Entering The Office

I didn’t plan on doing this.

I was sitting in an office, something I don’t have the habit of doing, and I was ruminating about why it is so difficult. I noted down a few words at a time, keeping my discontent at bay in order to come back to work. Looking back, it was kind of interesting.

14/08 sitting in an office is boring; falling asleep >> need to move

This is why I’m sharing my experience, me being a freshly-graduated person entering the office-world. Maybe spoilt by a totally self-directed University experience, and definitely demanding in terms of my time being used well.

16/08 le truc c’est que je peux pas réfléchir si je suis pas bien dans mon corps :/ (I just can’t think if I’m not well in my body)

If you want to help me, do say: do you feel similarly when you’re working? Or do I have reason to believe that I’m actually worse at concentrating than those around or have unrealistic experiences for thinking I should be performant most of the time?

17/08 coming in, starting to read a book on intimate life in the Arab world… so happy, this place is like continuing Uni, but applied, changing, i love learning (sadly, I’m not supposed to read rn tho).

entertaining_ways_to_waste_time_when_youre_bored_at_work_22

afternoon (~4.30/5pm): uhhh. no more concentration. What am I still doing here? Is the idea to sit through it, do some low-key work? … feels like a meditation exercise in disguise. Even a 20min nap would be so good. ahh. i want to RUN. howww can i change this??!! Maybe it’s like when I started Uni. Probably a mix of “the others don’t do as much as I think they are” and … oh whatever.

Then, I found something echoing my sentiments:

“According to [Frederic] Laloux, studies suggest that between 2/3 and 3/4 of all employees are disengaged with their work. They “come to work with their bodies but not with their hearts” (cute). Whilst this notion is hardly new – Marx had plenty to say about the “functionality” of the working classes – as Laloux points out, we are not only talking about the disenfranchised poor but literally EVERYBODY, right up to top management. People even at the very highest echelons of business are TIRED. Tired of the ego games, politics, bureaucracy, meaningless meetings, budgeting cycles, arbitrary targets.”

In fact, he prophecises a new way of doing organisations.

And then, the end of the week brought good views (and not just because the weekend was approaching).

18/08

Friday: end-of-week meeting.

“How’s it been going, Ronja?”

(struggling. formulating very carefully)

“Uh, it’s a bit different from Uni…”

End result: I get a key to the office! I can decide to come in earlier, if I wish so. There is some freedom for me to adapt my rhythm. I might finally avoid that 5-7pm totally-not-productive hole, and so much else is there to be experimented with!

My head is already plotting – lunchtime parkour, maybe the shower in the bathroom is useable? And how early can I bring myself to get in to benefit from morning-productivity? Oh, we’ll see (and I’m still cautious, not wanting to end up as the weird intern after just a week, I’ve been trying normality so hard the last few days).

giphy

But, what a shift in attitude when it’s not me sitting there trying to fill time. I hope next week will just be fuelled by the exciting projects and new ideas I’m getting all involved with.

Keep posted! (Just pop your email in on the right side to get notified of posts).

Why I’m still a lucky hitchhiker and other stories.

I was busy having fun in Croatia and Montenegro the last few days, but do let me tell you the tale of how I got here.

Remember, I was in Trieste, the only part of Italy that geographically can be counted into the Balkan area.

My aim was to reach Dubrovnik by night, 700 odd kilometres and four border crossings away. 

Leaving Trieste, I had to properly open the hitchhiker’s toolbox for the first time during my trip. First step: consult the eternal wisdom of hitchwiki.org, and find some good spots outside the city. Second step: get to that spot (I managed eventually, but got off the bus too late and had to get back to the still-Italian-but-not-quite-so village I wanted to leave from). Third step: plant yourself next to the road, in a place in which cars can conceivably stop to pick you up. Fourth step: make a sign and stick out your thumb.

 Fifth step: wait.

