If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvellous fight in the world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?Mark Twain
I’ll get to the above quote in a bit, but TL;DR this post will be light on pictures and heavy on exposition. Sorry, not sorry. Ladies and gents, we officially made it to Medellin! Wow, within two hours of landing here, I was obsessed. Even though we landed in the middle of the night and our drive from the airport was pitch black, I was already in love. The weather, the air immediately hit me. I could feel the energy of the city and the beauty of the mountains surrounding it. It was palpable. Our apartment is awesome and five minutes from our workspace. Our workspace is essentially like an alternate universe where everything is paradise. It’s called Selina and it’s basically a coworking, coliving, copartying? space. The building itself is stunning and there is just everything you need inside of it. You don’t have to leave. There’s a meditation room and an outdoor yoga deck and a cafe. And oh yeah, did I mention we are in the jungle so everything here is lush and green? The outside comes inside and the inside comes outside. There is a bar/restaurant in the middle of our workspace that opens every day at 12 (dangerous). I seriously want to move into this place. It’s awesome. There are also a TON of digital nomads and expats here (that are also abnormally/obnoxiously good-looking?) so it should be fun… hopefully we will be able to branch out and meet others outside our crew! Also, 80% of the people are Israeli. It’s wild.
One amazing thing that happened this week was that I joined a goal-setting group with a couple of women in my group. We are going to keep each other accountable and really sticking to our particular goals for each month we are here. It’s been really helpful already so far! I’ve completed tasks I’ve been avoiding for a while and have faced some inconvenient truths in my life and my journey. Most importantly, the fact that I am pretty aimless career-wise. It’s at once inspiring and also daunting to be around so many successful, brilliant, talented, passionate people. I frankly have no idea where my passions lie and no idea what I should be doing with these passions, but I feel like I’m getting closer, which feels good. I’m trying to be okay with the not-knowing part and enjoy the process of figuring it out. In that vein, I have come up with a list of must-haves in any future job. One of my goals for this month is to find a solid side hustle that helps me explore some of my potential future career paths.
Another goal is to get back on the exercise train. Although I’m pretty active here and do a lot of walking/outdoor activities (more than I ever did back home), my strength training and other parts of my exercise routine have really fallen off track. I have such a complicated relationship with exercise. I think a lot of people, women especially, do. It really takes a lot of wind up for me to get into any sort of exercise routine, and if I get knocked out of it, it is very hard for me to get back into it. I really feel like it’s one of those habits, like making your bed or eating vegetables, that if you’re not taught as a child, is VERY hard to pick up as an adult. Not impossible to change, but it just does not come as a natural default setting. I have many friends who just “have” to run or “need” to exercise. It doesn’t really require any type of motivation for them, it’s just part of their day-to-day like brushing their teeth. These all tend to be people who were athletes as children or came from very active backgrounds. That being said, I am a firm believer in the power of people to change. It’s something I am really trying to change in my life, especially this year, so if anyone has some good exercise tips while traveling/on a budget tips, I’d really appreciate them!
After arriving in Medellin, we did a city walking tour, which was great. Our guide was really fabulous and took the time to explain some of the more intricate issues that are going on in Colombia right now. Given Colombia, and especially Medellin’s more tragic recent history, there’s a very complicated relationship with even mentioning a certain character that has been popularized on Netflix shows and in movies. There are tourist attractions based on him, and there are people within and outside of Colombia who glorify him, but our tour guide explained that for most people who lived through the history, it’s something they’d rather not remember and mentioning his name is not really done. (In case this is not obvious, doing the touristy attractions that center around him is actually pretty offensive to locals. Something for anyone to keep in mind when visiting this country.) He then explained the current political landscape between the government and the guerrilla and paramilitary groups. Being a former/recovering DC political junkie, this was really powerful for me. There have been many times over the past few years where I have felt really despondent over the American political situation. And yet, I am now in a country where people very matter-of-factly discuss domestic negotiations with armed, warring factions within their country. It really put some things into perspective. What is also absolutely incredible is the lightning-speed turnaround this country has gone through in the last decade or so. There are so many entrepreneurs and bright minds pouring energy and soul into making this country, and this city particularly, rise above its troubled past. You can really feel it, it’s kind of intoxicating! Our tour guide said when they started the tour company just several years ago, he would ask for a show of hands for how many people’s families were happy about them being in Colombia. He said back then, almost no one would raise their hand. When he asked our group, a majority of the group raised their hands. He said that makes Paisas, or native Medellin-ers, the most proud.
Later on in the week, I did a fun street food tour with a few women on my trip. We tried some really interesting foods. I learned that Colombians like to put cheese on everything, including hot chocolate of all things! I’m not complaining. One of our tour guides was a woman from Michigan (who went to U of M undergrad!), who came here for a short stint but ended up staying and is now living here full-time. Very cool to hear her story. (And also, wherever you go, Go Blue!).
