How to Avoid Pickpockets and Other Stories

A small brown face rounded the length of booths that separated the sellers from the buyers. Her eyes were deep and her face devoid of expression. Nothing moved beyond the reaches of her mouth as questions and short answers were pushed at me, neither begging nor demanding, but landing solidly between the two.

I had purchased a plate of papaya from the woman she was with. Five Fijian dollars for five of the sweet ripe fruit. I had noticed the girl watching where I pulled the equivalent of $2.50 in American currency from my bag. Her gaze had grabbed for the few fives I had kept in that pocket.

At her second appearance, I swung my small backpack to the front of me. She’s going to try to pickpocket me. Maybe she won’t, but my traveling mama Heather taught me too well to think otherwise.

I purchased a mango from an Indian man, languishing in conversation behind piles of sticky fruit. He passed the plastic bag and a dollar coin into my hand.

I turned and gave it to the girl. Maybe she wasn’t going to steal. Maybe I could give something small. I wasn’t afraid of her. It was worth a shot.

I asked if she knew of good pineapple. Without an apparent thought, she pointed to the stall directly beside her. It’s likely she didn’t care. Maybe helping the stupid foreigner would get her a few more dollars.

(The pineapple did end up being good.)

“Do you need anything else?”

Nope. Thank you for your help. See ya!

I made my way to the bus stop. After two hours in a foreign city, encountering friendly temporary guides who got me where I needed to go, a creepy old woman leering into my face about hotel activity expenses, flirtatious men, beautiful and bored Indian women, a small boy playing peekaboo with me among the dress racks, and a swindling restaurant manager, I was ready to just go back to the hostel. Perhaps it wasn’t very brave of me. Perhaps I could have kept on and continued collecting stories.

But God I was tired of the internal alert I had set to make sure I was okay.

The heat I loved was licking energy from my body. An apt description would be to say the South Island had frozen me and now Fiji was using me for popsicle. I was dripping enough. No matter how much I was happy to sweat instead of shiver, I could not deny the drain it has initially.

I tried to stride with purpose past groups of men who I knew meant me no harm but instinct devoloped in California streets kept me moving forward intently. I could not count the number of “Bulas” called over my shoulder with a smile that did not mean I would chat.

“Wailoaloa Beach/New Town” read the piece of wood dangling over about 18 inches of sidewalk. I didn’t heave a sigh of relief, but I did look over my shoulder to see if the girl had followed me. If she did, my bag was staying firmly in my arms.

I didn’t see her and my flip-flops slapped against uneven concrete to the bus stop.

A stony face appeared again at my side.

Okay. Well. “What’s your name?”

“Patricia.”

“Pretty name.”

Nod.

And then she asked if I had any more money.

I fished $3.50 out of my otherwise empty pocket.

She asked if I had more. If I had my card with me. What my name was. My parents’ names. More cash. Am I staying with a Fijian or Indian family. Stand closer to her. Am I coming into Nadi tomorrow. She needs a helper for something. Am I sure I don’t have anymore money.

I don’t condone dishonesty. But my parents’ names are not Em and Allen. I am not leaving Fiji 3 days ago. My money is never left at a hostel without me.

I don’t care what I looked like with my bag sagging into an artificial beer belly and my hand on my ass holding my phone, I climbed onto that purple bus with all of my belongings and a small thank you to the woman who took me across the world throughout high school.

Patricia, if that was her name, has a story I don’t know. I don’t blame her for anything. After all, she technically didn’t do a single thing wrong. I gave what I felt I could without jeopardising much more than a few dollars.

No matter where I go, each new shift wrecks me from the inside out. I churn with the uncertainty of a different country, my safety, and the creation of another home. Do other backpackers and travelers feel like this?

Maybe it’s just me wrestling with a significance I assign to another country. Or it’s everyone. I’m not sure.

For now I’m on an island, removed from all but the occasional ego of an Israeli and the enthusiastic greetings of comforting staff.

I’m liking one of my new nicknames though. “Locke and Load.”

Bula, Bro.

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Blurred Out.

