The Wayfaring Autist

Photographs and writings documenting 4 years of non-stop solo travel by an autistic female

Page Mission

 

What it the Purpose of this Website?

   This website is a documentation of my four years of travel as an autistic female. It will showcase my photos and writings from my travels and future travels. I am an autistic female in my thirties and in early 2015; I gave up me home and structured lifestyle to travel. I traveled for four years, been to about 40 countries and 4 continents.

  I traveled solo, and I limited my belongings to only  what could fit in a carryon- approved, 40 liter backpack.  I would often work in exchange for food and lodging and spend most of my time in developing countries. I was on a very tight budget.  While autism may make solo travel more difficult, I was extremely  determined to travel.See the About page to read more about me and this website.

I am currently writing a book and about half way finished. I really wish to find a publisher and editor .  I think this book could help others in some way. Traits of Autism do not go away when you travel but it does not make it impossible . The book will focus on autism when traveling solo and how I coped when thing went wrong.  If anyone knows of how to get published, please   Contact me    

Athens: A Chaotic Dream

 

The Athens that Many Tourists Envision.

Athens is a place of great historical importance. A great hub of culture and innovation. One may think of The Great Philosopher Plato or Homer or have some romanticized view of the city. The city has some romanticism but not the perfect,  polished idea many have when they over-romanticize  a place.Yes, there is sunlight and the Acropolis but that is not truly Athens. The real Athens is a chaotic dream of political graffiti ,cracked streets, coffee and passion. 

The years was 2016 and the world had gone mad. Aleppo and other Syrian cities had been blown to hell and there was a mass exodus of people fleeing in from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Refugees would arrive in Athens’ Port of Piraeus and Athens was then a major transit point on their long journey to claim Asylum in Germany and other western European nations.    Macedonia lie to the north of the Greek border and the border was shut.  This means many refugees were stuck in Greece and  were making their temporary home in Athens. I was there to help them to safe passage. Greece was left to fend for themselves with both the human rights crisis and economic crisis. This reflected throughout the city, most Notable in the neighborhoods of Exarchia, Victoria, Omonia and Piraeus.  Exarchia was my base and a place that runs deep in my heart. It is easy to remember my time there but not an easy feat to speak about it. The ancient streets contained so much sadness and hopelessness that it could easily turn the most caring person into a nihilist .  There was that but there was also life and love.

 When you look up Athens Greece in the US government travel advisory website they warn you to avoid the neighborhood of Exarchia .  It was known as the “anarchist neighborhood and at the time it was a  police no-go zone. Somehow this supposedly risky neighborhood felt far safer to walk alone at 3 am than any American city.  The “Anarchists “ that my government warned me about occupied  abandoned  buildings, turned them into humane living conditions and housed numerous refugees. The living conditions were better than those horrid government camps that feel more like you know, concentration camps. They occupied kitchens to feed them too. and even an entire University .  Cops were not welcome in the Athens Polytechnic University but refugees were .  The police were not Welcome  due to  “The Ploytechnic Uprising” in 1973 where students protested millitary dictorship and the univery was stormed by millitray tanks and 24 people were murdered off campus. This directly influnced the current “All Cops Are Bastards ” attitidue and justifyible so.

There I was submerged in the glorious chaos of the city. There were bon fires in Exarchia Square lit in trashcans and all the statues of dead, white imperialists  were covered in graffiti. Therewere no ATMs in Exarchia as the anarchist destroyed them. You could sit out in the square and meet friends from Greece or from  further east.  The city may have appeared to be falling apart but one could always feel solidarity. Well, if you were on the right politically , then you would not be welcome. If you were a cop, you would not be welcome or if you were there with the intent to gentrify the area, you would not be treated kindly. .   Everyone was weird, everyone was an idealist , people were interesting . Many were hiding out from the law or fleeing from someone in their homeland who  wants them dead.

  I worked in a squatted kitchen with no hot water that only prepared vegetation food.  There was a lovely courtyard there and we feed hundreds a day on donated food. We would transport is to The Polytechnic University  . We would wheel down a shopping cart lifting it up over curbs and pot holes. It was still winter so we at least did not have to deal with the sun’s cancerous rays . The Polytechnic was a snow white building with blood red graffiti written on the columns. The Words “A.C.A.B.” and “No Borders, No Nations ” were written near the entry gates of the building .  You would have the feeling that you mattered. Everyone was equal and property was communal. Nobody was the boss. Of course it did not always work as egos would get in the way .

A solidarity Kitchen in Athens, Greece

See, if I were getting paid, I would not do such tiring work but it was for community and the good of humankind.  We served the University and a Squat on Notora street breakfast every day. .  We were not an NGO that infantilized refugees. They worked with us  in solidarity and were part of the collective. At night we would take a van to Victoria Square and feed whoever was there. Victoria Square was the place were hundreds slept upon arriving in Athens . It was basically a small caravan of displaced refugees. The government and EU had  failed to provide them with shelter. When the people in power fail, there is not choice but to take matters in your own hands. If it is against the law, then that law deserves to be broken .  Victoria Square was often targeted by hate groups and being near (but out of ) Exarchia, it looked like a police state.

