Orange Delhi night

I thought arriving would be more of a relief. Instead, it’s the middle of the night, and I’m wide awake and alone in a shabby dorm (which is either overpriced, or the exchange rate has changed dramatically since 2014, or the rest of the place really is that great to make up for it).

But! I am in India, once more, and unexpected memories and forgotten knowledge populate my mind. Like when I spontaneously want to say “sorry, I don’t have money” or “just a second” and catch myself in surprise because the words are suddenly there in Hindi.

Chatting to my taxi driver, back into the openness and confidence I used to feel. It is good to remember that there is a place where singing out loud is not all that strange, and a bit bewildering to receive all the tourist-reserved attention again. Most of all, however, this time I was less overwhelmed just by the country, and able to notice smaller things. The orange-patterned floor in the airport, the dusty sweet-ish smell that is very hard to describe, but immediately familiar. The orange-coloured night, in which the smog diffuses the light emanating from the lamp posts, the red street lights everyone ignores, magnificent temples in the most ordinary corners, oh, Delhi.

So, yes, I am full of wonder to be passing through this part of the world again, which for me feels like passing through a certain phase of my life again. Well, for now.

And I think I have decided on the theme I want to adopt for the coming days or weeks. It happened on the plane, when it suddenly clicked that I would land and be back, truly. I felt this joy, like vibrating with goodwill for all sentient beings, only better. Because there was this certainty that, at the core, there was nothing to worry about, as if anxiety wasn’t even possible, as if everything was just …good. It’s like having lost your compass and not noticing until you get it back. Which made it utterly obvious that the theme of, well, now will be to follow whatever this sense of direction indicates, just do what feels like the right thing to do, in the safety of a few weeks in which no decision will really matter anyway, and maybe learn to take some of this home. But because I’m starting to overthink stuff again, this is the right time to sleep, to then meet the wonder of the new day with a waking eye.

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Noticing confusion: India? Again?

This is what I’m listening to while writing: https://youtu.be/dnxCxHLAqn8

I noticed that I’m confused. Wait? I’ll be in Delhi this Thursday? People had been asking whether I was planning on travelling (“now that you’re not doing anything, really”). I wasn’t.

Now it’s happening anyway.

I was preoccupied installing myself in Berlin, which has worked pretty well so far (“you know that you’re at home in a place when you have people to discuss with”). So I didn’t really notice that there was this mostly family-sponsored trip coming up, enabling me to see a good friend getting married and then join one half of my parents in Thailand. Now that I’m, on a gut-level, starting to realise that I’ll be far away in four days, I’m starting to wonder what the journey will be like. I’m all for tasting the adventure semi-prepared at most, but I also know that being completely aimless can turn into the kind of journey where you end up returning with a stale “what was the point?”. Which doesn’t mean that I want to plan, as such. It’s more like choosing which kind of mindset to adopt during the next month or so.

Option 1: Holiday?

I am very tempted to use the excuse to put all the projects that are ticking away at the back of my head on hold. Existential dread about the future, concerning my personal path as well as roughly the next hundred trillion years of humanity, if all goes well? Nah, I’m on holiday!

On the other hand, I’ve been finding it hard to adopt holiday-mindsets for the last year or so. First, there was no time for a holiday (finals), then, my whole life entered this in-between, where no clearly-cut “work-time” meant that every minute was a moment in which to figure out my life, or “get somewhere”, “get something done” (the vagueness of this “something”not exactly having been helpful either).

I’ve been getting better at this in Berlin, for example by picking up a not-directly-useful occupation like playing the violin again. I’m not all that stressed anymore about the fact that the violin (as played by me) does not make a relevant contribution to the world, nor getting me a job. Ah! I said the evil j-word! If anything, that’s a topic for a later post, since it doesn’t really fit in with this moment’s effort of not being stressed. So it seems like there are all the more good reasons for a holiday! (Counter-reasons, or more like counter-feelings, are that I don’t actually deserve one, that I’m not useful enough to be worth the investment, and that this money could actually have saved lives instead of sending me on a trip. But I might just have to shut out these thoughts for now, and pledge to be better in the future.)

Option 2: An adventure!

