A Poem

This is a poem I wrote last night. It’s a more cynical take on travelling, and something I’ve been thinking about. I will warn you there’s a bit of language at the end, but I couldn’t think of anything else that would quite get the same emotion across.

 

Selfie

by Danielle Zaborski

 

I paid a thousand dollars

for a ticket on a plane,

and an extra ten or so

for a pretty-colored drink.

 

I passed a tiny beggar boy,

trembling on the pavement

outside the airport,

so I made the obligatory remarks

about how sad the sight was.

However, I had places to be,

so I kept walking.

 

I bought a pretty shirt to wear,

found the prettiest view,

took a selfie,

and called it done.

Another successful trip.

 

It cost me more than a month’s salary,

but damn, was it a good picture.

 

 

 

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The Shopkeeper from Skopje, or, Travel in the Time of #MeToo

Yesterday, my roommate and I went to Skopje in Macedonia, our first trip out of Kosova since being here. As it was getting towards the end of the day, we wanted to get directions to a specific place we wanted to see, so we stopped and asked a shop owner we had spoken to earlier in the day. He was a very nice, energetic, younger guy who had asked us where we were from. When we answered, “Ohio,” he responded: “CLEVELAND!” and told us all about his opinions on basketball.

When we told him where we wanted to go, he said it was closed for the day because of weather, but that he would be closing up his shop soon and could show us around the city. We agreed, though reluctantly. This was the kind of situation we had always been warned about in travelling. Scenes from “Taken” flashed through our heads as Kelsie and I discussed our ground rules (no taxis, all public places) and code words (we’d claim we were sick or needed to go to the bathroom if things got uncomfortable).

Across the street, we noticed that people were walking into an open museum. We had been wanting to go to a museum anyways, and now it seemed like a good way to get out of a potentially hazardous situation. I told the man that we were very grateful for his offer to show us around, but that we had decided to go to the museum. He said, “ok” and tried not to look hurt, but it was obvious that he was. As we walked away, I had an awful feeling that I haven’t been able to shake since.

I keep imagining what our evening could have looked like. We could have seen some of the hidden gems of the city and had a firsthand account of life in Skopje. We could have made a wonderful new friend. Instead, we hurt the feelings of a man we hardly knew. Yes, I understand that the evening could have taken a much darker turn, but what if it wouldn’t have? What if we hurt the feelings of this man, who had been nothing but kind to us, for no reason whatsoever?

There’s only one reason that Kelsie and I didn’t go with the shop owner yesterday: he was a man, and we were not. More than that, we were vulnerable, being in a place we didn’t know, and vulnerable is something that a woman cannot be if she wants to get by. And that’s sad. That’s so sad.

I can’t tell you how many times I have wished that gender didn’t matter.

As a single woman, travelling is difficult sometimes. I have to either find places that are well known for safety, or travel with someone else. There are places I cannot go and things I cannot do because it is not safe for me. These are things that a man, or a woman travelling with a man, doesn’t have to think about as much.

And I’m certainly not saying that men are the victors and women the victims. Everyone suffers in the exchange. Both miss out on valuable exchanges and friendships. There are things I don’t feel comfortable saying to my friends who are men, and there are things that my friends who are men don’t feel comfortable saying to me. Everyone loses. No one is the victor.

There’s so much more I wish I could say, but I can’t find a way to put the words on a page. I will say this: I long for a world where I can have dinner with a male shop owner from Skopje, or Cleveland, or anywhere, and simply enjoy a nice meal and a new friend.

This Post Might Be Cheating

So, yeah… sorry for the appalling lack of posts. Truth be told, I’ve been a little overwhelmed, in ways good, bad, and indifferent. I’ve been in Kosova for almost three weeks now, and I keep waiting to feel a little less like a fish out of water. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met some great people who have been a huge help in adapting, and I do like Kosova, but being a new person in a new place – and a new job – is more draining than I thought it would be. I have all these ideas for things I want to write about, but not the energy to actually write them.

So, I thought I’d cheat a little and post something I’ve already written.

All of my classes just completed an assignment this week called a This I Believe essay. This I Believe began as an NPR radio series in the 50s and continues to this day. The requirements seem simple enough: write about something you believe, make it precise, make it personal and relatable, and make it brief (350-500 words).

