Community and self

(SeLoFest17 Post: Day 3, click here for all prompts so far)

It was late 2015, and I had moved to La Rochelle for the second time in my life. It was summertime and I felt like I had the world at the palm of my hand. I had just arrived to France on an adventure, and on a whim decided to move there. Despite all of that, I felt very gloomy and called my best friend, Emiliano, completely crushed and upset. Before I was even done with my second sentence he said, “who are you with?” Startled at the interruption, I did not know how to answer the question and simply asked, “huh?” to which Emiliano replied, “yeah, have you been seeing your family or any friends or anything?”  I didn’t understand where he was going with it because I was telling him I felt like crap and not really talking about anyone else, but I answered frustrated nonetheless, “no one, I’ve seen no one and hung out with no one” to which he replied, as if it made the most sense in the world, gently chuckling, “well that’s what it is babe, you have to surround yourself with people. You always get a little down when you’ve been on your own for too long.”

I  don’t remember so many essential and important memories of my life, but I remember that conversation because I pride myself in being someone that knows myself inside and out, better than anyone could ever know me. Or so I thought. But here was this dumb nerd, who after only two years, knew this essential thing about me, this thing that at 31 years of experience in being me, startled me.

The even more frustrating part about it was that when I told other close friends and family members this simple realization that had taken me so long to realize, they all responded the same way. “Well. Yeah. You need attention.”

Well, yeah.

So I grabbed that realization by the balls, sat it on a chair, and pointed a big bright light into its face, demanding this need where it came from, why it was here, and where it had been on the night of September 27th at 8:31 PM. (Ok not the last one, but you get the jist. I wasn’t about to let this go.)

I understood need, and going in and of my comfort zone because that’s what I was exploring at that time. The whole concept of being of exploring my comfort zones, understanding them, to later redefine them. I wanted to know just how much I needed people, and to what extent I could go without them.

As fate would have it, the following two years gave me a phenomenal opportunity to experience the different levels of needing someone, and the painfully creative forms that one can experience grief. As depressed as I had been in my life, and the losses I had suffered, I had never associated the word grief into my vocabulary. I had never suffered a death, or example, from anyone that was close enough to me for me to feel anything beyond extreme sadness.

It was the death of a relationship with a person that was still alive that struck me. The cognitive dissonance felt like I was being kicked while I was already down. It was visceral, the betrayal of someone you “knew” would be there for you always. The loneliness of not being able to explain it to anyone, because of how unique the whole relationship was, only made me pull further away from myself and everyone around me, and night time brought no rest, as I dreamed of rejection and betrayal every night for 20 nights before the nightmares started to lessen.

I could not trust myself, as clearly I kept picking people that would hurt me or leave me, and I could not trust anyone else, as clearly no one was strong enough to deal with me without at some point hurting me. The world looked ugly, and my biggest love (humanity) had disappointed me at a level I was not surviving. I fantasized with suicide as a way to help me deal with the release of the pain.

However, at that time, my then boyfriend, T, could no longer deal with my lows. We talked about breaking up for the first time, and because I knew that if I lost him as well I would surely end up hurting myself, I decided to use him as motivation to get better.

I made a list of things I had to do not only to take care of myself, but to contribute to the household, and to contribute to my career or future. It was hard to do, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do and a lot of time deciding you’re going to get out of the depression is the mental click that you need, but your body doesn’t always follow along and you still wake up with extreme fatigue and a total lack of motivation.

It was a small step forward, but it’s what lead for me to be here.

Eventually, T and I spoke again and we agreed that despite both of us doing better, we did not want futures that we could work into each other’s lives, and so we enjoyed the rest of our relationship loving each other freely, and honestly, knowing it would end, but that we had both given our best and had still helped each other out tremendously. I am grateful to T for how much he loved me and all that he gave me, and wish him an incredibly joyful life with someone that will match his lifestyle and will love his children the way they deserve to be loved.