Arghh. Arghh. (That’s the sound of watching unhelpful cars go by). The whole trip, I’d only been on service stations, asking people directly. This, of course, also has the difficulty of plucking up the courage of asking strangers for a favour, but that’s something that usually gets easier over time (unless I’m super tired), while staring at cars driving by does. not. get any easier. Also, it’s less likely to succeed (there’s been studies done on that, but I don’t have a link right now). And you have all the time in the world to multiply the gloominess of your thoughs. And no-one stops to say “I’m not going your way, but I wish you luck”. You just see people stare at you and imagine that they all have no understanding of what you’re doing and that they despise you as a person and… it’s also a good way of learning how not to do that. And how to deal with the uncertainty that someone might pick you up in a minute, but that it could also take hours (or days, when you’re as patient as my friend Julian or other people). Or how to deal with the stare of others, and not conform nor feel bad for that, but smile at them in return.

Even more disappointing that I had no long hours in front of me, but just enough time to think these thoughts, until an Italian civil servant stopped after 39 minutes of waiting and brought me through Slovenia into Croatia.

Time for some stats!

On my whole journey, from Brittany through France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and again Croatia, I had 14 stops, of which all but two were on service areas next to the motorway. I waited for just under 18 minutes on average.

If you don’t have a sense of how phenomenal that is, imagine that this means that there were times when I literally didn’t wait at all and that 10 minutes were usually what I had to expect! 10 minutes! That’s less than what I usually plan for changing buses! It was only a few stops that increased this mean, like the one time I had to wait for about one hour. So that’s why I’m a lucky hitchhiker.

Doesn’t mean that this is what I or anyone should expect when hitching, but it does mean that I reached Dubrovnik in time to have dinner with my friends.

Some cool other people I met that day were an Austrian couple in their fifties or early sixties, who looked like unusual suspects – they were driving a big BMW, and he was on the phone for business reasons, wearing a shirt that dazzled me in its whiteness (and that’s what he wore on a holiday!)… and then, I didn’t even have to ask them, but they asked me if I needed a lift, and I loved the daily dose of anti-prejudice training. 

Another was a Swiss-Croatian girl who’d also just finished University and who thanked me for driving with her (Me: “…euhh? Thank you?” She: “no, seriously, I wish you’d continue my way, it’s so much more fun to have someoneto chat to!”).

And the Croatian health and safety inspector who brought me through the bit of Bosnia (or probably rather Hercegowina) that separates the two parts of Croatia, and who turned out to be a hobby-historian furnishing me with knowledge about the former Venezian and Dubrovnian republics, and who’d have been able to teach me much more had it not been for language barriers.

Anyway – thanks to all who made my trip so awesome, and thanks to you who were following my stories! It’s been great, and I hope life will continue to be interesting enough to be talked about 🙂

Part 3: Crossing Italy

Hitchlog: 761km, 9h30 total, 2h waiting, 25min pause

Haven’t read Part 1 and Part 2 of the journey yet?

part 3 Ronja

I started off with the small frustration of being on a relatively quiet station where everyone went off the mountains and not to Italy. I say small, because the first people going to Italy, a young couple from southern France, promptly took me on board. And when I looked at the time, I couldn’t believe that I’d only spent about 10 minutes trying anyway! If I continue being that lucky, I definitely won’t work on my patience, which was one of the initial attractions of hitchhiking. But I won’t complain! One thing I did work on that day, however, was renunciation. That’s something I do relatively often, half-voluntarily, since I rarely take a lot of food with me. I always tell myself “oh, in the worst case, I can buy something on the way”, which is something I never end up doing, because somehow I’m never hungry enough to pay 3.50€ for a packet of crisps. For the two days on the road, I had: 200g of walnuts and 2 fruit bars (still from my gran at home), a few slices of bread, and two oranges. The bread and one orange, as well as some nuts were gone the previous day, so I had the other orange in the morning and decided to savour every bite from then on. Which was totally fine.

Just to clarify: I don’t do these kinds of things for any aww-my-gawd-I-needa-lose-weight reason. I kind of hesitated writing about food (and lack thereof) because it’s a touchy topic for many people, and I know very few people who have an entirely healthy relation to what they eat and what their body looks like. Well, I think I’ve grown to develop a liking of my body and don’t see at all why I’d want to torture it to fit a certain, mainstream accepted, look (if I wanted to do that, I’d start by shaving my legs). Experiments like this one are more in line with staying up the whole night to do parkour, and, in this case, err on the side of the spiritual journey. Y’know, like Indian monks wandering around, depending on the charity of others (“only take what is given”) and not craving for more than that. Already, hitchhiking really helps developing that kind of modesty and gratitude and non-attachment (to the extent that now, I really don’t care anymore if someone could actually take me but doesn’t want to, and can ungrudgingly wish them a nice journey). The food-scarcity is something of a bonus, also because only eating walnuts is a bit boring, and breaks the craving for special tastes or whatever. And I felt truly like that kind of nomad when sometimes I got offered a biscuit or a handful of almonds.

