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.

Back to Normal

Hello! Did you miss me? What’s that? Not really?

I’m alright with that.

I’ve been home from Ghana for exactly one month and it already feels like the past 4.5 months happened to somebody else.  Memories are blurring and experiences seem like folklore that couldn’t have possibly happened to me. Like there’s no way that I willingly rode on the back of multiple motorcycles or hitchhiked or biked for 18 km through sand. On the equator. It can’t possibly be true that I went without bagels for 140 days and lost enough weight to justify being called “emaciated.” What? I was drunk one time? Blasphemy! I spent dozens of hours a week working with kids?! And they liked me?! And I liked them?! HA. I fell into a body of water? Oh. Okay. That I can believe.

So here I am, 30 days later, thrust back into my hectic DC lifestyle of countless hours in Starbucks, devoid of much human contact outside of work. Just the way I like it it’s been for the past 2.5 years. I hadn’t been in DC for over 8 months yet I’ve slipped seamlessly back into my old routines. Starbucks. Class. Work. Starbucks. Sleep. Repeat. I have a meal on occasion and I sometimes even interact with other humans, but that’s usually accidental or grudgingly. I also make sure to squeeze in some Maria Sharapova/Australian Open stalking time. Did anyone really expect that my social preferences or tendencies would be any different after coming home? Case in point: Within the first 2 minutes of being back to school I was described as “flustered” and “nervous.”

Back to normal.

The only remarkable thing about being home is probably how unremarkable my “normal” life is. Every day seemed like a spectacle when I was away and now I’m back and things are so repetitive and so completely uninteresting, and….well I guess if I really cared I could do something about that. I think part of me likes slipping by unnoticed again throughout my daily routine; in Ghana invisibility isn’t something that was easy to come by. Here everybody goes about their lives oblivious to those around them. No more stares, no more being honked at, no more being talked to by random people interested in me just because I’m a ridiculous-looking white boy. Of course I tend to have a few unfortunate encounters with strangers on the streets of DC/in Starbucks, but otherwise I’m back to blending in.

Then there’s the part of me that partially misses the attention. This may come as a surprise to none some of you, but people don’t tend to be interested in anything about me. A major part of that probably has to do with the apathy towards human interaction that just radiates from my being, but there really isn’t much about me that can be deemed intriguing. For those of you who feel that way, just spend some weeks in Africa and you just existing becomes interesting enough for those around you. So what if the major demographic of people who looked forward to seeing me were kids 10 and under? Anyone expressing interest in my company was refreshing, something I’m not likely to encounter again anytime soon.

I really miss the kids I worked with at Beacon House. The good thing about the constant busyness of my life now is that I can go days without thinking about them, without wondering if they’re doing well, if anyone else is close to being adopted, if any of them miss me. I keep myself busy and push these thoughts down and avoid looking at pictures and for a while this is effective. And then I get an email from my former boss telling me that Ben was sad one day and it was because he misses me. And then freakin Mama Irene posts on my Facebook wall in the middle of the night saying, “hi Matthew. greetings from Prince.” Seriously, Mama Irene? That’s not what I wanna see right now. I’m doing the best I can to not think about that kid, and you go and write that to me?!

Of course my attempts at keeping Prince and the others out of my mind isn’t successful for long. Despite my endless efforts of self-preservation that kid slips into my mind and once even in my dreams (we just rolled a ball together. It was wonderful), and everything floods back. I remember that his future is so uncertain and likely difficult, and the overwhelming dread that passes through me is exhausting. All I want for him and for the others is to remain as unburdened and excitable as they were when I left. I don’t want life to jade them the way it tends to, mostly for people (like me) whose lives aren’t anywhere near the level of misfortune that warrants it.

