Memories of Asheville

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I’m sitting in a local coffee shop drinking local coffee. I recently moved to a millennial neighborhood which is considered the trendiest neighborhood in Indianapolis.

Wouldn’t say I’m proud of this.

The coffee is okay, I guess. It’s the sort of coffee I’m willing to pay for not because it tastes good but because the atmosphere here is lively. It smells nice. There’s always nice people and the music evokes a comforting nostalgia.

It sort of reminds me of High Five Coffee in Asheville, a cafe just a few doors down from my hostel. The guy behind the counter didn’t seem to mind when I came up short with my change one morning. “I got you,” he said with one of those knowing looks, that either means, I think you’re cute, or ugh, another penniless student.

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The window of the shop looks out into the streets of Asheville where the most interesting people pass by. They are artists or hobos, or a little bit of both. But not the type of street sleepers you see in Indianapolis. Mostly white twenty-somethings, they are the type you might see living under a bridge by choice rather than because of an addiction.

My time in Asheville was brief but incredibly rich. I still recall the day our internship supervisor sent us out into the city to report on how the public was responding to HB2 (better known as the North Carolina Bathroom Bill). Only now that I work in state government do I even know what HB stands for. True confessions of an unqualified journalist.

I was surprised how many people opposed the bathroom bill, a law that enforced that individuals use the bathroom of their birth gender.  After interviewing some blue-collar workers, I went on a quest to find a new demographic only to find myself all too nervous to approach the upper class. When I circled back I came upon an old white man smoking a cigarette outside a restaurant.

He blew smoke in my face as I began the interview. We talked for a while and he said it was ridiculous that there was so much fuss.

“What we need is a separate bathroom entirely,” he said in a slow Carolina accent, allowing the cigarette to dangle from his lower lip. “One for the girls, one for the boys, and one for the transgenders.”

“Do you think it will cause tension like it did before the civil rights movement when separate bathrooms were enforced?” I asked. He laughed and said, “No that was about the blacks. Well back then we called them niggers.” He chuckled to himself as the words left his mouth, causing me to wonder if he used this insult conventionally back when racism in America was more of a rising crisis than a looming issue.

Then, my legs took me through the streets for a little longer until I passed a man who asked where I was from.

“I promise I’m not hitting on you, I just want to know your ethnicity,” he stammered when I turned to look at him.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “I’m a student reporter. If you give me an interview I’ll tell you what my ethnicity is.” He agreed and I suddenly noticed we had a few onlookers. The man appeared to be mentally handicapped and I realized we were sort of standing near where the crazy people resided.

Brilliant.

He said he had a daughter who resembled me and I forced a smile. The interview went on for some time, consisting of him deeming the House Bill a decent piece of legislation and that he didn’t want perverts entering a bathroom to harm someone like his little girl.

Cars zoomed by on the busy street and the onlookers sort of drifted away until we were done. I told him I was half white and half black, and he had this sort of dazed look people get when they hear something amazing, but hard to fathom. He summed up his feelings by saying, “Wow, that’s so cool,” and I left him, making my way down the street until I heard shouts from behind me.

He was a shirtless man with a body that looked like it was once very muscular but had begun to sag with the aging of time.  I stood my ground as he ran towards me even though everything in me said run from this half naked man. But he just wanted to have an interview as well.

“Just so you know,” he said after explaining why he supported the bill, “People in Asheville are cr-a-zy. I’m from New York and people are not as crazy there as they are here.” I stifled a laugh thinking yes people here are crazy, like you. To my dismay his language was so filthy I didn’t incorporate him into any of my quotes.

Most of my time in Asheville found me in the walls of the World Magazine headquarters. But in the evening, after lectures, we would go out and practice street photography.

I love street photography. Taking candid photos, unplanned and unadulterated. One night my fellow reporters and I went out into the warm streets and snapped photos in the lamp light.

We came across this guy sitting on the doorstep of a furniture shop with star lamps hanging in the windows. He was reading a book with his back pressed against a fading brick wall. I asked if we could photograph him and he said yes. Then we tested our interview skills and asked where he was from. Apparently he was from nowhere, really. He’d been wandering the country after college and lived on the streets. His gentle face seemed like it hadn’t a care in the world. “I like sitting here because the stars above me are nice to look at,” he murmured.

“What’s your favorite memory in Asheville?” I asked.

“One time, about two years ago, I was sitting on these steps with my friends. We were playing music and people came around to listen, and we play on into the night. It was pretty amazing.”

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Encounters like this were ones I never expect to have again. Asheville was a time of being the Julia who was a curious journalist. When I returned home and eventually got a job, I lost this element of me, the desire to be a news reporter. Now I work a desk job and drink local coffee on the weekends, writing blog posts when inspiration hits, all the while wondering if a career in journalism will find me later in life.

 

A Phone Call to Taipei

pexels-photo-488464I step outside my office and inhale the damp air. It’s Friday morning in Indianapolis and the sleepy citizens of this city are starting their day. I’ve already started mine, downed a cup of coffee, checked my email, and even bought a bag of chips for today’s office barbecue.

Now it’s time to make a phone call across the world.

My sister lives in Taiwan and it’s never been easy to keep up with her. When she moved to Taipei to teach English I was of course very excited but I never realized how hard it would be to keep in touch. How do you convey your life to someone who is thousands of miles away? Better yet, how do you follow their’s?

“Hello?” I breath into my cell phone when someone answers. Her voice is faint and sounds as far away as she is. I sigh and pull the phone from my face. A single bar of wifi smiles up at me. “Shoot!” I step inside to regain connection. The halls of my building are crowded with people heading to their offices. Some are stopping at the concession room to buy coffee and snacks for the day.

