I’ve been working on my Prague City guide for the past few days (yes I’m behind – I’ve been in Serbia for a week and a half at this point and I blame my inability to write a Prague recap on the fact that Prague is so damn perfect and I refuse to say goodbye). I was planning on posting that today instead of this, but as I was laying in bed this morning scrolling through my Facebook feed (#millennial) I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of heartbreak and anger from my friends and family over the devastating loss of life that has wracked the US recently. Orlando, Louisiana, Dallas, Falcon Heights… America is broken and I can’t help but feel a little bit helpless. What can I do from 5,000 miles away that isn’t something as superficial as changing my profile picture or posting a status on social media that would inevitably piss off a random friend from high school or distant relative? I JUST WANT TO PLAY POKEMON GO AND INSTAGRAM SUNSETS AND CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?!
It’s easy to disconnect when you’re thousands of miles away from a difficult situation. As someone who despises talking politics, my first reaction is usually to shut up and sit down – what can I contribute to the discussion? The problem is that this reaction comes from a place of privilege – I am a white woman traveling the world for a year and goddamn it I’m one of the lucky ones. Everyone’s heartbreak is flooding my social channels and yet I still feel distant and removed from it all because I’m in Serbia and literally distant and removed from it all.
As I reflect on the pain my friends are feeling at home I can’t help but recognize that Belgrade, too, is hurting. NATO dropped a bomb on the former Yugoslavia just 17 years ago, when a Clinton was in office. Their concrete buildings are covered in graffiti – “Alcatraz” is written all over my neighborhood, swastikas litter the sidewalks, and everywhere you turn there’s a tag urging you to go vegan (and based on the lack of ANY vegan restaurants in Belgrade I’m not convinced that anyone in this city is actually vegan so this particular message perplexes me). As a group of 75 of us left Prague, one of our busses’ air conditioning broke down. In an effort to get some air circulation we opened a few windows, which only made the scent from the much over-used porta potty on board waft amongst our seats. We complained, pinched our noses and wiped the sweat from our brows. After quick stop in Budapest (where I relaxed with friends in some thermal baths) we all consolidated onto the one coach who’s AC was still working. We watched Forrest Gump on the built-in TVs, read from our Kindles and listed to music on our phones. When we crossed the Turkish border and stepped outside to present our passports, we noticed a patch of grass in no-man’s land littered with tents. It became very evident very quickly that we were next to a refugee camp full of people who didn’t have a home or country to accept them. All of a sudden these problems I read about before I left the US, this pain that felt far away and intangible while I was living in Chicago, came into full focus in front of me. How can I help, what can I do, what can anyone do in the face of so much brokenness.
The entire world is hurting and it fucking sucks. People are being gunned down simply because of who they are or the way that they look, dear friends have lost family members, and goddamn it my iPhone screen is cracked and no one in Serbia seems to be able to fix it (this one’s a joke people – obvi I could give a shit about the current state of my phone screen). While these problems are in no way equal, they all leave me feeling a little bit helpless. I don’t know how to heal the world. All I can bring myself to do right now is recognize that I’m one of the lucky ones, write about my internal struggle in hopes that it helps me or someone else make sense of it all, and continue to bring positivity and light to the people and places around me.
Positivity, light, open ears and shoulder willing to be cried on. That’s all I have right now and I’ll give it all.
LOVE EACH OTHER PEOPLE. LIFE’S TOO SHORT.