This is such a tough one because of course it's nice for people to express interest in your travels but here's the thing, "how was your trip?" is perhaps the single most awkward post-travel question you can ask. And the reason is this: it is a close ended question which pragmatically (i.e. socially acceptably) dictates a close ended response for those socially attuned people of the world. When was the last time when someone said something like, "do you like carrots?" you said something like "no, not very much. When I was little we used to have a garden where we grew carrots but the deer always came along to eat them. There was this one time that my dad saw a deer in our garden and threw a rock at it. Ever since then I can't really eat carrots without thinking about that poor deer". Or when someone said "want to go to the mall later?" and you said something like "Ya, I was hoping you would say that because I've been thinking I need to get a new pair of jeans because all of mine have holes in the legs from my thighs rubbing together all day. I've tried to patch them up with those iron on patches you can buy at like Michael's craft store. Actually it was crazy because last time I was at Michael's I put my purse down while I checked out all the different shades of paint and when I looked back it was gone and crazy enough, I saw the security guard bust out the front door chasing this woman who presumably stole it out into the parking lot". No, the socially attuned people of the world wouldn't say this, because do you now why? Because it's too much information given the question and your verbal diarrhea is perceived as totally arrogant at worst, entirely socially fucking awkward at best. Because the normal answers to such questions are "yes/sure/ya sounds good" or "no/not really/naw not today", or maybe with a one sentence tagline like "ya, I was actually thinking I wanted to go to the mall. When were you thinking?".
So when you ask the "how was your trip?" question, it ends up something like this:
You (verbally): "How was your trip?"
Traveler (verbally): "Awesome!"
Traveler (in head): Wait, does this person want me to elaborate? Or or they just asking because this is the first time they are seeing me and they are just being polite? This is awkward, should I just say something else because nobody is saying anything? And then have this like, awkward overflow moment where I drone on talking about myself? Or do I put people on the spot and say "ok what do you want to know?" even though I know that people who've not traveled as such really don't even know what questions to ask? Ahhhhhh why am I so screwed up?!?!?
***More awkward moments, weird convo...
Ok, perhaps this is a slightly more dramatic reenactment, but you get the drift.
Don't get me wrong, I have been guilty of asking the exact same question and I'm also trying to break the habit, not only for post travelers but also for anyone who ever did anything because same shit applies. So here's the short of it. Before you speak to a post traveler or anyone who ever did anything, consider your motives for speaking with them about their experience. Are you just making polite conversation and expect a short and sweet answer? Yes? Then go ahead, ask away, "how was your trip?" or any close ended, yes/no question. This is perfectly acceptable. If the answer is no, you actually want that person to elaborate, ask anything besides a question that pragmatically necessitates a yes/no answer please!
On the flip side, for travelers, especially longer term travelers like myself in this instance, it can also be really, really difficulty to speak independently and free-flowingly about your experience in response to something like "tell me about your trip". Basically our minds are like your good old "junk box"...everything is piled in there, you know there's a lot of good shit in there but like you could ever be sitting in a completely different location and talk about what exactly is in there and what the situation behind it is because the whole point of a "junk box" is to have a random place to just dump your stuff across wide periods of time.. messy, unfiled and totally unmanicured. You know everything in there is important but without going through it piece by piece in front of you, you probably can't really do a decent verbal inventory because theres not like, one unifying theme and everything connects in a totally messy and disjointed way. What an analogy. Haha it may be my worst to date but it's the best I can do to describe it!
Given my "junk box" mind, a one sided conversation where I speak and you listen is really challenging! Forgive us travelers in advance. Even so, for me, and many other travelers, it's relatively easy to speak in generalities about a place and your experience. It is simple enough to speak of theories, gists and the state of affairs as you understand it. An overall summary. What is much harder (but probably more entertaining for the listener) is sourcing specific stories and instances out of the recesses of my disgustingly disorganized mind on command. Specific questions will elicit more on both counts. However, context is the most beautiful trigger for all that fabulous stuff in the recesses of my mind because at the root of it, memories require access to pull out much like a drawer needs a handle (thanks Tammy Hopper). Some of the best, most hilarious, most fun conversations about traveling come from an organic multi-person sharing of experiences and stories with each story triggering another in a seemingly effortless, outpouring of ideas.
