Hello, 2016! Yasmine says, “HEY!”
And hello to you, reader! I’m happy you’re here, I’m happy you’re alive, and I hope you’re feeling ready to take on your next challenge.
Thank you for reading Naptime With Yasmine in 2015. I hope you found it helpful, interesting, or any other adjective with a positive connotation.
I want to give a special thanks to all those who used google to search for porn involving au pairs. Your search led you to this article about my experience handling a child’s raging sexual curiosity and trying to handle it in a constructive way. You may not have found the porn you were looking for, but I hope you at least heard a new perspective on sexual education.
Thank you to everyone who wanted to know about what “tetas” and “Ibiza” would get you. Maybe you were looking for porn, maybe you wanted some wild party footage. Either way, you read this honest post about how going topless in Ibiza made me more confident in myself.
Thank you for being curious about the wild dancing in Ibiza. You were were looking for Ibiza raves, and you ended up watching new moves in the Ibiza Dance Tutorial.
These were some of my favorite articles to write. It makes me happy that you read them, no matter how you ended up doing so (Other favorites include: sexual assault prevention as a language assistant, when I was the au pair for a girl who cries for 45 minutes over eaten cookies, when I killed chicks, and the very controversial observation of the Leon separatist graffiti on the Camino de Santiago).
This month, look forward to more stories and observations about Southeast Asia and a series of stories on the warehouse I spent the last month working at. Come February, lookout for information on Australia, my next living abroad destination.
Feel free to visit the contact page for any information, article topic requests, or questions.
Have a meaningful, and most importantly, entertaining 2016.
It was the first time I saw a grandmother casually sitting on back a motorbike, unfettered by the daredevil drivers on both sides. It was the place where I witnessed my sister having a mini-meltdown (for very understandable reasons) in the streets as Thai people stopped and stared.
It was Bangkok, the place that people love to hate. It even took Nomadic Matt a few years to appreciate it. People complain about its filth, grime and the absurdity of Khaosan Road (think of trashy Las Vegas, with overstimulating bright lights and sounds; but instead of strip clubs there are ping pong shows and sketchy massages).
Despite the typical drawbacks of a major metropolis, I loved being a tourist in Bangkok. Starting and ending my trip there, this city was a gentile introduction to Thailand (I say gentle, meaning, not causing terrible culture shock) and a perfect location to close my Thai experience.
A place of great diversity and endless food options, I could find there what I liked most about each of the places I had gone. Silom Soi 20 (more on that road here) was the best breakfast food stall stand crawl I’ve ever been on, Thip Samai‘s pad thai will put all others to shame for the rest of my life and no other restaurant will ever compare to the educational benefits of Cabbages and Condoms.
Easy to transit through the city, public transportation was efficient and if it didn’t make sense to take it, tuk tuks and taxis were plentiful and relatively cheap (just make sure your tuk tuk driver doesn’t try to take you to his friend’s “gem shop“). Yes, traffic is bad. But as a tourist, it’s not common for you to be in a rush. It’s easy to be patient, and besides, there is so much to look at and take in that waiting in traffic isn’t an ounce boring.
I experienced significantly less instances of being offered goods or services (think: nothing compared to Hanoi or Hoi An) and I experienced no street harassment. I like visiting places where it’s easy to feel like you’re living your normal life. Or, rather, it’s nice to be in a place where so many people are going about their daily lives that it doesn’t feel superficially created.
It’s convenient, and sometimes you just want to easily find headphones or a neck pillow for your flight home (sometimes you just want Malaria medication!). The numerous markets are great places for learning about the diversity of Bangkok’s residents and simultaneously picking up gifts for people back home. Vendors patiently listen to your butchered Thai and strangers let you make faces at their children. No matter where Jennifer and I ended up-whether that be in a shopping mall watching in-line skating, by the river seeing a local capoeira group play or wondering what happened to Jim Thompson– it was a meaningful experience.
By the way, The Jim Thompson House was a great introduction to learning about Thai architecture. They even have a shuttle taking you from the main street to the Soi where the museum is located. It’s not actually that far, but what’s more fun than an electronic tuk tuk? Especially when the driver is racing down the side street barely classifiable as one lane, bumping to EDM while middle aged French and German tourists hold on for dear life.
