Philosophical Musing

Last Night I Saw Andrea Gibson

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and I made this for her

Last night I saw Andrea Gibson and it was as if my entire existence lead up to that moment. I stood toward the back beside Lauren with no one in front of me. I held on to her nonstop throughout. I had the clearest line of vision and the perfect amount of distance. Any closer and I think her words would have punched actual holes through my chest. I remember holding my breath for the longest sentences and only remembering to exhale when she stopped speaking.

I first knew her through her love poems and I was pleased to hear some of those. However, the most important thing she does is dismantle the patriarchy and educate about white privilege among other topics. I loved every second of the roller coaster. It was painful and I laughed. It was lighthearted and I cried. It was so important. I felt like Jack Kerouac the first time he heard Howl. My heart was beating out of my chest as I was constantly drawn out like a long thread.

I am rarely so inspired, but I have never been more discouraged. I felt meaning and passion and at once worthless. I don’t deserve to breathe her air. I don’t even deserve to be here (actual thoughts). Then panic: I have nothing important to say with my art. I may be talented, or whatever, but I don’t do anything important with my work other than indulge my own feelings. Seeing performance about social justice and things that matter really puts you in your place.

It left me changed for the better. I can only hope to become part of something much, much larger than myself. No, I can also try, even if it hurts. After all, if there’s one thing we know, it’s that it hurts to become.

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I Just…I Can’t Today.

“This cannot be happening.” I was staring at a bloody tissue that I just took out of my ear. I also stared at the swollen muscle in my forearm. I threw the tissue away and popped 800 milligrams of ibuprofen.

“What are your plans for today? Do you want to head to the market with me?”

Yeah. I should probably do a thing. I still can’t believe this. I was so close. So close to being done with it. I sat down and began a Google search

“Blood coming out of ear.”

Cancer. Also perforated eardrum. Hmm…

“If your eardrum had burst then you’d know.” Josh explained.

“Yeah well, I’m not in that much pain. And I can still kind of hear. I’m okay, right?”

“Yeah like, I think your body is just dealing with that infection you had before. It’s just cleansing itself.”

Yeah. My body is doing me a favor. It’s working properly. It’s a champ. I’m definitely going to the market. And you know what, I’m not going to see a doctor because eff that. I’m done with doctors. I am fine. I’m totally fine.

Josh and I took an Uber to Mission Beach and I got myself a free coffee. I chatted with Mackenzie and was feeling pretty good. Soon we were on our way to the ferry building with a wad of cash and plans to get ramen. I chatted with Tommy, I called my mom. She also thought it was something minor. Like, everything is all connected there, so it’s reasonable to think that this will run its course in a day or so. Besides, I was feeling fine. I even decided to walk home. After I finished some delicious ramen, I was off. One ear-bud in, cruising down Market street on a sunny day. No problem.

It wasn’t until I got back to the apartment that I started to get uncomfortable. Like, lots and lots of pain. And then it hit me: I wasn’t feeling any pain before because of the 800 milligrams of ibuprofen I took for my wrist. I. am. an. idiot.

It hit me all at once. Excruciating. I was frantically Googling free clinics and my head was throbbing. I called an appointment-only clinic just in case they had something available. Unfortunately they did not. I then sprinted to the free clinic a few blocks from my apartment to try and get there before they closed. I was met with chains and padlocks on the doors. I stood there for a few moments, taking it all in. So much pain. Crack heads walked in front of me, behind me, they said things to me. I just stood there in shock and pain.

I said out loud to myself: “I should go to the hospital.” 

Then silently answered myself: “No, you cannot afford that. Just go home and take more pain killers and deal with it. Who knows, maybe it will go away tomorrow? Yeah, okay.”

I made it home, immediately took another 800 milligrams of ibuprofen. I laid down on Zach’s bed fully clothed, shoes on and everything, and waited. Why is this happening to me? I have been in such a state for days and days and I found myself slipping into these daydreams where someone was sitting on the bed beside me, and just had a hand on my shoulder or back. The mere thought of human contact brought me to tears. And so I just cried silently until I fell asleep.

This morning it wasn’t better. I went to the farmer’s market and barely made it home without crying. I sat down and really contemplated my situation.

“I should probably go to the doctor.”

But I really don’t want to. My insurance from work doesn’t kick in for 90 days, which might as well be an eternity at this point. But I should do something. As I mentioned in my Brief Medical History, my concern is that I have a ruptured eardrum caused by the staph infection I had. It’s the only things that fits my symptoms, and it’s the only reasonable explanation. If that is the case, it will require me to go on antibiotics, which I am quite unable to take because I’m literally, deathly allergic to antibiotics. I am afraid. I don’t want this news. I don’t want to see a doctor. But I have to because there is no other option.

