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Traveling to escape myself

Like most things in life, reasons for travel can be ambivalent. I can’t honestly say I’m a mentally helathy enough person that I travel alone for pure reasons of curiosity and a sense of adventure.

I am an expat, and I have to say, sometimes I hate my home country, my host country, and most of all, myself.

It’s nice sometimes to go somewhere where no one knows your name.

And occassionally, to congratulate myself that I didn’t pick the worst country in the world to live in, and remind myself of overall how great I have it in the world. I more than hit the lottery.

Sometimes I wish I could start everything over from scratch.

And sometimes I just need a break from my host country.

But most of all, sometimes, I wish I could be anybody else, or I could hit the pause button on my life.

Not that I do instagram, but if I did, you’d only see the sunshine, but if pictures told true there would be a lot of rain.

Bearing Witness

What is a traveller? What is a tourist? Who goes on pilgrimage to gaze at the Other, or cue in long lines to see what they have seen in photographs? What are we who go to other places, just because?

Somewhere lodged in my memory is the real name of angels in the Judeo-Christian tradition: Watchers. They watch over mankind and wait until they are called upon. They witness the turning of the world, and occassionally intervene.

This might sound, well, a bit voyeuristic. And the “poverty tourism” of seeing the slums of Mumbai originally struck me that way, just as the potential implications of paying to see indigenous people in their element or paying to take photos of people dressed in traditional garb. Human zoo, amateur anthropology, both, or neither?

And yet we hear those stories of people gone on vacation who are so touched by the suffering they see they put their life savings into opening an orphanage, starting a school, feeding the hungry. But are they just colonialists, missionaries, suffering from a white savior complex they don’t even know they have? Does their work dignify the people they do it for, or just inflate their own egos?

Then there are the people who displace themselves sometimes thousands of miles, to go up the Eiffel Tower, to take that photo from Instagram on that remote island, to get some use out of their selfie sticks and maybe even make their “friends” jealous. When you do the thing to do in the place to do it, and often, though not always, conditions are set so you have as little as necessary to do with whatever surrounds the famous landmark or iconic artwork. You can do a drive through version of the Louvre just to get that snapshot, fuzzy and marred by other camera flashes going off at the same time as it may be, and hopefully your elbows are sharp enough and you have a high tolerance for crowds. If you’re really efficient, you’ll take that hop-on hop off tour and check your list off quickly, going to see what there is to see with a minimum of getting lost in the neighborhood that surrounds it.

I never understand what the purpose of travel was, or found it exciting. One of my first experiences of travel was taking a guided tour through the monuments in DC. While it was nice to see them and have a bit of explanation, I must admit I didn’t see anything I hadn’t seen a photo of before, and didn’t really understand why people would go to take a photo because of a photo they had seen. But then, anything to get people’s curiosity going, anything that takes you outside of your everyday and makes you reflect, be it on your longstanding values of country as immortalized in marble or the quest for beauty that takes you all the way to the tip of the Eiffel Tower to get that view you couldn’t really imagine.

The tourism industrial complex has its uses. The people who pay for a ticket to the Louvre just to see the Mona Lisa support all the works inside the museum, whether they view them or not, and I daresay paying a fee to photograph in a traditional village in Indonesia helps preserve the traditional dwellings and subsidizes the way of life.

Travel, in all its permutations, is about seeing the world- and hopefully sharing with those at home, which is why I’ve finally started this blog. And everyone’s way of seeing is uniquely different, and that’s a beautiful thing and what can make travel literature so exciting. Because when you explore a place, you are also witnessing who you are as a person, your hopes, your prejudices, your fears, your interests, so many parts of you that you put on a shelf in your everyday life and just refuse to look at, because existential terror and safety issues aren’t a thing in your home town, and maybe there’s no real outlet for your curiosity in your day job, or someone else in your life handles all the logistics and makes things run like clockwork so it’s rare for you to tke the lead and have to make decisions- where to go, what to do, when, how much to spend….