My travel "junk box" contains ideas and experiences that are transformative, powerful, messy, scary and hilarious all at the same time. But what I know for sure is that despite the fact that I wish it would, "how was your trip?" will probably not elicit any of it because I just can't access anything without some sort of context. That's honestly why I've always written while I travel. Because my writing is a summary of everything in a somewhat transparent and organized way and essentially acts as the handle on the drawer. Ultimately I travel because, in light of my ridiculously neurotic nature, it stimulates my mind in a way that is incomparable to anything else I've ever experienced. When I read what I've written months or years later, it not only helps me remember and access what I've otherwise forgotten, but it literally brings me back to the time, place, feelings and experiences in a way that that relives, re-inspires and re-lights my fire. And this, your memories and your pictures are really all you have left of it years down the road.
Bottom line, we love to talk about our travels, but weirdly, we just might need a little help!
I've been thinking a lot of my imminent return to Canada as opposed to this freaky travel bubble I've been living in. And I started to realize that over the course of the past 14 months my life has slowly and almost unknowingly evolved (devolved?!) into this entirely new social order; an entirely new and different set of rules that given the context, is totally socially acceptable. But then I kinda had this "slap you in the face moment" when I realized that what has become entirely normal life to me is in fact, when I think about it, totally abhorrent in regular Canada life. So ultimately here is why I'm not sure that the real world will accept me anymore. Don't judge.
I can't even remember the last time I cleaned my body with soap in the shower. My bottle of body wash ran out I'd say 11 months ago and that shit is either not available or freaking expensive. And I'm seriously, not gonna pack a slimy, hair filled bar of soap around with me. I just don't believe in body soap anymore. A little bit of splash-scrub with water does the job. Except when you have particularly sweaty beach armpits, sometimes then it doesn't work but that's only a small percentage of the time and really, somehow it eventually goes away anyway.
It's totally normal to me to wear the exact same clothing every day for over a year. I think some of my less used clothing items have maybe been washed 5 times in said year. Everything smells a little bit but the threshold for what I choose to pay to wash has risen rather dramatically. Im good with it.
I regularly wear clothes all day, then I sleep in them, and then I wear them all the next day too. It's just easier. #dormlife
The amount of times I wash my hands after using the bathroom is marginal. You're lucky if there is soap in any public bathroom. For the love, sometimes you're lucky if there is even a sink. Sometimes you get a sink, no soap but also no running water. Sometimes it's a better choice to choose your pee-hands over touching the sink. Embrace it. By this point, I just conserve energy and don't even attempt to look for hand washing facilities.
I don't attempt to monitor my positions or otherwise conceal my gut rolls as I bend over in my bikini.
I speak openly about and share graphic details about poop constantly and within minutes of meeting new people. Ok...maybe, that is not such a change from before...
Bridger and I don't even bother closing the door when we go to the bathroom anymore. It's our new normal to have conversations while we're doing our business or like, brush our teeth while the other is on the toilet. We talk openly about the consistency of our poo. We've heard more farts and poos than humanly imaginable. And it doesn't impact our attraction to one another (I think).
On that note, I often forget to close the bathroom door around other people who don't have to love me anyways.
I haven't worn makeup in about 13.5 months. I hope to continue this non-practice despite my increasingly decreasing suntan and the reformation of those beloved Canadian black under eye circles from no sunlight and no sleep. We'll see how I fare. I'm sorry in advance for terrifying your children...
I don't think I know how to cook anymore. I have "eaten out" two meals per day for 14 months. What part of my brain was responsible for what little I did before is totally dead now.
It's totally acceptable to make friends with people and hang out with them for several hours/days and never bother to ask them their name. On a related note, when someone tells you their name, its totally socially acceptable to a) tell them you have no intention to remember their name b) tell them you're not going to call them that but rather, give them a totally different name that you prefer.
You make friends one day and then never, ever speak to them again.
The after-pee drip dry is the name of the game these days. It never works so, so good but usually (not always) you're wearing underwear. And you learn to function optimally in spite of the consistent splash of pee on your underwear/pants.
I've changed SIM cards so often that I don't even bother to even attempt to learn my phone number. When people ask me my phone number, even if I like them and want to give them my phone number, I say "I don't know". In my experience, people think you're a major idiot when you don't know your own phone number.
When people ask for my phone number, email or facebook, it is totally normal that I would laugh good-naturedly and flatly refuse the request like they were crazy to ask in the first place.
The terms "black people" and "white people" are now totally normal and regular items in my vocabulary and I openly use each in public places without a second thought. You can't say that shit at home! Thanks Africa for your brilliantly neutral use of these stupidly highly politicized descriptive labels that are going to get me violating all norms of political correctness.
