Humanity in Beirut

Friday 8th February 2019 – Beirut

Beirut was one of the stops I was most looking forward to when I set off, not only because I had never been to Lebanon, but also because it was not so long ago that sadly the war prevented all tourism here and still when you tell people you are coming they ask if it is really safe.  

It, along with the other middle eastern countries were also important in the International House story as from the beginning of the Houses they have had Arabic, Jewish, Sunni, Shia and Christian residents from the region all living side by side.  This has often involved heated debates but at the end of the day they have shown each other respect and sought to understand and developed tolerance and friendship within the I-House context.  

For someone who has been lucky to live in relative peace in the UK, seeing the bombed out and bullet hole ridden properties around the city was disconcerting and sad.  My taxi driver told me about how he and his wife escaped to Saudi during the war, but when they had children they could not afford the schools in Saudi and his wife and 3 children returned to Lebanon in the midst of the War, I could not imagine the daily worry for him and his wife through that period. Thankfully they all survived and he now had 5 grandchildren. 

It is nearly 30 years since the fighting stopped and restoration and regeneration are also everywhere.  There is a focus on design and elegance, art and food and the long and fascinating history of the country.  More than this the people are charming, we were welcomed and helped by everyone we met. 

Sandy Edmonds, Harry’s granddaughter

This stop was also special as Sandy Edmonds, Harry’s granddaughter, joined me from her home in Vermont.  Sandy is my father’s first cousin, but family politics meant that they only met a very few times.  She is the most wonderful woman, a true lover of art and people, having been an art teacher for many years in US Public Schools.  So, it was a delight to explore Beirut together.  

Main gate AUB

I do not have any information about what Harry’s actually did on this stop, but with his close connection to the Dodge family I imagined that he would have visited AUB (American University Beirut) as Bayard Dodge, was president from 1923-48 and Dr. David Stuart Dodge held various positions from 1961-97. http://www.aub.edu.lb/President/Pages/history.aspx

Ada Dodge Hall named after Dr. D. Stuart Dodge’s deceased daughter

Harry may perhaps have met with Samuel B Kirkwood the president at the time.  Originally, we were going to have the honour of meeting Mr. Khouri, the current AUB president, but he was called away on business so we did a campus tour instead. 

AUB tour by Ali, in the pouring rain, they gave us some very smart AUB umbrellas!

Our guide Ali, a current AUB student in Finance was utterly charming and showed us around the beautiful campus. 

The re-built main College Hall at AUB

The University kept going as far as possible through the war and he showed us the tunnel that allowed the medical students to get to the hospital from the campus to go on duty without going up onto the street.  Parts of the campus were destroyed including the main hall, but have been re-constructed and they even have a very funky building by Zaha Hadid http://www.zaha-hadid.com.  

Zaha Hadid building at AUB

There is an cedar grove in the middle of the campus that were planted by the founder Dr Bliss and are still standing. I imagined Harry standing by the President’s House which has the most wonderful view out to sea, or perhaps he even got to go in! 

View from the President’s House at AUB

After our tour we met up with Chicago I-House Alum Rajab Ghazzaoui, who is currently working at the AUB business school.  Over coffee he was able to explain more about the complex politics of Lebanon and the region and also the challenges of daily life in Beirut. These include electricity being rationed to 3 hours a day for most householders, unless they have a generator, the traffic and lack of public transport.  The newly formed government is a welcome sign, but the continued corruption that is endemic makes it hard to keep hope of real change, good jobs and growth. The war forced many to experience living overseas either, mostly in Europe or Saudi Arabia so they have a broader perspective that you might find in other countries.  

Coffee with Rajab Ghazzaoui

My event at this stop was to be hosted by Dirk Kunze, I-House NYC alum and his team at FNST Lebanon & Syria in their very funky office space Garage 664.  FNST is a German not for profit focused on liberal principles and political education.  They operate in around 60 countries and focus on promoting freedom and dignity in all areas of society and hold events that encourage international dialogue, rights for minorities and democratic control.  

Dirk Kunze being interviewed by the media at my event

This event was to be very different to all the others on my trip as it was open to the wider public as part of FNST’s Alphabet Series of events.  We were letter ‘H’, fitting for Harry!  The title of our event was ‘Humanity in the times of populism, the value of international networks’.  So we could weave together my event and what FNST do in their work.  

