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Editorial

If Trump Wins, Don’t Leave the US. Instead, Stay and Fight.

March 4, 2016
Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 8.52.57 PM

Damn. America, tell me something. What the hell is going on?

Although it began as a joke, Donald Trump’s campaign seems to be unstoppable as he crushes the other GOP candidates in the polls and primaries. And now, after Super Tuesday, nobody’s laughing anymore. In fact, some of us may be starting to freak the fuck out. And many of us are planning ways to get the fuck out in the event that Donald J. Trump becomes president.

Google searches for “how to move to Canada” spiked the night of Super Tuesday. Celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg, Miley Cyrus, and Raven Symone have said that they’ll flee if Trump wins. How-to guides for moving abroad to escape the Trump administration are popping up around the internet. People in travel-related Facebook groups start threads about their plan to leave the US for good.

And I get it–I really do. I’m already an expat, so I understand the need or desire to live abroad in general. (Though I moved for personal and financial reasons, not because of any presidential election.) And though I’m many miles away, I’ll always bleed red white and blue. My heart breaks when I think about what’s going on in my country. It says something that I can sit in my apartment in Riyadh, read the news about the election cycle (or just the news in general), and think for a brief moment that maybe Saudi Arabia isn’t so bad.

I also understand that some people, Muslims, black people, Latinos, might feel that an Trump administration would create a level of hostility against minority groups that would make staying in the US unsafe for them. I mean, the US is already pretty unsafe for minority groups. But if the Trump’s campaign theme is normalizing hatred and violence against minorities, a Trump administration could make America look even more like this:

 

And this:

 

And this:

muslim women kicked out of trump rally

 

And this:

 

 

And this:

You get the picture.

Some of us might be able to make a really good case for moving abroad if Trump wins.

But to everyone who swears that they’ll pack their bags and drive over the border next January 20th, I beg you to reconsider. Please, my fellow good-hearted, non-fascist, anti-bigotry, everyday citizens of the United States, don’t leave the country if Trump gets elected. Instead, stay, and in the tradition of our great nation, fight to take it back.

First, let me guilt trip you a little by talking about the amount of privilege someone must have to even joke about deciding to leave if a candidate gets elected. I’m sure many people who are devising their exit strategy have the financial means (a job that can help you save money, no debts, financial help from parents, valuable items to cash in such as a car, access to credit) to plan for a move. Some of you are probably white and/or Christian. Celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg are privileged through wealth and access to a platform.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having privilege. I only bring this up so that those of you who are thinking of leaving could realize how lucky you are. I’m guessing that women, children, and LGBTQ individuals who risk abuse and death on their way by foot from Central America to the US, or families from Syria clinging to rafts hoping to float to Europe, could only hope that leaving their homelands was a choice.

You can leave if you want. But wouldn’t it be better to stay and use your privilege to help your fellow Americans, many of whom cannot leave, get through four years of Trump?

Second, let me appeal to your sense of practicality. Let’s be real: 99% of you ain’t going nowhere by inauguration day. Among the many who promised to flee if Obama got elected, how many of them actually did? Do you personally know someone who left because he got elected? And do you personally know someone who is actually ready to buy their plane ticket ahead of Trump’s swearing in? Most Americans don’t even have passports, and many of us rarely travel outside the country at all. So I doubt that there will be a spike in international one way ticket sales come November.

Now let’s say that you’re in the 1% of people who might actually leave. You can’t just waltz, tango, or nae nae into another country, even if it’s Canada, and just live there. Netflix recently went global (thank goodness), but there are still many other obstacles to moving abroad. First, you need to pick a country. It’s a big world, and there are so many exciting places to choose from, but it’s not an easy decision to make. And you may find yourself deciding to live somewhere you don’t necessarily want to (for example, Saudi Arabia) because it happens to be the most practical choice.  Also, you need to settle things and tie up loose ends at home. Quit your job, sell your car, actually pack up and move, etc.  Most importantly, you need permission to actually live there. That means applying for a job/study program, which could take months, assuming you’d get approved for a visa. (Hopefully you have family members in your host country, perfect health, and/or no criminal record.)

You’d also have to find an apartment, enroll your kids in school, get a residency permit, and possibly learn a new language. Being an expat can be great, but many expats face stress, depression, and loneliness. And the rest of the world isn’t a utopia. There are going to be things you absolutely can’t stand about your host country. Say goodbye to efficiency, organization, and what you know as basic courtesy/manners (depending on where you move. I’m not saying that the rest of the world is completely rude and disorganized, but things are just different in other cultures.) And if you’re a minority in the US, you may be a minority abroad as well. Which means you’ll still meet ignorant people who will treat you like a zoo animal because you’re black, or associate Muslims with terrorism.

Something else to consider: American citizens must still file, and possibly pay taxes when living abroad.  You can’t escape Trump’s IRS. 

As a single, independent, thrill seeking, and indebted 20-something, moving abroad was a no-brainer for me. But for many people, it’s something that requires careful thought and considerate planning. If you’re going to put in the work to move abroad, there should be a better reason than Trump becoming president.

Finally, let me remind you of what is the spirit of America: Resistance. Organizing. Rebellion. Protest.

