A blurry Kola Nut

A blurry Kola Nut

That’s what it symbolizes. You know like. Kindness. Like. I come to your house. Your friends, your relatives come to your house. You ask them, do you guys need anything to drink, you know? Something like that. Showing that you’re happy for them to come, right? In my country Nigeria, this is what we present. This Kola Nut. Showing kindness, that you’re happy.
— Sabby, my Lyft Driver
Authorjustine lee

Last night I had a dream that I was in some sort of competitive game situation.

I don't know if it was televised or why or how I was participating, but I do know this:

I was on a team with my closest friends and family. We were one team of dozens of others, teams of about five to ten people, bundled together across a wide and dry savanna. We were huddled together, holding one another, bracing ourselves for something INSANE that was about to happen...

The organizers of this "game" were going to release a massive herd of wild elephants and it was framed to us as LIFE OR DEATH, specifically: "There is one elephant that is 'assigned' to each team, and if they choose to trample and kill you, which we were prepped to believe was most likely the case, so be it. If you choose to fight back, good luck."

The terror felt so real. I remember thinking, "OK. I guess this is how I'm going to die." Because, really, how do I fight a 10,000 pound animal that feels threatened by me and has no reason to give a shit. Everyone on my team, we just looked at each other with care and concern like "What can we do? This is it. p.s. I love you." We had just accepted our fate, that dying was a very real possibility. Here we go...



The elephant that came charging at us, our "assigned elephant", was a baby! Instead of stomping on us or ramming into us with great force, it licked our faces with its tongue and tickled us with its trunk. IT WAS SO CUTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We survived!

That was the dream. When I recounted this to my family the next day, they laughed, and said maybe I had the dream because we ate at a Thai restaurant the night before and there were wooden elephant carvings all around us. A solid consideration.

But what was crazy to me is the day after the dream, I visited the Detroit Institute of Art, and came across this:

Elephants are on my mind, they are in my life.

- J

Authorjustine lee
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It's been awhile. In fact, an entire quarter of a year since I've checked in. There have been a few times I've thought to write in that time...



Right after a very turnt up weekend reunion in Vancouver with my two best friends, I was going to write about absurdity, our inadvertent obsession with birds, and friendship. I was going to share a sampling of the photos we took of said birds and maybe one of us looking cute, youthful, and bright-eyed, the way we hope to look for the next 5-10 years, Asian genes willing. I was going to write about the pride I feel when I think about each of their achievements in this world, and the fact they still have time to be the funniest people I know who are not celebrities. I also feel proud of how we've remained very close across three different cities (Pittsburgh, Chicago, San Francisco), timezones (ET, CT, PT), relationship statuses (married, in a relationship, single), and made it a point to see each other at least once a year, if not twice. Thank goodness also for iMessage. We usin it hourly.



Another time it made sense to write was to reflect on and share my first ever live radio show as producer and co-host. It was stressful for the three weeks leading up to the show; when I wasn't preparing, I was thinking about the next time I'd have to prepare, or be worrying that I wasn't preparing enough. It seemed very possible that the story was not going to come together, and that I'd choke or pause, fall flat, and be boring, what could I do beforehand to ensure that this did not happen?! so, I worked hard, and took it as far as I could, and left the rest to fate. during the actual show in which I interviewed three very talented, thoughtful artists -- I had some jitters in my heart, yes, but most of all, I felt at ease. I typically rise to the occasion and perform better than I expect when it comes down to it; this is a good thing. Maybe more importantly than feeling relief and pride, I felt like this was something I could see myself doing, to committing to getting better at; I could see this being my thing. There will be more to say about my return to journalism and story production. For now, I'm just happy it's happening and grateful I have mentors who are as eager to teach as I am to learn.



I also thought about dedicating an entire post to my very special two-week trip through Italy with my mom, and to cap the trip, a two-day reunion (after 4 years thousands of miles apart) with one of the greatest loves of my life. There is a book I could write about my relationship with my mother and how her aging and eventual passing is the one thought that terrifies me more than anything I can conceive right now except for maybe the thought of earth extinguishing and all of human history gone, like we never even happened. That makes me so sad to think about, guys, UGH. This is something I shared with Mark on our last night together, sitting side by side on the bus, on our way to a very authentic Roman meal. I told him that it physically pains my brain and heart to think about this. He acknowledged it was something that was probably going to happen at some point (earth exploding), but moved the conversation to be about the alien life that most certainly is out there. We talked about that and alternate universes and that kind of shit that makes you feel big and small at the same time. I could write a book about Mark and how grateful I am to him for making me believe in everlasting love, friendship, and chance.


Instead what moved me to open SquareSpace and start typing, was the current state of the world, the Syrian refugee crisis, the bombings of innocent lives in the name of (anti-)terrorism. The gist: I feel very strongly that more needs to be done to understand terrorists and potential terrorists, to take them seriously enough, figure out what is in their heads, what circumstances they have faced, and therefore how they have come to see the world, to really get to the root of the problem rather than blowing up places where they probably are. Yes, there is a ton that this requires, it isn't a one size fits all solution, there will be dissenting opinions around how to go about it that I won't get into it now, but I firmly believe things will get worse before they get better, if we don't start exercising empathy. We, as in, citizens of these Western lands, the privileged, the powerful. When I know more, I'll write more about this.