Everyone who visits Bangkok (which, backpacking through Southeast Asia is…everyone) seems to have their favorite hostels. Everyone believes the one they stayed at was the best. If that tells you anything, it’s that there is no shortage of great, cheap accommodations in the city. I stayed at Niras Bankoc Cultural Hostel, close to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho (great massages!). The second time, I relaxed on the practically double bed bunks at Siamaze (it was also the perfect hostel to get sick at). Siamaze is further from tourist attractions, but close to the Skytrain, and had excellent tom yum soup ($1/bowl) a few feet away and adorable coffee shops nearby.
During both of my stays, talking to people on the street was easy and people looked out for us. One tuk tuk driver even gave us tips on how to save money on transportation and how to spot one of his cheating colleagues. We (don’t judge us here) found ourselves at a Starbucks at the MBK Shopping Center near the National Stadium, and Jennifer quickly made friends with the employees. They asked us to complete a customer satisfaction survey (“You give me 7, highest rating,” one of them told me with a wink). One thing led to another, and soon they were taking selfies.
I didn’t even get to see everything I could of. I didn’t even do one third of the things I had set out to do (getting sick puts a damper on exploration). There seemed to be a huge cultural scene, with various art galleries and community centers. It’s a place that has so much variety and personality. You’re a tourist, but you don’t feel like you’re made to look at locals like zoo animals.
When we were at the airport, about to leave for Hanoi, I looked at an American trans woman chugging a beer, throwing her passport at the horrified Air Asia employee and screaming to a European tourist “GET BACK IN LINE, ASSHOLE,” and thought, this is a place where literally anything can happen. It’s a place I felt I could melt into. Kind of like I could melt into that sticky rice with mango. Yummy.
Things I didn’t do in Bangkok: Go to a ping pong show, go to Soi Cowboy, see Muay Thai. No particular reason. Or was there?
Featured photo taken in Bangkok.
Yesterday, I celebrated 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence with a post on Bilbao’s No Means No Campaign. Today, I’m celebrate Human Rights Day by sharing my experiences of encountering refugees while traveling, and how this changes my perspective on movement.
“Marhaba,” I told my two new Iraqi friends in Arabic. Hello. A simple enough phrase to break the ice.
“Ana assafir al sharq alaousat,” I said with a smile. The two Iraqis giggled. In my formal Arabic I had learned at college, I tried to say that I traveled to the Middle East. I actually haven’t, but I couldn’t remember any other words. Darn you, Al-Kitaab!
I was on a metro, accompanied by my sister and Kimberly. We had just come from Akdeniz Hatay Sofrası, a regional Turkish cuisine restaurant in Istanbul’s Aksaray District. “They are so conservative there,” our Couchsurfing host had told us when we passed it in the car on our first day. “They are all immigrants, many from Syria.” The people in hijabs and long, white tunics could have very well been. Turkey currently has an estimated 1.5 million refugees, most of them Syrian.
At the restaurant, we were the only women not fully covered. We were also the only women without screaming, crying children. The young, male waiters had taken a special liking to us. We even took a selfie with them. One patron saw us struggling and offered his selfie stick, which, in the end, caused us even more technical difficulties. This meant more time causing a scene in front of the presumably conservative families present.
The two Iraqis on the metro had struck up a conversation with Kimberly. I was sitting in a seat nearby when I overheard. Never missing a moment to embarrass myself and speak Modern Standard Arabic, I stood up and joined in.
“I’ve been here a few months,” Mohammad, the more vocal of the two, told us. “I don’t really like it.” I explained how much I loved Istanbul. I thought it was a beautiful, dynamic city with so much to offer. Mohammad shrugged.
We were traveling several metro stops-around 45 minutes-to get back to our Couchsurfing host’s apartment. As people rushed on and off, families disassembled and assembled strollers and my bored looking sister sat nearby, the four of us-Mohammad, his friend, Kimberly and I- continued to talk.
Life isn’t easy in Iraq right now. It hasn’t been for a long time. His story seemed to mirror so many others I had heard. Either on the news or in person, people fleeing violence all say the same thing. They are happy to be safe. But they just wish they could go home.
This is something often overlooked when I hear others talking about immigration. Many migrants (fleeing violence) aren’t thrilled about having relocated. It’s not something they would have chosen, but living with violence wasn’t an option anymore.
Like Mohammad, I am a migrant. Both he and I had left our home countries. The difference is that I left mine by choice. I had an easy, comfortable life at home. When I leave, it is to experience new things, people and places. He leaves to escape imminent death. I was standing in front of man who escaped violence that my tax dollars could very well have contributed to.
