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Road Tripping 2018: The Road Offers Both Individual and Social Catharsis in the U.S.A.

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At the end of (yet another) American road trip I am left in an all too similar emotional state; it is remarkable that—as the years go by—I feel the same at 31 as I did when I was 20 following a cross-country road trip. Sure there is the physical fatigue; the body aching from sitting from hours on end, the eyes tired from watching out for every little pothole and every piece of debris, the stomach reeling from one too many fast food meals. Yet there is also a very real mental pleasure that comes from endurance driving; I would argue that it is a pleasure that far outweighs the negatives of physical fatigue.

“Motoring”, to to speak, as a mental pleasure is a subject I have written about in the past (Please see here and here. Rarely in the modern world do we have a chance to be completely alone with our thoughts, devoid of the influences of our “smart phones” or computers. How long these days will remain ours, with self-driving cars on the horizon, is of course up for debate but it is a subject worth thinking about. That the road trip is a pensive experience is undeniable. That it is also very “American” is also undeniable. Indeed, Jack Kerouac showed just how the two are intertwined; the road trip is not only an exercise in individual thought, it is also an exercise in collective thought as well. For me, in the early days of the new year, I saw just how cathartic it can be.

On I-95 in northern New Jersey I watched the New York skyline drift by to my left, the city which, at the dawn of the last century, would become a model for urban areas the world over is now slowly decaying with each American Dollar being spent abroad on foreign policy intrigues which offer little tangible benefit to the American citizen. Meanwhile, ahead, the smokestacks of American industry send plumes of smoke into the frigid northeast sky. How much longer these industries—the bed rock of American wealth—will remain “American” is an open question as the country continually outsources industrial jobs while (attempting) to transition to a service economy, complete with under-employed servers at restaurants and white collar workers with Master’s Degrees whose main responsibility could be as banal as forwarding e-mails for eight hours a day.

 

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“On I-95 in northern New Jersey I watched the New York skyline drift by to my left . . . ” . Image Courtesy Of The Author.

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“Meanwhile, ahead, the smokestacks of American industry send plumes of smoke into the frigid northeast sky . . . “. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Off I-95 in the American South I found that antique shops have become one of the main tourist attractions in rural areas which have been devastated by the attacks on American industry. As industry moves overseas, the production of raw materials has similarly collapsed. A little later, in South Carolina, I stop by the “tourist trap” that is South of the Border, a kitschy attraction built in 1950 on the North Carolina/South Carolina line to (perhaps) offer some respite to families from the monotony of endurance driving. Yet, according to State Media’s Washington Post, South of the border is “Un-Pc”, even “racist”; the author compares it to Donald Trump for its offensiveness, racism, consumerism, and garishness.

 

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“Off I-95 in the American South I found that antique shops have become one of the main tourist attractions in rural areas which have been devastated by the attacks on American industry . . .”. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Of course, the offense took by the Washington Post staff writer is part and parcel for mainstream media in the United States these days; it is much easier to hate than actually take the time to wonder. It is one-dimensional thought at its finest in the offended states of America.

Perhaps it was the weather; the snow on the ground—in front of a beach shop advertising Myrtle Beach—made an already absurd place even more absurd (as if such a thing were possible). Yet it is possible, because this is America. This is a country in which car culture—and the road tripping that goes with it—is embedded in us as Americans. This is a country that expanded westward (with all of its unfortunate violence), this is a country that was founded on the ethos of “the open road”. How much longer will tourist traps like South of the Border exist? Children no longer need to alleviate their boredom on the road with kitschy tourist attractions, they have their ipads and iphones and TV sets in the headrests of their parents’ Suburbans and Escalades. Yet, while this may be convenient (for parents), it denies children the chance to experience one of the magical things about road trips: Understanding their own country. In the past, kids might have played games in the car—like spotting license plates from different states. In the past, kids might have–**GASP**–gotten out of the car at a road side attraction in order to actually interact with someone living in a different part of the country. All of these actions, in the past, served to reinforce one very real thing that the social engineers in academia and the media have tried to deny over the years: It is that America does, indeed, have a culture.

 

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South Of The Border is an Absurd Place Made Even More Absurd By the Snow on the Ground in South Carolina. Perhaps the Ice Cream Shop Was the Only Shop Whose Image Was Enhanced by the Presence of Snow Below the Mason-Dixon Line. Images Courtesy of the Author.

 

Whether or not this culture is “good” is not up for debate here; I would be the last person to argue that rampant consumerism and extreme capitalism are good things for the human soul. And, like French Sociologist Michel Foucault, I would hesitate to argue that anything is inherently “good”; what is good for one person may not be from another person’s perspective. Rather, I argue that there is—and must be—one thing that ties us together as Americans, whether we live in Seattle, Washington or Bangor, Maine; San Diego, California or Minneapolis, Minnesota; Amarillo, Texas or Ocala, Florida. That one thing is, of course, our culture—and a respect for it.

On this particular road trip, I was taken by the fact that our car culture is very real; I was able to drive 1,200 miles (almost 2,000 kilometers) without having to use my horn once (as someone who has driven in many different countries, and undertaken many road trips in the United States, this is no small accomplishment). There is, for most people at least, an unspoken respect that driving on an Interstate highway produces: We are all going somewhere, individually (as Americans are conditioned to do) and let us try to interfere as little as possible with others who are doing the same thing (another thing Americans are conditioned to do). Perhaps this is a throwback to an earlier America, a time when one of the country’s major news outlets—like the aforementioned Washington Post—was not owned by a corporate leader like Jeff Bezos (of course, this fact alone should make people think twice if they think The Washington Post is an independent news outlet working in the best interests of the public: it is not).

As I drove on, the miles of rural America flying past me like the pages of a flipbook, I certainly had ample time to think. I thought about how America, in its vastness, can make a person feel small, powerless. Perhaps for some this is true; perhaps that is why we see so many Americans seek solace in identity politics. Yet for me, it is quite the opposite. In a smaller country, a citizen can be content with their role as citizen-receiver; the country is small, the people are more or less homogenous, the citizen can live their lives in (relative) assurance that the state has the ability to look out for them. In the United States, on the other hand, the country is big and it is far from homogenous. Yet this offers the individual a chance to be big as well. It is up to you, the citizen, to act on the purported values of your country. Every individual has a responsibility to treat their fellow citizens with respect, fairness, equality, and dignity. In a big country, every individual must—everyday—act on the purported values of their country by supporting small businesses in their community, opening the doors for fellow patrons and—yes—obeying the rules of the road. The state will not do this, despite how many times it may recount the virtues of “freedom” and “democracy”. It is up to the individual citizen to ensure that “freedom” and “democracy” are more than just words.

This is what true nationalism is. It is not blind patriotism, it is not accepting everything the state says with unquestioning loyalty, and it is not the chauvinistic idea that your country is somehow “better” than the rest. Rather it is an active attempt to, everyday, make life easier for one’s fellow citizens, for those with whom you share a living space, regardless of which particular identity they may have at any given moment. As John F. Kennedy once famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. It is these values which unite us as Americans; it is these values that are the ties that bind us and these values which are stronger than that which seeks to divide us. In other countries as well, there are certain values which unite citizens; although the era of globalism has tried to erode these it is up to individual citizens—regardless of their nationality—to embrace their country’s values and their country’s cultures so as to resist the impersonal forces of global capital which contend with the nation-state for the citizens’ loyalties.

