The Dream Gap

Written on 8th of March 2019

When I was a teenager, I remember always feeling a bit awkward when receiving flowers for Women’s Day. “What are we celebrating?”, I’d think. “The only difference from men is that we have periods and children. The fact that we have periods is nothing to celebrate and I hate to think that if I ever have children, I have to think of my career, face the consequences on my body, possible serious health implications and who knows what else”. And I would always wonder why we don’t host a similar celebration for men, as I thought cupcakes and flowers are pretty wicked gifts to receive by many of my male friends.

I never thought much about womanhood. I knew feminism was important, but I didn’t think I ever experienced any sort of oppression because of my gender. Nobody told me I couldn’t go to film school and that I couldn’t hold a camera. The issues I encountered whilst growing up were about everything but my gender.

Then in 2018 I went to Argentina. I got a job as a videographer in Buenos Aires on Girls20 Summit. Featuring girls aged 18 to 23, it featured many topics, including female empowerment.

I remember sitting in a room full of beautiful, strong, diverse young women. I remember listening to the speech from CEO Heather Barnabe, and this was when I realised “Wait, I don’t know anyone like her”. Heather was so sharp, smart, supportive, vulnerable, beautiful in and out, and a young female CEO.

And then slowly but surely something started to shift in my head.

I remember all the mentors being female, and I remember all the participants suffering from impostor syndrome, thinking they weren’t good enough to be there, despite of having changed policies, established NGOs and rocked half of this world with their l projects. I was like “WHAT ARE YOU EVEN SAYING GIRLS, YOU ARE AMAZING”.

Then I looked at myself. I realised I also suffered from an impostor syndrome. I thought I wasn’t good enough to be there, which is why I didn’t even apply to be a participant.

Then I looked at the room again.
And this is when the final realisation hit me.

It took me 23 years of my life and a whole path of international education on 3 continents to find myself in a room of 25 people where the CEO was young and female, the team was made of badass diverse empowered women who are breaking the glass ceilings like if they were made of paper, NOBODY is competing and everyone around me is a supportive, strongly leading female.

It’s not about women taking over the world. I believe in female empowerment just as much as male one. But if it wasn’t for Girls20, I would never start my own business. Cause even though no one ever told me “you can’t go to film school because you are a woman”, no one told me “Hey Sonia, you can be a CEO one day”.

And if it’s not about the pay gap in your country, it’s about the dream gap. It’s about the motherhood gap. It’s about the catcall gap. It’s about all the gaps that you aren’t likely to have if you were born with one set of genitals as opposed to other.

So when my co-workers and friends welcomed me with flowers today, when my brother sent me lovely wishes, when students kept wishing me a Happy Women’s Day and when my boyfriend wrote a cute post full of support, I think I finally understood what Women’s Day is all about.

Women went a long way over the past 100 years and we still have a long way to go. But those flowers are a symbol of empowerment of women before my time, women here now, and many more to come.

written in November 2018

Dear Friend, 
Did you know that McDonald's is present in 121 countries?
Starbucks is in 76. 
Netflix is available in 190. 

The first two are not present in Armenia. 

In 1991 when Soviet Union was no longer the case, Armenia not only suffered from becoming an independent country after being absolutely dependent on SU, but it also suffered from the war. As a result, they had no access to electricity, heating or running water. M., my newly met friend, told me he remembers how there was -7 degrees (Celsius) in his flat and his dad was taking down the furniture piece by piece in order to burn it. Then the electricity was reintroduced slowly, initially 30 minutes per day. M. remembers how in the summer there would always be someone shouting "electricity!" from the window when they discovered it got turned on, and everybody would rush to their homes in order to warm up the water, cook some food, etc. 

In Soviet Union Armenia was one of the main supplier of IT and technology for the whole of USSR. When USSR got dissolved, the country was left without a market, resources, anything really. M. told me how it then entered a corruption stage, and over the years people started to only learn how to live after communism, how to try to develop a democracy. In May 2018 Armenia had a major revolution, and in December they are hoping to have its first non-corrupted government. The current support for the political party in power is 0%, and you can sense the wind of change coming. 
This is particularly bizarre for me as a Pole born 6 years after the communism in Poland ended. All I experienced and remember was that change being applied already, with massive and general support from European Union. I have heard about the ridiculousness of such regimes, I have heard stories of how hard to get and fashionable it was in Poland to wear jeans, but I never experienced it. I only have seen it in "Good Bye, Lenin!" film, and even though I still have certain traits of character typical for people from USSR-influenced parts of the world (such as being very savvy with money, constantly worried, and never throwing stuff away, always reusing), I didn't get to experience it... until I ended up on a hill in Dilijan, Armenia. 

