I Dont Know What Ive Done or If I Like Who I’ve Become

Missy Higgins. A bit wistful and hopeful.

Flashback to driving around in high school listening to BSB at top volume. Which is mostly making the experience of navigating through and sitting at my gate waiting for my flight to the ME (Middle East) even more odd. This whole experience of being pulled out of the routine started at the gate in SLC. My flight was direct to Paris so there were a bunch of different languages being spoken, including a few lost North Caroliners whose flight had been delayed. Theres something about the homogeny of Utah that makes you very quickly notice the difference of people from “not here.” I dont know how to describe it any better than that. Its the difference in coloring, the difference in facial features, clothes, mannerisms  that just screams we arent in Kansas anymore. Perhaps when you live in a more cosmopolitan area these differences blend in more, but in Utah where so many people look the same, dress the same and seem to all be related to each other – differences stick out.

Just those few things immediately disconnected me from the world of midterms, and packing and eating Cafe Rio to a world much larger than I had previously been living in. I thought the nine hours of Silver Linings Playbook, Chasing Maverick and Battleship would be enough to adjust to a whole new world, but since I didnt sleep at all on board the loud screaming of the man on the other end of the row right before landing was still startling – he apparently was having a seizure. Another new experience – Ive never been on a plane with a medical emergency. Im pretty sure the flight crew was more freaked than the passengers. Fortunately multiple doctors on board, and things seemed ok- but again the medical personnel now spoke French and I recalled the little bit of high school French as the English-speaking doctor tried to explain to the French airport medical team that the German man had a seizure.

Even though in Utah I sometimes feel on the outside and not part of the culture, Im still an American, I speak English and I understand the rules of that world. Now even though there are signs in English, everyone speaks French and Im getting by mostly following gestures and my extreme familiarity with airport protocol that I hope still applies in other countries. Now Im sitting at the gate for my flight, and the flight before us is going to Kiev. So there is a mix of very blond, Europeans sitting next to dark-haired, hijab and sweatpants wearing Arabs. Every once in a while I get a whiff of what it smells like when we walk into the Middle Eastern store in Utah combined with the smell of human bodies . It smells… familiar. And to add to the mix of old and new there is a girl wearing a green Ralph Lauren sweater that I just gave away, and there were LDS missionaries on my flight to Paris. And one girl just asked to borrow my iPhone cord so she could charge her phone on my computer – shes going to the ME but lives in North Carolina. And it comes full circle.

Is this what the world is like when you leave home? This strange feeling that your world is slipping away with every accent, every exchanged smile with a stranger, with every decision about whether to try to ask for something in another language or just saying nothing and staying in English. And then its returned to you slightly changed like looking through 3D glasses. Youre not exactly sure what is real anymore, but right now Im both cautious and excited about it all.

Maybe Im actually home now.

When You Lose Something You Can’t Replace

Family Portrait - Montreal 1963
Family Portrait – Montreal 1963 (Photo credit: Mikey G Ottawa)

I dont often talk about my father in depth, mostly because its one of the more complicated conversations I can have. But as it gets nearer to the anniversary of his death, I occasionally think more about him.

My father was my best friend. I loved him more than anything. My love of computers comes from watching him work on the PC we had in our home from age 5 until he died when I was almost 10. We didnt get another one until I was 13. My father played ping pong with us in the garage. He spanked us with a belt and told us he would give us something to cry about. He let me shift gears on the old blue Toyota, when his old wrist injury was acting up. And he was smart. Never graduated from high school, but he did all the checking of our math homework counting, and other times swearing, in Spanish.

My father was also Mormon. He converted when he met my mother and held the first level of the priesthood in our church, but was never active during my memory. He never prevented my mother from taking us to church, played with the missionaries (19-year old boys who are always up for games) when they came over for food, and attended our youth talks in sacrament.

My father was also abusive. He drank without my family knowing it. He cheated. And he basically stopped working when I was 7. When he suffered a massive stroke, it was a blessing for my family that he died instead of lingering on severely handicapped, the financial and social responsibilities of which, would probably have limited what my family has managed to accomplish since then.

I still love my father. I love the man who took me on adventures with him when I was small. I love the man who I only remember teaching us Spanish at one dinner table session, pointing out leche. I love the man who was so charismatic and larger than life that everyone wanted to be around him. But I also hate him. I hate the man that made my mother sad and never want to remarry. I hate the man that hurt me. I hate the man who was so lost he could not find a way out for himself, and in my opinion, God took him so he could have a better chance in the Mormon version of purgatory, instead of continuing to make grievous mistakes here on Earth.

