Turbulence. (#Algiers #Algeria)

Finally. It was time to go.

I booked this flight about 6 months before departure. Accommodation sorted. At least 1 tour sorted. Basic foundation was already set.

But since this is me we’re talking about, nothing goes smoothly. So of course, bulls*** started just a few hours before my flight. Money, of course, because why not. But I wouldn’t let it deter me. It’d been almost 2 years since my last proper vacation (and I still have to finish those blog posts from that trip… so ashamed of myself.). Yes, there have been a few short jaunts in between, but nothing as long and far away as this. So no matter what, I was leaving. I needed a break from work, from life.

From New York City to Paris, France; a 5 hour layover there; then from Paris to Algiers, Algeria. I know that going through customs in a different country is annoying, but it’s to be expected everywhere and I deal with it. However, I wasn’t expecting to be interrogated by Algerian police.

You read correctly. I was interrogated by Algerian police.

I handed over all of my travel documents at the customs desk and thought that all was well, until I was told to “hold on for a moment”. I knew that some bulls*** was bound to happen because again, that’s just my luck.

Here we f***ing go…

Along with being exhausted, tired/sleepy from limited sleep, and in some pain, I was also angry and kinda scared. My French language skills are very limited, despite my attempts to practice before I left for this trip, and I don’t have any Arabic language skills. So while an officer was telling me that I’d be fine, my face clearly showed that I knew otherwise.

(As an aside, it “helped” a bit that another American woman – a government worker at that! – was also being interrogated. She said to me, “This is terrible, isn’t it?” I nodded with a scowl on my face.)

They opted to interrogate me outside of the officers’ quarters. A female officer who spoke English interpreted & translated for her fellow officers, and asked surprisingly specific questions about why I was in Algeria, what I do for a living, who I see and the age range of the population, etc. ad nauseam. Thank goodness, I didn’t have any reason to lie and was also smart enough to have access to certain things on my mobile phone to prove myself.

TIP: if your mobile phone allows, store your most important documents on something like Google Drive, and make those documents available offline while traveling. It may make a big difference for you in case of emergency.

After what seemed like forever, they let me go. One of the officers hailed a taxi for me and I went to my hotel. But alas, as is my luck, there was more turbulence ahead.

To be continued…

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So close, yet so far.

Highlighting (again) one of the negative aspects of living abroad – being away from loved ones when bad situations happen. I’ve talked about this a few times on here.

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Highlighting (again) one of the negative aspects of living abroad – being away from loved ones when bad situations happen. I’ve talked about this a few times on here.

On April 15, 2013, at least 2 homemade bombs ripped through the finish line at the Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachussetts. So far, there are 3 dead – the youngest being 8 years old – and over 175 injured, some seriously/critically. I have 3 online friends who live there and, as happens online sometimes when friendships develop positively, their whereabouts & safety worried me. (Thank goodness, they’re alright.) I was off sick that day with a massive headache, so checking the news online & worrying about those friends worsened my headache. It also brought temporary flashbacks of 09.11.2001.

I was hundreds of miles away when the World Trade Center (WTC) buildings went down. I couldn’t reach my family for hours, including my mother, who worked 3 blocks away from the WTC. I later found out that my father was there too, coming out of New Jersey PATH train station, which was/is right under the WTC. I couldn’t reach my friends either. The days & weeks ahead were emotionally hard, partly because of the distance.

The only difference between then & now is that I’m thousands of miles (and a few time zones) away this time. If I was home, at least it’s easier to contact & see people. I can physically see that they’re safe & sound, and speak to them in real-time. I can’t always do that here. And that, for me, is the top negative aspect of living abroad. (I still wouldn’t change it for anything, though, no matter how hard it is.)

I don’t want to make this post about me. I just wanted to present an example of one of the negative aspects of living abroad. As I’ve said many times, living abroad isn’t all “partying & bullshit” (respect to B.I.G.). If you didn’t know, now you know.
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As an expatriate, is this hard for you too? Or are there other aspects of living abroad that you think are more difficult than this? Do you know anyone who lives in Boston? Are they alright? Are you following the updates, or are you staying away from most news, like I am? What are your thoughts about everything that happened during & since this incident?

