Hello 31!

First, An Update

Before I get started on my 31st birthday post, let me give you a little update about my life. I am still self-isolating in Medellin with Michael. Restrictions started loosening up earlier this summer but at the beginning of July, things got strict again. Shopping is restricted to one day per week, based on our I.D. numbers. Friday through Sunday, and on holidays, we go into complete lockdown- no leaving the house, period.

At the end of May we moved into a new apartment!  It is a complete change of scenery which, after 3 months of self-isolating in the first apartment, is exactly what we were looking for. It is on the 18th floor of a high rise, in a hilly neighborhood on the edge of the city. It is quite breezy compared to the last place. Standing on our balcony, during a cool afternoon rain, we joke that we moved to San Francisco or Seattle.

Other than the new apartment, day to day life hasn’t changed much. We have watched the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy and are one movie away from watching all the Harry Potter films. (Both of which I never thought I’d see and am surprised I liked). I am rewatching FRIENDS (hence the title of this post). When I feel guilty for wasting a day watching re-runs, I switch to the Spanish dubbed version and justify it as a Spanish lesson. The show also provides innumerable lessons on white-privilege and white-supremacy that are worth analyzing. My commitment to Black Lives Matter has deepened since the murder of George Floyd and anti-racism work continues to penetrate every aspect of my life.

Celebrating My 31st Birthday

Determined to do something outside for my birthday, I reached out to a local woman who I had met during Vipassana meditation back in February, to see what my options were. She got me in touch with a local woman who runs eco tours in Medellin. Since my birthday didn’t fall on a weekend or a holiday, I was able to arrange a beautiful, strenuous, life giving, trek to celebrate!

Today, the day after the trek, muscles I didn’t even know I had are aching, and I’m pretty sure I overdosed Vitamin-D. But that trek was exactly what I needed. I knew I missed being outside and being active but I didn’t realize how much until I was standing on top of a mountain yesterday.

31 Things About 31 Year Old Me

For my 31st birthday, I have decided to share 31 things about 31 year old me!

On my 30th birthday I shared a list of 30 life lessons. The authenticity that came from applying those lessons to my life, made me realize that I have spent a lot of my life living like a chameleon, shifting my image to fit in with my surroundings. I have built numerous business relationships, and several personal friendships, by muting certain parts of myself, playing up others, and blending in with my surroundings. I learned how to pick out one sliver of what someone said, that I could agree with, and make them think I completely understood and supported their point of view, whether I did or not. I was very selective about which aspects of my life story, character, and beliefs I shared with others, and even explored within myself. I willfully ignored things about myself, the people around me and the state of the world to fit in.

When I stopped hiding myself, from myself and from everyone else, I felt stifled in spaces that I’d once considered home and rejected by people who I’d once considered family. It turns out many of these spaces and faces were never meant for me. They did not actually know, and therefore could not accept, or even like, the real, whole, me. They were accustomed to a manipulated image of me, one that I had curated to fit in their boxes, live up to their expectations and to survive in their worlds- chameleon me.

At 31 years old, I am saying good-bye to chameleon me and hello to the real, whole, me! This doesn’t mean who I am today, is who I’ll be tomorrow, next week, or next year. It definitely doesn’t mean these 31 things are everything there is to know about me or that it hasn’t been difficult letting go of the things not meant for me. What it means is, that for the first time in my life, I am getting to know and accept the real, whole, me and have decided to share a bit about myself with you all!

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
-Audre Lorde

1. My favorite color is orange.

Like the inside of a papaya, not an orange.

2. Papaya is my favorite fruit.

I eat a half of papaya (they are really big) almost everyday.

3. I am vegan.

Although I do avoid all meat, dairy and eggs scrupulously, I am not an absolutist. If a moment arises where I feel compelled to eat something with animal products, for whatever reason, I will.

4. I have 6 piercings & 1 tattoo.

The only piercing I wear consistently is my nose ring. My tattoo is a story for another time.

5. I think Arizona is haunted.

Yep.

6. I teach English online.

It is easy, fun, pays the bills and allows me the freedom to move around the world, read, write, unlearn, learn, and process. I still haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up and don’t know if I ever will… And I don’t know if that’s because I don’t believe in careers or if I don’t believe in growing up?

