The Dangers Behind “If You See Something, Say Something”

Last week marked the ten-year anniversary of a heart-wrenching attempted homicide at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

On March 3, 2006, a 22-year-old Tar Heel alumnus drove a rented Jeep into the campus Pit with the intent to end the lives of bystanders. An Iranian-American, his motive was rooted in vengeance for innocent lives lost in the Middle East at the hands of American soldiers.

While the tragedy was evident in victims’ injuries and heightened tensions on campus, its occurrence speaks to a larger issue that plagues the experiences of college students across the United States: the negative stigmas of mental instability.

Even just typing the words mental instability made me pause a little bit, but in reality, it’s not so cringe-worthy. Nor is it uncommon. Whether it’s suicidal thoughts or just plain nervous energy, 25 percent of adults experience mental instability in a given year.

And yet, we rarely talk about it.

As was quoted in the DTH article, the driver had been experiencing aggression and anxiety for a long time, not to mention social isolation. Regardless of his motives, he felt so socially removed from his community that he couldn’t communicate his feelings.

“[T]he biggest reason for his anger toward the American government and former President George W. Bush, he said, was the lack of social interaction he had. ‘Had I been socializing with people more, had people I cared about and loved, that would have prevented me from committing a crime like this.’”

What if he hadn’t felt isolated? What if he had someone to talk to, who helped him feel human? What if this stigma around mental instability didn’t exist?

Of course it’s scary and dangerous and threatening for people to have recurring thoughts about homicide and vengeance, but these ideas stem from very human emotions rooted in aggression and anger.

If we can’t talk about these emotions with our loved ones, what is the point of having relationships with them?

By ignoring the darkest parts of ourselves and others, we turn very common, human emotions into outliers, making them impossible to address.

Often times we hear the phrase, “if you see something, say something.” It’s an encouragement to be observant, to be vocal when someone looks suspicious. Whether it’s sneaky behavior at an airport, or a friend having an off-day, we are reminded to “say something.”

But this doesn’t work for emotions that live below the surface. It’s not always possible to tell when someone around you is about to rent a Jeep and drive it into the Pit.

People experiencing mental instability, no matter how extreme, often mask it through their interactions with others or choose not to interact at all. So how are we supposed to combat this?

Perhaps it’s time to graduate from “if you see something, say something,” and opt for, “if you feel something, say something.”

It’s okay to feel anxious, or aggressive, or depressed, or angry, but the real harm comes from harboring these feelings without asking for help.

If you feel something, say something.

Call your parents. Talk to a friend you can trust. Find a mentor. Visit campus health. College is one of the only times where counseling is free! Use it. Often. Getting advice now will help you explore strategies you can use for the rest of your life.

If you feel something, say something.

You might feel embarrassed, or hurt, or confused, but talking to someone can help you feel human.

If you feel something, say something.

It could save someone’s life, needless to say your own.

College, Lifestyle, People, Uncategorized

Make Monday Your Bitch

Good morning!

Did you sleep well? Did you wake up feeling like P. Diddy?  If you answered no to either of these, I hope you have time to take a nap today. You’re going to need it. It’s going to be a big day; you have a lot to do:

Start by taking a breath. No really, breathe. Sit up straight like someone is pulling a string from the top of your head and let your rib cage expand as you visualize your heart growing inside you, you grinch. Let so much air fill your lungs that your stomach pushes out. That’s a real deep breath. Do that more.

Stop using the word hate, for several reasons. It’s not even creative, and it probably isn’t completely articulating how you feel. If you feel like you hate something, ask yourself why. The answer to that is part of your solution to getting over it.

The more you complain, the more others feed off your complaints. The type of energy you put out into the world is the same type of energy that comes right back into your life. Yeah, it sounds cliché, but it’s real. Whining is easy, but it’s worthless. It’s contagious, it’s destructive, and it only hurts you in the long-run. I know it’s hard, but trust me, I tried to go a whole week without bitching once, and it changed my life.

