Media Mute on Standing Rock. But, Football

I’m standing by the microwave scrolling through my phone–because for some reason the outlet by the microwave is the only one in my apartment that will charge the stupid thing– and I get a text from my friend: “wtf is happening at standing rock” I swipe right to open my news app. Some shit about Trump cabinet picks from Wash. Post. Something about Melania from CNN. Something about the Alt-Right using ‘Heil Victory’ salute (WTF…gonna go back to this one, or not since something worse is bound to come out by tomorrow) and something about voting in Milwaukee from New York Times. Where’s Standing Rock?

I log onto Twitter, which is where I should’ve started, anyway. But Standing Rock isn’t trending. Justin Bieber is, and oh, Green Day? I thought they’d disappeared in a cloud of Axe and teen angst. I keep thumbing down and realize that tonight must be the American Music Awards. I keep looking for something related and then I see that the #17 trending topic is Redskins with 54.6K tweets. Are you fucking kidding? I realize, finally, that I’m not going to figure out what’s going on in North Dakota based on trending topics, so I search the term. And then I see wtf is happening at standing rock:

From various folks on the ground and from groups retweeting the news, I learn the following: It’s 25 degrees Fahrenheit in North Dakota. Protectors are occupying a site that has been blockaded for several weeks. Law enforcement from Morton County have begun to deploy tear gas and water cannons on the protectors. Facebook user Kevin Gillbertt started a live feed which shows the site from a distance. A Google search of the current situation yields a lot of threads on Twitter, and one developing story on Fader. I just discovered an MSNBC article posted 30 minutes ago…But the assaults have been happening for hours. Protectors have been battling human rights violations and the possibility of hypothermia for hours, and no major news source has provided any reports or updates.

 

No major news companies reporting on the American Indians battling in sub-zero temps for the sanctity of their land, for the rights of water and of life. But, Washington Post displayed this headline this morning: “Redskins vs. Packers weather forecast: Cold and windy under the lights.” The report goes on to read: “An early taste of winter with a whipping wind to boot. Being in prime-time at night only makes the chill worse.” Even more chilling: the irony. The Green Bay Packers, named after a region with a long indigenous history, and Washington’s football team, named still, somehow, in 2016 after a slur against American Indians, played this evening (the latter won, if you’re interested) in cold weather and fifty thousand people tweeted about it. But as the players ran across a well lit field, cameras on them at every angle, hundreds of protectors were unable to get coverage as they were brutalized with rubber bullets and tear gas. At the game, there was a zero percent chance of rain. At Standing Rock, chance of rain didn’t seem to matter to those in the range of water cannons. At Standing Rock, where were the public officials? Where were the cameras? Where was the coverage?

And for another ironic moment, here’s a little song I guarantee wasn’t featured at tonight’s AMAs. Sad fucking message, but that’s where we’re at right now. I’m praying tonight and always, that this too shan’t pass and end the same. Praying tonight and always that we find a way to make some fucking change. 

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Curbing Consumption: what we can do

Starbucks just released their seasonal red cups, a sign that corporate America is ratcheting up for the coming weeks of commercialism. I’ve also been gearing up for the holidays, but not as joyously. While red is commonly associated with Christmastime, I often find myself wrapped in shades of blue. Not because I’m still shell-shocked from images of the electoral college, but because the holidays are often a time of tribulation and contestation, rather than celebration. Feelings of lost childhood, inevitable family feuds, seasonal depression swirls into the mix–it’s not an easy time. My solution to all of this is endless mugs of liquored up hot chocolate, and so by January 1st when it all ends (though does it ever end, really?), I’ve been worn down to a rattled, hungover mess.

Not too dissimilar to the way I’ve been feeling this week, come to think of it. I’ve been awake more hours than not, recently, and my brain has been “on” constantly, worrying about what lies ahead, about my friends and neighbors and landlord and planet. I don’t know any solutions to the epic problems we face right now in the wake of Trump’s election and speculative appointments. However, I am making an effort to listen to those most afflicted, to ramp up my empathy and my capacity to love. Though we may be entering the season of merriment, it is only this way for some. I am reminded, this year especially, of the inequalities reinforced by consumerist holidays like Christmas, as well as the pressures of cold, wet months, which burden some members of my community more than others. With this in mind, I am making an effort to scale back on my consumerism this year. If you’re looking for alternatives to gift-giving & receiving this year, here’s a short list of ways you can be more intentional throughout the holiday season.

