More Fashion Month Faves: Deep Cuts Edition

Fashion month may be over (pour one out) but that doesn’t mean my coverage is gonna end. Here are a few more shows that are getting me excited about getting dressed again.

-Vejas-

This guy is 19. Like he can barely buy a lottery ticket and he’s showing at Paris Fashion Week. So we can all feel bad about our freshman-in-college selves and all the time I spent drinking and not winning LVMH awards. He can only barely drink in his native Canada and he counts Opening Ceremony among his stockiest.

And it’s easy to see why—age aside, this collection is also just dope. There’s an ineffable cool-factor to the lookbook—each model looking like that person you see every day at the artistic coffeeshop but know would never talk to because there’s just no way in hell they’d ever be your friend. His eye for shapes is impeccable. The collection is visually cohesive without having the common thread of a color palette—it’s in the details the line the eye draws taking in each garment, that inexplicable quality that makes each ensemble deeply work, and fit into the overall ethos of what he’s doing.

In other words I can’t wait to see what future collections will bring us.

-Jacquemus-

But really in the current fashion landscape, this collection felt to me like a li

The rest of fashion seems to be fixated on referencing exclusively fashion our grandmothers can remember—while Jacquemus opted instead to let a quaint Provencal aesthetic guide his way. It’s interesting how this now feels almost whimsical. Most collections of this cycle have made me want to be a cooler, edgier me—integrating the clothes into the life I live (only perhaps cooler). I don’t know how this collection works in my life, but I want it to.

Simon Jacquemus’s childhood in the South of France is on full display here. Really, looking at this collection makes me want to spend a day out in the sun picking berries, come home and have a delicious spread of wine and cheese. So like live my best life. So I guess you could say it’s inspirational.

-Off-White-

If Jacquemus made me long for Provence and all the indulgent delectables therein, then Off-White made me want to be a badass working girl in 2016 and all the indulgences that come with it. The striped blue tops that opened the show had just the right level of Patrick Bateman—evocative of the wealth and excesses of the 80’s, but not enough to be cartoonish (or make you want to listen to Huey Lewis and the News).

This is a collection for 2016. It is a collection that screams out to be photographed—’I am the epitome of street style’ it calls. And it is. The hats are placed with a perfect amount of nonchalance—the kind of use that most people love to see, but never end up instinctually pulling off themselves. But that’s what a brand like this does. We see what Virgil Abloh gravitates towards and just try and do the same.

Lessons from the Internet on Why Putting Dreadlocks on a Jenner is a Bad Idea

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Fashion has long toed the line between changing history and representing it. As Miranda Priestley reminds in the famous blue sweater speech in The Devil Wears Prada, the fashion elite come up with the designs to trickle down to the rest of us. However, an important part of that equation is the response to the clothing itself. A trend needs to be started, but it needs to be followed to catch on. There was something about the Oscar de la Renta’s choice of cerulean, as she mentions, that resonated with people so Saint Laurent was prompted to adopt the same hue. (Sorry, this one’s gonna get pretty fashion-nerdy on ya. Stick with me though I swear there’s a point to all this name dropping.)

 

Movements in fashion mean nothing if people don’t buy the clothes. In a broader sense, the raised hemlines of the 20s without the changing times  women were seen allowing those changes in aesthetics to be iconic images we now can’t divorce from the decades that produced them.  Dior would never have ushered in the “New Look” if WWII hadn’t ended, bringing women back into the home. These societal changes allowed women to be ushered towards a new silhouette. It was a perfect storm of circumstances that made the clothing ‘stick’. It’s almost impossible to divorce the culture who wears it from the fashion itself.

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In this sense, I have found the recent controversy regarding Marc Jacobs, dreadlocks and cultural appropriation so fascinating. In his most recent show, Marc Jacobs sent models-of-the-moment down the runway sporting mounds of pastel dreadlocks. Naturally, there was backlash, with many people accusing Jacobs of cultural appropriation, especially after the only individuals his stylist cited as influences for the hairdo, were white.  I went to a California liberal arts school. The fact of it being appropriation is, to me, pretty much incontrovertible. (And if you want to talk about this/debate this more I am happy to do this in the comments.)

 

What is surprising to me was his response to those who called him out for co-opting the style on instagram:

“And all who cry “cultural appropriation” or whatever nonsense about any race of skin color wearing their hair in a particular style or manner – funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair. I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don’t see color or race- I see people. I’m sorry to read that so many people are so narrow minded…Love is the answer. Appreciation of all and inspiration from anywhere is a beautiful thing. Think about it.”

