Ever since I finished my Fulbright in Thailand, I set my sights on a career abroad. I decided I never wanted to live in the U.S., and nothing could keep me there. I'm still not sure if this came from my selfish ways of pushing those around me to their limits to see what they are willing to do for me (as in following me around the world) or possibly my stubbornness in my professional goals. Maybe I just truly, genuinely wanted to travel and explore my whole life. Never did I ever question my ability to do so. Until now.
SLG Mag : A Fresh Perspective
We sat in the old Soviet-looking school gymnasium/cafeteria, with its peeling paint and high windows without any glass, eating our first breakfast in Georgia-- kasha cooked with shredded carrot and onion, and a cucumber and tomato salad. One of the other volunteers asked , “You came all the way from America… for this?”
As we came closer to the day when we were going to take that much anticipated flight away from the mundane desk at work and the vapidity of daily chores; to the faraway exotic land of Singapore, my heart jumped as if it was my first flight ever. Hardly able to concentrate, i realized that i was scribbling gibberish all day at work. It looked like i was making a conversation with my colleagues but...
This country makes me feel so left out. I just want to belong and have the freedom to do what everyone else is doing. Or rather just live. I just want to be confident in my commute, able to browse my phone in public and maybe even enjoy the company of friends. After this brief brat attack, I calm down by telling myself this kid is with his mother and no robber would attack this cute family. Gringo or not. I’m not sure I’m convinced though...
Beth Santos is a dynamic, creative leader with a passion for international development, multiculturalism and community building. She is the founder and CEO of Go Girl Travel Network, a resource and community for adventurous, independent and globally minded female travelers.Beth created Go Girl while cruising her blue motorcycle through the streets of São Tomé and Príncipe, a small country in Africa’s Gulf of Guinea. In encouraging women to travel, to get involved in the world around them and to live globally, Beth has created an international community of over 10,000 empowered women who strive to conquer the world on foot, while supporting and learning from one another at the same time.
We had been told that local women were afraid that incoming people might steal their bead patterns, therefore we outlined the reasons of our visit in advance. Emilio and I, are both handicrafts lovers and are strongly convinced that in todays globalized world, there is a desperate need to protect traditional culture in all its aspects. This includes designs and the intellectual property expressed in beads, necklaces or earrings that contain specific features of indigenous society.
Standing at the foot of that mountain, placing one foot on the rocky ridge, I was keenly aware that despite my casual interest in the hike, this was a moment that might not have materialized if I had not turned in that passport. As my foot slipped many times while walking up the rocky ledge, I held the hands of several friends I had made during the bus trip. There were so many small transformations that were taking place in me while I made the trip to the top. Little did I know how many more transformations lie ahead.
I still cringe when I remember that when Sahar and I finally got to that bakery in Barcelona, I didn’t even order the famous chocolate cake. I had a creamy, flaky thing with berries on top, almost exclusively because it looked like it would have fewer calories. I smiled with Sahar in the pictures of us with our treats, and the coffees beside them, and the polished plates and spoons at the end. I even used one of those pictures as the background on my computer desktop for a while afterward. But that was really just because it had felt so good to be with Sahar. It should also have felt good to eat cake.
I just booked the hedgehogs into a “hedgehog hotel”, as I am heading to Italy for two weeks. The hedgehog hotel costs approximately $200 for two weeks. MADNESS. This seems a little steep, as my hedgehogs sleep 23 hours a day, and I cannot imagine what kind of high-end services a hedgehog hotel could possibly include. I imagine my hedgehogs swimming laps in a huge infinity pool, sipping cocktails next to the bar.
And beyond this unconventional coffeeshop scene, I was not just the only foreigner, I was also the only woman. Even better. The only other girls in the vicinity were “waitresses” if that’s what they should be called, I am not sure. They simply brought over this tea-drink along with cups of ice and fresh packs of cigarettes for the men. But somehow, by the grace of God, this random coffee shop slash smoke-den had WiFi. So I was able to nervously WhatsApp my best friend. Unfortunately in the US it was at 3:30 AM. Meaning no one was awake. So I was left to experience this intense culture shock without a hand to hold. Maybe in hindsight, it was better this way.
So next time you’re thinking of taking a city break, why not consider visiting a country which needs your tourist dollar more than we do? The UK has plenty of cash stashed in off-shore accounts. London is a hub for commercial wealth. Deals and speculations made here affect the lives of millions. If you do decide to visit; perhaps come to New Cross - that’s where you’ll see foodbanks, derelict pubs, housing estates, the forgotten, unemployed, artists, people who are forever being pushed to the side and on my street, a community who support each other in the belief of mutual aid.
Because we were immersed in hill tribe culture, rather than just passing through, we had the opportunity to truly get to know the people we were staying with, and for them to know us. Most tourists, most people in general, don’t want to actively contribute to the exploitation and further impoverishment of an indigenous culture. But, there is a certain disconnect between tourists’ benevolent curiosity and the hill tribe villagers’ need for privacy, respect, and income. What is the happy medium?