Alex bint Eisa is a Cuban-American with an MA in Gulf Studies from Qatar University, she specializes in the relationship between religion and government in the Arab Gulf states. She spent 4 years living in the Gulf. During the day she teaches social studies to kids, after work she enjoys discussing the intersection of politics and religion and binge-watching sitcoms.
It wasn’t a particularly difficult day at work today. But when I got into the car, I started crying.
In my first month of work, a group of parents practically rioted during my presentation at our school’s open house. It triggered the shit out of me and for weeks I had panic attacks every morning before work. It happened so much I made up a jingle to the tune of John Legend’s “headband of the day” that was made famous on Chrissy Teigen’s InstaStories.
panic attack of the day, it’s the panic attack offfff the dayyyyy
I still sing it more often than I would like. But life goes on, mental health crisis or not. Soon, I started working a second job tutoring after school, which was my old job before I started teaching. Now that I am doing both, I’m working from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm for the four days a week. I still live in my parent’s house at 30 (almost 31) and I can’t afford the start-up costs of Miami real estate on a teacher’s salary, which is why I need the second job.
By the time December came around, I didn’t know how I was making it through the day. Leaving the house by 7 am and not getting home until after 8 pm from Monday thru Thursday meant I was getting home and passing out almost instantly, many days without having eaten since noon. Then my boyfriend asked me for some time to work through some issues that had come up in our relationship and I spent all of Winter Break feeling like my mental health flare-up was going to swallow me whole. I barely left the house for the two weeks I had off.
School started back up and I was glad to see my kids. My eye had stopped twitching from the stress and I had an appointment to see a doctor (yay insurance!) for the first time in years. Things were looking up. Then I got the monthly calendar for January, saw we had a week-long “Catholic Schools Week” celebration and my eye twitch came raging back. Just the thought of more interruptions to my already limited instructional time massively triggered my anxiety.
During the second quarter of the school year, my anxiety was constantly triggered at work by what felt like never-ending interruptions. The entire week of Thanksgiving was a wash and so were the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The quarter ended and I had about half the number of grades I was supposed to have for my fifth graders. I felt like I was drowning, that my first year of teaching would be a failure, that I would be a failure as a teacher, that I am a failure as a teacher.
But every day I walked into school and I would see the kids’ faces light up when they saw me and hear their voices greeting me, and then the good aspects of the job and the joy would win. I’m taking more medication now, too, but the kids really were what kept me going. When you’re someone’s touchstone, and that someone is 10, it lights a hell of a metaphorical fire.
Tomorrow is the last day of Catholic School’s Week and it’s a field day. I cried on the phone with my co-teacher, telling her I’m thinking about calling in sick. But I know I couldn’t do that to my kids. If it was just kids at school, I would like my job a lot better. I can handle the kids. It’s the adults that are the problem and I don’t know if I can handle the adults tomorrow. The emotional labor we teachers extol is so consuming, that an anxious introvert like me feels completely drained by noon most days. I routinely hide in the bathroom for 15 minutes during lunch to recharge.
I just don’t have the energy to spend on adults at work who have moods and personalities. I don’t have the emotional energy left to “manage” them or “play the game” with coworkers who are old enough to be my parents. That’s the advice my coworker gave me: you have to play the game.
I honestly don’t know if I have it in me, but I will go to work tomorrow.
2019 was a year. While in the grand scheme of human history it probably won’t register as particularly significant, it was a year where womxn and femmes, and basically anyone who isn’t a cishet white man, started to find words to speak their truth. We talked about deeply traumatic experiences. We shared pain. But we also shared resiliency. So in no particular order, these are the Life Editor’s top picks for 2019.
1. “I couldn’t speak about my assault for years, until now” by Izza Malik
In an America where shootings seem to happen every other day, a deep and personal narrative describing the effects of such happens is so important. Even if you haven’t been directly involved in a shooting, the PTSD hits us all in its own way.
3. “My neighborhood believes in walls and privacy, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed a week without a wall” by Erin De Kock
Walls are made for privacy but are they hurting human compassion and sympathy? During one week without a wall in the suburbs of Johannesburg, this author discovered an entirely new side to her neighborhood. But at the end of that week, the wall went back up and the camaraderie faded. Is privacy worth it?
4. “I wish people talked more about this depression symptom” by Anushka Singh
Brain fog is a real and horrific effect of depression that doesn’t nearly get enough attention. Brain fog refers to a cluster of symptoms that affect thinking, memory and recollection. Moreover, it affects more than just those with depression. Understanding each other is the first step to making this world a better and more accepting place.
Moving from the freeform setup of college into the abyss of the unknown is terrifying for everyone. We think the real world will offer the same freedom but, instead, we take any and all jobs that will pay the rent and offers health insurance.
6. “Here’s why I’m done helping you with your white guilt” by Neha Maqsood
I have quite the cultural Christmas tradition. And the traditions change as we change locations for the holidays. Both my parents are Cuban, and have lived in Miami for decades. My dad left Cuba in 1961, and except for a brief stint in Venezuela, has lived in Miami ever since. My mom left Cuba when she was 12, and lived in Guatemala from ages 13-19. Her and her family moved to the US in 1970, except her older sister, who married a local and started a family, and stayed in Guatemala.
Nochebuena (Christmas Eve)
In the Hispanic tradition, December 24 is the “real” Christmas. It’s called Nochebuena, or “good night.” On Christmas Eve families get together for the big family celebration. In our Miami Cuban bubble, we regularly lie and invite everyone 30 minutes to an hour ahead of the planned events, but nowadays everyone has caught on, so my family invitations include what time we plan to sit down to eat, this way everyone can schedule their other family commitments.
I usually have two or three family events to make appearances at depending on how combative my mom is feeling. I prefer to start at my brother’s house because they do old school Cuban Christmas: roast pork which is made in the Caja China (Chinese box) if I’m lucky, with white rice, black beans, and fried plantains. My brothers take their pork preparations very seriously, and it shows in the finished meal. Caja China (pronounced ka-ha chee-nuh) is a box that you put the marinated whole pork into for about six hours and slow roast it. I’m not super sure how it works, but I will tell you it is one of the single greatest things ever.
