Waiting for Rain

It’s raining outside. Drops of water are falling from a sky thick with dark clouds, washing the dust from every surface and creating puddles on the ground as I type. Many of my friends’ Facebook statuses mention rain with varying levels of joy and disbelief. Surprised strangers in the shops around me comment to baristas, customers and friends. “Two days in a row! Actual rain! Who’d have thought?” What’s so special about today’s rain? I live in the desert.

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Rain in Dubai.

Gray skies are nothing new in Abu Dhabi. For much of the year, a mixture of fine desert sand, construction dust, and ocean haze blanket our sky in gray or white. Clear blue skies and white clouds are a treat reserved for autumn and winter and compliment the mild temperatures we enjoy for four to five months of the year. Actual rain, however, is a very rare thing. It rained twice my first year in Abu Dhabi. The first storm lasted hours and produced real drops that cascaded down the glassy sides of buildings, poured from spiky palm leaves, and flooded the streets and sidewalks. The second time was just a few minutes of misty droplets that barely wet the objects they touched. It was as if they clouds were empty bottles of cleaning spray sputtering out their last drops.

Two or three episodes of rain a year seem to be the average here. Locals and expats take for granted that the weather will be sunny. There is no need to keep an umbrella or rain jacket in your car or knapsack. Outdoor events are planned based on temperature, not precipitation. Each morning after naming the day of the week, I go through the motions of discussing the weather with my pre-kindergarten students. “Is it rainy today?” I ask, holding a laminated cloud with falling blue raindrops. “Noooooooo” they answer in unison with looks of disdain and giggles. Silly teacher. Not even the four-year-olds are under any illusion the answer will ever be yes.

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The Abu Dhabi coastline seen during a dust storm.

I’ve never been a huge fan of rain. Before moving to the UAE, I associated it with discomfort and dark times. Years spent enduring Ireland’s daily mists, showers, and downpours have made me immune to many of rain’s charms. My heart thrills in the certainty of dry clothing, shoes and hair that accompany life in a desert climate. However, living here has led me to appreciate rain’s necessity. Firstly, it is a great cleanser. When the dust in the air is so thick it clogs my eyes and throat, I wish for rain to freshen the air and bring the scent of damp earth and leaves. On a more sentimental level, I miss the pleasure of snuggling under the covers while raindrops pound against the windows and thunder crashes outside.    

One day my school had a special surprise. In the middle of the children’s Arabic session, it started to rain. They ran to the windows with the same enthusiasm one might expect from the appearance Spiderman, a dinosaur, or other childhood fantasy. I couldn’t help running with them, and quickly opened the windows to hear the sound of the raindrops hitting the ground and the wind rushing through the date palms. My Emirati co-teacher rushed us outside to the covered patio and led the children to pray in unison, thanking Allah for the rain. I found myself joining in. The feeling of magic in the air was unmistakable  It was raining in the desert! This was truly an extraordinary time when anything was possible.

Time to dust off the ol' umbrella.

Time to dust off the ol’ umbrella.

Yesterday it rained again, and this time the children were already outside. The water was wetting the party dresses and kandooras they had worn for our school’s National Day celebrations, yet this unexpected event demanded we remain outdoors. Rain was to be experienced and celebrated. It was a novel and welcomed addition to their playtime, not a reason to end it. Their astonishment was a pleasure to witness. “Matar, matar,” they shouted. Others ran to us with beaming smiles, proud to use their English words, “water” or “rain.” One little girl was so unaccustomed to water falling from the sky that she ran to her Arabic teacher, demanding that she stop another student whom she was sure was spitting in her hair. Her shock and then delight when she realized it was rain had us all laughing.

Nature’s ability to adapt to the most extreme environments will never cease to impress me. Every living thing needs water to thrive, to grow, even to exist. In a place where rain falls only a few times a year and in such small amounts, how does life remain? But it does, and has for thousands of years. Even in the sea of dunes beyond the UAE’s cities and suburbs, life abounds. Lizards, insects, and small plants hide amidst the sand, and let’s not forget the Bedouin tribes who have survived the desert extremes for centuries. Humans are created to adapt to the most unforgiving of circumstances.

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Life in the desert is full of extremes. The heat blisters, chaps and burns. The sand cakes, clogs and chokes. In summer, every living thing seeks shelter from the scorching sun. My mind boggles at how life carries on under such conditions, but it does.