  We had no permit to feed these people. It was all illegal activity. However, at the time the Greek government and police turned a blind eye to it. Their  presence was there due to the fascists whowould attack and threaten the lives of refugees. Victoria Square had these disturbing trees that looked somewhat haunted . The dark branches would curve and it looked as if they were from a 1920s German Expressionist film.  The trees had families huddled around them with all their belongings and the branches were used as clothing lines.

When I go to a place, I always have a feeling . It is not something one could describe but for the traveler, it determines the soul of the place. I felt a deep connection but also strong negative feelings.  As I would walk to the kitchen in the morning to make breakfast, I would pass graffiti covered  walls and each day the graffiti would multiple or someone would paint over it. This was all over the city .

One day, I passed tourists and overheard them complain about the graffiti and the homeless people. What on earth did they expect with the current crisis ? These people will never see the real Athens as their mind and hearts are too shut down to understand what is around them. It is the Greek people that matter.  Not some old ancient temple that has graffiti one it and is since painted over countless times. It is not a nice vacation, it is a vile situation that should make one cry out in fury and pain. If you just look at sites, you will get very little from travel.  As you walked into Exarchia you would see a massive stairway with red writing all over and in the background was the purple winter sunset and mountains . It is then when you realize thatyou are in one of the most important places on earth.

   Sometimes things in Exarchia would get hard.  There were all sorts of hate groups that would threaten to fire bomb the refugee housing and our kitchen .  We knew they were somewhat serious too but people had to eat and we had to keep it going. They later would burn down part of a housing complex and they had burned down a clothing donation center in the Island where I had been previous to Athens .  These fascistic groups were violent and dangerous . This means that there were protests to fight such hate crimes. This means that if you work in the kitchen or squats, you had little choice but to also be at war with fascist.  Many have miscoceptions about Anti-fa but do not realize it is not one organized group. AntiFa is not all anarchists dressed in black bloc gear. It is anyone who opposes fascism and takes action to stop it. Action may be as little as calling out xenephobia or marching in soilidarity with refugees. I disgreed with many political tendenceies  I witnessed in Greece.  However, fighting fascism is somthing I will do until my death.

A mixture of Teargas, rain and hail at a protest

 

     Sometimes the streets of Athens were like a war zone. One such protest was a counter protest to a horrible Greek fascist group called “Golden Dawn.”.  Between the fascists and the black bloc anarchists and riot police , there was no way that it would not turn out badly.  You could hear the shattering of glass and you could hear the occasional Molotov cocktail as it crashed into a car window setting it alight . Then the skies expelled themselves of oxygen as the tear gas came flying in.  Between the two clashing groups was  hundreds of cops dressed in riot gear with their shields and tear gas canisters. Of course they had the luxury of gasmasks and did not have to breath tear gas. The Used of chemical weapons such as tear gas goes against the rules of war. Yes, there are rules for war and tear gas is illegal to use on the battle feield.  Somehow,  it is legal to use on civilians in the name of “crowd control “ . Everyone protest consisted of smoke, teargas and spray painting buildings with a politcal message.   Now, looking back on it, it was all senseless violence . At the time it was passion, adrenaline and feeling of belonging. Sometimes, when I look back at photographs , I can’t tell if I seeing smoke, CS gas or rain.

Man watches as Riot Police form a human barricade between anti-fascist and fascist protesters. The far-right was on the raise at the peak of the refugee crisis in 2016

  I never had a chance to enjoy the city and it’s many cafes. First thing In the morning  I would arrive in the kitchen  at 7 and make breakfast and the process would last until 11. Then I would scope out Victoria Square in search of new arrivals that may need shelter. I would chat briefly to a former Afghani refugee that  worked for the  UCHCR . After that it was time to prepare the evening meal. If there was time left, I could organize the clothing donation closet. The neighborhood had many cafes that would serve frappe . I was fueled by frappe and espresso but I never say to enjoy it.  Most volunteers were burned out and some become slightly nihilistic . The average time that one could least without burn out was a month and a half. Most left before that.

Athens lacked order.  It was rare when anyone would be on time for anything. Then nobody seems to care if they were late. There were no orderly lines of people. It is everyone rushing in at once. The Occupied University would have cultural events . There was live music , alcohol and other illegal substances . It was really the only wind down time we had.  One day one of the Syrian women living in the squat hung herself in the clothing closet. Then things started to get really dark and hopeless. While refugees were stuck in Greece, me with my white, western privilege could just leave the county.  I took a bus to Macedonia , the very border that was shut to refugees.  I felt like a terrible person but I was too depressed to be of any help. I could not detach from the people and befriend many Syrians and Afghanis. The deserve people trained in crisis work  . They deserve far more than living in an anarchist occupied building.  They deseve stabilty. I could not give them any of this and the situation was bleak . There appeared to be little hope the it felt as if the world were dying.

