Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Guilt and perception.

So, I promised you guys more posts about my trip to Nigeria and I figured now is as good a time as any to write about.  While I was traveling, I found myself so excited to write and share with you what I was seeing and doing while I was there.  I wanted to capture everything and be able to share it all.  I wanted to remember every memorable conversation, sight, and experience to document it.  Yet I also wanted to be sure to EXPERIENCE where I was and to disconnect from my phone, from my internal thoughts and notes, and just enjoy what I was doing, while I was doing it. The course that I took the week before my trip also was fresh in my mind and it encouraged us to live in the moment and experience everything while it was happening... emotions, thoughts, etc. While in the class, another one of the things that we talked about, and I also recently read about in a book, is the feeling of happiness.  Specifically, when you are feeling happy, but that happiness is clouded by guilt, or of a fear that the happiness cannot be forever so you're always waiting for the other shoe to drop so to say.

I've realized, while during my trip to Nigeria, that I was feeling that way.  It wasn't exactly an anxiety about the trip coming to an end, but moreso just the time of my life that I am in right now.  I mean, I hope it comes across to you guys, but when I was in Nigeria, I felt such overwhelming gratitude and awe that THIS IS MY LIFE.  That I somehow, managed to do what I have always wanted and have a job that takes me around the world.  That I am one of those rare and lucky people who enjoy the work that I do and find fulfillment in it.  That I get paid to travel. That I am able to explore new cultures, try new foods, meet new people, and I do it all with work.  Who gets to be that lucky?  Who gets to be that fortunate?!  There has to be a catch, right?  Where is the fine print?  When am I going to make a mistake and trip and have everything come crashing down?  I actually stress about these things and I can feel that anxiety sometimes weighing me down - I felt it a lot while I was in Nigeria.

I also feel guilty sometimes.  Why me? Why was I the one that got to go on the trip, of all the capable and smart people I work with?  Thoughts sometimes fly through my head that there are probably so many more deserving people or so many more qualified people to be doing something than I am.  Maybe it is a lack of confidence, but I question.  Why me?

If I weren't me, I would hate me.  I would hate that girl that gets to be so happy and travel the world and explore new cultures and try new foods and get paid to do it!  I would think things like, "How did she get so lucky?" and "She isn't anything special!"  I sometimes feel guilt for the opportunities that I am afforded and that I have in my life.

And then beyond that personal guilt in my day to day life, while I was in Nigeria, there was also very real guilt that I felt in just seeing the world around me.  For example, let's bring up the night that I went for a run in circles within my gated hotel complex in Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria -- and then sat and relaxed by the outdoor pool.

I felt guilt over the practical fact that all of the people who I saw out my car window as I was driven around the city throughout the day were still out there.

I have never considered myself to be upper class or come from wealth.  I have never considered myself to be well off or rich.  In fact, growing up, I felt that I was actually sometimes more grounded than many of my friends.  I bought my own car in high school.  I NEVER had a credit card from my parents in college.  I don't buy anything with a label.  I don't have really high end things.  And I never went on extravagant vacations growing up, or with my family now for that matter.  Aside from much of college, that my parents graciously covered for me, I earned what I bought and what I did throughout my life.  In high school, college, and since I have graduated.  In comparison to what I see all the time in the U.S. -- I am not in the top percent of the wealthy.

However, the vast difference between what is well off and what is not well off in Nigeria seems to be so incredible.  And as I sat that night, in my secure, high end hotel, with my feet in the pool, listening to music as the sun set in front of me over the water.  I realized, wow, I AM the rich person.  I am that wealthy, privileged, above the masses, person.  And honestly, it made me want to throw up.  It felt like a punch in the stomach.  It was a bizarre realization and I felt a lot of guilt over that.

While I was in Nigeria, my coworkers commented on the fact that I had been a really easy person to host because I am comfortable in any situation.  They said that they were impressed with me even before I had arrived.  In first, wanting to come to Nigeria and initiating the trip.  Then, being very calm throughout the security process and the forms I needed to fill out and health processes.  I didn't reach out to them too much, I just figured it out on my own.  My main host for the trip told me that he had gone to check in with our company's security leader to let him know that he was hosting a colleague visiting from America the following week.  He had been surprised (and impressed I guess) when the security leader said that, he knew, and that I had sent him an e-mail to introduce myself (which I had.)