In creating the plan for myself to get better, I acknowledged the thing that Emiliano had told me two years before, the thing that I had tried to pull away from: the needing other people. On one side I had my mother, who always taught me and raised me to be strong and independent, to not need anyone, but on the other side, I had my own self, the self that did need to be supported and loved. I spoke to Kat, who is like the older sister I never knew I wanted, who is a therapist and someone whose opinions and views I highly value and many many times have helped me find balance in my own firecracker personality.

She introduced me to the concept of interdependence. As I understand it, it’s the healthy alternative to independence (where you pretend to not need anyone, which we do, and it’s a realistic aspect of life) and codependence (when you cannot function without other people validating you). As I understood it, it’s holding yourself accountable, but knowing to reach out, and having the emotional maturity to do so.

Coming to terms with that, and then visiting Kat, and Morgan and them in Minneapolis, is what made me realize I no longer wanted to stay in France. I still had to work on being independent, however, always with the realistic understanding of needing others to help me, perhaps sometimes, more than your average Jane.

And so now, I have been working on what it looks like to establish community. For me, my community is fluid and not standstill since I am still at a very transitional part of my life. However, I am working with my family, and friends that are far away, and reaching out in different ways, testing the waters in different ways, and of course GIVING of myself and who I am and being generous with my qualities. I wish to be a good friend and family member but I also wish to be of use, I know I have gifts that benefit humanity and I want to give those things to people that value them, and take advantage of those things. So I don’t waste my time with people who I can tell don’t see or value me, or that only take but don’t work with me, as I not always the easiest person to understand.

Establishing community and working to have people around you is a FUNDAMENTAL part of taking care of ourselves. It is essential to self love, especially if you have any kind of mental or physical challenge. It is also important in today’s day and age, where humanity is being hurt in so many ways in so many different countries. Being able to give our best and go out to the world and give is fundamental to taking care of the earth, whether it’s the land, the animals, the people, or the whole of it.

SeLoFest17 Challenge

The Prompt: Who’s your team? Do you have one? If not, design your dream team, what that would look like, what you might need, and action steps that you can take to begin creating that dream team such as reaching out to people you already know, or going out to make friends, repairing a relationship, etc. If you already do have a team, what are things you’re grateful for? How do YOU help out others? Who are people or communities you’ve recently helped? Is this something you’d like to continue doing?

The activity: Make a list of the action steps, or the things you’re grateful for. If you can’t think of someone or a community you help on the regular as well, plan out how you can be realistically more giving without exhausting yourself or surpassing your limits or your schedule. Can you read more? Be more informed? Share more information? Donate? Volunteer? Start a blog?

In your journal: Draw or paint your team if you already have one, but only draw their head, hair, and nose. Don’t draw their eyes or mouths. Work on what you recognize them with without giving them an expression (this part is just for fun). Then, under or next to them, list the things you’re grateful for them helping you with. If you DONT have a team, design what it would look like if you could create the perfect team, how many people would be in your team and what would they help you with? Make it fun but believable. Create action steps to make this team a reality. Give yourself believable steps and a date you must do them by. Then, under the label “The gifts I offer”, take a moment to reflect on what you already give, and what you’d like to do more of. Feel free to use color or play around with the handwriting. If you need help with any of these feel free to contact me.

15937292_10155542787670021_5708814714406648_o My beautiful, amazing, family has been my pillar in the last months. I am eternally grateful to my mom, Jaimito, Sebastian and Paloma.

How to be a conscious tourist

The holiday seasons are upon us!! And with it, comes much traveling. Last summer and during the beginning of Fall, I did so much traveling around Europe, and it was the first time I really country hopped a bit as an adult, having to fend for myself and figure out where I was going to stay, etc. Also, because I was living in France and traveling the continent with my French passport, the way I viewed other tourists had changed as well, as perspectives change depending on who you travel with and where you originally came from.

Since I’ve been in France for two years now, American tourists feel foreign instead of someone coming “from home”. The fact that I have lived in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, and Paris, La Rochelle, and Bordeaux in France, means that I have lived places that at one point or another have been completely filled with tourists. It was in experiencing tourism as a native or tourist myself that I began to realize the ignorance we display sometimes in going to another country. I have had this blog in my head for quite some time but had to chew on it a while before deciding to write it. Finally, I figured I’d break it down into 8 convenient bullet points to help you be a more CONSCIOUS traveler during the holiday seasons, and always. If there’s anything you’d like to add, go ahead and do so in the comment section below!