Next up (if I lose the battle with my mom) is my cousin on my dad’s side’s house. They make a decent meal. It’s never my only stop so the food is a blur. But they are rowdy, and they err on the side of the “Tony Montana” Cuban. They drink a lot, play dominoes, and dance salsa.
Finally, I go to my mom’s family get together. I grew up with my cousins on my mom’s side. There are 25 of us, not counting spouses or kids. I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m also close with my mom’s siblings of which there 9 not including her or spouses. By the time I show up everyone has already eaten, and everyone is pretty tipsy. Once I’ve done the hello rounds I sit at the kid’s table (we’re all well over 20 at this point, and there’s now a new generation of kids’ table, but we will never be allowed to sit with the adults) and play whatever party games my cousins have decided to play. The games get pretty competitive, but it’s all good fun. No one in my family goes to midnight mass anymore on Christmas Eve, because that would require being sober.
In Guatemala, on Christmas Eve the women and children go to mass in the early evening. Men oftentimes have to work on Christmas Eve. After mass the women go home, and finish preparing dinner while they wait for the men to get home. For Christmas Eve my cousin has taken over the cooking of the Cuban fare, the usual spread consists of pork, congri (a rice dish where the rice and black beans are cooked together), and tostones (a different kind of fried plantains). It’s literally the best.
Once the men arrive, we all sit down to eat at the table. After dinner the kids are distracted while one of the adults grabs a garbage bag filled with presents that Santa “dumps.” At midnight the kids anxiously await the sounds of bells which signal the arrival (and departure) of Santa. They rush all over the house to find the bag of presents (kids in Guatemala, even from upper middle class families get way less gifts than kids in the US, like the all the gifts for the 3 kids in the family will fit in one garbage bag). Unlike in the US, presents are exchanged at midnight, and then everyone goes to bed.
In my family, my half-siblings come over on Christmas Day. We cater because my mom doesn’t cook, and Spanish food has become the tradition. Depending on where we order from we’ll do a platter of fried garbanzo beans (garbanzos cooked with a tomato sauce, a ton of garlic and onion, and Spanish sausage), paella (a Spanish rice dish with seafood), and arroz con pollo (Cuban rice and chicken) for me and the kids because I don’t like paella. And wine, a lot of wine. This is usually a lunch thing, and everyone is gone by mid-afternoon to go to mass, except the heathen yours truly who will occasionally end up on kid duty while the parents go to mass, which somehow lasts two to three hours.
When we’re in Guatemala for Christmas, on Christmas day we get up and go to my aunt’s house to finish the leftovers from the night before. It’s most of the same people from the night before, but it’s more low key. On the 25th everyone has let their maids go (they work the 24th), so no one is in a hurry to go destroy their own homes, and we just lounge around until someone decides it’s time to leave.
Cuban New Year’s isn’t super memorable, or different at all than regular white people NYE. However, we do eat 12 grapes at midnight, which until recently I had assumed everyone did. Now I suspect it’s just a Hispanic thing.
For a funner cultural NYE celebration let’s switch over to the holidays in Guatemala. On New Year’s Eve the same crew gets back together again. Dinner isn’t a sit down affair though this time, and a few friends of the family join in the festivities. We mostly just sit around drinking and chatting until midnight, when we eat our grapes and then go outside to light a kite-like contraption on fire and set it adrift. This usually takes a few tries, so there’s always a back up. Then we watch the entire city light up with fireworks. The younger adults and kids have an epic fireworks fight, there’s this special kind that are like wands that shoot fireball sparks out and we use those to shoot each other, until someone gets hurt or angry and then we have to stop. Funnily enough everyone buys a carton of cigarettes to light the fireworks because Guatemala City is built on and around mountains and matches would be useless. It’s also a great way to sneak a cigarette when you’re an introvert who has spent every waking moment with relatives for over a week and low key might be about to lose it.
But hands down, the best part of NYE in Guatemala is looking down at the city from the road outside my cousin’s house. They live on the outskirts of the city relatively higher up, on the side of a mountain. And you can see the city in the valley underneath just bursting with fireworks and it’s just the most amazing thing. Disney and Dubai fireworks are great, but it’s just not the same as watching an entire city light up like that.
Feast of the Three Kings
When I was a kid my parents used to celebrate the Feast of the Three Kings, or the Feast of the Epiphany. My parents didn’t get presents on Christmas growing up, and instead they got three gifts on the Feast of the Three Kings (January 6) in commemoration of the gifts the Wise Men brought Baby Jesus. So on Three Kings day my parents would set out three gifts for me in front of my mom’s favorite nativity (every surface of my parents’ house is covered in nativity scenes), and in the morning before school I would open them. I’m not entirely sure when we stopped doing this, but probably around the time I graduated high school. To this day, though, if I need something around that time of the year, my mom will be like “ok esta bien, para los Reyes Magos” (ok fine, for the Three Kings).
That is my Hispanic holiday cocktail. It’s incredible and I wouldn’t change a thing.
I had a full-blown breakdown at the ripe old age of 26. I had just finished graduate school. I had just moved back to my parents house. I was 26. I had absolutely 0 job prospects. I had absolutely no fucking idea what I was going to do with my life. Luckily I had saved a little bit of money and could afford to live for a few months before I became destitute and/or financially reliant on my (elderly) parents.
But the emotional toll of everything that had been going on in my life during graduate school caught up with me once I got home. My department in grad school was ridiculously toxic. And at that point in my life I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain what was wrong. I didn’t develop that vocabulary for several months, almost a year.
So I did the only thing I could think of. I started to write a blog. It wasn’t my first blog. I’ve had a few blogs over the years; most recently I wrote about my experiences as an expatriate in Qatar while I was in school.
[bctt tweet=”I had a full blown breakdown at the ripe old age of 26.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I had also recently completed a graduate thesis that had turned out to be a horrific, embarrassing mess. And for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how I could have done a better job. Because even after 12 years of grade school, 5 1/2 years of undergraduate schooling, and 2 years of graduate school I had never had any real editorial feedback.
To make matters worse, I’ve got a bit of an ego about my writing. So when my thesis turned out to be a horrible, embarrassing mess, my ego took a hell of a hit.
This, coupled with the fact that I want to write professionally for a living eventually, really made me reevaluate my life. Where could I go professionally from here?
