He handed me tea and said, "I love to talk with people. I want to talk with as many people as I can. I moved here from Baghdad, and I knew that I would need to be able to communicate.”
I understood the need. One of the reasons why I felt comfortable spending time around the mainly Syrian part of Istanbul was while I couldn't fully communicate in Arabic, it was easier to use than my practically nonexistent knowledge of Turkish.
Sharing a language adds more flavor to interactions, it brings common ground and a sense of shared identity. Communication through whatever method brings symbols to our notions of our lived experience. We strive for connection, to hope and trust that we understand the expressions and words that have been placed to meaning. However, it is nice to disappear sometimes. To be in the presence of people, but to be silent. To know that humanity is shared, as well as the experience of being alone in it.
Air Quality Index and Permeable Pollutants
I could feel that the air was heavy, I was short of breath more often, and it hurt to breathe. I figured some of this could be due to the billowing black smoke diving out from the backs of trucks and cars, as well as the burning plastic and grass that charred the ground and fumed up into the air. Dust would also rise up as cars or wind took to the dirt roads. I would periodically be cleaning bits of red sand from my glasses, the corners of my eyes, and around my nostrils. I also took a guess that there may not be many safe regulations around different industrial sites in the city.
A world away and years later in New Delhi, I looked on at auto-rickshaw drivers and acknowledged the fact that they spent hours a day, everyday toting people around the city. They breathed in the air, many not wearing any protection, and the thought of this made me want to change the reality, however small of a change that could be. The sources of air pollution came beyond the rows of vehicles that passed by each other daily, but what is in the air exactly, that makes it so harmful to breathe?
The non-profit World Air Quality Index runs a real-time world air quality index by gathering data from over 10,000 air monitoring stations around the world. Selection of which stations to choose is based off of multiple Environmental Protection Agencies' standards. Because the data is in real-time, validity is not ensured, but multiple measures are set in place to detect abnormal readings to enhance accuracy. There are various types of air pollutants that are measured, and here I focus on particulate matter.
He laughed, "In Cuba, we don't have that...that is safety, that is time, that is money. It is knowledge, power...it really is so incredible. It's within your reach."
A conversation about privilege, the breadth of technology and internet conditions in Cuba.
“For their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”.
"He beat me, a soldier, look. I cannot pay to see a doctor.", a woman wearing a blue dress printed with red square-shaped patterns pointed towards her arm, where there was a yellow baseball-sized wound. I was in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, and was talking with a group of refugees, the majority who were from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. Over the months of talking with different women, I did not hear a single story that did not involve being subjected to gender-based violence. This violence implies the use of sexual violence to enforce gender roles and/or to establish power, and in combat zones, it can be used as a tactic to decrease resistance. This can happen by demoralizing victims, by means of torture and humiliation (Keller, Weyermann, & Zimmermann). This happens world-wide, and is prominent in war zones that are taking place in the DRC and Iraq. 2018's winners of the Nobel Peace Prize exemplify the efforts that come forth out of a sense of survival and duty.
Dr. Mukwege is a surgeon who has lead a hospital treating thousands of women who are survivors of sexual violence in the DRC. He has spoken out towards the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough, and remains a symbol to end sexual violence in armed conflict zones, with one of his guiding principles being, “Justice is everyone’s business”.
Nadia Murad is a human trafficking survivor who has courageously spoken about her experiences among an environment where war crimes were being committed. This is an action that is not a social norm among survivors, when the common proposition is to be silent and ashamed. She, among other Yazidi ethnic community in Northern Iraq, was held as a sex slave by the Islamic State before escaping.
I sat on a brown bench, one of a series which lined the sides of an inner-city bus going towards the airport in Ciudad Juárez. A picture of the Virgin Mary was plastered upon the maroon color that scaled the ceiling and walls of the bus, and there were a couple of men who either looked towards their phones or gazed straight forward. I inconspicuously glanced at my phone to make sure I was headed in the right direction, all should be good. My first brush with Juárez involved it being in route to me going to Central Mexico for Dia De los Muertos. Since then, I have been a couple of more times. I have a soft spot for the city and the people, from a mixture of having experiences that defy negative perceptions of the place, including the kindness shown towards me there, the resilience that the city embodies and the love that I have for Mexico.
Claire and I were in the car with her daughter, listening to rock that would pop up on the commercial-less radio station. The windows were down and the air was whistling through the car, brushing up on my face with a warmness that was soothing. I peered out of the car at the changing landscape, the city shifting in my perspective, slowly being replaced by green and yellow foliage that clung to the ground. They stood still, rooted, though tall and I imagined that the tall grass would sway had there been a breeze. There were less of the huge vulture-type birds circling in the sky, as there was less trash to feed on outside of the city. Each person felt distinct, as I observed the few that were peppered within the new terrain.
We drove off on the side of the road, approaching the equator. There were no huge signs or large amounts of people. You would probably not guess that the equator was there if you hadn't been searching for it.