It’s been so fun to watch students’ reactions to this project. A few are writing incredibly personal topics that they have made me swear I will never make them share. A few are really diving deep. I haven’t gotten to read more than a few snippets of some of them, but I’m looking forward to reading more.

I promised them that if they wrote one, I would write one. It seemed fitting to write a little about how I got to where I am now. So this is my This I Believe essay, called “Eight Years.” And, in case you’re wondering, it’s 499 words long.

Eight Years

By Danielle Zaborski

In 2011, I got engaged to my high school boyfriend. We’d had our ups and downs, but I loved him, and I was sure that would be enough to sustain both of us.

In 2012, I graduated from college with a degree in English and the license to teach it. I also broke up with my boyfriend. I had finally realized that loving someone isn’t the same as wanting to spend your life with them.

In 2013, I started my first teaching job at the high school I had graduated from, and bought a house across the street. I thought that this would be the real start of my life.

In 2014, I finally admitted that anxiety from my job was eating away at my life. I quit the job that I thought would be so perfect, upset with myself for failing. I rented the house to my friend because I could no longer afford it alone.

In 2015, I started a new job teaching English at a small middle school. I fell in love with it. This lovely group of students and staff gave me back the confidence that I thought I had lost forever, and gave me the tools I needed to rebuild myself.

In 2016, I did not go back to teach at that school. It was too far from home, and I didn’t make enough money to pay my bills as well as the gas to drive so far. I did, however, accept an invite to live with a friend in Australia. I stayed at her house, and she helped me find a job. I sang in her church and fell in love with the people there. I thought, “Maybe this is where I’m meant to be.”

In 2017, I was back home in Ohio, and learned to teach English to speakers of other languages. I accepted a long term sub position for a teacher on medical leave, and I was sure that this job would be my way of getting hired full-time by another school close by.

In 2018, I said goodbye to my family and boarded a plane to Kosova. I had accepted a job teaching, of all things, high school English, which I had been certain I would never teach again. I met a great group of students and teachers who I am very excited to get to know.

I have shown you these eight years of my life, each so very different from the ones before, to prove that life will not always happen as you expect. At different points, I had expectations of being married, thriving in a job I had been trained for, living in my own house, and staying within my comfort zone. None of these things came to be, and thank God. I believe that life brought me to exactly where I need to be, and that I will be perfectly fine if my tomorrow doesn’t look like I expect it to.

 

All the Times I’ve Cried at an Airport

There have been two times in my life in which I have cried at an airport. Ask my friend Eric. He was present for both of them.

The first time was when I was a sophomore in high school. My youth group was just returning from a two week mission trip in Peru, and though it had been an incredible experience, I was ready to be home. I don’t remember the reason – maybe our first flight had been delayed, or maybe it’s just impossible to get twenty or thirty-something teenagers through customs in a timely manner – but whatever the reason, we missed our flight. I was starting band camp the next day, and was afraid that I would practically be going straight from the airport to band camp without a chance to just be home. And so came the tears. Don’t worry. I did get to spend a little time at home before band camp, though not much.

The second time was on the way home from my senior trip to Germany. Again, it’s nearly impossible, even for a travelling wizard such as my senior English teacher, to get a group of thirty or so teenagers through customs in a timely manner, and we missed our flight. It wasn’t going to be possible for all of us to make it onto another flight together, so they were splitting the group, trying to evenly space out students with chaperones. I got put onto one of the earliest flights. One of my best friends was scheduled for a later flight, and because she was feeling sick, I told my teacher that I wanted to switch places with my friend so that she could get home first. The next thing I knew, I had a later flight, my friend had the exact same flight she had before, and the whiney kid who had been driving me nuts for the entire trip had been given my earlier flight. And so came the tears. I later found out that my new seat on that later flight was in first class.

I am very proud to say that this past Wednesday was not among the times that I’ve cried at an airport.

My journey to Kosovo was difficult from the start. As my family and I were sitting down near the security checkpoint to our last meal together, I got the notice that my very first flight out of Columbus was delayed by an hour because of the freezing temperatures.  The layover time at Chicago O’Hare wasn’t long to begin with, so I was a little concerned, but still optimistic. I said goodbye to my family, went through security, found my gate, and eventually got on the plane at the new later time. And on that plane I sat for an extra half hour after the already later start. Apparently the belts carrying the luggage to the plane had frozen. The whole plane got sprayed with a pink foam, probably something to protect it from the cold.