  1. Consider forgoing gifts altogether, and instead make donations to trusted organizations and causes, such as Planned Parenthood or Standing Rock, in name of your family or friends (or Mike Pence, if you’re feeling cheeky). Ask your family and friends to do the same for you.
  2. Give the gift of time to loved ones. Extend invitations to people who might not have a place to go. Open your home to strangers or acquaintances for a meal, if you are able to do so. Volunteer at a blood drive, soup kitchen, library, or nursing home. If you are a university student and can’t go home for the holiday, use the time as an opportunity to get out in the community since many student run organizations shut down for the school breaks.
  3. In that vein, donate blood. The holidays are a high-need time for blood transfusions; you can save up to three lives with one donation. Make it a date and go with a friend. Look up locations near you, here.
  4. Support the Injustice Boycott, a plan to combat police brutality and systemic racism. Sean King, who first conceived of the Boycott, hopes that it will work in conjunction with national protests, but his aim is to “pivot from awareness to change.” The official plans for the Boycott will be released December 5.
  5. Give “Black Friday” a new meaning if you are attached to material gifts. Shop from black-owned companies, such as those supported by the Buy Black Movement. Are any local retailers near you owned by women or minorities? Consider shopping there instead of corporate-owned stores. If you enjoy buying books, buy them from a local book shop or order from an independently run website, such as Powell’s. Additionally, indoctrinate your family and friends with the authorial perspectives of PoC such as Angela Davis, Louise Erdich, Chimamanda Adiche, Melissa Zobel, Ta-Nehisi Coates, or Junot Diaz.

If you have more suggestions, send them my way. And should you end up at Starbucks for a peppermint mocha, consider the environment, and bring your own cup.

And your musical note–and a happy one, at that. Because you, reader, are the best thing that’s happened to me. Aw, yes, cute, now go do something. Ray LaMontagne, You Are The Best Thing

 

Monday flow

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I had been sitting in that coffee shop for too long with nothing to show for the time. Everyone around me was reading or writing or talking, but I just sat there, blank. Occasionally I would lift the top piece of my sandwich hoping more bacon would appear. Nope. Just cold egg. So I left. I got on my bike and started riding. I smiled. The only time I’m happy these days is when I’m moving, flowing, outside. The sun’s about to disappear for a few months, and I’m scared, so I’m logging as many daylight hours as I can. I got to the end of Orange Street where the road splits and headed up to the summit of East Rock Park.

It wasn’t crowded at the top, but I wasn’t alone. Some families took photos. Several couples cuddled and looked at the ocean. I sat on a stone wall and pulled out my barely-charged laptop in order to plug in my not-at-all-charged phone so I could keep listening to music through my mostly-busted earbuds. I queued a few songs, sent a snapchat, then clicked my screen off and started scribbling in my journal. Thoughts about acorns and foliage and the fear of being female and biking alone through non-trafficked woods.  I looked at the massive refined oil tanks down by the ocean. And at the singular wind turbine. I thought about Standing Rock Reservation. About water as life. I took a swig from my inconveniently large water bottle. I got back on my bike and coasted down the mountain hill. My shirt had those thumb holes in it, but that wasn’t enough to keep my hands warm. I tucked them under my armpits.Flying hands free down Orange Street is about the coolest I ever look; I relished in that feeling for a moment.

I got home. Words were coming in dribs and drabs, as they say, but I needed to keep my mind and body flowing, so I got ready for yoga. I stepped over a pile of over-due library books. $3.70. My penalty fines will serve as my annual donation to the New Haven Free Public Library. As I took another step to reach for my coat, I heard a splat, and realized I had stepped on a banana. It wasn’t even concealed by clothes or anything; it was just lying in the middle of my floor–God knows why–and I managed to step on it. I put the busted banana in the fridge and hopped back on my bike. I practiced an hour of heated vinyasa flows to Halloween themed music. That was a cheesy touch on the instructor’s part, but my practice was strong and fluid, so I didn’t mind the playlist. I rode home, ate some spaghetti, and still, no words.

