La Paz’s beloved zebra crossing guards endure — here’s what it’s like to be one for a day

This piece has been republished with permission from Mic. You can see the original post here.

It was late April, and the pulse of morning rush hour traffic was just beginning to pick up as I trotted out onto the street, my tail dragging behind me. I had just finished an hour-long orientation complete with a guided meditation and role play designed to transform me into my new identity for the day: a zebra.

As the traffic light turned red, I promptly took my place on Avenida 16 de Julio, at one of the busiest intersections in the center of La Paz, Bolivia, and began to implement what I’d been trained to do. I danced up to the nearest car, my arms extended out front to signal “stop” as a young boy wearing a backpack and a baseball cap crossed the street with his mother. The boy looked at me, and sprung from his mother to give me a hug. His mother and I each held one of the boy’s hands as we ushered him across the street.

Another woman followed, smiling as she met my high-five in the air and continued on her way. When the light turned green, I kept pedestrians at bay as the cars thrust forward.

Far From Buenos Aires’ Tourist Traps, Street Artists Are Giving a Voice to the Voiceless

The late-day sun illuminated the street around us as we stepped out of the car in Isla Maciel, a predominantly poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. As we ascended a nearby set of stairs leading to the entrance of an elementary school and made our way through the lobby, a mural in the corner jumped out at me.

It depicted a skeleton with spiked shoulder straps, his face pointed down toward a microphone. He was draped in a distressed American flag, his eyes projecting rage. With his sharp features accentuating his boxy figure, it was reminiscent of a documentary I’d once seen on Cold War propaganda.

Isla Maciel lies just a stone’s throw across the river from Caminito, a well-known tourist trap boasting $15 crepes, tango dancers that sensuously wrap their legs around you for tips, and local craft shops with a suspicious number of “Made In China” labels. For the past several years, a compelling story has been unfolding in Isla Maciel, home to nearly 5,000 residents boxed in by the river on one side and a bustling highway on the other.

A diverse group of young artists have been working to create better conditions for the people living here, and they’ve proposed an unusual solution: to cover every inch of this blighted neighborhood with street art and murals like the one in the school’s lobby, which was painted by a 13-year-old. Their hope is that the art will bring a source of pride to a community with no landmarks to speak of, and help give a voice to people living on the margins.

You can read the full piece at Mic here.

Looking Over The Horizon

“Write a letter to your future self”

That was the task given to myself and more than five hundred classmates as we filed into high school orientation on a balmy late-August morning. “You’ll receive this letter back with your high school diploma when you leave Highland Park High School,” the instructions continued.

Like nearly everyone else, with the thought of graduation inconceivably far off and giddy to move onto the more exciting parts of the day, I hurriedly scribbled a few things out without more than moments thought. I quickly forgot about that slip of paper as I descended into the twists and turns of high school adolescence.

Nearly four years later, my eyes welled up with tears as I pulled the long-forgotten letter from my graduation packet. As I read on, my diploma in-hand, I was struck by the unexpected thoughtfulness of my goals, most of which had materialized.

The introverted and risk-averse kid who wrote that letter during high school orientation would be in awe of the adventure he would be embarking on a decade later to travel the world. That exercise taught me that there’s something inherently powerful about writing down your goals while on the cusp of a transformative new experience, full of optimism and possibility. Perhaps most importantly, it can serve as a place to continually return to, when that optimism gradually makes space for the adversity that inevitably evolves from taking risks. It’s in the spirit of that first orientation letter, hours before 75 strangers from around the world descend on Montevideo to officially kick off Remote Year Battuta, that I chart out my goals for this upcoming year.

Little Boxes

It’s odd to think that one of the things that has defined my time in Washington is boxes. Lots and lots of boxes.

During the past five years, I’ve zig-zagged this city with a mind-boggling eight moves: dorm rooms; summer sublets; ex-boyfriends; group houses – and that doesn’t even include my stints in New York City and Sydney. For better or worse, packing and unpacking on a regular basis is something I’ve become accustomed to. In many apartments, I never fully unpacked because I knew another move was imminent.

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Undertaking a move, my seventh, with my former roommate Evan during the fall of 2014.

Yet there’s something about this move that feels immensely unfamiliar from the previous eight. I’m permanently leaving Washington, embarking on a two-day drive back home to Chicago. But there’s also the fact that all but one or two of these boxes won’t be immediately re-opened – they’ll be going into storage until early/mid-2017. I’m quite literally packing away my life. Perhaps that’s a melodramatic way to put it, but it’s a weird feeling boxing up belongings that have become part of my day-to-day routine for years, knowing I won’t see them again for a long time.

Hello to Remote Year

This update was posted to my personal Facebook page on December 23, 2015.

It’s been one helluva ride, DC.

Over the course of more than five extraordinary years, I’ve had the opportunity to get a world-class education; develop a community of endlessly inspiring friends; challenge myself in a variety of work environments; explore a vibrant food and music scene; live in half a dozen different neighborhoods; witness and participate in historic moments in the fight towards equality; and fall in love. I have more treasured moments strewn across this city that I can even begin to count, and leaving is undoubtedly one of the most bittersweet experiences I’ve yet to encounter. But it’s time that I begin my next chapter in 2016.