Then, this past weekend, a group of 14 of us headed to Santa Marta/Tayrona State Park on the coast. (Side Note: I may be an #ignorantamerican, but I did not realize we were essentially right under Cuba this weekend. I was so close to my parents! We were almost on the same body of water!) We rented a house with a pool and private beach and just had an amazing weekend. We tubed down a “lazy river,” which was pretty comical, as the river was about an inch deep the whole time, and we had to keep lifting our butts from the tubes to avoid scraping them on the bottom. These two men just pushed us for a few hours on a body of water we could have walked on the entire time. It was a bizarre experience, to say the least. But, the pièce-de-résistance came at the end when we were waiting for our ride back to our house, and a literal gang of men on motorbikes showed up. So the ten or so of us who were there each got on the back of a motorcycle (!!!), helmet-less, in nothing but our bathing suits, to trek home. (Hi Mom, I’m still alive!). This is most CERTAINLY my scary-thing-of-the-month activity, as I promised myself I would never ride a motorcycle, much less sans helmet or clothes or any safety trainings. At one point, my driver took out his cell and took a phone call while driving full tilt down some rocky roads. That being said, although my body is still cramping from how tightly I was gripping the bike and the driver, it was one of the coolest, most exhilarating things I’ve done! I will admit, I’ve always judged people who rode bikes as a ridiculous and unnecessarily dangerous endeavor but now, I kind of totally get it. In general, this trip has made me have much more respect and understanding for thrill-seekers, adrenaline junkies, and just general outdoors(wo)man types. You really do feel more alive when every inch of your body is screaming no. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures from this afternoon as we had no place to keep our phones so sadly there is no documentation of me on my motorcycle. But I promise it happened!
Quick aside: Beaches really are my happy place. I’ve always known this, but I just want it recorded. I love warm weather, I love humidity, I love piña coladas, I love sun, I love tans, I love fresh seafood, I love beach bums, I love bathing suit-as-clothes, I love the sound of the ocean waves. I hope that whatever my future holds allows me to live near to a beach of some sort. This weekend was especially awesome because of the people I got to share it with. I will say it over and over, but this is a really special group of people, and I felt especially bonded with them this weekend. I’ve already changed and grown so much in the last 2.5 months. I feel like each week I’m learning and growing so much from each of my friendships, and this weekend really brought that to light.
On Monday, four of us took a four-hour bus ride from Santa Marta to Cartagena for a cool 24-hour day trip. All I can say about Cartagena is WOW. I loved it. I wish we could have had more time there. We rented this amazing Airbnb for one night that had a pool IN THE LIVING ROOM. I repeat: A POOL IN THE LIVING ROOM. File this under things I never knew I needed. Not to mention, also, a rooftop jacuzzi. We got it for an insanely cheap price (I think because we were a Monday night, one-night booking most likely between two other reservations). The house was located in the Old City of Cartagena, which unfortunately was the old Spanish slave port for all of Latin America. We walked around Getsemani, which used to be a rough neighborhood, but is now alive with art and food and shops and restaurants and bustling with energy. We ate at a restaurant called La Cevicheria, which was featured by Anthony Bourdain (RIP my dude) on No Reservations. The food there was so good. I’m still dreaming about their paella.
At night, we met up with Sarah, another woman in our group who is in Cartagena this week with her parents. They treated us to dinner and it was really lovely. It definitely felt like college when someone’s parents come to visit and “meet the friends.” It once again brought to light how this communal experience is really shaping all of us. We were all complete strangers two-and-a-half months ago from all different corners of the globe who now know each other pretty intimately and are meeting one another’s close family and friends. Pretty wild.
Another thought I’ve kept returning to these past few weeks is that no day is the same on Remote Year. Even during the week, when it is a normal workweek for most, at night there are always things to do with people and different activities to enjoy. People are open to being spontaneous even on a random Tuesday. It sounds so simple but it’s so radical. I think what really drained me in my old life was that every day was just monotonous and uninspiring and lonely. Get up, go to work, come home, eat, watch TV, go to bed. Rinse and repeat. I really hope that whatever happens in the “Afterlife” as we call it, I can maintain a semblance of this constant adventurous spirit. Also, our group has really done a great job of not getting clique-y or exclusive. Even as adults, in group settings, I think there is a tendency to try to stick with the familiar and latch on to your one or two people and make that your crew. Although I’m sure there are people who feel closer than others, everyone is always open to plans and having anyone join and tries to include everyone. It’s pretty extraordinary and something I hope we continue to maintain.
