Some of my favorite moments are when I'm hunting for a spot for a photo shoot. I come across the most amazing art! Here are a few of my favorites from this week...
I was only in Turkey for a total of four months, but I swear to you it felt like way longer. Something about the city just draws you in. Its so chaotic, everything is always moving, but then there are those small neighborhoods like mine that make you feel like you're in a village. What a weird combination, Istanbul. It was such an eclectic mix of ethnicities, yet it was still mostly Turks. People rarely spoke English, so I had to get by with gestures and the few words I had picked up along the way. The hustle and bustle. It blew my mind.
When I first arrived I learned that indeed, the English language was just as confusing and boring as I anticipated it to be. I was enrolled in the area called Kadikoy, right on the water, at a TEFL school for a certification. I had made the plan to teach English in Turkey to extend my stay with my Syrian aunts that were living there after escaping from the conflict in Syria. I hadn't seen them in around seven years, so I wanted to be around them for a while. During that time I learned how to take the buses and not get (that) lost navigating my way to and from the language center downtown. At the center I practiced teaching English to retired Turks from around the area, and they were absolutely charming.
After I was certified I landed a job at a university in an area also close to the water, called Uskudar. There I taught at a preparatory school for students going into university for the first time. I learned how nationalism was popular for young Turks in this day and age. How many students, especially the males, would boast about the infinite wisdom of their president. It was an interesting parallel to the presidential race in the United States happening at the same time.
I realized then that authoritarian leaders rise in every country at different times and for different reasons. But also that there seemed to be a larger plan in the world that was being pulled in different directions by strings shrouded in mystery. The question I always seemed to have on my mind was who the true puppet master could be. Every country seemed to have different stakes in this global game of thrones. From an outside perspective looking at the United States, it was clear to see that maybe we were no longer the first world power. It looked like Russia was battling for the top, and the U.S was struggling with its grip on the world.
This kind of shattered my glass ceiling, and shifted my perspective of the world. Things are really not all what they seem. My time in Turkey was marked by moments like this for me. Weeks went by with this feeling of transparency in time. I knew I was in a moment that would come to be marked down in history as a time of change. I kept asking myself what my place was in this giant story. That could be a result of the big-ness of a city like Istanbul.
The city was crawling with people. Each person walking along had their own story. Each had their own voice, that they could choose to keep silent, or they could use for change. There's a word for this feeling- being overwhelmed with the existence of each passerby's individual story- and I was feeling it hard in Istanbul. I asked myself, in this crowd of people, how could I possibly change a thing? I guess you could say I went through a minor depression, or at least a loss of purpose.
Then I had kind of an epiphany. I examined my own individual mix of identities. I came to the conclusion that there really isn't anyone with my same vision, voice, or perspective. My mix of identities had always contained being American-born, half-Syrian, Muslim-raised, artist and designer, third-generation kid who lived all over the globe, and most recently; queer woman in a heterosexual relationship. I had that last realization about a year ago now.
I had reflected on my childhood and young adulthood while in Istanbul, and the explanation was clear for the way I had been feeling. I had been bi-sexual all along, but I hadn't been able to get past the mental blocks nailed in my head by religion to admit it to myself. Things I had thought about, felt, and done as a young teen now made sense to me. I reflected back on having my first crush on a girl, back in middle school.
I don't remember thinking of it as a crush, though. All I felt was a strong sense of wanting to be closer to her...and that she was the prettiest girl in the whole class. She had auburn hair and freckles across her face. When it was her birthday, valentines day, or any other excuse holiday, I would make cards and gifts for her. I would make them for my other friends too, of course. But hers I would take extra care with.
I look back and remember small instances in time like that, before I even knew anything about sexuality and what it meant to be attracted to someone. Flash forward to this past summer at a job, and I knew for sure that I was queer. This was the confirmation anyone could have asked for. Ironically this girl had red-ish hair and freckles too. And she made my heart pound fast. I think what made it more alluring was that it was clear she was not straight either. I wanted to talk to her so badly.
It was in Istanbul that I found the strength to tell my family (my mom for now) that I was bisexual. She reacted okay. I knew my dad, with his cultural Syrian roots and religion, wouldn't really have the tools to deal with a discovery like this. I didn't tell him just yet. I knew I had to tell him when I could see him face to face, back home. I knew the transition was going to be difficult. I was revealing a part of myself I had kept in the depths of my mind for so long. I knew it would be hard for my family to adjust to the idea.