So that’s my Beacon House shpeal, the last one you’ll likely see from me. There’s too much ahead of me that I need to focus on, and maybe (shockingly) look forward to. I started my internship at the Wilson Center  this week, and I’m already wondering how long it’ll take for my co-workers to witness just how incapable I am at communicating. Good thing I’m in the Development office where interacting with people is pretty much all that goes on. I’ve got GW’s Inaugural Ball on Monday night, one of the rare times I’m looking forward to being fancy. I’m mostly just excited to see just how sloppy people will inevitably get. I’m still figuring out what my summer travel plans are, with a trip to Vancouver all that’s pretty much finalized. There’s a 6 week window of travel I’d like to fill with another Projects Abroad stint, and there’s a strong possibility that I may end up in Mongolia. We’ll see!

I completely forgot that I have videos that Ghanaian internet made impossible to upload, and I decided to share a couple that I have of Prince. Just because I don’t think pictures did him justice.

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.
  • I MISSED YOU, SMARTPHONE TEXTING. photo
  • 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!

Yεbεhyia bio

“Matteeee, Don’t Go!”

I’ve come a long way from that early August evening 139 days ago when I wrote in my journal while flying to Madrid, “I’m beginning to think that I have completely lost my mind” regarding my decision to study abroad in Ghana. Having these doubts was probably a healthy reaction; it’s easy to say, “I’m going to Ghana for 4.5 months! Bye!” Then you board the plane and the reality hits you and you’re filled with an overwhelming urge to run from the airport and go back home to the comfort of certainty that home provides. Maybe I’m not as spontaneous as I’d like to be; I like knowing what comes next and meticulously planning out every detail, diminishing the chance of a surprise or unexpected blip. When I’m thrust into new or unpredictable situations, I’m usually rendered temporarily overwhelmed or anxious, as was the case in the early days of this semester abroad.

That being said, my ability to adapt to situations, to do whatever I need to do to keep myself grounded and composed is something that has helped me each time I’ve traveled on my own. It’s one of my favorite things about myself (when’s the last time I’ve written about things I like about myself?), and something that has reassured me that if I ever end up working in a travel-intensive field, I’ll be alright. Finding a routine is key, as is keeping yourself busy and remaining focused and motivated.

Remaining focused and motivated has been a bit of struggle, at least academically, during my time at the University of Ghana. It’s hard when professors seem uninterested, assign zero assignments, and generally fail to inspire any interest in topics covered. Luckily my unnatural obsession with academic success hasn’t wavered too far off-track, but next semester is going to be a challenge. I had my last final exam on December 11, a 2.5 hour shitfest to conclude my semester of “Sucks That Y’all Were Born In Ghana.” It’s amazing how spending dozens of hours waiting or sitting in tro-tros in northern Ghana can make 2.5 hours seem like no time at all. Anyway, it’s over. Please, it is finished. No more talking about Ghanaian education ever again.

The next three days were spent at Beacon House, where I wanted to spend as much time as I could before going home. Christmas really came early for these kids, who were visited on Wednesday by 5th graders from a local international school. Their teacher attempted to have the kids participate in an interactive telling of the Christmas story, which involved them having to frantically pass a bag of cookies or candy to their left or right on cue. As expected, this didn’t really go too smoothly, but everyone had fun and I suppose that’s all that matters. The Beacon House kids performed a choreographed song that they’ve been rehearsing for weeks, which was truly beautiful to watch.IMG_3107

The gang!

The gang!

Thursday proved to be even better.  This group of girls from North Carolina who were part of some religious community service program came by and took all the kids to a field where they played a bunch of games. Activities included: limbo, Frisbee throwing, some crazed balloon popping battle, and, my favorite, sack races. I have a feeling having the kids under 5 years old do the sack race/3-legged race was more for the comedic benefit of the older kids and adults, but it really was hilarious. And look at how unbelievably excited Prince is! One of my favorite moments of my time here:

Mouth wide open in unbelievable joy

Mouth wide open in unbelievable joy

shit got real when the staff faced off

shit got real when the staff faced off

This was just silly

This was just silly

We also played “Duck Duck Goose,” which culminated in me chasing down the son of Beacon House’s owner, lunging at him like some starving wildebeest. Despite my body flop I managed to catch him, and was met with a comment I have unsurprisingly never had directed at me: “Boys will be boys!” Who, me? is pretty much what my first thought was. There was also so much Hokey Pokey. So. Much.