Obviously not listening to dissenters is a classic diva fashion designer move, and putting yourself out there in the form of artistic expression undoubtedly requires a thick skin—that uncanny ability to fuck the haters so to speak. But this statement shows such a divorce from what is going on in our culture it’s rather astounding. The thing I find interesting is the fact that our society is, and should be, increasingly aware of what appropriation is, and why we shouldn’t be doing it. As a society, were having conversations about white privilege, and how Jacobs’ claim he does ‘not see color’ is just such a clear example of this.  

I would never dream of saying that I am remotely an expert on the topic, or even dream I really understand things (Here is a much better article on the problem than I could ever write and important to read to understand the issue). I’m trying. I’m learning a lot by trying to shut up and listen (and to be honest, part of the reason I’m writing this topic the way I am is that I know I am in no position to teach the topic of cultural appropriation or bring anything new or interesting to the table. This is not a fuck-the-haters post. This is an I-have no ability whatsoever to empathize with my fellow man kind of post. The fact that he claims to ‘not see color’ is almost a laughable example of your-white-privilege-is-showing-and-you-don’t-even-know-it.

In many ways, it’s unsurprising that this current iteration of the cultural appropriation conversation is centered around Marc Jacobs. He’s a man many of us currently know as the designer of the wallet upper-middle class girls get for Christmas, but he has long been known as one of fashion’s great ‘borrowers’.

In 1992, Marc Jacobs was the creative director of the label Perry Ellis. And, back in 1992, he showed a collection heavily influenced by the grunge movement. It was the ‘90s. Seems like an entirely uninteresting sentence. However, his collection was destroyed by critics. As in fired from the brand destroyed. (Clearly he bounced back–guy’s doing alright for himself now.) The garments he turned out that fateful fall were inspired by the ripped-up thrift store flannels found on the streets of  Seattle during its time as the epicenter of the famous 90’s grunge scene.

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Too grunge for Vogue

The industry found the idea that a high fashion house would send a version of a $3 thrift store shirt down the runway remade in expensive material to be totally ridiculous. (Let’s be real—one can still argue that to be the case—but that’s a topic for another post.) Jacobs was slammed—editors and reviewers at the time seemed to think there was no place for thrift stores in high fashion .

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The critics have since rescinded their comments, and have recognized the place flannel and Kurt Cobain had within the fabric of 90’s culture, but the fact remains that Jacobs had never been to Seattle when he designed the collection. Maybe the editors slammed him for his use of grunge as an influence, but maybe there was also an aspect to their critiques that stemmed from the inauthenticity that comes from the use of a style you know nothing about. There is something about the image of Naomi Campbell sporting a beanie and impeccably-tailored plaid skirt that just doesn’t feel like it doesn’t come from the same place as Eddie Vedder’s tangled mane and industrial jackets. There is still a sheen to the collection–something bright and shiny and new to the clothing and the collection. The basic idea of the influence was spot-on with the times, but the emotion? Maybe not so much.

 

Some people, in response to this whole controversy have claimed that Jacobs is an artist, and as such cannot and should not be focused on critics or anything else but his own inspiration. Designers have always fancied themselves artists of a sort, and they are (peep a Comme des Garcons runway and tell me that’s not a girl walking around wearing a straight-up sculpture) . But there is a sense in which fashion as a form of art can’t be divorced from society as a whole and the individual you are trying to dress. It by no means exists within a vacuum.

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Comme des Garcons SS17–tell me that’s not art

The designers that have made waves have often been the ones with their thumb on the pulse of the culture they are both being influenced by and influencing. And it is a curious symbiosis. Chanel had to be aware of cultural shifts and care about the way her customer felt in her clothing in order to make the switch to using  jersey  for her designs in the 20’s. Women’s roles were changing and they needed clothing that both reflected their newfound place within society and gave them the freedom of movement and comfort to keep being revolutionaries. Attire has both reflected and promoted social change. Coco Chanel changed the way women wore and approached clothing (among many other reasons) is why the house is so successful today, and few designers would be able to claim that her work has had no impact on their own, since it simply changed fashion as a whole.

