Thursday, March 26, 2009
As much as I have complained about being unemployed for almost 6 months, I must consider myself very fortunate to have been given the perfect opportunity to get my feet wet. The job is with a global young leaders conference for which I will be a program coordinator, and it is only temporary, which is wonderful for me, because it gets me over to DC (which I've been hoping to do) to start the networking game. My hope is to stay in DC working with either refugee populations and/or international NGOs until I can get a chance to return to overseas work. Once I get over there, I'll have a better idea of how feasible that is and how long it will take. I've become very good at rolling with the punches and being flexible while still maintaining my lofty and unreasonable ideals.
Soooo, off I go to wrap up the professional project (hopefully 1-2 more days of work and I'm done!), pack my things, and head for the east coast! Don't worry, I'll always be a west coaster at heart, PNW born and bred. But it does seem as though I'm not the only one drawn to the energy of the capitol city--people have come out of the woodworks that I didn't even know live in DC! I'm not alone...it's comforting.
Okay that's all for now. Here's hoping I get to meet the President!!!
Monday, March 09, 2009
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
It becomes dichotomized so easily: my reality vs. this reality. There—warm, brilliant, life, color, familiarity, relationships, hope, music, culture, language, beauty, challenge. Here—cold, frigid structures, strange, unwelcoming, alone, separate, crisis, failures, anxiety, unknown roads that lay ahead. There good, here bad. There was so familiar, so wonderful in all its imperfection and thinly veiled chaos. Here is overtly falling, crashing, strange and foreign, and disappointing in its lack of functionality. Why did I expect it to be different, better here?
I have this strange feeling that there is nothing I want here, that everything I want is back there. This feeling that I don’t belong and that here isn’t where I need or want to be. It doesn’t yet feel familiar and comforting, but instead distant and threatening. Threatens to suck me in, threatens to offer the normality of a life once known and never loved. So easy to fall back in, like everyone else. Yet there beckons me, and won’t give. Must go back, must get back out there, must make these longings and passions articulate.
How do you deal with so much loss all at once? Losing one of the best opportunities to come your way, losing a close family member to dreams you wish that you yourself were realizing. Losing the people who understand you to other more important preoccupations and other more important somebodies. Losing direction, losing vision, losing the people who walked alongside you and became your family. Losing the everyday things that you knew and loved, the language, the day-to-days, the everything that seemed to make up your core for who knows how long.
How strange that you can so easily fade into the background and become invisible. No excited “You’re back!”s, no inquisitive wonderings as per the thing that made you…you. It all adds up to too much free time alone, isolated with your thoughts. Which you thought at one point you wanted, but now don’t know what to do with. How does one be alone? It’s easy to feel alone, but not so easy to be alone and know how to fill that void, particularly when no one cares to help extract all the entrails of a changed and deflated life.
October 21, 2008
So many reasons to be sad, it's strange that I'm still here, that I haven't spontaneously combusted. Every moment is excruciating pain. Every minute unbearable without sufficient distraction. I've faced so much loss in a short period of time, it overwhelms my heart. They say to keep busy, but with what? How do I get back out there? How do I fill my day? How do I share my experience in a meaningful way? I ignore it, stuff it inside until it becomes too impossible to articulate. Until I can't really analyze it or process its importance. Until it fades into the background, loses its meaning and it's exactly what I don't want.
Lost the Gambia, which means the loss of not only a great opportunity, but the loss of certainty, the loss of stability, an entrance into the abyss. I wasn't expecting to have to figure all this other shit out so soon.
Lost Paige, which means losing a part of myself. I'm used to being far from her, but it's not just the distance. With every step she becomes someone I hope to recognize but don't know if I'll have the permission.
Lost my home. Leaving Cape Verde and everyone I know and love, my whole reality, was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Everything comfortable, everything that supported me, everything that defined me for over two years, the life I created. Words do no justice.
