Sunday, July 31, 2016

Expatria - the Unique State of Living Abroad

Life as a foreigner

The staff at Guisppe's Italian Restaurant on one of my returns to Tacloban

Living in a foreign land for an extended period of time is a lens like no other.

For instance, I don't think I could have ever ceased being a foreigner in the Philippines, but, that's okay for many reasons. Among those would be the fact that many in this archipelago have treated me so well, that I seem to often feel quite special here. Am I a novelty, or am I really that interesting and people back home just don't seem to understand? I guess the former, but I am holding out in hope of the latter. In either case, it's nice to be in a place where, maybe not everybody knows my name, but people look at me and smile. It's a simple thing, really. A smile goes a very long way, and showing people they are appreciated can get them to do almost anything for you.

Anytime you change your scenery - whether a place, an activity, or a group of friends - it affords you the opportunity to think, to adapt, and to evolve. As an expatriate, you are forced to make any number of life observations and come up with ideas, not just for how the world works, but for how it can work... and unfortunately sometimes how it doesn't. You see, of course, how people live - what they eat, how they react to things, what their passions are, what their problems are. You inevitably measure that culture against your own, and sometimes you are exhilarated, however also sometimes saddened.

Because of this lens of expatria, I do believe that while you can feel ever so welcome, and even sometimes like you are part of the family or neighborhood, there are constant reminders that you are still and will always be a visitor. This is not melancholy; it's simply a truth that you learn to see only after breaking through the barriers of being a stranger - that while each place in the world you love can offer you that temptation of the mind that it could be home, the humility that every world traveler must have tells you that what these people have is something sacred, and it is not for you to have simply because you want it, passing through with your backpack.

However, this realization is something quite valuable and unique. Not everyone gets the opportunity even to leave their own island in a lifetime. If expatria affords me the blessing of true friendship that knows no borders and forever enlightens what I know this world to be, if I can be welcomed back even where I feel I may not belong, these bonds in themselves are what I believe may just hold this fragile world together just a little bit longer.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy Forth - Thoughts of America from Abroad

One thing that intrigues me while I travel is how my country is perceived by people from around the world. To guess, based solely on what I hear people say at home or on the internet, I'd say everyone hates us. Never mind that lots and lots of people still visit or go through arduous processes to get to and live in America. Conventional wisdom seems to be that we are a violent, selfish, racist, arrogant, bully nation that is in need of some sort of enlightenment to regain the form of our youth.

Now, while I don't go around announcing my nationality or asking people on the street what they think of the United States, I do tend to meet people who ask me where I'm from, and sometimes we have a conversation. Pleasantly surprising, most meet my answer with a smile, and many times with some personal anecdote of their fondness for my country. Perhaps some are just being polite, but I get the feeling that many genuinely have a positive outlook on - even if not the government, then at least - our people. Even as recently as today, I still see people wearing American themed clothing - shirts, hats, and such. Yankees hats and Lakers jerseys are quite common on several continents, but even sporting gear aside, America still seems to be in fashion.

I can't tell you how distressing it is to have read the news for over a year now traveling, and there has just been divisive and upsetting story after story. Add in this nightmare of an election we are having, and many days, I just don't want to go back. People have asked me about guns, terrorism, sports, Indian tribes, the different states... but mostly Trump. Surprisingly, in Ireland, some folks weren't nearly as put off by him as many, however most seem to be of the opinion that he is either a joke or worse - a threat to world civilization.

However, what you see traveling the world is that every country has its conflicts and problems. Just this trip, I have seen: Nepal gain a new constitution that many would argue does not enough to address the inequality of women and minorities, the Philippines elect a new president who seems to have little regard for due process and a disdain for the media, and Great Britain decide to leave Europe. Since I began my trip, there has been an average of about 3 incidents of terrorism per day (7/day last month) throughout dozens of countries. Other plagues, such as poverty and various other injustices persist and would be too numerous to list.

I think people see us as a flawed giant, but recognize that we cannot be blamed for everything. Many see the work we do in delivering aid to those in need, working for peace and security where we think we can have an impact, and risking our lives to confront those who perpetrate evil and destruction. In seeing some of the pollution different parts of this world contribute and endure, it is difficult to imagine those people wagging their fingers at us any time soon. In short, as an American who has stepped out of his world to live within and among many other communities, we might just be being a little hard on ourselves.

Despite our many flaws, we have made it to our 240th birthday, and we are still here; people still look to us for influence. That certainly could change, but I think it is important to consider one thing - we are still capable of having an impact on the world and on our futures. In the 1960s, before we walked on the moon, the conditions were already set in motion that there was an African-American child who could aspire to and eventually win the Presidency of the United States of America. I like to think of this not to pretend some end of racism, but to consider what future is already possible for someone today when prospects seem incontrovertibly dim in the now. In the words of my dad, "look ahead!" Who knows what power we may have today to affect the reality of the future? I think that is still one of our greatest strengths, and others around the world can see it too.

Enjoy your burgers and fireworks. I'll probably have a pizza.