Anyway, after I got through all of Italy fine, I arrived at my friend’s place in Trieste where home-cooked pasta was waiting for me, eheh.

Some more fun on the way included seeing lots of middle-aged men in big cars, smoking and looking so clichéd Italian that I couldn’t help but find it hilarious, landscapes changing sooo quickly. I also got ciao-bella’d (pff) and met more cool people… but to be honest, now I’ve written a lot and would prefer going out to see Trieste!

Rendez-vous in Croatia 😉

 

Part 1: Changing skies

After a beautiful time spent in both the calm of the counntryside and the festival-atmosphere of my host family’s party, I was left at a service station on the main road out of Brittany.

 It was grey and a bit foggy and I realised that this was the very same station where, 4 years ago, a much more nervous version of myself did her very first solo hitching. After about 15 minutes, a retired optician took me, and very soon the sky started clearing up. He was traveling towards Tours to pick up his four grandchildren who were brought up North by their dad who coudn’t take time off for them during the summer holiday. He left me at the entrance of the station, where I first had to take a break and strip off various layers of clothing. Then, I went around asking “Est-ce que vous allez dans la direction de Lyon, par hasard?”… until someone half-grinned at me and asked “Are you German?”. I realised what had happened when four girls came to kiss him goodbye – I’d found the son of my first driver! He continued the new family tradition and drove me further (as well as the old family tradition of being an optician).

The next stop, before Montluçon, was the longest wait of the trip (and also that was only about an hour long!), where I met a guy who wanted to hitch the same way as me. He immediately asked whether we could “say we’re together” (however he meant it?) and I declined, knowing that I wouldn’t help myself at all. It would have been interesting to compare his success rates to mine, not only because hitching is generally said to be easiest as a woman by herself, but also because he didn’t seem to compensate his initial disadvantage very well. I could see that he’d put on a shirt to seem “proper”, which looked a bit overdone (like when you meet Jehova’s witnesses on the street); and most of all, he had a kind of awkward way of approaching people, which probably didn’t help them trust him. How sad that you can’t cover up your body language with nice clothing :D.

Anyway, I did continue eventually, with a headache from all the sunshine, and passed Lyon at about 4pm in a super cool VW van containing a dad and his 14-year-old daughter.

The last ride of the day, which brought me to the middle of the mountains (just next to the Mont Blanc!), was given by a shy 32-year-old who looked much younger than that.

Part 1 Ronja.PNG

Hitching again!

It’s been 10 months since I haven’t been on the road; 10 long months in which I finished a degree instead, and discovered that being sedentary can also be fun. We-ell, here I am again. I used the past few weeks to piece myself back together, after running on a limited version of myself for quite a while (I really really did enjoy all the studying. But that’s not all I need, and then there’s the stress, of course).

First came Tandem Festival (whoa! Music! Crafts! Movement! … I kept on smiling sheepishly – “Forgot how happy this stuff made me!”) and sunshine in Oxford. 

Then I stayed up a whole night running around London parkour-style, while also learning how to build shelters or light fires … which made me feel a bit more ready to face an urban catastrophy scenario (or a G20 meeting … or long nights next to motorways).

I traveled to Germany, did couchsurfing again (“whoaaa, such nice people” *gratitude overflow*), and felt scared about all the hitchhiking I’m planning to do this summer.

Then I shut up for 10 days and meditated and now life is kind of easier. At least the bit of it which is self-caused misery; which might end up being all of the misery we feel. Please remind me to write a post dedicated to meditation!

After meditation retreats, sometimes great things seem to happen and stuff suddenly works out; like when I found someone driving past my family home (in Western Germany) and did a surprise visit for a few hours. Imagine the happiness of seeing family again after months, and then receiving the gift of doing so unexpectedly. Add to that getting your uni results which turned out fine; and an impromptu party including both of your divorced parents (“Efficient time allocation”). Bliss – and so many hugs.