 

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John F. Kennedy. Image Courtesy Of: http://chatafrik.com/special/memorable-speech/ask-not-what-your-country-can-do-for-you-by-john-f-kennedy#.WlRx0jOZPRg

 

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It is Up to All of Us, Regardless of Where we are From, to Explore Our Own Countries. It Is Also Our Responsibility to Assist Those Who Travel to Our Countries, Since International Travel Is Also Necessary For Gaining a Useful Perspective On the World. Image Courtesy Of: https://mxd.dk/mxd-viden/a-brief-overview-of-the-us-music-market/
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Travel Assistance: Some Tips For U.S. Citizens Trying to Procure a Visa for Travel to Turkey

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slide-1.jpgNot So Easy Anymore, but Its Still Possible! Image Courtesy Of: https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/

 

After having multiple Kafkaesque experiences at the Turkish consulate while trying to procure a Turkish visa for my father and brother during the bizarre visa spat between Turkey and the United States, I have decided to provide a few tips for U.S. citizens who want to travel to Turkey during these strange times. It is my hope that this information will be helpful not only to my fellow Americans, but also to the staff of Turkish consulates in the United States, since they have been working overtime to meet the demand of a new visa regime that hitherto has not existed between the two countries lucky (!) enough to call this marginal sociologist a citizen.

Before offering my tips, I will first offer my own analysis of this bizarre geopolitical spat. While waiting for my visas to be processed, one of the people waiting insinuated that this international issue could be blamed on the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump; given that this interpretation is frequently churned out by the mainstream media I was not entirely surprised to hear it. The only issue with this kind of surface level media analysis is that it has no bearing in reality. In fact, it is likely that the visa spat was created by the State Department without the direct knowledge of President Trump; the U.S. State Department—which Hillary Clinton used to head—is filled with holdovers from the previous presidency (regime?) of Barack Obama. As I have noted before, Hillary Clinton was also a known supporter of Fethullah Gulen, the shady Islamic cleric who the U.S. shelters and the Turkish government blames for the failed coup attempt of 15 July 2016.

Given these intrigues it is likely that this visa crisis was fabricated by a portion of the State Department, following the arrest of a Turkish national employed at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul who was suspected of having a role in the failed putsch, in order to create a roadblock for President Trump in international relations. Of course, the fact that the United States came out so strongly in support of a foreign national employed at a U.S. consulate amounts to a tacit admission that the Obama government may have had a hand in the events of 15 July 2016 (perhaps fomenting coups in democracies is part of what President Obama meant when he told his successor “American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It’s up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order that’s expanded steadily since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend”.  Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was all to willing to run with the visa spat in order to use it for his own gains: Mr. Erdogan is trying to re-fashion himself as a nationalist—not globalist—leader following the rise of populism and nationalism in both the United States and Great Britain. In responding to the United States’ halting of visa applications for Turkish citizens in kind, Mr. Erdogan is bolstering his nationalist credentials. There are, however, a few issues with this.

The first is that Turkey did not exactly respond to the United States’ move in kind; this was not a reciprocal move. Although the consulate stressed to me that the 160$ fee (the old e-visa on arrival was 20$, by contrast) is part of the reciprocity since that is the fee the U.S. charges Turks for visas, the visas offered are not in anyway similar. While the U.S. generally grants 10-year multiple-entry visas, the visas I got were single-entry, valid for just 15 days in a six-month period. In other words, in order for a U.S. citizen to get multiple-entry visas valid for 10 years they would have to pay 4,000$ (200$ x 2 for 12 months, x 10 for 10 years)! Additionally, the United States charges exorbitant fees because the visa process involves background checks and interviews; the Turkish process does not. Still—despite it all—Americans have to realize that citizens of most of the world’s countries need visas to enter the United States (or the European Union, for that matter).

The second issue is that President Erdogan is no less globalist than he was before. In fact, it is almost as if this visa spat was manufactured (by both the State Department and the Turkish state) in order to provide the world with an example of what the end of the “globalist” utopia—really a dystopia—would look like if bilateral visas were implemented worldwide. It is almost like Turkey is being used as an experimental “pilot” case, because this visa spat has been just that bizarre.

Despite all the oddities and diplomatic wrangling, the important thing to recognize from all of this is that draconian visa rules need not be the future in international relations; the only ones who will suffer from this game are normal citizens looking to travel and the consular employees who will have to work overtime to deliver visas. Therefore, it is essential that we separate “the government” from “the nation”. “Nationalism” as a concept does not mean agreeing with everything your government does; blind patriotism is not “nationalism”. It is our job to understand that and hold our leaders’ collective feet to the proverbial fire when they do things that do not reflect well on shared national values (like, for instance, fomenting a violent civil war in Syria without accomplishing anything, something both Turkey and the United States have been guilty of despite their anti-imperialist nationalist pasts). Government exists to provide a safe environment for all of its citizens with the least amount of regulation as possible. The government should not exist to provide handouts to all of its citizens, for instance, but it does exist to help those who are unable to help themselves—the disabled for instance who are not able to gain employment otherwise. Of course, this visa spat is not an example of less government regulation but, the way I see it, it is part of the effort to thwart the rising tide of nationalism against the globalist project.

Since I believe in nationalism as a global force—respect your country and others within a global system of equals and not the tiered system of unequals (divided into “first” world and the rest) that globalization has created—I will offer my advice to fellow travelers whose only goal is to see the world by helping them navigate the complicated Turkish visa process. Since Turkey was not prepared for this upsurge in visa applications from the United States, it is my hope that I can help both my fellow Americans looking to visit Turkey and my fellow Turks working hard in consulates across the United States. Although the visa spat is likely to be resolved soon since the U.S. finally ended funding to Kurdish forces in Syria—which had been a cynical attempt to further ethnic strife in the Middle East without decisively ending the ISIS/ISIL/DAESH threat—I still hope that whatever advice I can offer will be of help.

In order to combat the fake “tolerance” of different cultures and faux “diversity” pushed by progressive adherents of globalization, it is critical that we all travel (as I’ve written before, I believe that travel should be incorporated into all higher education in the United States). Travelling to cultures different from our own—and meeting those who speak languages different from our own—is a truly humbling experience. When one finds themselves pointing and grunting for food at local restaurants, from Abidjan to Vladivostok and everywhere in between, one will realize that we’re not all that different: we all have to eat, after all! And, whether one is sitting at a tea house in Istanbul, an ahwa in Cairo, a café in Vienna, a taverna in Thessaloniki, or a pub in London, one might get the opportunity to actually speak to someone—another human—and get a new perspective on life. For all of its technology and ability to “bring people together” digitally, globalized networks like Facebook and Instagram do little to actually bring people together on a human level. But travel does.

