Tag Archives: Building Character

Rehashing a Timeless Argument and an Epiphany

4 Mar

As I am revamping my blog, and digging through the recesses of my work, I decided to clean up one of the articles I had, and repost a piece that I think typifies my studies this year. Original post to come on that soon.

Looking back at those first few days in Madrid, the sightseeing and 2 Euro meals, I had a good time, but it was only the beginning. My experience with Burger King (They serve beer there too. I don’t understand that country) rose not out of me, but the people who I had met the evening before. They were business students from London, and typified “American” in every disgusting sense of the word. Complaining nonstop about Spanish food, living in fast food joints and bars, they were obviously not here for the experience in the same way that I was. This attitude continued in many of the English/American/Irish I met for the rest of my trip.

Before I came to Morocco, I used to shrug off ignorant comments. Who was I to talk anyway? What did I know about Morocco? But now I’ve found myself taking a much more personal offense to the ignorance. It would be unfair for me to expect comprehensive knowledge of North Africa from everyone I meet, but the glazed over looks an bigoted comments seem to always strike a nerve. Yes, they do have electricity. They do have running water. No, they don’t keep their women in harems and beat them daily.

These comments are the worst, but a second breed of comments also exists that are almost as frustrating. These are the “Oh….Africa” comments. Africa in many ways is a continent that suffers in the same way that those pulled from Africa so many centuries ago suffer. We rape a land, a people; instrumentalize them solely to exploit them, and then wonder why they struggle, why they suffer, and why they need more help than everyone else does. This walled city fear of the “low-income neighborhood” is a global dilemma that will very likely remain a base frustration for the rest of my life, but now that I have spent time studying in Africa, that frustration has only seemed to grow. The glazed looks, the “don’t get AIDS/Malaria/Disease” boil an entire continent down into a microcosm of understanding that almost makes me want to hang my head in shame, because the people who make these comments, regardless of whether I will ever want to admit it, are my people. But, at the same time, if I can take the experiences I have had and begin to chip away at the massive wall of misconception that continues to separate the Developed World from the Developing, then maybe someday the comments will stop, or people will at least ask me about what it is really like, instead of spewing ignorant misconceptions. I know none of us are perfect, but it pains me to think of the people I have encountered, and how some of them will live their entire lives believing that same 30 second sound-byte of a lie, and how dangerous such misconceptions can be.

This next piece is a timeless tidbit from when I traveled to the Saharan Desert, and something that I think many people can relate to.

But, there was a moment I had that day, that I had the day that we arrived in Zagora (Morocco) as well. Seeing kids trying to sell crafts made out of grass, and seeing a disabled child in Zagora, something similar hit me at both moments. It was the kind of epiphany that one shouldn’t have, because it should be common knowledge, but it was more the sinking in of a surface acknowledgement that floored me, and still weighs in my mind when I think about it. I know that my life has been far from easy, and I struggle with a myriad of things every day I pull myself out of bed, but I have always been able to hold in my head the idea that if I work hard, and put my heart and soul into something, “I can do anything.” But, the sinking feeling that caught me when thinking about these two incidents caught me and stuck me because it felt like I had momentarily lost that light, the tunnel no longer had a “end.” Everything was dark. What do you do when you have a disabled child but no healthcare, no support system, and no way to ease the misfortune of you or your child? How do you improve your life when you can’t procure the money to even buy a new pair of shoes. What do you invest when you can’t even eat? All these are ideas I have studied, things I have looked at in the abstract and understood, but when you stand there with that reality poking you in the side with a grass woven donkey…..it just hits you in the head a little harder. You want to help, but you get lost in that same hopelessness very easily.

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“Sorry Son, But That Wanderlust is a Chronic Condition…”

27 Sep

I know it’s been a while since my last post, but I didn’t want this inspiration forced. Luckily, today was just one of those days.

After a long hard weekend wrestling with a host of things that threatened both my inspiration and my peace of mind, I deemed it time to go on a nice long run, reflect on everything and try to refocus. It was at this point that I had an epiphany. That moment where you just… know. The problems are still there, the situation hasn’t changed, but all of a sudden it all begins to make sense.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately getting lost in things: work, social issues, my future, and of course, music. Things that grab hold in your head, and transplant you somewhere else. Whether it is across the globe, in a constructed reality, or rocking out to some song in the middle of your bedroom, you’re gone for that moment of time, and in it there is a certain understanding that can’t be ascertained from your physical surroundings. According to my brain, I have been in purgatory, on the top of the world, Morocco, France, Home and Boston all in this week regardless of the protests logic will make against that.