Adventures, or “going travelling”, are different from holidays. They are more focused on having experiences, and testing/developing yourself. Sleeping alone under a tin foil in some forest after crossing the whole country in a day’s hitchhike perhaps doesn’t make for a great holiday. But it’s amazing if you’ve always wanted to talk to a fox at night, or just learn how to shrug your shoulders at not knowing where to go, or sleep, next. I had thought that now might not be a great time to bring myself to the edge, because that feels like a place I’ve been occupying constantly for months anyway. But now, I’m starting to, very subtly, feel the thrill again (“I could be walking around the himalayas next week…”). Actually, exposing myself to directly adventurous situations could be a good idea. Swapping the diffuse threat and dread of trying to find a cosy little place in society for the very precise trouble of making sure you stay safe along the way sounds like an excellent plan.

Adventure-journeys can also contain a project, a question you’re trying to answer throughout the journey, a view you detail at the start and whose progress you track. These are nice for the narrative as well, and work to satisfy my need for meaning even while I’m having fun. Maybe I’ll come up with something in the next few days.

Now that I’ve presented this wonderful travel-holiday dichotomy, I’m of course going to tear it down again and announce that I should probably do a bit of both. Mwahaha. In any case, this post has served its purpose well: I’m starting to feel ready.

I hope you’ll accompany me on this journey!

(One way is to subscribe to get email updates, haha.)

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).

 

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]

How it began (maybe).

With University having kicked in, I probably (realistically) won’t write anything much anytime soon. And even if there’s lots of stuff to talk about (my first time coaching Parkour, and my four Couchsurfing guests last month, for example), it’s not the same as travel storytelling.

I’ll use the chance to return to the origins of “Bitchhiking”, that article I wrote on my journey hitchhiking non-stop from Morocco to Germany.

Those who haven’t read it through Facebook (or fancy a re-read), here goes.

We should be able to retell stories (as opposed to always expecting new output) and look at them in the light of recent experience. If anything, I am more convinced of the need to spread trust, even by what some people might regard as reckless methods.

Anyway, instead of reading my waffles, I suggest you watch this video by Inna Modja instead. And her other videos. I just read about her as “representing the self-conception of a new generation of migrants”. Make of that what you want. Her feminist rap in Fula (a language spoken in around 20 West and Central African countries) is also pretty cool.

 

Why would I want to travel alone?

About three weeks ago, I co-facilitated (along with the wonderful Anick-Marie and Luca) a workshop at the Alternative Travel Gathering in Amsterdam. Its theme was “solo travel“. We had a great discussion, shared a lot of hitchhiking experiences, our strategies of dealing with lonely moments on the road, and some of the differences between genders when travelling solo. The most commonly cited motivation for travelling solo was “freedom”. This word makes me imagine the lonesome traveller on a Patagonian plain, surrounded by gorgeous mountains, patiently awaiting the next lift while developing a deep philosophy of calm. Freedom: being only responsible for oneself, not worrying about plans since it’s only ourselves who will be screwed up if they fail.

Now that I’m travelling with another person, I’ve had some occasion to refine this view of what I like about being alone. It’s quite simple. I really just miss time for myself.

In our workshop, we stressed that travelling solo is not the best way to move for everyone, that one should be able and willing to be alone and that challenges can be all the more challenging if you have to face them for yourself. Now, I’d like to add the opposite perspective to this. Travelling with other people includes being around people a lot of your time, possibly all of it. In much the same way in which I use certain strategies to meet and socialise with people when travelling on my own, I need to develop ways to deal with people.

I’m not trying to say that I hate people (just look at all my rambles why I travel for people, not places), but I do struggle to secure my personal space, especially since this is sometimes seen as anti-social behaviour. If I didn’t have time on my own, I couldn’t write blog articles, I couldn’t even reflect the journey I’m on, and for me, this would mean only having loads of raw experiences while not learning from them.

Another thing that this short reflection made me realise is that I must have started behaving like a long-term nomad. When I’m on the road, I’m not too fussed about exploring all the sights I could possibly fit into my schedule. By now, it seems more important to me to take that time for myself, read a book, chill, do some boring admin. Since I spend nearly half my time on the move, I shouldn’t be surprised about this.

It’s also no surprise that I found my first strategy for caring for myself. It’s above all realising my own needs, then communicating them. Boring, really. But it helped a lot. And it turned out that my friend was really looking forward to some time on her own, too.