Prelude to a Return

“I haven’t had the time to plan returning to the scene because I haven’t left it.”-Mick Jagger

Time is a funny thing; it never really seems to work in your favor—you can feel one day that you have all the time in the world, and the next feel like you have an impossibly small amount of it left. Granted, some things, some deadlines or future plans often compete with each other for that “Top Priority” spot in your mind, and in this whole sorting out process you just can’t find any residual space for other important things coming your way, say…returning to Ghana.

I feel like there’s a part of me that’s in denial about this whole thing. It’s likely I won’t really believe I’m going back until I land in Accra, until I pass through that “Akwaaba” (“Welcome”) sign on my way to customs, until I step through the exit doors and am likely bombarded by a sea of taxi drivers attempting to overcharge me, just another wide-eyed overwhelmed Obruni, on my way to the hotel. Considering I’ve forgotten more or less all the Twi I learned last year, I may have to accept being bamboozled this one time until I’m settled in and know how much things are supposed to cost around East Legon.

And yet I haven’t really been plagued by the pre-travel fear-induced-nausea that I’m used to feeling in the days leading up to a trip like this. Part of that really is because I haven’t had much time at all to think about or plan for these 3 weeks; I’ve worked really hard this semester to not sink to the depths of extreme mediocrity that I found myself in last semester in terms of effort and GPA. This time around, I put in that extra work effort to hopefully bring myself back up my standard of just moderate mediocrity that I have settled for. Coupled with my “What am I doing here?!” internship at the State Department, Ghana has only managed to occupy just a small compartment of my too-cluttered brain up to this point.

I still don’t have much in terms of a plan for these three weeks; I’m predicting some memory whiplash as I wander the roads I can still see so clearly in my head, the paths I took, almost every detail still engrained in my mind. I may burst into tears at the sight of a baby goat, and I pity whoever is the first person to sell me some kelewele. These first few days will probably just be a nostalgia-driven rampage through the University of Ghana’s Night Market, eating every egg sandwich and kabob in sight, with some jollof in-between. I know it will all feel surreal, but I also believe I will be able to easily slip back into the way of life I became accustomed to there. As soon as I exit the airport Tuesday afternoon and I’m hit by the unbearable heat, and I look around and see the bustling activity that encompasses this country, I can almost guarantee a smile will be on my face. A smile of recognition,  a smile that accompanies an unexpected reunion.

Returning to Beacon House is really the only nervousness I’m feeling. It’ll be so strange being back there without so many familiar faces that I came to know over those 4 months, kids who have since been adopted and are living in the States. There are many that are still there, though, and I have no idea if they know I’m coming. I’m sure I will be received the way I was always welcomed each morning there—crazed hugs which always confused me, excitement over seeing me that never made much sense in my head. We all know who I’m hoping I’ll get to see again, but will I really be that self-involved to be upset that he’s home with his family in Washington? I would like to think that I won’t be, but I guess we will soon see.

People keep asking me, “Why Ghana?!” when they find out I’m spending my winter break there. I don’t really have a good answer to give, at least not one that I can articulate effectively, one that truly expresses what my time there meant to me. Of course, for those who have kept up with my blog, I think you know that those were some of the most important 20 weeks of my life. There was a tranquility resonating within me that had been foreign to me up to that point, and hasn’t really been felt much since. And this is truly why I wanted to go back. The possibility of recapturing even a piece of that feeling for 3 more weeks is an opportunity I didn’t want to ignore. I don’t want to look back, years down the road, and think about what could have been had I just made that decision to return.

I look forward to taking this stroll down memory lane with all of you, especially my CIEE crew, many of whom are probably secretly hexing me for getting to go back instead of them.  I can only imagine the blunders I will likely make in the days to come, hopefully none involving a trip into an Obruni Trap. But as always, no detail will be left out.

If I’m unable to update before Christmas due to internet misfortunes, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season!

Wish me luck!

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Where’s Matthew? The Sri Lanka Edition

I’ve been home for about two weeks now, days largely spent experiencing the wonders of TLC: Long Island Medium, America’s Worst Tattoos, Breaking Amish, etc. There is so much beauty and so much brain rot involved, all of which has been the perfect remedy to recover from probably the worst semester I’ve had at college so far. Maybe transitioning back to school in Washington, D.C. after my semester in Ghana was harder than I anticipated, or maybe I took on more than I was able to maintain. And for whatever reason, I struggled a lot with motivation, with generating the desire I’ve had for most of my life to succeed academically. I can’t blame this all on Ghana; yes, those were 4 of the best months I’ve had in my life, and the rigor of the University of Ghana’s workload is miniscule compared to GW’s, but…I don’t know. That can’t be an excuse for how apathetic and distracted I was these past months. Maybe I burnt myself out? Or maybe economics is just evil personified. Needless to say, despite my efforts in the end, which even involved my first all-nighter (hell), I effectively obliterated any progress I made with my GPA since my first semester at school. I believe I’ve hit that proverbial rock-bottom, and definitely won’t let this happen to me again. Hopefully.