So how does this all fit together? Well, quite simply actually. But let me bring up the two points separately before bringing about the conclusion. The first is, as I like to put it, my wanderlust. I recently stumbled across a band called Gogol Bordello, and after they had me convinced that I should start wearing purple, I ran across a song entitled “wonderlust king.” Intrigued, I hit play. After two listens I was convinced: I had just found my new anthem. It was then that I began to draw my entire life, all my hopes, dreams ambitions and fears into one never-ending string through one concept and one concept only: travel.

In high school I wanted to be an engineer, but I always was plotting a way to go live in a van, skiing my way through the American west. Common sense eventually seized me of that idea as it was replaced with pragmatic thoughts of college, again satiating that thirst for, if not travel, the hope of future plans. As the concept of leaving for college became less of an adventure, my sights turned elsewhere again, leading to an abortive road trip attempt in my summer prior to leaving for school. My year at Geneseo included study abroad and transfer applications. My decision upon leaving that fall was simple: whatever next year held, it was going to hold it in Milan, Italy or Boston. But I couldn’t even wait for that. Nope, for that summer I reinvested myself in my cross-country road-trip ambitions, this time succeeding, making it from my humble home in Saratoga all the way to San Francisco in just over a week’s time. Boston beat out Milan and then proceeded to latch onto me in the fall, providing some of the excitement I had been searching for. But, even Boston’s allure couldn’t keep me forever, and it was off to Rabat, Morocco followed closely by Hyeres, France, and finally, back to Boston once again.

This little bug, this little, barely traceable tick in the back of my mind seems to have latched on to me and provided me no way out other than to continue following my gut. Keep your cruises; keep your pampered vacations, your hotels and your quiet luxury. I’ll take a pillow, a crap car or cramped buses, dirt as my Modus Operandi for food and bed, and the open road. As long as there is something I’ve not seen, people I’ve not met and adventures yet fulfilled, this will forever be my drive, my motivation, my desire. And, furthermore, and to put it bluntly,  people on that cruise ship don’t exactly rate on my “people I need to meet” list. Whatever this is, wherever it will lead me, you can be damn sure that I’m going to follow it for now.

It’s this little bug that has led me through 31 states and 10 countries in the span of 4 years that has outstripped most all of my family members roamings. It is this bug that has given me 2 surrogate families, the most intense highs (and lows) of my life and a photo album for the ages.

But, it is also this bug that has led me to sacrifice much of what I could have had in return as well. It is this bug that has given me my greatest struggles, and has taken away many of the things I miss about being in the same place day in and day out. Thao Nyugen wrote a song that has remained my rainy day anthem for some time with the refrain:

“Oh, geography… is gonna make a mess of me”

Geography, long-distance lines of communication have existed as so much of my weakness for so long now that it becomes frustrating and confounding. The downside to having a life flung across the globe is, well, you can only be in one place at one time, and so you have to eventually sort out your priorities, and without fail, I have always managed to lose at least one thing in the tussle. Nothing in this life is truly free, and sometimes it’s a much easier a concept to think about than one to accept.

Whether you feel inspired right now, or depressed, it’s of no consequence, because now is the time to blend this all back in on itself.

In doing so, I’m going to borrow from one more musician, and this time I’m going with Jack White.

“Jack White performs his music unlike most other artists. He will purposely place things out of reach, for no other reason than to make things harder for himself.”

Huh?

“He believes that it makes him sound better. He believes that the struggle, the effort, the force, is what makes his work what it is.”

I happen to love the White Stripes, so this is a poignant message. If you don’t well, go find your insight elsewhere for this one.

All of these quotes, ideas, and concepts had been floating in my head prior to today. And, as I was walking back getting down to Jay-Z/Pharrell’s “So Ambitious,” someone loaded this mishmash of inspiration, melancholy and prior philosophical vomit, mixed it up nice, and fired it through the haze that had been surrounding my mind.

It was then that I was able to once again accept the good the bad, and come to the same conclusion I have drawn so many times before. Nothing worth having is ever easy. Comfort and convenience don’t build character.

Alright, I give up, the bug bit me, and I am going to continue to roam this earth to the best of my abilities and search out a few more of those less traveled roads in the process. How and in what capacity? Well, let’s throw a TBD on that for now. And yes, the sacrifices and shit that have come my way for the decisions I have made will continue to sting from time to time, but once again I have realized that it is worth it. What I have sacrificed is minimal compared to what I’ve gained. These stories, these experiences, the people I have made connections with and this life I have built of my own drive and ambition, is something that no one and nothing can ever strip me of.

It is this life I have chosen to live, it is these decisions I have chosen to make, and it is this life right here that is a product of all of that.

I have a few more seas to cross, a few more mountains to climb, and a few more sacrifices to make before I reevaluate my path.

Until then,

I’ll be quite comfortable being a “Wonderlust King.”