Links:

2013 Boston Marathon timeline http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/15/boston-marathon-timeline-_n_3087588.html?

Some media don’t know what they’re doing http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/17/boston-bombings-investiga_n_3104608.html

Vigils for victims who died http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/17/boston-marathon-bombings-vigils_n_3102257.html

D’NALI – prayers for Boston http://dnali.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/prayers/

Philosopher Mouse Of The Hedge – Two of a kind http://philosophermouseofthehedge.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/two-of-a-kind/

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Rock the vote.

Are you a U.S. expatriate who wants to vote in this year’s elections? If so, check out the following information sent to me about voting via absentee ballot.

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In transit.
In transit.

Are you a U.S. expatriate who wants to vote in this year’s elections? If so, check out the following information sent to me about voting via absentee ballot. For best accuracy, I’d suggest checking with your home state and your local embassy in your resident country for details, as it’s possible (I’m not sure, don’t wanna give out incorrect information) that different embassies in different countries have different instructions.
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Absentee ballots already delivered to overseas voters: Every U.S. citizen who requested an absentee ballot and selected the fax or email delivery option should have received it by now. Please cast your vote and take steps to return your completed ballot promptly so that your vote will count. See instructions below.

Returning your ballot by mail: Place your completed ballot in a U.S. postage-paid envelope containing the address of your local election officials. Place the completed ballot in a sealed envelope and take it to (my local embassy). We will send it back to the U.S. for you without the need to pay international postage. If it’s easier for you to use the (resident country) postal system, be sure to affix sufficient international postage, and allow adequate time for international mail delivery. If time is tight, you may want to use a private courier service (e.g., FedEx, UPS, or DHL) to meet your state’s ballot receipt deadline.

U.S. citizens can submit their completed ballots to the (resident country) Embassy’s Consular Section between the hours of (check yours locally), Monday through Friday, with the exception of (resident country) and U.S. holidays. No appointment is necessary. Please bring your ballot in a sealed envelope, and your U.S. passport. Your ballot will be sent to the United States via pouch, which takes approximately 10 working days.

Returning your ballot by email, fax, or upload: Some states allow these options, but may also require you to mail in the signed paper ballot. To find out more about your state’s specific requirements, visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program website at www.FVAP.gov.

Haven’t received your ballot yet? Use the emergency write-in ballot: U.S. citizens who requested an absentee ballot but haven’t received it should go to www.FVAP.gov to complete a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot. Follow the above guidance for returning your ballot. If you later receive your regular absentee ballot, vote and return it immediately. Local election officials will count just one ballot per voter, and will use the regular ballot if received by your state’s ballot receipt deadline.

Forgot to register or request an absentee ballot? Act immediately! There are three options:

Option #1: Register and request a ballot today using the Federal Post Card Application form at www.FVAP.gov. Select the electronic ballot delivery option, include your email address (and fax number, if applicable) and send it to local election officials in your state. Almost every state lets you submit a ballot by email or fax. Once your application is processed they will send you your ballot via fax or email depending on your state. Vote as soon as you receive the blank ballot. Registration deadlines vary and some are as early as October 7, so check your state’s requirements carefully.

Option #2: Follow the instructions in Option #1, but also complete and send in a Federal Write-in Ballot at the same time to make sure your vote is counted. This option may be the best one for first-time voters if your state requires you to submit your Federal Post Card Application by mail. Vote and submit your regular absentee ballot if/when it arrives. Local election officials will count just one ballot per voter, and will use the regular ballot if it’s received by the ballot receipt deadline.

Option #3: Voters from the following states can use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot as a combined voter registration form, absentee ballot request, and absentee ballot: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. (NOTE: This form must reach your local election officials by your state’s absentee ballot request deadline or voter registration deadline, whichever is first.)

Returning your Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot by mail: Follow the guidance above for returning your ballot by mail.

Returning your Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot by email or fax: The following states allow voters to email or fax their signed, voted Federal Write-in Absentee Ballots back to local election officials: Arizona, California (fax only), Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia. (NOTE: see instructions at http://www.FVAP.gov for faxing or emailing your voted ballot.)

Confirm your registration and ballot delivery online: Learn more at the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s (FVAP) website at www.FVAP.gov.

Expatriates! File your taxes with Derren Joseph, CPA.