I was heartbroken and depressed by all of this and felt that I could not return to Athens. Two and a half year later I would and would see that everything changed. With new elected leadership the squats were violently evacuated. There were new validation booths in the metro meaning it was no longer easy to jump the metro and commit the act of fare evasion  I walked in the neighborhood and it felt like a different place. I did not feel as if I belonged.

Athens in 2019 when tourism picked up again

It has been gentrified and full of hipsters sitting in coffee shops. The Sqauts  had  remnants of black ash from the last time it was burned down by hate groups. There were no familiar faces in the square , no bon fires or feeling of community   There was still the sea of graffiti  but the feeling I once had was gone. I am still shocked that a place such as Exarchia  as it was in 2016 could exist in the middle of a European Capital city. However, i If ever I  do doubt it, I have photographic evidence.

Visual Documentation of My Time in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and the Abandoned City of Pripyat

 I went to the abandoned city of Pripyat . Pripyat is in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and is an abandoned due to the nuclear disaster. It has just been declared a city in 1979 and consisted of mostly the people working at the energy plant.  It was evacuated during the disaster in 1986.  In order to get into the exclusion zone, I had to sign a waiver for my life, show my passport to the Ukrainian government and go with a tourist group.  I wanted to go alone but that is not safe or possible. 

Some of the photos look like a bomb site. A nuclear disaster does not cause this. That is caused people people breaking in and vandalizing it.   I don’t want to say much about it as I would rather the photos do that.   

Pandemic Artwork

"Autism in a World Gone Mad" I drew this for autism awareness /acceptance day that sort of faded into the background due to COVID19. I was not thinking of "The Scream" by Edvard Munch when drawing it but is has some similarities.
"Abandonment and Plague"
"The Virus Feeds " This picture represents the fearful times that we are living in. It was meant to exhibit my own frustration but it turned out to represent Covid19 attacking the respiratory system.
The World Will Survive
The only Peace is Death

Art :Coping Mechanism for Social Distancing

I am really struggling with this new forced lifestyle change. I fear as a person on the spectrum that I will forget my social skills. I worked very hard to learn them and forgot some if I don’t have practice socializing. Social distancing had been really hard on me. I used to draw as a teenager and young adult. I have rediscovered it again. I am not really a good artist but it distracts me from the news that is rarely good these days. The theme is social isolation caused by social distancing.

A self-portrait and poem I wrote describing how I feel about social distancing. It is kind of in a Dystopian graphic Novel style. I used colored pencils and a moleskin travel journal.

This photo is of a meltdown. The lights are too bright and the sounds of the sirens are deafening. I am overwhelmed by the change of routine and the feeling of panic around me. I am distressed by the constant news of the sick and dead. All I can do is cover my head with my hands and cry loudly. My being alone in the city streets represents social distancing.

This shows my disgust and sadness regarding the life-changing current events. It is a masked self-portrait. The ball on the building represents the virus and the deaths it has caused. Like the plane hitting the twin towers in 2001, it is also a very dark time in the history of NYC. This time it is not fellow humans taking lives. It is nature. Like most of the world, I wish the virus would just fuck off.

 

 

 

 

COVID19 and Autistic Individuals

COVID19 is here and spreading rapidly. This is a health emergency and everyone should be concerned.Neurotypical people who have rarely felt anxiety, now feel a sense of dread and paranoia.  Some are selfish. panic buying all the food at the supermarket. It is not easy for anyone. However, for autistic people it can be especially hard. Many of us thrive on routine and are comforted by certainty. If we are thrown off of our routine , life can become scary and overwhelming for us.  Many of us can not live comfortably without routine and familiarity. It may even cause panic in some of us more prone to anxiety.

Empty Subway during the COVID19 Era

Now, along comes COVID19 and cities start to shut down for the sake of social distancing. We understand that this is important to prevent the hospitals from being overwhelmed but it throws off our routine .  The places that we used to go are now shut. Schools and workplaces are shut and nobody knows what will happen in the coming weeks or even months.  Everything that we know has been shattered . It is like throwing a domesticated dog into a pack of wolves.  It is terrifying.

Another factor is many of us obsess over things.  Many of us will obsess over COVID-19 just as I have been doing. We are also less likely to be blindly optimistic and pretend things are okay like some NTs seem to be doing. Our tendency to hyper-focus could cause us even more anxiety.