My toothbrush bristles have touched more things than my teeth than I even care to think about. As long as it hasn't touched someone else's mouth, it's good enough to continue to use.
I regularly approach/speak with people carrying machetes and large guns without hesitation. Sometimes I ask them for directions. Sometimes I even do things like calling them "jerks" because I'm an idiot like that.
It is totally normal to just flip my underwear inside out to buy myself an extra week without doing laundry. Doesn't bother me one bit.
I have splashed pee on my flip flops more times than I can even count with no intention to wash them nor switch them up.
Dowry, not gonna lie, something that until recently I have not thought about, like ever. If you're unfamiliar, dowry is the financial gift that a man must give a woman's family in order for the family to allow him to marry said woman. The family of the woman determines the asking price which may come in the form of cows, goats, chickens, cash or all. Unless he forks it over, he doesn't marry the girl. Of course I had heard of this before and paid no mind chalking it up to just another normal cultural tradition different from our own, whatever, to each their own.
But now I'm here in Uganda where giving dowry is still practiced in so many places. And as always, I ask a lot of questions and get a lot of answers and different perspectives from a lot of different people. So I've learned a lot. And here's the thing, dowry sucks. Sure, maybe this post is not as well informed as it could be and perhaps I'm painting other's cultural norms with my own Canadian brush. But I'm going to ignore my typically ultra perspective taking nature for this one, perhaps being perceived as totally ignorant, but dowry sucks. Based on tons of conversations with local people and my current understanding, here's why:
Dowry sucks because it exists in the context of very, very poor communities and very poor men must somehow come up with money they have never had in order to pay dowry in order to marry, which in so many communities is the pillar of success and status. If you can't, you don't. Dowry sucks because a young couple must now start off their lives together financially worse off, in some cases ruined, than when they started. Talk about kicking off adulthood to a total disadvantaged, uphill climb in an already difficult life. Dowry sucks because, whether incidentally or as part of a greater plan from the beginning, if a woman divorces/leaves a man, he has lost so much wealth to his wife's family...for nothing. And it may limit his future ability to marry a woman of his choosing.
Dowry sucks because, to be honest, it is terribly oppressive for women. As long as the dowry system is in place, women are essentially property to be sold to the highest buyer. Again, recognize that this is happening in the context of poverty so as long as this tradition is being maintained, women become a natural income generating resource for families. This means that very young girls are given for marriage because their family needs money either to survive or just to build their wealth, thus, effectively ending her education and and the possiblity of a non-dependent life. This means that women or girls are given for marriage to wealthy, often old men who already have several wives. This means that women are married to less than admirable men because perhaps it is these men that can pay where other "good men" may not be able to. It means that women will not get the choice to marry, who and when, according to their own free will. The maintenance of this system means that a woman's brother will actively fight a boyfriend if he is not the approved dowry giving man because he is ultimately a threat to the brother's ability to give dowry for his own bride, as the dowry in is often the same dowry out. It means that women may regularly get beaten if she does not do as a man commands because he feels entitled to her being submissive because "he paid good money for her". It means that if a woman is highly educated, she will command a higher dowry, thus, becoming even more unattainable for many "good men", perhaps being married off to such a man that will may not encourage and provide means for her to use her education and talents, regardless, ultimately running the risk of becoming just an even more lucrative resource.
The giving and receiving of dowry is, as far as I can see, just culturally sanctioned slavery under a different, less vile, less contested name. I have heard several disillusioned young men speaking, not explicitly of course, to the pressure of such an arrangement, clearly conveying to me how they feel either exploited or marginalized by this longstanding but archaic tradition. I'm open to learning and changing my perspective and I thought maybe I was missing some part of the picture. So I've asked the question "is there anything good about dowry", and I receive resounding no's.
I've recently been informed that the Ugandan government has passed a law or is planning to pass a law making it illegal to ask for dowry, however, the law is not being enforced. Until people can go to the government complaining of a dowry being requested and have the government charge the offending parties, nothing will change. Sooo if you want to do something of value in the world, write to and pressure governments to enact a law prohibiting the exchange of dowry and enforce it. That would be a nice move towards promoting equality, partnership and success within families and between genders.