It’s annoying enough to file taxes in the United States. State taxes, federal taxes, city taxes, oh my. But moving to another country as a U.S. citizen makes filing taxes even more annoying. So when I happened upon someone’s profile on Meetup in February, offering help to U.S. expatriates who need to navigate the murky sea of tax filing, I contacted him via e-mail as soon as possible to enquire further.

Derren Joseph responded immediately and worked with me every step of the way, even when I asked stupid questions & forgot deadlines. He was even patient with me when, in the midst of life happening, I forgot to keep him posted with my progress; he’d often contact me to see how I was doing with the paperwork. His patience, work ethic & gift of deciphering numbers are such that I wanted to share the wealth (pun intended) with other expatriates, and this blog is a good way to get the word out.

Mr. Joseph is a certified public accountant in the United States & the United Kingdom – a bonus for those of us who can’t understand either system. I highly recommend him and hope that you benefit from his services as much as I have. Contact him (see below).

Derren Joseph
E-mail
: Derren@htjosephcpa.com
Phone: United Kingdom 07554905143, U.S. 305-651-5580 (international dialling codes)
Web: http://www.htjosephcpa.com

The Riots 4 – street debate.

Somehow or another, the people who live & thrive off of conspiracy theories (either one or all of the conspiracy theories) seem to find me. All I wanted to do was take a few pictures, maybe a video, go to the grocery store quick, and go back to the office. But it doesn’t work that way, it’s never that simple.

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https://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/104262483761573888

“I’m not young, yeah. I’m 43 years old and I don’t vote.”, said the man as we talked.

Somehow or another, these people (those who believe either one, a few, most or all conspiracy theories) find me. All I wanted to do was take a few photos & (maybe) video, go to the grocery store quick, and come back to the office. But it doesn’t work that way, it’s never that simple.
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It was Friday afternoon, a few days after the riots began. Things calmed down a bit, so I decided to venture out of the office to get milk for my tea. On the way to the grocery store, I stopped at the place where the “love wall” now stands, the place where I took most photos over the past week (exhibits one & two & three). Since I’m documenting this for proof of history, I took more photos & video at the wall. The “love wall” has become a new community meeting spot of sorts; people gather to post messages of support, dialogue & debate with each other.

Part of the "love wall".
Part of the "love wall".

There were 2 men posting messages on the wall – a community leader in a black suit and a younger man in a t-shirt & jeans helping him. As people came by to watch, some would ask the 2 men different questions about the purpose of the wall. As I took photos & videos, I decided to ask one or two myself. I normally don’t approach people, but since the younger man was next to me, it was a bit easier for me to speak without being noticed.

When he finished speaking with an elderly woman, I asked him:

So what’s next? We have people posting messages here, we have people saying that things need to change. That’s all well & good, but what’s gonna happen in terms of follow-up, action? Are there any community meetings planned? How about a forum? No real change will happen if all we do is talk.

He sighed and said that he didn’t know, but has aspirations to go into politics and works at a local college for now. We talked for a bit about possible changes, community organizing & how to avoid riots of this size in the future, and the topic of voting as a tool for change came up. While we were talking about voting, unbeknownst to us, a few people were listening to us. A man approached us and said

I’m not young, yeah. I’m 43 years old & I don’t vote.

Huh? What? There are people in Europe who don’t believe in voting? It’s not just an American phenomenon?

Sigh. Here we go.

It quickly became a lighthearted debate about the pros & cons of voting: me & Aspiring Politician vs. Proud Non-Voter. Proud Non-Voter used the typical reasons (excuses?) that I’ve heard in the past (and present):

– all political parties are the same
– the bourgeois determines election results before other classes vote and, therefore, it’s pointless
– only the bourgeois class have the real power to decide their interests while the proletariat‘s interests are never acknowledged
– “the man” is keeping people down
– the government is keeping people down
– “the system” was never meant to work in our favor
– voters are too idealistic
– things will not change

I canvassed for voter registration in some rough parts of my hometown some years ago, so I’ve heard the above reasons for people not wanting to vote. In addition to those reasons, being an ex-felon is another reason (depending on which state one resides in) that people give for not voting. I’ll leave that reason (excuse?) alone for now because many states still don’t allow ex-felons to vote, so that’s a genuine reason. But the other reasons, to me, reek of reading from the same handbook. Again. At the end of the day, the reasons (excuses?) go back to 2 common fall-backs: laziness & impatience.

