My hands were in so much pain as the tape haphazardly covered my raw skin. The muscles in my arms were burning as my hunched up form attempted to climb this DAMN V1. I was discovering that I was indeed afraid of heights… and of falling the short four feet to the crash pad.
“You know… you’re tired because you’re all bunched up and climbing only with your arms. You really need to flag..”
Flagging, is the practice in climbing of fully extending a leg to the side as a counter balance, generally combined with arms fully extended for maximum control and maneuverability. It is critical, but quite uncomfortable… especially for beginners who tend to think that climbing is strictly an upper body exercise.
I remember being annoyed that Crystal was coaching me…. from the ground.
But then again, this wasn’t the first time that Crystal had brought me on an adventure where the primary goal was discomfort and growth.
For some context, I’m going to need to tell you a story about camels, reservations, and the importance of owning your own narrative.
It’s a trip.
Or maybe two or three.
A Trip Built Around a Camel Festival
During college and in the years shortly thereafter, we had bonded over: the latest food trends, Disney runs where we tried to ride the most obscure rides (Mark Twain’s Riverboat anyone), and pity parties where we discussed our sad lives as temporary workers.
Crystal had a reputation for being a world traveler and so in 2018 when she invited me to go on a trip to Turkey, I was honored and thrilled.
The one catch was that I could not for the life of me figure out why she had chosen Turkey of all places to go visit.
See, a few years prior, my cousin had been in Turkey when there had been a coup. I remember FaceTiming her and her friend as they hid out in their Istanbul airbnb waiting for the travel ban to lift.
This experience of my cousin combined with the fact that there was a travel advisory on the U.S. Department of State’s website that said, “Reconsider travel to Turkey due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions,” were enough to make me quite uncomfortable.
Alas, work at Chick-fil-A had been sucking the life out of me for a few years at this point, and I was looking for any excuse to escape. So Crystal, Brian, and I waited for some affordable flights and then booked our trip for January of 2019.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Crystal had actually built our entire three city trip around a single festival that was occurring in Ephesus on one specific day in January. That’ll be important later.
As I boarded the plane, I remember being more than a little bit anxious about the trip: I had never traveled internationally with friends for this long, I wasn’t sure how safe this place was, and I quite frankly had no clue what to expect.
I put my headphones in, cued our “Turkey 2019” collaborative Spotify playlist, and fell asleep to Clueless by the Marias.
Thanks For Not Listening to Your Friends (<-Link to the “written in Turkey” blog)
On our trip we tried new food, made new friends, got creative with our documenting, and learned a lot about the world and our perception of it.
Crystal was always the first to put herself out there when it came to practicing the language and engaging with the natives. While many people travel for the photos and the stories, Crystal always seems to want to see what life is like for the normal person in these different cultural contexts. This is evident in how she plans her trips all the way through to the way she frames her photos.
In experiencing her method of traveling to know and understand rather than traveling to see and commentate, my eyes were opened to so much beauty that comes from experiencing different cultures.
Her courage and adventurousness is what placed us in the thick of a Camel Wrestling Festival on a Saturday morning, where we would experience a party unlike any we had seen before.
In many ways, Turkey was an incredible trip because the people we met there were unbelievably hospitable and friendly. We were offered food, drinks, and warm welcomes almost everywhere we went. Complete strangers would hear us speaking English and they would stop and say hello and share about their sons or daughters that lived in California. Airbnb hosts would shift heaven and earth to get us better accommodations. Food tour guides would take time after their shifts to take us to wine gardens and share recommendations of where we could eat next. The country was beautiful from a nature and sights standpoint, but it was especially beautiful because of the people that interacted with us.
But see, herein lies the catch: we never would have experienced any of this hospitality or any of the great things Turkey has to offer, if not for Crystal’s willingness to plan this trip to a place that neither I nor many people I know would ever try and go for “safety” reasons.
As our world experiences a time of great unrest, and nationalism and patriotism are being flaunted left and right, I think fondly on this trip and how it completely re-framed my perspective of other countries. When a native says, “Thanks for not listening to your friends who said we were barbarians and that you shouldn’t come,” it fucks you up a little bit.
Every country is a melting pot of atrocities, customs, innovations, and most importantly: people.
Thanks Crystal for teaching me the importance of seeing things and people for myself as opposed to just believing what I hear about them.
A few years later, Crystal joined me in Mexico City, in order to see, what all the hype was about an anti-human trafficking organization that I was crazy about.
