College: What they didn’t tell you would happen in those 4 years

May 31, 2014: I woke up like every other morning in Albany. My window overlooked the pond and the weather was warm. It was the usual. For me, this was a daily occurrence that had become a routine from the moment I stepped foot on my college campus at 17-years-old. 

It was a normal day in Albany. 

And it was also the beginning of reality. 

I walked down the hall of my apartment to find suitcases packed. Decorations were taken off the wall. No one was in the apartment but me. 

I sat on the couch and contemplated how to feel, how to breathe, what to do now. 

It was May 18th when myself alongside hundreds of fellow peers, completed our journey of undergraduate studies. For most of us, Albany was more than just a college. It was where we grew up. 

It was an escape from all that we had left behind momentarily. It was our world. And we ran it.

I looked out the window to the home I knew so well. It was the place I had spent 4 years uncovering. From the hipster food places, to the trendy bars, from the local hiking parks, to the unusual gems that took all those years to finally understand. 

Universities and colleges all over the world see some of the most beautiful and most disastrous moments of our lives. They witness heartbreak to depression, happiness to down-right intoxication. 

But the beautiful part of what they witness is: change. 

Change of heart, as we uncover the difference between pleasing other people versus pleasing ourselves. Change of thought, as we uncover our true likes, when we realize that much of what we had thought would be a promising career would limit our happiness. Change of soul, as we become the people that we never sought out to be. 

We stood here, years ago, with no understanding or prediction of how we would end up. As if we were dropped into this world of college, no idea what the outcome would be. We waited patiently. 

And within an instance, we woke up. And we finished. 

We left our home. We left this reality. 

June 2014: Home. I unpack my belongings. Place dresses and shirts on hangers; gently placing them into the closet. I sit down on the couch and glance around. 

I was home. My home for my entire life where my parents raised me, where I lost my first tooth, and where I was picked up by my prom date. This was home for me. It had always been. 

But this home lacked to witness the biggest change of my life. These walls didn’t witness those endless random nights where friends would kidnap me at 2 am to grab food and chat about how crazy last night was. Those walls didn’t acknowledge all those nights of tears, of uncertainty, of delusion. These walls did not witness influential heartbreaks, or broken friendships. They couldn’t possibly understand all those days of complete madness or simply sitting with some friends to catch the next episode of our favorite show. 

So what do you do now? 

You’ve changed. You didn’t realize it. All those years where life seemed to just flow and you looked at the same person each day in the mirror. You had no idea what was coming. 

And then you go back home. And life comes into perspective. You understand that the person you once was is long gone and that you’ve inherited this new being that you had no idea you had. 

Then reality hits. And all those issues you had left behind when you left away for college begin to return. Emotions and feelings that you thought were long gone, return in a flash and you are left there wondering, what now?

We face the uncertainty of unattainable jobs and lack of funds. We face the constant pressure of taking care of our families. We face the distance of relationships, those people we swore we would never lose and have been limited to texting or Instagram updates; we face the transition of having the world in our hands to feeling like the world is now on our shoulders.

We face everything we swore we wouldn’t feel in those years of escape.

The only difference from the person you are now and the person you were, is that those 4 years strengthened you to take on this life. Those walls, that home, those friends, those not-so friends, those boys, those girls, those professors, those bosses, those random strangers at parties, those football games, those lack of sleep nights, those sunny days, those snowy days, those depressing days, those “I’m too drunk to remember what happened that night” days, and those last moments you had at your home. 

You were meant to experience this momentarily and now it’s time to fly. 

So as the world comes crashing down, remember that you are this new being that has transformed into the peak of your vision. You have made this person, this 20 something-year-old who is eager to experience more that life has to offer. 

And you’ll look back years from now and remember in the vastly distance what that home meant to you. What college gave you. How those 4 years in a complete different world with strangers, would eventually make you the person walking in those shoes today. Image

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Venice Waters

Venice Waters

Places I would rather be than this cold Northeast…Mhmm.