We all experience trials and times of difficulty in our lives, some more than others. We never know when our health, professional lives, and personal lives will be struck by obstacles that seem insurmountable. This world is full of violence, hatred, and suffering, yet so many who have endured the unthinkable exist as living proof that incredible strength lies inside us if we know where to search. I am still learning to stop focusing on my hardships and instead to count my blessings.

Palestinian refugee children show the resilience that lies within us all.

Palestinian refugee children show the resilience that lies within us all.

When life seems impossibly harsh, we must persevere and wait for the rain. Rain not only cleans, it also gives withering plants a second chance and is the catalyst for new life. No matter what creator, (or lack thereof) you believe in, nature demonstrates so beautifully that the universe provides. Sometimes all we need is a good cleansing rain to refresh us and remind us that life goes on. It may just take a little waiting.

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What gets you through times of loneliness, frustration, suffering? Expats, are there any new coping strategies you have found in your travels?

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Five Purchases the Saavy Traveller Shouldn’t Miss (or Why I Love SkyMall)

Summertime in the UAE means two things: temperatures outside will compete with those on the surface of the sun, and school holidays begin. This July, I joined the crowds fleeing the crushing heat and humidity to visit home. I love to travel, but I detest flying. Long-distance flights equal desperate hours sandwiched between my cement-hard seat back and the headrest of the reclining passenger in front of me. As my aches and impatience grow by the second, SkyMall magazine has become a small sanctuary in the claustrophobic and sometimes chaotic conditions of economy class.

If you’ve flown a major airline, you have probably seen Sky Mall. Don’t confuse it with the useless Duty Free catalog offering mere perfumes, jewelry and booze or your airline’s in-flight magazine highlighting its destinations and the selection of chips and chocolates priced for the uber-wealthy. I mean the SkyMall. The gem, no, the jewel in the crown of catalogs. Its pages contain a level of consumer bliss adequate to distract passengers from even the worst flight anxiety. Sky Mall is, in its own words,almost universally known among affluent and well-educated travelers who are receptive to innovative, unique products.”

I like to save the magazine as a treat for later in the flight, just as I do the tiny packet of ginger biscuits, or if I’m lucky, the microscopic Toblerone that comes with my meal.  I held out for nearly eleven hours before eagerly lifting it from its pouch. “Can’t get enough sparkle?” asked the cover. Oh SkyMall, you don’t know where I live, do you? I was sad to see this edition seemed a bit thinner than previous ones. I couldn’t quite pinpoint what was missing, but I suspect they thinned out the vast array of monogrammed products and fantasy series replicas. I was relieved to see I could still buy my own copy of the One Ring that Rules Them All. Still, I suspected I had been cheated of at least 20 additional minutes of shopping pleasure.

I suppose not even SkyMall is immune to the global economic downturn. However, a quick glance through its pages offers hope to consumers that there is still much we need to spend our limited incomes on. Here are five of my favorites.  

1. The Somawave Helmet

(His enthusiasm is contagious.) 

Who doesn’t like a nice massage to “disconnect from the world we know,” and relieve the stress and tension caused by everyday life. Head/neck massage and vibration on demand? Yes, please. Look at the smile on this man’s face. Here’s an opportunity no one should miss.

SkyMall’s writers point out that Somawave is light and portable, but they should perhaps rethink their claim that it can be taken anywhere. Somawave-wearers might not be well-received in certain public places, and should maybe restrict their usage to the privacy of home. I should also point out the accompanying warning in case any forklift or crane operators are hoping to use this product to avoid workplace stress:

Caution: Do not wear while operating heavy machinery. The SomaWave Helmet’s euphoria inducing waves may produce sleep or trance-like states of consciousness.

Ha. Good luck machinery operator. A person wearing this contraption has about as much chance of entering a blue-collar workplace as they does an airport, government office, or any place with security guards.

Warnings aside, if this product delivers as promised, maybe I should buy a couple to pack safely away in my suitcases. Since most mind-altering substances put me at risk of a lengthy sentence in a UAE prison, followed by deportation, the Somawave could offer a safe and legal evening of euphoria and bliss.

2. Easter Island “Ahu Akivi Moai” Monolith Statue

As an apartment dweller, now is not the time for giant statues, but I can dream. Dear readers, should any of you have access to a rooftop, garden or large balcony, this exotic addition would be perfect for avoiding post-holiday blues. Forget bird baths, fountains, or plastic flamingos. Thanks to Sky Mall’s suggestions, I have realized that no outdoor space is complete without a replica of one of the world’s great mysteries.