I think somebody's struggling.

I think somebody’s struggling.

It was one of my favorite afternoons at Beacon House; There was so much joy, so much laughter, so much…normalcy? I don’t know if that’s the correct word to use, but this was the first time I’ve spent time with the kids outside the confines of Beacon House, and it was a wonderful change. I’m really thankful that I got to be a part of it.

The most beautiful face in the world.

The most beautiful face in the world.

Things got even better that evening when this Italian couple came and cooked some pasta bolognese and garlic bread for all of us. After singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus we were given apple cobbler! The fact that my body didn’t reject this influx of “normal” food was encouraging leading up to the food rampage I’ll be embarking on tomorrow. I failed in my attempts at showing Prince effective ways to consume pasta, but he just couldn’t get the hang of the noodle twirl. So. Messy. After dinner the kids were given Christmas presents by the North Carolina ladies, a wonderful conclusion to a wonderful day.

I tried.

I tried.

Friday at Beacon House was much more subdued, but as I was getting ready to leave to meet up with friends to see The Hobbit (loved it) I learned of the Sandy Hook school shooting. Maybe spending so much time with elementary school-aged kids sensitized me more than I was previously to US gun laws, but I don’t think I’ve ever been angrier than I am now about this. I wrote this post Saturday morning when my anger was still at its boiling point.

Saturday I began the costly task of buying Christmas presents for the Beacon House kids. My original hope was to get the kids a pet goat or lamb, since I thought the owner was, according to her email, “asking for a donation for the kids for Christmas.”  She even emailed a picture of the kids with a goat they were given last year. When I asked her if she thought it wasn’t too crazy for me to buy the goat, her response was, “No, but can it be dead? It’s for Christmas dinner.” WHAT. She sensed my confusion and horror before laughing at me for thinking she’d actually want a goat running around the house pooping everywhere. MY MISTAKE. So yeah. No goat from me!

I spent a lot of time at the mall buying candy and small toys that should keep them entertained for about 90 minutes. I was purchasing bibs for the infants at this baby store when two of the clerks expressed their desire to be my wife and birth my children. She insisted on having my Ghana and US phone numbers after expressing massive disappointment when I told her I’m leaving on Tuesday (sorry to whomever you are with the random numbers I gave). Look, Doreen. You seem like a really pleasant lady, although perhaps a bit too forward. There are few steps before marriage and baby-making that you may have skipped by mistake, but I’m still flattered. It’s just not going to work out between us, for more reasons than 1. Some of those reasons you might even find blasphemous. So I suggest seeking elsewhere.

I promised the children and house mothers that I would go to church with them, and after almost talking myself out of it mostly because I didn’t feel like wearing long sleeves and jeans in Africa, I got myself there on Sunday at 8:00 as requested. I figured we’d be leaving at that time, or by 8:30 at the latest. Looking back I’m not sure why I thought something would ever happen on time for me in this country, so the fact that we didn’t leave until after 11:00 shouldn’t have surprised me.

I had never been to a church service before, and this one was about as dramatic as I expected. The pastor often screeched the gospel he was spewing, since you apparently can’t effectively pass on the Lord’s message by any other means. Despite the drawn-out bellows of “AMEEEEEEEEEN!” that happened far too often and the singing and dancing that popped up on occasion, I still managed to almost fall asleep. Just like in my Hebrew School glory days. I also managed to avoid giving any of my money, partly because I didn’t have much money left to give, partly because I’m a bit of an asshole, but mostly because the pastor sugar-coated the purpose of the money request by saying the donations are “seeds needed to grow into trees.” Or something like that. Just say you want our money to pay the electric bill. Geesh.

After church ended by about 1:00, I went back to the mall to buy a few more presents. I miscalculated the amount of gift bags I needed and I still managed to not get the correct amount of everything, but I decided to just hope that the kids wouldn’t realize that they don’t all have the same gifts.