The next day, after a long long breakfast, my mum dropped me off at a service station to hitch towards Brittany. Hopefully it is evident how much I love her for being that kind of mother.

About to set off!

And then – vrumm, vrumm – back en route! I didn’t have enough time to get properly sceptical or pessimistic about my lift chances, because an old couple in a minivan took me on board after 15min, and the magic of the hitch started working again. He told me how he hitchhiked to the red sea back in ’59; and I learned some things about market research and Iron Man competitions. I got my next ride from a German ladder-manufacturer whose father had invented a special type of ladder now endangered by new EU-regulations. He was off to Paris attempting to get an exemption through, and had a great hands-on life philosophy… again a nice reminder that one does not need to be an academic to make sense and to think on one’s feet (and that, conversely, I  should not stop trying to make sense even though I know fancy words. Surprise.)

He dropped me off just before Paris, since I wanted to continue to Brittany… but here, time passed and I got bored (also, I’d only slept 4hrs because of said impromptu-party). And so, I hitched into Paris and spent a lovely evening with a high-school friend who lives there now. More of these beautiful surprises 🙂
Anyway, now I’ve reached Brittany, staying once again in the house where I spent some of the most important months of my life, helping my ex host family prepare the party that’ll happen here in a few days.

So, for example, this ladder is built in accordance with the new standard, prescribing that the bottom width be 50% more that the top width. However, that does not take into account the special case in which the top is larger too, which means you only need 25% extra at bottom and top… also, we made bunting.

Hopefully, I’ll have some time to rest and to brace myself for the journey to Croatia which awaits next week…

Confidence, dread, and crisp-craving crises.

My final exams start in just under two weeks. Excellent occasion to write a blog post about confidence*.

I’ve been feeling quite anxious for the last week, and am currently recovering from the stress I wasn’t even aware I was feeling (seriously, my body had to tell me). One thing that helped in the process was meeting two of my tutors who basically took me by the hand and kept telling me that I did know stuff, and just needed to be more confident and say it. The part of me that is not my inner critic (according to whom I would probably not do anything at all for fear of not being good enough) largely agrees.

The thing is, I wouldn’t rate myself as generally under-confident.


*sorry, I won’t actually talk about crisp-craving crises. But I think you get it anyway.


To find out what made me confident in some and not confident in other situations, I made a list and identified a couple of factors that seem to play a role. Here we go:

“Intrinsic” factors: related to how I feel about the task

1) finding it easy

For example, for my German Linguistics paper, I found that I could complete the work without having an existential crisis in the process. Indeed, I was familiar with lots of the concepts and could apply native speaker intuitions – nice for a change.

2) finding it interesting

That’s kind of obvious, I hope?

3) being passionate about it (thinking it’s important)

That mostly applies to stuff I do with charities. It was a big driving factor in my community-oriented volunteering (at the Oxford Hub), and one of the factors that balances my low confidence in effective altruist circles.

“Extrinsic”/Group-related factors

4) getting positive feedback

The hub committee is a great illustration of this: more often than pointing out mistakes, and certainly more often than elsewhere, people pointed out when someone did something right. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be critical, but reflecting on it, I kind of miss that positive and encouraging atmosphere.

Academically, it’s tutors telling you that you’ve done well, or getting a good grade. However, in low-confidence constellations, it’s easy to think that this was accidental, or that they are trying to be nice. For example, me getting a first in statistics didn’t change my belief that I’m bad at maths.

5) being good in relation to others

See also (4); somewhere in 4+5, there is also something about not feeling judged, but encouraged in the group situation.

Conversely, there is nothing worse for my confidence levels than being in the room with people who either are better or who I think are better than me. They’d have to be exceptionally nice for me to think that they are not judging me.

6) and a difficult and fuzzy one: identifying with it

Is that about past experiences? And how much of that is social conditioning? And why do I not stop believing that I “can’t do” maths or logic? And should I be worried about the fact that I would rate myself as less analytical now than I did at the start of my degree?


I don’t have more time to think about this (there is finals waiting for me), and this seems too complex to just blame it on gendered social conditioning.

Also, crisps…

Yet, quoting one of my tutors:

“you know, if stereotypical white males are allowed to say things they are not sure about with confidence, then you should allow yourself to do so, too”.