As for my word:

Espoir (hope)

Ce n’est pas Maroc…

8 Jun

Instead of harming the internet, my friends, family, and imaginary group of avid readers with another blog, URL link, and page that will never be checked, I’ve decided to update my current page and continue to use it as my source for these “musings.”

It’s been a while since the last update, and many things have occurred since then. My triumphant return to the U.S was relatively dull, and my subsequent month in NY even duller. I mean, let’s face it, after 4 months in Morocco, daily showers, utensils and a soft legitimate bed had never before in my life been so welcoming, but that’s not the stuff that makes stories. No one wants to read about how I was nice and clean, could eat whatever whenever, and slept like a baby at night. Comfort and convenience don’t build character, and idle hands find a video game controller much more easily than they should. As you can tell from this short description, there isn’t much here to tell other than that I caught up with my friends, relaxed, and tried to digest everything that had just happened to me.

My final week in Morocco was filled with exams, so like any other finals week, it was nothing but stressful. However, after writing over 100 pages of double space material over the course of the semester on nothing other than the shabby (but lifesaving) computers in my family’s house and the internet cafes, I will never again complain about any technological set-up that I have in the U.S. No matter what it is, anything would be easier than trying to pen a final paper under cover of night in my house hoping someone doesn’t yell at me for using the computer, or sitting in a humid internet café jammed next to 4 chatting Moroccans trying to pen a worthy research paper on a questionably legal version of Microsoft Word. After a trial like that, you begin to appreciate your good fortune in a way you never thought possible. With perseverance, some help and a little luck, everything I penned turned out decently, and I was proud of the work I accomplished. I ran the gauntlet, and spent my final hours in Morocco seeing my first sunrise and pre-dawn (much easier when you just don’t go to sleep), saying my final goodbyes and avoiding any embarrassing displays of emotion in the process (الحمد لله, or “praise be to god”), and buying all those presents I had been avoiding shopping for until my final day. My trip back was the closest to Odysseus I’d ever felt, and it was damn good to be home.

After a few days home, however, the mindset that had made me comfortable in Morocco turned around to slap me square in the face. It’s that cruel mistress we like to refer to as “reverse culture-shock.” It took the form of a crippling boredom, and a general frustration with my fellow countrymen that I question if I will ever get over. Questions like “did you eat dirt there?” “Did you have electricity?” “Did you sleep in the dirt?” still provoke a muscle spasm or knee-jerk reaction that forces me to bite my tongue lest my vocal chords betray me and turn me into “that guy.” These questions, whether joking or earnest, serve as a painful reminder that most people will never know what I know, but more importantly and depressingly, they don’t care either. When ignorance takes the step toward bigotry, toward misconception, toward an ill-informed life, I can’t help but simmer inside. Most people see Islam as nothing more than a sadistic-psycho with a really long beard chanting “death to America” and women with a veil and no rights. Maybe you don’t believe that, and maybe those people joking to me about me eating the same material I sleep and walk on don’t believe it either, but if we continue to perpetuate these defamations, all we do is perpetuate a subconscious feeling of superiority. When we start to break down these notions though, and begin to see people for who they are, we all begin to see that the struggles we face are universal. We all bleed, cry, laugh, love, hate and die. We all fight with our parents, friends, lovers and people who work at the DMV. Regardless of who you are, how big your pocketbook, brain, ego or muscles are, you will always be more like other people than you think, and only once we are able to realize this on a large scale, our path through history will not change. It’s not easy, and I myself have been guilty of these mistakes, but all it really takes is some self consciousness, and a desire and drive to improve. No one can ever ask anything more of you.

*Steps off Soapbox*

These concepts developed during my time in Morocco, and have continued even to today. In a way, this is what I feel my experiences have taught me. You may not arrive at the same end, but I can guarantee you that after 4 months away from your own language, your own culture, everything looks different. It’s an experience I will never forget, and one that will forever be a part of me. Looking back after a month has past; I don’t feel as if much has changed from the last time I wrote. I’ve fallen back into my previous life, but I will continue to feel this way for a long time to come.

My next adventure has brought me to a totally different environment, a small town on the French Mediterranean called Hyeres. I have only been here for 5 days, and the sights and smells have already begun to captivate me. The town is gorgeous, and I’ve had very few complaints so far. I’m slowly trying to remove the obnoxious “In Morocco…” from my vocabulary, and experience this for what it is, not for what it is compared to my last experience. In the end, however, I know that my knowledge will be helpful, as I’m already feeling comfortable here. In the end, I think that, just like my last experience, the people, sights and adventures will captivate me as long as I am ready and willing.  I hope the stories in my next post will be proof of this thesis.

Time to bridge the language gap:

Fi Mustakbell, Inshallah (In the future, if god wills it)

Will now be,

Si tous marche bien (If all goes well)