We travel in part because our everyday lives aren’t big enough for us, and that’s a wonderful thing. Wanderlust, even if it can reek of escapism, can show us what is lacking in our lives, whether it be nature, genuine human connection, or an outlet for our creativity.

Place iS a mirror that looks back at you. Your environment changes and influences you, just as you change and influences it, and most exciting, reflects yourself back to you giving you a chance to decide who you want to be.

Even if you are the ultimate guidebook checklist traveller, even if you hire a very professional tour company, even if you are just there for the instagram posts, you can’t fail to escape your normal self for a while, and thankfully, everything rarely goes as planned so you do have at least brief moments of connecting to the transitory, fickle, and untameable nature of reality.

Travel can liberate us from the illusion of control, from our fixed ideas that things can’t be different than we believe, and offer us the nirvana on earth of simply bearing witness.

We see for brief glimpses- not better, not worse, just different- and we go back to our every day lives just a bit more free, having expanded our experience of the human condition.

 

 

 

When 3 days in Bulgaria feels like a decade

I love taking planes, the sensation of being neither here nor there, simply in between, just up in the ether seems somehow comforting. As the plane to Sofia took off, I thought to myself, I am just air and stardust and earth, no different from what is all around me, what harm could possible come to me except what I perceive as my container? Simply air unto air, space within space.

This time, no Hail Mary.

When we touched down in Sofia, the people clapped, and I was happy to join in. Certainly happen to have a safe landing whatever my philosophical ponderings! I read once of someone callng people who clapped on airlines unsophisticated and saying that they they don’t fly often. What classism! As someone who didn’t take a plane until long after my peers, and who never expected to go up on a lark on a flight that cost less than 100 euro, I felt personally offended. Travel, no matter what one’s budget, is the ultimate privilege.

I was really excited to be back in the Balkans, a region of Europe that captures the tragicomedy and quirkiness of life perhaps a bit better than most. I had hoped to travel from Macedonia to Athens earlier in the year but a series of unexpected events forced me to change my plans, and I learned to read the signs and follow my excitement instead of the plan, and that travel is a state of mind. I didn’t go on the trip, but I met loads of cool people in the city where I live, and did not spend the cold lonely Easter I expected at all. I didn’t even make it to church.  All this despite the excel sheet detailing where I would go and how I would get there and all the months spent researching the best transport connections and what I would do with my cousin who was unable to join me as it turned out.

But still, I was jonesing for a return to the Balkans, despite the fact that some see the term as an insult rather than a geographical description. Southeastern Europe I suppose. My long weekend became free, again unexpectedly, and I was excited to find the ticket to Bulgaria fairly inexpensive. I sketched out a basic plan for the trip with the idea of getting out of the city and heading to the mountains for some real refreshment, and then was dismayed to see a stormy weather forecast…

From the moment I got off the plane, I couldn’t help comparing Bulgaria with Albania, the last country I had been to in the region. The airport was relatively large and new, with two terminals and a free shuttle bus. Sure, drivers approached me for unofficial rides but then there was an official information window and someone who gave me advice in very clear English. The airport itself was newly renovated and very easy to navigate. And I could even pay for my Coke Zero, which cost less than one euro for a bottle, by touch payment.  I saw the sign explaining that the airport renovation was paid for by EU funds.

I made it in time to do the free walking tour of Sofia, favored city of the Roman Empire Constantine, who legalized Christianity and converted on his deathbed, formerly called Serdica. I went to the town museum as well, and was impressed with the collections ranging from Neolithic to Roman to Belle Epoque, with multiple videos to watch with English subtitles and and friendly docents.  And again, the sign about the sponsorship by the EU. It was quite a contrast from the National History Museum in Tirana, which had quite a few exhibits lacking any signage outside of Albanian and where the Ottoman presence seemed to be viewed with ambivalence, as one conqueror among many, despite the people’s proud history from the Illyrians onward. The building itself was clearly recent communist architecture with minimal charm. In Sofia, the collections were housed in a former Ottoman bathhouse,again supported by European funds, and the emphasis was on the country’s emergence from Ottoman rule and turn towards Western Europe, with an early streetcar proudly on display. For a period lasting 500 years, there wasn’t a lot to represent the Ottoman period.