Raya Gaffer El Hassan, Minister for the Interior Lebanon

On my quest to find attendees at the Beirut event I had contacted an alumna of International Student House DC, which is part of the World Wide International Houses group, Raya Haffar El Haasan.  Raya had been Finance Minister of Lebanon and I though it would be wonderful if she could come.  To my delight she said she would.  

The panel for the discussions including 2nd from right Omar Chatah (IH NYC)

Last weekend Dirk emailed me to say that in the formation of the new and long awaited government Raya had been made the first woman Minister of the Interior.  He thought that this would probably mean that she would not be able to attend.  However, this proved not to be the case.  Raya amidst the whirlwind of her appointment, made time to come because she wanted to tell the audience how important her time at ISH DC had been in shaping her understanding of the other and how she applies this to her work.  She was totally delightful as we chatted before the event began and she and Dirk helped light the candles at the end. 

We had 50 people attend the event, I would love to say I was the draw but Raya in her new role, was that, but I got to share Harry’s idea, the I-House story and also welcome the other alumni in the audience, Omar Chatah and Naoki Takyo from I-House NYC and Rajab Ghazzaoui from I-House Chicago.  It was so lovely to have Sandy Edmonds there too to hear both from Raya but also others about how impactful their time at the House had been on their outlook and lives. 

Alumni, Raya El Haasan (ISH DC), Dirk Kunze (IH NYC), Rajab Raab Ghazzaoui (IH Chicago), Naoki Tokyo (IH NYC)

I will definitely be coming back to Lebanon, I want to see all the other things it has to offer outside of Beirut and truly hope that with continued dialogue and perseverance, the Lebanese people will feel they are living in a thriving and stable country. If you haven’t been do put it on your list. 

Story Snippets…. 

Surrogate Mothers of I-House Chicago – Rajab Ghazzaoui – Having been used to living at home whilst studying for his undergrad, when Rajab was accepted to UChicago for his Masters the thought of finding an apartment and all that entailed was daunting.  So he phoned the accommodation office and they gave him the options including the I-House.   He called them back to ask ‘one flat fee and everything is included?’, ‘Yes’ they said. He was instantly sold.  Arriving at the house he decided to take one of the student jobs and ended up working in the office of the Director Denise Jordan and her team.  They instantly took a shine to him and he ended up with not one but three surrogate mothers, who helped him navigate his time in the House. From explaining how the washing machines worked to ensuring he was eating properly or up to date with his admin, they were there to support him.  He says that he really grew up whilst he was there.  

Challenging stereotypes at Fall Fiesta– Naoki Takyo – Every year at I-House NYC they hold the Fall Fiesta, where the residents showcase culture and food from their countries.  Naoki, said that he had recently found the VHS tape of his Fall Fiesta at the House (I am impressed he still had something to play it on!) and that re-watching it he was reminded how he wanted to break the stereotype that all Japanese are very serious and have no sense of humour.  He and his fellow Japanese residents were dressed in Kimono and it seems that Takyo raised more than one laugh from the audience, achieving his goal. When I asked him and his wife about how he had done this it seems that “what happens at Fall Fiesta stays at Fall Fiesta”, but I think it involved some dance moves and showing more leg than you might normally under a Kimono! 

Appreciation of the ‘other’– Raya Haffar El Hassan – Excerpt from her speech at the event – “For us residents, ISH (International Student House DC) was a home away from home. It provided a safe shelter from the harsh realities we, as international students, had to confront in trying to adapt to new surroundings and environment. During my stay I was fortunate to have built strong and lasting friendships with many of my co-residents. Friendships, I am happy to say that I still have to this day. These are the kinds of bonds that survive the passage of time. My friends were from all over the world – Nigeria, Colombia, Peru, Morocco, Eritrea, US, Denmark, just to name just a few. What a wonderful place ISH was and I am sure it still is. The bonds I was able to form lessened the feeling of homesickness and were essential for my mental and emotional development and wellbeing. I cannot begin to explain how important and life changing living at ISH was for me. The House offers a crash course in the importance of cultural diversity and appreciation of the ‘other’. It makes one re-examine engrained political and religious views and allows for the better acceptance of one another. So when I received Alice’s invitation to attend this event I did not hesitate for a minute, it instantaneously unlocked all the cherished memories I had from my time at ISH and made me jump at the opportunity to re-live them again and to meet other residents in Lebanon who might have shared similar experiences…. I believe this prepares us to become international citizens better equipped for careers in the Global market and provided us residents with a much larger perspective on life.”