Switching worlds into something that no longer feels comfortable, natural, or normal is more complex than one really imagines. People say they understand, but it just can't be explained. Slowly you switch mental compartments and you remember what it was like to be here, but it never feels the same. I feel so out of place, unhappy, like everything here is cold and unfamiliar. Nothing waits for me here, nothing keeps me here.
Lost the surety of my decisions, no longer confident that what I choose is without consequence, feeling that even though I am confident and independent, I don't yet have what I want. And trying to get there seems to bring just as much heartbreak as joy. One simple choice turned my life on a different course. Lost so many opportunities and all for something I thought I wanted.
There I felt confident and proud. Here I have nothing to hold my head up, I feel shame, embarrassment, and unsteady. There I had an answer, here I hold no answers. Here I feel useless, unneeded, and unimportant. Weak. Nothing here makes me feel satisfied, fulfilled, excited. Trying to get psyched up about nothing, trying to act normal and self assured to fit back into a world everyone expects me to know.
I keep getting so mad at myself. Why did I foolishly get my hopes up? Why didn’t I listen when so many people said it was important to truly develop your plan B? I nodded confidently, secretly believing “I don’t need it, this is what I want, therefore it will work out”. Foolish. So many times my resolve and determination to do something I set my mind to has resulted in accomplishing what I want to do, but all that it produced was overconfidence. Cockiness. And now I have all this loss to deal with. I did the research, I read the blogs, I talked to people, I planned out what I wanted to do, I started learning the language, I had culturally-appropriate clothes made, everything. I was there in my mind. I had made the leap, there were no alternatives in my brainwashed psyche. Foolish. So how do I choose to respond? Do I take myself down a few notches and continue to blame myself, repeating the mantra that “I should have been better prepared”? Do I chastise my idealistic overconfidence and seek to be pessimistic or at best realistic next time? Or do I not let it affect my stride and continue to see myself as capable of anything, ready for the impossible, and meant for greater things? My heart doesn’t feel arrogant, but I guess just feels the need to hold myself to higher standards. Or feels that in order to accomplish great things one needs to be at least moderately convinced that they are a step ahead, of a “different” nature, made of a different grain. Delicate balance.
It’s hard to feel confident in the middle of nothing. Accomplishing nothing, contributing nothing, knowing no one, having no concrete leads, everyone telling you kindly “it’ll all work out” yet giving no specific advice. I am starting to feel like nothing. Not low self-esteem necessarily, but just here, a waste of space. It will pass, I know, because I am doing something (i.e. finishing the masters), but for the first time I don’t have a concrete to look forward to. All my unemployed moments have been a brief break, a holding pen, before the next thing lined up. Nothing is lined up now, I am defining my future, and what if I miss something? What if something giant is waiting in the hedges, and I walk right past it?
My mom made a comment that struck me this morning. I usually pride myself in being so self aware and courteous of others’ feelings, almost to a fault. Always saying what will please those around me, always making sure not to offend. Apparently Africa really did change that as I was starting to suspect. She said sometimes I expect too much of people, expect them to feel the same way I do, expect them to understand what I mean without a patient explanation. I expect them to have changed their views, or at least expect them to understand why I have. And all this time I thought I was hiding it well. I know intellectually that they haven’t changed and that I have, I expected that dissonance in conversations. But I suppose I thought I would be better at wading through the frustrating interactions, I thought I would be more patient. But I think at some level it’s just too difficult to be surrounded literally 90% of the time by people who think and feel drastically different than I do. It’s too much, too overwhelming to try and explain it all or to try and let everything slide, when almost everything they do or say makes you want to cringe. I feel the need to put the tape over my mouth, and part of me feels that it’s not fair (or healthy, as I will be prevented from truly processing and digesting it all), yet knows that it’s imperative so as to nurture relationships that should be important to me, and so as not to drive everyone away from me. That crazy girl who can’t stop talking about Africa and how much Americans don’t get it. I know I haven’t done a good job of tempering my frustration, depression, disappointment. But who do I talk to about it? I don’t see any allies around me, and it makes me feel desperate. Then I feel the need to resort to hiding, secluding myself reclusively in my house/room/local Starbucks, taking care of myself in my own way and suddenly without outlets. It’s hard to go from one large group of people (i.e. PCVs) who to some extent shared most of my beliefs and viewpoints, or at least could provide stimulating discussion to enrich my own views, to absolutely no one. I need to get hooked up to a group, or move to a different town, or do something. Because I’ve lost a network, and living without one doesn’t cut it.