People ask me, how do you know you're bisexual if you have never had sex with a woman? I ask in return, how do you know you are straight when you are young and haven't had sex yet? They get it then. Its about attraction. Its about how your biology is wired. I didn't choose to be attracted to women, that's just how I feel right now. The only choice I made wasn't to have these feelings, but to be transparent with this part of my identity.
When I first began to identify as queer, I suddenly had this feeling of not being genuine. Through all the support I showed to the LGBTQ community, I still hadn't been able to be “out” myself. I knew it was time to change that. In this world that paints Syrian women as one thing, or Americans as one thing, or even Muslim-born women as one thing, we need voices saying no. We are not a monolith, we are individuals. Syrian women are not all desperate refugees, but are strong, resilient warriors. Americans are not European/white people, America is White, Black, Brown, Asian, Arab... and Muslims are not all terrorists, we are normal people with normal struggles, like juggling our identities and discovering our sexuality.
I learned in Istanbul that I am part of the many people who are missing links. We hover in the limbo between worlds, between identities. We show the opposite of the stereotypes people paint us as. It's voices like ours that will change the perspectives of the world. This realization gave me my purpose back. I have this vision in my head and I carried it back home with me. It's time to work.
1. Daydream like a kid again
As adults we are trained to give up our dreams and fantasies for the sake of so-called practicality. Any wild dream is deemed silly and immediately dismissed, so often we are embarrassed to even voice what we really want in life. This step is completed in the safety and privacy of your own brain. Allow yourself to daydream. Picture yourself in your ideal lifestyle, and really soak in how amazing it feels to be there. At this point in my own journey, my mental script was saying “wow, wouldn't it be amazing if I could travel the world? I wish!” Wishing something into existence is the very first step- you have to see it in your minds eye to let it manifest.
2. Find inspiration
While I was sewing for my most recent runway show, I listened to a travel podcast almost every single day. I was super booked (as always) and was drafting patterns, cutting fabric, and sewing one garment every day (I don't recommend this, it's tiring!!) I'm a very social person, and like to be outside of the house for the majority of the day, so having to be stuck inside all those hours was very draining. What saved me was that podcast. I found it by accident on Spotify while looking for music. That inspired me to do more research. I read as many articles, blog posts, and books as I could written by people who did what I wanted to do. Just from listening to the podcast and reading material I was able to learn so much that it made my dream of world travel seem way more achievable. If you are the type of person to over-think things, or can't go into things blindly, I highly recommend reading real-life stories from world travelers to ease your worries.
3. Get un-stuck
After I graduated, I made a conscious choice not to find a full-time art teacher job, because I knew I could get comfortable and stay stuck. So for Fall-Spring 2016 I worked odd jobs that I couldn't get attached to as I worked up the courage to travel. I mostly worked as a substitute teacher, which is incredibly flexible (just accept jobs on the daily as needed). Because I could make my own schedule, I was able to dip my toes into solo travel with my trip to Arizona. Read about my unconventional trip here. I told myself I would take that year to figure things out, and the next Fall I would apply for jobs. Well, summer came and I decided that I hadn't yet satisfied my thirst for travel, so I decided not to apply for a teaching job in the Fall. With the big, empty year looming ahead of me with no job to fill it up, I forced myself to act. That's when I started researching different jobs one could find abroad. Through my research I read so many stories of people who built or enhanced their career through their travels- it wasn't just a vacation to them. This really spurred me on, and I decided to look into TEFL certifications. I am getting certified through the International TEFL Academy
4. Talk about it
It's time now to take the inner workings of your brain from step #1 and spill it out into the world! This may be the scariest step for some people. Personally what I feared most was the reaction from my parents- no one wants their kid to move away! I slowly introduced the idea to them, and I mean slowly, like for years. They didn't take me seriously at first, but it got to them eventually. As for everyone else, I told people a few at a time to gradually get the idea out there. This cuts out the drama of “HEY! I'M LEAVING!!” Speaking things out loud makes you more likely to follow through with action, because you feel held accountable by everyone you told. Don't worry, its a good kind of pressure. Since people started to know I was going to travel, I have been approached a few times by fellow travelers with their tips and stories. Being open about what you want will ensure that people with your interests see you and want to connect!
