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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Yεbεhyia Bio?

It seems like such a long time ago that I’ve written something about my life today, rather than events that happened weeks previously. If I remember correctly, it was right before I left for Sri Lanka in May that I had last written in the present tense. I suppose I could’ve written about everything else that transpired this past summer, other trips, but most importantly, that time I hung out with Oprah and Mariah Carey at the after party of Lee Daniels’ The Butler’s premiere in NYC, but I don’t need to spend paragraphs detailing how obviously perfect that was. And I guess interning at the State Department this semester is pretty cool. Right? That’s about the pinnacle of every DC student’s dream who’s studying International Affairs/Development.

Since then it’s just been the usual repetition, the familiar blurred days that make up my time  at school. Somehow it’s now the end of October, more than halfway through my second-to-last semester as an undergrad, and I feel like I’m no closer to figuring myself out then I was when I first arrived here. Looks like I’m about 7 months away from becoming part of that unfortunate statistic of graduates who have no clue what they’re going to do next! Such a comforting thought.

But I think I’ve strayed from the point of this post long enough. I am going back to Ghana.

As of this past Sunday evening, I am officially returning to Ghana almost exactly one year after I left, from December 16 to January 6. For those of you who are surprised, who are thinking, “Wow, that’s sudden! What a wack job!” well, you’re basically right. This is extremely sudden. The lag time between deciding this is something I really think I should do and purchasing the plane tickets was about 2 days. I’m really not sure when I became this person who makes massive life choices within a 48 hour period. Or maybe there was just this understanding, this feeling ever since leaving that I had to go back, that made this not that hard to decide.

I could have gone back last summer. I thought about it briefly, before ultimately deciding on Sri Lanka. But I think at that point I might not have been ready, there hadn’t been enough time and distance separating those 140 days yet. I have never been the “returning” type of person. When it comes to endings, endings that are really significant, I tend to want to push it back as far into my mind as it can possibly go, otherwise I’d just end up constantly thinking about it, I would always wish to be somewhere else. I seek out new experiences, new travels as a way to shovel those memories down further, I guess as some self-preservation mechanism. The fact is, leaving Ghana was hard. It was really, really, hard. For those first few months after being home, I really couldn’t stop thinking about how much I wanted to be back there, back at Beacon House and back to a life that left me filled with more purpose than I had ever felt before.

I feel like since I left, since I said those goodbyes, since I heard that final, “Mattee, don’t go,” from Prince, that I’ve just been stuck. Stagnant. There was an incredible rise in vitality during those 6 weeks in Sri Lanka, a jump-start that I desperately needed. Somehow leaving there was worse, and I’ve been trying to figure out why that was the case, why those 6 weeks seemed to have left more of an impact than those 4.5 months in Ghana. And the conclusion that I since came to is that when I came home that day, when I had time to look ahead to this year, all I could think about was the uncertainty and fear that comes with arriving at your final year of college. I think as I was leaving I had thoughts of, “This is it. This is probably the last time I’m going to be able to do something like this before real life comes and removes these possibilities.”

Something must have happened this month to change my outlook, to make me at least want to see things differently. Sometime over this semester I decided that I no longer want to see endings as definite, that some endings really don’t have to be. There are so many times in life when endings are just that, with zero chance to go back. Ghana doesn’t have to be one of those times. I have this opportunity now to step back into a period that brought actual happiness, happiness that was real and unbridled.

And why shouldn’t I take this opportunity? You only have one life to live, one life to fill with worth. Prince has been adopted, he is going home to Washington State soon. I have no idea if he’ll still be at Beacon House when I arrive there, but how wonderful will it be if that reunion can happen? Somehow that kid hasn’t forgotten me over this past year, apparently still referring to me as his brother. I have this chance now to show him and those that are still there that they do matter to me, that they are worth returning to. Maybe I shouldn’t have waited until now to go back, maybe I lost my chance of seeing Prince again. But maybe not. And if he is no longer there, then that’s okay. That means he’s with his new family, a family that will give him the best shot at living a healthy, fulfilling life. And for those I came to know who are still there, I can spend 3 weeks reassuring them that they’re important.

This guy.

This guy.