I always like to take lessons from my thinking, so what is the lesson now? Just act more confident?! Yeah, lol.

Trying to remember for the future:

  • It did help to remove myself from group situations that convinced me that I was inadequate >> by telling my tutor about struggling and getting one-on-one tuition
  • It did help to seek out people who are good at being encouraging, and stressing that I do know things, as well as showing me how to use them in an exam situation.
  • I’m lucky enough to find most of what I study interesting anyway. YAY I LOVE MY STUDIES (*makes mental note*)

What I’m not sure about yet is whether I should think more about what lies behind “identifying myself” with something, since that might be a phrase I use to plaster up insecurities (“It’s okay to fail, this is not my thing anyway”) or false (and possibly gendered) beliefs… and whether that is something to tackle in the long run.

For now, I’m happy enough that in this moment, I feel sufficiently confident to go through the next weeks and that in the worst case, I have enough vague knowledge on everything to at least make up something. Another tutor quote:

“And when you look at the paper and think that you can’t answer any of the questions, you might as well take that to mean that you can answer all of them”.

Have any thoughts? Just pop them below! Especially if they provide an easy and quick answer to all of this! 😛 

DEUTSCH: Effektiver Altruismus auf den zweiten Blick

For those who don’t understand German: I’m planning (and hoping!) to write an English post about Effective Altruism soon, especially about the problems I (still!) have with it and the things I nevertheless agree with in there. But seen that there’s lots of English material out there already, I encourage you to look for yourselves in the meantime 🙂 

Das hier ist eine Antwort auf Sabrinas Post über Effektiven Altruismus.

Als Hintergrund: ich würde mich selber nicht unbedingt als Effektiven Altruisten (EA) bezeichnen, vor allem nicht, wenn es dabei um bestimmte Organisationen geht. Ich finde aber die Idee, unsere Ressourcen möglichst gut einzusetzen, sehr sinnvoll, und habe in der Unterhaltung mit EAs (vor allem auf der EAG Global Konferenz) viele interessante Anreize mitbekommen. Ich werde erst versuchen, ein paar deiner Fragen aufzugreifen, und dann meinen eigenen Senf dazugeben 😉

[Entschuldige, dass alle meine Links auf Englisch sind, ich kenne leider die deutschen Materialien (noch) nicht so gut]

1.) “Aber was, wenn ich den größten Teil meines Lebens mit wohltätiger Arbeit verbringe? Sollte ich dann wirklich genau dort arbeiten, wo ich am meisten bewirken kann, selbst wenn es mich unglücklich macht?”

Ich kenne keinen EA, die/der denken würde, dass ein Burn-Out irgendwem hilft! Speziell wenn es darum geht, den Großteil deiner Zeit wohltätig zu sein, ist 80.000 hours wirklich hilfreich. Was sie “personal fit” nennen, ist teilweise eine Antwort auf deine Frage: Wenn man nicht glücklich in seinem Job ist, ist man wahrscheinlich nicht so gut wie man woanders sein könnte – die ganze Kunst besteht also darin, die Beschäftigung zu finden, in der der eigene Charakter am meisten erreichen kann. (Mehr dazu auch hier, wo es explizit darum geht, sich erst mal um sich selber zu kümmern, bevor man anderen helfen kann).

Dass das Thema auch in der “EA Community” viel diskutiert wird, kann man zum Beispiel in diesem Artikel sehen.

2.) “Aber wäre es nicht noch effektiver, einen Wandel auf gesellschaftlicher Ebene anzustoßen?”

EAs diskutieren viel über gesellschaftlichen Wandel, gerade weil es so eine spannende Frage ist und potenziell viel effektiver sein könnte als Geld zu geben. Ein paar Punkte, die ich aus Gesprächen mitgenommen habe, ist, dass es hilfreich ist, genau zu definieren, was man mit gesellschaftlichem Wandel meint – zum Beispiel, ob es darum geht, die Ansichten von Leuten zu ändern, oder vielleicht gleich den ganzen Kapitalismus abzuschaffen. Ich habe mich noch nicht genügend mit dem Thema beschäftigt (kommt hoffentlich noch!)

