Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What I've Learned Living Abroad for 7+ Years...and What Americans Need to Learn in My Most Humble Opinion

Yesterday I met with my financial advisor.  Luckily she's also a good friend so it was done on a Sunday afternoon by her pool, drinking wine (just me) and leaving with a handful of fresh veggies from her garden.  I have some fairly large financial decisions looming and I've been in a hunker down save mode for the past 7 years.  Honestly, it's not the large financial decisions...land, new truck, possible change in my employment...it's the fact that I'm truly scared shitless I may lose everything I've worked so hard to save if Trump is elected President.  

This is not going to be a political blog.  Just stating a fact.  Uncertainty in politics breeds uncertainty in the financial markets.  Remember Brexit?  Trump is our Brexit.

Don't know what Brexit is?  

My financial advisor, speaking as a friend, mentioned I seemed very different in my outlook towards things, the world, people, life.  

That is what living abroad for 7+ years has given me.  Knowledge....a wealth of knowledge which cannot be learned through books alone.

I know what Brexit is.  

In April 2009, I moved to Rwanda.  I had traveled some.  Costa Rica twice for a couple of weeks each time.  Europe in high school.  South Africa...aka Africa light...for two weeks in 2004.  None of that travel really taught me anything outside of simply seeing some new cool things.

As I reflect on life since 2009 I realize the world has shaped me into a very different person from the person who left the US on a bit of a whim to chase her childhood dreams.  I still don't own a giraffe.


I am not simply tolerant as in just dealing with things, people, experiences and doing the best.  Tolerance is now one of my moral virtues.  I have always thought I was an empathetic person.  I was the kid who fought injustice, saved animals and had a very clear sense of right and wrong.  

The tolerance I feel is the empathy for another person's situation.  In my recent blog about Janvier, a rider who essentially went sideways, I realized it would have been a very differently written blog years ago.  When the lies he began spreading in the media first began of course I was angry and hurt.  I could have written a blog about my anger and hurt, however, I am not that person anymore.  I wrote the blog after really thinking about Janvier's actions and sitting with them and trying to figure out why he did what he did.  In the end, his childhood, growing up in a refugee camp, dictated how he handled everything these past couple of months.  I do not condone what he did, what he may continue to do, but I understand why.  I cannot help him help himself until I am empathetic to who he is and how he became who he is now.  

This election year has shown complete intolerance.  The vitriol to women, minorities and refugees by Trump is something my moral compass cannot process.  This cannot be the world I left, the America I love.  Has America gone that far sideways or do I have a skewed view of the world I left 7 years ago?

Less is more....

Always shocking when I land in the US is the "stuff", the abundance of "stuff", the overflowing of "stuff", the all consuming drive for more "stuff".  My stuff fits in 5 plastic bins, one of which should probably go since it contains all my cocktail dresses from 7+ years ago.  I'm not thinking anyone is inviting me to a country club any time soon!

Let go of the "stuff" and grab hold of the experience.  Put down the phone and listen to your kids.  Stop multi tasking and focus on the people in front of you.  Stop working so much so you can get more "stuff" and just be.  Be okay with the ones you love, with what you have right in front of you.

I am ambitious.  That will never change.  I have been praying hard for our ranch to become our permanent home.  It is a lot of land.  A lot of land filled with over a hundred years of memories and holding the potential for many more new memories.  That is my "stuff".

Given the choice of a new wardrobe, a new car, new "stuff" and a plane ticket and a new adventure, the latter wins out every time.  

I know....the only thing in my wardrobe is t-shirts, jeans and flip flops worn until they are in shreds.  It's only "stuff".

Savor the experience....

This I still struggle with daily.  Be in the moment.  Stop waiting for the next negative thing to happen and just enjoy the positive moment you're experiencing.

That was my sermon to the choir.

Respect how great you have it....

If you have a roof over your head, water you can drink, electricity that remains on unless you are in the middle of Hurricane Matthew, rejoice.  You are wealthier than the majority of people in the world.

America is great.  We don't need to #MAGA.  It's good, it's great, it's freaking awesome!  Go live in a third world country.  LIVE in it.  Don't just visit it BE there, for a long time.  Then get back to me on how America is not great.  

By respecting how great you have it you may be nicer to the people you come in contact with every day.  Really thank the person who made your coffee at Starbucks.  You have no idea where they come from or where they've been today.  

I'm not a cynic....but I am a realist...

Life will taint you.  There is no way around that.  Experience and perspective shapes how you view and interact with the world around you.  

The riders lie.  Fact of life.  They lie a lot.  Everything they say is subject to a fact check.  They are my little Hillary's and Trump's.  Their world is based on a culture of withholding the truth, coloring the truth, skewing the truth.  It just is.  I know that.  If I was cynical I would simply write them off.  Realistically, I fact check.  

I have had people criticize me when I respond to them that they need to double check things which they have been told.  They seem appalled that I would even say something to that affect.  I have been accused of being racist because I said to double check.  Not sure how that makes me racist.  I simply employ the "trust but verify" model used by former President Reagan when working with the Soviets.  

Don't be afraid to believe in the good, but also don't be the village idiot.

I know my goals....

Everything is fleeting.  I set goals, always have, always will, but they are goals based on my values and not on simply achieving.  

In 2008, when I was struggling to figure out why I was so unhappy with life, with my perfect, high paying job, a husband, a house (well, that I lost eventually), I wrote in my journal three things....

1.  Do something around my love of cycling
2.  Travel
3.  Help people

Seven years later these "goals" are still my driving force.  They are why I am working desperately to do the impossible, to launch an all African women's team.  

The women's team is so important to the future for these women.  I also acknowledge the monumental task of making it happen.  Money, visas, travel restrictions, language barriers, inexperience....but in the end, that's what makes it all that much more significant.  HUGE risk, MONUMENTAL reward not for me, but for them.  

Words Matter

Watching the debate last night I was disturbed most by the "It was just locker room talk"...it's just words.  

Words matter.  If you've ever lived abroad for extended periods of time (more than a year) you will eventually find yourself scraping the cultural doo doo which you've just stop in off your shoe and apologizing to your host profusely.  Something I've found to be benign, landed me in hot water.  I didn't even understand the why but it doesn't matter, because words I didn't even realize were "offensive" almost got me a one way ticket out of the country.  

This is also what truly frightens me about our current election.  Trump's shoot from the hip, refusal to listen to advisors and read about the cultures and leaders of various countries is terrifying.  I foresee immense amounts of doo doo scraping should he be our leader.  

My normal reactionary personality has been replaced with one more measured, more thoughtful of the ramifications should I decide to speak.  

This is something every one should learn.  Based on what I see on FB, there is an epidemic of vomit mouth in the US.  Stop, breathe, think about your words before you spew.  You might just decide the spew is not worth the bile.  And if you give an apology stop at the I'm sorry I did X..Y..Z.  There is not "but" after "Z".  NEVER.  If there is, you're not sorry.

The experience I have been fortunate to have in my life has changed me.  I challenge Americans to travel more.  And by traveling I mean, outside the Mexico Club Med.  That is not traveling.  

Volunteer more.  The world does not revolve around your needs.  You hate the refugee crisis?  You're afraid of refugees?  Do you know a refugee?  Did you know Muslims are NOT ISIS?  The US is taking 10,000 refugees and Americans are in a panic.  That's exactly .05% of the current number of 21.3 million refugees in the world.  Almost 34,000 people a DAY have to leave their countries.  We only take in 30% of one DAY out of 365 days.  That's unconscionable. 

Turn off the television, put down the phone, pick up a book, talk to someone and travel.  You might just find you're not the person you thought you were.  You might just be better.  

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