Cue total breakdown.
So I started writing a blog, and in my head it was the kind of wisdom I wished I could pass on to my teenaged nieces. If only they cared.
On a good day I would get double digit views on a post. But I told myself the point of writing wasn’t for page views, I was writing to work on my craft and to develop the discipline I very clearly lacked.
Little did I know that one day a friend of mine would refer a friend of his to my little blog (his friend being Laila, CEO of the Tempest) and that she would read my blog, let alone like it enough to invite me to take on a fellowship with the Tempest.
[bctt tweet=” I told myself the point of writing wasn’t for page views.” username=”wearethetempest”]
And that’s how I found myself doing yet another unpaid internship at the ripe old age of 27. But let me tell you, I’m so glad I did. For the first time in my life I can feel my writing improving. I’ve got editors that will tell me what works and what doesn’t, and why. I’m encouraged to develop my own voice, find my own little niche in the world and kick the hell out of it. After barely 6 months, I’ve found a sense of purpose in my writing that I’ve never felt before.
But even more powerful, I’ve found a community of ass-kicking female writers that are changing the world. So while I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve been able to produce during this editorial fellowship, I’m most proud of being a part of the Tempest community.
Quandary: a state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation
Maybe in some countries expats stick around for a few decades, but in the Arab Gulf, expats tend to have a pretty high turnover rate. Because everyone is here on work contracts, the chances of the both of you being in the same place for an extended period of time is pretty slim.
I moved to Doha, Qatar in August 2013 for a two-year graduate program. While most of my friends turned out to be from my same graduating class, my closest friends weren’t people I met my first semester. The friendships that I made early on actually crashed and burned pretty quickly, almost one after the other. There’s a reason for that saying about candles that burn brightest burn fastest. But I learned a hard lesson about friendships and intimacy that semester.
Most of us who have lived in the same place our whole lives only make new friends sporadically, whenever we enter a new environment like a new school or a new job. Otherwise we tend to have the same friends for long periods of time with little change to the status quo.
[bctt tweet=” I quickly learned to filter what came out of my mouth around new people. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
But when you move abroad to a new place without knowing a single soul, the impulse to befriend a new bestie can be overpowering the moment you meet a cool new person. Except you literally know nothing about them, and first impressions can be really deceiving.
So I quickly learned to filter what came out of my mouth around new people. To not impulsively tell them my entire life story within the first 24 hours of friendship. To not spill all my deepest, darkest secrets in one night of delirious bonding.
It’s too easy to see only the rainbows and butterflies in the first few days of friendship, because the dark sides of our personalities only come out later. When you’re tired, when you’re stressed out, when you’re having a bad day. By that point it’s too late to take back all your secrets. To detach emotionally without any lasting damage.
[bctt tweet=”Most of us who’ve lived in the same place only make friends sporadically.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Which brings us back to our quandary; whether or not it’s worthwhile to invest in new friendships that are inherently temporary.
So far, the best solution I’ve been able to come up with is to pace myself. I’m super, insanely sensitive and I really only give all the fucks or none at all. But living the expat life has forced me to give only a few fucks early on in a new friendship, to pace myself emotionally so I don’t become too invested in someone before really knowing their character. Because not having any social interaction outside of work is not just incredibly boring, but also very, very unhealthy.
[bctt tweet=”Not having social interactions outside work is not just boring, but unhealthy.” username=”wearethetempest”]
And, inevitably, once someone’s final exit arrives, you promise to stay in touch and visit. You know that most likely won’t happen, but you accept that the promises are empty, yet necessary rituals.
Then you let go, opening up that space in your heart for the next person.
In the old days, it used to be that when you died, your family posted a statement in the paper or there was an announcement made at Sunday services. But in today’s world, where social media has made basically every part of our lives available for public consumption, the boundaries of proper etiquette have yet to be determined.
[bctt tweet=”The last thing someone mourning needs to see are randoms thirsting for gossip.” username=”wearethetempest”]
My friend was sick, but she never let on just how sick. I thought she was going to make a full recovery, until I got call from a mutual friend to let me know otherwise. For the next few days I obsessively combed social media for any information that I might have missed, anything that could tell me what was going on with her. It was an exercise in futility, and I gleaned no new information.
Then news came that she had passed. Those who were told were asked to please not spread the word, at least not until the rest of her family could be notified.
Within an hour of her death people were racing to post ‘heartfelt’ statuses on Facebook about her. People who readily admitted they barely knew her. The bandwagon-ass mourners filled me with a rage I used to further suppress any feelings I might have. I would read post after post from people who obviously knew nothing about her, and yet for some reason felt they should comment publicly on her life.
[bctt tweet=”There needs to be a window of time for those grieving to be able to mourn in privacy.” username=”wearethetempest”]
This felt especially distasteful given the fact that she had never publicly spoken about her illness. She had a rather sizable social media following, so the fact that she chose to never share the fact that she was sick would seem indicative that she didn’t want people talking about it. So it feels that much more inappropriate that in the hours after her death people were so eager to post about it.
[bctt tweet=”The bandwagon-ass mourners filled me with rage.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Now it’s one thing to post prayer requests, and a completely different thing when people you barely know are posting commentary on your death for public consumption. Why do we feel compelled as a society to instantly comment on the passing of another human being? I can understand a loved one posting on the social media to disseminate information, but again that’s not the same as a random stranger you’re friends with on social media blowing up your loved ones timelines with ‘condolences.’
So when is it appropriate to start posting condolences on social media?
There needs to be a window of time for those grieving to be able to mourn in privacy, without having to worry about social media prompts for comments. The last thing someone mourning the loss of a love needs to see is a bunch of randoms thirsting for gossip asking ‘what happened? sad face’. I also feel that flooding someone in mourning’s feed with posts about their loved one who has very recently passed is not necessarily the most helpful. We all deserve the time and space to mourn our loved ones when they pass, and this includes social media. This is particularly true for acquaintances and distant relatives, who will feel the pain less keenly than those closest to the person who has passed, and therefore wouldn’t need as much time to process what happened.
When did social media make death available for public consumption?
At the ripe old age of 27.5 I can honestly say I like myself. I’m a great hang. Me and myself have great convos. I never judge myself for how much I eat (I’m a secret eater because everyone else does). There is nothing I enjoy more than a whole day with nowhere to be and no one to talk to.