Wie man es bei so einer bedachten Bewegung erwarten kann, gibt es viele verschiedene Antworten auf deine Frage! Viele EAs versuchen momentan, genau das herauszufinden. Eine Liste kannst du in diesem Artikel (“Effective altruists love systemic change“) finden.

Allerdings habe ich auch ein Gegenargument (“Beware systemic change“) gefunden.

Der Artikel ist etwas Arbeit zum Durchlesen, deswegen unten ein paar Ausschnitte. Die generelle Idee scheint zu sein, dass wir potenziell mehr Schaden anrichten, wenn wir nach “systemic change” rufen, und dass “man vs. nature” (also zum Beispiel Krankheiten bekämpfen) sicherer ist, als “man vs. man” Konflikte anzufangen. Auch hier finde ich es wohl hilfreich, im Hinterkopf zu behalten, worum es uns bei “systemic change” geht (ich habe so das Gefühl, dass das bei dir anders aussehen könnte als bei ihm – würde mich über eine Erklärung freuen!)

“Highly educated people used to studying science might just be more likely to fall for the streetlight effect and go with the side that promises more quantifiability, rather than the side more likely to be right.”

“A quick run through the history books shows that smart people trying to effect systemic change have an imperfect track record. I won’t say that they’re unusually bad compared to other demographics, but certainly nothing as stellar as the “let’s just not be morons” theory might lead one to expect.”

“There are many more ways to break systems than to improve them.”

“if everyone gave 10% of their income to effective charity, it would be more than enough to end world poverty, cure several major diseases, and start a cultural and scientific renaissance. If everyone became very interested in systemic change, we would probably have a civil war.”

3.) Ein letzter Punkt, der mir besonders am Herzen liegt! Erst als ich auf der EA-Konferenz war, hatte ich das Gefühl, den Anreiz der Bewegung zu verstehen. So lange mir spezielle Antworten präsentiert wurden (zB “Spende Organisation X”), fand ich das nicht besonders spannend, und ich hatte immer ein bisschen das Gefühl, dass damit auf mich herabgesehen wird (“Sobald du erstmal wirklich rational bist, wirst du das auch sehen”). Dann, als ich EAs wirklich kennen gelernt habe, hat sich mein Bild verändert – ich habe gesehen, dass sich EAs in vielen verschiedenen Bereichen engagieren und neugierig und offen auf meine Bedenken reagiert haben. Ich habe sogar auch dazu eine tolle Zusammenfassung gefunden, und zwar den Artikel “Effektiver Altruismus als Frage, nicht als Antwort“. Damit bin ich voll und ganz einverstanden, genau wie mit der Grundauffassung, die ich bei allen EAs angefunden habe. Ich formuliere das als “Deinen Verstand benutzen, um (so viel wie möglich) Gutes zu tun”. Es ist zu erwarten, dass spezielle Moralprinzipien unterschiedlich aussehen, und zum Beispiel dass wir unterschiedliche Prioritäten haben (zum Beispiel denke ich nicht, dass ich plötzlich nur noch nach Afrika spenden und nicht in der eigenen Gemeinde oder an mir selber arbeiten sollte).

 

Why I won’t tell women to be “extra careful”

Being suspicious of men began when I was twelve and a classmate walked up to me, outright groping my emerging breast.

This story already shows the seeds of a dynamic I still experience and tried to properly put into words only yesterday when a male friend asked me to. There is: the shock and disbelief that someone just invaded my private space, without even hesitating. The perceived helplessness, which is hard to admit for someone like me who thinks of themselves as strong. But apparently, I can be able to articulate what I want in many areas and still feel helpless in other situations. A comparison: the same kid threw snowballs at me on the way to school and I had no problem at all reporting that. In the groping situation, a teacher was even closer, in the same room. Yet, it didn’t even occur to me to say something.

I can’t fully reconstruct what happened in my head nearly ten years ago, but I can try to understand better what is now happening to me and probably many other women on a regular basis.

ronnie-pic-2

Spoiler: Won’t stop doing this and more.

This post is not only about travelling. But we travellers need to talk about it.

The discussion I had with my friend was sparked by internet articles around the theme of “sexsurfing” – couchsurfing being used for hooking up with travellers. I hadn’t heard the term before, but was aware of it happening, at least through my share of creep messages through the platform (“Come to my place. I only have one bed, though. *wink* “).