Post office PS – for those that are following the Postcard saga (see Postcard blog post) – Lebanon proved the most challenging to date. Every request for stamps was met with a blank look. Whilst I was at AUB, our guide Ali said and there is the Post Office on Campus. So I popped in full of hope that they would have stamps. Well I may as well have asked for transport to the moon as I showed the man behind the counter the postcards. He asked a colleague and they decided eventually that the franking machine could provide the postage and I handed over $3. He promptly put my postcards in his drawer. I protested and he took them out and put them on his counter nodding that he would do the franking and put them in the post. I had to leave then, so I did not see that done, and I very much doubt they will ever arrive in the UK! Leaving Lebanon, I spotted a post box in near my departure gate at the airport. The only one I had seen in my time there. I made enquiries at the newsstand nearby about stamps pointing at the box and once again a look of incredulity from the cashier. After a lengthy explanation about what a stamp was, he went ‘ahh stamp, NO only outside at Lebanon Post!’

Airside post box in Beirut airport

Delights of Delhi

Thursday 31stJanuary 2019 – Delhi

Way back in the mists of planning this trip, I contacted the Executive Director of I-House Chicago, Denise Jorgens.  She is truly an embodiment of everything my great grandfather would have wanted for someone running one of the Houses.  She immediately embraced my project and when she saw that one of my stops was Delhi, offered for the University of Chicago Centre there to host a tea as my event. https://www.uchicago.in/about-us/

Aditi Mody, who runs the Centre, is an I-House Chicago alumna and so here and her team were equally enthusiastic.  

So, it was that I was warmly welcomed to the U-Chicago Centre.  Being India where attendance is sometimes problematic, even when people have said they would come, Aditi and I were quite prepared for it to be just the two of us having a lovely cup of tea. However, we had the most delightful crowd of alumni and friends of I-Houses join us as well as Bill Mitchel Associate Provost and Exec Director of UC Arts, who was visiting India for the first time. 

I had been particularly excited about meeting two of the I-House NYC alumni, Mr Narendra Jain, who had emailed me that he had met Harry in 1966 when he came to Delhi on his world trip and also Professor P.B. Mangla who had also met Harry when he was at the I-House in the early 1960s. 

Mr. Narendra Jain

Mr Jain, arrived looking about 20 years younger than his 91 years, clutching a plastic folder of carefully preserved papers that he had saved since Harry came 53 years ago! It turned out that Harry’s visit to Delhi was his first ever to India. It was used to inaugurate the Delhi alumni chapter of the I-House and Mr Jain, had the list of names and addresses of the 60 people who became members at that time.  He also had press clippings and the letter outlining Harry’s arrival and the dinner that Harry was to attend to inaugurate the chapter, of which Mr Jain was going to be treasurer.  Finally, he shared a hand written Christmas letter from Harry which had been sent to alumni which he wanted me to keep.  I was quite simply overwhelmed and touched by this wonderful man and the fact that he had so carefully preserved these memories over all these years. 

There used to be a passport to the world of alumni you could visit
Harry’s Christmas letter to Friends around the World in 1977

I have been staying at the YMCA Tourist Hostel which is perhaps not what one would call luxurious, there is a bed and hot water and a simple breakfast.  However, it must have been fate to choose there as it turns out from the letters that Mr Jain shared that that is where Harry’s dinner was held in 1966, with the US ambassador Chester Bowles and his wife attending.  The dinner cost 15 rupees per couple!   (Harry had worked for the YMCA in his early career so that may have had some link too.)

Prof. P.B. Mangla, had come to study at the Library and Information Technology school at Columbia on a scholarship in the early 1960s which set him off on a career that saw him live in 8 countries and travel to over 50. He has long been associated with University of Delhi and held many positions including Dean of the Faculty of Arts.  His time at I-House helped him navigate the cultures of the countries he worked in and visited and as he recounted often found him meeting I-House alumni in far flung locations.  

Vikram Mathur (ISH), Prof. P.B. Mangla (IH NYC)

It was very lovely to have a mix of I-House NYC and Chicago alumni which allowed them to share stories and similarities and differences between the Houses.  We were also joined by Vickram Mathur who lived at ISH London and is now one of their Trustees.  The ISH alumni are very active still in Delhi (and elsewhere), at a recent event they had around 60 attendees.