We are all human, we all have similar wants and desires no matter the language we speak, the culture we were raised in, or the country whose name is written on our passports. Travel allows us to see this first hand, it allows us to see our world for what it is for ourselves. What emerges through travel is a world much different than that which the globalist agenda tries to sell us: the image of the world as sold through globalization is one of rich countries and poor countries, a divided world where—for some reason—residents of richer countries are supposed to feel sorry for those in poorer countries while also being expected to feel guilt for their roles in the imperialism of the past. By this twisted logic, those in the richer countries are expected to open their borders to those from poorer countries, in order to provide them with “opportunity”. Of course, this structure is nothing more than a modern day “white man’s burden”; it is a modern justification for a modern imperialism no less exploitative and no less racist than that of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Just like in the imperialist world of the past, this modern day world is divided by “rich” and “poor” countries as globalization perpetuates the prosperity of the former and poverty of the latter.

In order to break away from this process it is first essential to travel. By traveling we will both be able to take a critical view of our own societies (in order to improve)—while America is a great place to live I have also learned that there are many positive aspects of Turkish society that I wish existed in the United States—while also understanding that, as people, we are not all that different. I can recall great experiences from my own travel laughing together with people whose languages I did not know about the absurdities of daily life—an angry shopper at a grocery store or the poor driving of a careless driver in traffic. That we share these similarities does not, however, meant that we are at all homogeneous. We have different cultures and nationalities which must be preserved as the resistance to a worldwide technocratic form of government which looks to make our shared values and morality no longer human, but tied to the consumerist logic of smartphones and shopping malls; it is a world where Cairo’s ahwas and Lisbon’s pastry shops would be replaced by Starbuck’s and its corporate logic. I shiver at the thought.

With that out of the way, here are my tips for procuring a Turkish visa. As I said, it is my hope that my advice will be helpful not only to Americans but also to Turks and any other travelers who wish to see the world for what it is: Not a homogeneous globalized world run by corporate interests but a heterogeneous world of many nations, cultures, and traditions.

  • The website where U.S. nationals can apply for a Turkish visa is: https://www.konsolosluk.gov.tr/Visa. Please make sure to complete the online application and upload all necessary documents that are requested because, otherwise, the application will not let you move onto the next page. If you do not have a digital version of any of the necessary documents, just take a picture of the hard copy with your smartphone (I’m assuming that most people have one in today’s world) and upload that. For instance, if you do not have a digital version of your passport photos you can just take a picture of the hard copy and upload that.
  • In the “name” section of the application, it has boxes for the “first name” and “surname”. While Americans may not be used to acknowledging their middle names, often times passports will include them since—like a birth certificate—a passport is a citizenship document. This is why applicants must write their name EXACTLY as it appears on the passport. This means including what ever is written in the “name” section of the passport in the “first name” box of the application and what ever is written in the “surname” section of the passport in the “surname” box of the application. This is crucial since the name on the visa must match the name on the passport.
  • The Turkish visa application requires travel insurance. While this may be purchased from third party companies, most insurance policies provided by U.S. employers will cover care abroad through reimbursement (Just remember to save the receipts of any care overseas). Therefore, a photocopy of your insurance card should be enough for the purposes of the visa application. Bring whatever documents you have to the consulate; upload a picture of the documents (that you can snap with your smart phone) to the application in the proper space.
  • Provide a bank statement or a document to prove direct deposit information from your financial institution with your application. Again, bring whatever documents you have to the consulate; upload a picture of the documents (that you can snap with your smart phone) to the application in the proper space.
  • Bring photocopies of your passport, specifically the photo page which carries your personal information.
  • Children under 18, who are not travelling with both parents, will need permission (from the parent who is not traveling) to travel internationally. This can be obtained by writing a statement like “I, (name), (relation to child—mother, father, etc), give permission for (child’s name) to travel to Turkey on (dates of travel) with (name of travel companion)”. Remember to get this document notarized by a notary public and the country clerk of your place of residence. Please do not forget to bring this document with you when you go to your appointment at the consulate.
  • Most importantly bring cash, since credit cards and personal checks are not accepted. The fee, at the time of writing, was 160$ for a single entry visa and 200$ for a multiple-entry visa. If at all possible, bring exact change because the consulate did not seem to have change the day that I visited.

Hopefully, everything works out and you have a safe trip to Turkey. As I have already elaborated, I believe that things will be relaxed in the near future but—just in case they do not relax—treat this post as a small “how-to” guide. I myself have benefited from certain blogs like “biz evde yokuz” (https://www.bizevdeyokuz.com , sweetsweden.com (http://www.sweetsweden.com/travel-tourism-holidays-in-stockholm-sweden/your-guide-to-public-transport-in-stockholm/#.WjqFrjN7HRg and dontstopliving.net (http://dontstopliving.net ; so here is my shout out to them.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.turkishlibrary.us/abd-de-etkin-bir-toplum-ve-guc-olmak-icin-tum-turk-amerikalilara-birlesmek-amacli-acik-bir-cagridir/

 

***DISCLAIMER: This Blog (Thisisfootballislife) and author (John Konuk Blasing) do not guarantee the accuracy of this information and do not bear responsibility for any mishaps occurring from adherence to any of the advice given. Travelers should always check the website of the Turkish consulate for the most up to date information (Information from the US Department of State can be found here: https://tr.usembassy.gov/message-u-s-citizens-turkish-visa-guidance-update-u-s-citizens-november-20-2017/ . Since this is not a travel blog, and rather a sociology blog, any information on this blog is designed to help—if at all possible—fellow world travelers in their adventures. ***

The Case for Americans Studying Abroad (With Help From George Herbert Mead)

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Author’s Note: Parts of this post were written as an assignment for a graduate seminar in Classical Sociological Theory.

Sociologist George Herbert Mead’s concept of the “self” makes for interesting reading, even if it is presented in a manner that seems to be trying its best to be inaccessible to the layman. His theories are very useful when applied to the current state of Americans and their relationship to America’s role in the world. I read an article in The Atlantic recently about how a possible Donald Trump presidency could “change the world”. Even though I have my own personal doubts as to whether or not any particular U.S. President can, indeed, unilaterally change the country—let alone the world—I read on. The article makes the claim that the current world system, based on the post WWII order created by the United States through institutions like Bretton Woods and characterized by neo-liberal economics, is unequivocally good for the world. That makes me think—what does “good” mean? And is “good” for the United States necessarily “good” for the rest of the world? The interviewee in the article states “the record is pretty clear over the last five or six years that if the U.S. pulls out, things will get worse domestically in other countries, and they’ll become more fearful and more protectionist and more nationalist.” But who is to say that things are not bad now domestically in other countries? I can think of many examples where this is the case, and that is where Mead’s ideas are very useful.

Foreign Affairs ran a story last spring about how study abroad programs can make the United States “safer and stronger” by “opening the American mind”. As someone who enjoys traveling I have to agree, and George Herbert Mead’s ideas offer some perspective on why study abroad could help America in the long run. Mead states that

every human individual must, to behave ethically, integrate himself with the pattern of organized social behavior which, as reflected or prehended in the the structure of his self, makes him a self-conscious personality […] the sense which the individual self has of his dependence upon the organized society or social community to which he belongs is the basis and origin, in short, of his sense of duty (and in general of his ethical consciousness); and ethical and unethical behavior can be defined essentially in social terms (Mead, Mind Self and Society section 41; 3).