If something is worth saying, it should be worth hearing. That’s the filter I ought to use.

I am not good at marketing myself or even presenting myself on social media. I constantly have to remind my ego that what I say and do isn’t for anyone else’s benefit. And I still forget that sometimes.

It doesn’t help that I have a high opinion of who I am coupled with a desire to never make people feel inferior or incapable. But I definitely know that I can be an asshole. After all, people can just be so stupid.

But that is a product of the society they have been born into, stories I can never know, and a variety of psychological factors produced by genetics, nurture, and scientists don’t even know what else.

The belief that I am completely unique resides alongside the knowledge that I am no different from anyone else. It is hard to define the gap between faith and reality. And often I can find my mind blurring the two.

“Brag girl! Brag all you want. You are amazing! You are living.

“Yeah and if they are annoyed with you, tell ’em they can go suck a fat one.”

I am also trying to find the border between bravado and confidence.

But borders are myths. Creations designed to keep us functioning on scales larger than we usually take time to fathom. (This is true if we subscribe to the Yuval Noah Harari method of thinking. He is the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. An intensely beneficial subscription when held in careful balance with the games we play to survive the present.)

It all comes back to I’m just winging it. And so are you. You have no idea what you’re really doing.

It’s okay though. You’re not alone.

You can’t be. There are 7 billion people.

You F***ing Idiot

The amount of times I have almost been run over in Wanaka is too many to count.

To be fair. Most of them were my fault.

Some of it comes from a “I can totally make it if this person doesn’t think I’m an idiot” type attitude. Others are from a “sprint! If I was in Asia, it would be fine!” kind of outlook.

And most of them usually happen while I’m longboarding.

“Do you wear a helmet?”…no…

I remember watching skaters go by and thinking “show offs” or “I wish I could do that.” Since I taught myself to not easily be killed by a plank of wood on wheels, I have found I am in the loop.

Skaters are totally showing off.

Because they can. No breaks. Speed. The ability to swerve through people and traffic. Stunts. Hell, just the knowledge of how to stand on one comfortably endows the rider a confidence that they definitely know the world can see.

And it is not that hard to learn.

Believe it or not, I am far less afraid on a longboard than I am a bike. I am far less afraid careening down a hill than behind the wheel of a car. I am far less afraid of the prospect of falling off than I am of tweaking my back injury some other way.

I’m not sure why. I have less control. I have a high chance of injury. I often find myself distracted by the stars overhead or the mountains beside. It is the characteristic stupidity of the young.

I guess maybe I’m just showing off.

…then damn, I look cool.

…Or we could just shriek about it

“Wow. Your bag is heavy.”
“Don’t hitchhike. It’s dangerous.”
“You’re awfully young. You have to be careful about traveling alone.”
“You’re so brave.”
“That’s awfully scary.”
“Here are alllll the bad things that may happen to you.” (Paraphrase)

If the above things haven’t been said or shoved down my throat, they have been heavily insinuated. Negative statements have been a very small portion of what I have heard about my trip. Positive feedback has been overwhelming.

But negative or doubtful feedback has been present. While I have done my best not to let it affect me, what comes to mind is: Why?

I heard over and over about the scary things that could befall me by traveling alone. A whole f*cking lot actually. I had fears from childhood, stories of far off dangers, headlines from my hometown, and rumors of countries never visited by the people who chose to share the horrors of such places with me.

When I wasn’t rolling my eyes or highly amused, this thought came to mind, (well, it came to mind all the time, I just tried to laugh it off):

Do you not know I’m afraid?

When you stand there and tell me all the reasons why this is a bad idea, what am I supposed to say? What am I supposed to do?

I am afraid.

In fact, there were a SHIT ton of moments where I was just straight up terrified.

And guess what? My smile was fake as I reassured you that “yeah. I’ll be careful. New Zealand is safe. I know what I’m doing. I have friends there. Other people do this too.”

What I really wanted to say was “please just F off.” I know you meant well. I truly do. I see your side. I heard your fears. I was bathed in them. Fears of growing old. Fears of missing life. Fears of the world. Fears of the unknown. Fears of the known. FEAR.