[bctt tweet=” I felt like my life was stagnating. I spent a full weekend in mourning. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
When I was about to turn 27 I had a mini-crisis. I felt like my life was stagnating. I spent a full weekend in mourning. 26 felt like youth, 27 felt like adulthood in a way that was uncomfortably final. But after some time in deep thought, I came to the conclusion that I don’t have any regrets. Sure I’ve made mistakes but I’ve tried to learn from each and every one. And I like the direction my life is going in.
[bctt tweet=” I don’t regret having anxiety. I feel like it’s a been a huge factor in making me who I am.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I’ve come to a similar conclusion about my anxiety. So while I think optimally I would have a prescription for emergencies, and regular therapy, I don’t regret having anxiety. I feel like it’s a been a huge factor in making me who I am today. And present day me is enough. I like her.
1. Having anxiety has made me super responsible
I’m not the only person who checks twenty times if they locked the car, or if their keys are in their bag. When your brain gets stuck replaying a specific thought on loop, you learn to do whatever it takes to avoid that. For me that means having little rituals to avoid thinking, and therefore avoid panicking.
[bctt tweet=”I’m not the only person who checks twenty times if they locked the car.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I have morning rituals so I don’t have to think when I need to be out of the house in a certain time frame. I google things before I do them for the first time so I don’t get overwhelmed by variables. I keep lists now that I’m an adult. I put things in the same place every time. I stick to my routines. I’m constructive.
2. I’ve learned to redirect my thoughts
Mind over matter, motherfuckasss.
I’ve learned to focus my thoughts by organizing them according to: (1) what do I have to do, (2) what am I doing now, and (3) did I do what I had to do. Once I know I did that thing I had to do, that’s it, that thought is gone. I don’t waste energy on what-ifs. Because I tried my best. I try to be present and constructive in all things. I’ve learned to blast music to derail a thought train.
[bctt tweet=”I’ve learned to blast music to derail a thought train.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I’ve learned to turn on an episode of a sitcom I can quote word for word to silence my head before bed. I’ve learned that prayer and yoga aren’t the only forms of meditation, something a simple as a cigarette on a clear day can be incredibly centering. If my anxiety is like having a thought stuck on loop, then I try to whatever I can to find the ‘next’ button.
3. I’ve learned to be my own advocate
As a result of trying to live with an anxiety disorder I’ve had to learn to defend myself in an effort to stay sane. I’ve had to learn to stand up for myself and defend my needs as valid. I’ve learned to communicate my needs, as opposed to bottling everything up like I used to. I’ve learned to articulate what my boundaries are, and defend them. So, now when I have a bad anxiety day, I can tell someone, “Hey, sorry I went off the grid, bad anxiety day,” and most of the time they get it. A lot of people struggle with anxiety, so they can empathize.
[bctt tweet=”Womp womp. I still tried my best, and that’s good enough for me.” username=”wearethetempest”]
But every so often someone will be insensitive, and in those instances it’s hard to stand up for yourself. Ultimately, I don’t owe anyone anything. I’m very much upfront with everyone in my life that I try my best. Sometimes my best isn’t good enough.
Womp womp. I still tried my best, and that’s good enough for me.
So I got a job in Saudi Arabia, and I’m set to fly out next week. This time around, I’m determined not to waste my money or energy by taking a bunch of unnecessary things with me. When I moved to Qatar three years ago, I took two huge pieces of luggage filled with so many things that, turns out, I didn’t need. I took everything – clothes, shoes, makeup, and hair stuff, but I ended up buying a whole new wardrobe while I was there anyway. This was due to the fact that there’s nothing better to do in Qatar than shop, the stuff I found in stores was much more to my taste than the stuff I find in the States (not to mention fit better), and the stuff I took was in anticipation of a lifestyle that didn’t pan out.
When I moved back, I ended up having to leave behind most of the stuff I had brought with me. A lot of stuff got donated to Syrian refugees – and I still ended up paying so much money in luggage fees that I literally to this day refuse to think about it. So this time around, I’m going to be smart. I’m only taking stuff I know I’ll need – like Cuban coffee and black long-sleeve shirts. I know that I’ll buy whatever I need (and a bunch of stuff I don’t) once I’m there, so there’s no point in me lugging stuff back to the Middle East.
So, without further ado, here are the ten staples that are going with me to the Middle East – and will probably go with me everywhere.
One word: layers. Plus they look great with an abaya – which, in case you’re unfamiliar with the term, is basically a duster that all women have to wear in public areas in Saudi. I like them mostly because I can wear them under the long skirts I have to wear to work. I hate wearing skirts of any length, because I hate the feeling of my legs touching (I have to wear pants to sleep for the same reason). So these are an integral part of the fight against chub rub. And in the event it’s cold inside the office and/or outside, they will also serve the additional function of keeping me warm. Leggings are just a wonderful, multi-functional gift from heaven.
2. Crew neck tees
First of all, they’re super modest. The only thing more modest than a crew neck is a turtleneck – which I also adore, but is not really a common look in warm climates. A crew neck is very much on trend this season, and I’ve also learned that a v-neck looks weird with an abaya. Therefore, I’m taking assorted crew necks that I can either wear on their own or layered with leggings and an abaya to go out. Ain’t nothing more classic, chill, and cool than leggings with a crew neck tee and an open abaya.
3. Long-sleeve black shirts
My work uniform is supposedly a long-sleeve shirt with a loose, ankle-length skirt. A friend of mine who knows the drill because she used also to teach English at a Foundation Program told me that because the university I’m going to be teaching at is very, very conservative (even by Saudi standards), she suspects everyone will be wearing black head to toe. In certain circles, even color is apparently too risque – even when the place you’ll work is completely gender-segregated. But whatever, I don’t even care, because I love black. You can never go wrong with black. Black is always the new black.
4. Maxi dresses
Even though everything is basically gender-segregated in Saudi, there are some people who think that a woman wearing pants is Islamically forbidden. Ironically, these people are mostly expats, and I don’t know whether my roommates will be one of them. As far as I know, it’s supposed to be 1-2 women with either US, UK, Canadian, or Australian passports. So just in case they are more conservatively inclined, I’m taking a maxi dress with me that I can layer over or under different pieces to create different looks. I plan on buying whatever I need, but I’d like to have a few bases covered upon arrival, you know, just in case.