So…I’m leaving for Sri Lanka tomorrow night. I don’t know how else to describe what I’m feeling without stating how completely nervous, and borderline terrified I am. You would think that after all these trips I’ve taken, this would be easier for me. I suppose everything seems easier when it’s months away, when it’s just an idea or some faraway date. And then all of a sudden it’s the day before you’re leaving and you realize how completely unprepared you are. I have a feeling I didn’t think this through, that I rushed into this trip; maybe my mother’s psychic was right (long sad story) and I am more careless or impulsive than I thought I was.

But what I’ve learned over the years and with all my trips is that anxiety is normal, probably healthy, when going off on your own to another country. And I know all this has to do with all the uncertainties and the fact that so much of what I’ll be doing is vague or completely unknown. But this is also where the excitement comes; so much of my life is structured and deliberate and planned ahead of time, and these trips provide a complete break from this lifestyle. Essentially, I’m just not an exciting person in any way, and these adventures push me to be more than just some no-fun blob.

There really is nothing I love more than visiting somewhere new and completely foreign to me. I’ve been really lucky to have been able to see so much of the world already at such a young age, to have parents (shout out to Irwin!) who allow me to do these crazy things on my own, even when I was just 17 years old. That’s when this all began, my first trip with Projects Abroad to Peru for 2 weeks, two weeks which felt like such a long time at that point. I’ve come a long way from that terrifying plane ride which featured the closest I came to a panic attack that I can remember. I mean, nobody in my family or really anybody I knew had done something like that, so it felt like a big deal. In a part of Long Island where going out of state to college constitutes a major journey, I’d say my experiences have been pretty…unique? My second trip with Projects Abroad at 19 is probably an experience that will remain unparalleled in terms of the “once in a lifetime” aura that surrounded it. To have lived in a wildlife reserve in Botswana where seeing elephants multiple times a day was the norm is something I wish I had appreciated more at the time. Every day was unique and every day felt like a priceless safari. Yes, I fell in a river this one time and may have ripped open my wrist falling down a tree, but…that’s to be expected at this point.

I wish I had detailed information about where I’ll be staying and what I’ll be doing these next 6 weeks. I’ll be living a few kilometers north of the capital, Colombo, with a host family, this married couple associated with some massive Sri Lankan charity. Obviously I’m a bit nervous about living in somebody’s home, but I think it’ll be good for me. There isn’t a better way to learn about a country than by living with people who’ve spent their entire lives there, something I was too apprehensive to do in Ghana. I may have one other volunteer there as well, but won’t know for sure until I show up at around 4:00 in the morning local time (sorry, host family/Projects Abroad transport team). In terms of what I’ll be doing, all I know is I’ll be working at this care center/orphanage for boys located right on the beach called Bosco Sevana (you can read a brief description of the place here.) I hope they don’t expect me to have all these lesson plans and ideas compiled, and really hope I’m not just thrust into some role I’m not prepared for.

But hey, I’ve mentioned before how life doesn’t really wait to see whether or not you’re ready for what it throws at you, and this will be no different. All I can do is hope I manage to adapt in ways that have been successful in the past. Patience is most important, and understanding that it won’t be easy in the beginning, or even at all. No amount of preparations can truly get you ready for experiences like this; you learn as you go, you figure out a routine that keeps your feet on the ground and your heart beating at normal rates.

I wish I could say I’ll be able to maintain this blog the way I was able to when I was in Ghana, but I don’t think that will be the case. I will likely not be bringing my laptop, so I’ll have to think of something once I’m there. I’m sure there will be internet cafes readily accessible, and maybe I can at least give short updates. Otherwise, once I’m home I’ll detail the trip in a few installments, maybe one per week that I was there. We’ll see.

Alright, well, I guess this is goodbye until July 9th!  Thank you again to everybody who has complimented my writing, and I hope you enjoy the likely ridiculous and/or amazing stories I’ll have to share either soon or when I return.

Shocking Developments

Somehow it’s been about 8 weeks since I last posted on here, 60 days which have whirled by, leaving behind a blur of events that have culminated in this first weekend of Spring Break. I know, I know. My college life never consists of anything worth mentioning, resulting in this time gap. While yes, this is largely true, the main reason behind the delay has been time. These past few weeks have been a frenzy of constant work. When I’m not at class or my internship, I’m usually attempting to catch up on all the reading and assignments I’m perpetually behind on, and by the time I look up from the computer screen or a book another week has past without me noticing. I really just don’t have the 3ish hours required to sit down and carve these out, but a stroke of luck, most likely divine intervention, has spared me from a heavy workload this week.

