Epilogue: It Is Really Finished

About one week ago I landed in New York wearing a t-shirt and shorts. Why didn’t I change into jeans and put on a sweatshirt before I arrived, you ask? That answer boils down to me just not being all that intelligent. You can probably imagine what that switch from 90 degrees to 35 felt like; I’m trying to come up with something a bit more creative than “COLD! IT WAS SO BLOODY COLD!” but that’s really all I can come up with. Sorry, literary scholars! You’ll just have to give that Greatest Blog of All Time award to somebody else.

I’m going to take this time to offer some praise to British Airways. That airline is by far the classiest airline I’ve ever flown with. All the flight attendants were beautiful, a definite positive correlation to how British they were.  They also serve free wine with meals! My evident shock when I was asked which wine variety I preferred should have indicated to them that I’m underage; Then again, the hairiness of my head/face (lady at the hair salon described it as “so puffy!”) might have thrown them. Red wine in hand, I watched The Lion King for probably the first time in at least 12 years, and had roughly 4 emotional breakdowns. First when Simba was hoisted in the air on Pride Rock, then after Mufasa died, when Nala and Simba reunited, and finally when Simba spoke to Mufasa’s spirit in the stars. I was approaching Ugly Crying Danger Zone at that point.  I’d blame it on the wine, but 4 hours later I still had a substantial amount left over. Per usual.

As it came closer to my arrival, I began to feel increasingly nervous. I’m not sure if that’s a normal state to be in when coming home after 140 days, or if it’s just a side-effect of my general strangeness. Or maybe it was just anxiety over having to go back to my American life, so different from the easiness that comprised Ghana. When I got through customs/immigration, I had hoped to give myself a moment to mentally prepare myself for the crazed family bombardment I anticipated, but my family hasn’t been one to show restraint. Right on cue, I’m met with my mother, sister, and dog (my father knew better) charging at me and there was little I could do but roll over and accept the barrage of hugs and slobbery kisses (unfortunately not just from my dog). I was mercifully spared by a security guard who demanded that we “Take the dog and go!” Ahh…New York. I’ve missed you, buddy. This is what I dealt with when I got home:

...Welcome Home..

…Welcome Home..

Someone's happy to see me...

Someone’s happy to see me…

The next 24 hours consisted of countless exclamations of how much weight I’ve supposedly lost (comments ranged from “You’re so tiny!” to “You’re emaciated!” to “You look like an AIDS victim!”), and how massive my hair had become. Thus commenced Operation: Carbohydrate Binge. My mother armed herself with two bagels to throw at me at the airport (I only ate one of them. I’m not insane!), and an hour after my arrival I was shoving pizza down my throat. I basically ran to Dunkin’ Donuts afterwards to guzzle some hot chocolate, rested for a few hours, and gorged myself with baked ziti.  The next day was more of the same (more pizza!), ending with an IHOP/best friend reunion I’d been fantasizing thinking about for weeks. I got a haircut, commencing the first of probably many painful exchanges about being in Ghana. I predict I’ll be hearing a lot of “Ohhh…how interesting” which would be fine if Long Island accents didn’t sound so much like Lois Griffin.

Am I doing it right?

Am I doing it right?

Here’s a brief summary of various thoughts I’ve had since being home:

  • Cold. Cold. Cold. Cold. Cold.
  • Woah…so many white people.
  • Gross…Long Island white people.
  • Where are all the black people? Oh…This is Levittown/Wantagh.
  • Where are all the goats? Eh..I guess I’ve missed squirrels.
  • Why am I not being honked at while walking down the street?
  • Why am I not being stared at?
  • Cold.
  • Why does everyone here suck so much?
  • Ermagherd, hot showers!!
  • Damn, I just wanna buy some water in the middle of the road again.
  • Good God, the price of this meal could feed me for 4 days in Ghana.
  • Why am I not being invited to eat with everybody I come across?
  • Wow, menu items are never finished here!
  • Ermagherd, I’m not sweating profusely all day and night.
  • Oh no, I forgot to log out of Cloud. So many wasted cedis!! Oh wait. I don’t have to pay for internet anymore.
  • Why are all these babies in strollers and not on the backs of their mothers?!
  • God…I just want to be able to stay up past 10 PM and not wake up at 3:30 AM every morning.  Damn it, body.
  • Cold.