Start using a planner. You don’t have to schedule every minute of every day, but it is helpful for keeping yourself accountable. There’s great satisfaction in making lists just for the sake of checking things off. Counting down to exciting events is just as important as bracing yourself for the days that you’ve stretched yourself too thin. Overtime, you might learn that if all your to-dos can’t fit on one page, they can’t be done in a day.

Make time for yourself! Solitude for the sake of solitude. If you don’t want to spend time with you, why would anyone else? Whether you’re doing something creative, or just spending quiet time alone, you are learning about yourself. You are worth knowing. Meditate, draw, sing in the shower, do something today that is just for you. Find a mantra. Use it. And then, call your mom and tell her about it. She probably wants to hear from you.

If you meet someone new today, make an effort to make them feel important. Chances are, Mondays are hard for them too. It’s pretty universal. If you haven’t met someone new today, your day isn’t over yet. Go out of your way to make it happen.

Sometimes your work will go unacknowledged, but know that even silent steps are movement in the right direction. If you feel like others are moving ahead of you, or faster than you, know that your pace is uniquely yours. Own it.

I know this is a lot, but it’s well intended. If you’re living for the weekend, you’re doing it wrong. Mondays are just opportunities to make this week better than the last. Monday is fresh; Monday is real; Monday is now.

It’s time to stop bitching about Mondays, and start making Mondays your bitch.



I am a Woman in Morocco

Over the past week, I’ve begun to lose my voice. My Moroccan mom told me that it is the result of allergies in the dry heat, my professor said it’s dehydration, but the more I have thought about it, I realized that the true cause lies deeper within my consciousness.

I am a woman in Morocco, and because of that, I don’t have a voice.

When I walk down the street, men look at me as if I am the first and last woman they will ever see. I do not mean that they look at me, but rather that they look at me, as if the purpose of my whole existence is to stand before them for their viewing pleasure.

Since the first day I arrived, I have yet to experience a single minute where I feel comfortable in my female body, in my female clothes, in my female consciousness, taking up space on the sidewalk within the eyesight of a man. My space does not belong to me, because the men here are entitled to it.

Walking through the souk this week with my friends, one of the boys asked my roommate and me, “How do you feel when guys catcall you?”

Unashamedly, I said “worthless.”

He was somewhat naively surprised that I would let myself feel this way, as I’m sure most guys my age are. In my opinion it’s not his fault, because he’s likely never been treated same way as women are on the street in Morocco. Or in any country.

I explained to him that catcalls and stares make me feel like my presence on Earth is deemed less valuable by the type of men who instigate such harassment. To men like this, I am not a woman; I am not a human; I am disposable.

I am a woman in Morocco, and because of that, I am less-than.

Later that night, my roommate and I tried to ask our Moroccan mom why the men here harass female tourists. Without letting us maintain the selfish feeling of prestige and entitlement we have so adopted as white women in Africa, she said, “It is not just you who are harassed; they do it to all women.”

How dare we assume that our race makes us more desirable to men, or that other women receive less harassment because they are not foreign like us, I thought to myself. For a brief moment I felt a pang of pride in my Moroccan mom for her response.

My empathy for her quickly turned to anger as I realized the gravity of her answer. It finally dawned on me that the women who live here are forced to deal with this extent of harassment for their entire lives. I cannot articulate how deeply this disturbs me.

I am a woman in Morocco, and because of that, I am angry.

I am not angry because I have to wear a sweater in the 100 degree heat, or that I still put up with the stares and comments from men. I am angry because I am not alone.

I am angry because there are women in this country who flinch on the sidewalk when a man walks to close to them. I am angry because no woman is exempt from this horrifying experience. I am angry that it is 2015, and this is still socially acceptable. I am angry because this isn’t even the worst type of harassment and inferiority that is imposed upon human beings.