I decide to take a walk. I end up at Lush (because I was probably subconsciously going there the entire time). I’m convinced Lush exists to remedy bad days and celebrate extremely good ones.  I leave with a rainbow and glitter bubble bar because I just can’t think of anything better than. When I get home I call the clinic.

“Are you in any pain?”

(define pain?)

“Well, not right now. But I did take a lot of ibuprofen earlier so it’s hard to say.”

“And you said there was blood?”

“Yes.”

“Hold on, please.”

*holds*

“Can you come in today at 2:45?”

“Uh, sure. I mean, is this something urgent. Should I be worried?”

“No, I think the doctor doesn’t think this will take very long so she can fit you in.”

Well that’s good news right? I’m feeling better about this. Things are looking up. I cab over to make sure I make my appointment on time and after an hour in the waiting room I finally see a doctor. She asks me to start from the beginning, and I tell her the whole story. I start with January 1st and I’m crying, again, obviously.

“Wow, you’ve had a really tough month. 2014 hasn’t gone so well so far has it?”

No, wait. That’s not true. Things are awesome actually, everything except this. Except that my body is betraying me every chance it gets, despite being as healthy as possible. I try to explain this to her, but she’s right. January hasn’t been going very well. I mention that the irony is not lost on me. She asks me to describe my lifestyle. I tell her I don’t drink or smoke (anything), I walk between 3-6 miles every day, I am vegan (the good, whole-food kind), I take vitamins, I exercise, I don’t put anything on my skin I wouldn’t eat. This is all just some horrible cosmic joke at this point.

“Well it does look perforated, and infected. I would say you’re right and that it was due to the staph. Let me get my resident and she can take a look just to be sure.”

*sigh*

“It’s a really good thing you came in to see us when you did. You know that right?”

“Yes. I know. Thank you.”

She made very direct eye contact with me. I could tell she was feeling sorry for me. I allowed it though because I was also feeling sorry for me.

As soon as she shut the door I threw off my glasses and buried my face in the crook of my arm. It’s done. I can’t believe that is what happened. The worst-case scenario. And that’s when I decided I was so desperate, I might as well post a super ultra-needy cry of desperation over social media about needing someone to just come and hug me. I regret nothing. I knew no one was available. I knew I would be alone the entire night, but it was important to me that someone at least know that I was in need of this. It was the best I could do. I was helpless. I was alone, on a cold table, getting bad news. I was scared. And there was no one there but me. 

She returned with her resident and I was examined a second time.

“Unfortunately, you need to take this antibiotic. The thing is, we are currently out of stock and there is a shortage. It’s expensive, but we will try to help you as much as we can, okay?”

“Ok.” I’m terrified.

“There is no reason to believe that you will have a reaction to this. Of course we can’t be 100% sure until you take it. But, it’s the only thing we can do right now. If you don’t treat it well…you run a lot of risks there as well.”

“It doesn’t sound like I have much of a choice, do I?”

“No, you don’t.”

Hoping for the best

Hoping for the best

It’s not so much that all of this was happening. I don’t really want to be told that it’s going to be okay, or that the money isn’t a big deal. I know it’s going to be fine. My course of action is clear, all things considered I’m taken care of. I know I can deal with it. I’m an adult and I’ve probably gone through worse. It’s just that, I have been so relentlessly sick with one thing after another for and taking care of myself for a solid month. It’s really getting to me. I really do just want a hug and to cry on someone. As incredibly hackneyed and melodramatic as that sounds. 

I left the doctor’s office and got on the bus, the first bus that stopped. Messages were pouring in from my embarrassing status update. I decided to hop off early when I noticed that I was at Divisadero and Hyde. I grabbed my stuff and realized I didn’t have my wallet so I pried the doors open (practically) and found it on the floor. God, could you imagine? I just sat on the sidewalk in disbelief for a moment. Thinking of what could have happened had I not realized it when I did. It was settled, I was going to take comfort in The Mill after all. I actually didn’t think I had time, but I decided to prioritize this experience I had been looking forward to all day, because of the terrible state I was in. And to celebrate not losing my wallet on SF public transit. 

I asked the guy at the counter to give me something vegan that would fix the worst day. He told me he knew just the thing and charged me for that and a coffee. I didn’t even care what it cost. He ended up bringing me a thick slice of wheat toast with honey, almond butter, pumpkin butter, and a pinch of sea salt along with my favorite coffee.

This was definitely the closest thing I’ve had to a religious experience with food. I was suddenly okay with my solitude. I realized that I should take this opportunity to get better at dealing with things on my own. After all, it’s not like I am truly alone. There are so many people who love and care about me (as evidence by my phone blowing up so much it ran out of battery). This wasn’t so bad. I was going to be okay. I had my coffee and toast and a way out. It may not have been cuddles, or a hug, but the effect on me was pretty damn close.