America is minorities raising a middle finger to a system that seeks to eradicate us. It’s arms linked together in a human chain blocking traffic on a busy highway. It’s milk poured into the eyes of a tear gassed youth in Ferguson.  It’s raised, clenched fists in the air, and chants of “we gon’ be alright.” America is the passionate voices of a human mic in an occupied Zuccotti Park. It’s the muscles and bones that keep a Texas state senator’s legs from faltering for hours as she filibusters for the right to choose. It’s the nerves that steady the hands an onlooker with a cell phone as they film an innocent citizen getting beaten, choked, or shot by police. It’s the fingertips of a young activist who starts a national conversation with a hashtag. America is the arms of children in Flint, strengthened by carrying bottles of water home. It’s the words in a leaked email by a journalist who would rather give up her own cable news show than be a puppet for the corporate media. It’s the light by which a DREAMer fills out her college applications. It’s the silent strength, among thousands of loud, hateful voices, of a woman in a hijab who was kicked out of a Trump rally. America is all of us, together, tirelessly fighting for a more perfect union, no matter what gets in our way.

We Americans, especially minority groups, have endured so much throughout our history. We mustn’t let a fascist and his racist fan base kill our sense of hope. Nor must we allow them to kill the essence of what America stands for.

So I need everyone and their third cousin to vote. But if that doesn’t work and Trump gets elected, I plead with all the decent, tolerant people in the US to stay put, and brace yourselves for a tough four years. While it’s still legal, protest the hell out of everything the Trump administration does. Be an ally to those who are being targeted by bigotry fueled by his rhetoric. Use old and new media platforms to expose and criticize Trump’s policies. And for the love of democracy, vote in the goddamn midterms, please. As Americans, we’re incredibly lucky to have the freedom to stand up to power. It would be such a terrible waste of these rights, as well as a slap in the face to both our predecessors and future generations, if we all just up and left.
Even if he becomes president, America will never belong to Trump. It will always be by the people, for the people. It will always be ours. But only if we choose to fight for it.

Editorial

Traveling Doesn’t Make Me Better Than You

February 9, 2016
travel doesn't make me better than you

I haven’t been traveling for very long. It’s only been about a year and a half since my first international trip (when I moved to Madrid.) Since then I suppose I’ve caught the travel bug, and now I’m constantly looking for new trip ideas and spending hours playing around with dates and locations on Google Flights. I’ve joined at least a dozen travel related groups on Facebook and I’ve become interested in everything related to travel and travel hacking.

But the more I learn from the online travel community, the more I am disgusted with the high and mighty tone that I often see in blogs or online conversations. Unfortunately, many travelers have a way of belittling people who don’t have the opportunity to see the world. And I’m sure many travelers believe that they are inherently better than those who don’t share their passion for seeing new places.

As a traveler, to all the non-travelers out there,  I’d like to apologize for all the pretentious blog posts and condescending memes from the travel community. The truth is we’re not necessarily wiser, more cultured, more fulfilled, or in any way better than those who don’t travel. Let me tell you why.

Travelers are arrogant.

I really do think that many travelers believe they are superior to those who don’t travel.Some of us think that non-travelers’ priorities are out of place. We think they should be buying plane tickets instead of new shoes or a nice dinner at a restaurant, or that they should be catching flights instead of feelings. That if you’ve never left your country, there’s something wrong with you. Travelers criticize others for counting how many bags or watches they have, while boasting about how many countries they’ve been to.

I find it interesting that travelers judge others simply for choosing to spend their time and money in a different way. We travelers are bent on instant gratification just like everyone else. The thrill someone gets from a new tech gadget is the same one we get from buying a plane ticket.  A thousand dollars is a thousand dollars, whether you spend it on a designer bag or tickets to Seoul.

Travelers are privileged (and don’t want to admit it).

I don’t care how many blogs you’ve written or read about budget travel. No matter how much you “hack” it, you simply need money to do it, whether that’s $1 or $1 million. I do agree that travel is generally cheaper than most people think, but that doesn’t mean that anyone can afford it. Yes, some people who don’t own yachts or live in mansions work their asses off and are able to afford trips. Kudos to them. But try telling the family of four who just had their electricity cut, or the recent graduate with no safety net and tens of thousands in student loans, that they could travel if they really wanted to.

bitchwhere

Many travel bloggers and nomads are living more modestly than you might think. But you do need some sort of privilege or luck to be able to travel. In my case, I was lucky enough to have credit cards to find my move to Madrid, and to pay for my CELTA course that got me my current job in Saudi Arabia. With this job, I am lucky enough to be able to travel while paying off the debts that got me to this point, including student loans. Three years ago, if someone had told me that three years in the future I’d have a decent job that allowed me to travel and pay off my student loans within a couple years, I would have thought it was impossible. But here I am.

Edge of the World Selfie

Edge of the World, Saudi Arabia

So yes, I had to work for it, and since my family doesn’t have much money, I had to do it alone. But I’m also privileged, as many travelers are. And when you’re privileged, it’s difficult to see how others don’t have the privilege that you do. (The same way it’s difficult for white people to admit that racism exists, or for men to admit that sexism exists.) That explains the “You, Too, Can Travel If You Would Just Stop Being So Lazy” theme we often see in blogs and memes.

Sound advice if I've ever seen it.

Sound financial advice if I’ve ever seen it.

“Don’t worry about the money, just make it work,” is not something you would ever say if you’ve ever been poor. How can someone just not worry about money? I’ll tell you how: only if you have enough of it in the first place.

Even if you travel modestly, you need money for the plane ticket. You still need money for the cheapest hostel in the world. Passports aren’t free. Luggage isn’t free. Taxis to and from the airport aren’t free.