Mead’s ideas certainly are applicable to the individual, and I believe they can be extrapolated out to the larger “nation” and/or “state”. Is it possible that, since the United States is both geographically and culturally isolated from the rest of the world, many citizens do not have a “sense of duty” as regards the rest of the world? If the self is defined in terms of the other—and through interaction with it—as Mead argues, then it is possible that many Americans truly do not have this sense of ethics when it comes to international politics.

Interestingly, this separation of the U.S. from the rest of the world—and the relative isolation of its population—is reflected by the “asocial or personal aspect” of Mead’s self. This “differentiates it from, or sets it in distinctive and unique opposition to, the other members of the social group to which it belongs; and this side of the self is characterized by the individual’s feeling of superiority toward the other members of that group” (Ibid.). If we were to substitute the words “social group” for “international community” and “the individual” for “the United States” we would have a very good example of the concept that views the United States as “a city on a hill”; we are detached from the poverty and violence that plague the rest of the world which often makes many of us in the United States feel this “sense of superiority”. I have met many people who are, unfortunately, afraid to travel abroad because they have heard “its so bad over there”. Usually, I counter by explaining that living in a country where citizens are allowed easy access to firearms would be considered to be fairly dangerous in any other context; the point is it’s all about perspective.

George Herbert Mead’s ideas are very useful in the current geopolitical age, where American hegemony is in question. The self can only define itself in relation to the other; “it is the social process itself that is responsible for the appearance of the self; it is not there as a self apart from this type of experience” (Calhoun et al., 351). Like the individual’s “self”, the “national” self is formed in the same way. Without interactions with those from other national backgrounds, a national consciousness cannot be developed independently. Most nationalist identities are defined vis-à-vis other, competing, national identities. In the United States, this has not been the case traditionally. Rather, for the most part, American “culture” is imposed from the top down through cultural processes like music, movies, and sports. This does not, however, allow for an independent realization of what is “American”, or what it means in relation to other nations internationally. In order to foster a better understanding of what it means to be “American”, in relation to the rest of the world, I believe that social interaction is imperative. If America wants to continue to be a hegemonic power, it cannot neglect educating its citizens about the rest of the world; by doing so a more introspective—and ultimately stronger—American identity could emerge.

After all, the condescending “city on a hill” image is not really reflective of American values (at least not in the way that I interpret them). A recent New Yorker piece states that “The United States’ claim to moral primacy in the world, the idea of American exceptionalism, rests upon the argument that this is a nation set apart”. Of course, this is a highly conceited perspective that I—even as a patriotic American—find to be extremely misguided. The fact that the New Yorker ties it into race is even more disgusting:

The old presumptions hold that some element of national humiliation and decline predisposes nations toward fascism, or at least the appeals of fascistic movements. But in the U.S. this movement sprang up on the contrails of the first black Presidency—a moment that was, perhaps naïvely at the time, thought to be one of national affirmation and triumph. The unsavory implication here, of course, is that, for the cornerstone elements of Trumpism, that triumph was a national humiliation, that the image of an African-American receiving the deference and regard that the Presidency entails invalidated these Americans’ understanding of what the U.S. is, or at least what it is supposed to be […] In the broader context, Trumpism represents the demise of American exceptionalism, or at least the refutation of the most cogent arguments for it ever having existed in the first place.

This is just one troubling article that has come out following Donald Trump’s election victory, since Mr. Obama’s years in power have seen unprecedented chaos in the Middle East driven by American policies and arguably represent abject failure. To even imply that criticism of these policies is somehow racist represents poor journalism—the journalist’s job is to hold politicians responsible for their policies and a President’s skin color does not exonerate them from failure in office. As I have stated earlier, Mr. Trump’s presidency might just be a recognition that “American exceptionalism” has not only failed the United States, but it has also failed the world. After all, uninterrupted war—which Mr. Obama has presided over eight years of—is not the healthiest of situations for any country. Even if Mr. Trump wants to alter U.S. policies, he will still have to deal with the American deep state and its “deep secrets”. This in and of itself should temper any unilateral behavior on his part. In fact, the fact that state media’s Washington Post is already giving airtime to Islamists suggests that the stage is being set to discredit Mr. Trump before he even takes office.

These troubling articles have coincided with some troubling conversations I have had with close friends. While I respect these friends more than I can explain here—and I know they will be better scholars than I will ever be—their marked lack of knowledge regarding America’s role in the world is upsetting and tells me that we, as a county, would do well to encourage more international study at the college level. One friend told me that Mr. Trump’s election meant that his non-white friends were being threatened. When I told him that this was unfortunate and that such abject racists were disgusting fringe elements, I was accused of being an apologist for white supremacists. Unfortunately, I ended up raising my voice (and I apologize for that already) when coup—killed many people in Turkey during an attempted coup; actions speak louder than words for me. For some Trump detractors, it seems that the killing of “brown people” abroad can be completely swept under the rug, and that—to someone with an international outlook like myself—is just unacceptable. But that is the kind of thought process that American exceptionalism breeds! A second friend pointed out that my Turkish friends would not be able to come to the United States due to Mr. Trump’s proposed “ban on Muslims”. When I told this individual that my friends would have no problem getting a visa because they are educated and have been to the United States before, my friend was incredulous. “They need visas for the United States? They can’t just walk in with their passports?” was the reply. It was a typically “American” response, and fitting seeing as how the American passport allows the holder to just “walk in” to most countries in the world—174 to be exact , and this is one major reason that those born in the United States should really be thankful for the privilege they have. Sadly, this individual didn’t know that the United States’ visa waiver program  is—to use parlance that is in vogue following Mr. Trump’s election—very pro-“white”. The only non-European countries that enjoy visa free travel to the United States are Australia (white), Brunei, Chile, Japan, New Zealand (white) South Korea, and Taiwan. As if to make the list look longer, the U.S. State Department includes miniscule states like Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and Monaco—like a bad joke. The Visa Waiver Program added this provision in 2015:

Under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

-Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).

-Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

Brunei is the only Muslim country on the list; it is not a Middle Eastern country. When I told my friend that many Americans did not know the value of their own passport and that most foreigners have to obtain visas, it was insinuated that I was an elitist of some sort. It was never my aim, rather I tried to point out that life in other countries is very different than in the U.S., and that extends to travel as well. This friend then cleared up the misunderstanding: they had understood that Mr. Trump would be instating visas for Muslims traveling to the United States. Again, this is an example of many Americans who only vote (or protest) based on media hyperbole rather than any real knowledge of the issues. It is a sad state of affairs, when voters in the world’s foremost “democracy” show such ignorance in the face of the issues but I suppose it is just the way it is for now. I can only hope that more universities bring Study Abroad programs into their curriculums, since the world is opening itself up. Even if Mr. Trump’s presidency means a drawdown in American power (or application of said power) abroad, it doesn’t mean that we can afford to have a population left ignorant of the privileges they have.