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So Many Feelings: On Separate Ways

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At the time I wrote this I had no idea of when I intended to post it. The reckoning itself took place way back in Lithuania, approximately 8 months and 14 countries later. We hitch-hiked 6,000 kilometers and ended up in a small flat outside of Kaunas in a downpour. As we left to relocate to Andreus’ house, Maria left me on the first landing outside the apartment.

 “You seem like you need to be alone.”

Long pause

 “I’ll be down here if you want.”

I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but I followed her down anyway. I hugged her against a yellowed, cracked window. It was back-lit with a gloomy sunset. I buried my face into her shoulder.

“Awwww, Bear. Do you want to go home?”

I just sobbed. I had no idea what came over me.

Earlier that day we were dropped off in the city center. We took a walk down a dirt path and found ourselves at the end of a long conversation and also where two rivers met. It was lightly raining and humid. Very gloomy. Kaunas is even worse than Zagreb (or so I hear). Earlier we talked about the future, mostly about Maria’s plans for school, and then it was apartments, and time lines, and then I got lost in my IKEA fantasies.

We found a coffee shop and Maria wrote her book while I doodled around my journal. It felt awesome. It was a feeling I haven’t felt in a really long time; the creative wave beginning to break. I scribbled and drew and had so many plans and so many ideas.

Now back to when I descended the stairs to Maria, I was suddenly hit with the somber realization that it would be months before I would be able to act on any of these impulses. At that moment, traveling became chains of my own choosing. I was in handcuffs and this was so profoundly fucked up it blew my mind.

I am the freest person there is. And yet I felt like I was in prison. This is when I knew that a change needed to be made. At the time, I was not sure what, but I was definitely aware that this was not on, and I needed to do something about it. Later around 2am, we had another conversation over the sounds of our hosts fucking in the next room.

“Tell me about your tears.”

I told her.

“I want you to just…consider…for a moment…the idea of going home early.”

Now at the time, I think Maria was just hoping I would think about it, feel some relief and then find the Zen energy to keep going with her to India. Instead I defied all expectations and completely jumped at the opportunity. In with both feet. Sold.

I talked to some friends and thought about it, but it didn’t take long. The relief was so immense I had to keep going. However, just buying a ticket straight to San Diego felt wrong somehow. After more thought, I found myself weaving this entirely new plan of traveling on my own in the US. First I would visit my family in Maryland, then friends in New York, and then friends and family in Texas. I would do all of this the way I wanted, with a tiny backpack and a cell phone. Maria, in the meantime, would go to India and Southeast Asia without me.

Now jump to Warsaw. After a truly kickass time making new friends and hanging out with old ones, I finally bought my ticket from Dublin to BWI. It was now final. After a somewhat arduous trip from Warsaw directly to Utrecht (we hitch-hiked 1,210 kilometers in 26 hours). I was in another bad head space due to my inability to find our friend’s flat and my bag being so heavy. Seriously, I am always cursing the weight and size of my bag. Once we arrive at our destination, Maria and I had another intense talk, only it was slightly more contemptuous this time.

It began with:

“Are you insecure?”

I answered after a few seconds.

“Yes.”

Followed by more elaboration on how I don’t fit in anywhere. People constantly stare at us because we look so out of place, even for tourists we are quite a unique sight. The honking, staring everywhere we go sort of wears on me. Then she asked

“Do you think you are cut out for traveling?”

I answered immediately.

“No.”

Not this type of travel anyway. You see, the thing about Maria is that she loves to suffer. She loves to toil under the weight of her bag. She holds on to bad memories, emotions, and she wants to feel this weight on her all the time. It suits her. I on the other hand, have always been heavy my entire life. And my life pursuit has been lightness, in body, mind, and emotions. I am the opposite of a pack-rat. If I do not need something that very second, I want to throw it out. Every three months or so I go through everything I own and get rid of as much as possible. When I buy something new, it is not an “addition” to my life, it is almost always a “replacement” and the old item leaves me.

What I hold on to are relationships. There are two people I’ve met in my ENTIRE LIFE who choose not to communicate with me based on reasons other than naturally falling out of touch. And I have met a lot of people (I am even facebook friends with some truck drivers who gave us a lift in France). But as far as objects go, I am light as a feather. Or I try to be.

