Asia, Travel

About a week ago, I came back from traveling in Sri Lanka with Layth. This was our second trip there – we went two years ago for a friend’s wedding – and I guess we liked it so much we decided to go back. We also just needed some beach time, tickets were reasonable, visas are easy, and it’s not that far from Jordan, compared to flying to Thailand or somewhere.

But – have you ever gone on vacation and gotten stressed because there’s nothing to do? I think we were both in that position – we were both anxiously thinking about upcoming job interviews, and I’d been working on a paper for school down to the wire (see below), needed to make revisions and just couldn’t work on it without a computer. So instead I spent a lot of time reading what turned out to be a very stressful Japanese novel, before I gave up on that.

Me, trying to finish a paper in the Amman airport using my phone, Google Docs, and a bluetooth keyboard. I’m clearly awesome at academia.

Anyway – last time in Sri Lanka, we started with a few days in Colombo, took the train to Kandy, then went on to tea country in Nuwara Eliya, then had some harrowing bus rides down south to Matara and finished in Galle. This time, we opted to stay close to the southern beaches – from Colombo we immediately hopped on a bus to Galle, where we stayed the night in this super pretty art deco-themed hotel inside the old fort.

Galle

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Life, Middle East, USA

Do you ever get an idea into your head, and once it’s planted, can only act as though it’s happening, even if you haven’t got a solid plan?

About six weeks ago, for the first time, it occurred to me that it might be time for a change from living in Jordan and from the kind of work I’m doing here. At the time, I was wrapping up a consultancy where I was archiving and editing a large amount of video footage from Syria. A lot of it was either gruesome or heartbreaking to look at day after day, but I think the part that wore me down was the repetition of it – the same stories happening year after year in this stupid war. Suddenly I couldn’t even face my own fieldwork here – often filming or photographing refugees in their interminable stay in Jordan – and I couldn’t face another year in Amman.

In early March, I asked Layth what he thought about me applying for jobs in the US – to see what kind of opportunities are out there and whether my skills and background were even marketable. He thought it was a good idea, and if I got something, it would take some of the pressure off our eventual move to the US, knowing he might be waiting for a work permit or be searching for jobs for a while. So I started applying for jobs, not focused on any geographical area, but only applying for jobs I’d be genuinely excited about and willing to move halfway across the world for. To my surprise, there have been a lot of interesting video opportunities out there, and I’ve even had a few good phone interviews so far. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much, since it seems too good to be true that I could find such a great job this quickly.

So now I’m in a weird place where, if I get a job, I could be moving to the US in three weeks’ time. Or I could be looking for six more months. At least I am in the luxurious position of not being in any real hurry to leave – there’s no lease or job contract ending to worry about, and since I’m 100% freelance again, I can choose how much I really want to work, and what kind of projects I want to take on. Anything I can save for a move is obviously helpful, but honestly, about three days of video work per month is enough to cover my expenses here.

If nothing else, I’m pretty organized when it comes to packing. Compression sacks are your friend.

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Food, Life

After two weeks of being sicker than I’ve ever been in my life, it feels like ages ago that I was visiting Germany for classes. It’s hard to even remember most of that trip. Each day I feel a little more functional, I cough a little less, but my neck and back are killing me as I sit up at my desk for the first time in weeks (after sleeping in weird positions), but it feels good to be very lightly productive today. Continue Reading

Life

That cottonball is not going anywhere.

I guess there comes a time in freelancer’s life when your body – after months of nonstop work, school and travel – simply gives up and crashes. Mine was coming on for a while, but the worst day was this past Saturday, which I spent mostly in the emergency room, hooked up to IVs, getting shots and chest x-rays.

It’s hard to say when this started, except maybe last September – I went to Malaysia, thought I was getting a cold, never really got sick, and as soon as I landed back in Jordan, developed a horrible cough that has never gone away. It’s gotten a little better at times, but I’ve been having breathing problems for six months now. Then, two weeks ago when I went to Germany for school, I got the flu. I missed an afternoon of classes and a night of sleep, but managed to power through the week, until I got back to Jordan, where again, as soon as I landed, the nasty cough came back and turned into a lung infection. After a few visits to a clinic for antibiotic and steroid shots and various cough syrups, I kept getting worse, which is how I ended up in the hospital and prescribed with the biggest antibiotic pills I have ever seen. I wish I had a picture of myself sobbing in the ER with the nebuliser and IV tubes – mainly so I could put it on my fridge and remind myself not to let this happen again.

Incidentally, my birthday was six days ago, and I then thought I was getting over this flu and had intended to sit down and write a “well that was close, I guess I need to take better care of myself” post, until things got much worse and knocked me down for the count.

Today was the first day I could get out of bed – I dragged myself to the corner store and that was overexerting myself. For about the last seven days I’ve been pretty much confined to bed – just walking to the kitchen was agony. I think I’ll still have to stay home from work tomorrow, mostly because apparently when you do nothing but cough for 10 days straight, you lose important things like bladder control.

So on Saturday on the way to the hospital I found myself reluctantly cancelling or postponing shoots, feeling too terrified to even check my inbox, for fear of hateful emails from clients declaring me unprofessional, telling me they’d never work with me again. And I don’t really know why. I don’t know if this is a condition of being American or of the freelance economy where sick days are never a good enough excuse – but I’m done. I’m done because my body won’t let me carry on like this any further. And what for? Working 60+ hours a week just to earn something approaching a middle class income?