 

Author’s Note: Readers; if you have a chance, please travel. It is the single greatest investment you can make in yourself over the course of your lifetime!

24 Hours in Munich BONUS: Bayern Munich 2014-15 Home Shirt AND Germany World Cup 2014 Home Shirt

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I have one night in Munich to live it up. What happens in Munich stays in Munich, like Vegas. I’m riding an emotional high as I arrive to spend the night for my layover between my flight from Izmir and my flight on to Boston, sipping a Smirnoff Ice outside the Flughafen branch of the Bayern Munich shop. I soon realize that the only similarities between Munich and Vegas exist on the small “strip” leading from the Hauptbanhof to my hotel. Strillerstrasse is lined with Turkish kebab shops, casinos, strips clubs, and . . . women in Niqabs. A group meanders past a “Girls Girls Girls” advertisement, the neon from the sign reflecting off of their modest black garb. In Munich, in this spot where Vegas and Mecca have come together, it makes me feel like—just maybe—this world will come together too before it tears itself apart.

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I’m thinking it’s like a bad joke as I head up the dark stairs of the Hotel Daheim to my third floor room, the floorboards creaking with each step. As I throw my bags onto the surprisingly clean bed I reason that it’s just for one night, just a place to park my things, and myself, and I head out to explore (but not before closing the window, which opens to a fire escape accessible to all the other rooms).

With the mix of Persian, Arabic, and Turkish voices around me on the streets it feels like Istanbul…or so I lull myself into thinking, before seeing the Atlantic City club advertising Table Dancing specials for tonight. I laugh at the ridiculousness of it all and head towards Marianplatz and Munich’s picturesque center.

On the way I find a four-story sporting goods store where I partake in the solemn act that all tourists upon visiting Munich must experience: purchasing a Bayern Munich football shirt. Last year’s design has been discounted to 39 Euros from 80; an amazing deal considering that this year’s shirt isn’t much to write home about and costs 85 Euro—insult to injury! I also add Germany’s 2014 World Cup shirt to my collection for 25 Euros. When asked which match I want printed on the shirt I immediately give a knee-jerk reaction: The final against Argentina. Then I wake up. That’s cliché. “Do you have the USA match?” I ask, remembering the game I watched in St. Petersburg, Russia, when Joachim Low had his team take it easy on his countryman Jurgen Klinsmann. We are, after all, living in an international world and life is international.

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Shirts in hand I head to Marianplatz, which, under construction, has lost some of its grandeur. I continue on to the river instead, past an amazingly attractive Mini Cooper Polizei cruiser. And who says the Germans don’t get on with the British? Oh…wait…Mini is owned by BMW.

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Yes, I’m thinking the world could slowly be melding into one homogenous entity…before the strangely beautiful yet wholly mechanical “DEE-DOO-DEE-DOO-DEE-DOO” siren of an ambulance cuts through Munich’s serenity and I, watching the view over the Isar with the siren’s soundtrack in my mind, feel as if I’ve stepped into a Lego town. No, the world still has its differences. Here, drinking a mug of Munich’s famous beer in public and watching the sunbathers catch the last rays of a summer day, I could only be in “Europe”. The Europe of American backpacker’s dreams, the Europe of month long summer vacations designed to break the monotony of Suburban America.

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The next day, aboard my homeward-bound Lufthansa flight, I’m reading the papers and am again convinced that world is not completely homogenized by way of globalization…yet. According to my free copy of USA Today—two steps above or below a tabloid, depending on your point of view—9 CEOs in America are paid 800 times more than their workers. The dark side of the story is telling: “the average CEO is paid 216 times more than workers now,” compared to the “20 times more [they were paid] on average in the 1950s, according to a 2013 analysis by Bloomberg BusinessWeek.” Roger Cohen’s piece in the International New York Times (the successor to the famous International Herald Tribune that defined my childhood) “Incurable American Excess”, also rang true for me:

“To return from Europe to the United States, as I did recently, is to be struck by the crumbling infrastructure, the paucity of public spaces, the conspicuous waste (of food and energy above all), the dirtiness of cities and the acuteness of their poverty. It is also to be overwhelmed by the volume and vital clamor of American life, the challenging interaction, the bracing intermingling of Americans of all stripes, the strident individualism. Europe is more organized, America more alive. Europe purrs; even its hardship seems somehow muted. America revs. The differences can feel violent.”

“What We Learned from German Prisons” by Nicholas Turner and Jeremy Travis taught me that “While the United States currently incarcerates 2.2 million people, Germany — whose population is one-fourth the size of ours [the United States] — locks up only about 63,500, which translates to an incarceration rate that is one-tenth of ours [the United States].” The ability to be able to compare the United States and Germany first-hand allowed me to uniquely view the points that these journalists were making. But make no mistake; it is our differences—in the United States and in Europe—that make us stronger. Globalization need not make all cultures the same, indeed such rampant homogenization is not the solution for a more utopian society. After all, Germany is not the United States and bad people—unfortunately—do exist, no matter how much we attempt to homogenize and sanitize our views of society.

We learned this once again on August 22, 2015 when a group of three American soldiers vacationing in Europe foiled an attempted terrorist attack on a train in France. My hats off to the three brave young men who took matters into their own hands…and an extra shout out to Alek Skarlatos, who appears in an FC Bayern Munchen shirt—the same shirt I found on my one day jaunt around Munich. Perhaps the more things change the more they stay the same. All we can do, as individuals curious about the world around us, is get out and see the differences before they’re gone. After all, you never know what homogenizing force—constructive or destructive—will come along next.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/23/world/europe/americans-recount-gunmans-attack-on-train-to-france.html

Viking FK (Stavanger) 2013 Away Shirt, 7

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It’s a rare 8am wake up call for me, but sometimes duty calls. Outside the window of my cruise ship cabin I can see the port of Stavanger. The houses look like toys, and I know I can be nowhere but Northern Europe. After a quick breakfast I disembark, heading towards the city center. On the hill to my right swarms of seagulls fly over the whitewashed facades of houses in the old town, the view looks almost Mediterranean.

I head towards tourist information with what seems like half the cruise ship’s population. The streets of Stavanger are empty and I explore the back alleys as a throng gathers, waiting for the tourist bureau to open at 9am. There is a 7 11, an H&M, and a Burger King. It seems that the more a country advances economically, the more it looks like America. It disappoints me and I’m eager to get to the stadium, away from the tourist crowds and tourist prices.

Not that the latter would change. Norway is one of the world’s most expensive countries. With a minimum wage of 3,500 Euros everything is prohibitively expensive. A bottle of water at 7 11 costs six dollars, at the ATM the minimum one can take out is the equivalent of forty dollars. It is almost unreal. And I learn how unreal it is moments after seeing the eyes of the tourist bureau’s employee light up at the mention of “Viking Stadion”. Apparently it will take a short train journey outside of the city to Jattavagen. That and fifty dollars.