If you are reading this at home because you know and care about me, I urge you not to worry about my safety or comfort during my study abroad experience. I appreciate it immensely, but I would rather you worry about the millions of women here who don’t have an escape from this type of society.

Pray for the women who, unlike me, have to put up with stares for more than ten weeks, who would not dare make eye contact with men they don’t know, who cannot take ownership of their space on the sidewalk.

Don’t care about this because women are victims of sexual harassment; care because women are human beings. Yes, all women. Yes, everywhere.

This is one of the few times that a shared empathy with other women has horrified me instead of consoling me.

I didn’t write this because I want attention or worries from friends and family, I didn’t write this to make sexual harassment seem non- or less-existent at home; I didn’t write this to put American culture and society on a pedestal against the Arab World.

I wrote this because this experience is a new frontier in my brain, because studying abroad isn’t all about ordering drinks in a different language.

I wrote this because I am a woman in Morocco, and because of that, I have mace in my effing purse.


1001 Arabian Men: A Story of the Fes Music Festival

On Friday, my roommate and I ventured to the Fes Music Festival in the Old Medina for a free Andalusian concert.

We were accompanied by three boys from our program, and we felt pretty confident about the boy:girl ratio, because both girls had a guardian in case of any impromptu proposals.

We stopped at the boys’ house along the way to greet their family who lives in the Old Medina.

“Attención! Attención!” One of the women whisper-shouted. “Please leave your things here,” she said in Arabic. “If you take them, they will get stolen!” We did as she said and piled our cellphones, purses and wallets in a corner of the boys’ room.

As we drew nearer to the concert, the crowds got thicker, and the women were few and far between. Stares intensified as my roommate and I quickly became the only women in a sea of men.

Within the crowd, we saw small groups of boys aged between middle school and late 30s, throwing each other in the air and chanting harmoniously together, but dissonantly from the music. Puffs of smoke circled around us as the Andalusian group began their set. Small boys climbed on each other’s shoulders and clapped as their foundational counterparts moved wildly below them.

My male classmates volunteered as tribute to be thrown in the air while men of many ages engaged my roommate and I repeatedly the following conversation:

Man: Como te llama?

Me: No hablo español…sorry!

Man: English? Do you have a Facebook? Can you write your name for me?

Me: No, sorry!

Man: Do you want to get on my shoulders?

Me: No, thank you.

I finally agreed reluctantly to get on the shoulders of one of the boys I knew. He stood up slowly while holding on to my shoes, and a roar emerged from the sea of men behind me. Either everyone in Fes really loved the song that was playing, or they all wanted to add me on Facebook right then and there.

The next night we returned with more girls and fewer boys, a mistake we will not likely repeat, as only two of us had a fake husband to which we could cling.

As we made our way deep into the crowd once again, we were surprised to hear rock music. Boys and men swayed slowly to the sweet ballad as they sang along with their arms in the air.

The tempo suddenly exploded into a full-fledged melody, and the men around us jumped up and down singing along to every word.

I swear to Allah, we ended up at a modern-day Moroccan Journey concert.

The band broke out in a cover of Seven Nation Army, which obviously caused more jumping around. Before we knew what was happening, all five girls were separated from our two fake husbands. The harem was no longer.

Two tween boys tried to approach my roommate, who is blonde and beautiful and tan. Their attempts to hit on her made me laugh hysterically, to which the boys responded by imitating my laugh. Our rejection of their feeble proposals in Spanish and French resulted in attention from a few dozen boys who yelled unintelligibly at us. Unable to move away because of the crowd, we just stood looking very scared and tried to apologize in Arabic. Suddenly a guy who looked close to our age bulldozed them with long arms as he yelled “leave them alone” in Arabic.

He turned to me and said in perfect English, “I’m so sorry, are you ok?”

Needless to say, I stood beside him for the next 20 minutes until he disappeared into the crowd, much like the boys I had originally come with.