I have no regrets about how I have traveled, or what I have done. In the past 12 months i have:

  • Hitchhiked 8,000 kilometers
  • Traveled in 14 countries
  • Walked 800 kilometers in a row
  • Slept in a truck with a truck driver
  • Went to a festival and got obliterated
  • Hiked/camped in the snow
  • Rode a camel
  • Went swimming in a waterfall
  • Took a boat ride
  • Rode on a ferry, a train, a bus, a semi-truck, and every kind of car
  • Woke up in a strange place without clothes more than once
  • Sobbed my eyes out
  • Laughed my head off
  • Camped behind a truck stop
  • Amassed numerous awesome facebook photos
  • Got unbelievably sick
  • Projectile-vomited off a bridge
  • Cleaned up rat shit
  • Restored a house, built a shed, tiled a floor, operated a digger, poured concrete, chopped down a tree
  • Ate reindeer meat
  • Ate all the things!
  • Got sexually harassed
  • Hiked sand dunes, mountains, and fjords
  • Got invited in to strangers’ homes for the night, while hitchhiking
  • Learned a new language
  • Swallowed my pride

And all of that, even the bad, I wouldn’t trade for anything. Especially considering that I was able to share all of these awesome and awesomely bad times with the person I love. But through it all, I came away with some distinct life lessons. This is what I have learned about myself:

  1. I MUST travel light.
  2. I am a list checker. I am always thinking about when something will be over so that I can check it off my list. This makes it very difficult to live in the moment, but I am trying.
  3. I enjoy challenge and achievement, but I derive my pleasure from the achieving, not the challenge. Here, Maria and I are opposite. This is why if I set a goal and don’t achieve it, I feel like a complete failure. This is untrue, of course, but we’re just talking about feelings here.
  4. When I suffer (otherwise known as “in my dark place”) I am very quiet. If I talk during this time, I will say bad, bad, irrational things that are all untrue.
  5. I am independent and self-directed.  This does not mean that I am not a good fit for a strong leader (such as Maria) but it does mean that I have to take responsibility for tending to this core need I have to self direct.

We talked a bit more in detail about all of those points. We compared and contrasted our lessons learned and future goals, and things we want to improve about ourselves. It was constructive for sure. And what it did for me was 100% solidify my decision to travel on my own for a while.

My motivation is that I have never done this on my own and I think it is time to see if this is really the winning combination. It isn’t travel that gets to me, or being away from home, so much as I can’t do it the way I want to do it. But who knows, I could try it my way and also struggle just as much. We will have to see, the point is, I need to do it otherwise I’ll never know.

Fast forward again to Ireland. Maria has obtained her visa and purchased her ticket to India. I have my ticket back to the US. We have just over two weeks to spend together before we part ways. Of course, now that the hour is finally upon me, I have uneasy feelings. However, I still know this is the right choice. Part of me wishes I wanted to go to India, and the other part is happy for her. I will miss Maria so much. In fact, I have already begun to miss her.

But I will still have her, just not in immediate proximity. And she will still have me. I will wait for her back in SF when she is ready to come home. Travel is an allegory for life, and plans are always changing, and people are always evolving. Even though we will be separate physically, taking separate journeys, we are still together. I have always known this, but I really know it now; that I am so lucky to have Maria. It takes a special kind of person to take you on a year-long tour of Europe, put up with all of your drama and bs, and then happily let you fly off on your own because it’s what’s best for you.  I think it is the perfect challenge and next step for this super-accelerated crash-course in life that is traveling.

<3

I guess the point is to always try new things, and to learn something. The good news it that I seem to always be checking that one off my list.

Poker Face

For me, Estonia was a bar in Tartu and 6 hours laying face down on a massage table.

I’m serious. I did go to Tallinn, but I really have nothing to say about it other than it’s a city and I had amazing strawberries.  We were looking for some excitement, but it never presented itself. And so we headed to Tartu…

I found a host for us, she is a triathlete and getting her PhD in evolutionary biology. That is enough to make you cool in my book, and she did not disappoint. In fact, she was much, much more than that. Margot is intelligent, beautiful, and edgy in her own way. She also possess what I would later learn to be the Estonian Poker Face.

Alright, I am perhaps more emotionally effusive than most people, but sometimes being around Estonians makes me feel like I am taking crazy pills by contrast. Telling the story of how Maria and I met takes like 20 minutes, but when you ask an Estonian how they met their spouse/partner/whatever you are given a 3 sentence explanation.

“Well, he works in my lab. And one day I just asked him out. Now we live together.”

Alright, good talk.

Maria and I have a knack with getting people to come out of their shell a bit, and to our delight this was the case with Margot and her boyfriend. We heard all kinds of stories about him about how he is quiet and never says anything to anyone, ever. So imagine our surprise when he came home and we started talking to him and he actually spoke to us.  Not only that, but he took us out for beer and talks to us for hours. 