And, yes, there are actual people writing guidelines on how to find “naughty couchsurfing chicks”.

I had a hard time explaining to my friend all the things that made me angry in there, and how my experience might be different from his.

One reason for this is that it is really hard to talk about moments in which men did things which made me feel helpless and ashamed. I’ll try with a small selection: someone trying to force a kiss, or masturbating while watching me sleep, or following me around the streets. Some of my experiences are more coercive and manipulative than this, some less, but they contribute to the feeling of perpetually having to guard myself. Maybe you should ask a female friend about this if you want to empathise, I assume that many other women spend a lot of time taking precautions for their safety, even in a subconscious, automatic way.

If there are reasons to be afraid, why not tell (other) women to be careful?

When I think about all these moments, I don’t want to talk about them. Because. I have this horrible feeling that it’s kind of my fault. Even after knowing what victim-blaming is and that it’s wrong, I just can’t help but immediately relativise my experience. “This guy did this disgusting thing? Well, yeah, but I did put myself into a bad position there” (insert: I shouldn’t have smiled at him/ I shouldn’t have been out on my own/ I shouldn’t have fallen asleep on his sofa … In my head, I can hear a chorus of relatives: “You shouldn’t have travelled alone!! We told you it was not safe!”).

This is why it makes me sad to hear so much well-meant advice, even from fellow female travellers (“Of course, you have to be extra careful as a woman. Here are ten ways to guard yourself”). Adventurous Kate, for example, writes a post that explains the background of why travel safety is different for women better than me, but her conclusions are just as disheartening.

Summary up to now:

  • Sexual situations are different from others. I might be a self-confident person otherwise, but still less able to assert my limits in front of men (especially if they are hormon-driven, not particularly aware, or don’t care*) and to assert my rights afterwards. The feeling of guilt/shame is part of that, but also some other dynamics I’m finding too hard to explain right now.
  • Perpetually telling me to guard myself against men makes me feel like it’s my fault when men do things to me.

*I have met many many men who are not like this, who are sensitive and kind and able to respect me as a person whatever conflicting interests we might have. (You know. Not all men…) Keep trying everyone.

So. What should we do?

I don’t like fear. The logic that tells me to not go to other countries is the same that would like to keep me inside, confined to what a “decent girl” is supposed to do or be (what even is that nowadays?). This logic takes away my agency, because I only have the choice to react to the world, and to be defensive about it.

That doesn’t mean that I would recommend someone who has just started travelling to put themselves alone next to a road in the night if they have never hitchhiked before. That doesn’t only apply to girls.

For the record, I’d tell anyone who asks me about hitchhiking to try it in daytime with someone who has done it before, or just with another friend, and in situations where they have a chance to chat to the drivers before entering the car, e.g. by asking in service stations. This is mostly because I think you should be able to feel in control (so that you kind of know what you’re doing at least most of the time, in a very broad interpretation), and that this is more likely to be the case if you proceed in small steps. Just like bicycle travellers recommend novices to first try to do a day- or week-long trip before going for around-the-world adventures. Kind of sensible.

I think: women, like anyone else, should get the chance to discover the world and grow doing it, because there is no other way to get equipped dealing with it.

If I were to stay home, I wouldn’t have had as much exposure to these disagreeable situations, but I also wouldn’t have learnt to tell men when they ought to better back off. The balance between exposing yourself to the world, learning step by step, and doing something outright foolish and putting yourself into great danger is delicate. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to be reckless, even though I think I should be able to be foolish if this is a right accorded to men, too.

At some point, I will explain in more detail what we can learn from my namesake Ronja Rövardotter and her philosophy of how to guard against danger and fear.

But for now, I wish you a great new year, with all the adventures to learn from, all the freedom and love…!

Inspirations.

All of us know these moments when we look at what someone is doing and think “this is great! I wanna do that, too!”. This ist he first time that I am consciously in the position of that someone. A friend of mine (Alex) just told me that he is going to hitchhike across Germany next week, his first ever solo hitchhike!