I don’t really have a plan as of yet, no idea where I’m going to stay or anything. But I’ll figure it out. This is Ghana, after all. Finding a place to stay might take many misunderstanding-filled taxi rides and my poor bargaining skills might lose me out of a few cedis, but I’ll eventually manage to end up somewhere. I wish I could break out my Twi book to refresh myself on some phrases, but lawd knows where that book has since ended up. Probably in an Obruni Trap. I haven’t even begun thinking about everything besides Beacon House I’ll be able to experience again. Umm…those egg sandwiches? I don’t know if the Night Market remains open at the University of Ghana between semesters, but I will be booking it there on Day 1 to eat those $0.75 beauties. And jollof? Plantains? EXCITED. Honestly, there is so much to look forward to I can’t even concentrate on just one long enough to compile a mental list.

Again, this is still just a week of being a reality and there is so much that needs to happen before then, but having this to look forward to will probably be crucial through the rest of this semester. I’ll end by giving my thanks to my dad, who is somehow always willing to let me do these things. Even my mother, who would normally skoff at the idea of me being gone at a time when I could otherwise be home, and is never quick to approve of my travel decisions, seems to understand that this is something that I really need to do. And of course, there will be weekly updates, and none of this “waiting 2 months to share my stories” nonsense that unfortunately happened this summer.

I’m sure you’ll hear from me again before I leave. I’ll probably devote an entire post about how much I’m looking forward to drowning in my own sweat again. But if it results in the kids asking me once again why I’m crying, I’ll take it.

Can’t wait to see how many pounds I’ll sweat away in a three week period! And if The Lord is truly on my side those weeks, One Direction might be there as well.

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.

Turning 21: A Reflection

Always struggling with how to start these things, I suppose I’ll just start from where I left off. If you don’t remember, it the first weekend of Spring Break, the night before I left for California with my father. I was still experiencing a rare high of intense joy and astonishment that I was noticed by Natalie Maines which, in retrospect, probably isn’t that spectacular. But for those few moments I was filled with a glee that was numbing and foreign. Being noticed, man. It’s a beautiful thing.

(If you don’t care at all about my experiences watching tennis, skip about halfway down)

So off we went to Palm Springs, known to some of you cool kids for hosting Coachella, but is relevant to me for being the location of my favorite non-Grand Slam tennis tournament, Indian Wells. It would be my first time attending this tournament and provided a guaranteed opportunity for me to watch virtually every top tennis player in existence. But all that really mattered for me, the crazed borderline stalker that I am, was the chance to watch Maria Sharapova play in person, something I hadn’t done since 2010.

I plan on writing a more detailed post of the trip and providing a lot more pictures than will be posted here, so stay tuned, whoever’s interested in mediocre pictures of people you’ve probably never heard of!

Some might say that watching three scalding days of tennis all day and night and not doing much of anything else on a trip to California would be miserable, but those people are fools. It was seriously 3 of the best days I’ve had in a long time, a rare few days that I got to spend with my father whom I had only seen a handful of times since before leaving for Ghana. Being a smaller, more intimate tournament than the U.S. Open allowed me to be just feet away from people I had only been able to previously ogle from afar. Of course Maria Sharapova’s practices were held as far away from public access as possible (she is the Queen, after all), but I still managed to take plenty of creepy, zoomed-in pictures of her and other ladies practicing. Take, for example, Victoria Azarenka, a “lady” who had been the #1 player in the world for almost all of last year, before thankfully being dethroned by Serena Williams in February. This “woman” is an absolute disgrace to humanity for reasons I won’t get into here, but all you really need to know is that she cheats against teenagers, has convenient medical “ailments”, and is currently dating THIS GUY. No. Really. I’m not joking. See for yourself. DSCN2705

Anyway, the cretin unsurprisingly withdrew from the tournament and I was spared an opportunity of having to watch her play.

