Love the ones you love

20 years of best friendship

Best friends

Tien and I met in college when we were both 18. I’ve written about our friendship before because it is one of the most important relationships in my life, as I think female friendships are for many women. And I’ve written about it because maintaining long-term friendships isn’t easy - like in any close relationship, you see the person when they are hungry, giving you the best hug, crying, throwing tantrums, making you laugh - and you have to treat your imperfect self and their imperfect self with kindness. And maybe over the years you realize that you love people because of their imperfections - not in spite of them. It is a rare and beautiful thing to have someone who truly KNOWS you, and so you’ve got to take care of those people, to love them even when they don’t love themselves (which is often the root of mean behavior, us not loving ourselves).

Myanmar/Mexico texting

Tien has lived in Myanmar for over a decade, so we text and talk when my day is beginning and hers is ending or vice versa. This morning, she texted that she was working on an assignment with a few people in her life: A) “What shows up when I do (when I am being my most ‘present’)?” B) What positive qualities do I bring to a room?” I had just woken up and wrote her, still half asleep: “A) A burst of energy, the strongest hugs, creative observations in conversation B) Joy, enthusiasm, a sense of playfulness, intelligence, creativity”

I woke up with pink eye and wasn’t feeling the greatest. And then Tien texted back: “You dearest Alice are A) Truth see-er, unswerving principles, loyalty, creative radiance B) complexity, infectious laughter, the most beautiful soul”

Her response to me was unexpected and it made me feel seen and loved. We all need that, because I know that if I struggle with negativity, with feeling that I am not doing enough and Tien, who has done incredible work with the United Nations in Myanmar, feels that she is not productive and has not done enough - then we all struggle with those feelings. Over the years, I have learned to be kinder to myself and others. I wish I had been kinder to myself in my 20s, but I am glad I have friends who have grown up with me, who see me even when I can’t see myself. Reach out and tell your friends what you love about them.



To drink wine without cheese is sad

Follow that good energy

Lula, who is from Madrid, offered me wine from La Rioja and then looking me directly in the eyes said, “To drink wine without cheese is sad.” And, oh, how right she was! I was in Spain to participate in conference for journalists who cover migration, and I met Lula whose joy for life reminded me, for example, of the sadness that comes when you drink wine without cheese. Sometimes when I get caught up in my work and obsessed with projects, I forget about details like wine and cheese and quiet moments shared with friends. And what I love about Spain is that when I try to leave a social gathering, everyone shouts, “Alicia, where are you going?” And no matter what I say, they refuse to let me leave. That is love, as is wine + cheese.

Friends who gather us into their embrace

After Spain, I flew to Bulgaria to visit some dear friends, the kind of people who manage to get 30-40 friends to gather together every year for a week of cooking and dancing in the woods. I wish I were that person who brought people together, but I’ve never been an organizer or a bringer together of people in that sense. Look for those friends who bring you into their embrace always (no matter the number of months or years that have passed since your last visit), and for the ones who you meet in passing, like Lula, whose energy and sense of humor remind you of life’s priorities.



Crossing the river at night

When my stories and life are illustrated

This week I published my first Spanish podcast with Las Raras “El viaje de Estrella.” Estrella, whose name translates as Star in English, is a trans woman who I met in San Salvador in 2017. We traveled by bus from San Salvador, El Salvador to Tecún Umán, Guatemala. We arrived at dusk and crossed the Suchiate River, which marks the border between Guatemala and Mexico, on a raft. Here is the river illustrated by Sole Aguila:

Here we are crossing the river in the middle of the night. Estrella was afraid and so was I because the area is controlled by cartels.

But we made it. And she reached the US. And last year she received asylum in the US.

Estrella, who has officially changed her name to Michelle in the US, had the courage to tell her story because she wished that when she was young, she had heard the voices and stories of other trans women. She thought that she could save lives by telling her story. And she can. And she will.



the freedom of the road

Road trip to Matehuala

I am an overthinker, and when my mind circles around things for too long, then I get stressed and procrastinate so that I can avoid those things I was thinking about. Last week, my overthinking led me to watch the entire Netflix series on Mexican singer Luis Miguel. My friend Esme, a chef, texted me to ask where I had been or if I had found new friends or something because she hadn’t seen me. And she invited me to take a road trip to visit her dad in Matehuala for his birthday. Below is a photo of her dad Carlos in his VW bug with his dog Siri.

The VW van with no gas gauge

Even though I had work I needed to be doing, I decided to go on the road trip, at least in part because Esme has this incredible VW bus with a blue velvet interior and her dogs Ámbar and Tlaloc travel in it. Ámbar is like a human being, has a lot of emotional sensitivity. Tlaloc is a brute who in moments of pure joy can jump out of a moving car or knock you over with his enthusiasm. And I knew that I needed a road trip in an old car with no AC and the wind in my hair and a beer in my hand (I wasn’t driving) where Esme and I would sing Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” at the top of our lungs and then the car would break down on the side of the road at night and we would need to go find a new cable for the clutch and Esme would have to hitchhike to find the cable while I stayed in the car with the dogs and Tlaloc would jump out the window even though he was on a leash and would break off a toenail and bleed like a stuck pig. And then Esme would get picked up by a nice young lesbian who would invite us to stay the night at her apartment since we couldn’t get our car fixed. And we would take the nice young lesbian to dinner and she would quiz us about our lives, amazed at seeing two grown women alone on the road doing whatever they wanted. And then the second day we would fix the clutch but run out of gas on a desolate highway because the gas gauge in the VW doesn’t work. And some guys would siphon gas out of their car into a 2-liter of Coke and gave it to us. But then we would run out of gas a second time.

Open road, open mind

We made it to Matehuala eventually, and I felt so thrillingly good and alive and ready to write. A writing idea that I had been carrying around for years suddenly came together. I needed the wind. The dogs. The singing. The hitchhiking. The friendly lesbian curious about women living big, creative lives. The sun on my face. The dog jumping out the window. I needed to feel the pulse of this crazy world. And now I’m back and energized and writing as I step on a plane to fly to Spain to present my work at the Symposium on Migration Journalism. When someone asks you to take a road trip - go. Go, go west, young woman.



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