We’re told that reverse culture shock is inevitable, but I seem to be doing alright. Maybe it’s because this wasn’t my first time traveling alone outside America, or maybe readjusting to Long Island isn’t really all that complicated. The challenges might come when I return to Washington, D.C. and the hectic busyness that comprises my life there. I’m not sure I’m ready for this, but life tends to not care if you’re ready or not for what comes next.

What comes next? One of the most terrifying thoughts, in my opinion. One of the many things I loved about my life in Ghana was that everything seemed clear, focused, purposeful. This clarity of purpose was refreshing; each day seemed important and the days that weren’t were just a fluke. I could look forward to the week ahead and the weeks after and know that I’d be doing something amazing, whether traveling to a new region of Ghana or jumping on a trampoline with the kids I “worked” with. I looked forward to each day in a way that I never really had before, or at least not for a long time.

That all this purpose and excitement and motivation can just come to an end so suddenly is terrible. That within the span of 24 hours I can switch from a life that was more fulfilling than I can remember to life here and all the uncertainty and all the stress that follows that uncertainty is overwhelming. There was a contentment that was foreign to me, an unexpected sense of calmness and belonging that came with my work at the orphanage. Through all the screaming and shouting and crying and laughter, I felt that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I think about how before coming to Beacon House I had never even held a baby or toddler and it’s hard not to laugh. I remember how terrified I felt that first day, and then hating myself when all I could think of was how similar it was to holding a puppy. For reasons that are beyond me, these kids liked me. They were happy when I came (they chanted my name, for God’s sake) and were disappointed when I left or at least couldn’t watch a movie with them. It was weird. It made zero sense to me. It was beautiful.

Prince. He’s who I worried most about when I left; That kid’s HIV Positive, bow-legged and has the largest head I’ve ever encountered, and the thought of me leaving causing him any sadness…well, it sucked. The rational part of me remembers that he’s just 2 (3? Still don’t know), that to him I was probably just another source of attention and entertainment that any Obruni can provide him with. It’s not like I really offered anything special other than a disproportionate amount of hugs compared to the other children. So I know he’ll be fine. My boss found the letter I left for him and put it in his file, and she told me that there’s potentially a family in Washington thinking of adopting him. That will be the luckiest family in America. If only every family interested in adopting could encounter in person the smiles, the laughs of these children.Prince

I’m not sure if I am different, if Ghana has “changed my life” as some are able to so easily say. I’ve spent a lot of time staring at myself in the mirror, marveling at the subtle changes to my appearance. My clothes no longer fit me, my hair is borderline-ginormous. My cheeks are not nearly as pinch-able as they should be. And I like it. As I was squeezing myself into a jeans size I haven’t fit into in probably 8 years, I decided that my physical appearance isn’t all that repulsive after all. It’s too soon to say how this change of perspective will manifest itself, if maybe some confidence will accompany it. It would be pretty groundbreaking if that were the case, but I won’t be holding my breath.

No, I doubt my physical alterations will be the legacy of these months in Ghana (considering all the pizza I’ve been consuming). I’m not going to sit around thinking about what exactly is different about myself, if anything is at all. I’ll let those differences come to me at their own pace. Some people seem to be able to just list off all that Ghana has changed about them, all that it’s opened their eyes to. Maybe they’re just more self-aware than I am or maybe it’s something else. Maybe I just don’t see change as instantaneous as some people might, but rather as a gradual process, a process that doesn’t start and end at one place. What I love most of all about travel is the exposure to different ways of life, ways that may be better than what I’ve been accustomed to. I’ll take what I love about Ghana—the friendliness and overwhelming generosity and zeal for life—wherever I end up next.