Add Alright, this has been a long time coming but here's the deal: If you are a part of the developed world, don't say this. I'm sure I've said it in my past life before and like me, I also know that anyone who has ever said it probably said it out of best intentions. But here's the thing...I know this might be hard to believe, so get ready for it...Money did not in fact fall from the heavens, showering us in an abundance of wealth such that we were all like, "Oh man, what are we gonna do with all this extra money?!? I guess we'll go on a big long trip"! So no, we are not lucky. We actively planned for this trip. We actively saved for this trip. And we chose to allocate our money to this trip, sacrificing having other more traditional things. Which is why we're 30+ with one old car between the two of us, no house, no wedding, old crappy furniture and some debt. But we wouldn't have it any other way because this trip was a dream of ours and the sacrifices we made to make it possible were without question, worth every last bit of it. But traveling like this was not luck, it was a choice.
That being said, we ARE lucky that we were born into a country where there are infinite opportunities. We ARE lucky that we grew up in homes where we were safe and had our basic needs met and more. We ARE lucky that merely surviving was not our primary concern such that we spent our childhoods playing freely. We ARE lucky that we were privileged enough to go to university and get an education so we could get jobs that allowed us to live comfortably but also save money. We ARE lucky that we are healthy and able bodied. These things we did NOT choose. These are the things that make us lucky and that we are consciously grateful for.
So if you have ever said this to either of us, know that we probably don't remember you specifically and that we are not holding a deep seated grudge! But just needed to say it on behalf of ourselves and all travelers out there who have worked hard and gave up some other kind of awesome things to do what they are doing because the pros outweigh the cons. Long term travel or any travel doesn't just haphazardly befall us, we actively strive towards it! Story here
Seriously, we encounter so many different kinds of people as we travel. Some are so obliging and friendly from the start where others, to be honest, are truly just snotty. While traveling you also have the presence of mind to notice patterns. As travelers we also have a million conversations a day. I had one in particular with an expat living in Kampala that changed the course of my experience in Africa, the details of which I'll go into in a later blog post. But ultimately what that conversation did was made me become mindful of what vibes I'm putting out there by my behavior and evolved from there in my mind over the next several months. I'll tell you one thing that I've observed along the way that will change your life and your interactions with people.
When you approach people, approach by looking directly at the person, give a big genuine smile, a big hello and a big how are you before you say anything else. I guarantee you that this will singlehandedly change the energy of and the course of the interaction positively. I think as Canadians we usually do the "hello/how are you?" thing so maybe you're thinking you already do that. But trust me, I consider myself a friendly person and we don't do what I'm talking about by nature. What I mean is change what you are doing from the neutral and passive "script" to an engaging and purposeful greeting. Be a little bit more exuberant than you usually are without crossing into condescending and patronizing. If you are just passing or continuing onwards, you will create an air of connection and lightness. If it will be an ongoing interaction, keep up that energy for the first few minutes of the interaction. Keep the smile on your face and laugh easily. If you just greet this way and bound into business mode immediately, you probably won't feel the benefit.
Seriously, it has won over some of the most stonefaced people and led to some really incredible and unexpected exchanges with strangers. Just recently I went to the post office and the woman there was so angry and aloof that I didn't even think she was going to mail my package. In the end she was digging out addresses for me, answering all my questions with a smile and once I had paid and gotten change, completely unsolicited, started pulling out small bills just to break up my larger bills to help me out. Elsewhere, when a big group of men started on the "hello, how are you? taxi?!" "insert any request for goods or service purchase here?" routine that makes you almost want to punch someone in the head because it happens every 2 minutes, I put a big smile on my face and warmly greeted and declined while continuing to walk, jovially shooting the shit with them as I went away. Everyone, including myself, was left laughing instead of seething at worst, indifferent at best. As I continued on my way I felt much more energized and calm vs. agitated as I had in prior similar interactions of this nature.
Seriously, experiment with this! When you just put some effort in to engage with people not just friendly-ly but warmly, you'll get an entirely different result and open yourself up to some really wonderful interactions I promise! You will have more energy and your and everyone else's mood will become more awesome! It's a classic case of change your behavior-change the response. All of a sudden you've brough out connection between people which, though we quickly forget it in the clutches of our busy lives, is what we are built for. When you're spending alot of time oscillating within the zone that endless years of "nature" have programmed into you, you'll be in a pretty fabulous "right" place. Try it, it will change your life! If you're the brave soul who does, I'd LOVE to hear from you about your experience!!Add News Story here
I should be writing more. I just don't know what to write about. Let’s try this: What's the first thing that pops into my mind? Fries, Dressing, & Gravy. Dandy! For those of you not from Newfoundland or some parts of Nova Scotia, this is a Newfoundland delicacy. Basically, you grab a plate of fries, and put dressing (you might call it something unnecessarily grand like "stuffing") and gravy on top; just like the name suggests. Real hardcores also douse the plate full of any type of vinegar readily available. Or, if you're my cousin Kelly, you make homemade vinegar because "Heinz isn't strong enough".