To get that rotten image out of your memory, here’s a picture of Maria I took practicing before her Round of 16 match.
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One day in particular had to be one of the greatest (and longest) tennis watching days I had ever experienced, featuring up and coming players choking away leads, top players flopping (I’m looking at you, Petra), and a probable once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to watch Maria Sharapova play just feet away from me. It all started earlier in the day session (early would turn into a relative word for that day) when some lady stood up and announced that she was selling a front-row Stadium 1 ticket for the night session. Knowing Maria was scheduled to play the first night match at 7:00PM, I basically begged my father to get that ticket for me, which he did. Just when I thought I was beginning to break from my past as a crazed, spoiled rotten douche, this happens. But at that moment I had no thoughts other than “HAHAHAHA MARIA HAHAH ❤ ❤ <3”. Yup. Definitely the sign of a healthy person. If you can’t tell, I was excited.DSCN2748

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As the day dragged on with one 2.5+ hour match after the other, I was beginning to have paranoid thoughts that her match would be moved to another court because it was getting so late. Finally, at around 10:00PM, she took to the court against Sara Errani, the girl she defeated to complete her Career Grand Slam at the French Open last year. Now, you don’t have to like vagina to recognize just how stunning this woman is. It’s completely different seeing her at times just 8 feet away. The intensity you see on TV is amplified at this proximity, and each calculated step she takes and each clenched fist and bitch-stare across the net was breathtaking. In essence, girl looked HAWT.  Oh. And she’s loud. Did you know that? I did. But holy God. It’s actually scary.

DSCN3023Anyway, I was settled in, excited to enjoy a fairly straightforward match against a woman who hadn’t given her much trouble in the past. WRONG. SO WRONG. It quickly turned into one of the most stressful experiences of my life when it became clear that things weren’t going to go as smoothly as I expected. Before I knew it, girl was just points away from losing the first set and I was quickly deteriorating into a state of mild psychosis. Really. It was bad. There were times during that 82 minute set (for non-tennis fans, sets generally don’t last longer than 45-50 minutes) when I was laughing maniacally at moments that were anything but comical, I sunk lower and lower into my seat (there was a lot of head shaking), and basically wondered why I ever thought it would have been a good idea to be this close during one of her matches. DSCN3033It’s like (kinda, sorta, not really) watching somebody you obsess care about suffer through a painful ordeal that you can’t do anything about, and all you want to do is escape and pretend that everything’s alright. You could feel the desperation emanating from this lady, and it was utterly exhausting. Somehow, after 2 hours, Maria pulled through that match just at the strike of midnight, ending things in a much less stressful manner.

So there I was, the moment I never dreamed would happen to me, the moment I would finally get Maria Sharapova’s autograph. By that time the stadium was virtually empty, and I managed to get a spot above the doors leading to the locker room without having to toss any child aside (I would have). I couldn’t believe how serendipitous it was that I was in possession of a U.S. Open 2006 hat, representing the year she won that tournament in a brilliant display at just 19. And wearing this perfect dress. As she approached, I had one of those cheesy/I didn’t believe actually happen moments when everything slowed down, sounds became muffled, and all that mattered was that one of my idols was just inches away from me and my waving hand. She was right beneath me, signing balls and hats directly next to me, and then….

And then the bitch was gone. Snubbed. Ignored completely. Absolute devastation. I’m pretty sure I had never felt more humiliated in my life, and that’s saying something. For the first time I think I understood what it felt like to be rejected, which says things about me that probably aren’t too pleasant. It was basically the first time I really put myself out there, made my feelings and intentions clear (can’t be more clear than shouting her name in crazed desperation while waving a hat in her face), and…just mortifying. We sat through Novak Djokovic’s match that didn’t finish until after 2:00AM, and by that time you could basically count how many people were left in the stands. I figured that he would surely sign an autograph for everyone left, and waited patiently as he signed something for everyone around me. And what do ya know? More rejection! Because the night just wasn’t jocular enough for me. So after a 15 hour day of watching tennis, we sulked back to the hotel empty-handed and cranky.