7. I am not a drinker anymore. 

I rarely drank in my teens and early twenties, but by the time I turned 25, I was a total party animal. After about a year and a half of living the Vegas party girl life, I wanted out. But I’d created a lifestyle rooted in drinking so it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t until about 4 months into traveling around Asia that I stopped drinking. I woke up one morning, after a pretty crazy hostel party, and said to myself ‘I don’t want to live like this anymore.’ And that was that. Since August of 2018 I have had a handful of drinks (if that), but I am definitely not a drinker anymore.

8. I am a morning person. 

This was definitely not always the case. Becoming a morning person coincided with stopping drinking.

9. I am a history buff.

True history. Not the white washed bs I learned in school.

10. The first thing I ever learned to say in a foreign language was “je bent een olifant.” Which means “you are an elephant” in Dutch.

I was ten years old when I made friends with a new student from Holland. We are still in touch today and I have been to the Netherlands twice to see her! Her birthday is the day before mine.

11. I got my first job when I was 14.

I cleaned locker rooms at the Rice Pool in Wheaton. I made $5.25 an hour. My first paycheck was less than $20.

12. I moved to Las Vegas the day after my 19th birthday. 

On July 28th 2008, I left Wheaton, Illinois behind and headed west in a packed silver Chevy Cobalt.

13. I am a licensed cosmetologist in Nevada and Illinois. 

I went to beauty school at 16 (for free thanks to a program through my high school) and worked as a professional hairstylist for over 10 years. I owned my own boutique hair salon in Las Vegas for a few of those years. I keep both licenses active because who knows, maybe I’ll end up back in one of those states doing hair one day.

14. I graduated from UNLV with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education in 2012.

I still went to college after beauty school because any kid growing up poor in suburbia knows college is the only sure path to success (haha). I student taught my last semester of college, and substitute taught for a few years, but have never been a full-time elementary school teacher.

15. I wanted to major in journalism. 

I don’t think I had a fully developed concept of what a war correspondent or an investigative journalist was at the time, but I am pretty sure one of those titles encompasses what I wanted to be. I knew for sure I didn’t want to write about beauty or fashion, like people suggested because of my cosmetology background. I wanted to travel to the Middle East and write about deep and dangerous stuff, like religion and war. But, I ended up opting for elementary education because I didn’t think journalism was “practical” for me, a woman, a future wife and mother. (Unpacking that social conditioning has been a process).

16. In 2018, I sold everything I owned to travel indefinitely.

I sold, gave away, or donated a whole house worth of stuff, my car, and everything inside my salon. On August 4th 2018 I boarded a one way flight to Bangkok.

Since then I have been to ThailandSingapore, Vietnam, IndiaBaliGuatemala and Colombia. I also spent several months in Chicago, watching my newborn nephew for my sister and brother-in-law in between my trip to Asia and Central/ South America.

17. I have been to 19 countries in total. 

The Bahamas. Sint Maarten. Mexico. England. The Netherlands. Germany. Czech Republic. Austria. Italy. Switzerland. France. Australia. Thailand. Vietnam. Singapore. India. Indonesia (Bali & Gili Air). Guatemala. Colombia.

18. My dad died when I was 24.

My parents got divorced when I was 7 because my dad was an alcoholic. Shortly after their divorce, everyone else started to see what my mom had been picking up on for years- the alcohol (or something unknown) was messing with my dad’s head. It started out small, forgetting stuff and making careless mistakes. But before long, he lost his job, his apartment, and was living on the streets. He was eventually diagnosed with Alcohol Induced Organic Brain Damage. The symptoms were similar to dementia. By the time I was 14, he’d even forgotten how to talk. Sometime in the early 2000s, he was moved into a nursing home in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, where he died from aspiration pneumonia in 2014.

19. I almost got married when I was 25. 

We met in 2008, 2 months after I moved to Vegas. I moved in with him in 2009, the week I turned twenty. 20. Two-zero. I was a baby! He proposed in 2013 and a year to the date later, I called it off. I couldn’t have explained why at the time, but shortly after the proposal, every fiber of being told me not to solidify that relationship with marriage.

Years later, I realized I’d created a separate world with him, a separate version of myself. I was literally a different person with that man, in Vegas, than I was back at home, in Chicago, with my childhood friends and family. It took me imagining all the people from both worlds in one room for me to see that, not only would the two worlds never mesh, but that I’d been lying to myself about who was and what I wanted for a long time.

