When I noticed the illuminated gas light, I knew it was too late-I would never make it to the next big town, 22 miles away. Then, like a mirage, an old building with the words GAS/FOOD painted on its side appeared. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that there was definitely no gas in the pumps, and that there probably hadn't been for years. I looked around helplessly, allowing the worry train in my mind to run at full speed. What would become of a Black Jewish woman, alone and stranded in the boonies of a red state? I could feel tears pricking at the corners of my eyes, begging to fall. Suddenly, I heard the sound of laughter and followed it to a set of tall wooden doors. The echo of collective chortles, chuckles, and hee-has derailed my thoughts long enough for me to make a move, and I wrapped my hand around the cold metal moose-head door handle. The antlers made it so my fingers spread into an awkward claw. I pulled one of the doors open, and behind its heavy mass sat seven white strangers and a white bartender. My breath felt caught in my chest and butterflies fluttered up from my stomach into my throat, choking me. “Hi. Um, can y'all tell me where the gas station is?” My voice came out shaky and those damn tears were still fighting against me. A tall, thin man with shoulder-length grey hair, a thick mustache, and a familiar face stood, looked me up and down, and said, “You're shit outta luck in this town.” The tears finally won their battle and marched right out of my eyes and down my cheeks like hot soldiers pumped up with the emotions of victory and the price paid for it. "Don't worry, come on now. Don't you worry. Is your gas light on?” “Yes,” I replied, feeling foolish with my red eyes and puffy lips, “and I don't know how long but I've driven at least 20 miles since I noticed it.” A blonde woman, the only other woman in the bar besides the plump bartender looking on from behind the old wooden counter with an air of indifference about her, smiled at me. “Oh, I bet you could make it sweetie! I almost run out of gas all the time, but now I know exactly how far I can go once that light turns on!” She broke into a laugh that nobody joined. The tears incessantly fell from my face and were beginning to slide down my neck, which was already sticky with sweat. “I really don't think I can make it, I'm scared I'll get stuck.” The tall man still seemed to be analyzing me as he said, “I really think you'll be fine. Just go on ahead and try—" “I'll go get you some gas.” We all turned our heads toward the low, raspy voice. A man who had been sitting silent in the corner, wearing a white t-shirt and khaki pants stood and pulled his keys out of his pocket. "Be right back, y'all.” He pushed open the door and sunlight rushed into the room, brightening our faces. It slammed behind him with a thud and we were left with our jaws open. A younger man with a large body broke the silence. "So what the hell is a girl like you doing in lil' ol' Pringle, South Dakota?” I wiped the tears from my face and told them about my solo road trip. The large man seemed amused by my response: “Well honey, you sure ain't home in California anymore! You in Trump country now!” I laughed nervously. “Oh, hush Jimmy!” The blonde woman playfully slapped his arm. “What now, darlin'? I'm just tellin' her like it is!” And then to me, “You don't believe in this global warming bullshit now do ya?” The woman slapped him again, harder. “Don't listen to my husband, he's just giving you a hard time.” “It's okay,” I told them, "I wanted to travel this country because it's easy to come up with ideas about people who think differently than me, when I really don't know them at all.” The blonde woman liked that a lot and smiled at me, nodding her head in agreement. “So," I asked, "is this where Pringles chips were invented?” The people laughed and the air felt lighter. We carried on a cheerful conversation, ending abruptly when the door swung open to reveal the silhouette of the khaki man holding a gas can, and sunlight once again spilled over our faces. The blonde woman followed as I led him to my car. She was beautiful, with a face so warm; she could have been one of my grade school teachers. As the man poured gas into my tank, I dug through my backpack for a ten dollar bill I remembered tucking away earlier that morning. “Thank you so much, can I give you some money for all of this?” “No.” He tightened the gas cap and snapped the little door shut. “Alright, this should get you to town. Keep an eye on your tank now, ya hear?” “Yes sir, thank you, I will.” Pulling away, it struck me that I'd had a transformative experience. My gas light illuminated, and it brightened my perspective on humanity.
