Travel In the Era of Trump: 5 Stages of Grief
*This is a guest blog post written by Sharday El-Assar, Global Engagement and International Strategist.
“Everyone can tell,” I thought. “Everyone knows just by looking at me that I’m American, and America elected Trump.”
Well, *I* didn’t vote for him. And actually, I kind of look ethnically ambiguous. But, this is what was going through my head as I was hoofing it to a work meeting in London last month. And this is what I started to think every time I traveled…which, between work and play, is a lot.
Since the election, I’ve been to six countries and had conversations about Donald Trump in all of them. Even just walking around felt like when someone knocks their glass of water into your lap at lunch, and then you have a big, wet stain in your crotch all day. Everyone thinks you pissed your pants when it was someone’s barbarian of a child who shouldn’t have been allowed to handle a glass in the first place.
Scenario: your country just elected a vampire. Before that even happened, you already have kind of a bad reputation for being a fat slob and only speaking one language (probably poorly). Now, what do you do when you cross a border post-November 8th?
As for me, I found myself going through the five stages of grief and loss about the election result every time I hit the road.
“I can’t believe it,” I exclaim every time. “It’s just unbelievable. We all thought there was no way it could happen. It was definitely, definitely rigged. And, I mean, Hillary won the popular vote, so at least we know how the country REALLY feels.” I say “I don’t know” and shake my head on repeat until Stage 2: Anger arrives.
Sometimes, I just deny being American altogether by adopting a vaguely foreign accent when talking to people at restaurants, shops, etc. This can be a dangerous game because you have to be somewhat consistent and you run the risk of someone being from said foreign country, or at least being familiar enough with it to recognize that you’re bogus. While I do this, I simultaneously deny that this is the most American game ever: adopting a random “foreign” accent.
I don’t do this during work meetings, for obvious reasons. But I usually have at least 30 minutes to recover from being American in those meetings, so it’s OK.
“He’s just such an animal. It’s so embarrassing. And HOW could ANY woman vote for him? How could any non-Great White Man vote for him?” I ask myself and anyone within earshot.
I think about getting patches, pins, and tee shirts that say “Not My President”, “I Voted For Hillary” and “I Was Born In America, And All I Got Was This Lousy President” to wear in public, and hopefully help my unfortunate reality of being American right now so that I’m not shunned by society. But constantly being on the defense is tiring, and sometimes I waffle back to denial because I don’t want to believe that I have to be mad about this now, on top of everything else that pisses me off.
“Can we just rewind time? How can we impeach him? And then impeach Mike Pence immediately after that? Better yet, when is the judge going to call us back about the Russia stuff? If that happens, we might have a chance at starting over the right way. ”
“This happened because I fell asleep on election night and missed the announcement. If I could just go back in time and wake up, it would be different now. Please, God.”
“I don’t know. I just don’t know. I don’t know what to do. I feel so lost. What can I even do? Anything I do is just a tiny drop in the bucket. There’s nothing good that can come from this.”
It’s mostly real depression about the situation, but sometimes I exaggerate it to gain sympathy from people when I’m traveling. If I’m super depressed about it, I can’t be a stupid American. Right? Right.
“We just weren’t ready for Bernie,” I whine, “and unfortunately, people weren’t ready for Hillary either. People can forgive you for making mistakes, and they can forgive you for being a woman, but not both at the same time. It’s so hard to be a woman already, and now this? There’s no hope. I miss Obama. He cared about me. About us.”
“You know what, I guess this is what the country has to go through right now. We needed to hit rock bottom to see that we need to clean up our act and start moving upward again. People will learn. The hard way, but they’ll learn. It’s going to be OK.”
With London specifically, it’s super handy that Brexit just happened, because I can at least point out something embarrassing about them while I’m dealing with my own issues.
Jokes aside, the truth is that…people understand.
I expected to be met with ridicule when I opened my passport or my mouth. Instead, I have been met with comforting words and advice for making an impact now. I expected a million “how?!” and “why?!” questions. Instead, I was gently pulled a few steps back, to see that many governments have had to go through crises like this in order to progress. I was expecting to feel constantly embarrassed and somehow responsible or representative. Instead, people put their arms around my shoulders and reminded me that they know the difference between a people and its government.
I didn’t expect these things because I expect everyone I meet to behave tactlessly. And by no means am I ashamed to be an American. It’s the opposite. I come from a mixed background, and my family has flourished in America because of its core tenets and freedoms. So, this…this is a shameful moment for America—an attack on everything we’re supposed to stand for.
But having these conversations has been healing. I was in Nairobi on the day of the inauguration in January, visiting another friend we all knew who was living there on a two-year contract. I had been hoping to avoid the inauguration, but as we sat down to dinner with our friend a large group of her friends in Nairobi, it came on TV. It didn’t take long for me to feel the black cloud of despair settle over me and the lump in my throat grow as I watched. When I felt like I had my shit together enough to look up at other people, I saw that everyone else’s eyes were looking a little damp, too. Everyones. Americans and non-Americans.
People not only understand, but they hold out their hands to help us up to our feet again.
On that night in Nairobi, we were able to turn back to Trump jokes and insults, and eventually move on to other subjects. I’ve started to feel less embarrassed, and more capable of using the opportunities I have for dialogue with people I meet during my travels, and to keep learning before I go back home and help make sure it’s different next time.
How are you dealing in this era of Trump?
* You can connect with Sharday on Instagram and her Facebook Page (just mention me).