2 girls, 3 introductions, 1 farewell short

I had to use the bathroom, so I asked the girls where one might be. The four of them stood in the doorway of their house, the porch of which turned into a restaurant at night. They were so giggly I couldn’t make out what they were saying. When they calmed down, I realized they were only asking my name. I answered then asked back.

I’m not the best at remembering names, especially when my business is urgent. I asked again for the bathroom, and I followed them to the back.

As we passed three large rooms, I realized the power really was out. These houses typically glow with enough color to strain your eyes, but all the walls looked black. A promising light shown from the back door, but when we reached it, I discovered it was only the moon. How was I supposed to use the bathroom?

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Between tourists and home

Another step and I would have taken an unplanned plunge into the ocean. So I turned around and walked the sole boardwalk on this side of the village. A house I had passed before no longer had only a woman sitting outside. A small boy, teenager, mother and uncle had appeared on the porch in the few minutes since my first passing.

As I approached, I kept eye contact with everyone, saying Hi.

The woman also kept eye contact. Hello.

The road ended.

Of course it did. Where are you from?

And the conversation had begun.

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Skins, noses, lakes, and jobs

We were in the middle of a lake at noon – the threat of sunburn was high. I didn’t bring sunscreen, and the week before I had badly burned in the mountains. The family I joined on the lake saw me also last week and got a kick out of a white boy turning pink.

So when I got in the flimsy, narrow boat, Ufik joked that I would turn black like him. That, or at least getting a deep tan at the end of several months, was definitely possible.

I shifted my weight too quickly and Ufik let out a little shriek. Oops. Every year there are stories of overturned boats and drownings.

Before we push off for some trip among the boathouses, he says, Don’t worry, your nose will stay the same.

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A school atop a mountain

I made it to the top of the mountain after a 30-minute trek, and there sat a school. It was an unlikely spot for one – not only because it lie at the top of a hill nearly impossible to climb in anything besides perfect weather, but also because there were only seven buildings within sight.

Yet it existed there for a reason.

I knew I was looking at a school in front of me, although it didn’t stand out as such among the other small shacks. Every person I asked on the way up said the only thing this direction was the school. By the third fellow traveler, I could pass off a confused question about where I was going with just “the school.”

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Two Bedouin shop owners

Being bussed around in a foreign country isn’t my preferred method of travel. So when we had a free night in a touristy town in the desert, I went for a walk to find a conversation.

Outside a souvenir shop, a man stood smoking next to a rack of trinkets. After a bit of conversation about the origin of the items (they were mass-produced, he didn’t know), he invited me into the shop for tea with any friends I could convince to come. 

Of course, conversation was the lure, tea the bait, and money the goal. But I was still in control of my money and he seemed friendly enough.

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A call from Irfan

Perched on the edge of a rooftop cafe, distracted from my work by the shopping street three floors below still busy from weekend afternoon traffic, I received a call. This was the brick phone I used for safety while traveling in Turkey. Rarely did anyone ever call me on it.

I answered, and naturally I heard some Turkish on the other side. I thought maybe a wrong number, but from the stumbling in Turkish, I heard “Irfan from last night.”

I stiffened in my chair. I had forgotten I gave my number to him, with whom I spent 1.5 hours speaking with late the night before. Continue reading

Not all who get carsick are lost

When you have an open seat next to you on any ride lasting longer than an hour, it’s too good to be true. Mine gave me false hope almost until the doors shut. A man came running to the stop and was still out of breath when he sat down next to me.

He seemed not much older than me and looked like he had been traveling for weeks.

“Thanks, man.” He had broken the seal of silence, and I found out in our conversation over the next hour and a half that he had in fact been traveling for weeks. Straight up the east coast, and this was the point that he turned west to head to the other side of the country.

He spent some time sorting his things. He carried not much more than his backpack, which he propped up against the seat in front of him to get one of his two water bottles. He pulled out a played with a large wad of cash.

“Can I borrow your phone? Mine’s dead.” He called his friend at his stop, which was one before mine.

I think he started asking what kind of music I’m into, but I could be remembering incorrectly. Regardless, it came up earlier than expected.

Before long, he asked, ‘If you could be doing anything anywhere, what would it be?”

I didn’t know how to answer, but he already had his thought through. He was fascinated with Finding Bigfoot, a show in which four people travelled into the deep forests of the Pacific Northwest to find Sasquatch. Living with nothing but the land and pursuing a sole goal was for him the dream.

At this point, I realized we still didn’t know anything about each other. He seemed to just be talking to keep his mind busy. He never looked at me and reacted only minimally to what I said. He appeared to still be sweating. He cleared his throat and sniffed often.

He seemed to trail off in his sentences, so the conversation quieted. A bit later, he stirred form his sleep abruptly and paced to the bathroom in the back. When he returned five to ten minutes later, I asked if he was okay.