And so I am disappointed in myself in so many ways. Despite all my training, all my supposed self-awareness (which admittedly fell to the side the last several months), despite all my firsthand knowledge and experience in cross-cultural adaptation and reverse cultural shock, I did not handle it well. Too much has changed.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Monday, July 07, 2008
For those who have followed my experiences within the CJA (girls' center) and have read my descriptions of the girls' behavior and backgrounds, it should be obvious that, needless to say, this project has not been the easiest to carry out. The planning, proposal-writing, seeking of support, etc. was hard enough considering the context and difficult lack of infrastructure, but once starting the training sessions I felt as though I literally had strapped in for a roller coaster ride (cliché but so true). I had some of my favorite moments in Cape Verde (seeing the excitement of receiving their first camera and experimenting to see how it works) and some of my least favorites, including sessions where I threatened to cancel the project if behavior and attitudes didn't start improving. I had volunteer youth come to help out and then quit, with a few sticking it out to the end. I had a change of three CJA coordinators who had to be re-oriented to the project and convinced to support me (by the way making this more "me-run" than I had originally intended). Among plenty of other set-backs and challenges, we charged on. Poku a poku we were able to get where we wanted to go. Not all of my goals were accomplished (I doubt I was even remotely successful at promoting leadership and responsibility, though seeds were surely planted), but in the end, we produced something I think was good.
So about the exposition. At the end of one of the most exhausting days I have had of late, we finally started Cape Verde-style, an hour late. The President of ICCA, who has been more or less involved in the project since conception, was supposed to do the abertura, or the final part of the opening ceremony. She cancelled at the last minute, failing to even call and let us know personally, and sent no one in her stead. So not even our own institution was accurately represented on our important day. But this is how things go, nothing to be done now. So we shifted around some roles, got our stuff together, and started the show.
The turn-out was less than we had hoped, with our invitees not all present, and a lot of the girls' family members absent. But those that were there were very supportive, and the girls were able to present their work.
After presenting the center and the importance of education (the theme the girls chose for the project and took subsequent photos regarding), I presented the project and its objectives, followed by three girls who participated, sharing their experience and what they had learned:
It was great to hear their perspective, and I think it really made the presentation much more valid or meaningful. Jéssica, the girl in the middle, made everyone laugh as she described how in the beginning they cut people's heads out of pictures, but then improved as they learned.
The master of ceremony was another girl from the CJA, one who had to drop out of the project because she contracted tuberculosis (she's fine now).
After we presented the project, we uncovered the photos, which were placed on three different placars, so that the audience could come see the work the girls did.
Each girl had their own section, showing the three photos they had chosen for exposition, along with a small profile explaining who they were, where they were from, and what they liked to do.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
My Chefia is gone. By Chefia I am referring to my dear, amazing, coffee-drinking colleague at the CEJ, Eneida. I didn’t talk about her too much in the blog, but she became a core element to my life in the last 9 months. As we were gearing up with tons of new projects and a massive restructuring of our youth corps, tragedy occurred. Granted it was slightly foreseen tragedy, but abrupt nonetheless. I just realized as I said tragedy that you all probably think she died. No, no, thank God no. She left the CEJ. She applied for a position working with the Peace Corps during PST, thinking she had permission from the CEJ to do both PST and work on continuing projects during her “extra” time (granted not the most realistic perspective, but could have worked). She got the position, only to be told by the CEJ that it wouldn’t work for her to do both (permission rescinded), and she had to leave the CEJ, dropping all of our projects on….me. Double sad. Now I’m stressed and alone at work.
