We recently had the pleasure of reconnecting with our old friend Martell Mason. We first met Martell a little over 2 years ago in Daegu, South Korea, where he was based for 3 years. Since then Martell has continued his globe-trotting odyssey aided by his contacts around the world and fueled by his open-mindness and curiosity. One may easily find Martell on a forest excursion in Malaysia, relaxing with a shisha in the cafés of Cairo or sharing vino with friends in NYC.
ND: Since the last time we spoke, you've been to Malaysia, the Netherlands, Finland and back home (USA)— any interesting experiences in all of that running around?
Martell: In regards to...?
ND: Anything notable for you? Let's go to Finland, Scandinavia is a place that's really interesting to me, I know you have a friend up there. How was that?
It was, Finland--Helsinki, was an eyeopening experience just being in Scandinavia. I had never been that far north. I think because it was the winter, it also had a different feel to it. Whenever you think of Nordic countries you kind of have this particular view. I think the one thing that caught my interest, I didn't really know a lot of Finland's history, but I didn't know that they were really a part of Russia. So walking through Helsinki you could see lots of Russian influences. From the Orthodox Churches to the fact that a lot of [the Finnish] are fluent in English, Finnish, and Russian. That was the one thing where I was like Wow, I had no idea that they were controlled by the Russians.
Seeing so many islands. Helsinki literally is apart of 2,000 islets. To actually see them frozen in ice and being able to walk across and go from one island to the next was pretty cool. I was scared by it a little, but they said the ice was thick enough [to walk on]. It was a pretty cool experience.
ND: From my understanding a lot of the Scandinavian countries are taking in a lot of immigrants and when I think of Scandinavia in my more ignorant state I figured there aren't any black people or people of color up there. What was your observation in that respect?
In regards to migrants, definitely. I did see a large presence of Sub-Saharan Africans. I did see a few South-Asians, but mainly Sub-Saharan Africans. In speaking with my friend, Midia, she did explain that Finland has always been welcoming to refugees and asylum seekers.
When I was doing my research last year for grad school, I did come up on an article that gave the facts and Finland— right now they accept over 500 applicants a year. That's just for refugee and asylum seekers and I'm sure for regular migrants that it's probably much higher.
Just in passing, seeing them, it seemed like they were getting along just well. I didn't feel as if they had any type of reservation being out in the city or being in restaurants. Even with myself, I never got the sense that there was any bias towards me. So, I felt that the Finns were definitely open. And I think that those who are going that far north are probably becoming more assimilated to that particular culture, especially with the language. So, I thought it was great to see and I'm sure it's going to continue to increase, especially with everything that's going on in the region now.
ND: You mentioned grad school. What's on the horizon with grad school and career/work opportunities? What's next on the travel agenda?
Well, for graduate school it took awhile to finally get to the point where I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was accepted to AUC, American University in Cairo and University of Amsterdam. Of course we know that there is increased conflict in Egypt. Right now we're back in the whirlwind of what's going to happen next. So, it's just not conducive for me to study there right now. Amsterdam - way too expensive for the amount of time and energy that I want to put into it. So, I started thinking about what the next option would be and the first option was to continue teaching ESL. And I was able to find a position in Saudi Arabia. So, I'll be moving there in August. I'll be teaching at King Faisal University in the Eastern Province of Saudi. It should be a pretty good experience. It's somewhat similar to what we're doing now [teaching ESL]. I'll be focusing on first year students. I think it's something that I can easily transition into, knowing that I'm going to have to have a lot of things to deal with in terms of culture shock.
For graduate school, knowing that I'm going to be in Saudi for maybe 2 or 3 years, I definitely wanted to look at other opportunities for grad-school, so I researched distant learning programs and I actually got accepted to the SOAS Program, the School of Oriental African Studies from the University of London. I got accepted into the Master of Poverty reduction [program], focusing on policies and practices. With that I'm going to focus on East Africa. Mainly the area of Tanzania, Zanzibar and try to assist Zanzibar island with sustainability and the like.
ND: I like it. Some traits there are patience, intentness, adaptability. And what's decent about the distant learning program that you're doing is that it's practical and can fit into what you're doing in terms of work, so you can keep the momentum going.
Now, in terms of culture shock what are you anticipating. You lived in Egypt and you're fairly well traveled, well informed. What do you think will be different when you go the Eastern Province?
A lot of people who I've been in contact with, future co-workers. A lot of them have stressed that it is an environment that you have never experienced before. I don't really know what that means exactly. But having lived and studied in the Middle East, I don't think that the transition is going to be that difficult for me. I think that with my experience living in many different places, especially East Asia now and again North Africa that despite that some of the concerns that people have, it should be easy.
One thing that I'm looking to forward to seeing what the experience is like is knowing that there is the complete separation for men and women. I don't think that there will be any concerns with dress codes. Maybe the fact that women can't drive, maybe for a little bit it will seem a bit strange. Knowing that women have to put their trust into a migrant worker, usually the person driving. To think about why their putting their trust into a particular person, when they could just do it on their own, it's something that I'll have to digest and maybe I can come up with my own little answers to it. I think that will really be the largest thing.
I think I'll be able to travel a little bit and see parts of the country we don't necessarily read about or see on television. I think that should open up some doors for understanding and being able to accept why a country chooses to do things in a certain way.