Sky Mall promises that King Moai will, “astound and impress guests at your next Polynesian luau.” I’ll keep that in mind. If nothing else, perhaps the giant staring eyes will frighten away pesky animals, trespassers, or nosy neighbors. I should add that the replica is not stone like the original, but is made from high quality resin.  Hosing down any pet or bird-related messes this large object could attract would be a breeze. Recreating Easter Island in my garden was never one of my Pinterest fantasies, but thanks to Sky Mall, I know have great plans for a future outdoor space.

3. LED MagicShowerhead

(Because the shower should be where the magic happens.)

I bet you spend at least a few minutes a week trying to pinpoint what your bathroom is missing. What would make you feel more pampered, more luxurious, more complete? SkyMall has the answer—a more colorful shower.

According to SkyMall, MagicShowerhead illuminates your water with seven different colors, creating an experience to match the needs of its diverse readers. Searching for a “club like experience” in your own bathroom? Four flashy colors (and I’m assuming your own piped-in music) should do the trick. With action like that in the morning, I might not even need my morning coffee. Want to relax? Stop paying for pricey spa visits and create your own “spa-like environment” by setting the colors to slowly fade and change. Even environmentalists can appreciate MagicShowerhead. Three timed alternating colors help you limit your water consumption.  Doing your part to save the planet while enjoying a light show? Priceless.  

This shower head truly is “magic.” All you need to do is choose hand-held, fixed, or both! I don’t know who writes the copy for this magazine, but I want him or her to write my resume, biography, and eulogy. Hats off to this master of modern marketing.

4. Large Super Skate Sail

(How could this possibly end badly?)

My first thought on seeing the Super Skate Sail was, “Wow, that looks like a lot of fun!” SkyMall presents this product as a great way get adults and children outside and away from the TV, so perhaps it could be powerful enough pry me away from my laptop. The Super Skate Sail has three methods of use, so I wouldn’t be limited by my lack of skateboarding skills. I had found a hobby, a new sport I might actually enjoy.

Then practicality set in. There is a reason why sails are usually associated with water sports as opposed to land. The ocean offers pretty much unlimited space. I can’t think of many places in Abu Dhabi that offer adequate room to zoom along uninhibited with wheels and a 9′ by 11′ sail. There’s also the slight issue of creating a spectacle. As a Westerner, I attract enough unwanted attention just by being a minority. Breezing through town with a giant colorful sail (and maybe a matching helmet) would probably just add to the usual stares. The pleasant gulf breezes would most likely propel me from the Corniche walkway into the capital city’s busy streets within minutes. A Lexus SUV/Super Skate Sail collision is the kind of accident that could even make its way into print or broadcast media. SkyMall, you may have let me down this time. 

5. Jeans Lounge Pants

(They’re jeans, they’re pants, they’re perfection!)

SkyMall, you’ve just redeemed yourself.

Fellow American travelers, I’m sure you will be the first to appreciate that this product has not one, but two major benefits. Firstly, fashion. Who wouldn’t want their own pair of what at first glance appears to be stylish, ripped acid-washed denim circa 1991? Wait for it—that’s not denim it’s, “actually super-soft cotton with amazingly realistic front-and-back printing and a much more forgiving stretch.” Americans like forgiving stretch. It goes great with buffets, Thanksgiving, and chili cheese fries. These even have an elasticized drawstring waist. I hear my couch calling.

Secondly, what an incredible souvenir to bring back after a visit from the good ol’ USA! Nothing says, “this came from America” like “jeans” and “lounge.” You can’t lose. Buy a pair for your favorite co-worker, colleague, or friend, and maybe an extra pair for that awkward moment when you are surprised with an unexpected post-vacation gift. There is even a discount for purchasing 2 or more.

You’re welcome.

Expat-riotic?

I’ve spent nearly eight years of my adult life living abroad, and I hope to spend many more experiencing other countries and cultures. This is not a result of negative feelings or experiences I had growing up in the United States. I could write pages of pros and cons for all 3 countries I’ve lived in, and will always love the USA for what it’s given me and my family. I view my attraction to expat life as more of a personality trait. It keeps me stimulated and challenged, and I feel renewed and energized by the dramatic changes to my environment every few years. In a recent conversation, I was told, “If you want to learn about other countries, watch travel shows. If you want to learn about yourself, travel.” I wholeheartedly agree. However, I do often wonder how my time living abroad affects my national identity and my relationship with my native country.