No surprise I thought on fries, dressing, & gravy as I find myself thinking on Newfoundland regularly. This trip has been no exception. But some other faraway place has also been appearing in my daydreams over these past 5+ months in particular. CANADA. And it all makes sense too. To explain, let’s rewind 14 years.
17 years old and headed to St. FX I was. About exactly halfway through my first semester, I started realizing how unique my home province was (for the first half, I thought everyone was deaf and that was why nobody understood me when I spoke).
Why was I thinking about Newfoundland so much? Simple. Because I wasn't there. When you're somewhere else, you realize and start to to appreciate how special things were/are at home. Unless your home sucks of course. Like St. John's for example!
Anyways, back to my point. In the same was I realized how cool Newfoundland was years ago, I find myself beginning to realize what an inherently cool place Canada and its residents are. It's so cliché, it makes me sick to write about it, but there's no denying it. All the stereotypes, for the most part, are true.
1. Canadians are more polite than any other nation (well, maybe second to the Philippines).
2. Canadians are more apologetic than any other nation.
- I have Ashley setup on an "apology tally" as I feel she apologizes too much. In the same way Filipinos thank you when it makes absolutely no sense.
3. Canadians appreciate the weather more than any other nation.
- "Well, it's nice outside compared to Canada!"
4. Canadians seem to ooze some type of "come talk to me" funk that people can't resist.
- We actually find it difficult to get any lone time in public. Arrogant? Perhaps. But true.
I like to think Canadians are so approachable because we're awesome, and not because they secretly hope we'll sponsor them into Canada. But I could be wrong.
I'll end with one particularly popular Canadian stereotype that we have found to be totally false in our travels. It's the one that suggests that French Canadiens have shall we say, an "air of superiority" to them. That they are better than their English counterparts. Who knows, maybe in Canada it's true, but not on the international scene. All Frenchmen and Frenchwomen we've met worldwide have been super friendly, charming, fun to be around, and most definitely smokers.
I've been watching my bank account drain dramatically since we landed in the Middle East. Not cheap at all. The weather is some nice though. Much drier and temperate than humid, relentless South East Asia. You should see how fast a generally nice fella turns into a savage when he can't escape the heat. In the sun, the shade, basement, or top floor, you can't escape it. It follows you around and tattoos your clothes to your body. Especially your underwear. If I had my time back, I would have started taking photographs of the various "underwear sweat" designs that the weather created on my grey Fruit of the Looms. Not fit. Most of them looks like butterflies actually.
Another thing that had me drove clear off my head was the fact that it was so hard to find a cold beer in Asia. Well, besides South Korea in January. The ultimate illustration of South East Asia's disregard for chilled beverages was when myself and Ashley were on a 500Km motorcycle odyssey in central Laos. After spending half a day on a motor scooter, eating bugs the size of small birds and an arse as numb as how it feels when you're on the toilet for too long, I was ready for a beer. So in I goes to our hostel's kitchen to grab a cold, reputable "Beerlao"...South East Asia's best beer according to Lonely Planet. Right excited. I didn't take notice of the fact that the fridges light was not turned on. Harsh foreshadowing. So I opened the fridge door to grab a Beerlao, and when I grabbed the bottle, it scalded my hand it was that hot. That might be a slight exaggeration, but it was some warm. I was fuming. It was like no matter what happened at that point, it couldn't make me more cract than I already was. Until the waitress makes an appearance. She gives me a "Saw Ba Dee" (hello) and bows as they do, then smiles at me as she plugs in the fridge. It was the first time I thought to myself "I've got to get home out of this". What does a fella have to do to feel cold and have a cold beer?
Then I had a moment of genius. I combined my financial depression with my literally hot body to develop a business venture than I would undoubtedly have a passion for. When I gets home, I'm getting into the Air-conditioning/Refrigeration business. So if you see a white cargo van on the roads of Calgary or Up the Shore with "Froze to Dett Industries" on the side of her, beep your horn at me!