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"Dad, skip this song please!" Despite my desperate pleading, he didn't reach out for the forward button on the car's stereo. I turned to my left and signaled my sister to change the song for me, but she merely shrugged at my pouting face. I refrained myself from asking my mom, as she was finally dozing away from this exhausting 9-hour drive back to the city. For a moment there, I knew that this trip back was fated to be longer than the high-spirited visit of two days ago. Honestly, there was nothing wrong with the song, only that it was an overplayed Christmas song currently playing on a dull mid-June evening. Just a bridge away from our apartment but the usual 8 pm downtown traffic kept us on that road longer than we would've liked. This, unfortunately, meant that the song was the only thing I could cling onto until the car's movement could distract me from this seemingly eternity-lasting boredom. For some reason, I caved in and listened. "Long time ago in Bethlehem, so the Holy Bible said." I felt a shock from that one line. The shock wasn't the type that shakes your body, just a mental shock. But I never experienced these before. "'Bethlehem'..." my mind whispered, "it's one of the two holiest cities in Palestine. The Commission was granted international control of the city from the Partition of 1948..." I then found myself lost in thought. I began to reflect on my journey of discovery on the mysterious and sandy region; I reminisced on the painfully tedious process of researching an unknown political issue; I finally self-commended myself for the personal perseverance I had towards the notably complicated topic; I became appreciative towards the exciting but overlooked historical dynamics in the Middle East that I've become so entrenched about over the months. Most importantly, I wondered how was my mind was still wandering around historical politics and reacted so powerfully by a single stimulant. Nevertheless, I realized I felt an unprecedented connection to that song. I became more appreciative towards a simple piece that I'd overlooked for years. It was only through my self-driven Middle East exploration that instilled meaning in the lyrics. That little moment on the car, a surprisingly swift period for the song's 3-minute duration, enabled me to truly reflect on the transformative experience I had when I vowed to be determined towards studying the Middle East political events. The comforting and safe environment that I was so fortunate to be enclosed in that night made me realize the value of truly taking the time and devoting effort into learning history of a movement, a community, a race, a region so foreign to myself to ultimately allow myself to become more open-minded in this increasingly connected world. For the first time, I'd internalized and understood the song's resonance on a personal level. And with that came a sense of satisfaction - I'd never felt so fulfilled and accomplished in my entire life. I was genuinely so elated that I had to press the replay button.
“Oye, choca, que lindos tus ojos,” a middle-aged man called out to me from his small, beaten up car on the small dirt road I dread walking on so much. This was not the first superficial comment I had gotten that day. Most cat calls directed towards me came from large, unkempt men whose appearance alone caused me to feel fear and unease. I hurried without giving him a glance for fear of fueling the fire that was his acute need for attention that he may go to desperate measures to quench. All my life, I had never been allowed to play out on the street with my friends. I had never been allowed to do something as simple as walk to the little corner store half a block away to buy a few eggs alone. I always needed an adult by my side, and even that was not a guarantee of my safety. As a young child, I had been taught to divert as much attention as I could away from who I truly was. This was done by simple things such as never speaking English in public, never looking people on the street I did not know in the eye, never going out without an adult - preferably a Bolivian man, and by dressing in an attempt to hide some of my snowy skin. Even my best efforts at blending in could not keep all the attention away; cat calls were a common experience to me for as long as I can remember, and this put an inevitable fear in my mind of men. For this reason, getting as far away from that man on the street as possible was my only concern in that moment. As soon as I got far enough away for me to feel comfortable, I remembered the reason I was walking; my mom was waiting for me at the other end of the street to catch a “micro” - a public transportation bus. My mind settled instantly at the sight of my strong, beautiful, Bolivian mother, and all the fearful thoughts that seem to short circuit my brain disappeared for a split second that did not last anywhere near long enough. As soon as I reached my mom's side, she spotted the micro heading towards us. She reminded me to keep my bag in front of me since the risk of either getting something stolen or getting inappropriately touched were high if I did nothing to prevent it. Consequently, I stayed by my mom's side as she paid the bitter, overweight driver who had already stepped on the gas pedal again. No seats were available, so we stood in the overcrowded bus until we reached the “abasto” - a vast market in which one can buy fresh food; cheap materials; and agricultural goods. Immediately after stepping off the bus, I was hit with the seemingly origin-less, inescapable stench. I mindlessly followed my mom through the weaving market that seemed to never be the same as she searched for the perfect bunch of bananas for her banana bread. On the side of one of the endless numbers of small fruit stands, there was a little girl sitting under a truck in an attempt to escape the powerful sun that so violently beat on everyone who dared stand directly under its rays. She looked up from the corn husks she was playing with to observe the unusual sight of a white girl with green eyes. A teenage girl sat in the bed of the truck with one leg carelessly hanging off the side. Contrary to the child's simple way of achieving entertainment, her fingers vigorously flew across the glossy screen of her small cellphone. Unlike the child, the teenager barely glanced at me, and as soon as she saw that I was just another girl, her phone retook her attention. The little girl, however, was still mesmerized by my appearance, so I smiled which seemed to satisfy her as she immediately smiled back and returned to playing with anything she could find. Meanwhile, my mom had decided that she had found the bananas that she wanted, so she asked the middle-aged woman standing behind them how much they costed. The woman, dressed in faded clothes and a threadbare apron in which she kept the money she had earned, readily recognized my fair colored skin and naturally assumed that I was not Bolivian and, therefore, ignorant. She chose to take a chance at gaining more money by charging us extra; however, we were used to being charged extra a countless amount of times due to the fact that I was different. My mom convinced the woman to charge us the honest amount of how much the bananas were worth, and we kept walking through the abyss. After an hour, we got on a micro and returned home - one of the few places I felt safe. This short trip had not brought about any terrible events; however, the possibility of being taken advantage of due to irrelevant and superficial things was a constant likelihood in my life. I have grown up trying to hide who I am because of a fear of those who I do not know, but I have never seen it as a fully negative thing because being different means that I am special; the unwanted attention is simply due to everyone around me recognizing that. Maybe, just maybe, someday I will be free to be whoever I want to be without a threat. For now, I live as a minority in what I consider to be my own culture.
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