Classes have been going well for the most part; French hasn’t been too disastrous and International Economics not too debilitating. Psychological Anthropology is starting to become really interesting (finally), now that we’re learning about specific disorders like PTSD and Manic-Depressive Disorder. I can’t really talk about what I’m learning in Cultures of Latin America because…I haven’t paid attention to what my professor has said since about Week 2. I tried, I really did but not really. He’s just so…uninspiring? But at least he looks a bit like Albert Einstein and has a Goldendoodle, so he’s got that going for him. What I really want to do is express a probable creepy amount of love towards Professor Victor Barbiero, who not only has the appearance of a giant, beautiful bowtie-wearing Santa Claus, but whose infectious and bubbly enthusiasm for Global Health and Development has inspired me to seriously consider pursuing public health academically and beyond. I mean, just take a look at how amazing his life has been. Alright. Gotta compose myself.

Work at the Wilson Center has also been going well! I’m really mastering the art of working for free. My internships these past few years have taught me that the most important thing is obedience, a complete willingness to do whatever is asked of me. And for the most part, I’ve enjoyed it. I’m learning a lot, being forced a lot bit out of my comfort zone by having to call many ridiculously wealthy patrons, and I feel like I’m appreciated and that my time isn’t being wasted. It’s nice being kept busy every time I come in, which hasn’t always been the case elsewhere.

All this class and work has somehow, miraculously really, kept me at my Ghana-induced “emaciated” weight. There was one time that I caved and indulged on Dominos, but otherwise I’ve honestly felt guilty about any time I’ve been tempted to eat something…gross. So thank you, Ghana, for showing me the saturated fatty error of my ways. But you shall never take pizza and bagels away from me.

Hmm..what else have I been up to? Obviously not that much if I have to think about it. I went to the GW Inaugural Ball, which was a lot more exciting and worthwhile than it would have been had Obama not won. If that had been the case and everyone had been forced to attend (seriously, those ticket prices were unnecessary), it probably would have been a lot sloppier (if that’s possible) with sad/angry drunkenness instead of happy/excited drunkenness. Anyway, I wore a tuxedo and a bow-tie for the first time, and all eyes were most certainly on me. Cause, ya know, I’m a put-on-a-show kind of girl boy. I also had the most eventful Valentines Day since, well, ever, when I went to the Mumford & Sons concert with HBIC Hayley. I’ll skip the trauma that was the roughly 2 hour drive to Fairfax, Virginia (ZipCar’s existence is much appreciated) and just say that the 2 hours that those British men blessed us with their beautiful harmonizing presence (+ the dreamy banjo player) trumped any other music experience of my life (sorry, Celine. You’ve been dethroned). This picture perfectly captures the state we were rendered while listening:

Faces didn't change much from this expression.

Faces didn’t change much from this expression.

Oh, there was also this one weekend when I had 2 mini Ghana reunions. It was wonderful and strange, being with them in less sweaty circumstances. Oh, and I got to see this guy again:

the greatest reunion, probably in history I'd imagine.

the greatest reunion, probably in history I’d imagine.

I know, I know. We’re adorable. Try to contain yourselves.

You know those times I’ve mentioned how I never do anything that’s even remotely shocking, cause for alarm, impulsive…what’s that? I’ve only mentioned this 500 times? Well, hold onto your weaves everybody because I, Matthew Spencer Reiter, now have a tattoo. No, really. It happened. If I had known a year ago that I would come back from Ghana with the desire to immortalize the experience on my body, I would have laughed (or cried) in horror.

The Incident.

The Incident.

It’s just not something I ever saw myself doing. I tend to shy away from the thought of permanence, so my relationship with my tattoo is probably going to be a bit tumultuous. I have a feeling there will be days when I look down at my arm, see it, gasp in horror (I’ve forgotten it’s there a few times already), and call myself insane. But hopefully the initial shock will pass and it’ll be replaced with a contentedness. I really am happy with it, especially now that it isn’t looking so scabby and my arm doesn’t feel like it’s about to burn off. And everyone who’s seen it seems to think it’s awesome, probably because nobody saw this coming from me. I certainly shocked the Facebook world, if I say so myself.