It is also not uncommon for people on the spectrum to be hypersensitive to our surroundings and feelings.  This means that we can strongly sense the panic in the air and we are disturbed by it. The feeling of mass hysteria around us may overwhelm us more than it does the general population. I am more afraid of hoarders buying up all the soap and pasta than I am of getting the virus. The “Everyone for themselves ” mentality that has surfaced may make many of us with disabilities feel isolated.  Not everyone on the spectrum is capable of going to a crowded supermarket where people are panicking and fighting so that they can take it all for themselves.  Many of us are not pushy and can not shove ahead.

Since we often have difficulty making friends, our canceled  ASD support group may be the only social event we have.  It may our only support system. This will also be gone.

There are multiple reasons why this can be hard. We are also more prone to following instructions and listening to the recommendations of health experts.

I have had contact with a number of autistic adults online who are having a just as difficult time as I am. It will be hard to get through such uncertainly.  There are many worries. Will we run out of food? will we run out of soap?  Will there be a curfew? lockdown?  if we need the hospital, will there be beds available?   If my job drops me, will I be able to afford to eat ? Will I go homeless? After the crisis what the hell is going to happen?  It is just an overwhelming amount of unanswered questions and fears.

 

How can we cope? 

This is hard for me to answer since I am not coping very well with it.  The most important thing is to realize that this worry is valid. This is a reason to be concerned. We also need to take a look at statistics. We likely won’t die as 80 percent of cases are mild.  It is best to listen to expert advice but not hyper-focus on the topic.

This is the time to get absorbed in our interests and hobbies. For instance, if your interest is The French Revolution, read a new book on the topic. Watch shows that you like. Listen to music, learn a new language. Just try to find something healthy to hyper-focus on.    Creative expression is healthy such are drawing or writing.If it gets really bad, don’t be afraid to call a crisis line if you have nobody else.

 

How is it affecting me? 

I am not doing too well. The advice I gave above is hard for me to take.  It has caused me a tightness in my chest and self-harming meltdowns.  I am not dealing well with the uncertainty or the feeling of panic in the air. I do not have sick pay and am expected to work until I get sick. I have to be out all day making myself more likely to be exposed.

 

If you know someone on the spectrum who is distressed by this, offer them understanding and comfort. Understand why it can be more distressing for us on the spectrum. Listen to them and recite facts to them.

 

Why American Culture is Toxic to People with Autism and Mental Illness

People think that travel is difficult for someone on the spectrum but i do not believe this is so. Travel was so much less stress than working a meaningless job that you hate.  When I traveled full- time i would work for food and a place to sleep. I did not feel too attached to the job because I knew that I could always leave. The whole point was to do a work exchange for a month or so and move on to the next place.

Now that I settled , I feel like my life is meaningless. In America people often have to work numerous jobs that they hate. Many employers will not hire full time labor due to the fact they would have to give them benefits and treat them like human beings.  For someone on the spectrum that can be very difficult. Many of us hyper focus and have difficulty focusing on things that do not interest us.  Another issue with working with autism is that we may have a harder time dealing with pressure and time limits.  I have faced burnout in as short as a month at some jobs.  It is nearly impossible to find jobs as an adult that will accommodate your needs as an autistic person. You are forced to mask all day and for some that results in a meltdown or shutdown.  Most of the government funding goes to school aged-kids and even that is ridiculously low. Adults get cut off  and throw into a world that is way too overwhelming for many of us to thrive. For me this  can result in suicidal ideation and low feelings of self worth.

Travel can provide an escape from that and a sense of relief. Some cultures are not as fast paced as American culture.  As an oversensitive person with autism ,I feel more at ease along the Mekong Delta or Southern Europe than i ever will here.  Whenever i am down or depressed , I consider giving up all of my belongings and leaving again.  Other than Autism, i have sever anxiety, OCD traits and bouts of horrible Depression.  I have panic attacks on occasion.  I had not had one panic attack during my time abroad. My conclusion is that It is a direct result of the culture in America. A culture so competitive seems toxic to me.

In America there is so much to worry about. If you are sick and can not work, you worry about being able to eat. The housing cost is so high and pay is so low.  I have Medicare and it is hard to find doctors that accept it. I have no vision or dental insurance and the copayment for therapists are so high.  If i would be physically injured, i could not work and very well end up sleeping on the streets.  Many of us on the spectrum can not hold down a job and are so burned out when working one that we shut down when we come home. By shut down, i mean have no energy to speak to people. For me i stay in my room for day under a blanket and do not come out.  I usually cry when this happens and sometimes wish that i were dead.

I wish America would slow down it’s pace a bit and not be so angry and competitive. The toxicity of this culture has claimed the lives of countless people. Their lives were lost to health problems triggered by stress or suicide . The truth is many of us with autism develop mental health issues because we can not thrive in such a culture. This has to change but sadly, i doubt it will.

 

 

 

« Older posts
RSS
Follow by Email