Recently, I’ve had a lot of days like today. Days spent wandering around, not sure exactly what I’m doing, but sure of what I want to be doing. Writing. Not my thesis. And not timelines for history section. Writing things that won’t be graded. I’ve had enough. I’m done grating myself against the grindstone. It is too high a bar to be happy and healthy and academically competitive all at the same time. Maybe some people can do it; in fact, I see a lot of people claiming they are. These are the people I imagine have three colors of post-it notes on their desk and no mushed banana on their socks. God bless them. Now, I’ll write the papers. I’ll write in the blue books. I’ll do the thing, but I’m not going to pretend it brings me joy. When I leave this place in 201 days, I won’t be looking at some letter of completion or watermarked transcript to guide me as I inch my way into whatever comes next. I’m going to need a sound mind and stable body–scratch that, I’m going to need a loud mind and strong body if I’m going to survive the unstable nature of creative life.

And your 4:01 minutes of music. One of my favorite jams. I had this one playing on repeat today.

 

The Shady Business of the Warm Glow

Hey all – I have been diligently reading articles for my thesis…did I say reading and thesis? I meant tweeting and the election, or eating and peanut butter cups, or lying and in the sun. But seriously: I am actually doing some work while on vacation in Florida, that is, whenever I’m near an outlet. I have been struggling lately to keep my devices charged. According to my guide book, not stressing over low battery levels is an important step when transitioning from a Toxic-Type-A personality to Chill-Type-B. While I was going through some of my computer folders, I found this essay I wrote about corporate social responsibility freshman year. This was before I went full on socialist, minimalist and environmentalist, before I had developed the proper language to describe the systems I was critiquing. But this morning, my friend dressed her daughter in pink because her school is doing something for Breast Cancer Awareness month. I talk about this campaign in my essay, so I figured it’d be a good time to repost it, especially since my new pieces are taking a while to nail down. Here’s freshman PJ writing on CSR and capitalism: 

The Hard Truth about the “Warm Glow” 

Endangered Species Chocolates, a company that sources their chocolate ethically and sustainably, gives 10% of their profits to environmental non-profit organizations, and includes information about endangered species on the label of every candy bar. They’ve been doing this for over a decade, since long before every company had a philanthropy clause. When you could buy a Yoplait Yogurt without helping find the cure for breast cancer or a box of Nature Valley Granola Bars without helping to conserve national parks. You know, the good old days.

To be clear, I hate breast cancer and love national parks as much as anyone and I jump at any opportunity to support these causes. For years, I bought into this scheme of corporate social responsibility (CSR). It’s hard not to. I feel better eating a granola bar that promises to feed hungry children in Africa than one that only feeds its well-satiated shareholders. Ditto to wearing Tom’s Shoes, which sends a pair of shoes to an African child for every pair sold. Even my almond butter congratulates me for helping them contribute to the American Farmland Trust. The branding of these products gives us what researchers call a “warm glow.” Charitable behavior elicits pleasure, social connection, and trust. Sure. But is contributing to a corporate-driven philanthropic campaign truly charitable? We allow ourselves to feed on this artifice by supporting campaigns and causes that appeal to us emotionally. All the while, we believe (or allow ourselves to believe) that our purchasing power has more of a social impact than it actually does. Companies hide this truth well, but it’s a truth that that will leave your formerly warm heart merely tepid.

Let’s look first at the promising blue ribbon on Nature Valley boxes, “YOU can help preserve the parks,” it shouts, depicting a scenic mountain-scape. “YES, I can,” you think. But wait, not so fast. You have to go online first, read the rules and regulations, then enter your UPC code and hope that the maximum donation set by the company has not yet been reached. These rules are in place to protect the company and were created after a scandal in 1999 between Yoplait Yogurt and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. In a 3-month campaign promising to send $0.50 per lid to the BCR Foundation, Yoplait did not advertise that the donation would be capped at $100,000. They found themselves in trouble when 9.4 million lids were sent in, leading consumers to the wrong conclusion that $4.7 million would be donated to this cause. As a “penalty,” and to avoid “legal consequences,” General Mills, parent company of Yoplait, donated an extra $63,000 to the BCR Foundation.