To my left, a boy close to my age was kicked by a child who was being thrown in the air. He wrapped his arms around his head as tears streamed down his face. His friends, immediately recognizing his injury, took turns hugging and kissing his head, offering condolences, wiping tears. I consciously searched my memory for any witness of this behavior in America. I had never seen teenage boys treat each other this way.

Before long, the crowd became a bit too wild and we didn’t feel safe anymore. Our fake husbands found us and linked arms as we formed a cha-cha line to exit the crowd together.

At the edge, I could see women holding their sleeping babies, watching the concert out of reach from the crowd. They looked shocked to see five girls emerge from the abyss of men and sweat and tears. Maybe their absence in the crowd was not cultural, maybe they just knew that being in a crowd of men is the grossest thing imaginable.

We hailed a cab and I put to use the most important sentence I’ve learned this week, “please restart the meter.”


The Thirst is Real

I’ve been in Fes for almost a week now, and I’m as thirsty as these local dudes who keep asking me if I want a Moroccan husband.

For those of you over the age of 30, modern day usage of “thirsty” translates to “being in desperate need of sexual companionship.”

And I’m just like, “buy a girl some water first?” I mean, seriously, this is the literal desert. The thirst is real.

You can usually catch me lugging around a 1.5 liter bottle of filtered water, which costs between 30 and 50 cents. As long as I have 5 dirham (Moroccan currency) in my pocket, I don’t need to get wifed up just yet.

But that doesn’t stop people from asking. I’m not trying to sound vain in the slightest, it’s just how a lot of the local men behave towards female tourists, especially young women.

The unemployment rate is incredibly high for men from ages 18-35, which makes marriage entirely out of the question for them. Think about it – who would want to marry jobless, hopeless, potentially homeless man? These guys are so thirsty because they don’t have wives or jobs. It’s a pretty lose-lose situation. That doesn’t make me feel any sympathy for them when my roommate and I get stared at and catcalled on the way home, but I’m certainly not oblivious to the implications of the whole situation.

There have been, of course, a greater number of positive experiences with locals, both men and women. Let me break it down chronologically:

In the hotel in Montreal, two Moroccan men overheard my conversation with my classmates about taking the train from Casablanca. It seemed harmless at the time, even when they joined in our conversation. Let this be a lesson to ALL future travelers who happen to be reading this blog: This is how you get taken. Once on the plane, the men approached the only guy in our group, Ethan, and invited us to share a taxi from Casablanca. Because of the sweet, accommodating personality Ethan has, he replied with, “yeah, maybe!” Again, this is how you get taken. Later on the flight, they came back to make arrangements, during which I interrupted as blatantly as possible to inform the men that we had to ask our program director for permission.

At the train station after the flight, we learned that the last train had already left, and we were stuck waiting for the next one in six hours. The same men asked us several times to share a hotel in Casablanca while we waited for the train, and I abandoned my polite Southern tendencies to say, “we really don’t want to go with you.” The men attested that they were professors at “Fes University” and that they wanted to help us navigate, but I didn’t buy it, because that’s how you get taken. We bought our train tickets for the literal butt-crack of dawn, and settled into the cafe near by, where we met an American couple who helped us find our way to school.

As it turns out, the University of Fes is a real place, but the moral of the story is that we didn’t get taken, bismillah.

On my second day here, I ventured to the old city with my classmates. There are five of us from UNC and seven from University of Florida, but only one student had yet to explore the city on his own. Here is where I give you the very valuable and time-sucking blog of Jalyn Mcneal. It is very much worth the read.


Hopefully now you’ve spent thirty minutes reading his stories before remembering that you were previously on my page. I’m glad you’re back.

The market area of the old medina (“city” in Arabic) is a clusterf*** of tiny streets teeming with craftsmen, juice stands, children and donkeys, the heart of which hosts four restaurants on adjacent corners. Waiters at each restaurant stand outside with menus shouting, “Are you American? I LOVE America!” as they match your dehydration with their thirst for a hefty tip.

