Two years ago, I would not have thought that my life would take me where I am now. I am nursing, not as a career, but as a volunteer, writing professionally and creatively, living in Honduras, speaking in Spanish more than English, and all together, living a more fulfilling and enjoyable life. Want to learn how to quit your own job and travel the world for a year while pursuing your dreams? Check out the first of a series of my articles on traveling the world for a year without a job at Endless Trek Magazine.
I recently was discussing with a friend in Copan the word culture and how we both thought it was often misused to make excuses for unacceptable treatment of women and children. Until she had brought it up, I didn’t realize that I myself had used it as an excuse in my writing and conversation. The word “machismo” could very easily be exchanged for the American idiom “boys will be boys,” both placing the unacceptable acts of men in the category of “culture.” When these words are used, somehow rape, domestic violence, and cheating become more acceptable because they are part of the “culture.”
I am frequently asked by friends and family, how can you live in Honduras where men treat women like they do? This question makes me upset when people ask it, and for some time, I did not understand why. I now see that the root of my irritation is that not so long ago America’s “culture” was one of female oppression, and the phrase “children should be seen and not heard” was used frequently to ignore the voices of the innocent.
It was strong people, that’s right, PEOPLE, not just women, who helped make the freedoms of women and children possible in the U.S. Americans seem to forget that this change only really happened in the last 100 years, and we lived in a similar world as women and children do here. While the unacceptable behaviours of men in Honduras are ignored on a regular basis, and that is termed machismo, I believe that way of thinking is changing, not just here, but in the world.
I see strong children and females all around me. I am reminded, that while many battles have been won, it is an on-going war to change the mindset of a world that has been primarily patriarchal, with women and children seen as possessions, not human beings of equal standing, for most of its history.
I look at the male children around me, and I ask myself where and how can they learn to be different than their fathers? How will they learn to be champions of women and children and call themselves feminists too? So often, I see men pushed to the side in the feminist movement, but they can be just as much a part of it and are necessary to it’s progress. They can show what true culture is.
By definition, culture is “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” True culture is when people come together with all their knowledge, wisdom, experience, and history to create a statement of who they are as a people and what they have achieved together. As a cultural statement of the world, I hope someday at the base of all our achievements will be equality and respect.
Resistance: You would think after three months of traveling, the leaving part would be easier, but I still find it difficult. I want to stay in Belgrade, and the resistance to leave has never been stronger. As I looked to the rivers from the top of Kalemegdan Fortress, snow all around me, everything screamed inside of me to stay there. Just a week ago, my desire to go home, see family and friends again was overwhelming, but now that I have bought a return ticket, I feel panicky. I want to stay here. I ache to remain, but I look back at my whole trip and know that I felt this in every place I have been to a certain extent, and if I hadn’t moved forward, I wouldn’t have found myself in Serbia. Continuing on my journey allowed me to meet new people, gain deeper perspective. Yet, I feel a sense of exhaustion. When can I be still? When will I feel satisfied that my current location is where I can lay down roots? I thought I wanted to be in Oregon again for so many reasons, but the reality of going back is terrifying. I want to jump off this plane right now, to forget I spent money on any tickets and become anonymous in this city that feels so like home to me. How can one’s identity be so torn between two continents? I have felt a foreigner in the USA ever since I knew other countries existed. The feeling has only become stronger as I have aged. How does one ease the restlessness of wanderlust? It is all-consuming at times, this desire to be somewhere else. If I lived in Serbia, would I begin to feel it in a month, two months? Inevitably it would return, this desire to be free is so intense. But this plane is taking me somewhere else, to Rome, my first foreign destination so many years ago, and from there, home. Normally, I would rejoice to return to this city I always come back to, but it means the end of my journey, and I cannot bear the thought of return now that it is concrete. This conflict within me feels like insanity at times. There is a part of me that always saw myself traveling with someone, a person who was as free as me, but grounded me in their constant presence while exploring, an adventurer who suffered from wanderlust as I do, that could understand it and encourage it while giving me the companionship and understanding I miss when I leave those I love behind. I realize I am in the same state as before my trip with these feelings of being caged. I am a bird who thinks it should be a tree.
Seeing Rome through another’s eyes is the new perspective I need right now. It feels like I am seeing Rome for the first time as well. Her child-like delight becomes my own. It was meant to be, my returning to this place. No matter how many times I come, it still feels like exactly where I am supposed to be. I end up here every time I come to Europe whether I intend to or not. It was the first foreign city I ever went to, and it holds a special place in my heart. When I think about my return here, the phrase “All roads lead to Rome” comes to mind. How true this is for me. Perhaps, here I will find what I am looking for.
I came to Rome to meet with another couch surfer who has also been traveling around Europe, to swap stories and experiences. Sadly, the fates did not feel our time to come together was now, but I am sure we will meet some day. I connected instead with a girl around my age at the hostel I stayed at, who also has been traveling for some time by herself. In many ways, it was even better to exchange travel stories and experiences with another female than with the man I had intended to meet with. Women share things that men cannot always understand. She helped ease my sadness after leaving Belgrade and was a beautiful presence to explore ancient ruins with. I also ran into a man from Egypt and spent the day with him walking to the Pantheon and happened upon Trevi Fountain with wishes to return to Rome again.
While here, I was able to catch up with an old friend from high school wandering through the Christmas market in Piazza Navona in the rain, reminiscing about the past and catching up to the present. Two hours felt much too short to discuss the six years since we last saw each other. Every time I have come and seen her, it has been like time hasn’t past, and we can enjoy each other’s company. Our life in high school was so long ago.
My last two nights were spent in the company of four guys and two girls I met through couch surfing. They wanted to give me an Italian experience and made me a homemade carbonara, gluten-free pasta meal, introduced me to several traditional games, bought me my first cannoli-one of the best pastries I have ever had (French bakeries watch out!), took me to Trastevere for limoncello and to beautiful lookouts from Pincian Hill above the Piazza del Popolo. They kept me giggling and having fun with their juggling and Zoolander photo shoots. I tried to teach them hacky sack and American slang and failed miserably, as I am not so talented at either myself, but I did teach them “Jebiga!,” so at least they learned how to say fuck in Serbian. I really enjoyed my last European experience; I didn’t have time to be sad about leaving; I could only think about how lucky I was to be with such beautiful people for two days. I love this city so much. Ciao bella!…until we meet again.