Experiences are invaluable, and according to science, better than buying things. But memories from backpacking through Southeast Asia or dune bashing in Abu Dhabi aren’t going to pay the rent and bills. Last time I checked, Sallie Mae only takes automatic debit, check, or money order, not JPEGs.

Travelers are superficial.

I recently decided to use Instagram more for my blog.

I’m wondering if it’s a good idea. I don’t want to become so obsessed that I start living my life solely for the purpose of getting a good shot. These thoughts go through my head when I’m looking at pictures.

Did this person travel all the way to this beach just to they could take this picture? How long did it take them to get the perfect shot? Who did they hire/drag with them to be their photographer? Are they even enjoying themselves? Why did they post that random quote on their picture…it has nothing to do with the destination!

If I use Instagram more, am I going to end up like that?

 

Everyone is superficial to some extent, including me. (I take way more selfies than I’d like to admit). There’s nothing wrong with taking cool pictures of yourself or your experiences. But the amount of work that some people put into creating an online image of who they are is unbelievable.  In this modern world where likes, hashtags, and reposts are the currencies that buy self worth, people will go out of their way to present themselves as something they are not. Most travel bloggers talk about how great their lives and trips are, while leaving out the failures. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of “Quit Your Job, Travel The World” pieces, but few mention what happens when they money runs out and you have to move back in with mom and dad. Sometimes it seems like travelers, bloggers or not, care more about their image as a traveler, and what they can post on Instagram or brag about upon returning home, than the experience they’re having.  If the main reason you’re going on a trip is to show people that you’ve been there, or if your main reason for entering a country is to collect passport stamps, that’s just sad. Get your life together.

Bottom line: Traveling is just a hobby and it doesn’t make anyone special.

People who ride horses are no better than people who don’t. People who collect stamps don’t go around shaming people who choose to collect coins instead. Knitters aren’t constantly writing blog posts about how you must drop everything you’re doing and start knitting immediately, otherwise your life has no purpose.

Traveling is a hobby, just like knitting, stamp collecting, reading, or improv. But what gives the traveler the sense of superiority that fanatics of other hobbies don’t have? I think it’s these three things:

1)It costs money, therefore having the money to do it, or working hard to save up for it, means you have some form of economic privilege.

2)It involves cultural learning. Supposedly when people travel, they should be exposed to and engage with other cultures, therefore making them a more well rounded, worldly, and educated person. (You may have guessed that I disagree with this. Travelers can be just as ignorant as anyone else.)

3)It presents the opportunity for unique experiences and accomplishments. You can only climb Kilimanjaro, eat real Thai food from a street vendor, and bathe in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon if you travel. The vast majority of people don’t or can’t travel internationally. So it means that the people who can and do, are doing something extraordinary.

The combination of these things means that the traveler, who sees themselves as economically privileged, well cultured, and doing things that most people don’t do, feels good about themselves because they travel. It’s easy for them to look down on people who don’t travel, because they’re just poor, ignorant about world cultures, and living a mundane life. The traveller feels that they are fundamentally different from everyone else. They post their adventures on social media as if to say “Hey, look at me! I’m riding an elephant. You can’t ride an elephant because you’re at work and you don’t have as much disposable income as I do. Not to mention you’re boring. Not only will you not have this experience, but you also can’t afford it.” (By the way, riding elephants is not cool.)

But taking selfies with them at reputable sanctuaries is fine. Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

But taking selfies with them at reputable sanctuaries is fine. Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The traveler, who feels superior and exceptional, has unwritten permission to look down upon the non-traveller. A rich person who mocks the working class laborer who can’t afford a sports car is kind of an asshole. It’s not nice to go around saying “I have more money than you.” But it’s somehow acceptable for travelers to be condescending to those who don’t, because it’s not just “I have more cash than you.” It’s “I’m more cultured than you. I have better experiences than you do.” Never mind that those experiences aren’t free, and shaming someone for not being able to afford an experience is very classist. Never mind the fact that learning about other cultures and having great experiences doesn’t need to happen abroad. Never mind that you know our society is fucked up when you have to be economically privileged enough to afford enlightening, potentially life-changing experiences. And never mind that going abroad doesn’t necessarily make you wiser or a better world citizen (see: poverty porn and voluntourism.)

This explains the pretentious travel blogs and memes I see every day:

The hundreds of blog posts and memes saying “You CAN afford to travel. You’re just not wishing hard enough that money will magically appear in your bank account.”

Even for the people this does apply to, so what? Cooking is hard, man. Tried to boil an egg yesterday and it came out frozen.

Even for the people this does apply to, so what? Cooking is hard, man. Tried to boil an egg yesterday and it came out frozen.

The “I have a better hobby or interest than you” posts, such as this meme.

poassport shoes

The “You must travel, otherwise your life is worthless” memes, like this one.

The “How dare you ask me how I can afford to travel, peasant” blog posts.

The articles that begin like this: “Here’s how saved 20 grand to travel. First, I had 10k in the bank, then I sold my car, then I moved in with my parents.” 

All of these have a common theme: “I, traveller, am better than you, non-traveller.”

Except, no.

How about we just respect people who have different hobbies than we do. How about we recognize that travel is something you have to be privileged to do. How about we admit that travel probably isn’t as life-changing, educational, romantic, and fulfilling as people make it out to be, and therefore it’s not necessary live an exciting or full life. How about we accept that some people are perfectly happy never leaving their hometowns, and that’s ok.