Same word as before: layers. I love a good knit; they’re a lifesaver when it gets really cold at night in the desert climate. Also, it’s not like I can put a jacket on top (or under) an abaya. You can wear a few layers under a good knit, and when you throw on an abaya over it, you don’t look bulky. There’s just something about that combination of cotton and polyester that works to keep you warm without expanding your body size.
It’s the same reason I’m also taking a fleece – even with my very public hatred of synthetic fabrics. Fleece is a wonderful thing in drier climates, unlike in humid af Miami, where you need breathable fabrics.
6. The basic abaya
As opposed to my trendy abayas – of which I have several. I hadn’t even expected to take my plain abaya to Saudi, but my friend who I mentioned before informed me that the expat women are really not into the fashionable abayas and wear cheap, old ones all the time. This is the polar opposite of what I was expecting, because I love abayas, and I was super excited to wear them all the time. She also, in the same vein, told me that abayas aren’t allowed at work!
Cue sadness – I’m leaving my cute floral custom-made one at home. I have to try on the other two to see if either of them even close (I always wore mine open in Doha), because I get the feeling an open abaya won’t fly in too many circles in Riyadh. Jeddah maybe, but not Riyadh.
7. Workout pants
But not any shirts. I plan on getting a gym membership as soon as I land. Workout pants are expensive everywhere, but I imagine especially so in Saudi. Somehow I don’t think activewear is going to be particularly widely available or affordable in one of the world’s most obese countries. So I’m going to pack a few pairs to take with me – considering the fact that that clothes dryers aren’t a thing in the Gulf, I’m not going to be doing laundry twice a week just to make sure I have pants to work out.
8. Baking soda
I have super sensitive skin, and I don’t expect to have access to a clothes dryer, so baking soda is more than just a great fabric softener alternative – it’s a necessity. Also, I know I should know this by now, but I don’t know if the water in Riyadh is desalinated (like in Qatar) or regular old processed groundwater. If it is in fact desalinated, baking soda is a must for laundry.
Plus, it does a bunch of other stuff too, like deodorization (remember the gym pants?). And for some reason, baking soda is not available in various sizes at every supermarket like you would expect. I have absolutely no idea why.
La llave all day. I don’t really get homesick when I’m abroad, because the longest I’ve been away up until now has been like five months. But I always, always, always take my coffee with me. It’s a taste of home that is easily transportable and weighs next to nothing. Much to my delight, what I had mistakenly assumed as Cuban coffee makers were actually Italian stove-top coffee makers (lol) – which are readily available all over the world! So, I can take my vacuum packed grounds with me and just buy the stove-top coffee maker when I get there. Voila, a taste of home. Plus they last forever since they’re vacuum sealed.
10. Burt’s Bees Baby Oil
The humidity in Miami right now is in the 80’s. That means that when you step foot outside in the air, it feels like a solid mass. It’s literally hard to breathe. When I checked the weather in Riyadh, the humidity said 15%. I would say my skin is on the dry side normally, I honestly don’t even know how having lived only in humid af climates (Doha is on the coast too).
So, I’m bracing myself for my skin to go a little cray upon arrival. I have friends who live in Riyadh that lather themselves in oils. I know people who put vaseline on their face. But given that I’m allergic to most products on the market, I’m taking my naturally sourced baby oil and hope it lasts long enough until I figure a new, locally sourced, skin care regimen.
Also: here are my honorable mentions – the babies that I’ll be leaving behind.
1. All of my shoes
Most of my shoes are on their last limb at this point. For the better part of the last year, I’ve been hesitant to buy new stuff because I didn’t know whether I was staying in Miami or going to Riyadh. And because I went on a shoe bender at Zara in Doha, I basically had a bunch of new shoes when I came back home. With no social life, it’s not like I needed new ones, and most of the stuff I saw in stores didn’t tempt me enough to shell out for more.
[bctt tweet=”I’m not going to waste the space or weight luggage allowance on shoes. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
I’m not going to waste the space or weight luggage allowance on shoes. I’ve already made that mistake once, and shoes are the single thing I loathe to pack the most. The one exception? I’m taking a monster (seriously like 7″) pair of black suede wedges with me, and I don’t care that wedges are out and block heels are in. I refuse to leave them behind, because I couldn’t wear them in Miami (you can’t wear suede when it rains 300 days a year), and I love them so much.
2. My scarf collection
In Saudi Arabia, scarves are worn on your head, not around your neck, and the scarves on your head are almost without exception all solid black. I have one black shayla that’s meant to be used as a hijab (which reminds me, I need to dig around for it in my closet, cause I haven’t seen it in a minute). I’m taking that just in case, because although I don’t expect to cover my hair, I’ve worn a scarf over my face and felt the heady allure of complete, culturally appropriate anonymity.
[bctt tweet=”I’ll take one – okay three with me – for when I travel. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
Sadly, the other gazillion scarves I’ve accumulated over the years will have to stay behind. I’ll take one – okay three with me – for when I travel. Okay, and one more for my carry-on for the flight.
3. Nail polish
One time, I almost had to toss all my OPI nail polish when I had a layover in London. I had accidentally forgotten to pack it into my bag, and for some reason decided to stick them all in my carry on. At almost $10 a pop, I don’t have to tell you how much that hurt. Luckily the crisis was averted, but I learned several lessons that day.
Another lesson I learned was that nail polish weighs so much.
[bctt tweet=”One time, I almost had to toss all my OPI nail polish when I had a layover in London.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I have since gifted most of my nail polish to my middle-school aged nieces. Why? Though I love having my nails painted, I’ve made the decision that I will go to the salon and get a manicure when I want them painted. I will not be taking a bunch of bottles of nail polish with me. A bottle of OPI costs like $20 in Qatar, and I don’t think it’s going to be much cheaper in Saudi – if you can find it at all. I haven’t really inquired about the nail polish situation on the ground, because it’s not like salons are hard to come by in Riyadh.
