The travels and travails of Hannah Friedland ’15 can be described as nothing but epic; the globe-trotting English major has been to dozens of countries. Friedland has definitely put herself farther outside her comfort zone on these trips than most would even contemplate, but at the College she is all about comfort. Friedland, a literary type, can often be found curled up with a book, a mug of tea and a good friend. We got cozy with Hannah Sunday to chat about a few of her notable life experiences.
You’re a junior. Did you go abroad last semester?
I was in Indonesia, in Bali, for the fall. Very random. I wanted many different things in a program: a different hemisphere, rural, homestay, experiential education and adventure. And so Dean McKeon pointed me to Bali. It was really more just living in rural in Indonesia with a gaggle of American girls and just navigating that, you know, no toilet paper, no tampons, going to temple with our homestay families.
What was it like being part of such an intensely active and diverse religious community?
I lived at two main homestays. With the second family, it was more challenging. They did eventually learn I was Jewish, and they’ve had a lot of anti-Semitic propaganda. There was a brief but intense point where they ended up locking the door that separated my room from the rest of the house and I couldn’t access the bathroom. That night I didn’t sleep, and I peed in a bottle. And they said a lot of very upsetting stuff. On the one hand, it’s horrible, but on the other hand, Judaism is not recognized in Indonesia, Israel is not recognized and they don’t teach the Holocaust. I think that was probably the most intense religious encounter I had. But ultimately, my family came around and I had a great rest of my stay with them.
How did you work that out?
I had a three-hour Google Translate conversation with them, and I sat with them and they thought about it. And the next day when I came home from program activities, my host mother brought me a batik mumu and some tea. She didn’t say anything, but I think it was a gesture. And my homestay father asked me more questions later, that were well-intentioned but offensive. I don’t think they completely reformed their views, but considering where the conversation started, the fact that they felt comfortable having me in their house and are still in contact with me now means a lot. I think ultimately I learned a lot from that experience.
That’s quite the abroad experience.
There was humor in it, though. When I came in to class the next day, I hadn’t slept, and I told my program leader, who was Indonesian, the cat’s out of the bag, an American idiom. She had no idea what I was talking about. And she said, “Don’t worry, they’ll find the cat and they’ll put it back in the bag.” And I said, “No, I don’t think they can put the cat back in the bag. It’s a figurative cat.” And she said, “Oh, I was talking about bad cats; we put bad cats in bags here.” It was some nice comedic relief to an otherwise intense situation.
Where else have you traveled?
It’s absurd. I think I’m close to 28 countries now. A lot of it’s due to this program I did in Wales, called United World College. It is a peace and conflict program in a Welsh castle. There was farm service, where I learned how to birth a sheep. It was crazy, but so important and formative. The idea is that if you take teens from around the world and have them live and study together somewhere rural for two intense formative years, they would grow up being far less likely to kill each other or vote for policies that would kill each other. The coolest part is that you live in a house with 50 nationalities: My roommates were Kenyan, German, Spanish, Bangladeshi, Norwegian, Swedish – I think that covers it. You just learn so much more from talking to them and living with them. I got to travel a lot through the program, that’s how I went to Kenya and Uganda.
What did you do in Africa?
I worked at a school outside of Mumbassa where Microsoft had donated to all these communities, so we trained the oldest students so they could share the knowledge. And I worked at a school for disabled students. It was barely the size of Science Quad, and kids would live there for 20 years. I worked with six year olds, and they all ate, studied and went to the bathroom in the same room. I don’t think our program actually achieved all that much; I think I took away more than I managed to affect. But the one concrete thing I know we did well is we put together our funds and took as many as the kids as we could an hour outside of the school to this old nature preserve and garden to have a picnic. A lot of them hadn’t been out of this compound since they were five years old. I’m very skeptical of the trip, but that day was something I am very certain was a good thing.
Yeah, although I didn’t end up staying very long because when I got to Uganda, there was a terrorist attack. The last straw was when we ended up going to what was once the unified Sudan without being told. It involved lying to the Sudanese government, and also going to this region where rebel armies would hide out.
Where do you come from and where do your parents live?
They’re currently living in Paris, but in a week they will be back in California. Their jobs by no means necessitate that they’re nomads. My dad is a sociology professor whose current project is comparative research on hook-up culture in America and the Middle East. That’s his latest passion, which I think he came to once my sister and I got to high school he was horrified to realize what was going on in the love lives of American youths. [Laughs.] His personal interests and now his academic ones have intersected. But before I was born they lived all over the world. I have a lot of jokes about titles for them. I call them Bobo’s: Bourgeois Bohemians. They just love the world and they’ve imparted that to me, but I think my true adventure will be settling somewhere and really getting to know it.
What is it like to have a twin?
She’s five inches taller than I am, darker hair, darker skin. I’m older, but people would think she was my babysitter. But I do have one funny story about her. By the end of my time in Indonesia, I was getting very frustrated by the lack of toilet paper and she gave me some trouble for this. She wasn’t validating the fact that you get sick of wiping your ass with your hand after four months and having no hot water. And when she came home for winter break, I took everything from the bathroom: toilet paper, tissues, paper towels, everything. And she was really jet-lagged and sleep-deprived from finals and she gets to the bathroom and I’m outside waiting. There’s a few minutes of silence because she’s out of it and she probably thinks she’s hallucinating. And then I hear, “… Hannah?” I was like, “Yes?” She said, “Where’s the toilet paper?” At this point, she had totally forgotten our conversation from two weeks ago where she wasn’t validating my feelings. I said, “What toilet paper? Toilet paper’s so unnecessary -–- who needs toilet paper? Come on, Sarah, it’s superfluous!” I wouldn’t give it to her unless she admitted I was right and she didn’t, but she did concede that I had a point. I really could’ve gone on much longer, but I was a little scared of my sleep-deprived, jet-lagged twin.
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