5. Make yourself as light as a feather
The first thought that ran through my head when I thought about travel was “Crap! How am I gonna bring all my stuff??” I remember traveling as a kid and packing up our stuff to get shipped internationally, its a lot of work and money. Do away with that concern by getting rid of everything but the necessities. I personally got rid of almost 2/3 of everything I own, see how I did it here. Most likely there will be awesome stuff during your travels that you will want to buy anyway! Might as well leave room in your suitcase for it, am I right? Anyway, the essence of travel is about experience- the food, the views, and the people- and less about material objects. Let this be a chance to reconnect to the things that really matter in life. Before I even left for my trip to Istanbul, I was starting to reap the benefits of living a less materialistic life. Read how my life changed.
6. Take bold, decisive actions
This is probably my favorite step, because its when things actually start falling into place. The biggest thing to figure out of course is finances, and you need to think about it at least a year before you plan to leave. This year I bought very little expensive items, sold a ton of my stuff, and was thoughtful with my spending. It's all about sacrifices. I was working odd minimum wage jobs in addition to my design work- not making six figures here people! I came to the realization that if I am a broke college grad, I'd rather be broke doing cool shit. Anyone can afford to travel, you just have to prioritize that over anything else. The next thing I figured out was a source of income. Most of us can't afford to just 'hang out' in a country without a job. For me, the TEFL certification seemed like the best fit, since I was already a certified art teacher. The last step was setting a departure date and buying a plane ticket. This is the final push to really get your butt out the door! Unless you are willing to throw away a ton of money, most people won't back down from their flight plans.
As I type this I'm sitting by the window watching the sun rise over the beautiful city of Istanbul, and I feel a sense of peace in my heart, because I made it here after all the hard work. It will pay off, if you just believe it is possible you can do anything!
What are your tips for travel? If I should drop all my plans for next year and travel somewhere, where would it be?
I landed in Phoenix, then took a shuttle to Prescott. It dropped me off at a hotel in the middle of downtown. Unlike people my age, Kris doesn’t keep her cell phone glued to her side at all times (a trait I admire), so naturally when I called to let her know I had arrived, she didn’t answer. So, with an adventurous spirit I took off walking with my colorful carpet bag in the direction of her shelter.
“Embrace people into your lives with unapologetic warmth”
When I arrived she walked out the door exclaiming “You’re alive!” and embraced me like an old friend. It didn’t feel like this was someone I had only met once. This was the first lesson I learned. To embrace people into your lives with unapologetic warmth. When I walked in I was in awe of the space. It was about ten in the morning but there already was a small gathering of people sitting inside. Rodney was one man whose story really affected me. He was younger than my own dad, probably in his late forties, but looked like he was in his sixties. That is what happens to people who live on the street. Like Claudia (a realist painter) says, they have much more character in their faces than someone their same age who lived a comfortable life. I wouldn’t have known it unless Kris told me, but he was dying. He had congenital heart failure, his lungs were filled with liquid. He described it as feeling like he was constantly having the wind knocked out of him. Nevertheless, he insisted on doing the dishes and walked around with a smile on his face.
“We don’t know if our loved ones will walk back in the door on any given day, so we need to appreciate every moment we have with them, and be fully in the present.”
Kris had a habit of saying ‘It is what it is’. To some people, it might sound harsh. But for someone like her who has witnessed so many people come and go, get sick, die, get addicted again, it becomes extremely important to accept reality. I personally haven’t had people close to me pass away, or watch anyone die, and I’ll be honest- it scares me, makes me anxious. We talked a lot about life and death during that week. Maybe it was because for the homeless, death was just one cold night away. Rodney left to go to the hospital the same day I arrived. Kris said she had learned to accept that when these people left, often she didn’t know if they would ever come back, and the same was true for Rodney, so she tried to appreciate the time she had with them while they were there. I realized that same belief could be applied to anyone in my life. We don’t know if our loved ones will walk back in the door on any given day, so we need to appreciate every moment we have with them, and be fully in the present.
My time at the shelter talking with these people helped me see the fragility of life. I spoke with a man who had a mansion, a girl, a good job, everything, and it was all gone the blink of an eye. His bony face and missing teeth had me guessing it could have been the result drug use. It is unspoken code at The Garage not to poke into these people’s lives, or ask what it was that got them on the street, so I didn’t pry.
Sadly, while it is true that many homeless have drug abuse problems that caused their homelessness, there is also a high rate of mental illness and war veterans on the street. Kris has been seeing Vietnam vets for years, but now Iraq vets have started trickling in. It’s a short path from the time they return from war to them ending up on the streets. I learned this by talking to an Iraqi vet who was sent home after shrapnel blew the back of his head open while in the field. He had been homeless pretty much since he left the hospital. I asked about government aid, and he responded nonchalantly “I have twenty more months before I get my money”….twenty months?? How are they expected to get by while they wait? Most of these veterans are too disabled to find work. Without government aid or housing, they end up on the street lickety-split. That conversation reaffirmed by belief that our veterans’ services are far from sufficient.