I'll end this meandering and confused blog post, with a moving ask I came across on FB by an American named Lorelle Saxena. It very accurately and beautifully captured how I feel about the Syrian refugee crisis:

I'm done with polite, apolitical vaguebooking right now. There are so many smugly hateful messages on my Facebook feed, and I'm not going to get into it with each and every one of you, but here is the bottom line:

There is no reason, not one single reason, why I deserve shelter, food, stability, safety, health, or your regard any more than any given Syrian refugee. Not one reason. My home, my education, my business; the way I look, the way I talk; the fact that I come home to a safe, whole, healthy family every day--every one of those things is a privilege that I fell into by the random circumstance of being born in this country to parents who valued academic achievement. I, or you, could have just as easily been born in Syria, or Burkina Faso, or Afghanistan. Do you really think that you're a different kind of human being than the refugees? Do you think your privilege is earned?

I know: you've worked hard for what you have. I have, too. But have we worked harder than the refugees worked for the lives that were destroyed? Do we love our children more than they do; would we grieve harder if a civil war took them away from us? And how long do you believe it would take for a bomb to destroy everything safe about your life?

Compared to most people in the world, you and I are rich with privilege, much of it just because we were lucky enough to be born in a country fat with it. I woke up early this morning and made organic, whole-grain muffins for my son, then dressed him in warm clothes, put sunscreen on his little face, strapped and buckled him into his bike seat and rode along peaceful streets to deliver him at his warm, nurturing preschool. There were so many levels on which I was able to protect him. Every breath of this morning was a privilege. Meanwhile millions of children who months ago had bedrooms and dinner tables and doctors and schools are sleeping directly on the ground, their parents unable to secure shelter or food for them, much less healthcare or education.

And no, that is not your fault. But that's not the same as it not being our responsibility. We have everything we need and then so much on top of that, and we can choose to exemplify to our own children one of two courses of action: we can open our clutched fists and share with our fellow humans all the abundance that exists here--or we can hoard it, greedy and bloated and fearful.

These are families like yours. Thinking they might have connections to terrorist factions is as rational as thinking you might be a terrorist because Timothy McVeigh was American. Half of the refugees are children. What is it in you that can close your eyes to other human beings, especially human beings that are small and hungry and cold?

I'm not asking you to give half of everything you have to help them, or to turn your backyard into a tent city, or to donate to causes that support efforts to protect these very vulnerable people. I'm asking you not to hate them because they need something you have. I'm asking you to recognize that the fear being built around the refugees is less about American security and more about American greed. I'm asking you to be a human being that understands every human being has basic needs and that the lucky among us can afford to share our luck to ease suffering. I'm asking you to stop thinking, posting, politicizing around the idea that we just can't help before we've taken care of our own.

Because there is no such thing as "our own." Every human is our own. Every hungry child, grieving mother, frightened husband, weary grandmother is our own. Nobody gets to pretend our world is a different world from the world that creates civil wars and bombs and hunger. We are all toeing this same precarious, shifting tightrope of a life. Anyone can fall at any time. All there is to catch us is each other.

Thanks for reading.


Authorjustine lee

On Feb 3, 2015, I hop into a Lyft ride with a soft-spoken man named Jesus at the wheel. We get to talking and a within a couple minutes I learn that he used to drive a truck from Chicago to Dallas, and back, for a furniture company. Cool! A potential subject for my Trucker Project! No hesitance. I ask if I can record our conversation. He says yes. 

Jesus describes to me how he would eat chili peppers to stay awake -- he had a pretty sophisticated tiered system. By the end of our conversation, he begins to open up to me, and tells me why he ultimately left truck driving: he was tired of being alone. In the above two-minute clip, you can hear him begin to open up, but, ugh, because we reach my destination (work), the conversation must rush to an end.

"Well, I'll tell you the truth. I felt like I had no life being a truck driver, being always on the road. I was not being able to spend time with my friends, which I have no contact with them anymore, because of that. It's really hard to have a relationship when you're a truck driver, so, uh, I'm 37 years old, and I'm single because of that. So, that's why I quit. I left."

Though our conversation was cut short, it was just what I needed to be reminded of what a few simple questions and friendliness can lead to. I am regularly surprised by the vulnerability people are willing to exist in and share with me, if I am willing to listen. The more people I meet like this on Lyft rides, at get togethers, on the street (rare), the more I want to do something like Humans of New York, but here in the Bay Area, and maybe just audio. Less viral potential, I know. Something to think about.

and some tips for next time: Face the iPhone mic towards the interviewee, accept that it might feel awkward. Try to make less noise or give less feedback in general, instead just smile and nod.

Authorjustine lee
Categoriesaudio, people
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