During the free walking tour, I met a Canadian girl living in New York. As I’m an American in France, we got to talking about the choices we made and how they affected us. It became clear that my dinner partner had travellled to more countries than I had, made more money than I did, and was a competitive marathron runner. With a competitive streak. We discussed sharing the cost of a tourist taxi with an English guide together in a few days so we could see more than was possible with just public transportation, and I was left feeling a bit down.

And then I went back to my hostel and a young Polish guy started talking to me. He looked like Drago from Rocky IV, and I’m sure a comparison to Russians would bother him much less than a comparison to Germans. He wore a Polish flag sweatshirt with a Polish falcon tee shirt underneath, and world youth day rubber band bracelets. He thought that Poland didn’t have a terrorist problem because it had no Muslims and he admired Donald Trump. His friend reminded me of the engineer who was my friend’s boyfriend’s best friend in college, and is now working for Amazon. Or Ebay, or who has gone on to become a billionaire tech entrepreneur. But he wasn’t an engineer, instead he studied history and was a confirmed atheist. We discussed world politics, regional stereotypes, the Polish education system, the ability of speakers of one Slavic language to understand other Slavic tongues, and eventually, sexual harassment when the Bulgarian owner of the hostel joined in and explained he told his new American employee he didn’t believe in. What was the girl who Tiger Woods raped thinking when she went to his apartment at 3am? So he said. A Taiwanese girl joined us, and we talked about America where she’d lived for a while, and China, and her route through Eastern Europe and what brought her there. Throughout, an Italian woman in her forties interrupted several times to say we were being too loud. Eventually around 3 we got tired especially since a Flemish guy ruined the mood.

I went to bed super happy and content, though I knew my chances of getting up the mountain the next day, in an attempt to see for myself beyond the weather forecasts, were scanty, especially since I’d risen at about 4 to start my sojourn to the airport, and hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before either.

The next day I considered going to a spa town nearby, then realized I didn’t have a bathingsuit and didn’t find one to buy cheaply in the town. I got some falafel and chatted with the Israeli owner, who used to live in Paris among other places. I discussed cost of living in various European locales and friendliness of the locals with him, he suggested I try flying out of Israel the next time I went home to the Northeast to get a cheap flight, and as to my travel plans in Bulgaria, he said, “You’ll go where the wind takes you.” When I got out from the bathroom and went to leave, he was gone back to the kitchen.

So Sunday I ambled about Sofia, discovered the main shopping street, bought some toiletries I hadn’t brought with me and compared their prices to back where I live, enjoying checking out the grocery store food to see what a typical diet was like, and generally was a grade A “flaneur” as the French would say.

You must also picture that throughout the center part of town, ruins are shown off to great advantage, displayed with great taste amidst the mostly European turn of the century and communist architecture buildings.

The humor struck me to go to Plovdiv, a town with a more ancient old town just two hours away by bus. I assumed the buses probably worked on a “mashrutka” as they are called in Ukraine, “furgon” according to Albanians, or “maxi taxi” as called by the Romanians, system, where the bus leaves when its full more or less and when the driver feels like it. Not to mention, it is usually a rather old vehicle. But no, when I arrived at the bus station after using the spotless metro which apparently took a long time to build due to all the ruins, the buses certainly ran on a schedule and I was lucky to get on a mere 2 minutes before it was time to go. And I even had an assigned seat, which I didn’t use.