4. Anything polyester
Don’t get me started on polyester. Synthetic fabrics are the worst. They make you sticky in the heat, and they’re useless in the cold. I’m not wasting luggage space synthetics. It’s bad enough that abayas are basically all made out of polyester. You can can barely survive triple digit heat in polyester – particularly if you loathe sweat stains.
And I can’t imagine one single person that doesn’t hate sweat stains. Plus, once the weather cools, they’ll be useless to ward off the cold.
5. My anxiety
Moving is stressful. Leaving your loved ones behind is stressful. Getting a visa to Saudi Arabia is very stressful. So all of these things together have been giving me a lot of anxiety lately. But I’m determined to focus only on positive energy. I know that everything is what you make of it, and I’m determined to make the most out of this move.
[bctt tweet=”Moving is stressful. Leaving your loved ones behind is stressful. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
I’m going to have so many new adventures this year. Lugging around a crap ton of clothes I’ll never wear is not going to be one of them.
It started yesterday, I usually only get the stomach-clenching anxiety in the morning/early afternoon. But last night it was dark outside and I could feel the stomach-clenching rolling in. ‘How odd’, I thought to myself, ‘I never get that at this time.’ I felt a tinge bit more anxiety around bedtime (like 1am-ish) than usual, so I took something extra to make sure I got a good night’s rest.
[bctt tweet=”On a good day, I only play two to three episodes. Today I went through seven. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
I’m not sure when I woke up the first time, but sometime around 7 am I turned over and played the next episode of Parks & Rec. I repeated this, I estimate, every hour. Until I was almost done with season 7 and had to go back and play an episode from season 6. On a good day, I only play two to three episodes. Today I went through seven.
That means I woke up seven times, clicked play the next episode, and tried to fall back asleep.
By noon I gave up and checked my phone. Bad idea. Because I got some unpleasant news. The staffing company won’t move up my departure flight to Saudi Arabia so I’m stuck in Miami for another 12 days. This might seem like nothing to you, but to me, who has been waiting for months now for the paperwork to come through and already started saying goodbyes expecting to leave any day now, twelve days seems like an eternity.
[bctt tweet=” Slowly, the anxiety, in the physical form of nausea, is building.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Then I get out of bed and go do my ablutions while skimming social media. Slowly, the anxiety, in the physical form of nausea, is building. I’m trying to ignore it. I know I don’t actually have to throw up. But it becomes too hard to ignore. I give in, all I want is for nausea to go away. So I go back to the bathroom gag a few times.
But I don’t hit the spot. And I’m still nauseous.
I go do some other stuff. But nausea keeps building. This time coupled with stomach cramps. And I don’t have any Coke in the house. Usually, that’s my go-to bad day remedy, so it feels like I’m going to battle today with one less weapon in my arsenal.
[bctt tweet=”Find something that will bring me a primal joy. And wait.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I finally give in again. I go back to the bathroom, I turn on the extractor and the tap so my dad doesn’t have to hear me vomit, but I secretly hope he does, so he feels a little bit of sympathy because I already know he can’t empathize.
I have a posture I’ve perfected. I take off my glasses, I bend my front knee and place my left foot a few feet back, I brace my right arm against the tile of the wall in front of me and pull the hatch. I’m still not hitting the spot. So I use my toothbrush. This gets the ball rolling. I have nothing in my stomach, so the most that comes out is some foam. So it’s not so bad really. But this does the trick, and the stomach cramps start to fade.
[bctt tweet=” I wonder how I’m going to get anything done today. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
I go back to my room, and I wait for the next panic attack. Because by now I know that round 3 is imminent. And I wonder how I’m going to get anything done today. This only makes the stomach-clenching come back. Now nausea has hit significant levels again. And the stomach cramps are becoming painful. But I know it’s all psychosomatic.
Except that doesn’t help.
And now I have a sharp pain in my chest, the one that sometimes has caused me to wonder if I’m having a heart attack. In real time I’m debating going back for round 3. I’ll do anything to make this go away. I’m giving in. Be right back.
I’ve turned some kind of corner now, it feels like the anxiety is moving north. I feel overwhelming sadness, as opposed to the physical symptoms of a few minutes ago. I want to cry. But mostly I’m just over all of this. I’m tired of the panic attacks. I’m tired of carrying a plastic bag in my purse in case of emergencies. I’m tired of feeling stuck.
[bctt tweet=”I’ll do anything to make this go away. I’m giving in. Be right back.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I look at the clock, it’s almost 2 pm. I’ve got a little more than an hour left of this. Usually by 3 pm, something shifts and the anxiety starts to recede. It’s like some kind of magic hour.
So for the next hour, I’m going to figure out some way to indulge myself. Find something that will bring me a primal joy. And wait.
It’s now 3:32.
I don’t feel any physical symptoms. Now it’s more of a fundamental uselessness. I literally cannot do anything right now. I know this is just a phase too. If I play my cards right I’ll be able to start getting shit done soon.
I think putting my phone on airplane mode hit the spot.
Growing up as a Cuban in Miami, slash Cuba 2.0, I lived in a little bubble. I never knew that there was a whole other narrative to the ‘icon’ that is Che Guevara. I only knew him as someone whose name was always followed by the word asesino. Not until I was in high school did I meet my first Argentinian wearing a Che shirt, and the wordvomit came spilling out.
I asked him, super offended, why on earth he was wearing that shirt. The kid clearly knowing as little about my people’s cultural baggage re: Che as I knew about his was equally offended by me, and replied with something like they were both Argentinian.
A few years later my younger cousin, product of my two most liberal relatives, half-Italian but raised in Miami, went off to Brown University. My mother often refers to that branch of the family as practically communist. So when he told me about how he literally ripped a Che poster off the wall at school I was shocked, but also proud.
One time in college, a couple of friends and I were going to do a group costume for Halloween. It was like a Lara Croft thing I think. One girl in the group, who I had known since freshman year of high school and who knew my family (and had spoken extensively to my dad about the Cuban revolution), gave me the heads up that she was going to be Che. I told her I would not appreciate that. She did it anyway. That was the end of our friendship.
I tell you these stories in hopes that you, dear reader, can have a little context for the very visceral reaction a group of people have when the subject of Che comes up. Because, you see, he’s become something of a pop culture icon, again, in the last 10-15 years. And while I know that most of the world will never know about the atrocities he committed in Cuba to Cubans, I can ask you, very politely, to please not ever speak of the subject in my presence.