Eighty percent of the UAE’s population are expatriates. I spend my day’s tasks speaking with people from the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and numerous Arab and Western countries. We communicate in the UAE’s own brand of English, with varying degrees of success. When taxi drivers or others who hold me as a captive audience ask where I’m from, I often claim Ireland rather than America because it’s about as neutral a country as I can think of. I get a few comments on a past cricket-related tragedy from some of the Pakistani drivers, but that’s about all people can say about the place, and many don’t know where it is. Cricket is very serious to a lot of people, but pales in comparison with Guantanamo, Israel/Palestine, and whatever bombs America has recently dropped on the native country of the person I’m speaking with. Some Americans reading this now might be shaking their heads in disgust or disappointment at my lack of patriotism, but sometimes I’d rather sell out to a stranger than suffer through an unwelcome political tirade after a stressful day at work or at the start of a relaxing evening out. And for any Irish readers, don’t get too angry with me. I do hold dual-citizenship, so I have slightly more legitimacy than most Americans that claim to be Irish ;-).

(Can you see the teddy bear?)

(Such a huggable, friendly nation.)

When I visit home and speak with family, friends and others, I often feel unusual as an expat. Only 2% of Americans live overseas, compared to an estimated 10 and 20 per cent of the British and Irish populations, respectively. The opportunities available due to our size and economy have allowed most of us the luxury of remaining cocooned in our own country. For most Americans, life abroad is restricted to a college semester, or a week volunteering with a church. Unless you are in the military, spending extended periods of time abroad is usually a lifestyle decision rather than a necessity.

Does spending long periods of our lives abroad make us less patriotic, or just different? Do we owe our countries more by virtue of our birth and experiences there, or in today’s global community have things changed? As an overseas resident, I’m not required to pay taxes, so I’m not contributing anything to my country financially. At the same time, I’m not paying into Social Security, so if I return here for the later years of my life, I will not be able to rely on much financial support from the government. Dollars aside, I don’t feel that my individual absence is robbing the US of much. We are a nation of immigrants, so I’m not contributing to brain drain, especially with a degree in Political Science. The US is more like a brain vacuum. Most of our best and brightest stay, and we attract many of the best and brightest from other countries. 

Living abroad has definitely reduced my activities as a politically involved and informed citizen. Again, this stems from my own personal choices and preferences. While many expats from the US and other countries seek out detailed news on their home countries from their families and media, I tend to shy away from a lot of it. I’m constantly frustrated by my country’s domestic and foreign politics, but while social media provides a myriad of opportunities for activism, I’ve found myself using my expat status as an excuse to sit back and watch events that disgust me with a sense of disconnect. When it comes to voting, you’d better believe I have my absentee ballot ready. Beyond that, my attempts to keep up with current affairs back home are mostly restricted to watching The Daily Show. Somehow, since it’s thousands of miles away, I have found it preferable to choose blissful ignorance over activism on a number of current events that upset and anger me. Friends back home post articles and discussions on Facebook about an issue or disturbing development, and rather than looking into how I can change it, I quickly click onto something less upsetting. This not only lets my country down (well, those with the same political views that I have), but makes me disappointed in myself. I take a shameful comfort in the fact that I live far away from these happenings, even though in my heart I know I should take a stand, even from across many miles. 

(You should be ashamed of yourself, young lady!)

That said, living abroad has made changes to my heart and soul that I would never dream of reversing. One of my favorite travel quotes states, “Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living (Miriam Beard).” When a person lives abroad, it is impossible for their personality, their views, and even their ways of thinking to remain static. If we do not adapt to our surroundings, we will not survive, and will fly back to the comfort of our home and its familiar surroundings. When we move into a new culture, we must immediately become active observers rather than passive participants.

We are bombarded by the sensory overload of new sights, sounds, smells and tastes, and there is much to be learned from each. The language barrier is obvious and expected, but gestures and facial expressions may have subtle differences that carry important meanings. Voices of our host citizens may be louder or softer than our own, and we may need to change the methods by which we get the attention of others. In many countries, the expat will always stand out simply by our physical appearance, but we learn how to dress and behave to appear as one with awareness of and respect for our host culture.  

As we observe, we must constantly question, “why?” But here lies the key to true gain from traveling or living abroad. We as expats or travelers must decide How to ask Why, and What we will do with the answers.  This determines the speed with which we pass through the stages of culture shock, and brings about profound change.  The answers may surprise, please, or infuriate us. We may learn something that upsets us, confuses us, or excites us tremendously. We may see errors or injustice in a particular practice, or we may want to adopt it as our own. We may, heaven forbid, face the realization that the way we have always done something is not necessarily the best way. Sometimes, we may just accept the difference as what it is: difference. Isn’t this what life is about no matter where we live?