 

Jacobs clearly hasn’t bothered to learn about cultural movements and increased awareness of issues such as appropriation and racial equality that are going to be the hallmark of the times. This is problematic not just from the perspective of being a person in the modern world, and (that fact itself bringing an obligation of sorts to be engaged with social movements and educating oneself about the perspective of another human being) but being part of an industry that, like it or not, depends on the consumer.

 

Sure being an artist is an important part of the job, but a designer is an artist who is creating for people. Fashion is the art that allows another person to express themselves, so keeping the consumer in mind seems to be an inherent part of that art. Coco Chanel saw that women were feeling increasingly liberated, so she liberated them physically from the confines of uncomfortable fabrics. It changed the fashion landscape because reflected the people she was designing for. Fashion needs people–otherwise it’s just fabric.

Not taking the time or having the humility to listen to one’s fellow human being (especially one you are designing for) that seems like the kind of behavior that will lead towards being outmoded. It’s what the dudes that balked at the comfortable functionality of Claire McCardell’s  innovation of American sportswear, or in a much less grandiose example, the editors who criticized Jacobs grunge collection. What made these ideas revolutionary—and stick wasn’t just that these people didn’t listen to the dissenters—it’s that they did listen to the consumers. It was their broader concept of society, their ability to care about their fellow individual that allowed them to make clothing that resonated with other humans. And empathy never goes out of style.

Images from Vogue.com

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Work (fun)ctional

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As I (ostensibly) enter the world of adulthood I am more and more leaving the crop-tops and high waisted denim shorts of college behind me. Unfortunately I haven’t yet figured out my go-to stylish-yet-sophisticated-yet-still-displaying-the-requisite amount of personality outfits. After the cheeky way I was able to dress in a previous life, more grown up affairs continue to leave in me somewhat a sartorial quandary.

So, when my boss informed me we’d be heading over the headquarters of a think tank later on that evening for drinks I was at a loss. What does one wear to go talk about cybersecurity and hacktivism and be taken seriously as someone who would likely be the youngest and blondest in the room, while still conveying my interest in the topic? Can I dress in theme? What would one even wear to a cybersecurity themed party? Can I ever get my mind out of my sorority? Is this what adulthood is like?

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Maybe not so much

My boss had sent me to change since our general office attire wasn’t suitable for such an occasion. Naturally I spent 45 minutes rummaging through my closet playing out all the eventualities in my head. I landed on this ensemble—the black definitely was intended to convey a degree of seriousness and maybe make me feel a bit like a spy, which felt oddly fitting. I tried my best to channel my inner-Audrey (a great departure from my now usual loose-fitting pants, crop top and slides). The top was one that I generally had not found occasions that warranted the beautiful vintage Chanel, but I felt this could be that time. The rather intense monochrome of the outfit i felt needed to be offset by some type of accessory—and when channeling old Hollywood heroines—why not add the scarf?

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Over the course of the evening, I undoubtedly stood out, but with my age and distinct lack of initials after my name that was somewhat an inevitability, and as bold a choice as the scarf definitely added to it. The most important thing for me was that I felt like myself in the clothes and as such had the confidence to talk to the rather impressive array of individuals in the room. after all, that’s what an outfit is for isn’t it?

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That or to feel like a boss

Fashion Month Faves (So Far)

Roksanda:

The latest offering by the Serbian-born London-based designer gave me life—and a new standard for how to dress for the office. Seriously that silk gold jacket with the office-ready one piece? How are you not going to listen to any suggestion an individual wearing that makes? I’d open up an ice cream parlor in Chicago in February if the idea came from someone cool enough to have that level of effortless cool in their rotation. If Jeremy Scott made me think about the industry as a whole, Roksanda made me think about my own sartorial choices, and how to incorporate that level of classic understatement into my own life. Let’s be real—subtlety is not my forte—but that’s why we have designers giving us something to strive for.

Moschino:

Maybe it’s just because I’m obsessed with old Hollywood at the moment thanks to the “You Must Remember This Podcast” (if you’ve never listened—do it. It tells the stories of so many Hollywood power players you’ve heard the names of from cinema snobs and nodded pretending you knew what they were talking about). Anyway, Moschino took what at first seems gimmicky with the trompe l’oeil evening dresses—but still managed to make those would-be cheesy garments seem glamorous. He gave us exciting clothes, made me smile a bit but still made me think about the superficiality of the very industry of which he is a part—keeping it meta and clever as always. Jeremy Scott has been doing this since he took over the brand, but I think this might be his best yet. And what with the same tromp l’oeil technique appearing at Thom Browne as well, I’m guessing this paper doll concept is going to percolate down into the shops soon enough and I’ll probably end up wearing a fake-body lingerie dress at some point. Cause why the hell not?