And so, without further ado,

8 Tips on How Not to Be a Douchebag Traveler

  1. Learn some basic words in the native language

You ever gone to a country and actually not known what language they spoke until you landed? Because I have. That’s really ignorant. Don’t do that. Assuming that every one does or should speak English is a very close-minded and self-centered way to look at the world. Not everyone has the privilege of education of learning another language, first off, and secondly, it is not another country’s responsibility to cater to their tourists. While English is spoken in a lot of countries, it should be your job as a conscious traveler to at least try and be aware of the language(s) spoken, and try to at the VERY least, learn how to say “Hello/Goodbye”, or “please” and “thank you” depending on your own level of being able to memorize things. Just so that you can acknowledge people in their home language. Of course some people might want to practice their English with you and will be excited to do so, others won’t mind trying to help you figure out what you need through miming, while some people won’t even care that you tried and will be upset just at the mere fact that you can’t fluently speak their language (you can’t please everybody, so don’t try.)

2. Respect the natives

Listen to me. Black and brown babies are not props. It is so cringey when I see middle class white women taking pictures of a black or brown child with them because “look at this cute colored child isn’t it cute” like in their own home country they’ve never seen a child of color, and if they have, it’s like in a zoo, you know, in “those” neighborhoods, where they would never be allowed to grab a random child for a photo op.

Or people taking photographs of the homeless without so much as their consent or giving them money, or food. Yes, taking a photograph of someone we find beautiful because they are different than what we are used to can be a way to remember that, but this should be a learning opportunity and not one for you to improve your instagram’s aesthetic. Learn about their cultures and dress, and ask, ask, ask if you can take a picture. And read their body language first, don’t just aggressively pull someone aside suddenly to photograph them. Do not take a picture of a child without their parents consent.

And taking a picture of poverty? Is so inappropriate. Are you providing for it or just exploiting it for your own ego? Help them, instead of trying to photograph them. Unless you’re a journalist whose work might help these people, capturing others peoples misery and posting it on your facebook is too self serving for it to be appropriate under any means, unless you’re actively trying to help it. If you enjoy something and find it beautiful, instead of exploiting it, try to appreciate it through a way that may help the community in question.

3. Don’t litter

Unless you’re one of those really amazing people who are fully aware of their carbon footprint, chances are you litter on the regular. In your country, where you’re paying taxes and breathing the own gross air of your car polluting the atmosphere, that’s one thing. But going to another country to enjoy their goods, to then throw your gross cigarette bud on the ground, or letting your sandwich wrapper blow in the wind and away, or throwing the plastic bag of your souvenir next to the garbage, is rude, selfish, inappropriate, and ignorant. Be EXTRA mindful of other countries. However much careful you are usually about these things, triple that when you’re elsewhere.

4. Watch where you’re going

Dear family of 5 walking slowly down the street or sidewalk, everyone hates you. Watch where you’re going, and for the love of God MOVE TO THE SIDE.
Dear ANYONE that is walking slowly and unpredictably sort of zig zagging or coming to a full stop, what you’re doing is dangerous, annoying as hell, and inconsiderate to those trying to live their every day lives not revolving around you. Pretty much, walk how you would drive. (But better, and remember you don’t have turn signals here)

Would you come to a sudden complete stop without looking behind you first if you were in a busy highway? Probably not unless it was an emergency, because then you might cause a serious accident. Imagine a local parent with their kid and stroller walking down a street on their way to the grocery store when suddenly some douchebag turns unpredictably and runs into them because they tdont want to consider others. This isn’t the Truman show, we aren’t sitting here prepared for your every move. I’ve seen people run into strollers, other people, and even oncoming traffic. Be self aware, or you might hurt yourself or someone else at the worst, but at the least, you’re making your stay unpleasant for those that live here.