Venice you had me at Caio!

And I have to say my photo skills have gotten a lot better. May the next country I place my feet on, be as amazing as the ones I’ve already been blessed to see.

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March 24, 2014 · 2:52 am

La Isla Bonita

Your rhythm and curves of sea breeze never fail to leave my ears as the sounds of drums and cuartros play in the background. I have been blinded by the sounds of New York City car horns in the pathway to finding my Isla Bonita. The sand of my ancestors are not found in these city sidewalks. So I will not attend your version of Puerto Rican pride parades or wave my flag in this US land of forgotten identities. Isla Bonita, please do not call the United States your mainland. Please keep your flag waving high in the distance as the American language rips your tongue. Isla Bonita, with your waves of sea breeze delight, the rain in the El Yunque forest, and the sound of parandas during the Christmas time. Please let me see you Isla Bonita and all that’s been removed from your soul. Let me rid you of the Western mask placed upon your face to hide the veins that once flowed of Puerto Rican blood.The memories of farms men left behind to pursue the other red, white and blue,shoveling past El Barrio but no ocean here. Isla Bonita, I do not know of who you are but of what you appear to be. An emblem of US takeover, a mini vacation spot for the moment. But what I do know is that your spirit lingers strong in those who see you for what you are. Isla Bonita: from the tales of the Carribean elders to the sounds of the coqui frogs at night. The taste of pastelon, guava juice and tamarindo I pick off the trees on the road. La Isla Bonita, shine your light and always remember to be yourself. Be yourself for the countless of children who have been masked of the beauty you hold and forced to watch on the sidelines of American history. Isla Bonita shine bright for all to see your worth. Keep my Puerto Rican roots alive, please.

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Invisible abuse disguised in a maid uniform

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There is an invisible lining of gender-based sexual violence that is under the rim of our hands. It is hidden in the homes of rich families, in the walls of factories, and in horrid conditions in far off places, where a woman’s voice is nowhere to be heard. Coming from an immigrant background, I have heard the stories of my grandmother who slaved in factories for days at a time with little pay and wrongful working conditions. However, one thinks of these conditions as a past problem which causes many to wonder why domestic workers have strayed far from the spotlight. Why stories have rarely hit the mainstream news about conditions in South America, Asia, the Middle East, and even right here in the United States. The streak may have changed.

For the past three months, news headlines have rocketed with stories surrounding domestic workers. “Domestic workers abused in Indonesia”, “Death of a maid in Malaysia”, and “protests in Hong Kong over abuse of female workers” are just a few to name. And before that we heard headlines surrounding the abuse of Somalian migrant girls being abused in Dubai and over 200, 000 foreign domestic workers, mostly women, in countries like Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Now the question that comes up to mind, is whether this is a struggle of a certain ethnic group or class level? The news headlines have given us all the same image of the foreign, domestic worker. She is poor, coming from a family who can barely take care of her, and sometimes she is even sold across borders. Many of these women and young girls, unable to return or leave their work environments, face everything from sexual abuse, rape, starvation, sex trafficking, and violence. When it comes to an ethnic majority, it seems most of the women come from an Asian or African background, but it predominately comes from the background of the country. For instance, Somalia and Malaysia are developing countries that fall far in the spectrum from areas like Dubai or Lebanon. It’s a matter of power over the lesser people.

