Today is the last day of vacation. My first, real, honest-to-goodness, come-back-to-the-US vacation that I’ve taken since moving to Rwanda in October.
And it’s been really, really, really good. It’s also been stressful. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have my occasional-yet-reoccuring-in-moments-of-stress eye twitch that pops up every once in a while when I left Rwanda. However, by week two of being back in the states, there it was. Twitchin’ away.
I was nervous about coming back to visit. Coming home this time felt different. It felt suddenly like people’s lives were moving faster. Light speed. Relationships. Marriages. Babies. Houses.
Now, I know that people’s lives continue even when I’m not there to be part of it. I get that. I really do. And one part of me is relieved by the relative ease of slipping back into people’s lives. Of being included in conversations and plans when I’ve been largely absent for the past 8 months. It feels so good to know that my most important relationships haven’t completely disappeared as a result of distance.
But I can’t shake the uneasy feeling that there’s this big party that everyone is going to — one filled with grown up responsibilities and compromise, brokers and escrow, engagement rings and debating when is the best time to start a family. And I’m not invited to the party.
My Portland friends don’t try to make me feel that way at all. They joke about vicariously living though my sloppy tales of late nights, early mornings and the attempt to find someone to share it all with amongst the (seemingly) 20 people I see on a frequent basis. “You have your whole life to be married. Have fun now!” They even tolerate my occasional bouts with extreme self pity (the kind so woeful and insufferable that if I were them I would certainly have a hard time swallowing it). I really do love them an awful lot, and I’m so happy that they’re in places where they are making big life decisions, finding love and good people, and settling down.
Three of them are getting married this year. I remember when each of them met their fiancés — and it’s so good to see where they are now. I’m so excited to attend all of their weddings, I could practically burst.
But I still can’t shake it. It’s a nagging feeling that most of the time seems to hide in the pit of my stomach — but sometimes (and more and more frequently of late) creeps into my heart, making it seize up a little. And sometimes I even feel a bit like a whiney five-year-old who wasn’t invited to a classmate’s birthday party: “Buttttttt, whyyyyyyyyyyy can’t I cooooommmmeee?” (Complete at times with exaggerated tears depending on the day.)
Because while I was staying in the lovely remodeled (and very grown up) guest room of one friend’s home, and squeezing the cheeks of another’s baby girl, and discussing wedding dress alterations, and trying to keep up with the lingo of mortgages, I really have only a few things to report. “I have two pigs. Yep, I named them really cutesy names and yep, I plan to butcher them. It’s all part of my vision to have hobbies outside of work. You know, hobbies like butchery. (Not normal? Oh really?) Oh, work? Yes? I really like the work I’m doing. No, no. The WORK (always emphasized); the WORK is really good.”
Usually when I run into people I haven’t seen in a while (whether it be Burundi or stateside, or somewhere in between) the reaction is: “How are things?! (And without waiting for a response:) Really GREAT by the looks of Facebook/Instagram/insert chosen social media platform here. You’re having SO MUCH FUN!” However, on this trip, those comments have also been been broken up a few times by, “Why don’t you blog anymore?” Or more precisely on a few occasions, “Why are you just reposting other people? Why aren’t you writing about what’s going on with you? What IS going on with you these days anyway?”
And the truth is I haven’t written about how I’m doing because I don’t really know how I’m doing. It’s much easier to post photos of weekend trips then it is to really think through how things are going. Contentedness levels. Work life balance. Overall life satisfaction. Besides, my internal angst is not the stuff of titillating reads (however much I wish it was). Turns out, I’m pretty good at marketing my life, and when in doubt, go with what works.
So there you go. A blog post on how things are these days. Uncertain. But let me tell you, the WORK is really good.
Now, I better get home to check on Pork Chop and Plum Cake.
Everyone is responsible for the page-turning tempo of his or her Life Story,’ Dad said, scratching his jaw thoughtfully, arranging the limp collar of his chambray shirt. ‘Even if you have your Magnificent Reason, it could still be dull as Nebraska and that’s no one’s fault but your own. Well, if you feel it’s miles of cornfields, find something to believe in other than yourself, preferably a cause without the stench of hypocrisy, and then charge into battle. There’s a reason they still put Che Guevara on T-shirts, why people still whisper about The Nightwatchmen when there’s been no evidence of their existence for twenty years.
But most critically, sweet, never try to change the narrative structure of someone else’s story, though you will certainly be tempted to, as you watch those poor souls in school, in life, heading unwittingly down dangerous tangents, fatal digressions from which they will unlikely be able to emerge. Resist the temptations. Spend your energies on your story. Reworking it. Making it better. Increasing the scale, the depth of content, the universal themes. And I don’t care what those themes are — they’re yours to uncover and stand behind — so long as, at the very least, there is courage. Guts. Mut, in German.” —Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.
Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?
The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—
She stopped crying.
She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,
Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her—Southwest.
She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.
Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering
She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.
And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—
Non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.
And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,
With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped
—has seemed apprehensive about any other person.