Without wanting to take ownership … (well, okay, I’m proud)…just saying: the only time he ever hitched before at all was this July, when we both travelled back South from a Parkour gathering in Edinburgh. Admittedly, there are more impressive ways to have an impact on other people’s lives, but, well, hitchhiking is pretty cool already and I hope he won’t be the last person I can persuade to give it a go!

The good thing about inspiration is that it travels in all directions. In the same chat in which Alex told me about his travel plans, he made a joke about putting on a hitchhiking-badge. And I thought “What hitchhiking badge? We need a bitchhiking badge!”

Another inspiring friend – Susanna, who happens to have a history in feminist jewellery making – then drew this super cool logo for me:

bitchhiker-copy

 

Wahoo! I can already see feminist travelers carrying it into the world. Love being inspired.

How it began II

Well, okay, I’m back already.

My post last week made me remember an article I wrote in Morocco but never published anywhere. Going back a bit further back, this will introduce and expand on one of my big themes: trust. Enjoy and discuss! (Seriously, I’d like your views: do you think I’m being stupid doing what I do?)

Morocco: tales of trust

Sexual assaults and terrorist attacks – these and other fear-laden buzzwords pop up in the minds of many when talk is of anything Arab. This is why I decided to hitchhike and couchsurf my way through Morocco, all alone and female and suchlike. If not a rational way of convincing others, this journey was meant to at least confront and hopefully overcome the creeping fear of the unknown within myself, by countering my own distrust with openness.

Hitchhiking – from the Sahara…

My solo journey began in the Sahara, on a long and unnaturally straight road with view on bright orange dunes. From there, I started hitchhiking all across Morocco, through heat, rain, and snowstorms. On that first day, the director of a youth centre picked me up and gave me something of a guided tour on the way to his destination, including views of the most extensive oasis in the world, wedged into a landscape of red sandstone. A young man, who I was first very weary of, surprisingly did not try to rape me, but instead helped me find a café with an internet connection. That night, I was adopted by a family who shared their enormous plate of couscous with me, bathed me in generosity, laughter, and music, and urged me to stay a little longer and to bring my family the next time.

…into the snow.

The following day saw me stuck in a snowstorm when trying to cross the Atlas mountain range. While still waving my finger Morrocan-style on a spot where road conditions weren’t too bad, I was approached by a man about the age of my father who convinced me in his native-like French to take the bus instead. For the two hours we spent on the bus, we talked about the bombings in Brussels which had happened that same morning, but also about apple trees, painting and life philosophy. He encouraged me with these words: “good things always attract good things, so if you believe in the kindness of others, you will be met with kindness yourself”. One view he held was that to be a proper Muslim, one had to be kind and generous towards others – something I saw implemented throughout my journey, be it with me, the elderly, or beggars on the street.

After the Atlas experience, I spent some days getting lost in the labyrinthine alleyways that make the medina, the old city of Fez, the biggest of its kind, to then move on to the sky blue lanes of Chefchaouen. After two whirlwind weeks, I finally left the country on a ferry towards Spain, clutching my last Moroccan oranges as if to keep them as souvenirs of this place and the new friends I was leaving behind.

merzouga-tanger

There also were moments when I did not feel at ease, like when I was spoken to in Arabic while the car seemed to take strange back roads –  moments which always resolved themselves when I safely reached my destination.

Assaults and conclusions.

Only one encounter, on the last of all days, was able to intrude into my picture of a place filled with openness and generosity. Just before leaving his car, a middle-aged men started groping my butt, which didn’t end with me being physically harmed, but left a strange aftertaste. I was baffled about this even more since he was the only person who kept telling me “you know, it’s dangerous to hitchhike!”. I couldn’t help but wonder whether there was a link between this distrust and his own behaviour, as if believing in the badness of other people somehow made him feel licensed him to be disrespectful himself.

He left me on a tiny roundabout, and while I watched the cars driving, a question started circulating in my head: Can I still trust? I decided that I could, and that I had to. Risks are real, but fear would ultimately result in me adopting a worldview way too similar to the one of this guy.

If nothing else, the heartfelt generosity I encountered in Morocco convinced me that trust is something we need if we don’t want to drown in a world of fear. I decided that I want to be one of these who trust, and hopefully inspire trust. And so I set off to hitchhike the 2.500km to Strasbourg.

[….which brings us back to last week’s story. I start liking retrospect-storytelling]