Thom Browne

OK so I already mentioned this collection in connection to Moschino, but I have to give Thom Browne his due as well. The set (which sadly my only impression comes from obsessively clicking through the slideshows on Vogue.com—where’s my invite Thom?), was tiled tiled in a manner evocative of a pool gave the impression of the opulence of Cleopatra, though cleverly paired with some looks that reminded me of Cher Horowitz splashed with Easter. The elaborate sunglasses shielding the eyes of each model added to the inaccessibility of life of the woman wearing these and whatever kind of bacchanalian DAR meeting they were attending. It’s taking inspiration, and in the degree it’s taken literally, it’s truly saying something interesting. Rather than borrowing from other eras or kinds of people (lookin at you Jacobs) it’s stealing it, turning it around and repackaging it entirely.

All images via Vogue Runway

Life Lessons from a Soaking Beach Yogi

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This past weekend, I decided to show a friend who was new to LA the pristine joys of Manhattan Beach. We had made the plan before we had actually checked the forecast for the day (a habit that I know means I’ve been in the city too long). I had been hoping to take advantage of the last few weeks diving in without a wetsuit doesn’t remind me of the legendary Polar Bear swims of my good ole days of summer camp. Sadly, Southern California decided to deviate from the uniform of 75 and sunny. The overcast skies and slight breeze kept me on dry land, despite the surprisingly pleasant temperature of Pacific Ocean in September.

 

Needless to say, this was not the introduction to my favorite piece of coastline I had in mind. I may be a princess about the cold but I do really prefer leaving the beach smelling of salt and seaweed than seeing the sound of the waves lapping up against the shore as mere background noise. However, Angelinos are an entertaining lot and people-watching is undoubtedly a favorite past-time. I therefore wrapped myself tightly in my denim jacket and took in the cast of characters populating Manhattan that day.

 

There were six beefy men battling the waves atop a massive paddle board that kept our attention for a bit. They would use all their (rather impressive) arm muscle to maneuver the swells until nature inevitably won-out flipping over their absurdly large vessel. They all popped up afterwards looking like they’d just gotten off a rollercoaster and I definitely contemplated asking to hop on.

 

There were two children running around fully naked, though they had reached an age where the social acceptability of this was rather questionable. A group of beautiful thirty-somethings sat nearby, making sure the sand the children were flinging only hit each other. We amused ourselves trying to figure out whose children they were (none of the women looked like they could be the mother) or if group babysitting was what magazines would be calling a new brunch alternative in the coming months.

 

Next, my attention turned to the girl sitting eyes-closed and cross-legged by the base of the pier while someone moved around her snapping away on his iPhone. I pointed her out to my friend with a giggle with a derisive giggle.

 

Ok I’m a terrible person, I know, but God sometimes there is no greater joy than witnessing people fall into stereotypes as I look down from my imperious throne, judging what I see as their entirely unoriginal ways. There’s a satisfaction in watching people be sucked into the boxes I had already placed them in—a sort of sick pleasure that comes from feeling like you’ve figured out the people and the world around you. (Obviously I’m not immune to falling into boxes of my own—I have a Basic Bitch Jar on my kitchen table and an ounce of self-awareness. But I digress.)

 

But watching this girl gave the judgmental bitch in me an absurd pleasure. She simply checked the boxes I wanted for one of my favorite LA-staple boxes: the instagram yogi.

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Processed with Snapseed.

You’ll find this type of girl in various locales across the city that can look like you’re out in nature (without actually having to trek) when cropped to the square on your feed. She’ll contort herself into some kind of display of strength or flexibility and the resulting image seems to be intended to look as though some photographer happened to catch a majestic gumby-girl in her natural habitat and snapped a pic as she looks intently off into the distance, blissfully unaware of her audience.

 

Given where I was, and what was actually happening at the beach, I couldn’t help but find the whole display entirely ridiculous. The serene image that she would inevitably end up posting certainly didn’t encapsulate anything of what was actually going on. There was nothing serene about the dudes and their paddle boards or the uncomfortably naked children, all within 20 feet of her. With her placid expression and decided lack of a smile she just looked like she was taking herself so fuckin seriously.

