Eyes Pried Shut

I’m sitting by the Bosporus in Istanbul, perched on a rock not unlike those that line the Puget Sound at the base of Seattle. I’ve been away from home for two months, pulling my body across continents, over oceans, up mountains, through forests, deserts, and UNESCO World Heritage sites. I’ve been in awe, out of place, in love, out of energy, stuck and in transit, here and not here, “wow”-ing and dreaming and silent. I’ve always been quiet, but a new silence comes from traveling alone across countries with which I share no native tongue. This silence is freeing and lonely and peaceful all at once.

When I do come across fluent English speakers (which is fairly frequent due to U.S imperialism), I probe about the conditions here, wherever “here” is in that moment. Racism, sexism, classism, homophobia – how does it compare? Where are our gaps? Where do our intersections collide? I won’t give a flowery account about how similar “here” and “home” are, how a baby’s cry and a child’s laugh ring the same regardless of language or zipcode or continent. I refuse to simplify our warped web of a world into “we all want to live happy lives, to provide for our families, and live in peace.” While it may be true, it falls flat. And our world is round. Round and buldging with bodies with separate dreams and destinies designated and dictated by birthplace, for the most part. Whose dreams are realized? What is “hard work” in the face of globalization, oppression, and international inequity?

A Kurdish Turk told me that due to his government’s corruption and the falling rate of the Turkish Lira, he has to work five times as long for the same amount of money as a British person in England, for example. “So, I work five hours for this beer, they work one!” He explains with a grin. “But hey, I’m doing good for myself,” he continues. “My classroom in elementary school had 92 kids in it, with one teacher. Budget cuts. How could we learn? But I took it as a challenge, learned English on my own, got a scholarship to university, own my own business, and am working on my second Master’s degree. I’ve worked really hard, but it can only take you so far living in these conditions,” he shrugs.

He goes on to tell me that the earth holds 7.7 billion people, more than ever before. He tells me that we’ll soon buckle at the seams, or bomb ourselves to bits, possibly in our lifetime. We pontificate about whether global warming, nuclear war, overpopulation, or even alien invasion will get us first. We shake our heads in disgust as the 1% play with the idea of “space tourism” – a tourist trip to the moon with a $150 million price tag. I think of my new friend’s classroom of 92 students. I think of the children I’ve seen begging at the foot of Istanbul’s fanciest hotels, only to be swatted away by hotel guards, as to not disturb the guests with reminders of the cost of their privilege.

A rush of familiar anxiety fills my lungs and I recall an American TV show episode where an 8-year-old has a panic attack after learning about climate change. She goes to a fancy private school, and her mom rallies the other parents together to protest the school for teaching such a stress-inducing topic. Eyes pried shut. We act oblivious to the harms of oblivion, of ignorance, of passing the buck. We slice the world into a million pieces and get mad when she bleeds. Border lines, pipelines, war crimes, and we wonder why she bleeds. Poison in her waters, axes to her trees, babies sleeping in the street, and we wonder why she bleeds. And we wonder why we’re anxious, why our brothers and sisters are doped up or hearing voices or can’t afford homes. We weep for a world unkept. Or we choose dreamless sleep, lulled to inaction by the lullaby of status quo. Eyes pried shut, we pray.

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