I think whats been hardest for me is how to answer questions about my family. We arent a typical family unit. I love my family and talk to them online or by phone multiple times a day. We exchange pictures of clothes and my sister’s cute dog and Ive helped my mom find the home she is now living in. But I dont live near my family, have no strong desire to (we are all extremely independent, controlling and prickly), so I am amazed whenever someone says it would be difficult to live far away from their’s, much less outside of the same state. I cant imagine needing to live anywhere closer than 45 mins to the nearest international airport to get to them. I spent 3 weeks with my mother last summer and was starkly reminded of why I will do all in my power to never live at home again (its because dusting is not important to me and likely never will be; This is a fundamental point of contention).

I dont really have an extended family – I mean Im related to a lot of people, but I have no relationship with them for a variety of reasons. Im still struck by all of the family pictures of cousins and second cousins twice removed on walls at my friends’ grandmother’s homes. I hate taking pictures and Im pretty sure we have no immediate family pictures that Im not age 6 in.

Im learning not to feel so alone anymore. Ive learned Im not the only one with crazy parents and strained family time. Ive learned lots of people dont have a billion cousins, like all the perfect Mormon families. Ive become comfortable with the family I am creating for myself. So, my family now consists of a few lovely dogs, some excellent friends, an alumni network, a broadway play or two, dear TV characters (Im looking at you, Felicity!), a worldwide LDS membership and some John Mayer songs, in addition to my nuclear peoples. Its full of things that provide comfort and the ability to keep trucking everyday. And at the end of it all, there is a God who promised himself as a perfect Father, in place of the one He took away. I love my Father in Heaven and because of Him I am capable of having more family than I ever dreamed possible. Everywhere I go on this Earth, I find someone who fits in to my little world. My best friend, Team Awesome, a new friend at work. It makes it far less scary when I do leave my Utah-imposed exile to know the world is just family waiting to be discovered. I can spend a summer in China and remember for the rest of my life the video store people who set aside DVDs they thought I would like (this mostly consisted of Fast and the Furious, which I love). Against all odds, I can keep in contact with a few friends from the summer I started college. And I can remember fondly the elementary school classmates at my father’s funeral.

Perhaps its not the normal way to make a family, but since Im not getting married anytime soon, who’s to say what we children can’t do? It beats the hell out of staying lonely, just because I dont share blood. So even though I cant replace my dad, or make my grandparents come back to life, I can connect with my half-brothers teenage children, or build better relationships with my mom and sisters. I dont have to stay lost forever.

Go to the Ends of the Earth For You

Ye olde ATM
Ye olde ATM (Photo credit: ~dgies)

Adele – cover of Make You Feel My Love.

Even though its a love song, Im going to talk about the mechanics of traveling abroad. In the olden days, when you traveled, you took traveler’s checks with you. And American Express made tons of money off all of us. By olden days, I mean when I went to China 12 years ago. Now, Visa and Mastercard debit cards have made it easy to access money all around the world. For a fee. And all your hard earned saved money for traveling to exotic locales is slowly eaten away by ATM fees and foreign exchange fees. There are a couple of ways to get around this – depending on where you are traveling.

Capital One credit cards do not charge you a transaction fee or exchange fee when you use it as a credit card. If you do cash advances, they charge a 3% fee. However, lots of places are still cash-based so you probably need access to real currency as well.

Charles Schwab Bank – no transaction fee or exchange fee when pulling money out of an ATM. They will also reimburse you any fees that other banks charge you for using their ATMs at the end of each month. You have to open a brokerage account in order to get a checking account, but there are no minimum requirements or fees associated if you do not use the brokerage account. There are also no minimums on the high-yield variable rate checking account. I just opened mine yesterday.

Other internet banks – Ally and some others – they also give you breaks on ATM fees. Not sure what the transaction fees are.

Local credit union – if you have a business account that you are traveling abroad with (a common problem for our non-profit) neither one of the above options will work. So we joined a local credit union. No fees charged by our bank, but a 1% transaction fee by Visa and then whatever the other ATM charges you. Its not that big of a savings, but its still better than using the large banks.

Citibank/HSBC – these are two of the largest international banks. HSBC has pulled out of a lot of countries recently, so check before you go, but these banks do not charge if you use their ATMs and they are the most likely to be in your international destination.

And of course traveler’s checks do still exist.

I will continue to be preoccupied with my travel plans until I get on a plane Wednesday and then get on another one Saturday to travel to Turkey. Im sure you didnt expect when you chose to follow this blog a travel commentary. But its about the life of this particular Black Mormon Female – and she is traveling. Im sure God will come back into it during my travels for the next six months. Especially given the part of the world I am going to. Ill make sure to post some exciting pictures. 🙂

I Could Spend My Whole Life Good Will Hunting

Dinner Party at a Mandarin's House - Thomas Allom
Dinner Party at a Mandarin’s House – Thomas Allom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jay-Z feat. Kanye West and Rihanna.