It was a moment (like so many I continue to have) of recognizing my privilege. I can easily flow in and out of borders. When I travel to new countries, the authorities at customs aren’t afraid I’m going to stay illegally and I am never stopped for random security checks. After landing in the airport in Stockholm, the officer at customs asked what I was doing and let me through without further inquiry. The Thai man next to me didn’t gain entry so easily. He was asked to present bank statements. When he couldn’t get wifi to access his accounts online, he was put in a holding room. I don’t know how long he was in there, or if he ever got through.
A few months after meeting Mohammad in Istanbul, Jennifer and I were in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We werecraving Middle Eastern food, and we were in luck. A quick search on Trip Advisor pointed us to Taste of the Middle East, an Iraqi family-owned restaurant. The owners are one of three Arabic families living in the city.
We were seated by Ali, a sassy preteen who skateboards and played American rap music from his phone. There were six tables with four chairs each. Although the restaurant has become very popular, we were the only two eating that night.
Mohammad, the eldest son, was our waiter. The mother of the family, Muna, cooked our meal. We devoured a cucumber and tomato salad, baba ganouj, and shawarma. We were stuffed, but couldn’t miss a chance to have dessert. We had homemade baklava and mint tea.
As we ate, Muna, Mohammad, and Ali sat near us. Ali had a plate of food of his own he was scarfing down. Curious as to how an Iraqi family ended up in Cambodia, a country known for its brutal genocide, we began asking questions.
Turns out, many people have asked them before. After eating at the restaurant, I did some googling. Taste of the Middle East and the family have received significant media attention for their unique situation (and the light their case sheds on a recent Australian-Cambodian refugee deal). Phnom Penh Post, Reuters, SBS and even Munchies,VICE’s food website reported on the family’s story.
Mohammad told Munchies,“I’m from Fallujah…The worst place on Earth.” In our conversation, he wasn’t as direct, but he did express a deep sadness for his home. He explained that Fallujah was devastated. It was dangerous, violent, and opportunities were limited. After reading the news articles, I wondered how many times that Mohammad had told that story.
The family lived in Malaysia before relocating to Cambodia. They came on business visas and opened the restaurant. This opens a multitude of complications, and even more stressful, uncertainty about their future. While we were in the restaurant, a man visited. He sat at the table across from us and spoke to the family. Speaking in Arabic, I couldn’t understand the conversation, but I understood a few words: “visa,” “travel,” and “Iraq.” I used my incredible investigative skills and deduced they were discussing visa issues.
It wasn’t all serious, however. Ali grinned every time he saw Jennifer. “What do you like to do?” she asked. “Not much,” he said. “I am just here, in the restaurant.” The events of life turned our conversation somber yet again.
Ali doesn’t go to school. He already speaks near perfect English, among other languages. Unfortunately, the family can’t afford the tuition of the private international schools. They told us that Khmer schools were of very low quality. That leaves them with educational options.
Although he doesn’t go to school, he has managed to make friends in the neighborhood. Mohammad told us Ali has already picked up Khmer. “We’re worried he’s going to convert to Buddhism!” Mohammad joked.
Jennifer and I walked 45 minutes from the restaurant back to our hostel. On the way home, I thought more about my ability to move about the world. Mostly, I thought about what the family said about missing friends and family back in Iraq. I leave my country, but I can come back at a minute’s notice. I know with certainty that I will be able to see my family when I want. I thought about when I lived in Argentina and I missed home the most. Knowing my return home would come soon, I was able to continue studying, working, and enjoying Buenos Aires without an issue.
I was stuck on the idea that we both travel, but our reasons are so drastically different. Therefore, our outcomes become drastically different, too. Most migrants in new cities don’t spend time visiting the cultural exhibits or trying all of the restaurants in the city. Often, they don’t even have free time to learn the local language. Many leave without hope of ever seeing friends and family again.
For Human Rights Day, December 10, I want to remember Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Mohammad, the Iraqi I met in Istanbul, and the owners of Taste of the Middle East in Cambodia have the right to return home. Technically, they could go home now. But what life would it be? Would they have the space and the freedom to express themselves as they wish? Could they leave the house free from fear of being assaulted?
Discussing refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants of any motive is a complicated topic, much more complicated than I am able to explain in this post. While traveling, we meet all types of people. In my travels I’ve come into contact with Burmese in Thailand, Vietnamese in Laos, Iraqis in Istanbul, Syrians in Greece, Moroccans in Spain, Senegalese in Paris, Indians in Rome, Swedish in Portugal. Europeans, North Americans, Australians and Kiwis can be found in plentiful numbers all over the world.