I’m already restless being home and having nothing really planned for the next few months, but hopefully that will change soon. There’s so much more to see, and when I figure out what comes next I’ll let you all know. Until then, happy holidays!

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A Week Off, A Week of Pizza

Ahh…Spring Break. A week off from school and work came at a pretty wonderful time.  This semester has been so chaotic in recent weeks so I’m definitely grateful for this reprieve to recharge and get ready for the coming weeks.  Time has been flying by, which I’m not complaining about too much, but this just means that I really have to start getting my life together with a couple classes.

So my vacation started with a visit from my father and his girlfriend to DC. I hadn’t seen my dad in a couple months and he was asking about coming to visit me so I figured the first weekend of spring break would be ideal. Overall the weekend was pretty fun, mixed with the usual awkwardness that follows me everywhere I go and with anyone I come into contact with. I mean, it is kind of weird to spend an entire weekend with your father’s girlfriend in a hotel room…with no door separating their bedroom from where I slept in the living room sofa bed. I guess  I’ve slept in worse conditions. I also couldn’t stop thinking about how my life is turning into “Modern Family” (oldish, kind of embarrassing father with his more attractive and fun Colombian girlfriend ).

Regardless, we managed to have a pretty great time. We wandered around the National Gallery and managed to witness an arrest by the Washington Monument on our way to visit Abe. Crazy shit. The craziness continued that night after dinner at Nandos ( <33333) when a young drunken couple decided that the street would be a great place for a brawl. Lots of slapping, lots of yelling, lots of amazement. Before heading back to Long Island we got to have brunch with our cousins who live by my school, which was pretty great since I never get to see them.  Hopefully that will change.

The rest of the week can be summed up with PPP: Pizza, Paper, Planned Parenthood. Seriously, the amount of pizza i consume whenever I come home is borderline disgusting.  Within a 24 hour span I believe I had pizza for 3 meals. I kind of hate myself for it, but it’s so hard for me to go without decent pizza for so long. When Dominos is the best option, that just makes me sad. I’m looking at you, D.C.!

One pizza outing was mixed with a magical trip to Planned Parenthood with my best friend to go snatch some brochures for her research project.  Surprisingly our attempt at being discreet failed miserably. Granted, we shouldn’t be surprised that the ladies who work there would be suspicious of a young duo strolling into the waiting room without saying anything and rummaging through their pamphlets. Long story short, we were accosted by a very pleasant lady and ended up being lectured on the truth behind condoms and STDs. Just another ridiculous experience to add to my list with this girl.

Won’t say much about the paper since I don’t really care about it, but that consumed a couple days of the week. Other than that, the week included ice cream with wonderful friends, lots of tennis watching (Maria <3), even some tennis playing =), and a trip to NYC. A day that started so well ended tragically with the demise of 6 Georgetown Cupcakes that I bought in SoHo. I opened the box and it was if some kind of Frosting Volcano had erupted inside. So much carnage. But I spent $16 on those bastards so cupcake pudding had to suffice. (It was still pretty fantastic.)

For whatever reason I’m kind of looking forward to heading back to school tomorrow. Maybe it’s knowing that the semester is coming to an end soon, or that the weather in D.C. is just beyond beautiful now. Or I’m just ready to get out of my house again and be back on my own. But then I look over at my dog sleeping by my feet and the thought of leaving that guy behind again just…sucks. I really took those 5 years of being with him daily for granted. But May is coming pretty quickly, and so much is going to happen between now and then. Hopefully I’ll know where I’ll be in the Fall pretty soon (Ghana vs Uganda), or if I’ll be going to Israel with Birthright this Summer. Hopefully things will continue to go well at USAID and they won’t declare me incompetent, and hopefully my indifference towards my grades this semester won’t be too catastrophic.