Travel is great. But so are taking long showers, riding a bike in a local park, eating ice cream, and sleeping in on Saturdays. If travel is your thing, then great. But someone else’s thing may be different than yours.
You do you. And let everyone else do them.

Editorial, Society, Where Am I (Going)?

3 Myths about Women in Saudi Arabia You Should Stop Believing

December 30, 2015
3 MYTHS

Back in July when I was at my family’s house in Florida, desperately seeking employment for the fall semester, I would occasionally scroll past a job ad for teaching positions in Saudi Arabia. For a couple weeks I clicked on them just out of curiosity, noting the good pay and benefits, but ultimately deciding that I could never live in such a place. Americans, and I’d say Westerners in general, don’t have a very good perception of Saudi Arabia. Some this is just pure islamophobia. For me it was the assumption that living as a woman here would be next to impossible. I didn’t want to walk around covered up all day in triple digit temperatures. I didn’t want to be treated differently because of my gender. I didn’t want to have my personal rights and freedoms taken away.

Though some of what I assumed is true, over the course of the nearly five months that I’ve been here, I’ve learned that the western public’s perception of daily life in Saudi Arabia, especially life as a woman, is somewhat exaggerated. Now that I’ve experienced life here for myself, and I know better, it’s annoying to see common misconceptions about women’s lives here. For women, living in Saudi Arabia is far from perfect, but it’s also not as bad as you’d think. 

Hiking near Riyadh a couple weeks ago. #Riyadh #saudiarabia #KSA #hiking #solofemaletravel #girlswhotravel #desert

A photo posted by Set A Course For Home (@setacourseforhome) on

Myth: Women in Saudi Arabia can’t leave the house unless accompanied by a male guardian.

Fact: Women can leave the house alone (but guardians and sponsors do have some legal authority over women and expats.)

I’ve seen this myth in several articles, including here and here. And it makes perfect sense under two conditions. 1) Everything you know about Saudi Arabia comes from the media and 2) you think that Saudi men have nothing better to do than to escort their wives and family members to work, the grocery store, and the salon.  

It’s true that, under Saudi laws and customs, Saudi women must have a guardian, a male family member or husband,  who has certain legal responsibilities and rights over her. Foreigners like myself don’t have guardians, but the companies we work for act as our “sponsors” who have similar legal rights over us. For example, I had to ask my employer for an exit visa so I could leave the country, and could not open a bank account with a letter of permission from them. A Saudi woman who wanted either of these things, or to get married or go to school, for example, would ask her guardian. (Most sponsors/guardians are more then happy to help with this sort of thing.) If you’re a dependent expat here with your family, your sponsor could be your husband, father, wife, or mother (yes, women can be sponsors too). Whether a woman has a guardian or a sponsor, she is legally allowed to leave the house, alone, whenever she wants.

I leave my house on my own all the time, and so do other expat and Saudi women. It is true that women cannot drive, so they must rely on family members to take them around town. But women can also go alone by taxis if they want. (Personally, I use Uber several times a week.) Or perhaps they can go by camel, though this isn’t recommended on the busy highways of Riyadh.

A camel outside Riyadh. Still faster than rush hour traffic. #Riyadh #saudiarabia #camel

A photo posted by Set A Course For Home (@setacourseforhome) on

Myth:Women must always be covered from head to toe.
Fact: Women must wear an abaya in public/around non-related men, but covering the hair and face is not required.

All women must wear an abaya in public, or when around non-family members. Many Saudi women (and some expats) in Riyadh also cover their heads and wear a niqab, which covers their face except their eyes, however this is not necessary. The only piece of clothing that is necessary is the abaya.

So while I do have to “cover up”, it’s not my entire body, and it’s not all the time. Having to wear an abaya isn’t the worst thing in the world. They’re very light, and I don’t have to worry about getting dressed up if I’m just running errands. The most annoying thing is when I trip on them when I’m walking up the stairs.

At home and in female-only spaces, like schools, universities, female-only gyms, or private parties, women don’t have to wear abayas, niqabs, or any sort of head covering. (In an interview at SXSW with Fast Company, Princess Reema described the abaya as the equivalent of formal wear—something you wear to look presentable in public, just like a suit.)  Abayas are usually black, but they can come in any color. In less conservative cities like Jeddah, some women can be seen walking with their abayas open and without a niqab.

If you’re wondering what Saudi women wear under their abayas, it’s really none of your business. But just to provide some perspective, Saudi women love shopping, and the malls here carry clothing and accessories of all kinds and many different brands, including international brands such as H&M, Zara, Marks and Spencer, and Victoria’s Secret. They love fashion just as much as women anywhere in the world. 

I hate that whenever Westerners talk about the abaya, hijab, niqab, or any similar type of clothing, they use it as an example of how Muslim women are oppressed. Let’s make a couple things clear: As I said in an earlier blog post, clothing alone doesn’t make someone oppressed. Feminists need to stop obsessing about what Muslim women wear, and instead focus on real problems facing women.

Myth: Women in Saudi Arabia must be so miserable and oppressed.

Fact: Many women here, Saudis and expats, are very happy. They lead interesting and full lives just like women anywhere else.