I spent as much time with the kids as I could during my final two days in Ghana. Some of the kids understood that I would soon be leaving, that I wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon. A few of the younger ones struggled with comprehending it, but then I remembered that I’m not the first person to have come and gone from their lives. A while ago I mentioned how difficult it would be for me to be one of those people, just one amongst many who the kids became close with just to leave them behind.

And then there’s Prince. God. There were times in the days leading up to my final day when I would tell him that I’m going home soon, that I won’t be coming anymore, and he would look up at me with his big eyes, really seeming to understand what I was saying, and he would say, “Nooo, Matteee don’t go!” The thought of him missing me when I’m gone fills me with indescribable sadness that’s almost overwhelming. I don’t want any of the kids to be sad when I go. Hell, I’m still trying to figure out what it is that the kids even like about me that they’d miss. We watched Ice Age my final night there and I had a moment when I realized, God, I’m just like Ray Romano Manny, stumbling across a child and pretty instantly becoming attached. I definitely had more of an emotional reaction watching this movie now then when I was 10.

My final hours at Beacon House were spent more or less how I started: jumping on the trampoline, pushing kids on swings, reading stories, and dealing with abnormal levels of cuteness. I ate lunch with them one more time, and started getting ready to go. I wrote a letter to Ben, giving him some advice and asking him to take care of the others, especially Prince. I also gave him my watch because he and everyone else is so fascinated by it. I left a letter for Prince that he won’t be able to read anytime soon on his own, but I hope that somebody keeps it safe. My mother might be a little sad when she learns that the stuffed bulldog she got for me as a parting gift is now in his possession, but I think she’ll understand that he’ll get more use out of it than I will.

"Matteee, I want to jump!"

“Matteee, I want to jump!”

Before I left I finally gave them their gifts, since that was really all they cared about.  I started saying goodbye to the boys (all the girls were going to Church), and held Prince one last time. I gave him a kiss, put him down, and he scampered away to take his nap after saying, “Mattee, goodbye!” I locked myself in the volunteer office to give myself a minute to compose myself, and left with the group going to church and said goodbye to them there.

Mama Irene and Prince <3

Mama Irene and Prince rocking the shades I bought him

My departure was far from the spectacle I was partially expecting, and I definitely prefer it this way. I’m about as adept at goodbyes as I am at hellos, but at least tears don’t normally accompany introductions. I don’t like fusses being made over me, and I know that about 24 hours from now I’ll be bombarded with an insane amount of it from my sister family.

If somebody told me 5 years ago that I’d be working with children again I would have deemed that thought as outrageous. I had seen the dangers of becoming attached to kids, I had felt the pain of saying goodbye to people that I became close with who I’d never see again. I promised my 15 year old-self that I would never put myself through that again, that no matter how much I enjoyed spending time with kids, having to leave them behind isn’t worth it. That summer in 2007, really this one kid, affected me in ways I don’t think I realized until now. You become attached and then one day it’s just over. Maybe part of why I’ve been so unwilling to form relationships with other people over the years has been partially because of this.

This time around, 5 years later, I think I’ll be alright. A major difference between me at 15 and me at 20 is that I’ll appreciate the time I’ve spent with these kids and not just dwell on the ending. I went in with an understanding that these relationships are only temporary, so I wasn’t hit with the unbearable realization that it was all about to end in the past few days. I opened up a part of myself that may have been locked away since that summer, and with that opening I exposed myself to so much love, so much renewed appreciation of the value of human relationships. I’m not sure how much effect this will have on me, but I suppose time will tell.

I want to thank everyone for reading these every week, for all the compliments I’ve received. People being interested in what I have to say is something I’m not really used to, and I really appreciate it. I’m not sure where this blog will be a month from now, but I’ll do the best that I can to make my life a bit more interesting so I have things worth writing about. I’ll definitely be back again within the next week to talk about what being home has been like.

One thing I can guarantee? So. Much. Pizza.