 

So naturally, when the halcyon waves decided to come up and hit her in the back, I couldn’t help but bust a gut.

 

She was sitting in her placid posture, allowing the waves gently lap up against her lululemons—the picture of blissful meditation. But, the capricious ocean had other ideas and one particularly powerful wave came up and knocked the savasana right out of her. She jumped up, squealed, and checked out her now-soaking rear end. After a deep breath, she collected herself and sat resolutely back down, quickly resuming her meditative pose.

 

OK I’m not nice. I laughed. A lot. Basic yoga bitch gets hit by a wave—its classic comedy. And the fact that she didn’t laugh herself certainly convinced me she was taking herself waaaaay too seriously.

 

But, I am nothing if not prone to over-analysis and I did think about the girl later on. There was something about the resolute way in which she resumed her shoot—the single-minded-ness with which she approached getting the picture she had envisioned. The more I thought about it—the more I couldn’t help but admire it. That’s tenacity. Maybe she was too clueless to think about the people around her—unaware that I probably wasn’t the only person on the beach giggling at her misfortune. But more likely she just didn’t care. And I was jealous.

 

She had a goal. To many, it may have been a silly one, but she wanted that picture, and nature be damned she was getting it. Fuck the haters (me). She had a goal and she went after it, whether or not she looked utterly absurd in doing it. And she was going out and getting what she wanted. And of course the picture didn’t represent the beach as we were experiencing it. But she was showing her version of the truth. She was in charge. Creating her own reality to populate the feed of her followers.

 

So here comes the part where I learned something from yogi girl. Yeah, maybe she took herself a bit seriously (and maybe I’m taking her a bit too seriously with how dangerously close I came to calling her instagram ‘art’ back there—but that’s a debate for another post) Let’s be real, she was pretending to do Yoga at the beach.  But nothing ever happened pretending you don’t care and waiting for opportunities to come to you.

 

It’s easy to sit on in judgement when you aren’t doing anything. When you’re sitting on the beach armed with a denim jacket and an I-don’t-care attitude shielding you it’s easy to judge. The yoga girl was ‘doing the most’ but she’s the one who will end up actually doing the most. But the fact is photographers aren’t wandering around looking for beautiful limber women who happen to be doing yoga, asking to take a picture of them then catapulting them to stardom. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean that there’s going to be someone there trying to show the world how good you are. You have to do that yourself sometimes–create the opportunities yourself and show off your talents.

 

This might be the most millennial way humanly possible to come to the age-old realization you need to follow your dreams and forget what other people think—but I certainly can take a nod from the struggling yoga girl. If there’s something you want in life, whether it be a job, a relationship, a fit physique, a dope-looking instagram post, or a cookie you have to make it happen. Sometimes that requires having other people laugh at you and maybe getting your expensive athletic apparel a bit damp.

 

taking yourself too seriously is damaging, but not taking yourself seriously at all doesn’t do too much either. Yeah, I was able to laugh at her because she was putting herself out there, but putting yourself out there is the only way to get exactly what you want. By blocking myself off in an armor of denim and judgement, I get to laugh, but I also don’t get to do anything else.  What the randoms on the beach think of you doesn’t really matter. My laughter doesn’t affect her daily existence whatsoever, but the fact that she can go take the pictures she wants? That does.

 

So I’ve decided to follow the wet-rat yogi’s example and start up the old blog again. Put myself out there. Risk getting my proverbial lulus wet. Gotta be the instagram yogi I wish to see in the world. Or something like that.

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Take lessons learned everywhere you go. Even to the Melrose Flea Market

 

A Different Story

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I realize that I have not updated in quite some time. I lost inspiration and didn’t really know what to write. Now I’m feeling it more, but I wanted to talk, not about clothes, but about one of the most important four months of my life, though my reaction and manner of talking about it changes the more I learn.

Right now, I’m trying to forget about the complications, and focus simply in what I know is right. I am organizing a gofundme campaign for an organization based in Ethiopia that I worked closely with while I was there during the course of my gap year. Now is a time this organization is truly in need of aid, and I am trying to put aside the more complicated aspects of what I have learned since I went there (though the complications are an important part of the piece), and lay out some facts.

Here is the gofundme, and gofund.me/5yf7k7u4 any donations are greatly appreciated.