I should have known that my life wouldn’t take a break from being absolutely ridiculous. The next night, after a disappointing match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal ended with Roger and his injured back promptly being shown the door, I settled in for my final match at Indian Wells that featured the Bryan Brothers, the greatest doubles team to ever play the game. I don’t care much for doubles, but they were entertaining, and I always have a soft-spot for veteran players who have earned respect. They won after saving a match point, and began the tradition of signing tennis balls and launching them into the stands for a few lucky fans to claw each other’s faces off over. One of the twins was facing our direction (we were sitting almost as high up as you can get), and something shocking happened. Astonishingly channeling my 7-10 year old self who had despised played baseball, I calmly stuck out my left hand, and before I knew it, I was looking down at an autographed tennis ball from these legendary men.

photoSo ridiculous. Apparently being 2 feet away from the player isn’t enough to get an autograph, but being dozens of feet away gets a ball launched right into my outstretched hand. I was stunned into a bewildered stupor; Me? I caught a ball? With one hand? I possess that kind of capability?! My father probably hadn’t felt that much pride in me since I had made the game-winning hit in a baseball game when I was approximately 9 years old.  Sorry, dad. But at least I make good decisions 95% of the time! It’s a trade-off. So, the trip ended on a lovely high-note (even higher after Maria won the tournament a few days later), and I look forward to (hopefully) returning next year.

Phew. Wrote more than I planned to about this trip, so for those of you still with me, you will be rewarded with tales of a visit by my mother and sister, followed by some contemplations concerning my upcoming 21st birthday/my future in general.

My mother and sister arrived to partake in their Spring tradition of using visiting me as an excuse to enter into every store in Georgetown and renew their quest of viewing the ever elusive Cherry Blossom. In all seriousness, it was an enjoyable weekend, filled with a trip to the zoo (No otters. But beavers!!), the cherry blossom festival fireworks show, and occasional time to sit and enjoy some beautiful weather when my mother actually allowed us to take a break.photo photo photo

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At this point, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect from these two whenever they see me after being gone for a minimum 2 weeks at a time. The amount of fussing and confusing excitement (being in my presence shouldn’t be looked forward to that much) is always overwhelming, but, it’s just something I have to accept. And because things can never be completely normal when my family is involved, I had the foresight to mark down moments that were particularly outrageous. This should paint a pretty accurate picture of what my family interactions are like:

  • Upon greeting me at the hotel, my mother smacked my face repeatedly, saying “Matty!!! You look good!!!!!!!” Oh thank heavens. I was really becoming paranoid that my body had deteriorated in the 3 weeks since she last saw me.
    • Despite my apparent wonderful appearance, my mother still took the time to trace out how she would like to have my beard carved into (basically into the same shape as her boyfriend’s). Yup. She took her finger and drew an invisible beard on me. In the hotel lobby.
  • At one point in Georgetown, I was sitting outside while my mother and sister looked around a store I obviously would have no interest in. They eventually felt bad about me waiting and told the store employee about it. The employee apparently uttered something along the lines of, “Oh. You should have said something! I would have given him “Porsches and Ladies” to read!” Yeah. That’s definitely at the top of my reading list right now. Just beneath the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, actually.
  • WARNING: Graphic. “I must be really comfortable here because I’ve never been able to make a doody the first day of a trip”—anonymous
  • “I remember walking through this broken boulder”—my mother, regarding the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial
  • “I think I’m dying!”…pause…burp.—my sister
  • “Ya can’t be walking around DC at night. There’s homeless people!”—my mother
  • “Who’s coming with me for my colonoscopy?!”—my mother
  • “What’s a Macklemore?”—my mother
  • “I want some pasta” (my mother). “You’re having ravioli!” (my sister). “That’s not pasta to me!!” (my mother).
  • “What’s different about a sloth bear from a regular sloth?”—my mother
  •  “You have fleshy ankles”—shoe store employee to my sister
  • “I don’t know what’s happening”—waitress at dinner to us. Because we can’t just order a meal without chaos. Ever.