5. Do a minimum research of the laws

Try doing a quick google on things like religion and social laws when entering a culture that is very unfamiliar to you. For example in Japan, it is rude to blow your nose in front of someone, while in many other countries giving a “thumbs up” is actually a middle finger. You can Google things like, “what not to do in {country you’re traveling to}” for some help. No one is expecting you to know everything, but some kind of self awareness and attempt at respect is always appreciated.

6. Be self-aware

The other day in Paris an American tourist went to the Eiffel Tower and got a special deal on a tour which they felt completely entitled to anyway because “Paris is like, so expensive.” Do you know how I know that? Because even though I was 4 seats away trying to read my book, this small group of 3 adults apparently felt they were the only ones in the metro and were speaking so loud, I felt myself engrossed in their conversation, despite me not caring, because of how LOUD they were. Another time, in Rome, I had to stop a conversation that I was having with my boyfriend because another small group of American tourists were having a conversation so unnecessarily loud, it went over whatever we were discussing. Of course you’re excited, that’s wonderful, and if you’re in a large group or in a loud place, we get it. But if you’re in a metro, restaurant, or other place where people can hear you just fine if you use a quieter voice, try and gauge your volume. Don’t just assume you’re not loud, actually question it. Maybe ask someone else. If someone speaks loudly to you, try lowering your own volume. Be self aware of the space you are taking up in someone else’s home country.

7. Buy local

Whenever I pass a McDonald’s in any other country that isn’t the USA I am always perplexed. (I find McDonald’s in France to be completely humiliating for the French, for one, who love to talk about their fine cuisine and criticize American food.) However seeing an American walk in is disappointing, to say the least.That you want to go to a fast food restaurant at all is whatever, I’m not going to judge that, but that you’re feeding massive corporations that damage the local economy and land is not conducive to this country lasting in their rich culture and traditions, and therefore you should not help support them. Try to avoid large chains because you never know who actually owns them, and support Farmer’s Markets, artisans, and mom and pop shops.

8. Don’t Swim with the dolphins.

In the United States, Sea World is bad enough, but in other countries you should never swim with dolphins, and if you absolutely have to go to a place where you will see an animal in captivity, (avoid it, but if you must) inform yourself thoroughly before going to any zoos or aquariums about the treatment of their animals and how they help capture and keep them. Probably also inform yourself before riding an elephant somewhere, or coming in contact with animals. Don’t trust the company, they’re counting on your ignorance to get your money. Do your research, or if you aren’t sure, then don’t do it.

Basically, another country is not a theme park. I understand your excitement in visiting somewhere new and how bewilderment makes it hard to be fully aware of the damage we’re doing sometimes. We can’t always really control what we do. That’s why simply trying to be as aware and conscious as possible of our impact when traveling is so important. Our planet and resources are dying, coral reefs aren’t what they used to be, indigenous tribes and native lives are ruined, and virgin beaches are becoming more and more extinct due to poorly handled tourism. Let’s try and minimize that.


And, to end this blog post in a large bout of hypocrisy, in January 2017, I’ll be going on a cruise trip around Europe and you have no idea how problematic this is for me. Initially, I did not want to go because sipping a mojito in the lap of luxury with the current state of things in Aleppo, Venezuela, and even the USA, among so many others, felt a little disgusting for me. So when my mom originally asked me if I wanted to go on the family cruise trip I turned it down. However, due to schedule conflicts my little sister ended up not being able to go, and so I accepted her ticket because, hey, free cruise, and I’m not that much of a saint. I’m sorry.

But what I am doing, is reading up on why Cruise Ships are problematic to try and see if I can actively counter any of them, and also be aware of them so that next time, I can say “maybe let’s do something else instead of a Cruise Ship” and have my facts and alternatives ready and lined up, so that I can do something more solid and effective than writing a blog about how to not be a problematic tourist. 😉

Sometimes we make mistakes and realize too late, other times maybe we know we’re doing something problematic while we’re doing it, but it’s more complicated than just not going. Be as self-aware as possible, be forgiving of yourself but always hold yourself accountable, and always do better.

Happy globe-trotting.