The past news stories that hit the mainstream wave about domestic worker abuse was that of the death of a maid in Malaysia. According to Irene Fernandez, the director of Malaysian NGO Tenaganita, a non-profit organization focusing on migrant advocacy, 45 Indonesian workers have died in Malaysia just this year from several causes including torture by abusive employers. And the NGO organization has recorded over 1,050 human rights violations from rape to physical abuse in the last two years. The death of the 24-year-old maid named Kunarsih is just one of many Indonesian women who have been silenced victims of gender and sexual violence. Her body was found in the home of her employer. Many of these women have only two options. And both are bad news. The women can stay in their situation and continue with the physical, sexual, emotional abuse or attempt to flee. However, the majority of foreign workers who attempt to flee from their abusive employers are often prosecuted under the Malaysian immigration laws and jailed. Most employers keep their workers passports which allow a power over the victim. A domestic foreign worker cannot legitimately prove that they’re in the country legally. Other cases, like a 23-year old Ethiopian girl, have the same predicament. Upon arriving to Dubai as a domestic worker, her passport was taken immediately from her. You are a slave to your work. And what starts as an escape from poverty to aid families back home, eventually leads to a jail cell within a factory or home walls.

Countries like Malaysia and Dubai have been urged to stand up and protect their domestic workers within the country. Just this December, Malaysian immigration officers rescued over 105 Indonesian women who were forced to work without pay or food. A step up from the silence that lingered behind countless of women who wonder if this movement is a reality. As news media, continues to expand on this issue, there are still thousands of women across the globe that are silenced by the shackles of their domestic work. And there’s even some here in our backyard of the United States. 

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The Invisible War | Documentary about Rape in the U.S. Military

The Invisible War | Documentary about Rape in the U.S. Military | Independent Lens | PBS.

The moment I heard the topic, I knew it would hit home. A daughter of a Marine. A Marine woman. And a victim of sexual harassment in the military. I grew up with the PTSD, yes. I grew up with the anger, yes. I didn’t grow up with the underlying secret that my mother held for so long. She was a victim. And no one ever knew.

Watching this film had goosebumps down my spine. I couldn’t take hearing these stories of average women who served our country. But the moment they were raped or sexually assaulted, the country turned their back on them. The military turned their backs on them. Where is the justice in that? I couldn’t imagine how they feel. Ripped apart like a piece of meat, losing all your dignity, all your being. Having something affect you for the rest of your life, but when you scream no one can hear you. Instead they ignore.

My mother was one of these women. She was ignored. Probably too scared to tell a living soul what she went through. She was a lucky one because she was able to move on in her life. Some aren’t as fortunate.

This is an amazing documentary that really diminishes the idea that the military is all about honor and respect. If you can’t respect the women who are serving this country, then you can’t be honorable in my book.

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Beauty in simplicity

Beauty in simplicity

Sitting among history. Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece

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January 26, 2014 · 5:27 pm

To the Mediterranean and Back: Journeys to Italy and Greece

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As I prepared for this trip overseas, much of what I expected proved me wrong. I adventured into the idea that this trip would be filled with the Italian and Greek city life. From beaches to the lavish lifestyle, much of what I perceived about the overseas experience to Italy/Greece was based on my view of television shows and movies. I had no idea what to truly expect. From my first steps into Italia to my last leaving moments in Greece, this trip had the ability to surprise me in more ways than one.
Day One: We arrived at Milan airport after a long winded plane ride. The plane ride was well worth the view of the Alps overhead. Mountains full of snow and I was on top of the world. The landscape was far different than that of home. Growing up in New York City, it wasn’t a common thing to appreciate nature and landscapes. Let’s just say I was sort of the black sheep in my family. I had a love for nature that was far beyond my skyline city. I wanted to see views of mountains and seas.

Upon arriving at the Milan airport around 8:30 a.m., I didn’t hesitate to purchase my first cup of coffee, as we awaited the second half of the tour group. A coffee lover in my blood, I’ve learned to appreciate a good, authentic cup of Joe. I went up to the cashier and ordered a cappuccino. It was customary, according to John, our Australian tour guide, to order a cappuccino in the morning. I tasted the bubbly foam in my lips. It was perfect. Growing up in a coffee household, my Arab father never hesitated to pour black Arabic coffee each morning while my Spanish mother served her favorite Columbian blend each mid-afternoon. And here I was in the country of coffee. I noticed no Starbucks here in Italia. It would be an insult to the coffee land of the world I suppose.
As we linked up with the second half of the group, we took in the Italian customs. I watched attentively at the Italian woman with their fair skin and bright red lipsticks; the Italian men with their pea coats and smooth, dark hair and the Italian elders who seemed young and witty even in their wrinkled skin. I listened to their Italian soft spoken voices murmuring “Ciao” and “Buon Giorno” to each other. It intrigued me.

