As most of you know, I have taken a job in New York City as an School Designer, working for NYC Outward Bound Schools. Which basically means that I will be supporting schools in NYC that are implementing the Expeditionary Learning Schools model. Does it sound like the dream job for me? Yep, pretty much.
Posts tagged ‘lessons learned’
It rained all through the night. But at least it stopped for a bit when I got out of the tent in the morning. The mountains were not as fully obscured by clouds as they have been the day before. I quickly packed my sopping wet tent and had breakfast, which I finished just in time for everything to change.
I am used to being stared at. Being a lone female traveling in Asia solicits stares like you wouldn’t believe. There is no way for me to not stand out. I look different. Or when you are negotiating a busy street in Kathmandu with your friend and you are both carrying big backpacks. You get stared at. Or when you are the only white person, not to mention woman, on a bus in a rural area in India. You get stared at.
I am pretty used to it at this point.
At first it bothered me. Made me feel self-conscious and very aware of my actions. But then I started to smile when they stared. Or I said hello (or whatever the culturally appropriate greeting was). But mostly I started to smile at the stare-ers. And usually, it caught them off guard. But, for the most part, I got a smile back. Sometimes that smile started a conversation, sometimes it got me offers for food, got me a cup of chai, sometimes it got me invites to join their family. But most frequently, I got a smile back.
South America is different. Here, I get stared at, though I don’t think I look all that different (especially when I get asked if I am Argentine or Spanish). Here, I get stared at, though I dress fairly conservatively (especially compared to the teenage girls). Here, I get stared at, and I don’t get a smile in return.
I have been surprised. I do not find the people here (so far in Bolivia and Argentina) to be all that warm and friendly. They do not return smiles, instead, quickly averting their eyes (‘what, me? No, I wasn’t looking at you. no, not me.’). Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, my smiles fall on cold faces.
And it is hard. It is hard to not take it personally. It is hard to still feel open. It is hard to feel compassionate and warmth towards the people here. It is hard to keep smiling.
One of my goals on this journey was to open myself up to the world – to not let fear stop me from new experiences and new people. To build bridges and not walls, something I sometimes struggle with. I have been forced to build bridges along the way – to trust strangers and new friends. To make allies where I can and to smile at strangers. To laugh at myself and believe in the inherent goodness of others.
South America is testing me. It is hard to remain open, to want to build bridges, to keep my guard down (and not build walls) and not cocoon myself. The looks I get sometimes, the unfriendly, cold stares — sometimes I feel myself retreating back in — and I want to fight it, but at the same time, I want to protect myself. Sometimes all I want is to go back to where I look different from everyone else – because at least there I got smiles.
and that is not to say that there were not cold looks in asia and there are people here who smile….
So, perhaps this is my test – to learn to stay open to the world, even if they are not open to me…. to remember that it is about me and how I present myself to the world – not about how others react to me.
Sometimes it is hard not being ‘home’, though the longer I am away, the more I think about what makes up a home. Like other travelers, turtles that we are, we carry everything we need on our backs – moving from place to place, able to make that our home. Whether it is the dirty hostel or the place I have treated myself to in La Paz (clean, quiet AND friendly – whoa!), I am able to make a bed my home city after city.
But sometimes, I miss ‘home’. And maybe it is not home, as in a place, exactly – but it is being there for the important things. Like a friend’s pregnancy, a new baby or a death in the family.
So, today, in my new home (for a few days) of La Paz, I will raise a drink for the father of my mentor who passed away this past week. I have been thoroughly blessed in my life to have a series of amazing, kind, thoughtful and awesome mentors who have helped shape my life – both personally and professionally. My mentor’s father, who I met at least a half dozen times, was also kind, thoughtful, and funny. I always enjoyed meeting up with him.
Being a turtle, carrying my life on my back, allows me to see the world, learn from its people and experience what is our there. which, my mentor helped me be ready for. But, being a turtle, I am far away from the people I love.
I am thinking of you all.