I guess I should also mention that Bulgarian is written in Cyrillic characters, which isn’t a big problem for me as I have them about 80% figured out, and I think its fun to sound out the words and feel a little bit out of my element. I learned to recognize Plovdiv and Sofia pretty fast. But I have to say, there was not a lot of wordless communication through gestures on this trip, most people I had any contact with were either young and had learned good English at school (better than most Latin type Europeans- as in French, Spanish, and Italian not to name names…) although not as good as the Polish, or had some regular enough exposure to tourists that they could communicate fairly easily. So buying a bus ticket was not as much of an adventure as it had been in Ukraine.

I made it to Plovdiv around 9 pm. I negotiated for the cab as directed in the instructions from my hostel, and wasn’t overcharged or taken for a ride. That happend to me once in Bucharest, and so I was a bit wary. I was a littel nervous getting in the taxi seeing what looked like a (closed) bottle of clear liquid and a driver who smoked like a chimey who communicated iwth a fair amount of effort. I followed our progress on google maps, just be sure, thanks to the fact that I had data in Bulgaria as part of my normal French phone plan which also provides coverage in Europe al for 20 euros. A far cry from Albania where I failed to turn off roaming data for ten minutes and ended up with 40 euros in supplemental fees. But I needn’t ahve worried for the taxi, he took me right where he was supposed to and ran after me with my forgotten sweatshirt and other items that had spilled out onto the sidewalk due to my backpack not being entirely zipped.

Once in my hostel, I ended to check in and scoot out for a bite, but I got talking to the receptionist who studied ethnolography back in France and with whom I had an exciting conversation about travel, politics, danger, and Frenchness. As usual, finding a francophone brother abroad meant finding a fellow open minded and warm soul. I finally extricated myself form the conversation and went out to get some food, hoping something would still be open. I followed my google maps, rather than the map given me by the hostel, and ended up taking the road less travelled (not on purpose!) I decided not to go to the restaurant which seemed over priced or the pizza place, and I saw the Roman amphiteatre ruins by night, which were pretty impressive and are still used for concerts. I saw a bunch of guys congregating on a street corner and decided to wait for two harmless looking older gentlment to descend at the same time, not because I had felt frightened or harassed at any time in Bulgaria but just because I didn’t watnt o take any chances. The men were police and one insisted on walking me back to my hostel to make sure I was ok. He asked several young passerby to help translate, notified his post he would be leaving ot walk me back, studied the map and my phone for a while to be sure he knew where he was going, and eventually embarked to drop me off after having found a young translator. He made a thumbs up when I told him i was American.

At my insistence, they left me about a block from my hostel since I said I knew where to go. I can’t say I didn’t appreciate having such concern visited on me. That said, I needed ot hide until they were out of site so I could go and find a place to eat. I eventually followed the loud music and found an all night kebab, chicken wings, pizza, and all other kinds of fast food place, and proceeded to eat the best kebab in my life. Men and women were gathered around and I felt quite comfortable. After a few false turns I was safely back at my hostel.

So I sat down to chat with some Turkish guys in their twenties, the hostel receptionist, and a French guy who looked to be in his 40s/50s. We talked about Turkey, women’s rights, Bulgaria, and everything. Eventually I started talking to the older gentlemen and the French guy and we were off to the races. I had to excuse myself around 2 am.

I woke up for breakfast, hoping the excursion I wanted to do in the mountains would be running but there weren’t enough people and they were going for a monastery instead, and it would be a little tough for me to make the bus back to Sofia, where I planned to sleep since I had to leave for the airplane at 4 the next morning.

Naturally, it was discovered that the book about the young Alsacian who hitchhiked around the planet had also been read by the older French gentleman on the round the world trip, who was also Alsatian, and he took a picture of me with the book for his blog. Essentially we conversed as kindred spirits about life, the universe, travel of course, France, love, marriage, children, capitalism, Buddhism and onwards and upwards through both dinner and lunch. It was an absolute joy and pleasure and I felt I met a special angel on the road. He explained to me that one must come to peace with one’s contradictions, and that in life there are compromises but also dreams. I told him about my recent feelings of inadequacy in regards to the well paid well traveled Canadian and he said we can’t compare. And we agreed travel is not something that you can buy, and that we are none the worse for not having seen the waterfalls of Tanzania by helicopter. And that you the more you travel, you go for the atmosphere and the unexpected, and less and less to see sights although there are a few that truly touch your heart.