We got on the bus and headed to Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet. Walking in the streets, I could picture the feud between the Capulets and Montagues on the pebbled stone streets. The shops were filled with people as we approached the famous Juliet balcony. People crowded over the bubblegum walls and graffiti. But what I took in from this beautiful scene was the Christmas tree on the side that held the notes of love wishes on its tree stems. “Para mi Julieta, Te quiero muchisimo Hermosa” was one of the notes that lingered on the Christmas tree stems. I’m not a faint believer in true love but I do believe in hope. Seeing people’s wishes hanging like ornaments on a tree was a beautiful thing. It was here by Juliet’s balcony that people found hope and love among the restless brick walls. Graffiti filled the walls with anniversary dates, I love you notes, and memories.                    

Day Two: Of all my experiences in Italy, it was this day that held strong in my traveling heart. Venice, the city of water glistened in the warm, winter sun and I fell in love. I fell in love with the antique walls and pastel colored shops overseeing the water. The gondolas that tilted back and forth amongst the crowded city. I could see in the midst of this Italian port the influence from the Byzantine and Turks. I could only imagine what the first thoughts on their minds were when they arrived to this golden arena. The shops, some old and new, opened their doors to the townspeople and tourists. Each direction I looked upon water. Even on a cloudy day, the romance of the city transcended. My highlight of the experience was sitting on a gondola. It was one of the most rewarding moments of my life. It was only 20 minutes, but I felt like it was an eternity, as myself and the rest of the tour students sat in silence. No one had much to say. Instead we stared at the walls of Venice passing us as we headed under the Italian bridges. I had no words to speak. It was moving. I looked up to the gothic looking buildings with their colors and all. It was here, that I felt like I was in Italia. Towards the end of the gondola ride, I remember seeing an elderly woman dusting off her carpet at her balcony. All I could think of was how much I wanted a balcony that looked over the Venice waters. I could only imagine how she felt waking up every morning (despite the horrid smell of the water), it was a beauty beyond compare. It was a peaceful city, not like the one I lived in. New York City was a busy arena but here in Venice, I felt at ease. No car horns around and people strolled the streets without a rush to their feet.

Padua, Italia was a quiet area upon arriving. We walked to the city square with our coats on. Families and couples sat down by the main square to take in the chilly night. It was the night of New Year’s Eve, as the crowds of people took hold of the main square. I felt sentimental as this was the first New Year’s I had ever spent without my family, nevertheless my first New Year’s abroad. It felt like a growing up moment. Just last winter I had the privilege to study abroad with Brockport to Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. As a senior, I could see my college years unfolded in the palms of my hands. Here I was at 21 years old, spending New Year’s Eve abroad. I couldn’t have been even more humble that moment as the crowd chanted “5…4…3…2…1.” Most people look to new years for a new beginning or a new resolution, but all I could think of was that I hope I could continue this traveling lifestyle. I hoped to continue what I set forth to be. U hope to become a writer in the future. These experiences have given me life skills that have allowed me to take in my surroundings and truly appreciate all that these countries have. It was a beautiful feeling and standing among the hundreds of Italians at the stroke of midnight, I could see all their wishes and desires unfold. Families hugging one another, couples kissing, and friends popping champagne bottles all over the market square. I knew at that moment right there that I would remember that New Year’s Eve for the rest of my life. And that gave me chills through my spine.