After I had shared some of mine and Harry’s story, we went around the room so everyone could introduce themselves and share some of their I-House stories.  I always love this bit as with a range of ages and careers it is so fascinating.  Once again the emotional connection to the Houses as a homes away from home, even many years after leaving was washing around us as well as the images and stories from lifelong friendships made over food, whilst dancing, playing ping pong or surviving snow storms in Chicago.  

Lots of candles at this stop, we had Mr Jain and Prof Mangla light them
Arant Nath – Editor of the Caravan giving me his book

I left the U-Chicago event with a huge smile on my face, so glad to have met such wonderful alumni and so touched that Harry meant so much to those who met him.  

My next stop was a Speakers Dinner for the One Globe Forum https://www.oneglobeforum.comwhich was being hosted by Harjiv Singh an NYC alum. He and his German Sakura Sweetheart wife, Julia, met at I-House in the 1980s.  Julia had taken me out to lunch the previous day and had shared their love story, which has partly informed her first novel ‘Leap of Faith’. https://www.amazon.com/Leap-Faith-Julia-Regul-Singh/dp/8129124807?fbclid=IwAR1lRftV0nlwfyqdWvrJjACaK5iGwmhwx_R-Bjp7TEZo5w3rGWQZ70h6uGg  Julia was 24 and coming to do her Masters in Urban Planning at Columbia.  Arriving at I-House the first person she met after being greeted by Romeo on reception was Harjiv.   She went up in the elevator to her floor and as the doors open there was Harjiv and his roommate in their room opposite ‘checking out’ everyone arriving on the floor. Despite Julia’s view that she was too young to get into a serious relationship and consider marriage, romance blossomed and they now have 3 children and are happily navingating a wonderfully complex cross cultural life in Delhi.   Because Julia was not always to be found in her room at I-House, it seems that it was used to accommodate a variety of visitors, many of whom I met during the evening, which gave others the opportunity to experience the House even if not official residents!

Harjiv and Julia Singh

I must also mention the lovely dinner that Anil Chauhan and his wife took me for the night I arrived in Delhi.  Anil, also a NYC alum, was off to Bangalore on business so could not attend the other events.  Anil promotes India Biotech and was wonderful at bringing me up to date with India politics and economics.  Anju teaches home economics and so was a brilliant guide to try all the things on the buffet that I would not normally have done.  I went back to my hotel feeling very full. 

Anil and Anju Chauhan

In the press article Mr Jain shared, Harry is quoted as saying “This is is my first visit to India. I have been round the world three times by ship but never touched an Indian Port.  I now regret not having been here before and not being able to stay long enough now.  I’m too old to cover the whole country, but perhaps in a year or two I will make a special trip to India.” Sadly, I don’t think he ever did but he was certainly warmly welcomed on his visit.

Story Snippets…

Chai and Samosas– Shahana Basu – Chicago I-House has culture hours and one of the ones in Ishaan’s time that was most popular was the ones hosted by the Indian residents which featured Chai and Samosas.  She also recalled how when the I-House Chicago was under threat of closure the alumni rallied round and reversed the decision through a concerted campaign of letter writing about the importance of the I-House to the student life at the University. 

International Students’ House Delhi– Tista Bagchi – Tista shared the work of Anjani Kumar Sinha Ph.D (1935-2018) who set up International Students’ House at Delhi University and modelled a lot of activities on the I-House in Chicago where he was a resident in the late 1960s. Mr. Sinha died in 2018 after a career which saw him promote the I-House ideals of tolerance, understanding and international friendship. 

House Hunting – Sonal Shah – When Sonal arrived in NYC to study she was all set to find a flat to live in for her time there. She had looked around and had found a potential flat mate. However she then heard about I-House from friends. Encouraged to apply she was excited when she got a place, but slightly worried that the potential flatmate would be annoyed, however apparently she was very understanding and so Sonal was able to go off and enjoy her time at the House without feeling bad.