20. My mom is my biggest fan.

Seriously. She’s the best.

21. My sister and I are as opposite as hot and cold.

In a complementary way, like cocoa on a snowy day.

22. I create the most random Spotify playlists.

Most of my recent playlists are based on a particular season of life. Whatever song comes up during that season, whether I am reminiscing about an old song or hear a new one I like in the grocery store, I add it to the list. My current playlist, called Twenty-Twenty, has a a sad Venezuelan song I heard a young Venezuelan migrant sing at a Karaoke bar in Colombia, a Chris Stapleton song, two Tupac songs, and oh so much more randomness.

23. Audio-books changed my life.

I have always wanted to be a reader but was never able to actually sit down with a book and read it.

In my mid twenties I turned to audio-books in an effort to understand myself and the world around me. I listened while I drove or walked my dog. I was shocked by how well I could focus on the audio, as long as I was moving my body. The connections I made to certain stories and authors, and what I learned from them, shocked me even more.

Audio-books opened me up to new ideas, validated ones I’ve had for years, and transformed my life.

I have had people tell me I am not getting as much from the audio version of a book. They emphasize how I am missing out on spelling and grammar exposure. Every time someone says this, I am crushed. I don’t think they understand how difficult it is for me to read a book (which is embarrassing). I’d rather be a bad speller who knows a few things about the world than a bad speller who knows nothing.

Ijeoma Oluo posted this in December 2019 and it validated me: “Just a little PSA: If you read a book by listening to the audio book it is in no way a lesser experience than reading a paper book. That’s weird, ableist nonsense that have people feeling like there is only one legitimate way to learn and we need to push back against it.”  

24. I want to write a book.

Not many people get to spend the latter half of their twenties on their own, traveling, reading, writing and learning about themselves and the world around them. Because I have had this privilege, I feel it is my duty to share what I have learned. My goal is to publish a book, synthesizing what I’ve learned with my own life experiences. (There will be an audio version).

25. I have always wanted to learn how to play the piano.

I played the trumpet in middle school and was horrible. I have no plans to learn the piano, it’s quite a cumbersome instrument for a nomad, but I have always wanted to.

26. I am committed to anti-racism work.

“The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.”
Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist

27. I support Black Lives Matter.

Meaning both Black people and the political movement.

28. I am learning about politics

I took Political Science 101 my freshman year of college and had no clue what was going on. Not one. Nor did I have an interest. This time around, I have been led to study politics on my own accord- through traveling and witnessing racial strife in America and the impact of imperialism, colonization and capitalism globally. It is clear to me now that my previous political ignorance was not an accident. The American education system wants us to think politics is dry, boring, and unrelatable so we don’t make connections and get involved. I think the same goes for history. It worked.

29. I am an intersectional-feminist.

“To me, feminism is not simply a struggle to end male chauvinism or a movement to ensure woman will have equal rights with men. It is a commitment to eradicating the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels- sex, race and class, to name a few. And a commitment to reorganizing US society, so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires.”
-bell hooks

30. I am fascinated by religion but am not religious.

When I was really little, my family was Catholic. But after my parent’s divorce, we stopped going to Catholic church. Throughout the rest of my childhood, my mom would take my sister and I to a Christian church, sporadically. I never felt comfortable at church. The judgement, hypocrisy, and what I now recognize as white supremacy, were palpable.

Shortly after high school graduation, one of my best friends married a Muslim man and converted to Islam. I spent a lot of time with her, learning about Islam. She even took me to a mosque.

In my mid twenties I started practicing yoga which led to studying meditation and Eastern philosophy.

If I had to boil down what I believe to one word, it would be interconnectedness. I believe humanity, the earth, and all living things are connected. Respect and compassion for it all is key.

31. According my genetic ancestry report, I am mostly Northern European (German, Irish, English and Scandinavian), Southern European (Italian and Greek/Balkan) and a small percentage Western Asian/ North African.

My last name, Maida, is Italian. There is a city in Italy called Maida. I traveled from Ninh Binh to Hanoi, Vietnam, with an Italian guy who told me my family pronounces our last name wrong. We say “May-Duh,” he says it is “My-Duh.”