All of those mentioned are in a way migrants. But all are for different reasons. While traveling, coming into contact with migrants made me reflect on the circumstances in which I embark on the world. We all have the right to leave and return to our countries, but can we?
Small side rant: Many fellow travelers judged us on craving Middle Eastern style food in Cambodia. That’s not “authentic”! What’s more authentic than seeing how a country truly is? If that country involves an Iraqi family, I am getting a real sense of the city by visiting their restaurant and speaking with them. They belong to the city now, too.
Featured Photo: Arabic language globe at the Istanbul Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam.
I remember the first time I tried sticky rice with mango. It was September 2014 in San Francisco. Two friends and I went to have lunch at a Thai restaurant. Chatting and laughing, before I knew it I had inhaled my red curry and I thought my stomach was going to explode. Although I thought I couldn’t eat one more bite, one of the girls ordered Khaw Neaw Ma Muang, or sweet sticky rice with mango.
My first thoughts were, how could you make a rice dessert? How could it that be good? I was completely ignorant to the fact that rice was the base of most Asian desserts, and to the fact that many times in Latin America I had eaten sweet rice. Had I ever heard of arroz con leche? Yes! And I loved it.
I took a spoonful of the soft, literally sticky rice and started to chew. It was smooth, sweet and creamy. Sometimes the taste of coconut takes me immediately to the feeling of a beach and sun on my skin. After that first bite, I was hooked.
I had three days left in my visit to San Francisco. Each day when I saw a Thai restaurant I went in to see if they had sticky rice with mango. Each day I was more disappointed than the next. All of the restaurants claimed that mangos were out of season, so no they didn’t have any. This is the United States, I thought. One of the worst offenders of food entitlement, where we can get whatever we want, whenever we want, regardless of the environmental consequences. The one time that I’d like to be a perpetrator, you’re telling me no, no I can’t?
Disgruntled (I WANTED MY STICKY RICE) I left the city, daydreaming of the sugary coconut flavored warm rice. It wouldn’t be until October 2015 when I landed in Bangkok that I would try it again and fall more in love than I thought possible (Ibiza wasn’t great in the winter for food diversity).
Bangkok was one giant playground with temptations on food carts on every corner. There were even more possibilities than I imagined. You don’t just have to have sticky rice with mango. You can have sticky rice with custard, sticky rice with bananas or sticky rice with nuts.
I discovered that there are even more unexpected twists to this dessert staple. Chefs take various plant leaves and extract their juice to create natural food coloring. Rice isn’t just white, either. We’ve had green, blue, and purple sticky rice.
I’ve taken every advantage of the endless supply of fresh mangos and sticky rice. Chaotic markets, upscale restaurants and cooking classes a know that farangs -foreigners- can’t resist the sticky. It’s everywhere. A fact that has become a love/hate relationship. It’s become somewhat of a black market exchange: I trade my money and my figure for a blissfully satisfied palate.
When I return to the U.S., I’m going to do my best to recreate my newfound food obsession. Part of me knows that it won’t be the same. I wouldn’t feel the humidity of Thailand when I reach for the spoon, or feel the sun making me sweat through my armpits as I let the coconut taste dissolve on my tongue.
At my cooking class at Asia Scenic Cooking School in Chiang Mai, we learned how to make sweet sticky rice from the recipe in the photo below.
I also found a recipe (with special instructions for people living in the U.S. on where to find essentials to make it) on the blog The Garden Of Eating. She had a similar experience to mine when she first tried the dessert- undeniable love. I’ll probably try to make it at home following her advice.
Do you like sticky rice with mango? Have you tried it with any crazy colors? Send me a picture!
It’s been two months since my last post. I found the harsh reality of the difficulties of attempting to blog while traveling without a computer, and the most difficult of difficulties: laziness.
Or, let’s spin that to make it seem less unforgiving: I was having a blast going through Mediterranean Europe and just couldn’t find the time to become irritated by the small letters on my IPhone.
My rest has ended, and expect a slew of Camino and travel-related posts to come. I’ve taken this summer to document the weird, the absurd, and obnoxious, and they are yours, all yours, within a matter of days.
Maybe this “I’m back” post is less heartfelt or illustrative than one might have hoped for. Maybe you’re thinking,
WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN YASMINE/ALLISON?