To finish off this post, I thought I’d share a beautiful song by Corinne Bailey Rae, called “The Sea.” The lyrics are so amazing, especially the final verse, and I’m positive that she wrote this about her husband who passed away. Just another example of a song that I probably shouldn’t love so much, yet suits my taste perfectly.

My musical taste? Sadness. But not always!!! But usually….

Thanks for reading! =)

Thoughts On Home

Well, it took longer than I thought for me to stop updating this regularly, but, alas, it appears I have finally succumbed to the business that is “real life.” In between studying, working on projects and grudging through papers, I managed to escape home for President’s weekend, progress towards study abroad decisions and start my internship. I was going to write while at home, but….yeah. Whoops.

So. Home. Do many college students who study away from home feel really weird when visiting for a weekend or during breaks? I’m not sure how to describe it. But I shall try.

 “It just doesn’t feel like I’m a part of your life, I feel like I’m on vacation.”–Jacob, Like Crazy

This quote from that disappointing movie, said by Jacob while visiting his girlfriend who’s been deported to England, resonates with me.  At first, before I leave and for the first few hours/days I’m home, there’s this sense of excitement and relief. “Phew. This is much better. Being home is sooo wonderful. School is ruining me!” This feeling of having “escaped” school and, consequently, “real life” is great. I quickly fall back into old routines of how things were before I left. The refrigerator is stocked with everything that I love, my room is virtually how I left it (except for my closet filled with my mother’s clothes. Thanks.), and my dog is as cute as ever <3. I even get to sometimes visit friends who live at home, and it’s literally as if I had never left. As if weeks or months hasn’t separated us at all.

These feelings of relief tend to diminish towards the half-way point of me being home and before going back to school. “Wait. This isn’t real. I don’t live here anymore. What am I doing? This is no longer my life. Am I happy about that?” This is about when the panicking starts to make its way to the surface. The impermanence of the situation begins to consume me. I begin an mental countdown to the day that I leave again, preventing me from really enjoying myself in the present. All I think about is how the comfort of being at home is never going to last for a long period of time ever again. Then comes the thoughts of “Well, you wanted this. You wanted out. You NEEDED to get out of here, to go off on your own.” I become increasingly irritable, separating myself even more than I already am from my family. By the time I’m boarding the train back to DC I’m almost relieved. “Why did I even want to go home in the first place? Those people are out of their minds.” Then, about one month later, I’m back at home repeating this clearly healthy cycle.

As much as I want to be on my own, to break from the convenience of home and the easiness of familiarity, maybe I’m not fully ready for a complete break. Which scares me. There are a lot of personal reasons for why I left, reasons that are validated each time I return for a visit, yet I’m still not able to be completely happy while away. Which makes me think that maybe I’m just not going to be happy wherever I’m living.

Pleasant thoughts.

So. Back to school. I just started my internship with USAID today, and I can see already that this is going to consume my semester. I’m not really complaining, since this is what I wanted, what I planned for. I really need to not screw this up, since this is the place I may end up deciding I want to work for, I don’t know, the rest of my life. But, again, confidence will probably never be something I possess. So, no pressure. The great thing about this is, outside the valuable experience, I will have virtually zero time for anything else besides this and schoolwork.  Naturally I get excited when I have excuses for not doing anything fun or having any kind of social life. I’m hoping this will help me think less about certain things and certain people, and allow me to focus and prioritize. I barely have time to study now, let alone Facebook stalk relax. Plus, I gotta start my study abroad applications to Ghana and Uganda. My parents are not pleased. Whateves.

So, hopefully I’ll be able to maintain a somewhat frequent schedule on here. I’ve also decided to include songs at the end of all my posts from now on, just songs that I love at the moment or are relevant. I’ve had “Rainbow Connection” stuck in my head for pretty much months now, and with the Dixie Chicks covering it, there’s no way for me to not love it. I’m really obsessed with these lyrics. I also recommend Jason Mraz’s version!