I am an escape artist—that is my flaw.
Last night, I was lying on my bed, thinking of gypsies again. Ever since I came to the Czech Republic, the issue of Romani discrimination has bothered me, and I couldn’t figure out why. They are despised here and in many parts of Europe for their supposedly vagabond lifestyles. While this is a misinformed stereotype (as one commenter scathingly pointed out), I cannot help but think of this.
As a person who comes from a country that doesn’t have this problem, where the only gypsies we have are little children who dress up as Esmeralda during Halloween, this was a source of fascination for me. It was an utterly foreign worldview that didn’t coincide with my own, so I wanted to explore it.
My whole life, I have been traveling. Besides the Philippines, I have lived in Nigeria, Guam, India, and South Africa for the duration of a year or more each. If you count my shorter stints in other countries, you can add Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), France, and the Czech Republic to that list.
My upbringing, this drifting lifestyle of mine, taught me so many valuable things. I can say that for the most part, I am resilient, open-minded about other cultures, able to look at two sides of a picture, and diplomatic. My background taught me to love things, but understand and accept that they might not be permanent in my life. It taught me that change is an opportunity that I should take advantage of and grow from.
On the other hand, it also made me perpetually dissatisfied once things sink into normalcy, jittery, overly ambitious and commitment-phobic. It made me immensely unsympathetic about the pettiness of certain problems that others have. It taught me not to completely trust people because they are not going to be around very long. It taught me that one has to acquire nationality—that it isn’t just a facet of one’s identity.
When I moved back to the Philippines, when I was 10 years old, I felt as if something had been ripped from me. Who was I out of international schools? What did it mean to be Filipino? Why were they treating me so badly for being different, when being different was once the norm for me? After those initial growing pains, I changed yet again: transferring from an Opus Dei all-girl grade school to a co-ed LaSallian high school. Those years passed swiftly, and I switched to college, but while Ateneo was a wondrous place of learning and goodness, but I never felt as I if was in my natural state in it. It felt heavy to me—as if I had acquired a burden. That’s why when I heard about the Junior Term Abroad opportunity, I leapt at the chance. I would be out again—satisfying my itchy feet with foreign soil once more.
I went, and it was the most astonishing and amazing thing that had ever happened to me.
So strange—prior to that journey, I had never traveled with anyone else but family. The bonds of familial love, to me, are the only permanent thing that I possess. It has survived arguments, issues, and miles and miles of space, so it is one of the few things that I can wholly trust. But in that trip, I broke out of character and wore my heart on my sleeve. There was someone in my life. It was so fleeting, JTA was, but traveling after so many years of not experiencing it made my defenses drop. And then, suddenly, there wasn’t anyone in my life anymore. Was I in love with him, which I doubt now, or with the sensuality of travel?
The not-quite-a-relationship ended badly when I returned to the Philippines. I had been fine coasting through my earlier years of college with mediocre grades, but JTA and the things that happened to me there had flipped a switch in me. I became intense—a competition junkie and party girl. I achieved 1st honors. I joined and won a total of 5 national and international competitions. I would clock 3 hours of sleep per night, working on my grades on weekdays and going out to clubs or parties on weekends. In other words, I became a zombie who no longer had time to enjoy my victories or a cocktail. Everything I did had to have a result or a purpose. I had given up my core identity to become a resume and QPI or a tagged photo on Facebook.
It had reached a point where I no longer liked who I was becoming. I was afraid of what I was doing to myself. My health was deteriorating, I wasn’t happy at all, and I was burning out. One of my favorite authors, Ayn Rand, mocked me during the hours I slept: “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.” I was beating, beating, beating my head against the wall—competing against people who were not even conscious that there was such a competition going on. That horrified me that I become what I had spent years disdaining—a second-hander, a person who had started judging herself from the opinions of others.
I hated what I was becoming, and I decided to pare my life down to the bare minimum: my passions, namely my lust for travel and marketing. I needed to get away. How would I achieve this? I found my solution in the AIESEC Global Internship Program. This opportunity contained both of the things that I loved, and I eventually flew away again.
I am running all the time—running towards something, running away from something. Yes, I can empathize with the stereotypical gypsies because they are nomads.
But something also feels wrong with this. I recall reading somewhere that more than doing something once or twice, what you do consistently is the indication of what kind of character that you have. I believe I have integrity of character, but am I living like a person with integrity, with my fear of committing myself to anything? Looking back on a lot of the things that I’ve gone through, I wonder if I am just an escapist. What is the difference between escapism and making use of opportunity? I have wandered all my life, and some quiet little part of me wonders when my travels will end. Am I avoiding responsibility—or searching for something that will make me finally want to stop?