Saudi women are mothers, sisters, business owners, and as of December 12th, voters and elected officials. They go shopping, meet friends for coffee, take Zumba classes at the gym, edit newspapers, write novels and poetry, direct films (including the first feature made in the Kingdom, Wadjda), run ophthalmology departments at major hospitals, promote breast cancer awareness and break Guinness World Records, go to work, blog about women’s issues, train for the Olympics, tweet, and Snapchat. (Here, Hala Abdullah, a Saudi poet, performs “Woman”, a piece in the form of a letter to her future daughter.)

My students are outgoing, funny, stubborn, sassy, and talented. They love YouTube, Whatsapp, and Lebanese food. They want to study abroad in Europe or the US and become teachers, doctors, and businesswomen. They whine when I give them homework and laugh when I mispronounce Arabic words. There are many words I could use to describe them, and Saudi women as a whole, such as vibrant, complex, intelligent, and warm. But I hesitate to use the word “oppressed”, an overused term that the Western feminist world resorts to for a lack of deeper context or understanding of Saudi culture. It’s an accurate descriptor, but it’s also appropriate for women all across the world. The difference is when we talk about women’s oppression in the West or in some other countries, we also assume these women have more complexity and agency than Saudi women do.

And sure, the law does take some agency away from Saudi women. But Saudi women have their own ways of reforming their country as they see fit.  They love their lives, religion, country, and culture, and have no desire to imitate women in the West. Princess Reema, for example, had led efforts to promote breast cancer awareness and increase the number of Saudi women in the workforce. Activists such as Manal Al-Sharif have been arrested for protesting the driving ban. Change in the status of women in KSA, although slowly, is happening on their terms. They don’t need to be saved by Western feminists.

The purpose of this blog post is neither to overlook, nor to excuse the human rights issues in this country. Rather, I want people to broaden their understanding of what it’s like to live here as a woman. It’s very easy to stereotype an entire country and culture when you know so little about it. Some of the things you hear and see about women in Saudi Arabia are true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Instead of constantly talking about what women here can’t do, or how little power they have, let’s talk more about what they are doing and the power they do have. 

EDIT 31 Dec 2015: For further reading, check out this piece by NPR: In Ways Big and Small, Saudi Arabian Women are ‘Pushing Normal’

Editorial

Bad News + Why I Wish I Could Have A Do-Over

April 7, 2015
Paris Shhh

‘Sup y’all.

I just want to write about some things that have been on my mind lately.

In February, I found out that I wasn’t going to be recommended for renewal at my school. And the rules for Madrid are that you have to be renewed at your school or you can’t renew at all. The reasoning that I was given was frustratingly vague. Apparently I don’t take enough initiative and I would be better suited for a smaller school. I did my renewal application anyway, hoping that the ministry would see that on my form, the director clearly wrote that she would want me placed at a different school. But it’s April and my application hasn’t advanced at all in their system (they send out emails when your application has moved from one stage to the next), so I’m guessing it’s not happening.

For a couple weeks or so after that, I was extremely angry and depressed. #1, because I was really counting on doing this again next year as my source of income, #2 because I’ve really grown to love my kids and I wanted to be with them again next year, #3, I was hoping to do this again while I transition to whatever the hell I’m doing next in life, whether that be teaching or writing/journalism. But most of all, #4, is that my teachers were the ones who my director based her decision on. And because of my social anxiety, I automatically assume the worst: that my teachers think I’m horrible and incompetent, or that they straight up just don’t like me and don’t want me to come back. Maybe I’m too shy/quiet. I don’t really know, and part of me doesn’t care to know.

So I’ve been kinda stressed about what to do next year. I’m really interested in teaching, so I was looking at alternative teacher certification programs. I was about to interview for a program, but then I decided not to, because the deadline was fast approaching, and I’m very fickle when it comes to career choices, so I need more time to think about it. Of course, I like writing as well, but it’s not easy to do enough freelance work to survive on, and it would be impossible in the cities where I want to live. I could go to school here in Spain, but a student visa for Spain requires that you have enough money in savings to support yourself while you’re studying ($1000/month). I don’t have a savings at all because I’m trying to pay off my credit cards. And then there’s always teaching English in another country, but I’m not interested in doing that right now. The most attractive options for me right now are: 1) to go back to the states, get a part time job, probably in the non-profit sector again, while writing as much as possible. (No no no no no…I can’t. I just can’t do this…) Or 2): A second option that I’ve been really considering is doing a working holiday in Australia. I’ve never been, and I’ve never been dying to go, but you can only do the program until you’re 30.  I’ll be 30 in 5 years so….

Yeah, I’m getting old.

And that scares me because sometimes, I wonder if I’m just wasting my life.

 

And that’s another reason why I’m upset about not coming back next year. I kinda feel like I haven’t carpe-diemed enough, you know?

The beach in Maro, Spain

The beach in Maro, Spain

Like, maybe I should have made more friends. Maybe I should have been less shy. Maybe I shouldn’t have moved into a place with 7 other people because WHY THE HELL DID I DO THAT WTF WAS I THINKING DO I NOT HAVE A BRAIN????? Maybe I should have called out kids who made fun of me in Spanish, thinking that because I’m the Engilsh assistant I don’t understand them. I should have been enjoying life more instead of spending so much time sitting in my room being sad. I shouldn’t have spent months being angry at myself for something I couldn’t really control. I should have been more productive instead of wasting time feeling sorry for myself. (I know I’m being cryptic here but something happened that kinda shaped how my year went and I guess I’m kinda upset about that. Don’t worry, it wasn’t anything that bad, I’m not physically harmed. Just heartbroken, I guess?)