Oh by the way, yeah, another side-story of Estonia is that I realized as I sipped my “morning” coffee around noon, that we had been in Estonia for 8 days and had yet to make it 12 hours without drinking. I really had no idea how that happened, it truly took me by surprise, but now I completely understand why this is an Eastern European stereotype. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the bar we went to had free chocolate.

Margot, her friend Riina, Marko, and this other couchsurfer from New Zealand Hayden spent a lot of time with us in this particular bar.

It was in this bar that the subject of tattoos came up. Riina and Margot have awesome tattos. Apparently, the guy who did Riina’s actually lives in Tartu. His name is Mico and he is super busy. Thankfully, Riina is extremely charming and managed to contact him and “beg” him to meet with me about a tattoo while I was in town.

See, I have been wanting one for a while. Since January when I did Ayahuasca. If any of you remember my entry about Killing Bears and Taming Wolves, you might recall that I lucid-dreamed about a tattoo. Well, I later drew this design out while I was huddled next to a fire in France. Ever since then I have been waiting patiently for the universe to present me with the opportunity to get this drug-induced tattoo done (sorry mom). And this was looking promising.

Mico agreed to meet with me, and I threw down my drawings proudly waiting for some reaction.

BAM

BAM

I really didn’t know if I could trust anyone else to do it. I swear, his work was some of the most precise artwork I have ever seen, in fact, I didn’t even know some of the stuff he did was possible to tattoo. So even if he wasn’t super into MY design, I didn’t really care as long as he could get the job done. 

Then we talked about price.

“How much can you give me?”

“Uh…excuse me?”

“Well, I know you’re traveling, so how much are you prepared to spend.”

“I know I am traveling, but I want to pay you for your work.”

And then I gave him the estimated figure. To protect his reputation I will not publish it, but suffice to say it was a modest price. Even for something that wouldn’t take long, which he didn’t seem to think this would.

It ended up taking 6 hours.

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This is what dedication to an experience looks like. I got to spend a lot of time with Mico and get to know him a little bit. It was actually quite a pleasant experience. I am still blown away by the conspiring done by Margot and Riina to make this happen. It was really a group effort. Margot even held my hand when it was being done, and Riina showed up a few hours in to give me (and Mico) snacks. 

I managed to walk all around Tartu both at night and in the day time, I think at one point I also drank a liter of beer and had wild boar. But this is what I will remember about Estonia. I made new friends and I surprised myself when the time finally came to ramble on, I was actually sad to leave. 

The people make everything. This should come as no surprise. I’ve seen hundreds of cities, hundreds of churches, had countless coffees, countless beers, read countless maps. After a while it all starts to look the same. What I remember about places is not the way the cities look, it is who I met while I was there. The people are the story and they stay with you even after you’re gone.

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The Deepest Conversation in a While

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On a run in Norway I had the following conversation:

M: so, are you happy?
K: I don’t know. I don’t think I am. 
M: That is the saddest thing I have heard in a long time. 
It’s true. I don’t know if I am happy. It’s not on the table yet, but there could be a time when traveling apart is a viable option. We’re not there yet.
K: You have to remember that my feelings are not your responsibility. If you are brought down by my mood, i have no control over that. 
M: I’m not sure that’s true. You could do things that show you’re at least trying. This is why I got upset with you on the Camino. 
Okay, so when I am upset I tend to just get really quiet and contemplative and wait for it to pass. I suppose I could at least try to act like a happy person. This is easier said than done. I hate being out of control. No matter what awesome things I am doing, I am always aware in the back of my mind that I am jobless, homeless, and not producing anything tangible. There is no rubric with which to measure my success, and so how do I have anything to show for my life? What are my achievements, really?
I was confused. What do I do about this? Every time I think about having a job or going back to work, an echo in the back of my mind says “chains of your own choosing.” 
As I was wallowing in despair on the side of the road in the rain near Gaupne, Norway, right before a semi-truck roared passed and soaked me with water, I remember looking down at my feet and thinking “In the future, when you are sitting at a desk, you will think back to how free you were. Try to feel free, even though you hate life.” 
But then, I realized, this is normal. The grass is always greener on the other side. People who are working with jobs think I am so lucky and that my life is awesome. And people who are traveling are tired and sometimes just want to wake up in the same place for a week straight and put their lives on auto pilot.
But we forget that no matter what, life always gives you something to feel shitty about, to stress about, and it always gives you something to be happy about and feel secure about. I am as free at my desk job as I am on the side of the road, the art is in how I bring the two together. How do I feel happy and free and fulfilled in both situations?
There is a lot about myself I want to change. Here I am speaking about former Katie, who worked 7-5 5 days a week for a paycheck. Former Katie worked at a job she actually really liked, but would wake up every morning with a pang of anxiety and left every day with a feeling of defeat.
I realize that in anything, you have good days and you have bad days, but I want to be the kind of Katie that is not as spun out by criticism, and doesn’t panic when I make a mistake, and doesn’t rely on the approval of others to define my self-worth. I want to call the shots in how I feel, make mistakes and learn from them. I want to be a more confident Katie, who is even better at reading people and assessing risk. I want to handle stress with poise and control.
I suppose I could learn these things in a job-like setting, but I think traveling is making these lessons come across more seriously. I mean, I’m already convinced that no job-related scenario is ever going to be harder than walking the Camino, so I’m already ahead there.
I guess I realized today that, there is an outcome I hope to achieve out of this whole project I am doing. I am seeking a better, faster, stronger version of myself who can be successful without having to play by other people’s rules. Now I just have to wait and see.