The faint voice of my sister dies as the call abruptly ends. Ugh. I call back several times before we stabilize a connection. Despite the awkwardness of trying to hear each other, I feel a sudden calmness at the sound of her familiar voice. My sister. My big sister. She asks all the right questions and I don’t even have to tell I’m still battling depression and anxiety. What’s important to her is how I’m doing now.

Siblings are the best.

We talk about travel, of course, and language. Her Chinese is getting better, so she says. And 7,602 miles doesn’t seem so far when I realize she’s the same Kate who I use to share a bed with when I was three. Who taught me not to be afraid of taking showers instead of baths, who told me curly hair was socially acceptable as long as you used conditioner.

It’s time to hang up and as I say goodbye I look out the office window as the sun peeks through the stormy clouds on the East horizon. It’s weird to think this same sun is setting in Taiwan behind the muggy mountains of Taipei.

Life is strange.

The world is enormous.

People are lovely.

A Reoccurring Interest in African Development

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After a lengthy blog post on how I’m done exploring my racial identity, the subject has reemerged.

The plight of a biracial individual.

It began with me waking up at 5:00 AM in a South Korean hostel. My friend and I were catching a bus to the Incheon airport for a flight back to the States. Five days in Korea left me ready to go home. One can only use chopsticks for so long before their hands cramp up and the urge to shovel the food down overtakes them.

Side note, I love Korean food, however, my stomach didn’t always agree with my mouth.

I stepped over my suitcase, neatly packed the night before, and headed for the shower. Water covered the entire bathroom, fogging up the mirror, and draining into the floor. Asian bathrooms are oddly designed, no shower curtains, just a corner of the bathroom where the spout comes out of the wall. But I was too sleepy to think about how my towel was getting damp.

We dragged our suitcases down sloping roads and across empty streets. As we waited for the bus, I munched a green tea pancake and peered at a cafe across from me. The day before, I sat inside this very cafe, with an iced latte and a muffin. I watched the Korean people pass the window and go about their lives.

Koreans: a people of their own kind, who look, sound and behave much the same as each other. During our week in Seoul, my travel buddy and I seemed to stick out like sailboats in an airplane hanger: we were always talking too loud on the subway, laughing hysterically in public, and using the wrong form of honorifics.

Culture clash.

It didn’t take long before I realized Korea was not for me. I loved the city of Seoul and the food, when my stomach was ready for it, and some of my best friends lived in this thriving country. But the longer I spent touring the streets of Seoul the more I wanted to be among people who looked like me.  And I don’t mean Americans, because it wasn’t the new culture and language that turned me off, rather it was the knowledge that some people live in societies where everyone looks like them. Not just the people passing by the cafe windows, but even the billboards, the magazines, the news anchors.

Imagine cohabitation with people who share your skin color, hair texture and physical appearance?

The ever-present wonder of a biracial individual.

“I want to visit Ethiopia,” I said to my friend, who was falling asleep at the bus station. The sun was just peering over the buildings. “Ethiopia, or India,” I continued.

She asked why and I said because I wanted to experience a society where I could blend in. As our plane took off from the coast of South East Asia I thought about what my next international adventure would be.

Europe?

Africa?

South America?

It’s been two months since I took that turn around the world. My options for the next venture are so far and wide that I decided to focus on one place where I want to explore. As I’ve said before, Africa interests me, specifically the French speaking areas. So I began doing some research on developmental needs in French-speaking African countries. Burundi came up as such.

Hmm, Burundi and I have crossed paths before.

When I was a student in England I signed up for a language exchange program. Twice a month I met with a girl from Glasgow, Scotland and we practiced French together. She was originally from Burundi and I learned that our families were actually from the same tribe! She told me all about Burundi from the shining lakes, to the hilly countryside. Unfortunately, other than her, I don’t know anyone from Burundi. But because of my Rwandan heritage , I’m drawn to both of these countries and I want to be a part of an organization that works to help the economic development of this area.

I look at countries like South Korea that have boomed economically in amazing ways. Why is this so difficult for African countries? Rwanda, has been doing well considering the genocide in 1994. But still, I would love to see this same growth happen in Burundi as well. And I want to be a part of that growth.

 

Sipping coffee above the clouds 

Do you know what is utterly amazing? Peering out the tiny window of a massive commercial jet, whilst drinking coke zero above the shimmering lakes of western Canada. 

Then all the sudden you are flying over a frozen tundra. Are those ice peeks or snow-covered mountains? You cannot tell. Is this Alaska or Eastern Russia? Who can say. 

All you know is that for 23 years you lived on this planet and only now are beholding some of its breathtaking wonderlands. 

And when your naked eyes behold the beauty of untold lands, nothing is more important than savoring this single moment.

Flying is an amazing sensation. I spent fourteen hours on a plane to South Korea. As the plane tilted and I had a chance to see beyond its giant wing emerging from the base beneath me, I looked out at the end of the world where stratus clouds played tag above the cumulonimbus. 

In fourteen hours I would fly from one side of this enormous planet to the next. Flying, soaring above 30,000 feet of air and space and water. 

For Fourteen hours we chased the sun as it raced across the sky, illuminating the miles upon miles of earth and sea below. For fourteen hours the plane rattled and rumbled  through the stratasphere, rocking back and forth, lulling its passages to sleep. 

The never-setting sun glowed against my passenger window. My body grew hot, pressed against the heated wall of plane and air. The woman beside me slept with her hands folded over her lap, blocking my way of escape. My legs began to ache, my ankles to swell, my feet to cry out, “take us somewhere, anywhere but here.” I rubbed them impatiently until the flight attendants came rolling down the isle with goods to share.

Im sipping coffee above the clouds. Its 4:00 in the morning at home but I don’t care. The sun is awake. It endured the journey without going to sleep, so should I.