The change office wants 16 dollars commission to exchange 100 dollars. I choose the ATM as a better option, they will only charge me a foreign transaction fee. It is the best worst option, as I see it. Then it’s off to grab the ticket, fourteen dollars round trip. Seeing as how it is an eighteen-minute journey in total, I’m relieved (in a way) to not be spending a dollar a minute. A can of Swedish Snus and a bottle of water later and I’m out twenty more dollars. Within a matter of five minutes I’m down fifty dollars. At the rate of five dollars a minute I feel like I am in some sort of nightmare.

 

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I forget about it all as I watch the fjords through the train window. I’m nursing my water, I feel like every little minute needs to be soaked up and lived to its fullest. Norway has a way of doing that to you, and it is not just about the money. Its that feeling of being somewhere you may never return to in this all too big world that we live in. I disembark at Jattavagen to find the club’s stadium. Luckily, it isn’t hard—the stadium is basically attached to the train station. It is nine thirty, and the club shop won’t open until eleven so I spend time exploring the area. Viking Stadion is modern, with offices and even a small shopping mall part of the stadium complex. The day is just starting, and I walk among bleary-eyed employees ready to start their day of work. I comfort myself, thinking that—in a way—this is my work.

As I walk the stadium’s perimeter I take in the smell of freshly-cut grass emanating from the nearby practice field. It’s a comforting smell, and again I know it is summer in Northern Europe. Just as I’m about to complete my circumnavigation of the stadium I get lucky. Three men in team issued polo shirts are coming out of the team offices.

“Hey, is there any way I can get a few pictures of the stadium?” Sometimes, in this line of work, you need to be equal parts aggressive and assertive. And you can never be shy. Ever.

“Oh yeah, sure. Just go upstairs and find the bald guy. He’ll help you out. Tell him ‘hi’ from the boys downstairs”. I thank them and move on in. I also thank Norway for educating their citizens to the point that all are basically fluent English speakers.

I head up the stairs and am met with a modest trophy case as well as a full size photograph of Viking Stavanger facing Chelsea. This is Viking FK’s finest hour in the modern day; they knocked the English giants out of the 2002-03 UEFA Cup. I spend my time with the other curiosities, including a poster of what I assumed to be the team’s historical XI with faces that span more than a century—Viking FK were founded in 1899.

Inside an office I find two men engaged in conversation and I introduce myself, telling them that I have come to “see a bald man”. One of them—who is not bald just laughs at me. I can understand him, it isn’t the most tactful way of introducing oneself.

“Just a moment, I’ll be with you shortly.” I nod and step out, relieved that I didn’t commit too much of a faux-pas. I amuse myself by looking at the trophy case again and flipping through some old match programs. I feel like I’m in someone’s living room, and I’m careful to not disturb anything.

Just as thought I had been forgotten in my hosts’ living room the man I had spoken with earlier appears and introduces himself as Morten. He happily escorts me through two double doors and we head out onto a concourse before another set of doors opens and I feel as if I’ve reached some sort of Promised Land. Beyond me is the green of the Viking Stadion pitch, looking as pristine as can be. It is definitely summer in Scandinavia and I shudder at the thought of winter.

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As I snap my pictures I explain to Morten my travels around the world in search of stadiums and shirts, and tell him that I will be going to visit Brann Bergen on the last stop of my tour. Since Brann are one of the oldest teams in Norwegian football (like Viking) Morten gives me a small history lesson. Apparently Viking FK are the team to have played the most seasons in Norway’s top league. “In fact, just recently Rosenborg passed us as the team to have collected the most points in the history of the Norwegian top-flight. Not a good thing,” he adds, with a grimace.

“It’s normal. Football is all about money these days—I mean look at Rosenborg. They used to be in the Champions League every single year . . . but not anymore. Its all about Barcelona and Real Madrid.” Morten nods along as I attempt to explain my views on industrial football and the changes it has brought. There will never be the Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, Paulo Maldinis and Francesco Tottis, or even Bulent Korkmazs of my childhood. One club men who played for the love of one game, one city, and one club. It’s a bygone era.

For that reason the amateur spirit of Norwegian football warms my heart—here, in one of the world’s most expensive countries, football is not about money. It is about people. I tell Morten about my visit to Stockholm last year, and the derby between Djurgardens and AIK. Even in a neighboring Scandinavian country that amateur grassroots feeling is lost. Morten tells me that I need to see Viking FK face Brann Bergen. I certainly hope I get the chance.

After asking Morten for a Viking FK shirt (since the club shop is closed at this hour) I learn just how real the true spirit of football is in Norway. But first I learn some more about the stadium. We leave the stands and head back into the offices where Morten asks something in Norwegian to a co-worker regarding the shirt. I stand like a child, helplessness belying my 28 years. For some reason, football shirts leave me weak in the knees. Looking at pictures of the original Viking Stadion taken during the Chelsea match I learn that the old stadium had a capacity of only 5000 in the main stand—the rest was standing only. Since UEFA regulations prohibit standing the team decided to build the new stadium. The catch was that the team couldn’t buy the land surrounding the old stadium from the city; the new stadium had to be built on the outskirts of Stavanger. That explains the offices and attached mall—Morten tells me that the goal was to make the stadium useful seven days a week, instead of just one day every other weekend. It is sound reasoning—very progressive Northern European.

Following a walk through the VIP sections and a look at some great aerial photos of the old stadium taken circa 1970 we’re back in front of the giant touch screen that displays the team’s website. It is truly a technologically sound European office—if only my two countries could do technology this well is all I can think. My attention only strays from the screen when Morten’s friend arrives with a beautiful Diadora shirt, a pomegranate color somewhere between red and orange. One of those colors that words cannot describe—you have to see it. I attempt to pay for it but Morten and his friend rebuff my efforts. What can I do?

I do all that I know to do. I thank them both profusely. My heart is warmed by their generosity, and they only smile. Before I leave Morten asks me where I am from in the US. He’s been to Boston, and loved it. He’s lived in Texas, where the heat got to him (as it got to me). He jokes that he can’t even go outside in Norwegian summers due to his light complexion—thus the underground tunnel system in Houston worked for him (it didn’t for me). I keep reiterating my thanks and appreciation of Norwegian hospitality and he gives me his own impressions of the United States.

“It’s a great country—although I did get flipped off twice.” My shock soon gives way to anger—although flipping “the bird” is a time honored tradition in New York I’m shocked that it happened in . . . San Francisco of all places. Not once, but twice. I guess the look on my face makes Morten feel the need to elaborate.

“Well, the first time was from a taxi driver. I couldn’t explain to him the location of our hotel so he just told my wife and I to get out. He left us standing on the sidewalk and gave me the finger as he drove off. Then we tried to get on a bus, from where we were left, and when I didn’t have the correct change the bus driver flipped me off as well.” He just laughs and I have too as well. It’s all we can do sometimes in a world inhabited by more than a few disrespectful people. Because if you don’t laugh, you will never be able to appreciate the good people—people who can just give you a football shirt free of charge in the world’s most expensive country.