Upon arriving to Florence, I could picture in my mind the Tuscany colors and green hills. My mother was a Florence lover to the heart although she never had the chance to go herself. She told me before leaving for my trip to take in Florence and to capture the city in the lens of my camera. However, Florence was not the picturesque scene that I thought I would encounter. The winter months took hold leaving empty tree branches and foggy green lands. It was the Florence city that captured my interest with the statue of David among the city vendors. The fountain with Neptune at the tip stood in the market square just a few blocks down from the Doma. The leather factory where I learned how to feel the true “leather feeling” and my favorite lucky boar statue, which they say will bring you back to Florence if your coin falls out the boar’s mouth appropriately. Florence gave me much happiness. The wine tasting was among my favorite memories. Since turning 21, I had developed a strong love for wine. I remember writing on a bucket list years back, “attend a winery in a true Tuscan way”. Here I was sipping on authentic wine with olive oil on my bread in the true wine city. My dreams were coming to place and I took it in moment by moment.

Day Five: Roma!!! Words could not describe how interesting this city was. The Coliseum, the Fountain of Trevi (where I threw the traditional 3 coin wishes), the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and St. Peter’s Basilica. It was the Vatican City that took a strong interest to me. Learning about the Sistine chapel my entire life, I had viewed the masterpiece solely through pictures. The anticipation increased once we arrived and the tour guide explained to us the different parts of Michelangelo’s works. We were not allowed to speak in the basilica. I liked this feeling because once we arrived into the Sistine chapel, no words were needed. I walked in and looked up to the ceiling. I felt myself all alone even in the crowded room. I couldn’t grasp how he did it. There was no work of art that I have seen in all my life that compared to that moment I looked upon the Sistine chapel. It was a work of art that transcended through all cultures and religions. The detail and emotions of the real life figures were depicted in such a moving way that I felt as though I was looking at the heavens. I’m not a religious person and after growing up in a mixed religious household (my mother is Catholic and my father is Muslim) I had no eager wish to get involved with religious views. But the Sistine chapel did wonders. It wasn’t about believing in something specific or having a certain religious view, it was the beauty of a masterpiece. Michelangelo had the hands of God and I was in chills looking at this piece of work. When I walked out the room, no words could be spoken. I was changed and the Sistine Chapel changed all that I knew of art.

Day Seven: Sorrento was the city of lemons! From lemonchello to lemon soap, lemons were everywhere. Sorrento was my idea of a true Italian home. The people reminded me of many of the Italians I saw in Little Italy back home. The restaurants consisted of simple home cooked Italian dishes like ravioli and grandma’s authentic lasagna. The townspeople were friendly even on the rainy day and the area was quiet. It was far different from the busy Roman streets, and I loved that. I could only picture how the town would be on a summer day or during festivities.
Day Eight: Ferry to Greece. The anticipation on the ferry to Greece was one of wonder. I had no idea what I was sailing to in these dark Mediterranean waters and it added to the suspense of what to expect when I crossed over to Greek lands. It was on the ferry that I saw the abundance of gypsies and their families aboard. After going to Spain, I had an odd interest in the life of gypsies. I wanted to know how they lived their lives day to day, where gypsies derived from, and how gypsies differed from areas. The tour guide assured us not to be alarm if we saw gypsies laying on the floors of the ferry with their children cradled at their sides. It was different and both unique to me. Apparently, the gypsies were both unwanted and wanted in Greece. They were unwanted for stealing electricity from neighboring homes and they were wanted because they often cleaned up the community lands of garbage.

As I slept through the rocking boat, I had no picture in my mind of how Greece would look. I only knew of the history textbooks I read and the films depicting Greek wars. Little did I know, by the end of this trip I would be in love with all that Greece instilled in me.

Day Nine: We arrived in the Meteor region and at a Greek Orthodox monastery where the views were something of story tales. I could only imagine the feeling of the monks and nuns who lived on the top of mountains felt each morning when they woke up. How peaceful it was. Inside the monastery you could see each wall covered with an icon and painted colors of reds and orange filled the entire area.