So in order to both help you and I avoid an uncomfortable situation, here are three things you should consider before you start talking about Che:
1. Who am I talking to?
Do I know this person’s nationality? More importantly, do I know if they are specifically Argentinian or Cuban? Now if they’re Cuban, are they Cuban in exile or not? Because if they, or their ancestors, consider themselves to be refugees in exile, it’s better if you just don’t talk about him at all. There are many other things you can talk about. Just move on to the next thing.
Even if they’re the most liberal person you know, if they identify as part of the Cuban exile, even if they identify a pro-democratic socialism and a Bernie or Bust, better to leave it alone.
Talk about something else.
2. What do they already know about Che?
Again, if they’re not Cuban they probably have a very specific, media-taught narrative about who Che was and what kinds of things he did. And even if they are Cuban, you can usually tell pretty easily if they’re pro-Revolution or not. There are pretty obvious signs, like where they live.
If they don’t live in Cuba, and haven’t for a long time, chances are they’re anti-Revolution. If they’re anti-Revolution they’re definitely anti-Che. If you’re still not sure if the Cuban in front of you is pro or anti-Revolution, try asking them when they left Cuba. Anything before 1990 is almost definitely anti, if they’re doctors sent abroad to work by the government more likely to be pro.
3. Do I care about this person and their feelings?
Like everything in life, people are going to have different facts, experiences, and opinions. I know that most people think differently about Che than this small (but mighty!) group of people that are the Cuban exile. What I would like for you to consider before you broach this subject, and all others really, is whether or not you care about how the other person you’re speaking to is going to feel about what you’re saying. When people talk about Che in my presence, most of the time I don’t engage.
I’m not going to waste my energy on battling a myth. We live in a post-factual society and I have better things to do with my time. If you can’t be bothered to read facts, that’s on you. But I would appreciate it if you didn’t speak about subjects that literally will fill me with a blinding rage in my presence. I don’t think that’s asking for too much.
You can tell what kind of day I’m having by what I drink first thing. Most days a year I make myself Cuban coffee, first thing in the morning. I have a morning ritual that I stick to. I believe it does the double duty of helping both my anxiety and my ADD.
I don’t usually drink that coffee right away, which is probably a good thing since my morning coffee is 3-4 shots of espresso and a few ounces of milk. I sip it over the course of the morning, and by the time I finish it it’s ice cold. But I don’t care because it’s still delicious.
Then there are other mornings, mornings like today when I pray we have at least one can of Coke in the house. That’s an integral part of my ‘bad anxiety day’ ritual. For some reason, sometimes water is too harsh for my stomach. So when the water I already drank, not knowing this is one of those times, comes back up. I go straight to the kitchen and fill a glass all the way up with ice, wipe down a can of Coke Zero (or 2, tbh), and fill ‘er up. There’s something about the gas in the Coke that helps with nausea.
It also feels decadent af to drink a Coke for breakfast. I honestly couldn’t tell you why it works, but on bad days, this simple ritual helps me almost snap out of it. Whatever it is.
Because by the time I’m done with my Coke, I’m back to the center. Or at least on the way there, as opposed to on the way to a full nervous breakdown.
There are so many little things that can make all the difference when it comes to dealing with a bad anxiety day. Being aware of them might either help you directly or help you know what to do if someone you love has anxiety issues.
1. Therapy is expensive, and sometimes, your therapist is not helpful.
First off, I tried therapy. I went to the only therapist I could afford. And he was not very helpful. Usually, I would unpack whatever breakthroughs I had during our sessions on my own in between sessions. A lot of these breakthroughs happened when he was ranting about something that I fundamentally disagreed with, and I would get really riled up. I’d also be completely unwilling to engage on the subject. So I would just sit there thinking while he ranted.
When we got to the point where my deeper issues (and I’m very aware of what they are) needed to be addressed, I knew he wasn’t the person to guide me through that, plus he literally laughed in my face when I told him about a realization I had had. And that was the end of that.
I’m not saying I’m done with therapy forever, but I know that it’s not in the cards for me right now. At least not until I can afford to shop around until I find a woman with a similar world view to me, and with whom I can feel comfortable.
2. Sometimes I want to talk to you about it, and I just want you to listen.
Talking about my anxiety, no matter how nonchalant a tone I use, makes people uncomfortable.
Sometimes people get weirdly defensive about it. Like I’m accusing them of making me anxious. And though that might be true sometimes (offending relatives know who they are), most of the time it’s several factors that cause a panic attack.
I just wish that when I’m having a bad anxiety day, that it isn’t weird for me to text someone, “omg I’m having such a bad anxiety day,” and have that person respond casually back, “omg those are the worst.” So often, simply talking about things makes such a pretty big difference. I don’t want you to be all extra – just a casual conversation here and there would really help.
3. It affects every part of my life.
In the last year, my anxiety has really taken a turn for the worse. My panic attacks symptoms are also really physical. Most people get some combination of heart palpitations and trouble breathing, but I have heart palpitations on the regular (which now might actually be a thyroid thing, so cause TBD) and I have never been able to breathe at the same capacity as other people (thanks allergies!).
So, when I started throwing up every morning while simultaneously breaking out into a cold sweat and having horrible stomach cramps right when I had to leave the house, it didn’t instantly click that it was an anxiety-induced panic attack. Or like when my skin suddenly became extremely sensitive, so much so that I can’t go into a pool anymore and I think I might have developed eczema, I didn’t realize it was probably anxiety-induced.
It also takes so much energy to get myself back to neutral, that I oftentimes don’t have the energy leftover for human interactions. So if you don’t see me for a while, it’s not because I’m a jerk. It’s because I ran out of energy tending to myself, and now I don’t have the energy to interact with you.
Note: this is also probably more of an issue for introverts, as opposed to extroverts who are energized by interacting with others.
4. So many people have it but don’t realize it.
I do believe anxiety has a genetic component. But like everything, nature and nurture both play a part. In my culture-slash-DNA pool, the women are all anxious af. Except instead of calling it anxiety, they call it other things. Like the old women are referred to as “miedosas“ or fearful. Working-aged women, especially those raising children, are referred to as having gone crazy or hysterical.