Still laughing Morten wishes me luck as he leads me to the door—I have to move fast in order to see the old Stavanger Stadion; my promise to Morten and the rest of the folks at Stavanger FK in return for their generosity. It’s all I can do.

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The old stadium sits in a peaceful residential area above the town near an old cemetery, beautifully blanketed in all the brilliant colors of summer flowers. Walking past the cemetery and listening to the crunch of leaves beneath my feet I think about industrial football and the setting of the new stadium—it is basically a business park far from the neighborhoods that support the team. I later learn that Brann Bergen’s stadium is in a similar residential setting. I suppose its fitting—stadiums and cemeteries are two staples of urban life, just as life and death are certainties in our time on earth.

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After a few pictures of the stadium—reduced now to a municipality owned exercise-park with a green field and running track—I decide to walk back through the cemetery. Mourning, in my own small way, the death of the old Viking Stadion. Money seems to subsume everything in the end. Viking FK were never—and will never—be Barcelona or Real Madrid, but they can still play them (as they played Chelsea). Football in Norway harkens back to an earlier time, when neighborhoods and personal connections mattered. I learn this in one of the world’s most advanced countries, and that is something I will cherish forever for its odd beauty. The beauty of my great grandmother’s country lies in its small town feeling, where football shirts with three figure price tags can be given for free, where people want to meet you, where people want to care about you.

 

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Something to Give: Tahrir, Thanksgiving 2012

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I was standing on the edge of a crowd of thousands. The wounded were being tended to in a field hospital, across the street from the hard core who were sleeping—or had been sleeping—inside the door-frame of a building for who knows how long.  I could see large banners scrawled with foreign scribbles. I tried to not look too out of place but I failed, miserably this time, which was surprising since it was the first time I had been outed since I had gotten to the city. It was clear that this was Tahrir Square in the midst of some sort of revolution, whatever such romantic notions may mean.

“Want to see some stuff?” He asked me.

I didn’t really want to. I had approached the square from behind the main buildings, in a bid to be inconspicuous. I had seen the Egyptian Museum, and I had gotten my Al Ahly shirt successfully. But this was pure chaos. I needed a friend, no matter who it was. I consented, with conditions.

“Like . . . ?” I asked, letting my simple question hang in the air like the cigarette smoke that swirled around a few of the protesting groups.

“The wounded? Those hurt? My brother died here—shot by a sniper in the revolution. Look—here he is,” he said, pulling a picture out of his wallet. I didn’t understand it. It was a glossy picture of a man, red letters in Arabic. Nothing else that a laymen could understand. Other than, of course, the fact that people in Tahrir Square are looking to sell a story to any western-looking person they saw. To them, a Western face meant a way to sell a story—their side of the multi-faceted battle raging for Egypt’s soul. I didn’t believe him.

“I’m not here for the news—I’d rather just smoke a hookah. Know any good places?” I asked, honestly. I wasn’t in Cairo to become embroiled in the politics. I was there for the pyramids, the feel of the off-season.

“Sure, lets go.” He said simply. I stupidly followed him as he walked in and out of cafes. This one has too many old men. This one has no seats. This one doesn’t have any either, lets cross the street. I followed him, less intent on the hookah at this point than to see where this guy’s idea of who I was would take us. He wanted to be comfortable. We crossed by the make shift field hospital. Bloody rags and people who might not wake up.

“What role did the ultras have in all of . . . all of this?” I asked as I followed him through the crowds, referring to the fans of Cairo’s main soccer team, Al Ahly, who were played a big part in the revolution. He didn’t have a good answer for me, and I forgave him. Perhaps his answers had been scripted in his own mind.

“Here, sit down—I’ll grab a seat,” he said, seating me by the door of a packed café a few blocks from the chaotic square. I sat and looked dumbly at the thronged café. He said something in Arabic to the proprietor who, as seems to be the case in Egypt, was dressed like a customer. The apple hookah came before he could grab a seat.  I gladly took some hits, letting the smoke batter my lungs before sending it out into the Cairene air. It was bliss, or as close to bliss as a Westerner can get in Cairo.  I watched the smoke fall into nothing.

“Mind if I smoke a cigarette?” he said as he pulled up his chair. I motioned for him to “go for it”. He lit up.

“These are so expensive here . . .” he muttered. Then he got into his script. “Where are you from?”

“Turkey,” I said, as sure as I could.

“Turkey . . . I had a girlfriend from there.  Marmaris . . . You know, I wish Egypt could be like Turkey. None of . . . this. Democracy and Islam. Together.”
I looked at him. I knew Turkey. It wasn’t easy. But maybe it was easier than Cairo.

He didn’t need my words, ineffectual as they were.

“Look—I pray on Fridays. But then, I like to have a beer. I like that. They want to take that away, all of them”. They were the bearded ones in the square, the ones my driver to the pyramids had cursed. “Bad People,” he had called them spitting the words out.

“Look at these girls, their heads uncovered. This will all go away,” he warned me, as part of what I assumed to be part of his prescribed speech. I looked around. There were uncovered girls. He knew that I knew.

“Look at her. She wants to fuck you.” He said, regarding a western looking Egyptian girl sitting near us.

“Yeah?” I laughed out the words along with the smoke.

“Yeah. She knows you’re western. Money. And you wont try to own her. Most of the people here are journalists.” I doubted it, but I played along. He wanted me to feel comfortable, and changed the subject accordingly. The hookah was comforting enough. I wasn’t a journalist looking for my sexual fill. But it would have been nice. I glanced at the girl. She definitely did have nice eyes. Dark like Swiss chocolate. Dark like Nubia.

“She has a boyfriend.” I said. I said it to see what he would say.

“No. He’s a friend.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes. I can tell by the way she’s talking to him.” They were staring into a video camera together. The sites and sounds of the fighting that took place before I had gotten there.  They looked like friends, but I let it go. He droned on about his past, trying to sound credible. Studied in Holland. I guessed it meant “I have money, trust me.” I dodged political questions, or anything that might make it seem like I was fishing for a story I’d write two hours later in a cramped, lonely, strange hotel room. My evasiveness made him know he was down. But not out. No one is ever out in Cairo. The people had become operators since the revolution. Or maybe before hand—hadn’t Mubarak played with America’s fear of Islamic terrorism to mass a hefty personal fortune out of aid money?

“How long did you say it was since you got here?”

“Two days.”

“When?”

“The night before last?” I ventured, trying to be vague.

“So . . . “ He said it as if he was counting in his head. “Less than forty-eight hours ago, right?”

“I guess.” I shrugged, taking another pull on the hookah.

“Do you have your passport?”

It was a dumb question. A foreigner in a foreign land, without a passport? It would be like a dog without a flea collar. I couldn’t lie. The jig was up. I cursed myself in my mind. He could tell and I didn’t even need to answer. No, no one was ever “out” in Cairo.

“Could you get me some cigarettes at duty free?” A simple question.

“I mean . . .” He cut me off as I trailed off.

“You can get them once at the airport, and once again within 48 hours of arrival,” he explained calmly.