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.
Not everything is lost.” —Naomi Shihab Nye (b. 1952), “Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal.” I think this poem may be making the rounds, this week, but that’s as it should be. (via oliviacirce)
Think about why you’re there. Not like the reason, but the mechanics of it. You are at the extreme end of millions of moving bureaucratic parts and millions of dollars stretched over thousands of miles that reached all the way to middle of nowhere Rwanda - but it’s a machinery you’re part of, that you can manipulate and send back messages to and manipulate and do whatever you want. You have internet so you could theoretically send things to people, surprises, oddities, missives, anything. There’s a game to be played in there somewhere.
It’s pretty awesome to be where you are. It’s a place that will bring in new people into your life, who, through the selection process, will be adventurous smart and fun. You’ve basically won.” —Nothing like a Mok peptalk
Alex Ellsworth, a former New Yorker living in Seoul, South Korea, wrote:
Studying and living abroad has been a fantastic journey spanning 12 years and three continents.
But … expat life has a dark side: getting stuck in limbo, neither here nor there. I’ve watched as peers back home have married, had children, bought houses, advanced in their careers. Meanwhile, most of us here in Seoul find ourselves living Peter Pan-like existences. I’m entering middle age with nothing tangible to show for it.
Except wonderful, rich memories, sure. But the future looms.
So should I go home pre-emptively and try to build a life there? But therein lies the expat’s problem: there’s nothing back home for me now. Home is not “back home”; home is Seoul. My life is here.” —
This is exactly — EXACTLY — how I feel.
I really like New Years Resolutions. I never used to pay them much attention, but the past two years I’ve noticed myself mulling them over a bit more as one year comes to a close and another starts — reflecting on what exactly I’d like to change in the coming year.
I think it’s because in my adult life — if I’ve learned anything (which I sometimes wonder about) — it’s about a person’s capacity for change. The little girl I once was — or even the young woman a few years ago — would have never pegged me for the life I lead now. Never. Ever. The things I want now (a fulfilling and challenging job, a cabin in rural Rwanda, eventually a family) are not the priority things that I wanted when I was considering law school five years ago — or when I proudly proclaimed in kindergarten that I wanted to be the first woman President of the United States. Part of it is growing up, and part of it is being more conscious, more intentional, about what I want and the person that I want to become. Things I held for certain, like relationships, have changed as well — dissolved, disappeared. People fall in love. They fall out of love. Change is the only certainty.
It’s on that note that I find myself considering my resolutions for the New Year:
1. Invest in my home. This job here – it’s not a temporary gig. So I shouldn’t act like it. This is my home, and I should make it feel accordingly. What does that mean? I should start doing things in my home that make me happy, and that are rewarding beyond my actual work. So I’ve decided to get a pig (to raise and eventually eat) and some goats to make cheese. I’d also like to learn to navigate Kigali and make some friends beyond those precious souls I both live and work with. This is a reminder to actually do it.
2. Be more generous – with my time, my possessions, and kindness. You know those friends who you know you can call no matter what and they will drop everything to pick you up when your truck breaks down (a daily occurrence here) – or always have a spare room in their house for you – or seem to always know when exactly you really, really need a hug (and a bottle of wine)? I would like to be more focused on being that sort of friend. Whether you are right here in Rwanda, or thousands of miles away in the states.
3. Actually run that half-marathon. Over a year of blogging means that last year’s resolutions are right here. I said it last year, and I really, really mean it this year. Over the past year I’ve become more of a runner than I ever thought I’d be. I ran 8 miles once (big deal, folks). Why not 13.1?
4. Be more intentional with doing what makes me happy. It’s easy to get busy, and forget that it’s necessary to be nice and generous with yourself. I would like to be more intentional about doing non-work things. Reading. Exercising. Meditating. (Well, I think meditating is supposed to make me happy. Right?)
5. Stop it with the curmudgeons already. When I look back at the men that I’ve loved, they’ve had one thing in common: curmudgeons. I tend to fall for men I never actually like at first meeting. It hasn’t worked out very well so far, so I should probably just face that tendency head on. I’m not sure if it’s the challenge, or some latent Freudian father thing, but it’s not working very well for me. So cut – it – out already. Would it kill me to be attracted to someone friendly and outgoing for once?
6. Learn how to drive a moto. Last year was the year of learning to drive a stick on the mean streets of Bujumbura (thanks to a very patient teacher). This is the year of learning to drive a moto (don’t worry Mom and Dad – I have a helmet!) on the windy roads of rural Rwanda. Only my teacher will be a moto driver that I pay. We’ll see how it goes.
Oh, and just because they don’t get their own numbers, I’d like to continue getting back to the business of learning French (because, oh, it’s my job now) and going on adventures (as if that needed to be explicitly stated).
Anyway, I am hereby resolved. 2013. The year of creating a home, increased generosity, 13.1 miles, the anti-curmudgeon, and intentionality. Oh, and motorcycles.
Someone out there, please, hold me accountable.