We arrived at Kalambaka afterwards and I loved the friendliness and warm welcome that I received. The Greek people were very open and interested to hear our stories. The town was quite remarkable and it reminded me much of that home-feel I received in Sorrento.

Day Ten: (Delphi)Of all the scenery’s and landscapes I witnessed on this trip, I truly believe that Delphi took the trophy for me. The feeling I had sitting amongst the temple of Apollo and the Lions Gate will never compare to any feeling I’ve had. I’m no history junkie but standing on the grounds of history, not just for Greece but for the world, was a rewarding once in a lifetime experience. We arrived at a Greek healing center which used art and drama to heal the soul. The performance arena gathered crowds and put on comedic presentations which was said to heal the soul of sickness. The theatre was made for Apollo, the God of Sun and they often would sacrifice hundreds of goats in the middle of the arena for the God of Wine, Dionysus. My favorite fun fact was learning that goats in Greece means Tragose, which could translate over to the English word of tragedy.

The view from Apollo’s temple was something you would see in a film. It was simple yet beautiful. Another student and I decided to use our 30 minute break during the tour to sit on a rock and admire the view. We decided to not speak to each other and instead take in the view. It was the quietest half an hour I had on this trip but it was the most spectacular. I felt the warm breeze and the mountain hilltops were at plain sight for me.

Although that view was amazing, it was the view in the Mycenaean city at the Lions Gate that awarded me with the most memorable moment on my trip abroad this winter. Standing in the position just miles from the Aegean Sea, I could feel myself among the early Mycenae people who lavished over this land. The hills, which in myth create the landscape of a nose, are believed to be the outline of King Agamemnon overlooking the Mycenae lands. And it was here, where chills climbed through my back. I couldn’t believe or understand what history was held here. I couldn’t take in all that remained here from a lost age of kings and ships, wars and festivities. I couldn’t forget that feeling I had once I stood at the edge of the top overlooking the horizon. What did the Mycenae people think when they saw this? Did they feel the same feeling as I did?

We often wonder how our future will look. People in our day and age are constantly worried about how our world will look in 200 years. But I wonder how our world looked before. I wonder what they thought of this landscape; how they could precisely predict the accurate spot to establish a community, how they were able to think on what materials to use. It was amazing. I couldn’t help feel as I stood there among the Greek lands, that so much of the world around us still has beauty left. And here I was experiencing it all. 

Day Twelve & Thirteen: Oh Athens! You were the perfect city to end my trip on. Athens with the Pantheon at top and the Olympic arenas surrounding, I felt as if I were amongst the old Greece that once took hold of these streets. Athens was a remarkable city much like Rome yet mysterious. I fell in love to the point I wish I could have stayed longer. Visiting the Pantheon was an experience and the view from uptop was one for the books. I noticed, that Greece very much appreciated the landscapes and nature surrounding, because they tended to built many of their sites and landmarks on hilltops, overlooking cities or mountains. It amazed me. While I grew up in New York City, always looking up to the skylines, here I was looking below to the world. I loved the feeling.

This trip opened my eyes to much about the Mediterranean culture that I thought I knew. Its one thing to read the stories in books and then another to actually stand foot in the places where ancient people created these ideas. From Italian wine to Greek gyros, I was truly in love with the food and traditions. The people were friendly and opening of course. Especially our tour guide who was so knowledgeable on everything. Particularly, I loved talking to Sandra and Mrs. Chadsey, the true history lovers. The excitement on their faces when they arrived to places they had already seen was remarkable and they were full of knowledge that poured out of their hearts into our ears. But it was standing in the footsteps of the historical people that made me appreciate this trip. Every place I went to, I could picture the before and after. It amazed me that these cities still had remaining history that generations far from now can experience for themselves. I won’t ever forget the feelings I had on this trip nor the friends I made.

Most of all this inspires me to continue my love for traveling, in hopes of having the same feelings once again, in a new destination 

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