(That was a direct quote from all of you). One of my favorite bloggers Erika of El Camino Rubi just came back from her summer hiatus; she sent her readers a gushingly descriptive and breathtaking account of her summer and the personal transformations, epiphanies, and dilemmas. She even wrote a goodbye email earlier in the summer to explain her future lack of communication.
Excuses aside, I’m going back to blogging, and I’m excited for what’s to spill out of my keyboard. I hope you enjoy the anecdotes and with any luck, find some helpful advice for a future trip or overseas-job mistake.
Until very soon…here’s a picture to get your taste buds going.
I was sitting on my bed in my dark, dungeon-esque room in the casa payesa that I was working as an au pair at, reading Rigoberta Menchu’s Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia (Unfamiliar? Read a summary here).
I was on the chapter “Sirvienta en la capital.” Going through the pages, I started to feel very angry. I was so frustrated. I hated everything that Menchu’s abusive “master” (it’s an appropriate word for the situation she was in) did and said to her.
I read the following line and for a second couldn’t breathe:
Y la senora todos los dias andaba vigilandome y me maltrataba mucho. Me trataba como que si fuera no se que, ni como un perro, pues al perro lo trataba bien. Al perro lo abrazaba. Entonces yo decia, “Pero ni siquiera me compara con el perro.
(And the woman every day went around watching me and mistreated me a lot. She treated me as if I was I don’t no, not a dog, because they treated the dog well. They hugged the dog. So I said, “But they don’t even compare me to the dog.)
After reading that line, I stood motionless with eyes wide open. I couldn’t move. I then started to realize why it hit me so hard. The feeling that she expressed, the feeling of being thrown around and dehumanized was one that I had felt as an au pair.
Don’t freak out. I am in no way trying to compare my experience as a white, socioeconomically stable, nanny-with-a-fancy-word situation to that of an indigenous woman in Guatemala being systematically abused for centuries.
I am, however, cognizant of the fact that for the first time in my life, I have been in a situation of slight vulnerability and being taken advantage of. And I hated it. The feeling that is created after feeling as if you were being taken advantage of is one of the most unpleasant I have ever felt. Rage, frustration, and silence.
I will repeat again, that my situation is very dissimilar from the abuses that have happened throughout centuries to the marginalized. My situation was not Nohemi’s, for example, a young girl who was taken from her home and abused as a domestic worker for a rich family in Colombia for years.
My situation was, however, a toned down, micro-example of how easy it is to take advantage of others. How easily you can slip into situations (being a foreigner, not having a place to sleep, needing money, not having many contacts, not having family) and how dangerous and toxic they can become. And most importantly, my situation was an example of sickeningly well the ones who had power were able to manipulate those that didn’t.
There are two important points to note in regards to my feelings towards domestic workers and au pairing in general. The first, is how I got into this situation in the first place (my need to please, my self-denial, my passivity), and the second, how being an au pair is an excellent highlight of white privilege.
POINT 1: How did this happen to me
Let’s discuss the first point: why I was in an uncomfortable situation for months and didn’t do anything about it. The señora pulled the wool over my eyes from the start. A woman that is charming, funny, and social, she captivates you and makes you believe she is just a humble woman with a massive house, properties all of Spain, a handful of expensive cars and a boat. One of the first things she told me was, “I live a simple life.” And I somehow believed her.
As the time passed, I soon started to realize that she is a woman who lives a comfortable and relaxed life, because she has people picking up her messes and figuring out her problems. It’s an attitude of superiority that I have never seen before. It’s almost as if the seven dwarfs were working in her house and she was completely oblivious (behind her repeated speech of how she’s rich but “everyone is equal” and “we all mix together”) to all of the work they were doing for me.
About the time I wrote about why you shouldn’t au pair, I was checked out. Yet, I stayed in the house. I let her manipulative guilt trips guide my decisions. I didn’t put up a fight when she refused to pay me and I found excuses for why I should be doing extra work. As if any of her problems warranted that I work for free.
Her attitude is not unique, however. It’s one that I’ve heard repeated over and over again. It’s a personality flaw, but it also stems from a systematic air of authority solely by being from the upper echelons.
POINT 2: When I realized that, despite my frustrations, this is what privilege looks like
Being an au pair, or “domestic worker,” nanny or kanguro, whatever you want to call it, I was associated for the first time with a sector of society that I had never been associated with before (I am very aware of the problematic nature of my situation and my interpretation of the situation). No one I met when I was with the family (unless they asked or were close friends) knew that I had a university degree, for example. No one knew that I have won awards or wrote a thesis or have traveled. Or the fact that my expensive university degree from the United States was paid for by my parents.