DSCN3140The morning they left was the day I registered for classes, an experience that was maybe more problematic than I anticipated. For basically my entire college career I had molded schedules in a way that would allow for the possibility of having an internship. I’ve had a lot of great experiences over the years, been able to spend time at places I never imagined I’d be, and my resume is basically bulging at the seams with entries that make me look more impressive than I’ll ever be. This culminated in me being offered an interview with the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, basically the pinnacle of any DC International Affairs student’s dreams. Long story short, things didn’t go too well (my phone interview skills are unparalleled). I think if I’m being honest with myself, there’s a part of me that sabotaged that interview. Yeah, my lack of confidence or belief that I really deserved the opportunity probably played a role, but I think there’s a larger part of me that really just didn’t want the position anyway. Maybe I’m tired of putting myself through all this stress, of balancing a full class schedule with working 20 hours a week for no pay, doing things that aren’t all that interesting. Let alone finding any time to have some kind of life. So I was left in the aftermath of registration, a schedule that leaves Monday, Wednesday, and Friday virtually free, with the decision of leaving things as they are and trying to fill those days with more work, or of changing things around, maybe taking classes I’d be more interested in that would leave little room for more. I could feel this dread building that I was wasting my time, not taking advantage of college the way I should be. Maybe I can find something smaller to do, like return to the animal shelter I volunteered at freshman year. Or maybe work with DC Reads. So for now, I left things as they are, and even did something wild and added a 1-credit tennis class. Yeah, I’ll probably still apply for internships, but there won’t be this sense of urgency like there usually is. I want next year to be the year I really take steps towards bettering myself, physically and mentally, and damn it, I think I’ve earned a break. What I really wanted was for someone to tell me, to reassure me, that it was okay to take that break, that it wouldn’t be a big deal if I took one semester to just, I don’t know…live? But, it is what it is. We’ll see what happens, I suppose. Things have a way of always working out in the end, one way or another.

So. 21. It’s really hard for me to wrap my mind around turning that age tomorrow, and I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case. It’s an age that people generally look forward to more than most, the age when you really can do whatever you want, whenever you want, without fear of repercussion. No more fake IDs, or having your older siblings or whoever go out and get you all the alcohol you want. Obviously this hasn’t been much of a concern for me; I haven’t been counting down the days like some do for when they can do this. For whatever reason, as this day has come closer, there’s been this growing sense of discomfort, or nausea, or…something. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I can say with certitude that excitement is far from what I’m feeling.

I have some theories. As the years have gone by, especially the last few, there has been this growing belief, a belief that seems to be growing at an increasingly rapid pace, that I have wasted valuable years. With every fantastic, unbelievable memory I’ve made, with every place I’ve visited, and with every opportunity I’ve been given, I can’t shake this belief that I’ve focused zero time on the things that really matter, the things that are vital, essential. I’ve focused all of my energy on achieving superficial things, academic and professional success which, while important, isn’t most important. The problem is that I haven’t allowed myself to even think about anything else; I’ve convinced myself that this is what I need to do, what’s best for me, that I can think about these things later. You tell yourself something enough times and you do start to believe it; it becomes second-nature, something you just believe to be inherent to who you are, instead of being something you manufactured as a way to avoid what you’re afraid of. This has worked for me for many years (I made it into this God forsaken school, after all), but lately I’ve been noticing these cracks. I’m beginning to realize what I’ve been doing and why, and it all comes down to that one word I wrote about a little over a year ago: Insecurity. One little word that’s been responsible for all my avoidance, all my doubts. I know I’m eventually going to need to deal with and figure out why it is I lack so much confidence in myself as a person worth getting to know. I don’t know what I’m afraid of. So there it is. I’m turning one year older, but it’s just another year that has passed with little progress made where it counts.

Another theory, maybe connected to my first one, but pretty basic and unoriginal. Turning 21 means I’m just that much closer to being thrust into a world that I don’t feel like I’m prepared for. I feel trapped in a current that’s pushing me in this unknown direction, and I feel completely powerless against it. All the flailing, struggling and fighting won’t save me from the fact that, one year from now, I’ll be graduating college, and I’ll be expected to have everything that comes next figured out. All I want is for things to slow down, for things to be less urgent, but that’s not going to happen. I hate that everything’s supposed to be decided at this one age, at this one moment, and if you don’t, you’re often deemed to be this visionless, lost person. I think what I’m most afraid of is having to leave my remaining safety net, school. If there’s one thing I’m reminded of over and over again, it’s that the world has the capacity for so much ugliness; the evil, the hatred, the murder, the infidelity, the cruelty. There are so many things out there that make the world a place I often feel disappointed to have to be a part of.