I know this entity. We’re buddies actually. He comes and chills on my shoulder, I say “what’s up?” He shrieks “THE WORLD WILL BURN.” I try to casually respond “ah yup. I’ve known that since Trump got elected.” He nods and keeps quiet for a bit. Until something new shows up and he starts his hysterics once again.

I was afraid as I prepared for my five day track.

I was afraid as I bought my plane ticket.

I was afraid as I waited for the day to arrive.

I was afraid on my first and second and third hitchhike.

I was afraid of going to the bank and setting up my phone.

I know the world is scary. America is one of the scariest places I’ve been. (Fear interjects with “ITS ALL TERRIFYING!”)

Because yeah. Uh. It kind of is. There are humans out there. I know that. I’ve cried about it. I sobbed and fretted over my heavy bag, my lack of experience, and my age. I wondered if I would be picked up by psychos and listened as intimidating looking men said they are too scared to hitch.

I sat at a table with my head in my arms asking my mom why people would tell me these things. “Are they trying to make me not do it?”

The thing is. I don’t know. Maybe you are simply trying to tell yourself the things you wish you heard. Reassure your own little fear sitting on your shoulder.

He’s not going anywhere. So please don’t send him attacking mine.

He’s got his hands full with the concerns of a wee 18 year old doing plenty of crazy shit.

So next time you are tempted to inform someone of no useful info and only how scared YOU are to go do something, please just say “I’m proud of you for facing your fear. Use common sense and you will be just fine.”

Or you know. Give them a hug. We could use that too.

“I Choose this Madness”

“You are weird!”

I have never been so happy to hear those words together. An Australian friend had walked out on me splitting wood, after I had brought the group some cookies, asked them to take part in a personal project of mine, and explained my old school to them.

I was seen.

The day before was very difficult. I felt slow as I continued training, I made mistakes, and I went to bed just wanting to be back in California. I slogged through the moments wondering if all the things I believed about myself being an interesting individual worthy of being seen as an equal to everyone was really true.

After all, so much of the world seems to want to shove it down my throat that “You’re young. Wait till real life starts. Too many people think they are above average when in reality they just need to learn to work hard and understand they aren’t being coddled anymore. Life is hard. You’re young. Wait till real life starts.”

Those words played through my head on repeat. I struggled to fight them off, but went to sleep with tears in my eyes.

Tomorrow would be better. I was sure of it.

I woke up knowing that I had to start my day with my full routine. I meditated for ten minutes, practiced a qigong exercise for another ten minutes, and did some body strengthening exercises. I told myself I was going to have an amazing day. My life is beautiful. I am interesting and worthy of being known.

I am not here to take people’s bullsh*t.

And my day was absolutely fantastic.

My work was more efficient and better quality. I met people from Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, and France. I baked cookies. I attended fire training again and was told to put on a uniform so I could participate in the exercises that weren’t potentially dangerous. I used one of the hoses and learned techniques to deal with the pressure of the water.

I went for a walk alone under the stars and breathed deeply.

“I am mad/but I choose this madness.” – Gloria Anzaldua

From Far Away

As of tomorrow, I will have been in New Zealand one whole month. Last week sometime I thought through that fact and freaked out a bit. “Time goes so fast! It will be a year before I know it! Ahh!”

I’m learning how to not be afraid and also give myself permission to be honest when I feel fear. It’s a balance. I spent a good chunk of the past several weeks pulsing with nervous or anxious energy in some form, telling myself that I knew without a doubt that it would work out and be exactly what I needed.

To my delight, I have walked through today without an ounce of fear. I found the correct platform, was thankful for the wonderful bus driver who ensured my luggage and self have been on my destination bound buses, and I am watching the world go by. Or maybe I am letting myself go with the world.

I could not feel more eager for this job and place. I know I will have more hard days. It’s inevitable. I also know that I will only continue to grow in ways I cannot see and collect memories from moments I do not anticipate.