A Bengali Welcome – Aditi Mody – When Aditi arrived at I-House Chicago on her first day to her surprise she was welcomed by the then President of the I-House, Professor Ralph Nicholas, in perfect Bengali. Aditi had grown up in the State of West Bengal speaking Bengali so Prof. Nicholas made her feel immediately like I-House would be home for the next few years. Prof. Nicholas area of expertise was in South Asian societies and cultures with an emphasis on Bengal. Aditi did say that her Bengali heritage may have been why she often enjoyed meals with the Professor and his wife during her time at the house, creating warm wonderful memories. https://anthropology.uchicago.edu/people/emeritus-faculty/ralph-w-nicholas

Bangkok meet-up

Sunday 27th January 2019 – Bangkok

Bangkok has been one of my tricker stops to find alumni, so when I made contact with Jyoti Sarinthorn an alumni from I-House Sydney, I was very excited. I prepared her for a dinner a deux, however in the end we mustered 4 alumni for dinner.

As my ‘Thai Trip Inspiration’ blog post describes, Bangkok was a significant stop for Harry. As I do not have edition No. 2 of the iHouse World Newsletters for the stops beyond Hong Kong, apart from staying with Vidura for two weeks I do not know much about Harry’s time here. There was no I-House to visit but I am assuming there were Thai alumni to meet.

Bangkok was a first in that I had my first ISH alumni, Charles (originally from the USA) join an event. Charles studied for his undergrad in NYC so had also visited I-House NYC to listen to illustrious speakers meaning he understood the set up there. Book and Jomphong from I-House NYC completed the party.

Whilst eating the delicious Thai food, the facilities, activities and layout of the different Houses was compared. It seems that ISH and I-House both have the all important Pub, whilst I-House Sydney residents, having none resort to taking over the Pub across the road!

I passed on Nelson Fung’s Hong Kong candle with its delicious sent to Book, who gave me a very interesting candle to take on to Delhi. It is a candle from his friends wedding. They are a couple who met doing Cheer-Leading and married in 2015 – which in Thai years is 58.

The candle has some Buddhist thoughts for both husbands and wives – a top 5 for each which go something along the lines of…. (for those who speak Thai you will be better off reading what it says!)

For the Women 1) Be a good organiser of the household, 2) Be supportive of your husband, 3) Don’t cheat i.e. have an affair, 4) Keep the property and money you have safe, 5) Work hard

For the Man 1) Give complements and support, 2) No sarcasm, 3) No affairs, 4) Give respect, 5) Give jewellery!

Thank you to my Thai Gentleman and Lady for continuing the hospitality of Thailand that was shown to Harry on his trip.

Story Snippets…

Thai Boxing – Book Mongkol Jarujanya – I was asking questions about the different Thai sports and Jomphong was trying to persuade me that I should go to a Thai Boxing lesson at the Gym before I leave, when Book shares with us that whilst at I-House NYC he learnt Thai boxing from a Mexican! Not something he had done before in Thailand and it helped him feel confident walking the streets of NYC late at night.

Turning a London Experience Around – Charles – When Charles arrived in London for his Post Grad study, he was assigned accommodation by the Institution he was studying at. However when he arrived and went to see it it was grim, dirty, miles from anywhere, no other student near by and generally miserable. Charles went back to the accommodation office and said that he could not live there and they said they would pay him to live there (which shows how bad it must have been). Charles was depressed as his time in London was not working out as he had visioned it. Shortly after he came across International Student House by Regents Park. It was evening but he went in and got chatting to the residents and decided this was the place for him. Approaching the admissions team, he was told that there were no places so he would not be able to escape the dreaded student housing he was in. He stood firm and insisted that he really did need to move and they then said that if he was willing to share in a double or triple he could come. Charles goal was to meet people so this was ideal! He had a very happy time at ISH and learnt how to drink like an Englishman at the Pub amongst many other cultural lessons.

Happy in Hong Kong

Wednesday 23rd January 2019 – Hong Kong

When Harry got to Hong Kong, it was Lunar or Chinese New Year and it was year of the Horse. I have arrived just before the New Year and this year it is year of the Pig. So every shop, housing complex or school is decked in red decorations and pigs in all shapes and sizes abound. Whilst I would love to be here to experience the New Year’s celebrations, the mass movement of literally millions of people across the region or Chunyun, had made me think carefully and plan to avoid the main rush. I don’t imagine that in 1966 when Harry was travelling that the transport links allowed for the millions of journeys taken today at this time of year.