This was not a minor legal mix-up with the IRS over your tax-deductible donation of $50 to the local animal shelter; we are talking mountains of cash here which companies like General Mills push around like pennies. But does the problem lie in Yoplait and General Mill’s withholding of information? I think we should pay attention to why 9.4 million consumers were willing to lick the yogurts off these lids, place them in envelopes, lick the envelopes, stick on the stamps, and send them on their way, all the while ignorant of the campaign’s credentials. This is the kind of do-gooder activity that we see from people unable or unwilling to fully contribute to causes that they care about, from people who want a subtle tan but are afraid to burn in the sun.

We put on our blinders to corporate scandals and hypocritical behavior because it allows us to shop with greater ease. We accept the charitable messages we see on the outside of boxes (nearly every box these days, it seems) and welcome the good feeling that accompanies our purchase, often without further research of the company’s true values. If we take a further look at the Nature Valley website, we find three adjacent tabs: Preserve the Parks, Skiing, and Golfing. Intrigued, I clicked the golf tab, though I wish I hadn’t. A banner beside a silhouette of some golfers reads: “From pristine fairways to the unique terrain of each course, golf reveals nature at its best. Nature Valley supports golf because it offers us all an opportunity to play in nature.”  The pairing of national parks and golf is striking, since golf courses are a huge environmental hazard. They contaminate water sources with pesticides and fertilizers and drive out local species by excavating large plots of land. When we put the images of Joshua Tree National Park next to the Nature Valley Cup, it becomes clear that there is a balancing act going on here. We have become desensitized to give-and-take tactics like these because we enjoy the feeling of doing good, even if that something good is a cover-up to counteract other behavior.                                                                                                                                                                                                         For another example, let’s look at the Heart Truth, a campaign run by Coca-Cola to raise awareness for heart disease in women. The red dress logo is a recognizable part of Diet Coke cans. The logos remind drinkers about the campaign and numb them to the larger implication of their beverage choice by making a not-so-subtle connection between Coke and heart health. (Though, it might be the chemical combination of aspartame and caramel color that’s responsible for the numbing.) Coca-Cola holds its head high while wearing its Heart Truth label, despite a growing base of evidence linking sweetened beverages, even and especially diet ones, to heart disease. Their cheeky, albeit catchy, slogan, heart disease doesn’t care what you wear, capitalizes on the unseen values of the campaign. The Heart Truth fuels on a positive image, not science. But we as consumers are not so dissimilar from Coca-Cola’s marketing director; we care more about how our figure looks in that metaphorical red dress than we do about our tainted ways of achieving such a figure. Everyone from my grandmother to law school students to my sociology professor knows that something that sounds as perfect as a zero-calorie sweet beverage is too good to be true. But they drink it anyway, valuing the instantaneous rush of caffeine over the long-term health implications. The hard truth to accept is that The Heart Truth is a sham.

But isn’t it all? Let’s look back to the Endangered Species Chocolate. Their business platform tries to “do good.” In advertising their environmental initiatives, however, they attract a large base of customers looking for those buzzwords, sustainably and ethically sourced, thus boosting sales and profits. We cannot extinguish the bottom line that burns beneath these marketing tactics, even if they are made with the best intention. When we reach for an Endangered Species Chocolate bar, or a similar one that wears a Fair Trade, 1% for the Planet, or Equal Exchange stamp, we make false contributions to these causes. When we pick up a bag of Ethical Bean Coffee, a Fair Trade Kit-Kat (so far this only exists in the UK, but yep, that’s a thing), or a Diet Coke with its Heart Truth sticker, we act as the image-obsessed individuals we are, not as the humanitarians we want to be. We want to taste the sweetness of Coke without worrying about extra calories, and we pay no mind to the artificial sweeteners which help us achieve that satisfaction. We also want to save the world, really, we do. But we want to do it from the comfort of our local Stop & Shop, while shamelessly flipping through UsWeekly and thinking, Wow, Miley Cyrus is blowing up, and not in a good way. We want to make our splash from the supermarket line, not the front lines of a UNICEF project in Africa. If I can buy a candle that helps a girl from Ghana learn how to read, you bet I’m going to buy that one over a pine-breeze scented candle from Glade. Girls read, I give a mediocre gift to a co-worker, and everyone wins, right? Charitable donations are one thing, for they are made without an exchange of materials. The only thing we gain from making a donation is a good feeling. That’s it. We and our beloved corporations have taken charity to a new level, making it a mutual exchange of merchandise. We let our purchases define us, using them as devices to raise our status or raise others’ opinions of us. We make these purchases because we like the way that glow looks on our faces. We do it because of the warm, fuzzy feeling we get inside. But that might just be one too many ethical chocolate bars struggling to make it through our collective arteries.