On a side note: sheep are really cute from far away and so are the baby cows. (I do know they are called calves.)

And did you know that New Zealand has one of the most interesting collections of flora in the world? The Ice Ages did not eradicate as much of the temperate vegetation as it did in the Northern Hemisphere. Consequently, it is not as homogeneous a native forest as it is across the temperate zones up north. There are much fewer conifers and deciduous trees down here.

I am rather fond of trees.

Front Porch Cactus

Setting poetic intention aside, there are days where I wish I was more like a cactus and less like some kind of flower or whatever image I am that draws people I really have no intention of ever talking to or caring about into my world for far longer than I really care to even think about them.

just saying.

Maybe that is why I’m not afraid of being old and having parts of me not working properly and turning brown, while other aspects are just beginning to grow. Because once I reach the age where I actually look 80 or so, I can say whatever the hell I want and watch the world either accept it, pass it off as nonsense, or listen.

Some might say I voice whatever I want anyway.

I don’t.

On my worst days I curl up in a ball on my bed wondering what it would be like to tell pieces of the world that no matter what you tell me, I will do exactly as I choose. I will sit and do nothing. I will push myself to places that your nightmares are too scared to go. I will let my heart scream bad words and not get married and walk slow kilometers with my thoughts chasing passing cars. I will search for the chaos that my brain is desperately asking me to avoid. I will.

 

 

And yet, I always come back to this: I love too hard to always say what I think and my furiously perfectionist heart wants to do things right.

And so my cactus spines will remain largely hidden, because maybe this way, I can make the world a little kinder.

 

(Featured photo edited with VSCO)

Shake Gently Before Opening

(This was written in my Notes as I was getting jostled around. I am okay and next time I use this airport I am confident I will not be so afraid.)

 

As I sit on my second flight to Wellington, I am doing my best to unknot the cord of fear spanning the length of my torso. When I was little, nothing about planes scared me. I liked the turbulence. Then sometime in the past six months, that shifted.

On my way to Dominica, there was a flight with the worst turbulence I could remember, (which in the grand scheme of things wasn’t too bad). Without any understandable reason, I was shaking uncontrollably as I curled up in my mom’s lap trying to tell myself this was no different from any other flight that I had taken. Flights crossing the continental United States are frequently windy.

From that flight on, I could not help but feel the adrenaline that shot through me the second we hit bumps.

My mom is the kind of person that inherently sees the best in everything and everyone. Her philosophy on a bumpy plane is something along the lines of “Well. I’m on the plane and can’t do anything about it so I’ll just be in a good mood and sleep.” Not me. My way of seeing the world is finding why. I like finding the best, but I want to know why there is the worst.

Before our last flight home from Dominica, I found a co pilot and a few flight attendants waiting for their flight to arrive. I walked over and first told them thank you for all of their work. Then I asked the pilot what turbulence is. “Think of air kind of like water. The turbulence is where the cold air and the warm air meet and consequently it’s a little rough. Also wind.”

There was more, but that’s the gist. It helped me immensely. While on my flight from LAX to Fiji, I was able to think through it all again and come to complete peace.

Even yesterday when we got turned around because it was too windy, I was alright as I sat next to two women who were strong and unafraid. This was normal.

But after having done it once, I am sitting in bad turbulence again near one of the windiest airports in the world, trying my best not to panic. Let me describe this Wellington turbulence to you. *ahem* your stomach and brain switched places, switched again, and are being gently shaken as though you are a bottle with a little label advising that you do just that. I am currently watching the tops of heads in front of me bob in synchronization from side to side. Oh hey I can see the ocean.

I wish I could easily switch to my “Oh it all works out” place. Because I know it will. Worst comes to worst, we pull up quickly again, and go back to Auckland…or you know we plummet out of the sky and all that jazz.

That is the tiny voice that causes my fear. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m not in control. Or both.

All that being said, I feel a little better having written this. I’m going to be at my final destination shortly and I have my bag now so that’s even better.

Now we are landed. And I have a new story and an increased heart rate. I think I can wait a wee bit for my next flight though.