A welcome gift from Joanna Lee to everyone attending

The first person to join my 100,000 Grains of Sand Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/grainsofsand19/?ref=bookmarks when I set it up last year was Nelson Fung, a Berkeley I-House alumni, so I was excited to finally meet him.

My event in Hong Kong was organised and hosted by Frank Wong, a NYC alumni and long time supporter and organiser of gatherings here. Suitably for 2019 and the Hong Kong shopping obsession, the venue was a restaurant in one of the high end shopping malls, Pacific Place.

Frank Wong signing my scarf that I have been collecting signatures on (when I remember to!)

From the moment I met Frank at the venue to the moment I left, the event was high energy and high volume. About 20 people attended a mix of I-House NYC, Berkeley and Larry Kwok representing I-House Sydney. As ever there was a range of ages, locals and expats. We had lawyers, architects, film festival organisers, publishers, entrepreneurs, bankers….

Not quite all of us as some had to shoot off and some arrived after….
Nelson Fung on the left proudly sporting his IH Berkeley Tee, with K.Y. with his IH NYC Tee (also in main image if you want to see what they actually look like!)

We continued the candle relay with me giving Nelson the Manila candle that Leah had bought and he gave me the Hong Kong Candle to take onto Bangkok. It is my first scented candle with the scent of white Micheila and smells wonderful. It was produced by a company in Hong Kong of beeswax and has a wooden wick. On its label it depicts Pottinger Street (stone slab street) which has always been a place where small traders sold their wares including candles. Nelson had certainly put a lot of thought into his choice.

Pottinger Street today decorating for Luna New Year

For those following the lonely Chinese student thread, I received new information, from Joanna Lee, that there is a Boxer Indemnity Scholarship recipients relatives association in Zhuhai in southern China. So that will be a line of investigation to follow up.

Hong Kong has been fun as I have also been able to catch up with family, my first cousin lives here, as well as family friends who kindly had me to stay and friends from my MBA at London Business School. The weather has been perfect, as in sunny and not too hot and I have the most had delicious food, particularly my lunch with Larry Kwok at the Mandarin Oriental.

Next stop Bangkok, which is promising a small but perfectly formed gathering.

Story Snippets…

Thirty years later – Arlene Barilec and Joanna Lee – When at I-House New York in the 1980s, Arlene and Joanna attended a Sunday Supper. The speaker was an eminent I-House alumna in her 70s or 80s and one of the things that she spoke about was how her friends made at I-House were still her closest and dearest friends. John Wells was then the Communications Manager of the House and Arlene and Joanna, remember saying to John that they couldn’t imagine that would be the case for them, in fact they could not even imagine staying in contact for a year, but now 30 years on they absolutely agree with the speaker that night.

Welcome to your new country – Joanna Lee – Joanna was telling me how if the I-House NYC alumni based in Hong Kong know a new I-House alumni is coming to live there they will arrange a welcoming committee for them. They will create a welcome pack and ensure that the new arrival, knows where things are like supermarkets, doctors etc.. and how to get around and who to call if they have a crisis. This is really passing the light on as Harry would have wanted and it is similar to what the Intercollegiate Cosmopolitan Club offered newly arrived international students in NYC from 1910 when it was set up after his meeting with the lonely Chinese student. They would help them get established in NYC and make sure that they knew someone cared even though they were feeling far from home.

Best and worst experiences in the dining commons – Nelson Fung – It seems that when Nelson was at I-House Berkeley the food quite up to the high standard now lovingly prepared by the executive chef Todd Koenigsberg for current residents. Whilst Nelson perhaps did not delight in the food offered, he did enjoy the wonderful company and it was definitely dining together that he enjoyed. He described, the joy of striking up conversations with people studying topics he had never even thought about or from countries he had never visited. Definitely where he made some of his life long friends.

I-House Baby

21st January 2019 Quezon City, Philippines

When Doris Ramirez from the Phillippines applied for a place on the Human Rights Advocacy Program (HRAP) at Columbia University in 2014 she was not thinking about starting a family. However by the time she was awarded the place and a scholarship that helped fund it she was pregnant so she was faced with a difficult decision about what to do. She decided to join the program as it was an opportunity of a lifetime and was due to finished one month before her due date.

All 10 of the students on the HRAP program get admission to live at I-House so that is where Doris found herself living when she arrived in New York. All was going well until her waters broke unexpectedly when she was 5 months pregnant. She was rushed to hospital and spent the next few weeks there as doctors tried to give her baby a better chance of survival by delaying its birth.