I had no choice but to consent. It didn’t matter, in the long run. I’ve been helped by random people in random countries to find soccer shirts. Some might say I’ve led a life relying on stranger’s help in stranger countries. So he would get a couple cartons of American Spirits. It’s all good. He gave me the 200 Egyptian pounds, two crisp notes. He was a self-professed operator. He took the smokes off a white shelf in a well-lit government shop. It felt like a hospital. Some Arabic got written in my passport, I can’t say I wasn’t scared. He might have been an instigator in the protests that the government was after. He might have been a petty tout looking to exploit unwitting tourists. But I needed to do it. Traveler’s karma, if you will.

Walking outside, he with his cigarettes and me with a dark uneasy feeling in my stomach, I made it a point to part at the first intersection.

“I’m meeting a German girl and her friend tomorrow night at a belly-dancing show. You should come. It will make it easier for me to fuck her if you can take care of her friend,” he said off hand. An operator indeed.

I didn’t go. Instead of feeling up a young German in a strange city far, far, away from home, the next night I found myself running from tear gas and dodging men wielding wooden sticks in the tumult of yet another one of the spontaneous street protests that defined a Cairo in transition. But I did have a fresh white Adidas Zamalek shirt. And I also had the knowledge that, as a traveler, people will want something from you, even if you think you have nothing left to give.  You always have something, and that is completely fair. You may only be able to give words, a perspective, a pair of ears, or—even—cigarettes. But it is certainly something.

Seven Kilometers and a World of Difference

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For my Labor Day holiday—one of the precious few days off we workaholic Americans get—I decided to take the seven-kilometer journey across the straits from my home in Cesme, Turkey to the Greek island of Chios. I knew that I might be taken for a tourist who lost his way somewhere between Santorini and Mykonos; instead I found that seven kilometers can, in some places, mean a world of difference.

The differences were clear on paper at the outset. Turkey is a large country, looming over the island with its population of more than 70 million Muslims. Greece is a small country, home to 9 million Christians—Chios itself is only 51 thousand people. The Turkish flag is crimson, emblazoned with the Muslim symbol of a star and crescent. The Greek flag is blue, adorned with the white cross of Christianity.  The colors themselves are worlds apart, as we Americans know well from the endless arguments among blue-staters and red-staters that sometimes cloud our own visions of “democracy”. Sitting outside the island’s main bus station shows the relative geopolitical positions of the two countries. Greece is primarily a sea power, in contrast to modern Turkey, primarily a land power. Here there is no plethora of coaches readying to take travellers six, seven, eight hours overland as there are in Cesme. Instead, transportation is provided by the massive iron giants of Hellenic Seaways and NEL Lines.

Yet the similarities were equally clear upon arrival. Across the straits old men sit in coffee houses echoing with the familiar, almost rhythmic, rattle of dice rolling across the backgammon board while the TV shows Olympiakos playing it out on the grassy fields of a far flung stadium in metropolitan Piraeus. Back home in Cesme old men play the same game, with the same sounds, in similar smoky coffee houses but with Galatasaray playing out the dreams of thousands far away in metropolitan Istanbul.  The raki changes to locally produced ouzo, the Doner becomes Gyros, Pork is added to the familiar chicken and beef, the pages of the sports paper are written in a different alphabet but the betting odds are still the same—2.2 to 1 for Atrimitos to defeat PAOK of Thessaloniki.

But then there are the subtle differences, those that can only be noticed when sitting in any of the numerous watering holes that dot the seaside along Leoforos Aegeou—Aegean Avenue—looking out onto the Turkish coast. They are similar—in concept only—to their counterparts in Turkey looking back out onto Chios. I ask for a Jim Beam and coke which, according to my menu, is 6 Euro. In Cesme, it is the equivalent of 15 Euro—for the same tall glass of coke, whiskey, and ice. The waiter shows me two bottles—one Jim Beam, the other J&B scotch. Much like the nuanced differences in question here, these two are subtly different. One is Bourbon, the other Scotch. I nod to the Jim Beam and the waiter retreats. In Turkey, Jim Beam and J&B are the same—both whiskey—and rarely have I been asked the difference. Yet here—7 kilometers away—it is noted that these are two different things.  When the waiter returns, I am presented with a 500ml bottle of ice cold water, along with a question: Would I prefer potato chips or peanuts? I choose the peanuts, and with that I have received two items free of charge that would have added to an already inflated bill in Turkey. Water, in Turkish clubs and bars, often costs up to 5 Turkish Liras, 2 Euros. The nuts would be around 10 Turkish Liras, or 5 Euros. Yet, seven Kilometers away, both are complimentary.

In the cafes, groups of young girls come and go, sitting down for a few drinks here and there. They have no men with them, but they don’t need them for a good night. Back across the Chios Straights, in Cesme, you won’t find women in a bar without male companions. If they drink, alone, they risk being branded loose at best. And it only gets worse the farther inland you go.  So, in 2012, young women are living two distinctly different lives on either side of a seven kilometer wide strip of sea.

Where do these differences stem from? Is it that Greece is a Christian country, with a culture of alcohol when Turkey is a Muslim country, with no such culture? Or is it that in Turkey—as the country undergoes rapid growth—a bar is more often seen as a place to show off ones new-found wealth, as opposed to being just a watering hole in which to wile away the hours on the Aegean? Whatever it is, the differences are all too notable.

During the day I search out one of my passions—a football shirt. I track down the local stadium, take a few pictures of a windswept turf field, and talk to the two people I find—a father and son, from New York City.  After all, the United States is home to between 1.5 and 3 million people of Greek descent.

“I once scored an amazing goal here, 30 yards out—the keeper had no chance,” says the father proudly, while his son looks on, no doubt thinking of a different kind of football.  He doesn’t know Greek, but that doesn’t mean he too isn’t conscious of the differences that 7 Kilometers can bring. When I tell him I came from Cesme, he tells me his view.

“Turkey is good. You can get Diesel jeans there for 100 or 150 Euros—here, they are more like 250.”  Such is the difference between a windswept island and the towns and cities sitting on the fertile Anatolian plain.

Later, in front of a local betting office (below a fan club of far-flung AEK Athens) I get another lesson in the nuanced differences 7 Kilometers can provide.  I ask a kid who looks about my age about the possibility of finding the local team’s soccer jersey. He asks where I am from—and I tell him.

“America. My friend is in America. It’s good—there are jobs—no jobs here, with the crisis.”

I nod.

“I can take you to get a shirt though—we can go to the Panathinaikos club. I don’t have anything to do, since I’m unemployed” he says casually, taking the final, frugal drags of his cigarette. I get on his motorcycle and after a few blocks he realizes that the club won’t be open. I ask why.

“Siesta—they are closed from 2 to 5. We can go after 5”.

I get off the motorcycle, thanking him and telling him that my boat leaves at that time.

Walking away I think about the Turkish workday—5 days a week and a half day on Saturday. To me, it is no surprise that Greece is in the dire economic straights that they find themselves in. Even if the past, and all the democratic traditions that go with it, belong to Greece, then future belongs to Turkey, with a large number of young people willing to work. It might be 7 Kilometers, but the different attitudes towards—and opportunities for—life are clear for all to see.