Travel, if done thoughtfully, makes us feel more like citizens of the world rather than being defined by the perimeter of one country’s borders. Borders are irrelevant to my concern for the well-being of humanity. But the serious threats now facing progress, rights, and equality in my adopted country, the United States of America, have sparked what for me is a new sense of passionate patriotism, an ardent allegiance: I am not going to stand by and let this happen to my country. Not in my country.
And here is where the ongoing tension between commitments at home and exploring abroad has become particularly pronounced. I feel pain and outrage for those who are already suffering from hate speech and crimes, and I feel disbelief and weakly modulated panic as I read news of Trump’s appointees. Not to mention, the ongoing NDAPL situation which, though separate from Trump’s election, similarly demonstrates the worst of our country. This has all got me in a fist-swinging, pugilistic scowling, “LET ME AT ‘EM!” mentality – I’m all in to join the progressive revolution, to protest and donate, to meet and strategize, to campaign, to reach out – to reclaim the country for those of us on the side of good.
But I am here, across the Pacific Ocean… I am not in my country to firmly declare, “Not in my country!” Slow internet access has made signing petitions difficult, even impossible (those damn “captchas” never load), and managing donations a huge headache. Phone calls to Congress have featured poor reception and dropped calls. Like many, I have been consumed by browsing Facebook, by reading news sites, all of this taking up time (especially with an unreliable internet connection). These inconveniences are trivial when one considers the fear that many in the US are dealing with now, so I have persisted in trying to do what I can from afar. But, I feel frustrated at not being able to be physically present to defend my country, not being able to do more right now.
And I feel like I am neglecting my current experience. The inundation of news about countless things to be depressed and upset about drains emotional energy and threatens to monopolize my attention. One of the most invigorating things about travel, to me, is fully appreciating the present place and moment, soaking in everything that the experience has to offer. Travel, again, done thoughtfully, can bring people with vastly different backgrounds together; it can foster compassion beyond the distinctions of skin color, religion, or nationality, and I believe it is a powerful tool for peace. This trip has truly inspired me, as I’ve seen rich potential for collaborations in research and training on how to understand and, hopefully, promote the well-being of the environment and people, at a dynamic time in Myanmar’s history. But I have been cooping myself up in my room, obsessively scrolling and clicking (and waiting… for… things… to… load) and reading and despairing, instead of focusing on my work here, studying the language, and interacting with people as much as I would on any other trip.
I am fortunate, privileged, to be far from the US in the dark post-election days (I have more thoughts about this that I’d like to share, a bit later). The idea of distancing myself, for the next few weeks, from the turmoil back home is a luxury, and it elicits guilt. As the intrepid traveler and magically eloquent writer, Frey Stark, puts it: “There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do.” How can I claim to be passionate about protecting rights and equality in the US if I flee from reading the news because the stress it elicits is detracting from my travel experience, while others are fearing for their lives and families, while ignorance and hatred are being appointed to top political positions?
A Whatsapp survey of some people whose social justice ethics I most respect returned unanimous results: Obsessing over these things will just wear one down, if one is not in a situation to act meaningfully against them. And these problems will still exist when I return home, and will be around for a long time, unfortunately. My work as a “citizen of the world” is better served if I focus on what I’m doing here, now. And I will be more able to contribute to the good fight when I come home if I don’t erode my spirit now with the constant clatter of bad news crowding my Facebook feed. Many of them have also had to modulate their exposure to news, to gather their strength to prepare and mobilize for action. We have a long fight ahead of us, with a lot to do and a lot to learn. I am so fortunate to have such an inspirational crowd of make-the-world-better friends, to whom I’ll be looking for guidance throughout this process.
I’ve turned to my collection of quotes from Freya Stark to find artfully wrought words that commiserate with my feelings on all of this. I found several, and have copied them below – I hope you find them interesting, and maybe even a little soothing in their poignancy. For now, I’m going to leave you with Freya’s words and some of my favorite post-election links, and focus on my time here, while gathering my strength for what could be the worst case of reverse culture shock that I’ve ever experienced. But I tell you: I am ready to come off that plane and hit the ground running, arms a-swinging, ready to join the fight*.
*in spirit. The physical side will be manifested following a solid day of post-trans-Pacific sleep.
In one form or another, conscious or unconscious, we have all become propagandists; integrity alone can keep us truthful.
The true call of the desert, of the mountains, or the sea, is their silence – free of the networks of dead speech.
…the stupidity of people who feel certain about things they never try to find out. A world that educates people to be ignorant – that is what this world of ours is .
The most ominous of fallacies – the belief that things can be kept static by inaction.
Tolerance cannot afford to have anything to do with the fallacy that evil may convert itself to good.
Constancy, far from being a virtue, seems often to be the besetting sin of the human race, daughter of laziness and self-sufficiency, sister of sleep, the cause of most wars and practically all persecutions.
Every victory of man over man has in itself a taste of defeat… There is no essential difference between the various human groups, creatures whose bones and brains and members are the same; and every damage we do there is a form of mutilation, as if the fingers of the left hand were to be cut off by the right.
Once divested of missionary virus, the cult of our gods gives no offence. It would be a peaceful age if this were recognized, and religion, Christian, communist or any other, were to rely on practice and not on conversion for her growth.
Few are the giants of the soul who actually feel that the human race is their family circle.
The main necessity on both sides of a revolution is kindness, which makes possible the most surprising things. To treat one’s neighbor as oneself is the fundamental maxim for revolution.