I'm not going with any pre-judgements. I'm just going with an open mind and whatever the experience is going to be, that's what I'm going to accept from it. But I definitely think that it's going to be a great experience.
ND : You mentioned Egypt previously and that you were accepted at AUC. What are your thoughts about the situation there now. And how important is a country's political stability, to you, if you're planning to visit or live there? For some instability makes the destination more appealing and it gives them more points when they talk to other people.
I definitely have a strong connection with Egypt. I have lots of friends there, both foreign and Egyptian, so whenever there's something going on like this, I'm always trying to make sure that everybody is safe, and not unnecessarily putting themselves into any immediate danger.
In regards to the university, it has the name American University in Cairo, but it really has to abide by the laws of Egypt. What I think has happened with AUC is that foreign students, especially the American students, are starting to drop back a little bit. What I've gathered from some friends who are still studying there, whenever there was any type of demonstration, however big or small, the school just shut down. I think that for students, graduate students, it will definitely take a toll on your career path. You have set-goals and you want to try to achieve them. One friend mentioned that when trying to do her research, when the clashes started to happen, most of my friends are in the refugee area [academically], so whenever there are clashes and the Egyptians start to fight towards the refugees and asylum seekers they no longer want to participate with research, because they feel that their name or something will get out and that there will be repercussions from people they live near or the job that they have. A lot of people have really had to re-work their thesis and research. I think the school will have to figure out what will be the best plan for them. I'm sure attendance rates have gone down. There's probably also more concern Am I going to be able to complete my studies on time. So, that was one reason why I didn't think that it would be a beneficial for me to do it. And hopefully the ones that are there will be able to pick it up and quickly get through it, because we're not really sure what's really going to be happening.
ND: What's for sale? You're planning to move to Saudi for 2-3 years, surely you're trying to unload.
[Laughs] I have my e-Bay going on, and I've sold some things on there. You know, I think that with this next chapter, I'm turning 30. There are so many different things going on, I'm moving to a new country, I'm starting graduate school and I thought that it was the perfect time to get rid of everything, to a degree. It's almost like cleansing. Trying to focus on what's really important and not making things too materialistic. So everything is for sale; shoes, clothes, bags. [Laughs]
ND: [Laughs] We'll display the link to your e-Bay store [everything sold out].
Exactly! I think that it will help with the actual transition. You have new things, and kind of this fresh feeling and I think that that way you're not coming with any baggage. You're coming with yourself alone, and I think that should make the next step easier.
ND: So, I understand that you're doing a road trip from the West Coast to the Mid-West when you go back to the States. What is it about road trips that you like? I know that before you moved back to Cairo a few years back you took a long road trip through Wyoming and some other States.
I'm actually going to do a road trip along the West Coast only (WA, OR, CA and NV). I have always been rejuvenated by solo road trips throughout the continental US. There is something about being on the open road with literally thousands of miles in front of you. As much as I would one day like to do a group road trip, solo trips have been my preference over the last few years.
One reason for this is it allows for clarity of the mind. I find driving, outside urban streets, to be very therapeutic. With a little NPR on the radio and a full tank of gas, I feel the possibilities are endless. The rule to solo road trips is to never have a concrete agenda. If there is a town that attracts me, I just pull off the interstate or highway and explore. Having lived in South Korea for the past three years, there is a lot to for me to digest. Road trips allow me to decompress, evaluate and accept all the accomplishments and side-steps made and how best to use these experiences in the future. It has truly been a journey and I know it will take months if not years to process it all.
The second reason for my moments of solace on the road is that I find I meet the best people while driving across the US. I guess many would say it's because of the energy that surrounds the person. If you are excited and optimistic about your travels, you tend to attract like-minded people. There is something about meeting people from small towns, or other travelers along the way. I find that I learn so much about them and myself as we have short/long conversations. So I'm looking forward to blogging about some of the amazing encounters.
ND: Great. I think you kind of touched on it there, but I'm going to ask you . . . the same way we asked you two years ago, when we did our first interview, but this is 2.0. So, what is your travel philosophy [2.0]?
Uhhh, my travel philosophy 2.0 hmmm. You know, I've always said that you have to go. Wherever you're going to go, you have to go with an open mind. I think, as a person, you have to understand that every culture is different, every society is different and you just have to accept what is there. You can understand and you can see what the good and bads are, but you just have to be willing to . . . to appreciate people. A lot of times, in any society, you have ignorance. I think it all depends on who you come in contact with. So I think that's the first thing.
Wow. I think now, with how I'm feeling I would say pack light. Pack light, because you'll always come back with double of what you had before. Whether it's physical or mental, you will come back with more.
And. . . be willing to go into an environment that others feel that you probably shouldn't go to. A lot of people were kind of shocked when they found out that I was going to Saudi Arabia, and they were like Are you sure? So, it's like, your travels will take you into so many different places that you just have to be willing to go there. If it doesn't work, you have your passport. Hopefully you have a flight home. Get on a flight and go back to wherever else. But at least give it a try. And at least just kind of give yourself that feeling that I'm going in the world and I'm trying my best to understand why am I supposed to be here and I think the best way to do that is to put yourself into some uncomfortable situations. That's why I think I've kind of chosen the places to live and go because they're not the regular places on the map that people tend to chose to go to. And I think that that's the only way that you can really learn and grow.