Since we lingered so long over lunch we had just a half hour to walk around the old town, which was sufficient to look but not enough to see the various museums of course. It was charming though small, and the souvenir industry was quite well developed. We went back to the hostel, he helped me hail a cab, and it was really an emotional goodbye. I didn’t see the natural wonders I expected to in Bulgaria, or have the cultural visit I’d settled for, but I made a friend that was more than worth the trip.

That night at the hostel, I did my best to sleep and woke up anxiously before my alarm went off. A girl my age joined me in the bathroom, and I wondered why she was up. We discussed in English and realized we were on the same flight, and then we started speaking in French and I found another friend and compatriot. We shared a taxi and then met up again when we landed and took the bus back to Paris together.

You might read my account and think I didn’t have any deep contacts with Bulgarians, and you would be half right. I did have some genuinely nice exchanges with Bulgarians, but no really deep conversations unfortumnately thanks to the limited time I had and the fact they were not on holiday and had other things to do and people to see.

My trip to Bulgaria is not the first time I went to Eastern Europe and met really cool people, and other travellers are often the highlight of a journey. I don’t pretend to be an authority on Bulgarian history, and I hope this whets your appetite enough to at least come to Sofia and see the free walking tour. My goal is not to feed facts but open hearts and minds, and share the spirit of my journey.

I would love to go back to Bulgaria again and delve more into the countryside and the culture. Whiel some of the tourist sites may not be quite so picture perfect and photogenic as the famed selfie stick locations of Italy or France, it’s genuinely interesting to bear witness to a country that has been a cross roads of European history bridging influence form the Middle East, Slavic culture, and Western Europe. And many many people speak English and the tourist infrastructure is pretty good. Plus Coke Zero is less than a euro and you can have gelato for about the same. I look forward to coming back and trying more traditional cuisine. As it was, my gyro, from what I foudn was actually a fast food chain of which there was thankfully one in Sofia so I could eat it a second time, was life changing. All white meat and delicious fresh ingredients.

i feel like I grew ten years wiser, and ten years younger, in three days in Sofia, and made the kind of connections I went for long periods of my life without experiencing.

Let the wind blow where it may.

 

Travel holds a mirror up to the soul

When I came back from Georgia, my heart was heavy with the loneliness of my everyday life- a far cry from the hospitality and warmth of my Georgian hosts. Going back to eating alone and the solitude of my apartment in the city where I have lived for years was a shock, after being an honored guest, part of the family, to people I had only met days earlier.

Upon returning from Indonesia, I felt more at peace with my own contradictions after seeing the incredibly diverse country, and how well-educated people could have completely modern views yet conform to local customs without a second thought. I realized there is no such thing as exotic as I saw the megalithic altars where water buffaloes were sacrificed to the ancestors were just normal to the people of the island of Flores, although Indonesians from Jakarta went to observe the quaint customs of their fellow countrymen. I also realized that my life didn’t feel like enough of an adventure.

When I went to the Basque country to spend Easter alone, and ended up taking a surfing lesson on Easter morning, I realized, paradoxically, just how happy I was despite being far away from my family and culture. Savoring my Basque pastries alone was a treat.  But I will say, I missed the beautiful green cliffs and beach when I came back to the city.

And yet, when I came back from my longest trip to date, 19 days alone in Central/Eastern Europe  (as alone as any traveller still in civilization and able to find someone to speak their native language with on a regular basis really is), I missed my routines, I missed my coworkers, I missed my little life here.