Resistance is Victory

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Mary at Notre-Dame Basilica at Saigon

When I was growing up, my parents talked about politics, but they didn’t disclose who they voted for. I knew they were registered as Independent and did not feel particularly charged by either of the main parties. In the 2000 election, we had “Scholastic Reading” pamphlets that described the Republican and Democratic candidates, but no third parties. In the activity in that pamphlet I “voted” for Gore because I liked his name and face better. But we also took a trip to the town hall to go into the voting booths and participate in mock election. I pulled the lever for Ralph Nader of the Green Party. I had heard his name at my house, and had heard that he cared about the environment and planet. I also really liked that his last name rhymed with Alligator. That was 2000. I was seven.

When I was a teenager, we began talking about candidates and party politics more. When the 2008 election came around, I was frustrated with the oil wars and the Bush presidency. I didn’t know where I stood politically, just yet, but I knew I didn’t align with the Republican party. I was frustrated that I couldn’t vote in such an historic election, but I did everything I could to be politically informed. I engaged at all levels; I watched the debates, read the articles, rocked bumper stickers and pins and t-shirts.  In addition to educating myself on issues, I campaigned for Barack Obama. I started small, with a letter to my extended family telling them why I was supporting Obama and asking them if they would consider doing so, too. I phone banked from my dorm room. I used my calling card because the minutes were cheaper than my Verizon plan. I still have the number burned in my brain (1-800-569-6972, Pin: 16111482052, in case you ever need to make a toll free call, I doubt I still have money loaded on it.) That was 2008. I was fifteen.

When I was college freshman, Obama was up for re-election. I went to the polls on  November 6th and voted Democrat. That was 2012. I was nineteen.

Earlier this year, my parents and I changed our voter registrations from Independent to Democrat in order to vote for Bernie Sanders in the primary. I was abroad during primary season and felt removed again from the political process, as I had in 2008. But I did what I could from a distance– I donated, tweeted, posted, wrote, read, talked. One day at a cafe, a french couple saw the Bernie sticker on my laptop and asked me, “Do you think he will win?” I said, “Yeah.” The man laughed and said, “Do you want him to win, or do you think he will win?” I was like, sir, engage in an actual conversation or leave me alone, I replied, “I think he will win.” They left me to my plate of fried potatoes and naive sense of hope.

Eight weeks before the CT primary (I was taking no chances), I walked around Ho Chi Minh City with my ballot looking for the embassy. I arrived at the embassy, and they let me in without proper identification–my white, English-speaking, American privilege at work. I walked up to the booth and asked if I could mail my ballot from there. The woman said no, the embassy doesn’t send mail. Duh. She directed me to the international post office. I paid the postage, paid extra for tracking. I needed that ballot to get to On my way home from the post office, I walked by the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica. I went in and tried to pray, but it was really busy, so I looked at some of the paintings, took some holy water, and saw my way out. There were a lot of people begging at the doors of the church. There was a gorgeous statue of Mary in front of the cathedral, so I went and stood there for a minute. A young man brought yellow flowers up to the statue, signed the cross, and walked away. A woman went up to the flowers after and adjusted them, tying them to the bottom of the statue. On the ground to the side, sat a man with some goods set out. I sat down opposite him and looked at what he was selling. I picked up a magnet of the church; the paint was a little chipped, and I liked this aspect. I asked how much. I gave him the amount and a little more. We held hands as I handed over a Vietnamese bill amounting to no more than 10 USD. We exchanged names. He had great English, though he had a speech impediment in addition to visible physical disabilities. He pointed to a woman nearby and told me that it was his mother; “She has been affected by Agent Orange,” he said; his physical deformities made sense. “She has had cancer several times.” The woman smiled softly and nodded at me. I asked when he was born. 1966. One year before my mother, and yet he looked ten years older. I told him thank you for the magnet. I put in my earbuds and walked back to my hotel, and all I could think was, “America did that” followed by, “I am American.” That was March of 2016. I was 22.