Jalyn warned us about this spot, but chose to drag us through it for a chance to meet Drees, a waiter he had befriended earlier in the week.

Drees was standing at the edge of his restaurant, smiling under the brim of a Yankees cap and sweating through a kaftan. I had seen the same hat for sale down the street. The logo font is a tiny bit different, but a non-PR major like yourself probably won’t be able to tell when I bring one back for you.

A native Moroccan, Drees spoke several languages just from working on the street around tourists.  He made me nervous initially; I consciously tried to see past his kindness into whatever game he’s got for swindling us in the long haul. He already knows we are here until August, so I’ve been waiting to see when his true character will shine through.
Not to my surprise, it didn’t take long. However, he is nothing like what I expected. Looking for lunch at Drees’ restaurant, we were disappointed when we didn’t find him. Several streets away, and several more degrees of hanger, we ran into him outside a cafe. He was helping a disabled man eat and drink, wiping the man’s face with every bite. Drees recognized me immediately and said “Hey! I want you to meet my best friend!” And gestured towards this man, who was hunched in a wheelchair. The man spoke unintelligibly, and Drees added, “he doesn’t speak any real words, but I know what he means because we hang out every day. He’s pleased to meet you!” I leaned towards the man and said “tsharafeen” (nice to meet you) pronouncedly, and returned to chatting with Drees.
He then showed us a cheap but delicious restaurant for lunch, instead of taking us to his own place. Pleasantly surprised by this glimpse into Drees’ character, I walked away feeling better about the local friend we collectively made.
This week has been a balance of learning to make judgments quickly, about taxi drivers, water sources, menu prices, cardinal directions, against my unintuitive ability to see past the smoke screen of people’s behavior and into their personalities. I tried to remind myself that despite the inevitable danger of traveling alone, God is still present and evident in the souls of the people around me.
We settled into our seats on the terrace of a beautiful restaurant as Drees exhibited his first-name basis with the owner and waiters. They are his friends, but we are now too (at least until we figure out his long term scam).
“Thank you very Marrakech!” Drees called as he left the restaurant to return to his friend, to which I failed to reply with my own witticism. I’m sure we’ll see him again soon, so I’m trying to come up with my own pun in the meantime.

Casa or Caca?

It’s 7 a.m. Our overnight flight to Casablanca was canceled, and since 4:30 a.m. we’ve been waiting in lines for buses and bureaucracy to catch a morning departure. I’m not tired; I’m on the edge of my seat, partly because of my excitement, but mostly because my breakfast stipend got me a chocolate muffin and a mango smoothie, and now I can’t sit still.

Sitting at the gate, I’m flipping through my Moroccan dialect book while two veiled women sit on either side of me. They occasionally look over my shoulder at my book, but mostly they talk loudly over me. I’d like to say that I can understand them, but I literally just cracked open this Arabic book, and that’s a very legitimate use of the word literally. I don’t know anything yet. You’d think I would have paged through during my previous two flights, or even over night at the hotel in Montreal, but I can assure you that people-watching has kept me very busy.

People from all over the world are on this flight, and all hundred of us have been herded through buses and security gates together. Some are going on vacation; some are returning home, but we’re all in the same terminal, our fate in the mercy of accommodating airport employees.

The language barrier among us is evident as a nearby attendant sorts us into lines, explaining only in French. The passengers mumble confusedly in English, Spanish and Arabic. My attention bounces from one foreign conversation to another, and settles on the cries of two Moroccan toddlers yelling “caca!” and bursting into fits of giggles at the dismay of their mother, whose blushing face peeks out of her veil to shush them. “Caca!” They take turns shouting, either one louder than the last. Their mother can’t help but laugh a little, and neither can the other passengers who are trying to hide their stares and snickers.

I’m less than 24 hours into my journey, and still two days away from the first day of school, but the basis for my first cultural lesson is sure: poop humor is, has been, and always will be universal.