Younger women (read: single and childless like yours truly), are usually labeled as either weird or weak. “Se ahogan en un vaso de agua,“ (they drown in a glass of water), as my mom always says.
I want to shake them. All of them.
Shout from the rooftops: “You’re/She’s NOT crazy! You/She have/has ANXIETY!”
We have such an obsession with medicating every tiny illness in our lives, we talk about our bowel movements like it’s no big deal, but somehow mental health is like a joke? It’s a scam? No.
It’s super important and super real.
5. You can’t control my narrative.
This might have been my most difficult lesson to learn. I had to learn to stop others from telling me what is at the root of my anxiety. I had to stop letting others tell me what my problem is. I had to learn to control my own narrative. To turn that monologue into a dialogue. I had to learn to say, “you can’t tell me why I feel like this, only I can determine that.” Taking control of my anxiety narrative was a huge breakthrough for me.
Anxiety is deeply personal. What causes it can be anything from circumstances in your life, to a chemical imbalance, to genetics. Only I can unpack my past in order to best understand my triggers. And triggers change all the time.
Just realizing that I had an anxiety issue was a huge step for me. It felt like the clouds parted when I did.
Gone are the days of decent Cuban restaurants on every corner. The old guard of authentic Cuban restaurants, run by Cubans, with Cuban chefs in the cooking in the kitchen, and waiters in vests and bowties officially belong to a bygone era. At some point, all the old places I grew up going to either closed down, or were sold and reopened under new management.
All of a sudden, all the Cuban food was being made my Central Americans. And it wasn’t the same. But the tide has changed again, thank God. And a new generation of Cubans have entered the restaurant business.
I take my Cuban food very seriously, so I’ve dedicated a lot of time and energy scoping out authentic Cuban food throughout the city. None of this overpriced, mediocre stuff that they shill out to tourists and others who don’t know any better. None of the fake fancy gourmet fusion stuff. I want real, authentic Cuban cuisine. And now I’m going to tell you where to get it.
What’s best: the batido de mamey (mamey milkshake), the pan con lechón, and the ropa vieja. Overall it’s the best place to buy authentic Cuban food, and you know it’s legit because it’s all counter-service. There is a direct correlation between how good a Cuban restaurant is and how many tables it has. This one only has tables outside, and no table service. In the last couple of years it’s become a chain, but the best food is still at the original on Flagler & 57th Avenue.
What’s best: the cortadito (Cuban coffee with a little milk). The food at this La Carreta is pretty decent. Just don’t ever buy the croquetas, they’re disgustingly terrible. But what I like the most about this place is standing in the coffee window and ordering a cafecito for here.
When the weather drops in the winter (it didn’t at all last year), they sell Cuban hot chocolate. Which is basically regular hot chocolate with condensed milk added. It’s basically crack. If you want to level up your game though, try mixing your coffee of your choice with the hot chocolate. You’ll thank me later.
What’s best: the fresh Cuban bread. In this bakery you have to walk straight into the back and get the bread straight out of the oven yourself. It’s already in the paper wrapper Cuban bread comes in, so you’re not touching it with your bare hands. But this is literally the freshest bread in town.
Unfortunately you basically need to eat it immediately, because like all authentic Cuban bread, it will be hard as a rock in a few hours. The trick to storing the bread and keeping it soft is to put it inside two plastic bags, making sure to get all the air out, and then storing it in the microwave.
What’s best: the pastelito de guayaba (guava pastries). I take my pastelitos de guayaba seriously af. I won’t eat them from most bakeries. I’m that much of a snob. I have also been known to take the top layer of pastry off to compensate for the lack of guayaba.
But the first time I saw a tray of pastries from this bakery it felt like the heavens parted. It had been almost 20 years since I’d seen something so beautiful. Guayaba was oozing out of them. It was glorious. And then on a separate occasion I had the croquetas de jamon and they were pretty good too. Not the best I’ve ever had, but again I’m a snob
What’s best: fried pork rinds. This place used to be home to the best pan con lechon in town. But then some new person bought it and off course messed with a good thing. You know this place is super legit because they don’t have a menu. They just have markings on the tile of the counter showing you what size the sandwiches are. They still have great sandwiches, the pan con lechon was pretty good last time I went.
What they are best at is, hands down, their pork rinds. I refuse to eat the stuff that comes in a bag at the grocery store because I can’t figure out what they are. But the stuff at this place is so good, it’s literally making my mouth water just thinking about it.
What’s best: the fritas (if your stomach can handle them, they’re basically hamburgers with Cuban sausage mixed in), or the bowls. This is one of the new innovations in Cuban cuisine that I don’t hate. These guys took the model of Chicken Kitchen and applied it to Cuban food.
As for the quality of the food, it’s super cheap, the way Cuban food should be. I can honestly say the food at this place is super legit. They also have several locations across town, and even at the airport.
What’s best: tostones. This is one of the last old school Cuban restaurants still around today, that isn’t a tourist trap. The place has looked exactly the same my whole life. And it’s nowhere near as tacky as Versailles. And the food is super legit. It’s the only sit-down Cuban restaurant with table service that I’ll actually willingly eat at.
Yes, I am that obnoxious. When out-of-towners ask for a restaurant recommendation, this is what I always say. The food has been consistently good since forever. You can’t go wrong with Habana Vieja.
Honestly, the food is adequate at best and the bakery is terrible.But Versailles is the place to be from 2:00-3:30AM on Friday and Saturday nights for the rowdy AF, straight from the club, middle-aged crowd that will have you laughing so hard you cry. I know, because I’ve literally cried from laughing so hard at the antics I overheard.
Also, early morning or after lunch is the best time to stop by the coffee window to observe the OG regulars conferencing and solving the world’s problems.
What’s best: the breakfast which is available all day. Cuban breakfast is usually some combination of eggs, Cuban bread toast, coffee, and OJ. This is probably the best Cuban breakfast in town and for a great price. It’s also a great place to eat at on your way back from the beach.
I think it’s meant to be a lunch/sandwich place for people who work in the area. But I don’t personally know anyone who goes there and doesn’t order the breakfast.
I actually can’t think of anyone I know having ever ordered anything but the breakfast here. That’s how legendary it is.