I wasn’t alive to protest the Vietnam War, but I’m alive today to protest oil wars masked as wars on terror, police brutality masked as self defense, and pipelines masked as job production. I’m watching the world crumble at the greedy hands of neoliberal elites. This is not melodrama. We live in a two party system, and if you support one of the two main parties, great, vote for them. But, don’t forget, we live also in a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, ableist system that strategically cuts down anyone whose deviation from the socially constructed “normal” poses a threat to capitalism. To accept the former reality as True, and use it as a base upon which to make electoral decisions, is to support and perpetuate the latter reality.

Another future is possible. It takes imagination, determination, and courage. Courage to abandon the notion of “good enough,” courage to stand behind your beliefs despite ridicule or harassment, courage to not only swallow your pride, but digest it and accept that you might be wrong, or your plan might not work, courage to start over when you are and it doesn’t. I reject the concept of a “protest” vote. A vote is an opportunity to express one’s hope for a better future, to express support for a candidate who shares your values and speaks your truth. It is for this reason that I am no longer a registered democrat. My vote is my voice. Your vote is your voice. This is October, soon to be November, of 2016. I am 23. I’ll be at the polls in three weeks. Will you?

And for your musical note:

There is a war going on for your mind

If you are thinking you are winning

IHPacking Up

“I’m tired but resolute; that I’d rather be striving than settled, Oh I’d rather be, moving than static.

Oh I’d rather be by your side.”

It’s Sunday. Tomorrow is Monday. That’s how days of the week work, so I’ve been told. Tomorrow’s a big day. Back home, it’s graduation day. Four years ago, I would’ve told you that it would be my graduation day, but life intervened and I listened. But tomorrow’s a big day here, too. Tomorrow I’ll wear my backpack (under 30 kg, I hope) instead of a cap and gown, and I’ll be grab hold of a plane ticket and custom forms instead of a diploma. Tomorrow, I pack up and go home.

I think about that alternate year, sometimes, because the prospect of IHP was the reason I almost stayed enrolled. In that alternate universe, I’m sitting on campus reading Marina Keegan’s Opposite of Loneliness, tying up loose ends in the form of wandering around dark streets with a bottle of wine wondering where the last four years had gone. Instead, I’m in Bolivia. Ebba is asleep with a copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. My computer charger keeps sizzling because my $8 converter from Vietnam broke. My bags are half-packed, but my heart overflowing. If I’d stayed “on track,” if I’d pushed myself to graduate “on time,” I wouldn’t know these 30 faces (and the three outfits associated with each of them). Sure, I’d have known different faces, held different hands, laughed different laughs, but it wouldn’t be this group, precisely. As sad as I am to say goodbyes tomorrow, when I think of how this semester very easily could’ve never happened just as it did, I know that what tears I’ve shed have been ones of joy and gratitude. I’m in Bolivia, writing and wondering, where did the last four months go?

San Francisco was just yesterday…Trader Joe’s trips and biking up and down the hills, the terror of snapped brakes, swimming in the cold bay water, the never-ending Bay model. We were in Vietnam this morning…iced coffee and karaoke, hiking Bach Ma and biking the rice fields in Hoi An. And didn’t we just have lunch in Morocco? Abdo called us all together for tagine and khobs and oranges to calm the hanger on the patio in Ben Smim. We played thirty rounds of Oh Hell as we digested. Our adorable Bolivian host families picked us up this evening at the Cocha airport; we still have another three days to spend splashing naked at Los Toucanes, don’t we?

Hardly. In a mere 46 hours, I’m gonna land in New York…in 48 hours I’ll be pulling up to my house and ringing the doorbell…in 60 hours I’ll be riding my bike to Blue State for an iced latte before work.

It doesn’t seem possible, but then again, none of this did.

The nonstop travel, on bumpy roads in uncomfortable buses, sometimes hungover, the altitude, the salmonella, the afternoon lectures, the crowded ‘M,’ the contradictions, the group photos under blazing suns, the stupid number of plastic water bottles we consumed (see: contradictions), the lost toenail, the dozens of dong/dirhams/Bs spent on hot chocolate in exchange for wifi–it was such a small IHPrice to pay for all the cool shit we got to do together. Tomorrow is the end of our (first) intimate trip–we might not text about our bowel issues after tomorrow  (but who knows, we might). The future, as we know, is  behind us, unseeable and unknowable. It’s a scary thing. But now that I know all of you, I know that your 60 hands are out there, grappling, climbing, pouring coffee, turning pages, tapping on desks, raising questions–probably about funding, or gender, or hydroelectricity–and I feel a whole lot better. Thanks to each of you for being precisely and unapologetically you. May these next hours, and the years they lead to, be, in the words of our favorite Hue bar, never sad and always funs.