We spent time with several of the beneficiaries teaching basic math and facilitating some team building exercises and I tried to summarize everything in Benny Yu’s book Painful Miracles in a succinct way in order to explain the anti trafficking work that El Pozo De Vida was doing in Mexico City.
When we weren’t at the safehouse or eating tacos, we were seeing the sights and trying to keep our food down.
As a celebratory meal of sorts, Crystal tried to get us a table at Quintonil, an upscale restaurant in the same stratosphere as some Michelin Star restaurants in the area. Unfortunately for us, there were no reservations available for the time we were free.
Now, I would have just given up and eaten at Taco Express for the fifth time in three weeks, BUT Crystal decided what the heck, I’ll just shoot them a quick email and explain our situation.
Lo and behold: we got a table.
As we sat down and ate, we realized that we were in fact an exception to the rule, as the restaurant had violated its one party an hour rule and double booked us in their opening slot.
If you know me, you know that I am terrified of asking for things. I will eat the incorrectly delivered food at my table because I don’t want to cause an inconvenience. I figure it’s better not to ask and therefore not be disappointed than it is to try and find a creative solution but fail in the process.
Crystal lives this theme of “just trying” to the max.
Windy gales might prevent us from flying in hot air balloons? Eh, let’s try anyways.
We are 20 and 21 on the waitlist for this game theory class? Eh, let’s just hang around anyways.
There’s a contest on this new travel app? Eh, sure what do I have to lose?
There’s a social media giveaway for these tickets to a play? Eh, you should just try.
Thanks for teaching me the importance of asking, Crystal.
Own Your Narrative
It can be hard to get by in a culture that values set-in-stone plans and monetary success so highly above all other things.
As great as the exciting adventures we’ve shared have been, we’ve been privy to each other’s non-instagram highlight-esque life struggles as well. From uncertainty of wanting to stay with certain companies, being overworked and abused by poor managers and organizations, and wrestling with the tension between personal passion projects and making rent, we’ve been privileged to give the other space to vent about all that stuff people generally don’t talk about.
We post on social media about the concerts, the picturesque views, the trips, and the good times, but we conveniently leave out the jobs that are killing us, the painful process of learning about ourselves, and the long ass times we spend at jobs we hate in order to save up enough for the next trip.
People remind us time and time again to get serious about our lives as we brush them off, too busy wandering and discovering just a little bit more about who we are and what we want.
I appreciate the safe space that Crystal has created when it comes to talking about purpose and living the one life that we have.
In one phone call, I shared about how I was pretty sure that I was going to move to Mexico City and that I was finally okay with being the only one in my life who seemed remotely excited about that decision. She cheered me on from the other side of the line and said something along the lines of, “HELL YEAH! OWN your narrative!”
I think Crystal has taught me an immense amount about empathy and being supportive that I have never experienced in such consistent quantities. I’ve learned so much about being a cheerleader to my friends and family just from the conversations we’ve had in which she just hears me out and encourages me to keep chasing what I think I was designed to do.
If you’ve had the privilege to get to know Crystal, I think you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Embracing the Uncomfortable
By far, the trait I admire most about Crystal, is her intentionality with being uncomfortable.
It could be on her travels.
It could be on the bouldering walls she scales.
It could be in the controversial topics she chooses to discuss when everyone is just vibing.
She chooses to challenge the norm and the widely accepted way of doing things and she asks the hard questions which she might not have the answers to.
This takes immense bravery, but without people in our world with this trait, we would never develop, grow, or solve the problems that our societies face.
She doesn’t accept the stereotypes that people blindly assign to other people and instead chooses to immerse herself and to see for herself what makes different people unique.
She’s willing to take risks in order to learn about others and she’s not so quick to assign blame to entire people groups.
To be frank… our world needs more people who desire to see the similarities we all share as opposed to harping on the differences.
Dude, Crystal, you’ve taught me HELLA, about life, perspectives, and just living life authentically. I’m honored to call you my friend, and I appreciate you being patient with all of my tiktok transitions that I make you do for my travel videos. Thanks for caring about my passion projects and encouraging me to chase them down. Also thanks for being down to detox from social media with our janky “social media addicts anonymous” program. Thanks for reminding me to create space for myself when I get lost in trying to do five thousand things at once. Try and remember me when you are the Senior Director of the United Nations who wins the Nobel Peace Prize for inspiring change through photojournalism.
Some people might see Crystal’s life as a bit unorthodox or unbalanced but to be honest….
I think she’s hanging on that V6, flagging, concentrating, and knowing exactly where she’s going next: to solve the world’s next problem.