Who are you?
I am Alisa Adams, technically. Philosophically, I am a 21 year old Zimbabwan trying to navigate through life.
Where are you from?
I am from Harare, Zimbabwe. I was born there and have lived there until I graduated from high school. Harare is small, maybe just a little bit bigger than Amsterdam. It is a nice place if you know people. If you are new there it may seem a little boring. Our economy has had problems from the beginning of independence so there has not been much public or business investment in the city.
Why did you come to UCR?
I knew I wanted a Liberal Arts and Sciences education, mainly because I didn’t know exactly what path I wanted to take. And I wanted to live somewhere where I would enjoy. After graduating from high school I lived in the US for a couple of months. But I did not like it there and since most liberal arts programs are in the US, I thought I was doomed. Then I started looking for liberal arts places in Europe and I found UCR.
What attracted you in UCR?
Everything looked focused and intensive. And UCR has turned out to be the right place for me: every semester I find more focus. Politics/law is my field. What I want to do in life is social activism and both law and politics will help me do it. I don’t care whether in the end politics or law will be my instrument, perhaps I will use both.
You told me that you are in the Going Glocal Mexico group this year. How does that fit into the liberal arts experience?
Initially, I did not know what to expect. Professor Vazquez did not really tell us anything [laughs]. He just told us that we were going on this trip to study indigenous cultures and indigenous activism in Mexico; how they are standing up for their land, why they are standing up for their land. We got theoretical information in class about these social movements but still we did not know what to expect. To be honest, I was a little bit worried about it all. But as soon as I got there it was amazing. As a student, there is so much that you study and will only gradually begin to understand. But rarely will you be able to say: “I lived through it.” Going Glocal makes that happen.
First of all we met in Mexico with the author of many of the texts that we had read in class, Gustavo Esteva. We discussed the political struggles of indigenous peoples and particularly how the Zapatista community was opposing the government. And then we met people who are part of that struggle, who have lost friends, who have had to flee because they fought for the autonomy of their region. They explained how their struggle for their land for them is not about property as a commodity but about being part of the land. We practiced rituals with them; we learned how to cook as they do and how to value their land. Of course we all knew that just taking someone’s land and commercializing it is wrong. But after having been with them on their land we understand much stronger the nature of the injustices involved.
Has your academic understanding of the subject matter changed since your visit to Mexico?
It definitely has. Before we went to Mexico we had to write an essay about the social movements in Mexico. My essay was very political and about autonomy and democracy. The essay I am writing now is about education and alternatives to traditional education. It is about an institution of alternative learning that we got to know, where any interested member of community can become a student, there are no entry requirements. All that the student needs to say is what they want to become. If a student says, “I want to become a lawyer,” then they will be paired with a lawyer from the community in a sort of apprenticeship. The student will work with that lawyer. In the end, they will not get a certificate or a diploma. But they will know how to practice law. If any problem would arise for the community, they would be able to say: “This is against the law!” and will be able to stand up for the community. They would legally know what to do.
Upon coming back from Mexico I read back the earlier essay I wrote and I thought: “I was so naive!” What I wrote all started in given academic, economic, and political frameworks. Before I visited Mexico I was thinking in terms of the existing system. My leading idea, both for my own country and perhaps for people we visited in Mexico, was to fix the economy through a remedy of the capitalist system. UCR is now showing me that perhaps we don’t need to fix that system but replace it with something better entirely.
But how is UCR showing you that? You have many different professors in different disciplines, who tell you different things.
I think it does through letting me decide what I think. I feel free to discuss and to question what professors bring to us. There is a good balance between being provided with information and being free to question it and develop your own thoughts. Like nothing else I have experienced before, Going Glocal has shown me alternative ways of thinking-through everything.
Does this translate into something that you would want to do after UCR?
Personally, I had lost my passion to go back to Zimbabwe and fight our corrupt government situation. It had come to seem pointless and a waste of time. What I have come to see in Mexico is that it is not pointless. Yes, people are dying while fighting and standing up for their communities. But it is not at all pointless. Somebody has to start and come up with the knowledge to liberate people, so to speak. I was reminded that I am here for a reason. It was a truly transformative experience.
One ritual the elders of the community engaged us in was called the Temazcal. We went into a small igloo-shaped dome and they heated it up as if in a sauna. We were in there for two hours. It was a cleansing of the body but it also went into the importance of ancestry and the land. We gave thanks to all the people that we acknowledged for us being in the present moment. And we all said what we wanted from the experience that we were going through. I think that we all cried. There was a lot of emotion and reflection in our group. What happened for me was that my allegiance to my community back home was reinstated. I was put back on my individual path.
Which brings us to the question what your greatest ambition is.
My answer is a bit morbid, maybe. When on my deathbed I want to look back at my life as something that I lived for something other than myself. It sounds cliché but it is what I want from my life. A life of meaning, built up with acts of kindness that impacted other people’s lives. I will need the perspective from the end of my life looking back to see its true meaning.