Friday, June 13, 2014
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
My year anniversary in South Sudan passed unremarkably, although notably on Mardi Gras Day, of which this irony was not lost on me (and required some serious rechanneling of mental energy not to be consumed by it). For months, I’ve been setting soft deadlines for myself to get through the next snippet of time, the next R&R, the next reprieve from the continued stress that has become the norm here. What I’ve realized recently is that while I may be adapting and adjusting to maintaining some sort of functionality here, the mindset of waiting just doesn’t offer me any comfort or respite from my current life circumstances. Waiting to have more energy to exercise, feel healthier, less exhausted, waiting to drink less and sleep more. None of these things are going to miraculously change in the coming days, weeks or months, so I either need to embrace them, accept them and learn how to manage, or walk away from this place.
And while things are challenging-relentlessly so at times-I am trying to shift my paradigm and recognize and appreciate what I do have here, acknowledge that in some bizarre, fucked up way, I am lucky to be here. I have amazing colleagues-supportive, understanding, patient colleagues that fill my days with hilarity and drama and are able to relate to me in every way imaginable. I have a handful of wonderful friends that provide respite from work and can commiserate over my questions and what choices lay ahead. I have a job that forces me to problem solve, initiate, interact with a variety of different kooky characters, force myself to try and offer up my best self—my most patient and calm and understanding self—and maybe, just maybe, possibly, make a difference in the lives of some people. I need to look at South Sudan as the opportunity many of my peers will never have—the possibility to grow in impossible ways, to discover strength I didn’t know I had, to witness a pocket of the world undergoing incredible hardship and facing unbelievable challenges.
I need to stop mourning the loss of watching my nieces and nephew grow. I need to stop picturing what I’d be doing if I was living in some other city, some other job, stop glancing at the calendar and imagining myself at Jazzfest or the Thanksgiving table or my niece’s birthday party. I need to accept the life choices I’ve made and allow myself to be fully engaged in them—not just focus on the next post, the next trip home, the next job, but really force myself to be here, really be here and take it for what it is. I have to let go of the notions of what path my life could have taken had I done things differently a decade ago, or five years ago, or five months ago. In the simplest of terms, I need to be present. Live fully. And for the love of God, stop questioning myself.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
When I reflect on my past nine months in Juba, I have a lot to be thankful for. I am grateful to be in a setting where I’m consistently tested, challenged, and forced to grow—that my work doesn’t lend itself to stagnancy, laziness or complacency. I wake up every morning with the opportunity to present my best self, my most giving, accepting, kind self, or the alternative of allowing my worst self to rear its grotesquely ugly head. I probably see more of the worst days than I care to admit, but there’s something about the vulnerability, the exposure, the rawness—of feeling such extremes with such consistency—that it feels like a gift somehow, an opportunity to become a better person. I’m grateful for the passage of time in healing old wounds and allowing myself forgiveness. I am thankful for the patience of our national staff, who after all they’ve experienced and witnessed and suffered through, have the ability to accept the shortcomings of their khawaja office mates and gracefully manage my ever-changing moods. I am grateful for my colleagues and housemates who have become my proxy family—and like most families—we have grown to appreciate and accept the flaws and weaknesses in one another, as much as we enjoy and welcome the good. Regardless of our individual stresses and differences of opinion, we set aside our own needs to offer up generosity, compassion, and understanding time and time again. I’m appreciative for the inexhaustible support of my parents—their loyalty in remaining engaged in my life given other obligations and the challenges of time and distance; without them, I would not be capable of sustaining this lifestyle. I am thankful for the friends that despite the years of absence in their worlds are committed to staying a part of mine. I have reconnected with friends I assumed were gone from my life this year, and am amazed by the significance they continue to hold, and the acknowledgement that those complex, complicated pieces of our stories haven’t been minimized by time or life experience. I am forever grateful for these people to remind me of who I was, and how they’ve contributed to the woman that I now am. I even hesitate to say I’m thankful for the modern technologies of Facebook and Skype-without which I would not be able to watch my nieces grow or hear my mother’s laugh. I feel blessed to have been born an American woman, born into privilege that I have in no way earned but benefit from no matter where I am on the globe. It is thanks to this privilege that I’ve been granted the opportunities I have, and been witness to a side of the human condition I never dreamed imaginable. It’s through this lens that I try to be mindful to never take things for granted. I’m appreciative to observe this period of South Sudanese history and participate in the transition of a new nation. I’m grateful to have seen new corners of the world this year, the opportunity to be reminded why the world is such a complex, incredibly beautiful place. I’m thankful for the unexpected joys that arise in the most hectic of days; I’m encouraged with the possibility of new friendships and the meaning they hold. I am thankful that my nieces and nephew have all been born in good health, and their mothers continue to have the strength and dedication to nourish them into beautiful little human beings. I am opening myself up to the possibility of something new—giving myself over to the space of not knowing and believing in myself enough to give myself completely. I am thankful for the daily brilliance of the Juba sunset. I am blessed that my family stays strong in mind and body, and that regardless of how much time has passed, home will always be home.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
I should have known that Istanbul was a magical place, after hearing from absolutely everyone what an incredible city it was. Doesn’t take much to drink the Kool-Aid in a place like this. But more than its unique reputation of being the perfect blend of contemporary and tradition, Europe and Asia, Islam and Christianity—Istanbul was precisely everything I needed it to be—a completely different world from anything I’d ever experienced, with little to no agenda guiding my days. And nights filled with sleep—glorious, uninterrupted, deep, magnificent sleep. For a directionally challenged, single white female, Istanbul was the perfect backdrop to reconnect with my nomadic, traveling self. The constant flattery from men half my size was comical, with endearing comments like “Your eyes are doing crazy things to my head,” and “You are strong woman, like German!” I oddly welcomed the engagement, if nothing else to have a seemingly informative conversation about Turkish culture and their undying commitment to blue eyed women travelling alone. I find Turks to be honest, humorous, incredibly hard working, and eager to please. The narrow streets are filled with short, round men with tobacco-stained teeth sipping apple tea, with equally round women donning head scarves ushering small children down the sidewalk. Fat street cats harassing restaurant goers, young boys with insanely hip hairdos, the smell of apple tobacco wafting from hookahs. Istanbul is a beautiful place.