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Giving Wholly

This year I spent my Spring Break volunteering at DOOR in Denver, C.O., a program dedicated to providing service to agencies who fight hunger and homelessness in the Denver area. I was fortunate enough to go on this trip with my campus ministry at school, where we spent the week learning about the realities of homelessness and hunger insecurities, as well as strategies to change social and cultural institutions that force people into a life below the poverty level.

On the first day of volunteering, I learned a very powerful lesson at the Food Bank of the Rockies, where we packaged pallets of food in a warehouse to be sent to pantries and shelters all over the city.

It took us almost two hours to find the Food Bank. Seven students, a minister, two wrong trains, and one beautiful sunrise – it was all worth while. We passed beautiful artwork and street performers; some people on the bus even helped us find our way. People laughed with us, and even at us a little bit; they smiled with us and for us once we told them why we were lost.

This made me thankful for the process of reorienting myself, transitioning to the next step. We couldn’t have done it alone, no matter how much research we did beforehand; things are never as they seem. Assume nothing, expect everything. We got lost at least twice, but we also got the opportunity to see the mountains reflect the glow of the sunrise from the east.

Six hours and several hundred pounds of packaged food later, our crew was ready to head home for the day. We walked back to the locker room reserved for volunteers, and I discovered by coat had been stolen. All of a sudden, the satisfaction of a hard day’s work and service for others disappeared as anger and upset took its place.

I tried diligently not to make it the focus of my day, to brush it off and focus on the excitement of working in a new city. I sat on the bus with my head against the window, frowning at the scenery. “It’s just a coat. It’s just a coat. It’s just a coat,” I repeated silently, convincing myself that it didn’t matter, that I could buy a new one online later.

But I was wrong. It did matter, just not to me. My coat mattered to someone else, to its new owner.

Maybe my coat was relief in a moment of need, maybe it was warmth during a cold evening on a park bench, maybe the lipstick in the right pocket would be that perfect shade of red (it definitely was for me).

To me, the coat was just a coat, because I have the means of getting a new one. To someone else, it was a last resort, a last hope for a comfortable walk home.

So if taking my coat is what it takes for someone else to sleep at night, then take it. Take it, and wear it thin. Take my coat, my shoes, my blanket, my time, my energy, because I did not come to Denver to give only part of myself. I came to give my whole self, my whole heart, my whole strength, my whole mind, my whole spirit, because I care about other human beings and i care about what happens to them. And because I am blessed enough to buy a sweatshirt at Walmart on the way home.

Later in the week, I started thinking about the verse from Luke that says, “Give, and you shall receive.” But I have a problem with this, because I don’t like that people might give because they expect to be rewarded. People aren’t always rewarded for giving, but that shouldn’t stop it from happening. The absence of a reward shouldn’t constitute the absence of a motive to give.

If I had the choice to give my coat that day, I probably would have said, “no, I need this.”

However, I found myself realizing that I didn’t need it during the rest of the week, because God gave us clear skies, and sunshine, and a lovely field of grass beside our bus stop in which to bask. I didn’t have the coat, but I also didn’t need it, and I didn’t realize it until I got on a heated bus and started to sweat through my t-shirt.

On the bus, I sat and repeated my coat mantra, wishing it would come back to me and knowing that it wouldn’t. The more I focused on it, the less I noticed the richness of my life without it. The sunshine, the mountains, the dizzying effect of the mile-high altitude, the adventure of a new city, graffitied buildings in a gentrified neighborhood on our walk home, a hot meal waiting for me at the church, even a message from my parents advising me about getting a new coat. I still had all of these people and places and experiences, and a coat couldn’t change that.

I think the point of God’s encouragement is not that you will become richer by giving, but rather that a life removed from petty indulgences allows you to notice how rich and full your life already is.

Our belongings are just obstacles to this realization. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have coats, or that perfect shade of red, but that we don’t need these things to feel complete.

The point is not to choose to give; the point is to surrender the choice.