Arriving in Rwanda
The bus was speeding through the dark, hitting bumps that would send us all bouncing off the seat, and me who didn't weigh that much, would catch close to a foot of air sometimes. There was a group of women in the back, who would all giggle whenever a bump came around, it gave me the reminder to relax just a little, but this bus ride was one the time during the whole trip where I wondered if we would make it. My nerves were on fire, I had thoughts of crashing, going tumbling off the side of who knows what because it was too dark to see what was out there. This would be one of the many reasons why I would be hesitant to take a night bus again, though I did later on in Mexico and Colombia. It was late, I couldn't sleep and the bus absorbed all the shocks so it hurt when a bump would come, and I would try and purposefully lift myself up, to roll with the bumps instead of being lifted by them. Later on, when I recalled the story to one of my co-workers, she told me it was best to sleep on a bus because you are less likely to break bones in a crash when your body is less rigid. People really live like that?
Squeamish warning...this story includes a recount of me getting a hookworm. The pictures are included under "Read More".
I walked down the dirt road, carrying a blue felt bag filled with groceries in each hand. Avoiding the ditch that lay bordering the outer edge of the main street, I looked around to make sure I could walk across. That’s how it went here, there were no crosswalks, traffic signals, though later on some started to be created. “Ah!” I cried out in pain and stopped in my tracks. I put down the bags and doubled over, breathing steadily to manage the pain that shot through my thigh. What’s going on, I wondered, as the pain started to cool off. I had been getting foot cramps frequently for the past couple of months, and figured that something must be out of line with how my feet were resting in my sandals. Maybe I am wearing them too much, I have high arches and probably need some more support. Over the last week, the pains in my feet had grown, and I was constantly scratching at the underside of my left foot. There were a couple of bumps that looked like mosquito bites, and they itched like no other bite that I have had. I resisted scratching, knowing that there was already a level of irritation that happened by the level of contact the bumps had just by being on the bottom of my foot.
I wanted to sit down though, my legs felt weak and rest knocked at my door. I opened the gate to the house I stayed at, and entered in guided by a loud creak and a series of metal on metal bangs, who showed no shyness to scream that they had made contact. Sitting down on the couch on the porch, I put down the bags and kicked off my sandals. I bent in my left leg, forming a pretzel shape, and looked at the bottom of my foot. There were red lines covering the bottom, they were lifted and could be felt by running a finger over them. This, is not a normal mosquito bite, I thought. I can’t ride this one out, waiting for it to heal.
Toto’s Africa “and the wild dogs cry out in the night, as they grow restless longing for some solidary company”, reminds me of the dogs howling out here at night. Sometimes it felt kind of eerie. One night, I heard scratching and some knocking-like sounds coming from outside of my room, opposite of where the door was. The dogs were howling and howling, as if something had died. Something felt off, and I texted Jackie, who slept in the room next to mine, and told her of my eerie feeling. I didn’t want to freak her out, because she had only been here for about a week, but I thought, she might as well get used to the way it is here. Yes, that would entail that I would get used to knocking sounds against my wall and dogs howling an unusual amount, but the situation felt off. I think I was also scaring myself, but I knew that break-ins were common. Was someone outside? My door was locked, what about the others? I waited a couple of minutes and there was no sound anymore.
“I got your text this morning.” Jackie said as I was brushing my teeth outside the next morning. She had been sleeping, but I wondered how she could have slept through the howling that night. Previous people who had stayed at the house were kept up some nights by the neighbors partying or by the dogs, while there were times I slept through it. The same scenario of people trading off being kept up at night would ensue with future roommates.
I would hear the song, “Africa” so many times while in Africa. I heard it in clubs, on busses, on the porch with my roommates, as we all sat around singing along as it poured rain. I remember playing it in Morocco, but it was popular here. I think part of this tribute is that something about Sub-Saharan Africa felt more like the stereotypical picture of what Africa is. North-Africa seems more stereotypical of what the Middle East appears to be. At least this was my initial perception, and I had heard it from other people as well. Africa is a huge, diverse continent. I do like the way that the song seemed to romanticize the reality of being in Africa, though.
Though I’m halfway across the world from the U.S., the racism and overall bigotry is still on my doorstep, my friend’s doorstep, and my neighbors (humanity). I feel deeply for those who are discriminated against.
One thing that I do for my internship is monitor the media, and do research in relation to refugee rights, genocide, humanitarian issues and responses, governmental affairs… I receive emails from refugees daily, explaining their stories and asking for aid in some way. For a while I felt unsure of how to handle all the dark, and corrupt things going on, within the world as a whole. There are people eating plastic because they don’t have food, or being exploited and beaten for being gay, cases of people being beheaded by shrapnel, being kidnapped and trafficked, being detained for saying the wrong thing, going through years of the process of resettlement to find out that they are not allowed in the U.S. anymore.
To bring up the United States (of course these things that I mentioned are not exclusive to Africa) …… The -isms, racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, baffle me. It is an extremely upfront, intense time for a good, ugly view of those ism’s, and corruption in general, to say the very least on a large issue. Unfortunately, these issues aren’t a new thing, but they are obviously very present. The world sees what is going on in the U.S. and when talking with my colleagues we said, maybe get depressed for a little, but get active. This resonates with me.
