Tag Archives: Reflection

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.

Advertisements

“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)

Yes…Oui…Na’am…Mumkin…*Wild Hand Gestures*

28 Jan

This is where I try to summarize the past three weeks of my life though a series of short stories. I have never thought of myself as a bipolar person, but I have felt higher highs and lower lows since I arrived here. It’s a hard experience to explain, but I have had crippling moments where I have wanted nothing more than to find a way to run home. The overwhelming experience of feeling completely lost in Arabic, and literally feeling like throwing my hands up and walking out became commonplace. On the other side however, I have had minor successes, and conversations a 2 year old would have that have made me feel on top of the world. Skiing in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah felt the same way. Fear, hopelessness, and a giant knot in the stomach pervades, until you commit, and decide to jump off that 15 foot cliff. Then, success, a swell of happiness and accomplishment. And eventually, you stand on the top of that cliff enough times that the butterflies disappear (Yes, I understand that I alienated 75% of my audience with that analogy, but it remains valid).

This must be the “some adjustment” phase of the Study Abroad rollercoaster.

I’ll let my guard down for one second here. I miss home. I miss the comforts of the developed world. And I miss the people more than anything. But new homes are never comfortable at first. It took time for me to love Saratoga. It took time for me to love Geneseo. It took time for me to love Boston. It will take me time to love Rabat. BUT, Saratoga will always feel like home, Geneseo will always feel like home, Boston will always feel like home. Rabat too, will feel like home someday. I guess, in my excessive rambling, what I’m trying to say is: Homes are extremely difficult to build, but that feeling is irreplaceable, and near impossible to lose.

Story Time:

When I first stepped off the plane into the tiny Rabat-Sale airport, I was hit with a moist warm air, and the view palm trees. Well, this is new. I have since had to tell myself every morning “it’s January, it’s January, it’s January, why am I complaining about a damp chill in 50° weather?” The bus ride to the hotel affirmed my original thought, 5% English 45% French 50% Arabic signage dominated the landscape. Yes, this was new, but the thought of a bed and sleep dominated any higher mental function that evening.

Orientation week was at best a blur. For the first time in my life, I was out of my comfort zone, and I knew it. I didn’t speak the language, didn’t know where I was going, and, for the first time in my life, I was the one who could not hide the fact that I was out of my element. The first time you truly feel like a foreigner and are unable to hide from it is a humbling experience. You begin to realize the emotions of a person who lives abroad, specifically the foreigners in the US, and you begin to realize what a crippling effect it can have on a person. You stick out like a sore thumb, you can barely communicate with those around you, and you have minimal gauge on cultural nuances, not knowing where to stand, or what to do. Mere acts like buying food, or going to the post office become treks that require a plan and time, and with them lays the fear that you will be unable to communicate your intentions to the people. All of this crashing in upon you is difficult, and in the beginning I got by on English with the few who could understand me, French leaking in when I needed it.

As the blur of orientation faded, the reality of school, and the move from the hotel into the home stay dealt another blow. Cool, now I have to live with people I can barely communicate with. Since my Arabic did not exist, French was the language of choice. It was at this point that I realized something about my language skills. I understand a lot more than I can speak, and I don’t understand that much. But, through broken French and English, we fought through the beginning days.

It was at this point that I went to purchase my cell phone. Kicker, I did it alone, no one in the store speaks English…Yeah. So I went in, and started my dialogue. “J’ai besoin acheter…telephone…” I did well, until he asked me if I needed to use the phone in other countries. I heard “do you need to use this phone to make international calls?”, which I replied “yes I do” to the growing frustration of the clerk. By the grace of god, one of the other customers spoke English, and cleared up the miscommunication before anything got painful. Crisis averted.

As I settled into my room, and started to adapt to the schedule, little things became noticeable differences to me. Breakfast? No longer an option: a requirement, lest my family get worried about me. Lunch? Huge. Dinner? Late, and small. Shower? Showerhead, Toilet, Floor Drain, The End. Heated Water? Request only: Direct heat makes this a process for every shower, Butane Heat baby. Wildlife? How do street cats sound? The winding streets and walled cities of the Medina continue to this day to fascinate me every time I walk outside. The medina is like the goofy looking kid with an incredible personality. Upon first glance, you aren’t sure what to make of it, until you enter its shops, its homes, and realize the sheer beauty and impressiveness that it hides from view. Never in my life have I met a more unassuming city. Every day is filled with interactions: beggars and con men add spice to bustling street markets, and every day has its own story.

One of these stories occurred during my lunch this past week. I found new personal irony in the “le poisson” vs “de poisson” (all of a fish vs. “some fish”) distinction. I was served the former. Yes, I ate a fish, served straight from the sea, bones, head in tact. But me, being someone willing to do anything once, ate it. Verdict: on the bone or off, fish is good. BUT, if offered fish stomach, you can pass.

Sports? Futbol, futbol, futbol. The Africa Cup is intense. I just watched Egypt embarrass Algeria, and I must say, I dont understand how golf and baseball beat this sport of viewers. It is a fun game to watch, especially surrounded by a culture that emits tangible electricity during these games. I’ll put money on me actually watching the World Cup this summer.

Things do not dry here. My shoes got soaked on a Wednesday walk to the jetty on the Atlantic, when the ocean decided that the pathway should be part of the ocean. My shoes were dry…Monday morning.

I could continue on like this for pages, but I feel that this description encompasses a small piece of what living in the Maghreb is like. It’s something that is overwhelming, frustrating, but rewarding. This place may be home of the Berbers (Ahmaziri to be PC), but I challenge anyone to marginalize North Africa as the “Fake Arab World.” 1/3 of the Arabic speaking world lives here, and when you arrive here you realize that this place, despite the reputation Western academia gives it, is no cushy place. This place is……dare I say, real, but a place you can experience firsthand. I’d recommend the trip to anyone with an adventuresome spirit, because Morocco does not disappoint.

In ending, I would just like to make note of the sadness that continues to pile up upon the other side of the Atlantic. My thoughts go out to Hati, and all of its residents. And furthermore: RIP Salinger. RIP in peace Mr. Zinn, it was an honor to see you in person last semester.

Time for some Darija:

Bislaamah (goodbye)