It’s frustrating for so many reasons. 1) If I had known she wouldn’t be allowed to continue projects while doing PST, I would never have recommended her, and Peace Corps would never have hired her (they are now in an awkward position, stealing employees from their partnering institutions); 2) We worked SOOO well together and work was 10 times easier because we spurred ideas, creativity, and productivity in each other; 3) I am not a full-time CEJ employee, meaning I don’t have the time or energy to take on everything by myself—I was support rather than the forerunner, which is how it always should have been, no?; 4) So many of the youth had rejoined the group because of the team we had made, and many of them because of her open and wonderful spirit. They may now become a little more unmotivated; and 5) No more daily coffee breaks, though I have been meeting occasionally with my good friend Nitcha for coffee in her stead.
I was pretty sad about it all at first—really more exasperated, because as if I didn’t already have enough to do?? I am not just at the CEJ, but at the CJA (a place that increases your stress level by just walking through the door), and I have this huge photo project. Time is almost nonexistent. For the first few weeks I was so overwhelmed just about everyone I know made some kind of comment about my over-working. However, after a few weeks of adjustment, I am doing well with it all. Still stressed, but well. The youth are showing a bit of determination on their part, which makes me excited, and they still come to visit, which means they aren’t going to quit just because Eneida left. On another positive note, Paulo and I presented the youth corps restructure project to the National Coordinator for Volunteerism within the Secretary of State for Youth, and she was so excited and impressed, she wants to use it as example to be implemented in youth and volunteer institutions throughout all of Cape Verde. So that was nice validation. Would’ve been nice to have Eneida by my side to enjoy the praise, but life moves on.
Anyway, that’s done, and I’m pushing on forward like any good (or crazy) volunteer would do. As I mentioned, the photo project is wrapping up, and we have our exposition marked…drumroll, please….for this Saturday!! It’s finally happening, and I am neck-deep in preparations for the big event. Hopefully it will all go more or less according to plan and I can wash my hands of this deal. I am exhausted, and as much as I have enjoyed certain parts of the experience, it has been nowhere near easy. I will try and take pictures and then post them in the next few weeks.
Also, the Gambia is a go!! I am all kinds of mixed up about it, wondering if I was crazy to sign on for another year in rural Africa, coming up against many of the same frustrations I have felt these last 2 years, but I think I am ready for it. I think I will gain so much wonderful and valuable experience to then bring with me wherever I go. That alone is worth any “suffering” I can claim to go through. I am mostly excited for the new adventure, knowing it will make or break me officially in my career or non-career in international development. Assumingly after this I will either push forward or retreat to the American life. We’ll see.
For a long time I was more ready than can be expressed in words to return home, to leave this country, and to be done with the hardest 2 years of my life. I dreamt of America, counted the time, and became impatient at all the over-exaggerated annoyances of Cape Verdean culture, assuring myself that things would be better once I went home and moved on. This is changing. I am now a bit more reluctant to leave, realizing what all I have here, what all I’m leaving behind. I have so many wonderful relationships, have had so many experiences, I don’t quite know how to confront saying goodbye. And I’m worried that I will be so busy these last few months of service that it will all fly right by me and I’ll be on the plane, regretting the lack of time spent nurturing friendships and giving a proper goodbye. Because really the last few months will still be busy. I don’t foresee a great pause, though perhaps the whole number of things to do may decrease a little.
Anyway, I’m rambling, and not so articulately, which I hate. Suffice it to say that all the things that need to be said don’t know just how to come out of me yet, and will probably all come barraging at me at once, knocking me off my feet in a tumble of tears and confusion. Save that goodness for later.
I’m signing off for now, with more news hopefully to come. I am awaiting an official COS date, but it will probably be in mid-September.
Here’s a few pics to hold you all over.