We live in a microwave society – people want things done in 90 seconds or less. Whether it’s voting or any other necessary changes….. If things take too long in the microwave, they’re taken out of that microwave & placed in one that gives quicker results – maybe 60 seconds vs. the longer 90 seconds. As an example, people in Western society have gone from having photos developed over a few days to having them developed in as fast as 30 minutes. (And even then, some people don’t think that that’s fast enough.) I don’t know about anyone else, but the photos of old have a special quality to them; they may not be the quality that we’re used to in this new digital world, but it’s quality nonetheless.

The same can be said for societal change. Unless I’m forgetting something from history classes, macro-level change does not happen as quickly as a microwave society wants it to. There are too many examples to post here, but 2 good examples from the past are the Black American civil rights movement in the United States and the Indian independence movement in India. (A very recent example is the Wisconsin recall vote efforts, which won’t stop anytime soon.) Are things perfect in any of these cases? Of course not. India still deals with (overt or covert) caste systems & remnants of colonialism, and Black Americans still have challenges due to institutional racism. But to look back at either of these movements & deny that any change took place is incorrect at best and disrespectful to one’s ancestors at worst.

In other words, why not vote? Why not do what it takes to foster change? Our ancestors did these things with way fewer resources; what’s our/your excuse?

I believe that change can occur even though it takes time. I hope that the dialogues & debates at the “love wall” spread beyond the neighborhood, inspiring collective follow-up, action, and change. We the people.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, I’m voting in all elections next year & I’ll keep doing so as long as I’m out of the United States. Whenever I can vote here also, I’ll do so. While I understand being impatient & getting lazy, I can’t look back at the energy & blood-sweat-and-tears that my ancestors spent to gain rights for everyone and just give up due to laziness & impatience & conspiracy theories. Theories are just that – theories – and it’s a shame that so many people spit on our ancestors’ hard work.

Damn foreigners.

One of the first e-mails I saw was from a newly-hired recruiter at the agency that brought me over here. In it she stated that a new group of Americans just arrived, and she requested my attendance at an informal dinner on Thursday to meet the new recruits.

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It was my 2nd day at the new job (July 6th). Aside from meeting with my supervisor to learn the ropes for the non-computer aspects of the job, lots of reading, and help from my team members, I didn’t do too much. That was fine because there was a LOT of reading – laws & rules & statutes, oh my. 😐 I got to know my team members little by little, in addition to colleagues on other teams somewhat related to my work. Some of them asked lots of questions about home, told me about their visits to the States, and stated their opinions about the many goings-on in the States. These were nice conversation starters because I wouldn’t have initiated conversation.

My work e-mail worked, so I checked it to see if I’d gotten anything. One of the first e-mails I saw was from a newly hired recruiter at the agency that brought me over here. In it she stated that a new group of Americans just arrived, and she requested my attendance at an informal dinner on Thursday to meet the new recruits.

*scratch record*

*REWIND*

What? Meet people? People I’ve never met before? For dinner? For a long period of time?

Why? 😐

For those who know me well (and I’ve mentioned it here a couple of times), I’m an introvert. A proud introvert. For most of my life, people (including family members) made me feel bad about this, saying there was something wrong with me since I’m not a social butterfly. Social interactions, especially for long periods of time, deplete my energy and cause me to withdraw into a cocoon (whether living solo or paired up). It’s my way of recharging (albeit nowhere near as recharged than the average social being). In the past this caused me lots of angst because as a teenager (and like most teenagers), being this way made people misunderstand me even more, which led to a vicious cycle of wanting to please people but not being able to, being angry at the world and hating myself. But now, as an adult, I’ve come to accept the fact that I can’t please everyone and I’ll never be an extrovert. I like that I appreciate one-to-one & small group interactions the most; I prefer more intimate connections with people as opposed to shallow & superficial interactions with tons of people. Besides, bad girls move in silence. 😉

So, I was wary of this e-mail but said to myself, “To hell with it. I’ll force myself to go. Maybe these new people aren’t too bad.” But then I remembered something else about myself:

Because of my past travels, I’ve come to avoid most other Americans when travelling. I’m sorry fellow Americans, but some of you make us look bad worldwide. You have that damn A-merry-can Sarah Palin-esque accent, which annoys me to no end. (American accents vary by region, but more often than not, this is the most common accent I’ve heard during my travels.) And your clothes, for the love of whatever deity might exist… Buy some new clothes! Do you have to wear the same tourist outfits – track suits or mountain gear? And don’t get me started on the terrible American-centric Caucasian-centric superiority complex that many of you have, which makes America/Americans look even more stupid in the eyes of the rest of the world. Don’t you realize that we’re seen as a joke across the world? 😐 Hell, it embarrasses me to the point that when people ask me where I’m from, I just mention my city to look better in the eyes of others. 😐

Anyway, I replied “yes” to the e-mail knowing that I’d regret it later. Over the 2 days that preceded the dinner, I thought of every excuse possible to get out of going – I was still jet-lagged, I needed to go to the internet cafe, it was hot outside… whatever it took.

The day came and as much as I tried to convince myself otherwise, I decided to go. This would save me from cooking or buying dinner. I was a little late because although it’s easy to get to London Bridge, the place was hard to find once I got there. A few minutes later I found it, asked for the reserved table and walked over to it.

I had a bad headache and I was hot & grumpy. I said a polite hello and sat down. I sat in the corner seat, deciding that I’d eat & leave within an hour. I didn’t know these people, and they were A-merry-can, which meant that I probably wouldn’t like them anyway (or so I thought). I wasn’t getting up to introduce myself. That’s not what I do. 😐

In the group was a married couple from Texas, a young woman from Texas via Colorado, a man from somewhere in the New York tri-state area, and the 2 women from New Zealand who sat on the other end of the table. I was sitting at the A-merry-can side of the table. Fuck. 😐 I was even more chagrined when I learned that most of them never left the United States until now. (The only thing I’m a snob about is travel.) I said to myself (something to the effect of):

“Christ. These people have never left the country? Here we go. More ignorance and bullshit.”

I ordered my food & drink, hoping for this to end soon. The new recruits knew I got here a couple of weeks before them, so the questions started pouring in:

1. Have you ever been here before? (Yes.)
2. What’s the job like? (I just got here just like all of you. I don’t know.)
3. Where are you staying? (My friend’s house.)

Sigh. And too many other questions. They probably didn’t realize it, but I couldn’t deal with all the social interaction yet I forced myself through it.

After a while, I relaxed a little. I began talking a bit more when the husband in the married couple whispered to me,

“Hey, are there any Black people here?”

Sigh. Why me, whatever deity might be in the sky, WHY?

I said, “Are you kidding me? England has the largest population of Black people in Europe. You really haven’t left the States, have you?”

Him: “No. I didn’t know there were Black people here.”

Sigh, help us all. 😐

I began telling him about the different groups of Black people here, cultural events & activities, and told him something that I don’t think he ever heard before:

“As a Black American, you’re part of a very small elite group. Many Black Americans… hell, many Americans in general… have never left the United States, much less lived in another country. Don’t limit yourself to just ‘Black stuff’. There are too many cultures here for you to do that to yourself. Take advantage of everything that this place has to offer.”

He listened intently, and I think its importance hit him after that statement. I began to feel a little more comfortable, mostly because I was only speaking to him at this point, but also because the group wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. I didn’t leave within an hour like I said I would; we didn’t leave until at least 22.00. We all exchanged phone numbers and I told everyone that I’d see them next week (like me when I arrived, they had 1 week to settle in before beginning work).

I still had a headache, but I was happy that I went. Recruitment staff paid for dinner and everything tastes better when it’s free. 😉 I headed home exhausted and although I wasn’t ready to embrace them just yet, I was happy to make a couple of potential connections. I told N about the new folks and she shook her head at their lack of travel experience too, but she was glad that I clarified some things.

One of the new people wound up returning to the States 2 days later (I may explain that in another entry, but don’t hold me to it). The rest of us are still here and our connections are stronger; this is especially so for me & the married couple. They’re great and, as a solo expatriate, I’m glad that they’ve accepted me into their lives.

Until next time, ladies & gentlemen.