It’s the constant observing, questioning and adapting that makes me feel so alive when I travel. Life is more about the moment than the past or the future. I don’t always have time for deep analysis. The newer and more alien the environment, the more aware and reactive I must be. I become more conscious of the social dynamics of my immediate environment and empathetic towards the moods and motivations of others. If I can successfully navigate my way through an unknown city and make a purchase in a different language in a busy market, months or weeks later, my first days in a new workplace in my own country and culture will pale in comparison. The survival skills I develop as a traveler translate to sharpened social skills when the journey ends.

Time to return to my original question. How does living abroad affect my national identity and relationship with my home country? My country won’t miss me that much, but what happens to me as I spend more time away from it? When others question me about my country, can I offer less insight as someone who has spent an increasingly smaller percentage of my life in the country of my birth, or more insight as one who has experienced the practices and beliefs of other cultures? Can I effectively and accurately attempt to translate American ideas and practices into a context a non-National can understand?

Living abroad has certainly broadened my outlook compared to a typical US Citizen. Watch an American news broadcast. How much of the broadcast is dedicated to domestic stories compared to foreign affairs? Very little. In most countries, this ratio would be far different, or even reversed. I’ve been blessed by the opportunity to experience other cultures, practices and other religions. I’ve spent the past year and a half being reasonably content and successful in a place that is ignored, misunderstood, or even feared by the majority of the US population. I’ve seen first-hand just how much media influences American perceptions of the rest of the world, and I’ve also experienced just how much of an effect tiny decisions in our country have on others.

As I become less familiar with the subtleties of American pop culture and the latest fashion trends, I become more aware of US Foreign Policy and the strong effects it has on the rest of the world. I’ve seen the magnitude of our place in the world, and how little we know about it. The media doesn’t give us much of an idea what’s going on outside our borders, and we spend most of our lives inside our daily bubbles of work, family and sports. The rest of the world doesn’t have such luxury.  They are forced to be aware of us because our decisions affect their sovereignty.  

There is another world beyond our borders. We can’t ignore it. We affect it daily. We build allies and burn bridges constantly while our lives go on and on. Our policies affect those in places the average American has never heard of. This, in turn, creates political allies and enemies that affect us. My identity as an American has indeed changed significantly. I see myself as a global citizen. My actions, all our actions, affect more than just ourselves. Here is where more shame lies in my current political apathy. My vague idea of America’s involvement throughout the world should encourage me to be even more informed and active in the decisions my government makes. I have the opportunity for dialogue with those from other countries affected by my government’s daily decisions. What are their experiences, opinions and desires?

Questions: If you have lived or traveled extensively abroad, what was your greatest benefit from the experience? How do you think living abroad affects your relationship with your country of birth? For expat readers, what would it take to make you go home?

Pride and Privilege

Here’s a conversation I experience at least twice a day: “What country, madam? Oh, you’re American! Very nice country.” “Um, thanks.” I always feel strange when I’m complimented on my country, especially when the person I’m talking to has no connection with it. It’s not something I chose, like a shirt, or something I have created, like a drawing. It’s something I was born with. To complicate matters more, I often feel that revealing my American identity while living abroad is far more complex than just naming my country of birth. It seems to come with a role I have to play. I’m an American. Therefore, I feel the asker is waiting to judge whether I am a) a Cool American (just like our movies, music and pop culture) or b) an Ugly American (arrogant, wasteful, demanding, and at least partially responsible for any problems their country happens to be experiencing). Let’s not forget that since I’m female, if the asker is male, there is a good chance they think I’m at least moderately slutty, so the minute I admit I’m American, I start to feel slightly uneasy.

I suppose all nationalities come with a certain amount of baggage. Every country’s name brings certain images to mind, and these images vary from person to person. When my inquisitive taxi driver is Egyptian, I think of pyramids, the Nile, and Tahrir Square. What are his images of America? Jobs? Friendly people? Hollywood? Bombs? Intrusive foreign policy? Support for corrupt and dangerous regimes to support our own interests? My sense of unease increases.