But then…then you see this adorable puppy video on YouTube and you’re brought to instant tears, or see this baby who was born deaf hear his first sounds, or you see this person whose smile or glance alone can make you feel instantly energized. You hear your name being chanted by children when you arrive for “work,” you see the amount of joy just jumping on a trampoline can bring. You receive countless hugs in a given day just for being present, you see the relief and sense of accomplishment when 4+8 is finally figured out. You’re being begged to stay until bedtime to watch a movie, you’re fought over just for the opportunity to be picked up and held, or pushed on the swing. You hear the words, “Mattee, don’t go.” You feel this overpowering love being thrown at you, more than you’ve ever opened yourself up to, and find yourself deflecting some of that love back, even when you realize the pain that will likely come when you leave. In so many ways, Ghana has helped me understand the importance of love, the beauty that it holds. No matter how much I may miss Prince and the others, the most important thing is that for those 4 months, I allowed myself to feel, to connect, to love.

That’s really all that matters, isn’t it? At the end of your life, if you can say that you loved, that you really, completely, unabashedly gave yourself to another person, everything else is just extra, an accessory. The love I gave and received in Ghana I think has been the most important thing to happen to me in years; It has opened me up to new possibilities, it’s made me realize that I do want more than what I have right now. It’s these moments of clarity, these reminders that life is so much more than the ugliness you see on the news on a daily basis, that need to be clung to. It’s the smiles, the laughter, the hope, the awe and the wonder, the leap of faith taken when you board a plane and visit one more new country (Sri Lanka is just 40 days away now)…that’s what needs to be focused on. I hope more than anything else that I manage to channel the person I was in Ghana with these kids in Sri Lanka, but one of these days, I hope I can be that person all the time. Who knows, maybe this will be the year.

Maybe turning 21 won’t be so bad after all.

Ann Coulter…and Other Drivel

Well, it’s been a while. I knew it would be harder to update this after I started my internship with USAID, but I’m really gonna try for a once a week thing.

So, this evening, I was blessed with the opportunity and honor to witness a debate at my school between the always classy Ann Coulter and  that other guy I’m not nearly as interested in Lawrence O’Donnell. Now, last year I saw Ann Coulter speak to a room full of mostly Republicans, so I knew that today she wouldn’t be facing as many supporters. Needless to say, she spoke a lot of nonsense (which is what I was hoping for), and a lot of booing was involved. This is what my face looked like for a large portion of her time talking:

I attempted to take down as many quotes as possible throughout the debate on my phone, and thought I’d share a few of the highlights of the night:

  • The Moderator immediately brought up Rush Limbaugh’s comments about the Georgetown law student being a “prostitute” and a “slut” for her contraception beliefs.  A Republican spectator cheered at those words, and most of the audience booed him. This was literally within 5 seconds of starting.
  • On whether insurance should cover contraception, Ann uttered: “insurance is supposed to be for unexpected disaster.” Um…so what about check-ups, lady? Are people not supposed to check to see if they have cancer until they’re half-dead? Yikes.
  • Ann says that Occupy Wall Street participants are “pro-Mao.” I laughed out loud at that one!
  • Here comes my favorite part of the night. The Moderator asked for comments on the voting and drinking age. According to Ann, people should not be allowed to vote until we are able to pay for our own health insurance or until we are 26. And women shouldn’t be allowed to vote AT ALL!! Women are why the Republicans lost all the elections (supposedly). She said, “If the rest of my gender didn’t vote I wouldn’t miss it at all.” Then came my favorite moment. The audience booed her after her voting comments, and the Moderator asked her to respond to it. “Why, because people who shouldn’t have the vote are booing me?” Good lord, woman. You are just insane if you think you can get away with saying that at The George Washington University.

So yeah. I didn’t really pay attention to that other guy in the debate. Whatever. Bitches be crazy.

Now, onto a completely unrelated topic. As I mentioned in my last post, I am in the process of applying to study abroad programs in Ghana and Uganda. Shockingly, my parents, especially my mother, are not pleased with this. They are convinced that I will be taken hostage by some crazy pirate and killed. Ummm…so why did you let me go to Africa like 8 months ago?! Is Botswana and South Africa way safer than Ghana and Uganda? (Well…Uganda is probably not the safest place for me. Since there’s this whole “Kill the Gays” law they’re trying to pass. Wowzers.)