Far from home, it was her I-House friends and the Filipino nurses at the Hospital who befriended her and kept her spirits up. Her I-House friends bought her food to the Hospital to try and keep her eating well as the American Hospital food was not tempting her.

On the 31st of October 2014, Maria Angelina Fatima R. Bacurnay was born weighing just over 3lbs. Amazingly just two days later Doris was back at Columbia determined to complete her program. Fatima was in the Hospital for another month in the special care baby unit before she was allowed out. So Doris juggled her studies with spending time at the Hospital with her baby.

By this point it was December and Fatima was at last discharged from Hospital but was not allowed to fly home to the Philippines for at least another month. The I-House team allowed Doris and Fatima to take up residence in a slightly larger room at I-House. Being a new mum is never easy and it was particularly hard for Doris trying to complete her program and care for Fatima. It was a snowy winter and often as the snow fell so did her tears of exhaustion as she looked out of her I-House window. Whilst it was tough there were also great acts of kindness and care by both I-House residents and also the Filipino nurses who had met her at the Hospital. The nurses seemed to be able to miracle up baby formula and other supplies when they were needed.

Fatima’s father was able to come and visit for long enough so that he could look after Fatima and Doris could complete her program, so he too became an I-House resident.

Just before they left to go home to the Philippines, Fatima was baptised and the party afterwards was held at I-House and there were special invitations to all the wonderful I-Housers who had lived on Doris’ floor and supported her so well. There were also plenty of others who came to see Fatima as a baby at I-House is not a usual occurrence and particularly one with such a story to tell. The HRAP program that year had 10 participants from all around the globe. Doris and Henry made them all godparents to Fatima.

Fatima’s birth certificate states 500 Riverside Drive as her address, I am not sure if anyone else has I-House as their birth address, I would love to hear if there is.

Doris told me hers and Fatima’s story over dinner in Gerry’s Restaurant in Quezon City where she and Henry live. Doris is a Lawyer specialising in Human Rights and never one to make her life easy is trying to work out how to get her Masters in Migration Studies.

She told me that they call Fatima their miracle baby as had she been born so prematurely in the Philippines it would have been very unlikely that she would have survived as the neonatal care is just not as good, a sobering thought for all of us who are parents. Their dream is to take Fatima to visit all of her 10 HRAP Godparents in their home countries which will be quite a trip.

My children are now 18 and 17 and I certainly still remember the first few weeks after my eldest was born as being utterly exhausting and confusing as I got to grips with being a mother. I can’t imagine trying to complete a university program at the same time! Spending the evening with Doris, Fatima and Henry was such an unexpected delight and Doris’ resilience was inspiring.

We have plans to meet at the NYC I-House 100 year celebration and Doris is going to bring a special candle with her as her family owns a candle making business. That really will be passing the light on….

Manila meet-up

20th January 2019 – BGC Manila

Bonifacio Global City has sprung up in the 20 odd years since I last visited Manila. Sitting in the 9th floor apartment of a friend from my MBA, I can see out over a park which seems to have trapeze and circus skills being taught at all hours of the day, I can see fancy restaurants, an art centre and shiny offices, not necessarily the image that some would have of Manila.

In the Early Bird Breakfast Club restaurant, I was joined for brunch by three alumni from three houses. Leah Jordano from NYC, Neil Tan Gana from Berkeley and Virginia Teodosio from Sydney.

Professor Virginia Teodosio who is still passionate about her work on cooperatives and sustainable farming

We were reflecting on Harry’s arrival in Manila as reported in the iHouse World Newsletter Vol 2. no 1. He was met by 28 alumni at the airport and amongst his visits was ‘courtesy call on President Marcos’! I am told by my new Filipino friends that President Marcos was very early in his tenure and at that point things were looking positive as to his outlook and leadership of the Philippines so it would have been a great honour for Harry indeed.

He had a packed schedule with visits to the President of the University of the Philippines, the Rice Research Institute, a dinner at the Commercial Bank & Trust Co. Building and a farewell party!

We were also reflecting on the challenges of gathering a group of I-House alumni in Manila today considering that the Filipinos have been a strong presence in the resident group right from the start of I-House NYC in 1924. Filipinos students started to arrived as pensionados (or sponsored students) in universities like Colombia and NYU in 1903. Between 1910 and 1948 14,000 Filipino students came to study in the US, with many choosing the West Coast universities, and so some would no doubt have lived at I-House Berkeley.