When you travel, you look willingly into a mirror, not sure of what will be reflected back. That is the biggest thing that we gamble, because once you see something true you cannot unsee it, much as you might deny, and your life is going to change. You can say that every trip makes you a different person, but perhaps it just shows you who you really are.

A year ago, I didn’t realize I loved mountains.

I come from a famiy of “beach” people. Despite many beloved family memories at the Jersey Shore, where my family has gone every year for decades, when I go on vacation I almost always go somewhere different, and I rarely make relaxation in the sense of sitting on the beach a priority. In fact, that’s actually one of the things I don’t particularly like to do. For me, I am happiest on the move, soaking up the wonders of the world.

And that’s how I knew I loved my family, but I am different.

It’s taken me a whole lot to realize that’s completely ok.

Travel has forced me to confront time in a visceral way. I have had to decide what’s most important to me to see, while I am young and relatively unattached. If I will spend time at home, or if I will venture even further into the great world despite already living abroad.

Nearly always, I’ve chosen to go farther, because when you travel far enough, you meet yourself. And my family deserves for me to be as whole as I can be, as do I.

If you can’t already tell, travel is not a way to get away from home- you bring it with you, but you see it with new eyes. That’s the hardest part.

Because when you travel, you find the space to be the person you most truly wanted to be, and that person doesn’t see things the same way.

A stranger looks out at you from the mirror, a person you feel you’ve known forever but have never met before.

The woman that sees herself as human before American, before Catholic, before Jersey Girl, cannot help but differ in her view relative to even those she has shared the most with, her family.

There comes a moment when the sacrifice at the megalithic altar seems not so different from high Christmas mass, when your Muslim boyfriend is more of a feminist than half your family who voted for Trump, when holiness takes on a far different, and more personal meeting.

The girl who got a tattoo all alone in Japan just before entering the corporate world is not the same one whose self worth depended on getting into the right college.

The aspiring surfer was buried for years in a compulsive dieter who weighed herself three times a day.

Travel is scary, because you can answer the answer, “Who were you before the world told you who to be?”

And your life will never be the same. There’s no going home. You can get to the place on the map, but you can never take the miles of pilgrimage back or lose the courage that sustained you through countless adventures alone in foreign lands.

Truth, not travel, is the dangerous thing.

If you have to travel to find yourself, it’s probably because home wasn’t a safe place for the real you.

 

That time I fell in love but was blinded by fear…

 

A few years ago, I would have said, without question, that I wanted to get married in the Catholic Church, would want my children to be baptized, and that Catholicism was a central part of my identity, even if I was something of a “cafeteria Catholic,” that picked and chose but overall, accepted the authority of the Church. I planned to follow the rules and live happily ever after, living a life that was modern but informed by tradition, and follow my parents’ example of two people so similar that my father’s “blood brother” is my mother’s actual biological brother. I wanted a guarantee against heartache, and I wanted to fit the mould.

I thought my background was what defined me, and I thought that whatever happened, America would be my home. When I stumbled across someone who fit the future I thought I wanted, who listened to the same kinds of songs as my dad and was similarly tough on the outside but sweet on the inside, I really thought I found my match. My intuition nagged at me though, and it took me a long time to realize I was in love with my clear vision, with my certainty, and most of all, with the idea of loving someone who made sense rather than the reality of actually loving the person you love.We never actually dated, we shared our feelings for each other the very day we had to say goodbye.  Distance separated us soon after finding each other, but I still held on to the hope that, like in the movie the Notebook that he admired so much, if I held on faithfully and kept putting myself out there, somehow things would work out. We never actually dated, we shared our feelings for each other the very day we had to say goodbye.

I met Captain America right before I moved to France,as an English teacher, thinking it would be my only opportunity to travel and that I would go back to the life I had planned. I was completely wrong- my life was changed forever, even if I refused to acknowledge it.

