Yelling at a Wall and Tolerating the Ugly

One of the things that I learned when I first studied abroad is the need to look at the grey areas of life. Oil production is abundant in that country, and my 20-year-old self had many preconceived ideas about everyone involved with oil companies. Are there many business and environmental policies that I don’t agree with? Of course. Are there people who are just trying to take care of their family, and do their best? Very much so. My time there taught me that the corporation and the people within the corporation are two very separate entities, and should not be judged with the same criteria.

With it being such an oil rich nation, unfortunately prostitution is one the leading occupations for women there. Those women were some of the kindest and friendliest people I have ever I met. It’s the men who worked within the oil companies (ranging from drillers to executives) who would tell you about their wife and kids as they were picking up a prostitute and who would them horribly. The men who get excessively drunk, knowing that they were going to drive us home.

I’m not a fan of beating myself up over the past. My 20-year-old self was very angry at those situations, but my 20-year-old self also felt very powerless to change anything. I bit my lip and got in the cars. I wish the situation was different. I wish that at 20 I felt the confidence to speak out, even though it might have changed anything. If I berated oil workers about their cheating and the diseases they were bringing home to their wives, what would have that accomplished?

It’s taken awhile, but I finally forgave my past self for not yelling at every disgusting man who I encountered abroad. I was not outspoken six years ago. I was a shy, anxiety ridden college student who was finally coming to terms with her sexuality. I was in no place to do and say the things I wanted to. That I probably should have.

I didn’t stand up for those women, the students in my group, or myself.

Now, through my study abroad experiences and now my non-profit, I can see what may seem like a drop in the bucket make all of the difference in the world. Or it may not. But I need to try, because I have no idea what ripple effect my actions may cause one, five, or ten years down the road.My silence taught me not to yell at walls, and to not tolerate ugly behavior; to speak out when I have the opportunity to. As a result of my past lack of strength and confidence, I now have learned to use my voice as a force for good whenever possible.

I still look for the grey areas of situations, but with the understanding that there are some things that I refuse to compromise on. 

Through my lack of strength and confidence, I have learned to use my voice as a force for good whenever possible.

Dealing With Pain

Whether it’s a tattoo or a sprained foot, people always want me to gauge my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Not to pat myself on the back, but I’ve always had a high pain tolerance. If you can tell that I’m in pain, I’m in a lot of pain.

A couple of Fridays ago I had the misfortune of landing very awkwardly into a pot hole after stepping off of a median. Luckily, I only suffered a bad sprain on the top of my foot. This experience got me thinking about my injuries abroad, and the time which has shaped how I deal with pain.

I’ve injured myself many times throughout my travels, but nothing compares to the hike I endured in my final days of studying abroad. It has almost been 6 years since that experience, but I still use it as my gauge against physical and emotional pain. The first hike own over three mountain peaks wasn’t all that terrible. I was insanely out of shape, and it took me twice as long than it should have to reach the campsite, but for all intents and purposes it wasn’t that bad.

However, the night before heading back to civilization, I tripped over a large rock. (In my defense it was pitch black at the time.) I pulled a hip flexor, which isn’t that terrible of an injury if you get to rest it. Unfortunately we were set to start our hike back up the next morning. A group of us had to move excruciatingly slow because of various injuries in the we all had.

After hours of using my other leg to put all of my weight on, both my legs felt useless. A hike that could be finished in one day had to be split into two. Sleeping on a hill with rocks digging into every part of me definitely didn’t help heal my injuries. For some reason, I was feeling optimistic that morning. We had made it that far so we should be in the clear for the rest of the journey.

I forgot that we had to deal with the cliffs of insanity. You have to climb a bit, turn a corner and there are more cliffs. And so and on and so forth, till you believe that you will be spending eternity climbing those cliffs. At this point it was excruciating to put any weight on either legs, but with the help of a tall German who was pulling me up the cliffs, I made it through that portion.

Even when we got to the clearing (the final stretch), I had to switch off an on from being carried to the car. I don’t remember how much time it took to get to the car after the cliffs, but I know that I had reached past physical limits I didn’t know existed, and if I wasn’t granted the human instinct of survival, I’m sure that I would have collapsed into a heaping pile of tears and refused to move.

On a scale of 1 to 10, that experience was a 37.

Now, whenever I bust a foot or accidentally burn myself, I get through the pain by reminding myself that I survived that hike, so I can survive this. I have struggled emotionally and psychologically since that experience, but I think there is a part of me that remembers that in the face of extreme adversity, I pushed forward and refused to give up on myself.

I’m sure I will face many more challenges in my life, but I know that I’m strong enough for almost anything if I could survive that hike.