c
Michigan Avenue

 

The population of the Chicago metropolitan area is 9.5 million people and includes from Kenosha, Wisconsin to Gary, Indiana. It is the third largest metro area in the country, behind only Los Angeles and New York. However, it is one of the slowest growing (0.55% growth), and will probably be passed by Dallas, Houston and Washington, DC in my lifetime. It is an anomaly as most of the large cities in the USA are in the Atlantic or Pacific coasts or in the south (Texas/Atlanta/Miami). In thinking about Chicago, it is the capital of the Great Lakes, with cities like Milwaukee, Cleveland, Toronto being some of the other population centers. You could also include Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Buffalo as an outer tier of cities. The region is growing slowly and has lost many manufacturing jobs in the past 15 years. Several cities are slowly depopulating in favor of better economies and nicer weather in other parts of the country. Chicago, like Detroit and Cleveland, is racially and economically segregated. I am curious on how climate change will affect the region. Walking around Lakeshore Boulevard and Michigan Avenue yesterday, my family remarked that it feels like New York City, with the sky scrapers and historic buildings. It differs in being cleaner, more spacious and less diverse racially.

 

36198805575_13ce8a75df_c
Maggie Daley Park

 

Our first day we spent time with my brother and sister-in-law. The kids tried rock-climbing in the Maggie Daley Park and we soaked up the atmosphere of the city. We are staying in an Art Deco style building developed by the family of the department store magnate, Marshall Fields. We finished the evening sampling the world famous, Chicago-style pizza.

 

 

 

Hickory Run

Hike on Fireline Trail

During our stay in Poconos mountains, we have enjoyed spending time in the Hickory Run state park. The large park is about 30 minutes from Freeland and has 40 miles of hiking trails. It also has a disc golf course and small reservoir for swimming.

35986100052_f380a0b330_c

The Fireline trail has some nice views over the Lehigh River. You can combine with Skyline and Gould’s trail to form a loop that takes about 2 hours. We noticed many trees down due to the recent storm. The Poconos are similar to the forests of northern Michigan, although with fewer pine trees and some different species of plants and birds.

Owen is still enthusiastic about disc golf so we play any chance we get. It is a great way for me to get outdoors and spend time with him. Below is a video showing one of the typical holes.

 https://www.flickr.com/photos/billkralovec/36021162951/in/dateposted/

Visiting Washington DC

 

35164564484_1eb8518ec8_c
Nadia on the steps of the Supreme Court

 

We had a pleasant long weekend in the nation’s capital, my fifth visit to the district. The amount of history and power concentrated in one place is impressive. The city is special to me because my wife Nadia loves politics so much, it is like me going to a professional sporting event. Seeing in person the sites of the American political system in person is exciting. I enjoy watching her delight as much as seeing the sites myself.

 

 

35835922652_b605d830c8_z
Catching up with friends on the “Poto-Mac” boardwalk in historic Alexandria

 

Summer evenings are delightful and walking around the National Mall during a beautiful sunset is a great way to spend a night in July. The founding fathers did a good job of portraying the power of this nation. The Roman classical building architecture, the wide expanse of green space and the Potomac River flowing past, it really sets itself apart from European capital cities. There are always a lot of visitors, but it didn’t feel crowded. The Lincoln Memorial captures the spirit of the great president. It was moving to read the words of the Gettysburg Address with his statue just to the side of me. The American Civil War was not all that long ago and keeping together the union has made a better life for Americans today. There are still cultural, economic, social and racial divisions in this huge country, but keeping together is better than splitting apart.

 

35869906461_428b4c5f24_c
We had to do a “drive-by” of the Trump Hotel

 

The World War II memorial, next to the reflecting pool is also a fitting monument to the people impacted by the war. Both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters are featured and with quotes by generals and presidents, it stirred patriotic feelings in all of us. We made it to Washington obelisk, and it is fitting General Washington received a Pharaoh’s treatment. On a tour of the Capitol Building, Washington is featured on the fresco on the ceiling of the Rotunda, and the Italian artist Brumidi, pictures Washington ascending to heaven accompanied by angels representing liberty and victory. He didn’t conquer the world like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar, but being the first president of the future American empire, puts him in that same group.

 

35163392104_5232c50cd3_c
American Apotheosis on the ceiling of the Capitol Rotunda

 

DC is a very busy city and although we avoided rush hour traffic, the amount of entrance and exit ramps, bridges, multi-laned highways, it was a bit confusing navigating the city. I also don’t like any place with a median house price of over half a million dollars. The amount of culture and intellectual energy in the place is great, but I don’t know how educators could live there. Driving through neighborhoods reminded us of Japan because the homes were so close together and streets were narrow compared to the rural Pennsylvania. Space is at a premium in the city.

 

35839450312_0221210537_c
A beautiful summer evening on the National Mall

 

We took a short tour of the US Capitol Building. It was interesting to see congressmen walking out of the building into waiting Chevy black Suburbans with secret service drivers. I didn’t realize how vast the space for the inauguration ceremony actually was. The photos from the air during Obama and Trump’s ceremonies were controversial regarding crowd size and it was fun to stand there. On our way home, we made a stop at Chatter, the restaurant owned by ESPN commentator, Tony Kornheiser. I occasionally listen to his podcast and so I wanted to see the restaurant and new podcast studio on the site. The food was reasonably priced and pretty good, so I do recommend a visit.

We also visited an old friend of Nadia’s in Alexandria, Virginia. City officials developed the water front and combined with the historical buildings and lots of restaurants and bars, it was a lively atmosphere. We had a good Thai meal and walk along the water.

I finish this post with a video of Ocean taking part in a street performance. A busker (Aussie term for street performer) called her up to set out the tip hat. I guess using a cute little girl would generate more sympathy from patrons. She of course loves the spotlight and was hamming it up for the crowd.

 

ocean with busker

 

Independence Day #241

34994470064_684e782625_z
Another great round of disc golf!

I have not been blogging much this month due to my energy being devoted to my doctoral study. We did have a nice 4th of July here in eastern Pennsylvania. We are staying with my uncle in the small town of Freeland. The town has the highest elevation in Pennsylvania and is located in the Poconos Mountains, which is part of the Appalachian chain.

My son Owen’s latest interest is disc golf and there are a couple good courses in a nearby state park. The disc golf course at the Hickory Run State Park is challenging, picturesque and well-marked. I am not a fanatic of disc golf, but it is a nice way to spend 2 hours with the family, in nature, and without screens.

We purchased a bunch of fireworks at a “super store” near Tannersville. The kids and adults loved the explosions. Fireworks have come a long way since I was young. Nadia and Jack cooked a delicious meal, and overall, it was a nice way to spend the anniversary of our independence from Britain.

 

35665773602_a2228ef693_z
Nadia shows off her 4th of July cake