One day during my studies in Paris,  where I returned after finishing my stint as an English teacher, thinking it would be my last hurrah before starting “adult life” in America. managed to stop thinking about him long enough to have a great evening out with my friends, when a handsome stranger appeared. I followed my intuition and let him buy me a drink. Two months later, on a trip he’d already planned before meeting me, he met my parents. And they loved him, to their surprise.

He did not like going to museums. He was not a Christian. He was from Africa. I had never heard his mother tongue spoken, or realized it existed, before meeting him.

But he was kind and good and it felt nice to be around him.  It was easy, and unexpected.

We stayed in touch when my studies in Paris ended, but when I came back to Paris to work, I thought he had lost interest, and truthfully, I was afraid of starting something that couldn’t give me the happy ending I had pictured in my mind since I was a little girl. I was afraid things would be too hard, and that in his own heart he’d prefer someone from his own community.

But every six months or so, we’d exchange news, but we didn’t see each other. My long and drawn out heartache over Captain America, who never managed to see me in the three years we were alternately close friends or stopped talking completely as I tried to move on with my life, taught me that when a man wants to be with a woman he will find a way. And if he doesn’t, it’s because he doesn’t want to. And so I largely forgot about my African boyfriend, slightly embittered that he couldn’t seem to find the time.

Captain America finally exited the stage for good when I told him I wasn’t sure if I would extend my work contract in Paris or come back to America, but I was leaning towards America. By that point, he had lost his superhero glow, but he had supported me during the challenges of my early expatriation and always pushed me to follow the call to Paris.  In retrospect, I think that was his purpose in my life.  I stayed in Paris.

Three and a half years after the last time I’d seen Mr Africa, he sent an email asking how I was doing. I responded to it right away, and he didn’t ask to meet. But still, the day after a good friend who had seemed to be quite happy and well-adjusted wrote a note explaining why he planned to take his own life, I heeded the nagging feeling from my intuition to contact him, expecting nothing more than to end with the feeling he didn’t care enough to make an effort to see me even if he wanted to know I was doing ok.

To my surprise, we really talked honestly, and I discovered he thought I didn’t want to see him. And worse, that he had a girlfriend, even if he told me I was beautiful after I sent a recent photo. He told me he’d become an old man with wrinkles and white hair and was having health problems he would rather discuss in person. Needless to say, I was eager to see him.

And finally we met, this time not by chance but by choice. His hair was as perfectly jet black as ever, and his complexion was no paler than usual (no he’s not black). And to my surprise, I was not nervous or anxious or stressed, I was overjoyed to see him. The happiness of seeing him again, of having realized I’d had at least one really good man in my life, was overwhelming. I beamed for two days straight, thinking, to my surprise, not of moments of high romance like skating on the Champs Elysees in Paris (I fell a lot, actually) but of little everyday things, like watching tv together (and I don’t even watch tv). As it turned out, his health problems were easily resolved and things weren’t so bad as was initially feared.

Now, having seen 38 countries, a total of 33 more since we met, I identify more as a human than anything else, I have distanced myself from the Catholic Church because I believe in feminism more than the hierarchy who corrupt Jesus’ teaching to preserve patriarchy, I run my own personal public awareness campaigns for the women and children of Syria on my facebook page, I have felt the betrayal of family members who voted for a president that brags of sexual assault and calls immigrants murderers and rapists, I am a student of Buddhism, and compassion is my religion.  And I love France, despite all its flaws.

So, after 3 years working abroad and four years in France total, while I am not blind to the challenges that arise when people of different cultures try to get along together in a community, let alone build a life together, it’s an adventure I am willing to take.

Life doesn’t always follow the formula, and the “rules,” when examined, were often put in place not to keep us safe as we were told, but to keep us from asking questions- to keep things the same, that the powers that be should not be called into question. The sickest part is that humans support their own oppression- because they are afraid of what’s on the other side of the mountain.

Me, I am blowing a kiss to Mr. Africa.