10 replies on “Why I Wander”
Trish, I love the honesty in this well-written blog entry. I can somehow identify with you in some parts, like not wholly committing myself to something because of the fear to be stuck in one single responsibility. For me, responsibility and commitment define boundaries that contain me and closes other possibilities.
Thanks, Brian! I wonder, is it just a part of being young? There are so many options for us that we don’t want to pick only one. And are we spoiled because of this? 😀
Not necessarily a characteristic of being young. Some young people are the opposite; they feel like they need to be constantly in a relationship no matter what. I guess it’s a result of our experiences with past relationships that we’ve witnessed or been involved in.
Also, according to some studies, kids who have been breastfed until 2 years of age are more likely to develop trust issues – trusts very easily but also very suspicious and commitment-phobic 🙂
Haha! I’m not sure about breastfeeding, but damn, my pre-school teacher pulled my bottle away from me on my first day of school and I wailed like a banshee. 😛
I’m sorry to say that this post is spoiled by the uniformed and apparently unintentional (but no less harmful for that) propagation of stereotypes. You aren’t from here. I think you probably know better and don’t mean to be hurtful but this post is harmful to a great many people.
You state that the comments of Czechs about Roma (Gypsies) have a logic to them. Then, you list a bunch of unfounded stereotypes. You fall into the trap of isolated Eastern Europeans who do not realize that the social problems of poor people are universal all over the world. It has nothing to do with being a Gypsy. Poverty creates these problems, not genes. That is the basis of not being a racist. There are more and more middle-class Roma these days, who do not fit these stereotypes. When you propagate hateful stereotypes, imagine a two-year-old child with slightly darker skin, then imagine your had slapping that smiling little girl across the face. That is what you just did to thousands of Romani children. You made their future lives a little harder by spreading hate about them, regardless of how hard they work and try in this society.
You are annoyed because some little unstaffed NGO didn’t reply to your email. Was the email in Czech? If not, how could they know it wasn’t spam? These NGOs are tiny. It is completely natural that an email can get overlooked. But you act like this justifies your blind acceptance of extremely harmful stereotypes. Please, understand. You are now in a country that is going through the same process that happened in Alabama in the 1960s. People are being killed for standing up for basic civil rights. A whole family was just shot down in Bratislava, just a hop, skip and a jump from you, simply because some of them were Roma. Children are being put into blatantly segregated substandard schools. With no education, they then can not be hired. Then, there is massive unemployment. It is not hard to find out these facts. A very quick google search will give you this information and much, this history of slavery and the Holocaust that have left the Romani population demoralized and traumatized.
I know you aren’t going to approve my reply. That doesn’t matter. I think you did not mean to do this and that you have been unwittingly taken in by a racist society that is very self confirming. Please, just give civilization a chance. Read my blog at http://www.ariefarnam.wordpress.com. I am a foreigner living in the Czech Republic too. I have a Romani child, who has never done an anti-social thing in her life. But yesterday a woman at the community center refused to hold my little two-year-old’s hand during a game with little kids, apparently because of the color of her skin. With that kind of reaction to the stereotypes you posted here, she will have to fight every step of her life to gain a positive identity, to feel that she is worthy of being part society. I ask you, as a mother, to take down your post, do a little research and rethink it.
I sincerely apologize if what I wrote sounds like I am insulting the Romani.
This is not the case, rather, as I mentioned in the post, they are a “source of fascination” for me. I did mention this several times. I also did say the “issue of Romani discrimination has bothered me”. I said this worldview that discriminates against them “does not coincide with my own.” Does this count as hate, Arie?
I also said that I come from a place that doesn’t have Romani, so I am approaching this issue from a neutral standpoint. I personally have nothing against them, and frankly, I clearly said that I “empathize with the traditional gypsies because they are nomads”. Or at least, the traditional ones were.
I also come from a country where poverty and crime is rampant, so believe me when I say that I do not believe that genes have anything to do with what kind of character people have. Environment shapes the kind of person you become. The theme of the entire post was this, showing how my past formed my personality–flaws and strengths. I was making a parallel between the known stereotype and my own character.
