Dear Boulder City Council members:
My name is Alexa Mehos, and I´m writing this letter on the eve of my 25th birthday from a tiny village in the northern tip of the Andes Mountains of Peru, where I´ve spent the last three months volunteering and travelling. I traveled in Israel and Palestine (including a visit to Nablus) in October of 2015 and feel it’s important to write a letter of support for the Boulder Nablus Sister City relationship. I am overwhelmed by all the things I wanted to say and how to begin. I´ve decided to start with myself, since I´ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the things I´ve done in my life so far and who I want to be in the next 25 years.
When I reflect on the first matter, I think of my travels. In the last ten years, I´ve spent seven periods of time studying and volunteering across the world, primarily in what might be considered some pretty rough places. In college, as a student of international relations, my mind was given a superb theoretical education on war and peace, poverty and prosperity, and the complicated politics that lie therein. However, as a guest in the countries I traveled to, my heart was given an education on the injustice done to humanity in the name of politics and intellect. Despite the suffering I witnessed in these places, I experienced the most incredible human kindness and generosity in places I was once afraid of. I experienced firsthand that people are mostly good, especially when they´re acknowledged as people. When they´re given a chance.
Each period of my life that I spent abroad has provided fodder for immense self reflection and growth. It has certainly made me reflect on what it means to be an American. While I have acquired a profound sense of gratitude for the benefits of my citizenship, there are things that I´m not proud of. I have often felt deep shame for being an American while traveling; perhaps most of all on my trip to Palestine last fall.
There´s something about looking into people´s eyes that shows the truth. That´s why when the homeless ask us for money on pearl street, or when we´ve hurt someone we love, we find it difficult to look them in the eyes. To do so is to acknowledge our sense of guilt, which is not a comfortable thing to do. When I looked into the eyes of the 15 and 16 year old girls I met on our school visits in Palestine, I saw myself at that age, at the beginning of my travels. I spent a lot of time talking to these girls about their longing to travel the world, make friends, and learn about things they could never understand in the classroom, and I felt guilty for the opportunities bestowed on me with my American passport. I saw the shame of a world that has allowed the conditions to be such that these incredibly bright, resilient and hopeful young beings cannot have the experiences that have been so fundamental to my development as a person.
Whenever I feel shame, I know that I am in the presence of a moral choice. If you decide on Nablus as our 8th Sister this April, you are making a choice for all of us. Will we look away and ignore our shame, or will we meet their longing gaze? I was born and raised in Boulder, and have always been proud to claim it as my home because of its purported openness to other cultures and progressive ideals. As a representative of our city, what do you stand for?
In closing, I can´t help but mention what the Dushanbe Sister City and especially the Teahouse has meant to me as a young person in Boulder, and the parallels I see with the Nablus proposal. I was seven years old when it was constructed, and I strongly remember not only my awe at the beauty of the place, but also thinking that the idea of a Sister City was the coolest thing. Nearly twenty years later, I had the opportunity to work at the Teahouse and share the awe I felt for the concept with customers from all over the world. I also met my boyfriend and current travel buddy there, and now we share the idea of the Teahouse with people we meet on the road. The Dushanbe project was not a popular project at its inception. People were afraid of the political implications. Thanks to the perseverance of brave people who listened to their hearts, my life and the lives of countless others has been made more beautiful.
I urge you to vote yes for Nablus as our Sister City and continue this legacy of friendship for the next generation. Do not let matters of politics come before matters of the heart, and of humanity. Look into the eyes of these kind, intelligent, hopeful people and see that they could be our daughters, sisters, beloved uncles and grandfathers. They could be our friends.