And then there’s my family. My sister was all for it and encouraged me throughout these past few months, the wild rebel she is with her tattoo trio. My father protested at first, but finally conceded and probably secretly appreciates me doing something out of character for a change. And my mother? Welp…she was kept in the dark. I inherited my crazed conservatism from her, and when I came home and she saw my tattoo, and more “horrifyingly” its location, well…she was a tad displeased. You see, during the Holocaust, those in the concentration camps were tattooed with numbers on their arms as identification. Having a father who survived the Holocaust has left her understandably sensitive to the whole “Jews can’t get tattoos” “law”, and getting one on my arm was especially disrespectful. But later research revealed that the Holocaust tattoos were on the left arm and mine’s on the right, so…I’m not a complete and utter disgrace to my family’s name. I’m sure when my religious, ultra conservative aunt and uncle discover all this I’ll have enough material for its own blog post, but I’m hoping to avoid that discomfort for as long as I can. It’s gonna be bad.

You know what’s another sure way to avoid awkwardness and discomfort? Not showing your mother’s boyfriend your tattoo within the first 5 minutes of meeting him, when you have no idea what his history is or his level of Jewish…ness. But when silence lasts for more than 6 seconds in a conversation, I apparently panic (and display symptoms of Tourette’s, according to my sister). We all know how I am with verbal communication.

Switching gears, these past few days have been a bit odd for me. I’m not sure what the reasons are, but I’ve been having some pretty disconcerting emotional blips with Prince entering my mind more frequently than before. Maybe it’s because I haven’t allowed myself to think about him too much, and now that my workload has lowered for now he’s had more chances to slip into my thoughts. Regardless, there have been moments when I see a picture or a memory flashes and I’m filled with an overwhelming sadness that has (more than once) left me fighting back tears. Good thing this seems to happen only when I’m in class.

Recently discovered this picture on my phone. Too cute to handle.

Recently discovered this picture on my phone. Too cute to handle.

I had held back on asking for an update about Prince and the other kids because I was afraid of what I’d hear. I finally decided to check in the other day and learned that there have been times when Prince isn’t eating well and somebody says to him, “If you don’t eat your food Matty won’t come back.” And it works. So now I know that he still misses me, that he probably has no idea that I won’t be coming back, and…it sucks. I can’t think of a more eloquent way of putting it, but all I want is for that kid to forget I exist. This is probably not rational, but all I feel now is guilt that I potentially hurt him by allowing him to attach himself to me. This is a toddler who arrived at the orphanage just after losing his mother to AIDS, is HIV+ himself, and for whatever reason ended up bonding with me instantly. So things are great for 4 months and then all of a sudden I’m gone, just another person in his life who left. I want to think about it differently, that I helped him and left a positive impact, but right now all I think is that I made things worse. Lacking a sense of time is probably the major reason why he still thinks I’m coming back, but the thought of him still waiting around for me to show up 3 months later is honestly unbearable. This is the first time I feel like I’ve hurt another human being, and I know I’m probably overthinking it, but this is how I feel now. Maybe I’ll have a different perspective later. God. Somebody really needs to adopt this kid.

To lighten things up, I’ll end with some travel news. First off, I’m leaving for California tomorrow with my father to watch a ridiculous amount of tennis at Indian Wells in Palm Springs. I’ve never attended this tournament and I haven’t watched tennis in person since the U.S. Open in 2011, so I’m really looking forward to it. Mostly, I’m excited about the crazed stalking I will likely be doing of Maria Sharapova, probably #2 on my list of favorite powerful ladies. I haven’t seen her play since 2010, so there will likely be tears, which is totally healthy I’m sure. Anyway, I’ll let you all know next week if I succeeded in encountering her in person, if I don’t drop dead in her presence first. Or if I don’t drop dead from the 95 degree weather supposedly happening there this week. We’ll see if Ghana prepared my body enough for this. I’ll need to invest in a new sweat rag.

Speaking of heat, I will officially be heading to Sri Lanka for 6 weeks towards the end of May, volunteering for the third time with Projects Abroad. I don’t have a lot of details yet, just that I’ll most likely be working at an orphanage again and possibly at a tsunami relief camp. When I know more I’ll definitely give a greater explanation, and I feel like I haven’t had any time yet to think about it. But visiting a new place, a new region of the world is always exciting for me, and I can’t wait to share my experiences again!

In the mean time, have a great week off for those enjoying their Spring Break, and start thinking of some witty blog title to incorporate Sri Lanka into. “Study Abroad is Ghana Be Great” was pretty lame.

BREAKING NEWS! My #1 favorite powerful lady, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks replied to me on Twitter regarding the 10 year anniversary of her “We’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas” statement. Did I hyperventilate and my body convulse? Obviously. So yeah. Nothing will ever be greater than this, unless Maria acknowledges my existence. That would just be too much to handle.

Her response after I told her she lost a lot of douchebag "fans" so it all worked out for her in the end

Her response after I told her she lost a lot of douchebag “fans” so it all worked out for her in the end