Something that helps offset the stupidity for me is engaging with, and hearing about people and organizations that do what they can to alleviate people’s sufferings, those who spread awareness, support, and love. Those who educate others, stick up for someone else, who are allies, who show kindness, who work tirelessly to combat what is happening. Talking and taking forms of action. People are going to process this all differently though, action happens in different forms. Some may not want to be involved. For whatever reasons someone may have, showing respect towards people is important.
Skin color is beautiful, as is ethnicity, and however someone wants to hold faith religiously, or how they choose to hold life and give birth, what sex and gender someone expresses, and whoever you choose to love, is so amazingly beautiful. I do not say it lightly, because all of these things are incredibly precious. All the different forms, form a mosaic.
Be there for those who need it, take care of yourselves, and be a role model for others. I am feeling for those who are being discriminated against, whether it’s to you directly, to those you know, or through being aware of what is happening to groups you either identify with or are being labeled as. I also will do what I can to spread the good that I can, to contribute to the overall good that exists in the world.
I headed towards the theater, pleased with the discount ticket that I found online. I didn't know who I would be sitting next to, but I had been interested in seeing The Book of Mormon for some time now. In the past I had gone to concerts on my own, and I guess I had traveled solo too. I wanted to do something and if I wanted to wait for someone to make the journey with me, I could be waiting indefinitely. In this case, I needed to get out of the house. I had been spending my days locked in my room, grieving a breakup and searching for the next step. I had eyes on a Refugee and Human Rights Internship in Uganda, and was grappling with the decision of taking the step to go. I was extremely raw, tired and the cost to make a 3 month trip to Sub-Saharan Africa would not be cheap. I know very little about Sub-Saharan Africa, and about Uganda, though at this point my skills in researching countries was starting to sharpen. It was different than actually going though. Smelling the air, traveling the streets, talking with the people and living the life of being immersed in the environment is something that a documentary cannot give you. Educating one's self about a place can help fine-tune your senses, knowing the history and social contexts of the places in which you stand. Stories from people who stand with you, add a humane picture of what is, separated from a screen or book, though both have the power to transport one into someone else's shoes, or another world.
The cold London air bit at my nose and throat as I inhaled air that made each breath noticeable. The insides of my nostrils and the back of my throat were coated in an awakening frost, like popping a piece of mint gum in your mouth. The line outside of the theater started moving, and I found my seat inside of a large auditorium, facing a stage with big red curtains dividing the stage and the audience. I laughed and found humor for the first time in a while when watching The Book of Mormon, as the tale of a boy's mission placement was to be determined. Guess where it was? That's right, Uganda. I smiled at the fortuity of it all, and more than half of the play took place in the African country that I was considering traveling to.
Getty Images (2016). http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/million-mask-march-2016-hundreds-of-masked-anonymous-activists-descend-on-trafalgar-square-a3388116.html#gallery
Sometimes it takes traumatic events, or circumstances that shake up your self-concept to be able to take a good look at who you are. Unless you are dead, life continues to move on. There are so many lessons that can be derived from circumstances that we did not plan to go our way. One is the realization that there are many things we do not have control over. Another, is that we have a personal responsibility for how we arrive in the world, or don't.
I have been taking a look at my intuition, along with asking myself questions, knowing that things that pop up may still forecast a ground of mystery. I do not have the answers for how things will play out, and I only have the imagination for how diving into things will.
Sometimes life-shattering events don't need to happen for us to be able to take a look at who we are, but an intention of personal inquiry can do that under "normal circumstances", if we choose to do so with honesty. The thing I want to highlight, is that self-work and personal-inquiry, is largely a choice. The state of mind you are in, your attitude, and behaviors, come from a place of responsibility. Sometimes overthinking can cause us to second guess the great amount of power and courage that exists within us. Doing things may seem daunting, but each step that stems from inquiry of your authentic self yields results.
Life moves on, I don't want to be a victim of the past, I want to embrace the present, and contribute to the world in ways that I have only dreamed of. These are wants, and intentions, but I know it is within my power to make the changes that I want in my life. Seems so serious, doesn't it? Well, I don't want to sleep walk my life away, and I don't want for anyone else as well.
Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine. - Anthony J. D'Angelo
As I looked out the window of the bus, my expression softened as I saw multiple people helping a biker who had dropped his groceries. His bags had torn, and an elderly woman was holding open a bag she brought for him to put his new groceries in. Another biker stopped in the middle of the road to pick up a lime and a lemon that the man had dropped, and traffic stopped for him to collect his belongings.
This reminded me about when I was sitting next to an elderly woman who was begging in Morocco. She had her hand out, and watched as people walked by. She had a couple of tears that streamed down her blank-expression face. Eventually she asked the man sitting next to me if the food shop would give her something. I went and grabbed her a water. When I gave it to her, her whole face lit up, and she smiled a toothless grin. Her food eventually came, and I felt surprise that she offered me some. This kindness along with the expression on her face really touched my heart.
This quote may seem unrelated, but I really enjoyed how sensual it felt.
Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that crushed it. - Mark Twain
Thank you for visiting! This is my personal blog, where I write about social justice, geography, culture, and my own encounters and reflections from around the world.