Last week’s events in [country in the news] were truly historic, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. What’s important, however, is that we focus on what these events mean [on the ground/in the street/to the citizens themselves]. The [media/current administration] seems too caught up in [worrying about/dissecting/spinning] the macro-level situation to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the [desert for the sand/fields for the wheat/battle for the bullets].

When thinking about the recent turmoil, it’s important to remember three things: One, people don’t behave like [computer programs/billiard balls/migratory birds], so attempts to treat them as such inevitably look foolish. [Computer programs/Billiard balls/Migratory birds] never suddenly [blow themselves up/shift their course in order to fit with a predetermined set of beliefs/set up a black market for Western DVDs]. Two, [country in question] has spent decades [as a dictatorship closed to the world/being batted back and forth between colonial powers/torn by civil war and ethnic hatred], so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, [hope/freedom/capitalism] is an extraordinarily powerful idea.

When I was in [country in question] last [week/month/August], I was amazed by the [people’s basic desire for a stable life/level of Westernization for such a closed society/variety of the local cuisine], and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of [country in question] have no shortage of [courage/potential entrepreneurs/root vegetables], and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in [country in question] are just like people anywhere else on this great globe of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in [country in question]? Well, it’s easier to start with what we should not do. We should not [ignore the problem and pretend it will go away/lob a handful of cruise missiles and hope that some explosions will snap [country in question]’s leaders to attention/let seemingly endless frustrations cause the people of [country in question] to doubt their chance at progress]. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture [the seeds of democratic ideals/the fragile foundations of peace/these first inklings of a moderate, modern society]. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to [peace/stability/moderation] is so [narrow/poorly marked/strewn with obstacles] that [country in question] will have to move down it very slowly.

Speaking with a local farmer on the last day of my recent visit, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, “[Short phrase in indigenous language],” which is a local saying that means roughly, “[Every branch of the tree casts its own shadow/That tea is sweetest whose herbs have dried longest/A child knows his parents before the parents know their child].”

I don’t know what [country in question] will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will [probably look very different from the country we see now/remain true to its cultural heritage], even if it [remains true to its basic cultural heritage/looks very different from the country we see now]. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven’t lost sight of their dreams.