My days usually began with a vague idea of what I’d like to do (after a breakfast of olives, cheese, and homemade jams), but basically led to a lot of wandering, random encounters, assistance on public transportation, standing in long lines for seemingly critical historical landmarks (the Blue Mosque actually blew me away, even though the smell of tourists’ feet was particularly distracting), and fumbling through conversations with people who speak little to no English. Spent hours looking for the Grand Bazaar, only to find it’s closed on Sundays; hopped on and off the tram, only to find out I was not even travelling in the right direction; arrived at the hamam with no bathing suit, where a very large Turkish woman in a red lace bra gave me the scrub down of my life, a slap on the cheek, called me Lady Gaga, and our cackles echoed from every tile in the place. I met some wonderful people—shared meals and honest conversation, giggled over my own insecurity and cultural faux-pas, and learned about the culture over countless beers with strangers. Each afternoon, the city came alive with call to prayer, echoing from mosques from the seven hills, with minarets poking through the skyline, and it was something that always forced me to take pause and recognize where I was. Along the same street, you are passing a woman in full burqa, a young girl in the latest styles with sexy boots and tight jeans, an old man puffing apple tobacco from a nargileh, a young business man draining a draft beer. It is tolerance; it is Istanbul both old and new, in its most beautiful forms.
There were many moments in the past few days where I found myself wishing I had someone to experience these misadventures with, yet I recognize that if I hadn’t been alone, my experience would have been completely different; the perspective would have shifted to something shared, not completely mine, consumed by my own thoughts and observations and impressions. What I love about travelling solo, and always fail to remember it until I’m doing it again, is how it connects us as humans on a very basic level; it reminds me of the good in people, the commonality of humor and kindness that makes us who we are. And it’s refreshing and world-opening and somehow life giving—that I’m leaving here feeling this distinct possibility of something new—that the energy in my world is finally starting to shift. I feel ready to get back to Juba and appreciate what I have there, focus on making things better for myself, hopefully starting with a plate of baklava on my lap.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
It’s a rainy Sunday in the field. I just woke up in my tent, am sipping Nescafe, and sitting here preparing for a donor visit, wondering how so much time has passed without writing. Much of me knows that while writing has always been therapeutic for me, lately I just haven’t had the energy to put down in words what has been going on. I’m feeling a bit misguided and flustered, to be honest. I’ve been travelling a lot. In the past two months, I’ve flown across the pond twice—once for home leave to visit family and friends, and most recently, for a health conference at headquarters.
Both visits have been timely, in that work has felt consistently overwhelming and stressful, relentlessly exhausting, and six months into my time in Juba, most days I feel like I’m still trying to find my feet, and while I feel I’ve built up some confidence with work, I often feel like most days are spent trying to keep myself afloat. I still find myself navigating the social scene here, and still have days of loneliness, lack of fulfillment, undeniable fatigue. And while I don’t know that I’ve found a healthy routine or manageable way to pass through the weeks, time is somehow flying by at record speed. It’s incredible to compare my time here to the six months I spent in Tanzania, and how my experience unfolded in such a distinctly different way. I want to love Juba, I really do. I see other expats thriving in this environment and I wonder what it is I’m missing, or doing wrong, or lacking in my own, freakishly bizarre existence here, and I can’t seem to put my finger on it. I enjoy my work; I love my colleagues; I feel inspired by the country and the people that have struggled for decades to be where they are. But most days, I just wonder where I would be if I had made different choices, and wondering how much longer I can maintain this lifestyle.
The irony is that I’ve been doing this long enough that when I’m home, I also don’t feel like I “fit” there anymore. The creature comforts of home feel somehow too accessible, too easy. My siblings and friends are parents and home owners and measure the happiness and success of their worlds in such different ways than I do. And while it was amazing to reconnect with friends and have treasured time with family, I found myself oddly craving aspects of my strange world across the sea. Home felt simultaneously bizarre and familiar, and in the time it takes me to readjust to being there, I’m back in Africa again. Seeing my family and friends was rejuvenating in a way that only being around people that know you well can be—their support and understanding, their patience, thoughtfulness, acknowledgement of my quirks and need for space. And while I cherished that time with them, I accept in myself that a world surrounded by my own kids and 9-5 job is unlikely and simply not part of who I am or what I want right now…and I found that conclusion to be strange, and slightly contradictory to what I expected to feel.
Being home also made me realize that as much as my life seems to be changing—yes, I’ve moved to a number of different countries on the continent of Africa in recent years—that overall, my life feels static, stagnant, perhaps even a bit stale. That while my lifestyle lends itself to steep learning curves and new experiences, that not much feels all that different than it did. And yet my friends and family are finding great partners, getting married, having babies, and I sadly find myself resentful of that—that I’m still alone and can’t figure out just what I’m doing wrong. I discovered that an ex of mine just recently got married and is having a baby, yet I haven’t been in a relationship that has lasted longer than a few months in years. Years, people. I don’t want to feel bitterness towards people I care about because they’ve been able to find companionship and I haven’t. It feels horrible, and I find myself retreating from those relationships because I am envious of what they have. And so it seems that I don’t want life at home and I don’t want life here. So, I’m basically humming a tune in my head, days away from my 33rd birthday, singing, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with…me.”