I got off the plane at Chicago O’Hare with less than an hour until my flight to Istanbul was scheduled to leave. My flight arrived in terminal 1. All international flights left from terminal 5. I did my best power walk through terminal 1, got on the train to terminal 5, and made it to the security check with ten or fifteen minutes to go. When I rounded the corner to get to the security check, I found myself at the end of a long of people waiting to get through. An airport employee came up to me. “Are you on the flight to Istanbul?” I was a little surprised. Apparently I wasn’t the first to be running behind. “Yes, I am.” “You’re not gonna make it,” he said, “You should turn around and go ask Turkish Airlines to schedule you another flight.” I did as he said, dejected, but determined to handle the situation as well as I could.

At the Turkish Airlines desk, I found out that they only offered a flight to Istanbul at the same time every evening once a day. Therefore, I would not be able to get a flight for another 24 hours. I would also not be able to get my new boarding passes with my new flight information until the desk opened again at 5pm the next day. They told me to go see the other airline about getting a hotel for the evening.

And so I did. At THAT desk, I was informed that because the delay had been weather-related, and that the airline was not to blame, I was ineligible for a free hotel for the evening. So not only was I now going to be a day later getting to Kosovo and have a day less to prepare for teaching the next week, but I would also be spending more than $100 dollars extra for travel that I hadn’t anticipated. So I gathered my bags, found a seat, and called my dad. Together we found and booked a nearby hotel for the evening.

As I made my way alone from terminal to terminal, from desk to desk, and from airport to hotel, I expected myself to feel overwhelmed. I expected tears. Instead, I had a surprising sense of calm. I completed every task in front of me with an efficiency that surprised me. Maybe that calm came from all the prayers that I know have been said for me from many of the people back home that I love, and many of the people in Kosovo that I’m eventually going to love, but haven’t met yet. That’s my best guess. Anyway, I sat in my hotel room that night with a feeling of accomplishment. There really are few feelings quite like being met with a difficult obstacle and overcoming it with resilience, even if you don’t get the result you’ve hoped for.

Hopefully, I’ve seen the last of the times I’ll be crying in airports.

Goodbyes at Airports

So, because the check-in desk for my next flight doesn’t open for another couple hours, I have A LOT of time to kill. I found a little café area in the international terminal, got a green tea latte, and managed to squeeze me and my carry-ons into one out of the two spots left in the place. I’m sitting on what looks like a bar stool, at a counter with a perfect view of the international checkpoint entrance. Lots of people are coming and going.

About five feet in front of my seat, a young couple just finished saying their goodbyes. The goodbyes went something like this: they would give each other a quick kiss, start to walk their separate ways, then one would pull the other in for a longer kiss or a longer embrace. I watched them repeat this process at least ten or even twenty times: touch, separate because they thought that maybe that one little kiss would be enough to last a while, then come back because it wasn’t, and it never could be. Both of them were crying. Heck, I was crying. At some unspoken cue, they gave the last kiss and walked their separate ways.

Here’s the thing about goodbyes at airports: there’s no one to tell you when to go. Sure, there’s a definite time when the airplane pulls away, and your chance of leaving is gone. But there are no alarms going off to say this is the last chance for kisses. There’s no airport employee whose job it is to tell you that it’s time for the last hug. That’s your job. You’re the one who has to make the decision whether or not to go. It’s your choice whether or not to miss that flight. You have to be the one to say, “I choose this journey over you.” And that’s hard. That’s so hard.

But for all the long hugs and repeated kisses that I’ve watched from this seat, I haven’t seen one person choose to miss the flight. Every time a group of people has come to this spot, one or more have walked through the international checkpoint, and one or more have made their way to the exit. Why is this? If goodbyes at airports are so hard to make, why do we make them? Is it because we don’t really love the people or the lives that we’re walking away from when we go through that security gate? Of course it isn’t. Yes, sometimes as you walk through that last checkpoint, you feel as if you’re betraying everyone and everything that you’re leaving behind. But you’re not. Not really.

Starting something new often requires leaving something else behind. It might be worth it. It might not, though it usually is, if you feel strongly enough about it. And the people who really love you will always understand.