And as for the fact the NGO didn’t reply to my email, I said that to explain why I haven’t written anything about that event. I usually write about events of significance to me in this blog. It was not a petty snipe at them. Isn’t the fact I wanted to volunteer a sign I wanted to fight against such discrimination? Jeez, I planned to allot a free weekend to visit the Museum of Romani culture that has been calling to me since I arrived in the Czech Republic.
As for the logic of the people that don’t like the Romani, I also actively listen to their side of the arguments. I can state the rationale behind their judgement, but I would prefer to do so in a more personal setting (via email, over coffee) than online, where things can be misconstrued.
And I think your conclusions of ME are entirely unfounded. If you even checked up on the type of person I was or how I look like, you would see brown skin, black hair, and black eyes. My very brown feet are on my home page, thank you very much. Kindly don’t accuse me of slapping little children, for I am a minority myself here, coming from a country whose nationals are not common in Brno.
I appreciate your comment, however, but I will not take down my post because I don’t believe it contains the elements of racism that you say it does.
Good God. I am entirely surprised about the absurdity of this whole situation.
To soothe your ruffled (and rather self-righteous) spirit, I will edit the darn post, omitting the entire section on the statements on the stereotypical Roma.
My blog has a readership of approximately 20 people, 90% of who are in a country across the world. With the poverty and corruption found in my homeland, it is quite clear they have their own issues. The other 10% (maybe, 2 individuals?) are the Czech people I know who are amused about my interest in the Roma and give their opinions on the stereotype, which are not entirely unfounded.
While I understand that the internet is an entirely public sphere and that my post may pop up here or there, which I assume is how you discovered it, I would expect a well-educated and obviously intelligent woman like yourself to read between the lines or just accept my word vomit as it was intended: a self-absorbed reflection. It is CLEARLY not meant to be a social commentary and other people who’ve read it also say it CLEARLY shows that it shows that I don’t believe the stereotypes. And I don’t think posting about stereotypes is akin to spreading it. What? If I post about racism towards black people, I am propagating the phenomenon?
I think you are making a mountain out of a molehill, if you pardon the cliché. You may be a journalist and a mother, but I am a person who has been here for less that 3 months and am only beginning to understand this culture.
Yes, I understand that this is a completely horrid issue that shouldn’t even exist in the first place. I shed tears as easily as anyone else when I hear the “I have a Dream” speech, and I believe in equal opportunity and bridging social gaps. The plight of the Roma is nothing to sneeze at–it should be fought, valiantly, as you appear to be doing.
But I suggest that you lighten up and listen to the song “Everyones A Little Bit Racist” from Avenue Q (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbud8rLejLM).
I also suggest you take your complaints to more influential people, rather than picking on some “ignorant” blogger who is merely trying to write a little about a new country to folks back home.
Lastly, as a professional, I suggest that you do a bit better marketing and PR. Rather than pointing fingers, and yelling “DISCRIMINATION” where there’s clearly none, I suggest you spend your time making a website for the International Peace Movement in the Czech Republic (I notice there’s none), create a Facebook page, hold discussion forums in Czech universities and such.
As I person who wouldn’t even think twice about holding your child’s hand, yes, I do believe that I will go visit the Museum of Romani Culture over the weekend.
Thank you for reminding me.
Trish, I also might be a nomad. I can’t stay to just one place. I dunno what I must do to satisfy my arse that itches constantly whenever I’m home doing nothing. By the way, it seemed something was up. Care to tell me all about it? hehe 🙂
I found your blog through the tag “third culture kids”.
I too am an ATCK and I also blog about identity issues and such. I too, see absolutely nothing wrong with anything you have said.
I lived in Romania as a child, and also spent a great deal of time in the former “eastern bloc” during the Cold War and I agree that the Romani people have much to overcome and that they can only do so through education.
I also agree that many programs are needed to help the Romani gain education and the tools they need to further their own lives. Their struggle is not simply about racism and I see absolutely no racism in your post.
Frankly, I don’t think you needed to edit anything you might have written. This “journalist” is extremely presumptuous to metaphorically barge into your living room and demand justification and an apology from you. If it had been me, I would have thrown her little metaphorical fanny right through the laundry chute. Appeasing “journalists” is not high on my list of needful activities. 🙂
Anyway, I just wanted to reach out to you as a fellow ATCK and say: Reflect away, write whatever you damn well please, and let the doomsdayers and entitlement obsessives have their Kool-Aid. I’ll be out on the porch drinking a glass of wine in your honour tonight. Cheers to you dearie!
Very warmest wishes,
Suzanne at thegoldenghetto.wordpress.com