How did you get started traveling?
I received a scholarship in the inaugural year of the Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program, which allowed me to go to any college I wanted. I chose a program through Long Island University where students live in a region of the world outside of their own and develop their own educational program and methodology. The school’s philosophy was grounded in Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and John Dewey’s Experience and Education. As students, we lived in home stays, we learned through experience rather than in classrooms, and we developed our own course of learning and methodology; all of it was deeply rooted in human rights.
ARTICLES AND ESSAYS
It was a running joke between my sister, my stepdad, and me. “When we can’t afford to eat, we’ll just sell some of your mother’s books.” My stepdad’s Boston accent still thick after 50 years in Rochester made it sound like “yuh muthah.” He had been married to Mom since we were babies, so we called him Dad. When it was time to move yet again, the four of us would pack all of our belongings, including the furniture, into one truckload before off-loading into an apartment not much bigger than the truck. We moved almost a hundred times by the time I was out of the house.
“Ever since the police showed up at my door, I’ve been obsessed with what happens to the body after it dies. How long does it take before the flesh gets mushy? What happens to the blood? Does it pool just underneath the skin where gravity takes over, or does it ooze out? For weeks after Gina died, I saw death everywhere. I’d pick up an overripe apple and touch the quarter-sized squish of brown where it had started to rot and wonder whether pressing on a dead body after it putrefies would make an indent, too. Two weeks later, when the roses had begun to wilt, I threw them into the garbage, their blackened stems upturned, wet, rigid, and smelling of rotten water like sewage, and I thought of Gina in the rigor stage when the body is stiff and cold. I wondered if that’s how she smelled when they unlocked her door and found her face down in her room.”
"It was a full moon, which meant from my vantage point, I could see his naked silhouette shining blue as he washed his body behind the big lorry. I was naked too, behind the Land Rover."
"I discovered a near-limitless capacity for patience on my parents’ back porch, hiding out, eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and reading Richie Rich comics. I was skipping school, biding my time until the end of the afternoon when I could pretend to come home. That first morning, I had slunk down behind an old green aluminum chair and sat in an upright fetal position, knees to chest, arms swaddling legs. I counted the boards on the floor, twenty-five. The rails along the side, forty-eight, and 360 holes in between the crisscross side rail, 250 yellow leaves on the porch, 423 reds, five points in this yellow leaf, eight in that red leaf."
"The first time Salva Dut and his drilling crew flushed water through the pipes from the aquifer deep beneath the Sudan desert, all of the villagers danced and sang. Most of them had never tasted clean water in their lives, and here it was gushing out of the ground twenty feet above them—a cool and beautiful geyser in the dusty heat of midday. One elder approached Salva after that first well was capped and said, “I can’t believe that all of this time, people have been dying and we’ve been sitting right on top of the water.'"
"I was twelve and sitting in the back of the Number 5 city bus with a bag of cheap Christmas presents when I saw my dad stagger up the steps. I was about to call to him but stopped myself. He had fumbled with his change too long to be sober. I slunk in my seat and tried to make myself invisible. He lurched his way to the front, talking and spitting as he moved. I watched him from behind my propped-up arm and wished it were any other night but Christmas Eve."
"In the early morning light, a young woman passed our Land Rover on the dirt road and asked Salva in Dinka, the local language, if we needed water or food. He thanked her and said no. Then she was on her way. We knew where she was going, and we knew she wouldn’t finish her journey until the sun crossed the sky. I watched her walk, her long shadow leading the way, her sandals worn thin by the dirt path. Her frayed blue dress flaunted a once white scalloped neckline; a layer of desert dust muted its pink and orange flowers. She held a pumpkin-sized brown gourd and the small cloth ring that would help her balance the gourd on her head once it was filled with water. I imagined centuries of women and children, just like her, walking an ancient path across that barren stretch of land for water—every move a testament to their ability to endure, life’s limitations made invisible by sun on sand, heat rising in the distance, step after step of grueling harshness."
"In Kompong Chnnang, two hours outside Phnom Penh, a Vietnamese woman paddled me through the largest floating village on the Tonle Sap River. I sat camera in hand, uncomfortably squat-kneed, on an old wooden longboat that threatened to topple us if I shifted. I peered inside one- and two-room shoebox houses. They were laid out in lanes like housing tracts but with rivers for roads and square holes for doors. Row after row, tin roofs covered palm leafed sides and patched wooden floors. Houses, maybe 30 by 30 feet, floated on the water. Anchored like boats at dock, but disconnected from any land or piers, they were little islands unto themselves, each one an open diorama of Khmer water life."
"Walking through the doors of the V.A. hospital where my stepfather is a patient, the air settles, resigned like the sun’s afternoon descent. Dust flecks float in and out of golden afternoon rays. In the stillness, I can almost follow one from foyer through corridor, up and down lifeless hallways until it finally settles on a rusted radiator. I walk cautiously like I might break the building’s trance. The building, its dirt collecting in forgotten baseboard crevices is lined with plaster walls, their cracks covered with layers of paint. An old wooden bench sits in the foyer where people remove boots and unbutton coats."
"Before my month-long trip, my friend told me about a travel show he had seen on cable where a single woman travelled by train from Laos through Thailand and Cambodia to Vietnam. He learned from this episode that South East Asia was one of the safest places for a solo female to explore. So as my departure date neared, his recounting of that episode calmed my ever-heightening pre-trip anxieties. But then once my feet touched the ground, I couldn’t stop thinking about her; and by the end of my trip, I hated that woman. I didn’t want to know about the stories of accomplished travelers exploring exotic lands and finding themselves. I craved the stories from people who got off the plane sweating like pigs naked on the highway and scared to death."
Text: From Angelique 8:45 am
Gina just called. She’s home this morning. She’s going to see her case worker today. Hopefully they’ll put her in the psych center.”
Text: From Jacki 11:35 am
“They’d be ridiculous not to. They should also get someone to store her stuff and move her out.”
Text: From Angelique 11:37 am
“Ah yep. That’s what they do”
Text: From Jacki 11:41 am
“She will probably end up losing all her stuff. If you talk to them tell them that she has no bed bugs. They’ll be more apt to do help.”