Adventures in the Highs and Lows

This was taken from an email I wrote to a friend. I realized that I am not exactly comfortable sharing my lows on this blog. I guess it comes from the idea that I am on this trip and I want to be having fun all the time, and I want my friends and family to think I am having fun all the time. Of course, that is not true and I think a lot of you know that already. So I decided after hitting ‘send’ that I would open up a bit more about this whole Miraculous Journey…
I had a good time in the Netherlands and an even better time in Denmark. We surfed with this American girl and her boyfriend in Hilversum and had a wonderful time. They were some of the coolest people I have met on this trip. Sarah, was hard at work writing her thesis, but she still managed to take time out of her schedule to chat with us (English, at lightening-speed). We played board games, watched movies, drank beer, it was great. But she had work to do, so we parted ways, promising to reconnect when we passed through the NL again after Scandinavia.

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Our next destination was Denmark. We hitch-hiked 900 kilometers in 24 hours. This included rides with 4 truck drivers which was awesome. I might blog about this separately, but I will just say right now that I love riding with truck drivers. They are technically “at work” so they keep to a schedule, there is a bed to sleep in during the ride, and they usually have built-in coffee makers. But more on that later…

So we reconnected with a friend we made on the Camino, Grethe. She is a 62 year-old-woman who was hit by a car and badly injured. She lost the use of her hands, arms, and hips but hrough years of alternative medicine and therapy, she finally regained her mobility. As a celebrationchallenge, she walked the entire Camino. She is definitely one of the most inspiration people I have met on this trip so far.

our first meal

our first meal

Grethe

Grethe

organic tri tip. I meant it when I said we were well fed

organic tri tip. I meant it when I said we were well fed

 

She greeted us at the door wearing an apron. Hugs followed and then an endless parade of nutritious food for 4 days. She lent us her flat for the duration of our stay and I can’t remember the last time I slept so well and was so well fed. Our days were sunny, full of walks, trips to the garden, coffee, and food. It was a much needed re-charge and I was so happy there. I was stretching every day, going for runs, eating well like I wanted…and then of course we had to leave.

we had ice cream

we had ice cream

I did this

I did this

we are this

we ate this

 

I think I started to get pretty low once we left. I was reminded of how beneficial staying in one place can be and I miss it. To make matters worse, when we were in Malmo, my brother reached out to me and confessed he wanted me to come home. He is having a hard time with life, you know, with a 1-year-old and trying to navigate a relationship with his son’s mother (thankfully, things are civil) and trying to be a good dad in the process. I gave him as much support as I could from a distance, but obviously I wish I could do more for him.

He went from a pot-smoking unemployed couch potato to a young father with a job and bills almost overnight. I really am proud of him, and I tell the story to anyone who wants to know about my family. I tell about my nephew and I am pleased to report he is surrounded by people who love him. But I can understand this was a huge change, very quickly for Alex. He is a sensitive dude, and I feel kind of guilty that I can’t be around when we are finally at the stage when we can interact with each other as adults. And of course, I miss my nephew. He is probably one of the cutest babies to ever exist (aside from me).

Grayson

Grayson

Then! One of my best friends ever announced that she is engaged and her wedding will happen next year and she hopes I will be back to attend. I was so happy, and so anxious at the same time. I wouldn’t dream of missing this. And yet, when Maria and I previously discussed the scenarios that would cuase us to come home right away, a wedding did not make the list. In fact, I think the only thing that did was terminal illness. And yet…here I am. But I am not surprised. My friendships mean a lot to me, especially my friendship with Maggie and why shouldn’t I be free to nurture the things in my life that I care about?