Anyway, after I told my mother that I’m not afraid of being killed while in Africa, that I don’t believe that will happen, she said to me, “That’s because you don’t value your life.” I haven’t been able to get those words out of my head. I was/am so completely offended, shocked and just hurt by those words. Is that really what she thinks of me? More unsettling has been the more recent thought, What if she’s right? Is she right?? Do I really not value my existence?

That can’t be true. Otherwise, why would I bother going to class, caring about my grades, going to my internship, looking both ways before I cross the street? There is so much that I look forward to, like getting an actual job, traveling the world, owning a bulldog maybe even falling in love.  I’m always thinking ahead, and I really don’t think that’s what people who don’t value their life spend time doing.

Now, do I have this insane fear of death just from traveling to another country that might not offer all the safety and wonderful shiz that America has? No. I don’t. I am not going to avoid traveling and working somewhere just because I’m white, American, and gay. I am not going to generalize about populations and cultures. There are good people and bad people anywhere in the world, in any society and community. There is no such thing as a “bad country” and a “good country.”  There are psychos in every country. Might I have to be a little more cautious in Africa? Perhaps.

When it comes down to it, I’m a really big believer in the world not being black and white. I don’t hate a lot of things, but generalizations are definitely on that list. Like people who hate all Republicans or all Democrats. Or people who think Israel is evil or Palestine is evil. The way I see it, there’s pretty crappy people on both sides. But also some pretty great people.

Things I do fear? Climbing, and subsequently, falling. I am not the most coordinated individual (evidenced by my trip into the river and fall down a tree in the span of 24 hours in Africa). This is why I avoid climbing any kind of mountain. There’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of thinking that at any moment I’m just gonna slip and barrel down this rock formation of death. How I managed to survive all the climbing in Africa amazes me. Wearing my hiking boots probably helped (unlike in Peru when I decided that sneakers would be great hiking footwear. Down the mountain I went!!)

So no. I do value my life. I think I just need to explain to my mother that I’m studying international development, that going to these “dangerous” places  is what I want to be doing, and probably will be doing for years to come.   But the fact that I’m spending so much time thinking about it makes me wonder if I don’t fully believe it.

Maybe I don’t value my life enough. Maybe I spend too much time caring about what part of the world I’ll be visiting next, or what future job I’m going to have, or when whatever assignment is due, and don’t spend enough time caring about my life today. I think about my personal life today and…Lord. There really isn’t one. I make no effort to forge relationships with people, even in those rare times when I come across amazing people whom I would love to be close with. When it comes down to it, I just don’t know how to start friendships. Not sure what that’s symptomatic of, but it’s probably not anything pleasant. There’s one person I would to just text go up to and say “Hey! Let’s get coffee sometime when we’re both not too busy!” But, I just can’t. I know I’m going to look back and regret not having those 10 seconds of bravery. I have a list of excuses that include “Well, I’m going to be in Africa in the Fall so what’s the point of starting a friendship now?” Or “Well, he’s got like 9,000 friends in his life already who also think he’s great, so why would he even want another one?” I think I just don’t want to admit out loud that the real reason I don’t try is because I don’t think I have much to offer.

Do I value my life? Yes. My future life. That (hopeful) time when I won’t be in the way of myself. My present life is what I need to start caring about more.

Well, if you made it through this “drivel,” your reward is this beautiful clip of Alicia Keys singing “Prelude To A Kiss” in Africa. Acapella is my favorite.

The Defining Word

You know those times when you eat a slice of pizza and quickly realize that it’s the greatest thing you’ve ever tasted, that no other sane action exists besides consuming 17 more slices? Well, that’s what happened on my last post. Amy Poehler/Leslie Knope is probably the most delicious slice of pizza I’ve ever come across. So I just had to have more. And apparently I felt the need to regurgitate her back onto all of you. Sorry!!

If that disgusting analogy didn’t scare you off, then be prepared for something even more ridiculous. I’m about to quote freakin’ Naomi Campbell to introduce this post about something I’m sure everyone struggles with: Getting out of your own way.

“Anger is a manifestation of a deeper issue…and that, for me, is based on insecurity, self-esteem and loneliness”–Campbell

I’ve come to the realization that one word, insecurity, is the defining issue that I face on a daily basis.  It is what prevents me from doing everything I want to and being who I want to be.