So yeah, I was hoping that I’d be able to come back next year and do it right this time. This time I’ll take more time to find a decent place that isn’t shared with 7 other people. This time I’ll be a better teacher and I’ll have a better start to the year. This time I’ll be better at being productive. This time I’ll finish my novella during NaNoWriMo. This time I’ll have a better social life. This time I’ll keep my fragile, gullible little heart in a titanium vault, under 24/7 guard by a retired secret service officer, in a secure underground bunker with a location only known to the President of the United States. (Cause honestly I can’t even trust myself with it.) This time I’ll party harder. This time I won’t be late as much. This time I’ll try to be more friendly. This time I’ll try to travel more. This time I’ll….

But I’ve said that to myself every year. At the end of the school/work year, I’m always like, “man, I could have done some things differently; next year will be better.” And it usually is, but it’s never quite good enough. Especially when it comes to my social anxiety. I’m much better than how I used to be when I was a kid, but I’m still so weird around people.

Anyway, that’s why I wish I had a do-over. And now I’m not getting one. I could always apply again the year after next (I think). Maybe I could use this year to work really hard on my writing, both here on the blog and elsewhere. Hey–that’s something positive that came out of this year. It was the first year that I made money from freelance writing. Who knew that I could put words onto paper, and people would read those words, and like those words that I have written? I’m used to people underestimating me and ignoring what I have to say, so to get emails, tweets, facebook messages, and comments from people who say that they like my writing is really nice. If you’d like to read some of my stuff (warning: I write about social justice issues, like racism, so you may probably hate me after you read my pieces…not that I care anyway), here’s a link to my portfolio.

Oh and I started running, something I haven’t done since elementary school. It’s a great stress reliever, and of course it’s good for you. And as difficult as it is, I actually like it. Unfortunately, I like it too much. In February, like a month after I started running, I thought I was so cool that I could run a 15k. Well, since then, I’ve had issues with my left hip and quad muscles, so I’ve had to scale back. Ugh.

And I think my Spanish has improved. But I’m still not where I want to be. UGH–that’s another downside to not coming back. It’s going to be much harder to get better at Spanish while living in the US or Australia.

And I got to travel, which is cool I guess.

Anyway, so I guess I’ve learned the lesson that I learn every year. Try harder to live life to the fullest, or whatever.

And finally, I went to Malaga and Nerja for spring break. I will post about that soonish.

 

Do you ever wish you could have a do-over?

What are some positive things that happened to you this year? 

Tell me about it in the comments.

 

Header image is a picture I took in Paris.

Editorial

Some People Can’t Afford Travel (And That’s OK); Also, How I Funded My Move to Spain

March 27, 2015
Portuguese Ramparts, Essaouira Morroco

So I haven’t posted here since September. I’ll get to why that is later. (Spoiler alert: I’m just lazy as fuck.)

Anyway, I’ve been working on a piece about travel blogs and classism.

You always see these blogs by travel writers, talmabout how anyone can travel if they try, even if you’re poor. Bullshit.

In the piece, I talk a little about how I come from a relatively poor family. It’s true. I mean, we weren’t homeless poor, or “someone please call the social worker” poor. We just didn’t have a lot of disposable income. I remember one time, my brother needed to replace a $12 pair of shoes, and my mom didn’t have the money. That type of poor.

A Bird in Essaouira

A Bird in Essaouira

I couldn’t study abroad in college because it was hella expensive. I mean, a 4 week trip to South America was like $5000. Seriously? I had thought about studying abroad in college so many times, but the prices were just too much.

I never thought I would ever travel until I got to my 30s. I used to think that by my 30s, I’d have enough money to do something like go on a round the world trip. But last year, when I was working at non-profits in DC, I decided that I needed to leave. As New Year’s Eve 2013 turned into New Year’s Day, 2014, instead of going to the club, I was sitting on a bed in front of my Macbook doing research on teaching English in Spain. Living in DC and working in the non profit sector was not what I wanted to do. I was depressed. I need to start over, so I decided that in September I’d move to Spain and try something new. Why wait until my 30s? What if I don’t even make it until then? What if I do, and I realize that I should have broken free from my workaholic, office job dominated, unsatisfying, mediocre life back when I was younger?

So I decided to suck it up and just do it.

A cat in Essaouira

A cat in Essaouira

I got my passport less than two weeks later. And I started a savings plan.

Even though I lived in DC, my rent was relatively cheap, about $650/month. Between both my jobs, I made at least 36k a year. I took up all the extra hours I could at my 2nd job. Some months I didn’t have any days off at all. I was never really one for eating out or buying expensive things, so that was easy to save on. I believe I eventually was able to save about $2,500-$3,000 from January to September, which covered my flight, rent and security deposit, and just things I needed when moving in. But most importantly, I applied for two credit cards, and without them I wouldn’t have been able to survive here.

I wouldn’t have been able to afford to move here if I didn’t have a job lined up, credit cards, and jobs back home to help me save.It’s how I paid for my security deposit, my AirBnB while I was finding a place (that’s a referral link btw, get 25 euro free if you sign up with it), new clothes since I packed basically nothing, food, etc.

So if you have access to those things, or other things to fund your travel, then it’s possible. My issue is that many travel bloggers seem to insist that EVERYONE can travel no matter what their financial circumstances, and if you can’t you’re just making excuses.