When I lived in London, I was a broke teen who was born Polish, lived in India, and experienced some amazing luxuries in her life, but who also has seen some extreme poverty. What was important was that my upbringing brought me resilience to handle most sorts of accommodation or life situations I could find myself in - whether that was spending a night with a local family in a village in India that spoke no English with no electricity nor internet, or growing up in a small town in Poland with fairly conservative catholic values, or trying to make a living in London where just to have a place to stay and a ticket to move around would cost me roughly 6 to 8 hundred pounds without even eating or socialising. Whatever life would throw at me, I'd be more-less happy and able to survive. 

It really surprised me that after 4 years in the UK I was very uncomfortable with lack of amenities upon my arrival in Armenia. The school I work in looks amazing and is amazing, but it's located in a village where people's lives are not so glamorous. The school is bringing real change to the community because of events and classes being organised, but upon my arrival I went on a trip with a logistics coordinator to see some flats for rent, and I was truly shocked. 
Have you ever seen films by Emir Kusturica? It amused me how some places can be stopped in time and completely independent from Western influences. One flat I saw in Dilijan was like that - this kind of stuff I have only seen in museums in Poland. I chose a decent flat eventually, and it will be available for me from 5th of November, but that first flat was something I will struggle to erase from my memory. 

To do Dilijan justice, everybody I meet here is absolutely amazing - all staff and students are international and amazing, and I end up getting stuck in 30 minute conversations with everyone I meet, because life stories of those people are just so fascinating. I have no doubt this will be a great place for me to grow and work and develop, but the cultural context ended up shocking me a little bit. 

And since my flat was only available in a couple of days, I was put for the night in an "eco lodge" hostel. Now it's time to mention "eco lodge" name was probably due to the fact that it was freezing, a little bit stuck in time and had no hot water. Or maybe again, this is something I wouldn't have mind 4 years ago but 4 years in constant access to every single thing I could imagine really spoiled me, and I do feel like a spoiled brat. 
B., who was here couple of years ago, responded to my message about a culture shock with the following "I know exactly what you are talking about. When I first arrived, on my first walk around Dilijan I found a corpse of a dog by the pavement. That corpse was there for the next two weeks."

K., my camper whom I met in States, is here now. "Yerevan is absolutely beautiful though. We will show you Dilijan and we will show you Yerevan, too, Sonia. Polish hang out is a must! Already in plans." 

"You learn to live here and appreciate it all." 
And I guess so did we learn once upon a time on a hill near Khubavali, India, but it's amazing how easily people forget. 

My green hair is a local sensation. I look at faces of people in the town, especially a lot of men who hang out by the blocks of apartments with no purpose (or seem like they have no purpose), and I feel I am such a stranger. I think of my background, I think of the UK, I think of self-help books, I think of instagram and i think of people in the gym in Bristol when I walk through the streets of Dilijan. I think of how in West we are made to believe we are the ones responsible for our happiness, for getting great jobs, achieving our dreams, finding The One We Love on Tinder or match.com, how our beach body will help us get everything we want and life is amazing. 

I haven't seen a single obese person here, but I sure have seen people whose faces indicate there are some places in this world where a self-help book is not a gateway to happiness, and neither is a beach body. 
My mom told me this whilst reminiscing the past regimes in Poland: "I remember once when we were walking with your grandma in town and they just delivered mixers to the shop. Since such goods weren't available 24/7 like it is today, we immediately queued up for the mixers. It was 1 mixer per person, so we got two, even though we obviously didn't need two. But back then that was a gateway of getting us a new thing, and we had to plan it in advance. If you had a mixer, you could swap it for something else that someone got before you, cause what if they deliver fridges one day and I can’t stand in the queue then? Interestingly, this mixer we got then still works, we still have it and it has been 30 years". 
I'm amused, I'm intrigued, I am in love with the people I met here so far and surprised how strong the community is. I also wonder whether my culture shock is influenced by the fact that this is my first journey where I have left a huge chunk of my heart elsewhere, in Bristol - with the best boyfriend I could possibly imagine and the friends that made Bristol feel like at home. Last night on my way back from the college to the eco lodge I stumbled upon a shop, and I considered buying myself some alcohol. The kids of the owner were in the shop and I felt bad for both me and them to be there as the only way of entertaining oneself. I ended up buying Kinder chocolate, as this was the most Western thing I could have gotten and for some reason I needed that. 
"I'm excited for you to experience this logic and way of living to understand how ridiculous it is", said my mom towards the end of the conversation. I surprised myself when I said I am, too, really. My 8 month journey of character building begins here. With no Starbucks, no McDonalds, with lots of love, community, and friendship. 

Armenia, here I come.