Most people, when first meeting me, probably come to the conclusion that I’m the least intimidating person in existence. I laugh a lot, I’m extremely self-deprecating, sarcastic, and generally not offensive in any way. I make a conscious effort to not bother anybody or piss anyone off. In fact, I really don’t speak much at all.  I’m so concerned about how people view me that I don’t really let anyone know me at all.  I’m the awkward, puppy-loving, non-confrontational spoiled kid with wild hair who has everything he wants, right?

That’s how I present myself to the world, so why should I expect to be treated any differently? Why should I act surprised when I become the butt of many of my friend’s jokes, or complain when a random homeless person accosts me for money or puts my earphones in his mouth (true story)? I guess vulnerability just oozes from my pores.

I don’t try to change things. I maintain the status quo, fearing that doing anything differently would eliminate any appeal that I have to my few friends. If I don’t express my love for fat, wrinkly puppies, my love for Celine Dion and Maria Sharapova, or constantly make fun of myself, what is left to like about me?

I’d say this picture about sums me up.  My love for my dog is at an extremely inappropriate high level, and my love for dogs is in no way an exaggeration. But is it normal for me to love dogs and animals more than most people?

Look at that ridiculous smile! I’m constantly amazed at how unbelievably crazed ecstatic I appear in most of my pictures. I look at myself and can’t believe I’m capable of conveying so much joy. I blame my freakishly large cheeks. The bastards!

This is the face that I show the world. It’s as if my body is unconsciously making me appear as exuberant as possible. Maybe it’s because for those few seconds that the picture is being taken, smiling is the accepted, expected behavior.

I can make a list of all the things that insecurity renders me or keeps me from being/doing. High up on that list would be forming relationships. I didn’t even have actual friends until my junior year of high school, friends I saw outside of the classroom.  I put zero effort into it, claiming to be 100% devoted to academics as my major excuse. I told myself that I didn’t need anybody. I even felt good knowing that instead of wasting my weekends going out and being social, I was getting assignments done days, even weeks early. It virtually took me being dragged out of my house one night in 11th grade that brought me some of the beautiful friends I have now.

Things didn’t change much in college. Once again, I didn’t put any effort into forming friendships, this time literally being dragged out one night to celebrate a birthday. And that was only because I had the luck of leaving my room to do laundry at the time that everybody was out in the hallway getting ready to go. In that moment I thought, “Well, if I’m ever going to have friends, this is my one opportunity.” The point is, the friends I have today came without any actual effort on my part.

When those rare moments come when I come across somebody who I actually want to know or be friends with, insecurity prevents that. So I settle for “liking” the occasional Facebook status, letting fear get in the way of doing what I want to do.

Insecurity is what keeps me silent in class. It’s what keeps me from vocalizing any opinion. It’s what leaves me with zero confidence. It’s what makes most of my closest relationships end up being with TV characters. And my dog.  It’s what kept me from telling my friends and family that I’m gay (Still haven’t told most of my family. Only told my dad because he asked. On the phone.). It’s what makes me never expect anything good to happen to me, and to question the good when it sometimes comes my way. Getting into the college that I go to, being selected for my dream internship with USAID, getting a 3.94 GPA last semester. My initial excitement is soon replaced with thoughts like, “What were they thinking? Why would they accept me? It’s definitely because they didn’t have to meet me in person first.”

“I’m only great on paper.” That’s probably what I think the most and that’s what I tell people. My resume, that first impression of me might be amazing, but when you look behind the words and the transcripts, you realize there isn’t much to be impressed with.

Like Campbell (probably the first and last time I’m going to start a sentence with those words), I am angry. I’m angry that I can’t be content with who I am. I’m angry that I don’t try to be close with people I should be close with. I’m angry that life is passing me by as I sit in my single room (roommates? Yeah right.), wishing to be with other people, but unable, unwilling to do it. I’m angry that I know what I want but lack the courage to try.

I know I need to figure out where this insecurity came from, when it started, why it started. You can’t come to a solution without knowing the cause(s). You can’t determine the cause without putting in some effort.

Hopefully some day soon I’ll get on that.