In 1984, Ethioipa experineced a horrible drought, which caused incredible food shortages and devastated the population. If you closely you scour the “Africa” section of the BBC, you know that Ethiopia is facing another drought. (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34783604) . Though irrigation has improved in the last 30 years, huge food shortages are  still expected. Those already suffering, specifically homeless youths, will undoubtedly be some of the hardest hit by this crisis, and most in need of immediate aid.Yenege Tesfa is an amazing NGO that benefits children on the streets of the city Ethiopian Gondar, an area that is already feeling the effects of this situation. http://www.yenegetesfa.org/

Nigisti Gebreslassi, the woman–force of nature–at the helm of Yenege Tesfa started the organization while she was still in high school, and is easily one of the individuals most driven by selfless motivations that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. She wanted to create a place the the numerous children she saw on the streets of her city could not only grow up–but grow up strong, happy and healthy. I have seen some of the amazing work done by this organization, and in a time of crisis, these needs are all the more dire, and will take infinitely more effort and resources to meet. The organization has already worked to bring water to schools in surrounding areas that need it, and are in amazing position to do relief work of just this nature.

Being as selfless and driven as Nigisti is hard, but giving a few dollars for many of us is fairly. Any amount of money is helpful. This campaign is to spread awareness of the situation there and make donating easier, since, at the moment, all the organization can accept is a bank transfer. We need to put resources in the capable hands of individuals who are working to not only provide immediate relief, but seek long-term solutions. Those who live there are the ones most equipped to do something, and they, rather than outside organizations who don’t understand the issues. That’s all that really matters: it’s a great organization that can help with a big problem, so please, please help out.

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I recognize that this seems like a strange plea to come from some random American college student, and this is all so incredibly much bigger than me, but I did want to provide some background to my connection to Yenege Tesfa and Gondar. Through my time engaging in some voluntourism.

Back in 2011, I took a gap year between college and high school which took me to, among other places, Gondar Ethiopia. Right off the bat I will fully admit that my choice to take the year off was motivated mostly by curiosity and a far-too healthy dose of hubris. I wanted to travel instead of going off to a college that was by no means my top choice, and I figured a year would be enough time for the sting of rejection to fade. After all, spending an extended period of time in a country I would probably not otherwise even visit sounded cooler than a semester of college anyway. Wanderlust had a hold of me, and the idea of seeing parts hitherto unknown was a point of unimaginable excitement. Through connections and referrals I found a program, and figured why not try Ethiopia?

My program was a Gondar-based NGO, Link Ethiopia, that allowed me to teach supplemental English classes for four months. This job essentially put me in front of a class of around 50 middle school students leading improv games, hangman and short story writing. Despite my best efforts, I would be lying if I said I thought any of the kids got a fraction from my classes as I got from each day teaching it.

The experience was complicated to say the least. Despite the incredible warmth of just about everyone I met, living alone in an apartment by myself in a foreign country made for some lonely afternoons. I therefore sought additional avenues of involvement and people to meet–I wanted to get as much out of my time there as possible. So, the director of my program put me in touch with Yenege Tesfa, so I could help out with one of their food distribution ventures. Through this, I developed a friendship with the program’s founder, Nigisti, which led to wonderful evenings of TV watching, delicious food and great conversation.

Through this friendship, I also discovered that some of my best students were children who lived in Yenege Tesfa homes. These students exhibited an incredible grasp on the English language and were keen to pick up an enthusiasm for the joys of books. These children had once been begging in the streets. Through the culture fostered at the homes, they were now equipped with the power that only an education and a strong support system can bring. One boy had been paralyzed from the waist down, forced to drag his body by his elbows. Through the health care provided by Yenege Tesfa was able to not only walk, but was often late to class because he wanted to finish his pickup soccer game. He also happened to be the most precocious student I had. I only witnessed a tiny portion of the incredible impact this organization has had.

When I left Ethiopia, I almost mythologized my time there, trying to reconcile it with the entirely different world of America at Christmastime I thrust myself back into. My comfort zone had been stretched, misshapen and essentially burst with each morning waking up in my accommodation to the sounds of the church processional before dawn, each afternoon acting out “The Ugly Duckling” to a class full of confused 13 year-olds and each evening watching the BBC with my landlady (in what I now see as one of the greatest acts of compassion I have witnessed given her lack of English and my lack of Amharic). But being away from the source of change can alter the reaction, creating that dreamlike quality around a different, though equally valid time in your life.