It was at this moment that I realized it is distinctly more difficult to travel when you are not running from anything, than it is to go away and leave so much behind. I was so comfortable in my old life that I needed to invent new challenges for myself, and I guess that is the whole point right? That is the optimal scenario, to be so efficient in taking what life throws at you, that you have the space to plan challenges for yourself. You know, like training for a fight, or a race. You do it because you know it’s good for you and it prepares you.

But it comes at a price. I am realizing this now. I spend a lot of time in the future, or the past. I am still not very good at focusing on the present. I do want to change that, but it is slow going. I have such an emotional connection to everything that I left, it is impossible to drag everything with me and make progress.

So when I arrived in Norway I was very down. It is a beautiful country, but all I wanted was to be back in Denmark, or back in Oceanside, or back in San Francisco, hell even Seattle. And I felt guilty about it. I am on this trip, in a beautiful place, and I have trouble enjoying it. I was hating everything. My backpack, the budget, the price of food here, the price of everything here and it was not fun.

I was browsing through our host’s book collection yesterday and I found Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. I stayed up most of the night reading it and I felt better. I mean, I still have no idea how I would react to such a situation, and it was an extreme example, but the idea that you should not be surprised when your lows are only punctuated by brief, fleeting highs, before they continue to get lower is valuable information. This is often how life behaves, and I recognize this pattern from the winter I spent in Europe.

The catch is that, if you remove yourself from the present, you never make it out of these spots alive.

My new strategy is this, I am taking a break from the Book of Face. I will answer emails when it’s convenient for me (and when they are from my parents), but otherwise, I purchased 2 books yesterday and I plan on reading and writing in my journal to pass the time.

We are taking a break from couchsurfing, and exclusively wild camping for the next few weeks while we journey to North Cap. It’s over 2500 kilometers and I have no idea how long it will take. But this is my moment to Alexander-Supertramp-it and really do something good for my soul. You know, without the dying part.

Finally, I told Maggie that I would go to her wedding even if it meant heading there straight from the airport. I discussed this with Maria and it was agreed that I can go home whenever I would like, but that doesn’t mean she will come back with me. She has her journey and her goals, and I have mine and we’re comfortable allowing each to take it’s course. And that made me feel much better, and much more in control. I can decide how to prioritize my own life. And it’s nice to know that I have support in my relationship to do what is best for me. I am thankful for that every day.

That is where I am at right now.

This is Morocco Part 2: “How many camels, please?”

This might be more of a rant than anything else, but I can’t help it.  Again, I’ve had a great time here in Morocco, but I could never live here. In the past 25 days I have come to a better understanding of Arab culture, and you know what? It’s not for me. This is not an opinion on Islam. Islam has nothing to do with this. This is about the culture, and while there are aspects of it that I truly appreciate, the negative ones still tip the scale unfavorably, for me. 

We stayed with five hosts while in Morocco. Four of them were men and all four of them were great. Different, but all positive experiences. When we finally made it to Fes, we had the opportunity to stay with a girl. And she turned out to be the least Moroccan, Moroccan girl you can imagine. 

Aida, is 26 and works for P&G. She manages a team of 45 men, and all of her clients are men. She has her own apartment in Fes and is unmarried (although she has a boyfriend). Aida has a degree in mechanical engineering and is more of less glued to her blackberry. She could have come straight out of Los Angeles. 

Aida represents less than 1% of Moroccan women, but she was able to give me some insight into what it is like to grow up as a woman in this country. She grew up with the attention, the cat calling and she is able to ignore it. It is innocuous to her, but for Maria and me, it is still a bit distracting. 

“Not a lot of men work.” she explained.

but they do a lot of this

but they do a lot of this

and this

and this

You can find men, always, hanging out at cafes. Passing by any given cafe, the tables outside are likely to be packed with men sitting either alone or with friends, smoking and drinking coffee. Meanwhile, women walk along the streets doing things. They shop, they buy groceries, they study, they go to work, they go home, they wait for buses. But they are always doing something.

I have never seen so many men in my entire life, all in one place, doing exactly fuck-all. 

Unless you count staring, hissing, or shouting at girls who pass by. Yeah, not exactly my idea of a good time. It is some unwritten law that if a Moroccan guy makes eye-contact with you, he is overcome by a compulsion to say something, usually at your back, to get your attention.

