Worlds Apart

Kayla Blau

Numbers bear weight. In Palestine and Israel, the digits “48” hold war-streaked windows to the lives permanently devastated by their wake. “67” casts a shadow on land stolen and treaties broken, a human story that lives and grieves on nearly every continent. In Jordan, the desert sun beats history to a pulp – occupations and land seizures and scar tissue from last century’s ruling party stand solid in the face of present-day. Castles from 1142 CE, ancient cities from 1.5 million BC, whole civilizations commemorated in stone. Numbers. The earth will never bear such a weight for so long again. 

Indigenous leaders and young people remind us of this and we nod in agreement, drive to work, catch a flight, rightfully groan that the true culprits are corporate greed, capitalism, and their love child of mass fossil fuel emissions, and blink away. Numbers; the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2)​​​​​​​ in our atmosphere is roughly 408 parts per million, and 800 million people (11% of the world’s population) is currently vulnerable to climate change impacts such as droughts, floods, heat waves, and sea-level rise. To be honest, I’ve never been good with numbers. I had to look those stats up, and can hardly fathom the weight of them. But I know the sum of those numbers is causing a highly probable mass extinction in the near future, complete with ruining ancient ruins and sacred families. It’s hard to be hopeful with such a heavy truth, especially when most of the world powers deem it false. What is probable, what is possible, what is hope?

I am reclining on a hostel rooftop in Amman, Jordan. Trash is being burnt to ash in the garbage can below. I am sitting with the world, accompanied by Germans, Colombians, Kiwis, Vietnamese, and Brazilians. They are talking of hope. They are surveying the crowd, asking if we have hope or not for the future. Most answer hope, and roll their eyes when my skeptic self asks if they believe in climate change, if they know we are accomplices in the rapidly approaching death of the mother that graciously sustains us all. “Ah come on, we’ll find a solution before then,” they assure me. I’m met with shame – am I just being a downer, or a know-it-all? How can they be sure, when livelihoods are lost to global warming while we speculate from the top, on vacation from realities perceived as not our own? Blind hope requires the privilege of looking away. Hope is the last foothold we reach for when logic does not serve us. Hope – and hopelessness – is what I’ve witnessed in the faces of kids without homes, and in the eyes of a mother whose family was torn to bits by borders and blots of ink on paper. Hope is a luxury and a necessity, a salve for a world severed. It’s a vital lie, an age-old medicine, a universal song. We cannot sing this psalm without feeling its urgency. Do you feel it? Are you hopeful?

Months later, I’m sitting by the Bosporus in Istanbul, perched on a rock not unlike those that line the Puget Sound at the base of Seattle. I’ve been away from home for two months, pulling my body across continents, over oceans, up mountains, through forests, deserts, and UNESCO World Heritage sites. A university fellowship granted me six months of solo travel, and I’ve been jet lagged ever since. I boarded one plane, and then another, and then another. I dragged my rolling suitcase through the Nablus desert where I missed my bus stop, and carried it over puddles of melted snow in the Caucasus mountains. I squished into tuk-tuks and local buses and marshrutkas (shared “taxis” in rural Saqartvelo, which are actually just Astro Vans that sometimes have sheep as passengers). I stopped referencing the recommended restaurant list by week two, instead opting for the eatery with the most locals inside. I’ve been in awe, out of place, in love, out of energy, stuck and in transit, here and not here, “wow”-ing and dreaming and silent. I’ve always been quiet, but a new silence comes from traveling alone across countries with which I share no native tongue. This silence is freeing and lonely and peaceful all at once.

When I do come across fluent English speakers (which is fairly frequent due to U.S imperialism), I probe about the conditions here, wherever “here” is at that moment. Racism, sexism, classism, homophobia – how does it compare? Where are our gaps? Where do our intersections collide? I won’t give a flowery account about how similar “here” and “home” are, how a baby’s cry and a child’s laugh ring the same regardless of language or zip code or continent. I refuse to simplify our warped web of a world into “we all want to live happy lives, to provide for our families, and live in peace.” While it may be true, it falls flat. And our world is round. Round and bulging with bodies with separate dreams and destinies designated and dictated by birthplace, for the most part. Whose dreams are realized? What is “hard work” in the face of globalization, oppression, and international inequity?

A Kurdish Turk told me that due to his government’s corruption and the falling rate of the Turkish Lira, he has to work five times as long for the same amount of money as a British person in England, for example. “So, I work five hours for this beer, they work one!” He explains with a grin. “But hey, I’m doing good for myself,” he continues. “My classroom in elementary school had 92 kids in it, with one teacher. Budget cuts. How could we learn? But I took it as a challenge, learned English on my own, got a scholarship to university, founded my own business, and am working on my second Master’s degree. I’ve worked really hard, but it can only take you so far living in these conditions,” he shrugs.

He goes on to tell me that the earth holds 7.7 billion people, more than ever before. He tells me that we’ll soon buckle at the seams, or bomb ourselves to bits, possibly in our lifetime. We pontificate about whether global warming, nuclear war, overpopulation, or even alien invasion will get us first. We shake our heads in disgust as the 1% play with the idea of “space tourism” – a tourist trip to the moon with a $150 million price tag. I think of my new friend’s classroom of 92 students. I think of the children I’ve seen begging at the foot of Istanbul’s fanciest hotels, only to be swatted away by hotel guards, as to not disturb the guests with reminders of the cost of their privilege.

A rush of familiar anxiety fills my lungs and I recall an American TV show episode where an 8-year-old has a panic attack after learning about climate change. She goes to a fancy private school, and her mom rallies the other parents together to protest the school for teaching such a stress-inducing topic. Eyes pried shut. We act oblivious to the harm of oblivion, of ignorance, of passing the buck. We slice the world into a million pieces and get mad when she bleeds. Border lines, pipelines, war crimes, and we wonder why she bleeds. Poison in her waters, axes to her trees, babies sleeping in the street, and we wonder why she bleeds. And we wonder why we’re anxious, why our brothers and sisters are doped up or hearing voices or can’t afford homes. We weep for a world unkempt. Or we choose dreamless sleep, lulled to inaction by the lullaby of status quo. Eyes pried shut, we pray.

BIO: Kayla Blau is a Seattle-based writer and youth advocate. She is a recipient of the 2019 Bonderman Travel Fellowship, and completed a six month solo travel adventure that led her to be the only Jewish attendee at a traditional Palestinian wedding in the West Bank, to crashing a motorbike on a rural Indonesian island. She is a regular contributor to the South Seattle Emerald, and her work can also be found in Real Change, The Seattle Globalist, and Crosscut, among others. She advocates for racial and social justice and needs all of us to join the fight for a more just world.

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