There comes a time when you have to give up on the fantasies of youth. I used to think that be married by now, a politician’s wife, or maybe a doctor’s, presiding over the dinner table at some important event. It was a silly dream and I gave it up a long time ago. But it seems as you get older you continue to have to discard old dreams, so new ones can take their place. I used to want help people on a one on one basis, being down in the trenches. After a few years though I was being worn out at a rate that was more than I could possibly continue to help at. I remember crying in my driveway one day, just exhausted and knowing something needed to change. Giving up that dream to move on to something more sustainable, was incredibly difficult and anxiety-provoking. I  had to choose between two dreams when I decided to move to NYC – the one with a cute craftsman house and walking a dog and riding a bike tow ork versus the eating at every culture’s restaurants each night, having ultimate convenience and being on whenever I wanted. I really wanted that dog – have since I was 8, but I guess it will wait a bit longer.

Now Im going to the Middle East. Initially Im giving up showers, Western comfort and variety, and being with the friends Ive made over the last two years. In exchange, I get…: anxiety, homework and the need to pack, ugh. And massive uncertainty. I am completely reliant on other people – I barely speak the language, I dont have housing, and I dont have income until May. This lack of control and predictability is a situation I try to avoid at all costs and now Im throwing myself headlong into it.

I think thats the cost of Good Will Hunting, as Im interpreting it. Everytime you get near the summit of a dream, it changes so that you can get closer to a real summit. Being able to play my perfect note. So I let God keep informing my decisions. Moving all over the country, earning extra degrees, and aiming higher than Iv Im persevering in the face of all of this, because I have certainty in the form of inspiration. Everytime I think about the fact Im getting off a plane with no place to go, I dont panic nearly as much as I should. That peace apparently doesnt extend to the mess that is my room, but I have a week. Soooo, heres to hoping.

It would be easier to keep searching for our original dreams, even though it probably wouldnt led to the happiness we are searching for. Im stretching every time I make the choices I do. And when I talk to friends I havent seen in a few years, they have no idea how to make sense of where my life is right then. There’s some inherent fun in being the wild child – if wild is going to school forever and then getting a job to pay one’s bills – but every once in a while acknowledging how difficult and painful it can be to walk along my own path makes me feel a bit less scared. At least this time, Ive got a few friends to ease the way. And traveling is going to be a hell of a lot more fun than waking up early for class. So bring it on anxiety – Ill be on a plane shortly.

So I Stand, Still Boring and Bored

Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum (Photo credit: sharnik)

Brought to you by Frightened Rabbit courtesy of the AVClub.com.

I have a hard time being bored, which accounts for many of my more eccentric decisions over the years. My most recent has been to take off for the next six months to the Middle East and parts unknown before I start working full-time. The one trip for sure is to Turkey for a few weeks and then figure out where else to go. Its the first time in 11 years I will be leaving the country and Im both overwhelmed and really excited to see what the world will look like outside of my current vantage point.

I truly believe that the larger world needs to be experienced, to be seen, in order to have a life worth living. There are so many wondrous things that you cant understand until you are standing in front of a pyramid, or the wall, or the people. You will miss the hum of other cultures, the sharp smells and the bright amazing colors. Americans really are drab in comparison. And thats just what man has put on, there are so many other things that are just the world’s offerings. Canyons and rivers and deserts and Dead seas.

Both times traveling now I will be going to cultures that are extremely foreign to the Western way of life. In the Middle East, being a woman is going to be an entirely different experience. Men will be overly formal and have difficulty discussing topics in the same way as when just men are present. Ive already had the experience of being out with my best friend in a Middle Eastern store, reaching out to scratch his back and he pulled away and put a scowl on his face. He didnt even realize he’d done it – but apparently thats what men do in the Middle East when some forward girl touches them – pull away and make it seem like they did not like it. We will not be allowed to hang out just the two of us very often, because men and women do not really interact. Women, of course, get more access to other women in the Middle East. He has never really gone into the private portion of his friends’ homes or met their wives: men stay in the front, public sections of the home when visiting. Then theres the whole everything is transacted in cash, which I suppose will prepare me for living in NYC where you have minimum purchase amounts, if there even is a card machine available. And living in a primarily Muslim country, when Ive had very little association with the religion in the States. So I have to pick a few more countries to visit and figure out how to function in the oldest of the old worlds. No more being bored – its adventure time.