In Chicago the 1940 census recorded 1,740 Filipinos living there and the majority are cited as having come to study “to acquire the American Diploma they believed would boost their place on the Islands’ ladder of success.” So all three original I-Houses have strong Filipino connections.

We continued my candle relay handing over the Taiwan candle in a Taiwan Beer Glass that Grace Hong gave me in Taipei, to Leah who had bought my Manila candle. It seems that Manila Wax Commercial have the monopoly on candles in Manila and Leah had chosen one of their Yellow ones (they come in White, Red or Yellow). I was also able to give Virginia and Neil one each of the tea light candles that Tudor had bought to the Taipei event.

Leah had also kindly bought me some very tasty dried mango…

I then had a very lovely and unexpected afternoon of sightseeing with Neil, who took me to the newly refurbished Natural History Museum and to see the sights of Rizal Park, which on a Sunday afternoon was packed with families enjoying their afternoon. Our trip led us to discuss the joy of spontaneity which Neil said is a big feature of the I-House experience, where by joining up with people and saying yes to doing things it opens up new understanding and builds international friendships. Just as Harry had imagined it would.

Sources: Unintentional Immigrants: Chicago’s Filipino Foreign Students Become Settlers, 1900-1941, Barbara M. Posadas and Roland L. Guyotte, Journal of American Ethnic History Vol 9, No. 2 pp. 26-48

The Filipino Diaspora in the United States July 2014

Taipei gathering

16thJanuary 2019 – Taipei 

A combined set of I-House NYC and Berkeley alumni arrived around a huge round table in a private room in the Shin Yen restaurant in Taipei.  The photo of Harry and Florence was placed in the middle of the rotating wheel on the table and so they watched over us and travelled around and around as we chose from the delicious dishes.  

Only touching briefly on the Brexit fiasco in the UK and the US government shut down, we moved onto more enlightening discussion about time spent at I-Houses.  Music, dance, love and food themes wove through the conversations about both Houses.  

We also pondered the challenge of the Houses keeping that magical diversity through careful admissions policy which as countries fortunes ebb and flow avoids one nation dominating the resident population and how vital dining discussion  were to building international friendships and understanding. 

Grace Hong provided a very appropriate relay candle in a Taiwan Beer glass, which is suitably small as Kampai toasts require beer to be downed in one so the size avoids both getting drunk and over full. We lit the candles to pass the light on and said ‘Harry Edmonds’ whilst our group photo was clicked, and there was a sense that a combined Alumni Taiwan group had been formed that together would collect more friends for the next gathering.  We stood up to leave but conversation struck up again around the room in small groups, so it was sometime before we finally said goodbye….

Story snippets…

Pub Disco Romance – Tudor Pasco – Tudor had enjoyed DJ-ing whilst doing his undergrad degree in France and so soon became a regular DJ feature in the Pub in I-House NYC.  He loved the breadth of music that was both appreciated and that he was introduced to.  From South American salsa, to Indian Bangra, to cheezy pop all could get the crowd on their feet.  It was over the DJ turntables that Tudor met his Taiwanese wife and became Sakura Sweethearts.  They now live in Taiwan with their 5 year-old twins.

Entrepreneurial Dreams – Jowy Tani – Jowy is a Consultant Neurologist.  Every year the Taiwanese government gives scholarships to 5 doctors to go to the US to study entrepreneurship for a year, in the hopes of making them more creative.  Gaining one of these scholarships at Berkeley, Jowy was faced with the decision of where to live.  He was thinking of renting an apartment, when he read something by Mark Zuckerberg which said that Facebook was started in a Dorm so he decided that he should go for the more creative and connected life of a Dorm and chose I-House for his year. As well as practicing in Taipei hospitals he is working on a variety of projects that will improve the lives of dementure  patients. 

Food from home– Courtney Gates – Courtney’s memory of her first day at I-House is meeting the only Taiwanese resident in the House at that time.  Having recently returned from teaching English in a small town in Taiwan, Courtney was keen to strike up conversation with him.  Her new friend was also able to provide taste reminders of her time in Taiwan as, in his tiny I-House room, he was creating soya based drinks of his homeland.  A skill he passed onto Courtney.