Glimpses of Our Better Selves

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When I lived in Haiti, my sister and I went to school in Port au Prince, but we ached and longed for summer vacations in Mirebalais every year. 

Ahh, summers of ripe mangos, chasing chickens in the farm, and eating all the candy before bed. Our grandparents spoiled us. We lived the good life.

Though my grandma spoiled us, she had limits. Every time I got in trouble, she wouldn't scream or shout, she would come over, get down to my level, and look at me and whisper "there's a good woman somewhere in there-- but it's gonna take some time."

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Writer Stephane Alexandre on travel, culture, and how times of uncomfortability and trouble form us, in Glimpses of Our Better Selves.

She looked at me as if she was looking through me; a half judge/half love look. She did this enough times that this look still sticks with me. Naturally, as I grew up, I became paranoid to find this good woman.

Where was this good woman in middle school when I needed to stand up to students for making fun of my accent?

Where was this good woman when freshman year at Tufts proved to be unbearable for this first-gen?

And when I was stressed about finding summer jobs? This woman was nowhere to be found!

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Writer Stephane Alexandre on travel, culture, and how times of uncomfortability and trouble form us, in Glimpses of Our Better Selves.

Years later, after being bit by the travel bug, I was walking to my host home in Nunoa, Santiago, when I noticed a man following me. I took a left; he took a left. I stopped to “tie” my shoe; he suddenly stopped and started staring at me.

My heart was racing. All types of scenarios invaded my thoughts. 

Then he started screaming obscene things at me, walking faster and faster towards me. I pretended not to hear him and put on my headphones --- I was not listening to music, I just wanted him to get the message. 

I was not interested. I was here for six months, not asking for trouble - and I just wanted to get home safely.

The curses grew louder and less sporadic. The temerity of some men -- to demand another being’s sense of safety at their convenience. Repulsive.

I realized then that I was two blocks away from a train stop in rush hour. I didn’t speed walk there - I ran to that train stop like my life depended on it. I sliced through the crowd and leveled my bright yellow backpack to my front under my coat, concealing my identity in an ocean of Santiago’s busiest.

I never took that route home again.

I rushed home trembling, and talked to my program manager the next day. You pick your battles in a city that is not your own. She assured me that I took the safest option for me. I did what I needed to do not what I wanted to do.

I wanted to fight him.
I wanted to give him a taste of all the anger I had bottled up inside all those years.
I wanted to show him that he was nothing.
I wanted to shatter his reality. About women. About sexism. About fear.
But I did not do that, because I was warned about these men. Women, aren’t we all warned about these types of men?!

It takes courage to calculate possible outcomes and do what is necessary.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Writer Stephane Alexandre on travel, culture, and how times of uncomfortability and trouble form us, in Glimpses of Our Better Selves.

I love traveling, so much so that when I have not done it for a while, it feels like I have a limb dying -- losing blood circulation. And traveling helps me be and stay whole. But that is always the risk we run by opening ourselves to the world: being rejected/disrespected by a culture. Chile, like mostly all South American countries, is patriarchal. As it seems right, I cling to the culture that helps me grow, not one that exacerbates my fears.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Writer Stephane Alexandre on travel, culture, and how times of uncomfortability and trouble form us, in Glimpses of Our Better Selves.

Travel is me molding this good woman in me, whether it is by leaping in the air in front of the forbidden city or grinding my teeth and holding back tears against gross men in Santiago. When I choose, against every will, to ignore men who scream curses and vulgarities at me, I am molding a good woman. A woman who understands that she cannot change a patriarchal culture in six months. I learned a lot in Chile, and a majority of the memories are stupendous, but some are not. 

With travels, I am pushed to see glimpses of this good woman -- to see what she does in times of uncomfortability and trouble. She is there, in there somewhere.

I truly hope this only encourages you to travel more, as it seems fitting and safe to do so. There are troubles all around us, and we cannot wait for everything to be perfect to travel. If perfection is our foundation, we would not travel even to our front doors. Thus, here is something that goes without saying but altogether good and true: there are good women and men hidden in us, somewhere, but you and I have to mold them first.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Writer Stephane Alexandre on travel, culture, and how times of uncomfortability and trouble form us, in Glimpses of Our Better Selves.

Note: these pictures are from San Pedro de Atacama, where I felt most peaceful in Chile. It was dry, rigid land as far as the eye could see, a vast nothingness where somehow everything was in its place, coexisting blissfully.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Writer Stephane Alexandre on travel, culture, and how times of uncomfortability and trouble form us, in Glimpses of Our Better Selves.

 

Stephane Alexandre is the Intercultural Immersion Editor for Wandering Educators. She studied abroad in Chile and graduated from Tufts University this past May. She is very passionate about creating opportunities for young people to travel and explore the world around them. She has traveled to ten countries engaging in new cultures ranging from studying abroad in Chile and leading a genocide education program in Rwanda. She sincerely believes that young people achieve greater goals when they create global connections that enable them to be active citizens in all corners of the world.

All photos courtesy and copyright Stephane Alexandre

 

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