Right now I intend to finish up my contract over the next month, probably request an extension on a term paper, not take on any more freelance projects for March (unless it’s editing a report or something I can do in my pajamas) and then that’s sort of it for a while. I don’t think I’m going to look for any more office/full-time jobs in Jordan. I will just freelance and apply for more consultancies, but I’m done trying to juggle this much work.

More disturbing is the fact that the longer I’m in Jordan, the less healthy I seem to be. I used to get sick with a cold for 2-3 days once a year and then be on my way. When I get sick now, I stay sick for months. I have migraines several days a week. I can’t breathe outdoors. Just commuting 15 minutes to an office becomes hugely stressful. And then my work is stressful. I don’t know what I’m going to do about that. I can’t very well just leave. But I’m also contemplating a more extended stay in the US this year. Or checking myself into a yoga retreat somewhere with good air quality.

I don’t know what the answer is and it’s hard to change anything overnight. I saw a headline (to an article I didn’t actually read) that said something about the need to stop thinking about freelancing as a “hustle” and instead as a career. That, for now, I think means setting some actual limits for myself. No overtime. No overbooking myself. No heavy shit after banking hours. And hopefully building my strength back up, which means eating some decent food, getting some sunlight (even if I have to wear a surgical mask to be able to breathe) – it’s going to take a little while. In the meantime, I guess I have my handy bullet journal to keep track of my habits.

Take care of yourselves, everyone. You only get one body.

Life

The snake plant has a story. When I was visiting my mom last summer, I wanted to bring home one of the plant’s “babies” but couldn’t figure out how I’d keep it alive in the ~30 hours of my journey home (or how to not get caught and potentially in trouble for bringing a plant overseas). So I’ve sort of been searching for one for a while here, and yesterday, I finally found some at a nursery – but the guy wanted close to $50 for one plant. And he wouldn’t bargain and wasn’t particularly nice. I went to a couple other nurseries on the same road and found a place with one lonely snake plant left and got it for $10. Mission accomplished.

The tenants renting our old apartment downstairs moved out this week, and since it’s largely furnished and decorated with our personal things, I took this as an opportunity to reclaim some textiles and switch things up a bit. I was missing my kilim pillows and rugs from Egypt.

I also added two new plants to the bedroom, and they make me so happy every time I see them that they deserved a photo shoot.

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Life

Oh, hello, February – the first month of 2018 has gone awfully quickly. I mostly attribute this to my long work hours and studying as of late. I revamped this blog over Christmas and New Year’s, when everyone was out of the office and no one was responding to emails. I’m a much better blogger when I’m unemployed (shocker). Sigh, the life of a freelancer. Those people who keep elaborate gratitude journals and somehow do photoshoots of themselves everyday? Who even are you?

Toward the end of December, I found out about YearCompass from a friend. I promptly downloaded it, printed it out and started filling it out, only to abandon it halfway through. I did finally finish it last night. Not necessarily a planner, it is helpful for looking back on the previous year, learning from it, and sketching out what you want the coming year to look like.

But this week, I mixed up the due dates for my term papers for grad school – I thought it was due February 15, and actually it was due the first. After a couple nights staying up writing until 2 am, I thought maybe I need a better way to keep track of this stuff. They ended up giving us a last-minute extension until the 11th – but still. Continue Reading

Life, Middle East

Trauma, or at least stress, is something I think about a lot. My immediate instinct is to say that my job is not as bad as it could be – it generally involves me looking at or editing graphic images from war zones, filming, photographing or interviewing people who have undergone pretty extreme physical or psychological trauma, or on the “light end,” editing lengthy reports about issues like child poverty and child marriage. Because data and sociological reports are so much less taxing than the particulars of narrative work. I see videos of horror-stricken Syrian men holding children’s limbs in the aftermath of bombings – I’m not there myself. I meet children who will need physical therapy for years to come as a result of their traumatic injuries – but I’m not the one who was injured.

Which brings me to this quote I read recently:

“Almost every trauma survivor I’ve ever had has a some point said, “but I didn’t have it as bad as some people” and then talked about how other types of trauma are worse. Even my most-traumatized, most-abused, most psychologically-injured clients say this… What does that tell you? That one of the typical side-effects of trauma is to make you believe that you are unworthy of care.”

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Packing Lists, Travel

When moving between countries, I don’t always succeed in packing light, but I kind of feel like I’ve mastered packing my under-seat carry on bag. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten something out of the overhead bin during a flight, so I always like to have these items ready to go, easy to access from my seat. Some of these are necessities for any trip, but others will make long-haul flights in coach ever so slightly more luxurious, or at least comfortable. Continue Reading

Europe, Travel

I’m only exaggerating a little when I say I spent two weeks in a town as small as Muenster, Germany, and barely saw it. I have embarrassingly few pictures of the city, hit exactly zero historic sites – and that’s because for 14 days straight, I was in class from 9 am to 6 pm. When I left my Air BnB in the morning to walk the 20 minutes to the city center, everything was still closed, except for a few cafes and grocery stores. When I headed home in the evening, it was dark, and many shops were closing up. I was so busy I never even saw the main part of my university’s campus. Continue Reading

Food, Middle East

The Middle East, as you may be aware, has some amazing food. I’ll admit, I get sick of eating the same thing over and over, and right now, I pretty much can’t eat anymore felafel and hummus. But I have had some truly wonderful meals here, and most of them have been in someone’s home, in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, or even cooked out in a field. But if all else fails, there is really nothing quite like a bowl of fresh figs, ripe to bursting, still hot from the sun hitting the tree in a village in western Turkey.

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