There are real circumstances, both personal and economic, that keep people from having disposable incomes to travel. The same way that there are real circumstances that keep people from climbing out of poverty. Travel bloggers conveniently ignore this, and that’s why I say they’re classist.

(EDIT: Also poverty is very stressful on poor people. They need a vacation more than anyone else. But when you’re constantly thinking about bills, putting food on the table, etc, thinking about planning a vacation on top of all of that would just add more stress. )

Look, if you’re poor and you want to travel, look into it. I would suggest looking for ways to work or get free accommodation while traveling (like woofing). If you’re from certain countries you may be eligible for a working holiday visa in countries such as Australia. Teaching English is another option, though you have to have a Bachelors degree for that.  And of course if you got a job, you would have to get money for plane tickets, visas, and startup costs. Those things alone can be too much for people. Just a few years ago, it would have been impossible to afford the $160 visa that I needed for Spain.

The medina in Essaouira

The medina in Essaouira

But if it seems that you simply can’t afford it, it’s ok. Really. You can have many wonderful eye opening experiences right at home. You don’t need to pay $1500 for a plane ticket to learn about another culture or to “find yourself.” Travel blogs make it seem like traveling is all that and a bag of Doritos, and that those who don’t/can’t travel are missing out, or aren’t as enlightened as they are, or aren’t cool enough or whatever. I think traveling is cool, but I also think it’s overrated (I’ll write a post on this another time). If you want to run away from home, you need to ask yourself why you’re running away. Is it a permanent fix, or just a bandage for your problems? Travel doesn’t change who you are, imo. You’re always who you are. It might add some things, expose you to new things, open your mind, but you will always be you. So if you want to travel to run away or to become a new person, think about why, and think about whether or not you need to travel to try to do that.

 

Leave a comment:

–If you also come from very little and ended up traveling.

–If you’re poor, and don’t think you’ll be able to travel.

–Or if you think that people travel for the wrong reasons.

 

The header image is a photo I took at the Portuguese Ramparts in Essaouira, Morocco. All photos are mine.

Editorial

Should I Be Worried About Racism in Spain?

August 31, 2014
humano

I’m very excited to be moving to Spain soon. I’m looking forward to eating ALL the croquetas, not having an office job, travel, and having more time to write. But I’m not looking forward to racism.

Now, I know that as a black person, racism is an inevitable experience no matter where I am in the world. It’s definitely a problem here in the United States. But the thing is, at least here in the US, black people/people of color are more common than in Europe. Right now I live in Washington, DC, a historically black city that has a decent number of other people of color as well. Because of this, people of other races here are used to seeing people who look like me, and so are less likely to do or say ignorant, racist things.

In preparing for my move, I’ve been reading stories from people of color in Spain who talk about their encounters with racism.

There are several blogs and vlogs of black people who talk about being stared at, being harassed on the street, being stereotyped (no, not every black person can sing and dance, not every black woman is a sex worker), and having their personal space invaded (i.e., touching their hair, which is not cool. I don’t care how curious you are. It’s rude.)

One Nigerian blogger who lives in Spain, Zara Chiron, wrote about how she was treated like a zoo animal, openly mocked and criticized by “friends”, and blatantly discriminated against at her local immigration office in Andalucia, causing problems with her paperwork.

In this video, YouTuber Van’s Curls talks about how even though she was born in Spain, she never felt Spanish as a black person because “they didn’t allow me to.”

This is the epitome of what racism is: the idea that someone is not allowed to feel that they are a citizen of their own country because of their skin color.

 

There are stories from other people of color as well. One Auxiliar blogger, Amit Kumar, writes of how he was racially profiled, and taken to a police station when law enforcement mistook him for someone who was 20 years older. Another blogger, Erin Vong, discusses her experiences with racial harassment as an Asian woman living in Spain.

There are many individual stories about racism in Spain, but the issue is systemic. Historically, we can talk about how Spain is responsible of the colonization, enslavement, and genocide of millions of people of color. But there are contemporary examples of racism as well. Here is a video by Amnesty International on racial profiling of Madrileños of color by local police.


Some other examples of Spanish racism:

I could go on and on. My point: Spain is a racist country. Just like the United States, and probably just like many other countries in Europe and the rest of the world. So naturally, I’m concerned.

Overall, it seems like people of color enjoy Spain, and those who do the Auxiliares program often renew for a 2nd year, so I’m not too worried. And I understand that Europe is largely homogeneous and so many people aren’t used to seeing people or color. However, this doesn’t excuse racist words or actions. You don’t have to be malicious to be racist. Racism is about power and privilege, not about feelings or intentions.

Sigh. I guess I’ll just have to see what happens.

Have you encountered racism in Spain or anywhere else abroad? Tell me about it in the comments!

 

Header image is from a video for the #Mezclate campaign.

Editorial

Privilege: The Reason Why People on Planes are Assholes

August 9, 2014
Photo by Robert Couse-Baker via Flikr

I’ve only flown a handful of times in my life, and never internationally. So I really don’t claim to be knowledgeable about flying. But even from the few times I’ve flown to and from DC, to visit my family, or to go to a conference, I’ve learned that people on planes can be assholes.

And I get it.  I mean, being strapped to a tiny seat, sitting next to strangers, in a small tube with windows that can’t open for hours at a time can turn any decent person into a monster.

However, I also think part of the annoyance is because people who fly literally don’t know how to, or aren’t used to, being around other people on a cramped mode of transportation on a regular basis. And they aren’t used to this because of class privilege.