With so much love,

~~Tori

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see you @ brown eyes. 10pm. ladies night on friday.

Tunes:

Shattered & Hollow — First Aid Kit (1st quote in post)

Ruminant Band  — Fruitbats

Save Tonight — Eagle Eyed Cherry  (throwback. fitting)

Rivers And Roads — The Head and the Heart

Sahara Sunrise

Dear family and friends,

What a time to be alive— am writing you from a hotel bed in La Paz, Bolivia. After three months of circumventing the planet, I’m now back in EST time zone! Hooray! I have just arrived after some thirty odd hours of travel on several continents. My altitude is 13,310 feet, double that of Denver and Ben Smim. Thinking it’s time to kick my workout routine up a knotch–nothing like some good altitude training. But that’s tomorrow. Today I’m going to focus on breathing extra deep, drinking coca tea, and enjoying some rare wifi.

I spent the last week in Casablanca, but before that I went on spring break with a group out to the Sahara desert. On the drive out, we saw ancient kasbahs (castles), that had been occupied centuries before but are now used for film sets (most recently Game of Thrones) and backdrops for tourists photoshoots. We drove through several oaises that were bursting with color and life, a complete contrast to the dry desert that lay ahead.

When we got to the edge of the desert, we left our bags in the van and boarded camels. The views were unreal. We rode for an hour out to our camp and then climbed the dunes to watch the sunset. As I was looking out, a young boy came and sat by me—he took out a bunch of souvenirs from his bag, keychains and stuffed camels, etc., and arranged them in rows in front of him. His own portable gift shop. Then his friend came and set up right next to him. I smiled at them, but motioned that I had no money on me. They continued to sit there with me, and so we three watched the sun set. I glanced down at beaded camel eyes, a random pair of earrings, and up to the boys’ four eyes, which looked at me, then at the sunset, then back me. I remembered I had some Moroccan dirham in my overnight bag, so I motioned for them to stay while I ran down to grab it. Aziz and Mohammed, aged twelve and thirteen, helped me pick out a couple souvenirs that were in my price range. They priced out everything in Spanish, and so I was hoping we would be able to talk a little more, but they only knew Spanish numbers. They spoke Amazigh, or Berber, which is a classification of indigenous dialects in North Africa. The dialects are being lost, though, as French, Arabic, and English are “valued” more highly by society. I knew the words for thank-you and my name is, so that was helpful. Through gesturing and doodling in the sand I learned their ages and that Aziz lived in the valley below where we sat, but Mohammed lived somewhere on the other side of a very large dune. The sun set and they went running home. I joined my crew back at the camp for delicious tajine dinner and stargazing.

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The next morning we woke up super early to catch the sunrise. We boarded our camels and set off. I noticed pretty quickly that my camel, let’s call her Sal, wasn’t doing so hot, but there was little I could do, as our guides were at the front of the line, and my legs couldn’t possibly take me ninety minutes through desert sands. The wind picked up as Sal teetered over the edge of a dune. I turned my head down and closed my eyes tight. With Sal’s unclear condition, I felt pretty uneasy about this steep decline. As I opened my eyes, I caught a glimpse of my friend, Jackson, sliding off the side of his camel right behind me. His camel freaked out and started running toward Sal and me. I don’t really know how to explain the noises the camels made as they were wigging out. It was nasal-y and distressed. Jackson’s camel ran up into the back of mine, and as mine turned around to say “WTF,” I was ejected off the side. I let out my own nasal-y distressed screams as I went tumbling into a sand dune. The crew turned around to look at us, sitting confused in the sand. I soldiered on, Sal soldiered on, and Jackson and his camel were taken to another part of the line.

So that was my trip to the Sahara–albeit brief, I had time for a few selfies with the dunes, a keychain purchase, and to form a memory of being thrown from my camel at sunrise.

The altitude is making me sleepy–that and the dearth of sleep I’ve found this week, so I’m going to sign off for now. I’ll keep you posted on what adventures await in Bolivia.

Peace out–yours truly,

PJ