The worst is when asker then shows shame for their own country. “Oh, madam, America is very nice. My country __________ (insert developing country here) is ___________ (insert some criticism that makes me want to crawl under the seat in front of me). On the flip side, so many Americans, particularly a certain type of Americans, are always talking about how proud they are to be American. I love my country, but I find this particular sentence difficult to relate to. What does it mean to be “proud” to be an American? What does it mean to be proud of any nationality? To me, pride is reserved for achievements. I am proud of my MA that I worked hard very hard for. I’m proud when I see my students learning something I have taught them. All countries offer beauty, culture and insights to the rest of the world, and everyone should have love for their country of birth. It’s the word pride that troubles me. How can I be proud of something I have no control over? In a sketch about Americans who are particularly hostile to immigrants and other nationalities, Chris Rock pointed out, “all you did was come out of your mother’s p**** on American soil. That’s it. That’s it!” Vulgar, yes, but most definitely true! Congratulations to the 300,000,000 of us for being delivered within a certain geographical region. Luck of the draw, baby!

Compliments on my country obviously come from people who are not American, and often come from people from countries with far less available resources and opportunities. I say “available” because so many of these countries contain vast wealth held hostage by a greedy and powerful ruling elite. Back to Chris Rock, “What, you think you’re better than somebody from France ’cause you came out of a p**** in Detroit?” I sure don’t think I’m better, but many times I wonder why me? Why was I born in a country where we buy bottled water to suit taste preferences, but someone else was born in a place where they will die before the age of five because their water comes from a sewage ditch. Is there a obligation that comes with my “lucky” birth? If so, what on Earth is it?

I was blessed to be born in a country where, God willing, I will never starve. I’m not hustling folks to buy necklaces so I can feed my babies. No one is going to come and drag me from my home into a jail because I blogged something negative about my government or signed a petition. It goes beyond that. I can lose everything, but I will never truly be in danger of living on the streets, because my social safety net involves parents happy to welcome me back to their large home. Yes, we have plenty of ghettos and bad neighborhoods, but at home I’ll never drive past acres of homes made from corrugated steel and tarps. In the current state of the world economy this could change, but probably not in my lifetime. Why me, and what do I do with this?

As a woman especially, all I have to do is turn on the television or log onto the internet to see examples of lives I escaped only due to chance. I was born in a country where I was entitled to choices. I was not married off at 13 to a 35 year old man. No one mutilated my genitals at 9 to destroy my sexuality and make me worthy of a future husband. No one expected me to stop my schooling and cast away my talents and interests because it was time for me to be a good wife and stay under the watchful eyes of others. Why me, and what do I do with this?

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel to many countries that do not share the same protections and privileges I have in my country of birth. I’ve seen the slums, I’ve been asked for money by dirty children and mothers holding empty bottles. I’ve turned my head and refused in order to protect myself. Protect myself from what? More begging? Losing money I want to spend on souvenirs? Or to protect myself from a unique phenomenon I think of as Privileged Guilt.

As a budget traveler, I can easily “slum it” in cheap dive hotels, use candles during 12-18 hour power cuts, sleep on railway station floors between connections, and spend days fearful of being less than 30 seconds away from the nearest toilet knowing the pesky traveler’s curse could strike at any time. However, my privileged Western behind will never truly know what it is like to live like this. This will never be my reality, and I thank the Creator for that. Because I have been blessed with an easier life, some part of me wonders whether this obliges me to somehow do something to better the situation of those who have it much harder. Is this a valid way to feel, or is it the just another expression of condescension from a relatively wealthy member of the developed world? Am I just another douchebaguette-bleeding-heart-wanna-be sitting in an exotic destination writing about poverty? Who knows….

Do we ever transform Privileged Guilt into something productive? Usually we return from our journeys or documentary viewing to gather with friends and discuss it over coffee. These sessions include lots of head-shaking, sighs, and “we shoulds.” Living in an insanely wealthy country like I do, we like to point the finger at those with more wealth and talk about the changes They should make and the wrongs that They perpetuate. This provides an excellent distraction from our own potential, and leads to far less uncomfortable conversations, like the wrongs of governments that, as expats, we have no control over. I often wonder if I am a poster-child of fruitless Privileged Guilt. I pursued not one, but two degrees in the hopes of aiding the fight against global wrongs and inequality, but found the whole thing to disturbing for ongoing work on the subject. Additionally, I never did marry the Che Guevara-in-the-making I dreamed of at university, and I thank the Creator for that as much as I do my privileged birth! I sure wasn’t cut out for that sort of life, although perhaps his revolutionary activities could have lessened some of my feelings of obligation to those less fortunate.

So back to the original question: What is pride in one’s country? Where does Privileged Guilt come from, and is it valid or uber-patronizing? Do you feel it? Do you do anything about it? Give this expat some answers before my next trip. Or, I guess I could always just visit a wealthier country.