Those of us who are more familiar with the metro/subway train or the city bus know what I’m talking about. We spend most of our days packed into vehicles where we actually have to be respectful of other people. We have to sit next to strangers, or if the bus/train car is packed, we have to stand and hold onto rails, awkwardly facing other passengers while trying to avoid eye contact. We have to say “excuse me” to let someone pass by or get out of their seat. We’re used to saying sorry if we accidentally bump into someone, and giving up our seats for families with small children, pregnant commuters, those who are elderly, and those with disabilities. Parents with young children know that their kids need to sit down and shut up immediately, because other people on the bus/train car don’t necessarily think their kids are as adorable as they do. Even when, during rush hour, we’re packed in like sardines in a can, six inches from the next person’s nose, we do what we can to maintain the personal space, comfort, and sanity, of ourselves and others. We make it work, because we have to.

 

For some of us, taking the city bus or metro is mostly a convenience. For many of us, it’s a necessity. I’ve never been able to afford a car, so since I started taking the public bus when I was a teenager, I’ve learned to deal with the inconveniences and annoyances of using a method of transportation that is shared by the public. I’ve learned to put up with with long waits, interesting smells, managing personal space, walking to/from the bus stop, sitting next to strangers, and other things that one learns to tolerate with when riding a bus. My family was poor, and unlike my friends who inherited cars or were bought cars upon turning 16, my only options were the school bus, the city bus, or waiting for one of my parents to pick me up. Throughout college and my two years living in DC, public transportation has been my only option, as it will be when I move to Madrid.

When you can’t afford a car, chances are you can’t afford a plane ticket. I certainly couldn’t for most of my life. In fact, I had never even been on a plane until I was 22, when I was moving to DC. When I was a kid, we couldn’t even afford basic luxuries like cable TV, eating dinner out, or getting new school clothes every year. Plane tickets and vacations in general were out of the question. Having to use public transportation most of my life has taught me about sharing public spaces with others, dealing with inconveniences, and getting neither everything I want, nor the way I want it.  I believe it has humbled me, and has made me a more respectful air traveler.

People who have not been subject to sharing public transportation with others (because of class privilege) are the ones who I believe have the most issues with being on airplanes. They’re used to driving in their car (or taxi), getting from A to B when and how they want, having their kids act up and be as loud as they want, and being in control of who they sit next to. They’re used to having their travel experience like they have their Burger King–their way. They paid hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars for those plane tickets and they’ll be damned if they aren’t fully accommodated. Perhaps, because of their middle class lifestyle or wealth, they exhibit their sense of entitlement in other areas of life as well.

So that’s why the parents of the kid sitting behind you don’t understand why their kid is being annoying as fuck. That’s why the guy next to you think it’s ok to fall asleep with his head on your shoulder. That’s why the couple, pair of friends, or travelers who just met on the plane believe that everyone in coach wants to hear their life stories and therefore it’s OK to talk loudly. Or why some people think they can hog the overhead bin, release whatever bodily or food odors they like, and be disrespectful to flight attendants and fellow passengers. It’s why they think they can slap your black 19 month old son and call him a nigger. Or why someone thinks he can talk down to a flight attendant like she’s a bug stuck to the bottom of his shoe. That’s why some chatty passengers don’t seem to understand that right now instead of engaging in conversation, you just want to relax. Can’t they see you trying to put in your headphones and opening your book? Don’t they understand social cues?

The answer is no. They don’t understand. None of the above described people do. It’s not because they’re bad people, and it may certainly be for any other reason. But I say it’s simply because they’re entitled. I’d bet they’re middle class. I’d assume they own several cars. I’d guess that they went to college. I’d imagine them gentrifying urban neighborhoods, and they are probably afraid to ride the bus in their hometown because it’s “scary.” Perhaps they’re the type of people who think they can “save Africa” (yep, the whole continent) with a summer volunteer trip.

One thing I know for sure, is that they (air passengers in general) are predominantly white, which possibly adds another layer of entitlement.*

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary once said, “The problem with aviation is that for 50 years it’s been populated by people who think it’s a wondrous sexual experience… when it’s really just a bus with wings.” I like this idea. Because perhaps if air passengers treated each other they way bus riders do–putting aside their entitlement and expectation of being extensively accommodated–all of us would have smoother rides through the sky.

So during your next flight, just imagine you’re on a bus with wings. Yes, you paid a lot for those seats, but that doesn’t make you royalty. It’s not all about you. You’re just like the rest of us–people who just want to get from A to B quickly, safely, and with as few annoyances as possible. We’re in this together, and we can do this, but only if everyone pitches in and does their part to be considerate of others. So please, next time you fly, try not to be an asshole.

 

 

*And before you say it, I’m not assuming that ALL middle class/wealthy/white people are like this, or that only these types of people are annoying on airplanes, or that poorer people can’t be annoying, or that people aren’t at all annoying on the bus or metro, etc. Please don’t leave me a “B-BUT NOT ALL” comment, because I already know. Also, I really tried (so hard) to find racial demographic statistics about people who travel, but I could not. Though anyone who has traveled by air to, from, or within the US can easily look around an airport to see that the vast majority of passengers are white. Compare that to, say, the demographics of people you’ll see at a Greyhound bus station. Also, here are some statistics that show that the majority of students who study abroad are also white. Race and class are inextricably linked in this country, ya know. Read about it.

 

Photo Credit: Robert Couse-Baker

 

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