I am now back in Medellin and have to admit I’m feeling a broad spectrum of emotions. This past week was Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is always a difficult day for me. My grandparents, who were survivors, were such a huge part of my life and remain so, and I really, really miss them. Each year, I also have guilt that I’m not doing enough in the way of commemorating the day or doing enough to remember. Last year, I was lucky enough to be in Israel on this day (shoutout to my JNF peeps!). For those of you who don’t know, in Israel, a two-minute siren rings out throughout the entire country as a moment of silence/remembrance for the six million who perished. The entire country stops what it’s doing, no matter where they are, even on the highway, to stand and listen to the siren. A video of it here. Pretty powerful stuff. As grateful as I am to be doing Remote Year and to be in Colombia, I felt a little lonely and isolated that day. To go from a country where almost everyone gets exactly what’s going on and it’s on all of their minds to a place where it’s not discussed at all is very hard. It’s an issue that affects me so deeply and sometimes is hard to put into words. Luckily, of course, other Remotes were very kind and checked in with me to ask if I was ok. When I was feeling overwhelmed, Sarah, the other Jewish woman on the trip, came and sat with me for a while and her presence/support were super calming.
This year was made even more difficult by the fact that the synagogue shooting in San Diego had happened only a few days prior. I really am at a loss for words. The rise of anti-Semitism and Holocaust ignorance has grown exponentially over the past few years and really scares me. Additionally, the fact that we have had multiple mass shootings in the United States in the last couple of weeks alone is enough to make me feel queasy. I have to admit, I feel a strange mix of anger and relief. I am angry for the obvious reasons but also relieved that I am away from the United States for a while. I think my body and mind needed a break. Maybe somehow I feel like because I’m living abroad now, I have a false sense of distance from these issues? I’m not sure, because of course that’s not true. I’m still Jewish and American and those two things are incontrovertible parts of my identity. I am struggling for how to move forward with these inconvenient truths and thoughts. My best is to try to educate people as much as possible and to do my best to live proudly and openly and hope that helps prevent whatever potential atrocity lies around the corner.
I was feeling particularly emotional and was talking to my brother. He told me about how his children are beginning to learn about the Holocaust at their school. His five-year-old daughter came home and asked if anyone in their family had been in the Holocaust. He struggled with how much to reveal and what was appropriate, but he told her that yes, her great-grandparents were in the Holocaust, and that in fact, she shared her exact name with such a person. He said she bemoaned the fact that she never got to meet our grandmother and he could see the look of recognition, internalization, and pride that came across her little face as she understood where and from whom she came from. It makes me so emotional just thinking about it.
Thankfully, as the universe would have it, I’m on a bit of a nerd-high right now. This last week brought about the end of the Avengers movie franchise as we know it (have already seen it twice, thankyouverymuch) and the most epic Game of Thrones episode to date (don’t worry, there won’t be any spoilers if you keep reading, except maybe the last line of the blog post). I’ve been so devoted to so many of these characters for so long and it’s kind of like I’m losing a part of my family with all of these major stories ending. Of course, nothing will compare to Harry Potter… but this comes pretty darn close.
I’ve been trying to reflect on why these mean so much to me, and considering how much I’ve been struggling with the issues mentioned above, it feels like kismet to me. Aside from the fact that I love stories and great storytelling, I think that fantasy really allows us to explore the corners of humanity that have been pulled to extremity’s logical conclusion. We see ourselves in heroes and, therefore, believe somehow we were a part of that, too. Maybe we can be a little braver, a little tougher, a little more compassionate in our day-to-day. We also see the worst in humanity– what its like when life has pulled someone too far and too deep. We see redemption arcs: someone who maybe started out making mistakes or acting selfishly or as an “evil” character who ultimately finds a way to bring themselves back to the fold. We also see descents into madness: perhaps someone who started out all honky-dory but because of the beat down they receive from life, they begin to do bad things. Even though going forward, I will no longer have these particular weekly or yearly reminders of human potential that I have grown so accustomed to, I’m trying to take the inspiration, challenge, and wonder that I get from these works of art into my life going forward!
This brings me back to why I named this blog entry “Not Today.” (READ: SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LAST TWO EPISODES OF GOT). In Episode 3 of Game of Thrones this season, which will now go down as one of the most iconic scenes IMO, Melisandre (whom Arya hates) turns to Arya Stark (the would-be hero about to save the world from the Night King but who had at that point been rocked to her core by the Battle of Winterfell and all her confidence and strength are gone) and recalls the saying Arya’s childhood fighting instructor would say to her. Melisandre says, “What do we say to the God of Death?” and Arya answers, “Not Today.” In essence calling Arya to arms to remember who she is, where she comes from, what all her training has prepared her for, and that even though she is down, she is still capable of toppling even the most evil of beings. Arya then goes off to do the damn thing. I am choosing to say, “Not Today” and to continue fighting against the darkness.
Am Yisrael Chai. -ATZ