My coworkers commented that they were impressed that I hadn't asked more questions about the security or panicked before coming. That while I was there I hadn't shown any signs of anxiety or fear or seemed uncomfortable in ANY setting at all. They said that they'd been surprised with how well I was been doing with the Nigerian food, spices, and just going with the flow when things went unplanned in traffic or restaurants or in the office.  And they commented that they'd noticed I hadn't stopped smiling since I've arrived and that I was really fun to have around.

All of these things are really big compliments to me.  

I mean, of course, as these are work colleagues I want them to see me as smart and competent and effective at my job and stuff like that.  But these things that I hear from my colleagues about fitting in culturally, sometimes mean even more to me.  My main host when I was in Korea in November told me similar things about my ability to adjust to the food, chopsticks, lifestyle, etc. and on my last night, "I really see why you have the job that you have." and it meant so much to me.

It means a lot that they appreciate these small things because they are important to me.  I usually am nervous before I travel places.  I certainly am nervous for the flights.  And I was definitely nervous before going to Nigeria, but I did not discuss it with my colleagues who live there.  To me, that would have been disrespectful.  I talked to a number of people beforehand to give me advice, I made sure to e-mail the security leader, I got input from Nigerian friends and people who travel to West Africa often, etc.

Once I was there, I felt very comfortable though.  And I had such a great time with my coworkers there.  I literally felt like I had known them for years as soon as I arrived.  I appreciated all of the conversations I had, everything I learned, and how willing they were to answer questions and engage me in conversations.   Their lives are normal.  They aren't hiding in bunkers or dodging bullets in the street.  Yes, life is different than our lives in the U.S. but "normal" is relative and their lives are normal.

I came to a big realization about perception while I was there and it reminded me of an important lesson that I have known for a while, but sometimes it just slips your mind.

If we allow our judgement or decisions to be made about a certain culture, race, food, location, or anything based on a LIMITED set of viewpoints or experiences, than we are serving an injustice.  If you have one bad plate full of chicken tikka masala and decide you don't like Indian food -- you are serving your taste buds an injustice.  If you visit Rome on a rainy weekend and the city is damp and dreary and cold and you don't enjoy yourself -- you are doing yourself an injustice.  If you have one bad experience with a person who is different than you and classify all people in that category based off of that experience -- well than you are just ignorant.

The day I ran on the treadmill in Nigeria, CNN was on while I was running.  The two stories I saw back to back were one about (another) murder of an unarmed black teen by the trigger of  U.S. police officer, And then that of racist fraternity brothers chanting disgusting things on a bus.  As I watched these two stories the message came across very clear to me -- that if I didn't know anything besides these news stories, the message would be that the United States does not like black people.  That Americans do not like black people and that it is unsafe to be within the U.S. as a black male.

I thought about how I would feel or what the world would be like if people made that judgment on all of the U.S. and Americans (myself included!) based on these news stories.  I then thought of the news stories I had seen about Nigeria before I came over here and how nervous they had made me.  But in reality, that is such a minuscule portion of the country.  Such a tiny percent of the population that how in the world could I judge the safety of a city or the security of the people I was with, based on such a skewed perception!

I would never want someone to judge me based on the news stories I saw about the U.S. so therefore how can you judge a Nigerian based on what we see about Nigeria?  Or an Iranian based on what we see about Iran in the news?  These issues have been always a part of my mindset and something I have known -- which is why I was comfortable going in the first place -- but the reminder of this was so important on this trip and something I wanted to share with everyone.

One of the friends I made in Nigeria told me that he had recently been to the U.S. and when walking around New York City in some areas outside of Central Park, he felt more unsafe than walking around the streets of Lagos.  They also commented on the gun laws we have in the U.S. and asked me why so many Americans feel they need to own guns!  Although we may only see visions of Nigerians and Africans touting guns on the news -- the men I was with felt no need for everyday civilians to own armed weapons, which I thought was so interesting.

Anyways, I brought up a lot of points here and didn't really provide any answers.  But I wanted to take the time to think through some of the thoughts that have been rushing through my mind over the past weeks and share them with you.  I hope to either continue some of the conversations with you or at least get you to think a little bit.  It was an eye opening trip for me and I want to be able to share as much of that as I can.

Comment, Tweet, Insta, Facebook, Text -- you know how to get in touch with me.  But, would love to hear more about what you think of everything I've written here.

Goodnight everyone and happy HUMP DAY!

P.S. I ran 6 super hot and sweaty miles today.  I reallllllly am getting motivated by this 100 mile challenge and trying to get myself ahead of the other people.  Also, Atlanta is just going to get hotter.  Someone save me please.

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