“What, could you hear me?”

No, but it seemed to be an abrupt dash for the bathroom. He fell asleep again, but I knew when to wake him.

But when his stop came, he didn’t seem to want to be disturbed. I told him where we were. He scoffed and slumped back over.

When my stop came, he was in even deeper sleep. I couldn’t offer him lodging, so I let him sleep after a quick jostle of his shoulder. If his friend needed him, he could have called my phone.

I hope he got to where he needed to be, but he didn’t seem like the kind of guy to mind.

What limbo sounds like

In Idomeni, the future doesn’t exist and the past only evokes sadness. Every conversation walks a slippery slope in Idomeni. An uncomfortable silence prevails.

Hara Hotel, once a stopping point for the journey, now a jerry-built camp site.

A woman approached me to ask about repairing her broken tent. Tents often broke because too many people would have to pack into tents not made to be houses for two months, and the winds of the hills of Northern Greece have really picked up. The job of a volunteer is hectic — you never cross the camp without being swarmed by people asking for help or simply a chat.

While I was speaking with her, three young men about my age walked by me and one asked in a quiet voice, ‘you got the stuff?’ I reached in my pocket, pulled out nothing, and we fumbled with our hands, looking away in opposite directions. He thanked me in the espionage-like voice, and we went about our business with no acknowledgement of what had just happened.

The ‘stuff’ he implied were drugs, and to clarify, no drugs were exchanged. What had just happened was that we had a hilarious exchange, and both of knew exactly what the other meant. We probably had both seen that kind of encounter over TV or YouTube — two things that had left everyday life for those in Idomeni.

The camps have found a way to freeze time. Some may say they have been forced to create it, and it is much like others zones of comfort that they fill with the ideas they want. But this bubble has an eerie silence; the residents of the bubble have halted time.

Inside the bubble is a static happiness, created by conversation and destroyed by it. Outsiders often pop the time-machine-bubble and their publications (articlesvideos, and photographs) often emphasize desperation and devastation. Nobody doubts that the living situation is abysmal– and the future bleak — but the culture of conversation has found a way around it: don’t talk about it. Every conversation walks a slippery slope.

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The lady who led a full life

This lady couldn’t take a hint. Nor could she see that I was having a conversation with someone else.

“Did you say Canadian Native Americans?”

We didn’t say any of those three words. I think we were talking about China. My friend and I continued our conversation after politely saying no to the woman. She was sitting alone, fiddling through the newspaper in one of the cafe’s cushioned seats about ten feet from us.

But of course, some people simply like to talk. More still like to talk about themselves.

She broke into our conversation again. She asked us which college we were in.

“Ah, I was at King’s. I studied Hebrew and Greek languages.” I couldn’t tell when she might have studied there – which year, nor at what point in her life.

By this point, I understood that I wasn’t going to be able to get back to my conversation without hearing hers first. I pivoted, gave a little nod to my friend to signal that we could briefly entertain her, then inquired further.

“I’ve led a full life.” She had travelled widely but I didn’t quite grasp the reason. She seemed to have created an organization that sponsored inter-religious understanding. She had a Bible on hand, but didn’t bring it out.

I asked if she had worked with Native American in Canada.

“What? No. Have you?”

“I set up a website for bringing groups together.” She wrote it down for us. When I checked it later, it looked like a standard NGO webpage, but I couldn’t understand what it did exactly.

She leaned back in her chair. “I’ve led a full life.” She didn’t seem like she thought she was at the end of her life, only that she appreciate reminiscing to students in a university cafe.

“It was nice to meet you, take care.”

Twitter’s Safety Council is the world’s largest safe space

Because of recent controversy with Milo Yiannopoulos, I’ve put a new edit at the bottom with clarification and nuance. Is Twitter a new government?

One of my greatest concerns in the digital realm is a problem that is often heralded as a solution. Twitter, what many people see as a public forum, unveiled its ‘safety council’ in February. The council is meant to ensure that people can continue to “express themselves freely and safely” on Twitter, yet all the groups in the council aim to stifle speech; there are no free speech groups included.

The twitter post I got this from called this fascism...it's ok I think that's ridiculous too.

The twitter post I got this from called this fascism

So while the group ostensibly wants to create ‘safety’, its manifesto and practice aims to do nothing of the sort. The group doesn’t stop incitements of violence, it stops offensive speech. ‘Safety’ only refers to the same attempts to create ‘safe spaces’ that have popped up so many other places. There is a difference between stopping the promotion of violence within a group – as Twitter did with 125,000 ‘terrorism’ accounts – and stopping others from hearing other people’s views. There is a mute and block button, but they’ve resorted to ‘shadow banning’ too.

Now compound this with the contradiction that is Twitter’s submission to authoritarian governments’ demands to take down content and accounts in places where not even newspapers can be a forum for free information, such as Russia and Turkey.

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