Refreshing to not have a reputation, it was also a curious sensation to be grouped into a sector that was completely foreign to me. And mind you this is coming from a girl who believed she was left-wing, has studied human rights and social movements and spent time in the “developing world.”
Yet not of the above had as much impact as putting myself in the situation. People were nice. People were friendly. And especially in Ibiza there a freedom of thought and expression that to my knowledge is unheard of in many other parts. But still, I was not Allison who did this, this and won this. I was the silent au pair who was too stupid to know our language (I do speak Spanish, but they didn’t let me around the girl) and didn’t have any wherewithal to contribute to a conversation.
That feeling hit me hard.
But what hit me even harder (and even harder than reading Rigoberta Menchu) was when I realized that as much as I believed I was suffering, it was nothing compared to my domestic worker peers (and of course, the millions of people who suffer all sorts of abuses on a daily basis).
Because the difference between my peers and I, even though the feelings we might have or the treatment might be the same, is that I have privilege, and they don’t.
I spent time with many Filipino immigrants, as they are common domestic workers. I even heard many people at the private school discussing how, “they were looking for a Filipino because they are silent hard workers and never stop.” I threw up a bit.
The difference between them and I, is that they take care of children, they are nannies. I take care of children, I’m an “au pair.” Even though I was in an uncomfortable situation, I could have left. I have a family who can afford a flight or friends who could lend me money. I have linguistic privilege and many job opportunities solely for being a white American who is a native English speaker.
The main difference, I was horrified to find, is that by the time I realized I was being taken advantage of and wanted out, it was not the same experience for my peers. A few friends who spoke to their domestic worker peers also had similar experiences. The peers didn’t think twice about the treatment they were receiving, or about working 12 hours a day for 500 euros a month, or for being watched constantly to see what they did wrong.
And then it hit me again (man, I just keep getting hit!). It’s easy for me, who has access to resources, possibilities beyond au pairing, a university education, and an overall way out to point out all of the problems with their jobs. It’s easy for me to complain, because I can.
They are not in a situation to do so, however. They are sending money home to their families. They are paying for schooling for the extended family members. They have people and mouths who need their work. Whether it is in good conditions or not. They can’t afford to not have an income, even if it’s a lousy one. This is not my life. My life was not destined to be a domestic worker. I have resources and options. And this sickens me. It’s hard to me to swallow.
And the cycle continues. This is how abuses happen, and this is also how they continue (oversimplified? Yes.But there is some truth to it).
Why Do Shitty Experiences Matter?
I’m still trying to digest my experience this past year and what I want to do with it. How I want to go about transforming the working conditions and attitudes, and dreaming big, world power imbalances.
The one thing I have realized for sure, is that I am so grateful to have been put in an uncomfortable situation. Pablo Picasso said, “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” I’m not certain that I’ve fully learned, but the next time I find myself in similar circumstances, I will handle it better.
I am also eternally grateful for the opportunity to feel for the first time, a sense of real solidarity with someone different from me. I have sympathy. I’ve always had sympathy. I believe in a universal system of human rights and a standard of treatment for all human beings.
But it has never meant more to me than it does now. Although my situation was clearly not comparable to the abuses most domestic workers suffer, I feel empathy for the first time. There is a switch that only comes from having experienced first hand. It holds a different weight. It hits closer (yet again, the hitting!) to home and creates more rage and frustration (but I’m trying to handle that rage and frustration in a constructive way, while still seeing the power abusers as human. It’s a task.)
A few weeks after reading Menchu’s testimony, I watch the documentary Que Rico Ser Pobre. The documentary centers around a man who has decided to abandon his previous life and opt for one of living day-to-day in precarious living situations. In the end, he feels that this life is freer and more fulfilling in this way.
The thing that stuck we me the most after watching the documentary, is that the man explains why he loves to live this life. He explains that via living like most of the world actually lives, he feels closer to the universe. He feels a sense of unity with others that can only be achieved through putting yourself, literally, in their situation (not just imagining it).
For me, this is the most beautiful about any situation, positive or negative. The more experiences I live, the most I can relate to others, and the closer I feel to the people of the world. Shared experiences unite us, and I feel very fortunate to have felt the negative feelings this past year, because for once, I feel connected with a sector that was previously far from my reach.
What is the point of living, if not to create circumstances that will unite us?