Another conversation I had was not with a guest of The Garage, but with a volunteer. His name was Lance, and he was a white man who had converted to Sufism twenty-three years ago. Sufism is a sect of Islam, just like Shiite and Sunni. Shiite are generally more strict or fundamentalist, Sunni are traditional, middle of the road (like my family), and Sufis are the more mystical, free-loving group. It was funny, he had never sat down and had a conversation with a Sunni, and I had never met a Sufi, to for those three hours we talked we were trying to find beliefs that we both had in common.
“Every religion is simply a tool to become closer to God, or Allah, or Jehovah, or the Great Spirit, and once we realize that we break down the barriers between religions and beliefs and can respect and love each other as fellow human beings”
This was such an interesting conversation. Lance spoke about the way he worshiped, so different from the way traditional Muslims pray. He spoke about how in his sect they believed that we are all one, that all of our hearts are connected, and the heart of religion is in all of us. One thing he said that I thought was particularly beautiful, was that every religion is simply a tool to become closer to God, or Allah, or Jehovah, or the Great Spirit, and once we realize that we break down the barriers between religions and beliefs and can respect and love each other as fellow human beings.
This conversation was such a blessing. It taught me that as human beings we should search for the beliefs we have in common with others rather than our differences. That is what truly strengthens our bonds. It just so happened that I met Lance the last day I was in Prescott, and that very same day Rodney returned from his second trip to the hospital. The first time he left, it was for one day, but the second time I wasn’t sure his sparkling blue eyes would ever make another appearance. When I caught the first glimpse of him I was able to see just how sick he was before- his complexion was grey. Now, it was like a warm light was glowing inside him, he was rosy and pink! The operation had worked- he could breathe again, the pain was gone. What a gift to see this man’s health brought back to him.
This was another lesson I learned while watching Kris (65) walk to and fro- Health is wealth. Without it, everyday tasks become difficult, and it’s easy to slip into despair. Kris didn’t drive (unless it was a long way away), she walked everywhere. She was more active and self-sufficient at her age than I have ever been. There is something about getting somewhere with the strength of your own body that makes it all the more gratifying.
At the end of that week she drove me to Sedona to visit my friend from art school, Rachel. We took a winding mountain road, and the views brought tears to my eyes. The sky looked so big. How could someone see a mountain and not want to climb it? Kris believed that that’s why people who grow up in the West have such a sense of adventure, the world seems endless, and there could be something waiting just over the next hill.
The first night in Sedona we made a campfire in the middle of the desert and gazed at the stars. There I saw Orion’s belt and the Seven Sisters. We studied the colors of distant mountains. Not once did I feel the urge to check my Facebook notifications. This was real life.
The next morning we drove up to an artesian spring on the side of Oak Creek Canyon. This was the kind of water people drank before it was polluted and needed to be filtered. Something about it felt more alive…it must have been all the natural minerals, or the energy of the mountain. On the way down we stopped at two Native American jewelry stands, and visited an outpost. There I got some souvenirs for my younger siblings: carved fox tooth and toe bone necklaces.
We eventually made it to Doe Mountain, our designated hiking spot. Every couple of turns up the zig-zagged path I had to stop and observe the view in awe. I think that experience has gotten me hooked on hiking. When we got to the top we sat and exchanged life stories and philosophies. It was therapeutic, and meditative. We played on a wooden flute while a little bird sat nearby and listened.
There is something magical about the West. It’s no wonder that people flocked to it, and still do today. That trip was an amazing life experience. Did I have money to spare? No. Did I have the time to go? Of course not! These are the two biggest excuses we all use to prevent ourselves from living life to the fullest. If I learned one thing from this trip, is that time stops for no one. You just gotta do it!
**Read the story of Quixote and her inspiration for the name:
Don Quixote is the main character in the story The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his sanity and decides to set out to revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and bring justice to the world (Wikipedia). He fights for “things as they should be, not at they are”- he is an idealist. This is the influence for the name Quixote’s Garage. Though she recognizes that her work may not change the world, Kris is working for things as they should be, and helping one person at a time in her small community. She is an inspirational woman.