Re-entering into a world of liberal arts school, I was forced to confront the systems of political power that had put me in a place of privilege to go there in the first place, even if my headspace going in had been that of excitedly curious naivete. I like to think I grew as a person, but so much of the experience had been about me. Essentially I was in a place of such absurd privilege that I got more out of my own act of supposed charity than I could possibly give back. The amazing warmth I was shown, paired with guilt associated with the recognized imbalance has left me unsure of how to talk about my experience, or what actions to take at home. Despite my curiously naive motivations, just wanting to see a new country, I unknowingly played into a system of voluntourism, something that often ends up doing more harm than good. It’s a system where people are either trying to assuage white guilt and “help out”, but having no real skills to bring to the table, add little else than gawking. It’s also often run by foreign organizations, who just really don’t understand the area they’re coming into. There are numerous articles on the subject, and I have read a bunch since coming back. Though my program was run by Ethiopians, and I wasn’t foolish enough to feel like I was actually doing any larger good than engaging with people and making new friends.

So, not wanting to seem like one of those people, I haven’t engaged with the experience as much as I could have. I haven’t known how to talk about it–and I still don’t, as evidenced by how decidedly short this part of the essay is. This time has undoubtedly shaped who I am as a person, and becoming aware of some of the negative sides of an experience that has, in some ways, made me who I am has made me unsure of how to talk about it as an overall experience. At the time, I didn’t think about how my curious naivite played into a larger system.

My friendships with people in Ethiopia and the importance of the relationships I have with so many people there made look twice (really three or four, or constantly) about the concept of giving aid. It is such a loaded issue, one that leaves so many of us unsure if there is anything to do to proceed, and lord knows this is only musings, as opposed to saying anything concrete. I’m still figuring so much of this out.

Many of these supposed relief organizations have nefarious sides to them and it’s undeniably difficult to wade through all of that. Then, there’s the idea of coming in as saviors which doesn’t respect the autonomy and personhood of the individuals they are supposedly helping, creating a cycle of dependence. So I have no idea where I fit into all of this. Learning about and thinking more about all of this, since returning, I have been stupidly and selfishly paralyzed.

But the fact is, that it obviously isn’t about me, and any complicated feelings I have about trying to do some good, with organizations I genuinely trust. My feelings or reputation are not what’s important. Looking at it now, there are people I trust implicitly in Gondar, and some excess resources in America. It seems  absurd not to put those resources in the hands of the amazing people who will genuinely do something good with it. Yenege Tesfa are those people, and friends whom I trust, and I definitely don’t doubt the truth of those relationships, even if I do doubt how much good I actually did while I was there.

The staff is not foreigners coming in with little to no understanding of what they are doing–they are people working to create long-term institutions within their own neighborhoods. They are working to do more than just put on bandaids, but are knowledgable, compassionate people who are setting up institutions. They are allowing children to receive education, which I do believe can create long-term aid. Hearing about a drought affecting Gondar, the option of doing nothing simply flew out the window. My gap year put me in the fortunate position of meeting Nigisti, and all the amazing kids at Yenege Tesfa. The kids are absolutely incredible and this city needs support now more than ever–her team can do amazing things with any amount of money they receive.

So there’s my plea, and my relation to it. If you do have any questions, please feel free to contact me!

gofund.me/5yf7k7u4

That Whole Lack of Updates Thing

So as far as this semester goes, I have a bit more on my plate. On the bright side, I’m interning at a publication called Campus Circle doing exactly what I love to do: write about fashion. On the down side, it gives me a lot less time to blog. It also doesn’t help that a lot of my ideas have been going into my work for them, so fodder for blog topics has been somewhat lacking. That being said, here’s an article I wrote for them. It’s a bit less heady and philosophical than some other posts, but I had fun writing it. This has been giving me the opportunity to tackle my goals in a much more structured format (and taught me how to write more quickly, cause my posts always take forever to write).

I’m going to try and get some new things going, and work on a few more articles once I figure out how to better manage my time. I know, I know, were all too busy for our own good and we just all need to learn to suck it up and prioritize. It’s human and it’s frustrating. 

http://www.campuscircle.com/review.cfm?r=19022&h=Practical-College-Girls-Guide-to-Spring-Fashion-When-cozy-meets-cute

Regardless, here’s the link and I’ll try to have some new stuff soon!