Boys will stop their motorbikes, follow us. I’ve had any number of things shouted at me from passing cars, guys on the street, rude gestures. I just, can’t handle it emotionally. For Maria it is easier because she has dealt with this attention from men for longer but it is very new to me and I don’t like it. 
Obviously, this does happen in the US, but not nearly as frequently. I managed to live my entire life in America and never had this happen to me. But moving on…
One night, we were sitting with our host in Merzouga waiting for the bus. This boy came up to us on his motorbike and introduced himself. Then he asked if we wanted a beer and to perhaps go to the dunes nearby.
He must have asked Maria and me 10 times if we wanted to go out to the sand dunes with him and “relax.” Politely refusing once is already awkward enough, especially in a country where it is rude to refuse something that is offered to you. But we managed to divert the conversation to the behavior of Moroccan men toward us.
“You see,” he began “When a man tells you you are very pretty, it is because you are. You should just smile and say ‘thank you.”
Yeah that sounds great, except I just don’t buy that a man would shout something like “hey pretty lady” from his motorbike just to make me feel good. It doesn’t make me feel good. It makes me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. WTF am I supposed to do after you speed by me? Run after you? Wave my arms and call you back and talk to you more?
If you truly want to pay a woman a compliment, there was probably better ways of going about this. I’ve had men say “Hello” to me and smile and felt fine. “Welcome to Morocco.” is also another one I don’t mind. “Bonjour, Madame.” is also acceptable, along with many other innocent greetings. But there something about “Que es bonita” and then following me down the street asking where I’m going and if I need help creeps me the hell out. 
But how many times do I have to say “no thank you” before they leave you alone? Answer: at least 10. Why are the first 5 times not good enough? Furthermore, I have to supply justification for why I do not want to go to the sand dunes with this young man. The problem is that they have to be reasons he understands. Finally, I have to resort to something explicit like “Please go away.” and then I am accused of being disrespectful.
The point is, I miss being able to walk down the street without having to have a 5 minute unwanted conversation with every person I pass. I miss just walking to get vegetables and saying ” Hi” a few times, getting a “Hi” back, and just moving on. Trust me, after nearly a month of this, it begins to wear you down. 
We actually stayed with another American girl here in the city and she confirmed all of the same feelings. It was nice to have somebody understand without having to go into explaining where you’re coming from beforehand. But it didn’t exactly stop the behavior.
“You can’t change the culture.” she explained. As a Peace Corps volunteer, she was here for a longer haul than we were, and already a year into her service.
“Yeah, it definitely wears you down. Sometimes you have good days, sometimes you have bad days, and sometimes you have really really bad days.”
Well, I finally experienced one of those really bad days. We walked by ourselves to the Medina and we received the usual treatment along the way. Inside the Medina it is a bit different. Vendors will try to pull you into their shops, but they do this to everyone. It’s still a bit annoying, but in a different way and one which doesn’t make me angry at them. I just politely say “no thank you” and walk away.
But I was on edge. So much so that one vendor said something to me as we passed him. I heard “nice ass.” and in perfect sync, Maria and I turned around and stormed over to him. Before we could say anything he threw his hands up in defense and pointed to his face.
“Nice eyes! Nice eyes!” He seemed scared. This made me feel better. 
But the breaking point was still to come, and it would happen just as we left the Medina. We passed by two loitering men in the parking lot. I saw out of the corner of my eye that they were following. Maria was a few steps ahead but I was close enough to hear.
“Hey, how many camels? Please, how many camels?”
I stopped and turned. I took off my sunglasses and stared him right in the face.
“Is this how you make friends?” Maria had noticed and came to join me. The man also walked over, smiling confidently.
“I am sorry. My English is not so good.”
“Oh so, you just shout things to us in English but you don’t understand it? Do you even know what I’m saying?” Maria asked.
He smiled and said again “My English…”
I took this as an opportunity to talk at him. I didn’t really give a damn whether or not he understood me. I just wanted to express my frustration to him, specifically and have him hear my tone. 
“Actually, you can help me. May I have some money?” I said. He looked at me, surprised, but he immediately reached into his fanny pack and showed me some change.
“You know, for the offense. I think 5 Dirham will do.”
“Oh no, 5 is too much.” He said, still kind of laughing.
“Do you even have a job? Or you just stand around like every other Moroccan guy doing fucking nothing all day?
“Yes, I have a job.”
“Do you have a wife?”
“No…”
“I can understand why.”
And then I left. Did it really solve anything? No. Did it change his mentality? Not at all. But I felt damn good. I felt like I just had a warm shower. I felt refreshed. I just needed for once to not be passive. After so much time in this country, it was very apparent that the men who behave this way are not dangerous, they are just annoying and disrespectful. Instead of being passive when I encounter this, I am more likely to engage them. If it’s what they want, so be it, but at least I feel more powerful.
Obviously one can argue that not all men in Morocco are like this. Yes, that is true. But most of them are. You can disagree with me, but you’d be wrong. And even after all of my positive experiences with my hosts, the truly polite and respectful men who were gentlemen, the behavior of the general public left a lasting impression.
I’m glad I came here, and I am glad I spent so much time here, but let’s just say I am really looking forward to my plane touching down tomorrow in the Netherlands.