There’s a pattern in how people respond to the question, “How will we live tomorrow?” especially among those with an analytical bent. An initial rebuff, that the question is too broad. Then intrigue about the specific words, ‘we’ and ‘tomorrow,’ which can be defined in so many ways. Yet within a few moments, or perhaps after dinner, or even the following morning, individuals whose initial reactions of skepticism offer unique, thoughtful responses. When this happens the question has done its job: to scour our headspace and consider new possibilities.
Mat Qazi is a PhD student in education from Turkmenistan, a former Soviet Republic just larger than California, yet with only five million people. “We are the Switzerland of Asia. We do not align with either super power and enjoy benefits from both.” He grew up in Ashgabat, the Capital, as well as cities in Northern Iran, and graduated college in Ashgabat.
“I chose University of Missouri because I wanted to be in a place where I was not in an international environment. I wanted the real America. Also I like nature, no pollution, fresh air. I’ve traveled to the east and west coast in two years living on a stipend. Things are easy here and good.”
Mat is a keen observer of our culture. “It’s difficult for foreigners to get close to ethno-centric, supreme feeling Americans. The other day in class, there was a story about a woman fighting against ISIS to avoid rape and torture. People started talking about micro-aggression, as if they were somehow equivalent. We have lost perspective on how well we have things. It is a privilege to have micro-aggression as a problem.”
But Mat’s fascination with all things American trumps this funny and gregarious man’s criticisms. “I’ve had three cars. Each one has gotten me into different music. I had a Cadillac SDS, which got me into rap. My Grand Marquis was country. Now I drive a Pontiac Gran Pix and listen to rock ‘n’ roll.”
Mat may or may not return to Turkmenistan. “My friends are here. Right now that’s where I’m from. I was born in one place, now I am here.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“Who’s we? There’s an infinite number of answers. I will give you a different answer two days from now.
“I am very optimistic. I will say we’ll live better. I have to believe that or I’ll be miserable. But ‘how’ better? As a PhD student I want education. Not formal education, but practical, viable education. I work in human capital theories. I believe in them. The trends go up and down. Everyone looks back and says, ‘back in the day, blah, blah, blah,’ but I think tomorrow will be better. We’ll eradicate ignorance and provide wisdom.
“Travel is a great way to learn. We are a small community, couchsurfers, who trust. That is rare in this country. Solo travel enables us to meet others. When you travel alone you learn to trust yourself and that allows you to trust others. Traveling in a group teaches you how to get along with others. Nothing is more contagious than emotion. Someone is angry – boom! – that emotion moves through the group. But traveling alone is the ultimate independence.
“I used to study literature and I have an MBA. Now, I’m studying higher education administration. My question was always, ‘What is life?’ Literature is the study of life just like astronomy is the study of stars and biology is the study of organisms. What is love? Loneliness? Sacrifice? You read and you lead these other lives and they lead you to wisdom.”