Adventure and Slippery Slopes

In this week’s edition of “Classroom Nonsense…With A Smidgen of Embarrassment,” after starting my Monday morning strong by spraying my armpits with bugspray, my Politics of International Economic Relations professor (“Ghanaians have nothing to be proud of!”) decided that out of the class of 200 he would call on me specifically to answer a question.  “Is there a Robert in the class?” he asks while looking directly at me.  After I stare in bewilderment for a couple seconds he asks me what my name is before giving an answer to “What is Intellectual Property?” Luckily this exchange went monumentally better than the first time he asked me a question.  A couple of days later during the “discussion” class for Colonial Rule and African Response, the Teaching Assistant (“What is history?”) asked an equally provocative question: “What is a compass?” Luckily this question was posited about 10 minutes into discussion so I knew I could safely spend the rest of class doodling. I paid attention enough to hear bits and pieces of the discussion; one kid insisted that the Fountain of Youth was a significant reason for exploration, and another girl was outrageously concerned with where the doctors who were brought along during European exploration were kept as the interior of Africa was navigated. The answer? On the damn boat. Good Lord.  On Tuesday I had my first exam since arriving here.  Since it was a Twi test, and since my knowledge of the language so far is infantile, I wrote fun sentences like “I know papaya!” (instead of I eat papaya) and “I have a lot of hats!” (instead of I have a lot of money).  Whatever. At least the professor will be entertained. Hopefully.

On Saturday I traveled with 3 friends for the day to Shai Hills, a wildlife/resource reserve about an hour (hypothetically) outside of Accra.  I don’t think I would trade the over 3 hours/3 tro-tros it took to get there for anything.  Tro-Tro #2 featured a very passionate man selling highly questionable ointments and weight-loss capsules to the van of 28 Ghanaians. I’m only guessing it’s weight-loss related because he made numerous hand gestures that suggested he was talking about reducing stomach girth.

Sitting in the back row at least spared us direct contact with the crazed salesman (front row, white shirt)

The whole time he was looking directly at me which was just a tad uncomfortable. This nonstop selling/sermon went on for at least 50 minutes, and I’m a bit concerned over the amount of people who actually gave him their money.

About 40 minutes into Tro-Tro ride #3 the engine started smoking so we had to pull over pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  The driver told us we were only about a mile away from Shai Hills, so we decided to just walk the rest of the way even though we all agreed that the driver probably had no clue how to estimate distance.

After walking for 25 minutes a car pulled over in front of us and asked us if we wanted

Seemed like a great idea at the time…

a ride.  Because the car seemed to be nice enough (there were leather seats!) and it was a youngish couple offering us the ride (women=safety, right?), we decided it was safe to hitchhike with these wonderful people.  Turns out we underestimated the tro-tro driver’s knowledge because 3 minutes later we finally arrived!

Our guide first brought us to the Ostrich enclosure, where 4 ostriches just run around and do other massive bird activities. Seriously? What do ostriches do all day? We walked a short distance to visit

Look closely at the Ostrich’s butt and tell me you don’t see a Pomeranian coming out of it. Who do I talk to about this?!

a baboon family and to feed them bananas! As we approached I was thinking about the hazard level we were stepping into since there wasn’t anything separating us from them (and baboons are freakin’ terrifying). One baboon leaped from a rooftop onto a tree directly above me, and at that moment, I thought my end had come. As the baboon was soaring through the air seemingly towards my head, I experienced flashes of Steve Irwin and that poor lady who Oprah interviewed whose face was ripped off by a chimpanzee. Dramatic? Yes. Always yes. In the end all was well and having a baboon snatch a banana from my hand was awesome.

What a life

The 4 of us and our guide hopped onto the back of a pickup truck (solidifying this day as the most adventurous ever) to drive to Sayu Bat Cave.   Throughout the ride I couldn’t stop thinking about last summer in Botswana, that my life basically consisted of riding around in a safari car for hours a day in an environment just like Shai Hills. It’s like I was transported back 15 months and I was on one of Legodimo’s Biodiversity Drives; I half-expected to see hordes of impala rushing across the road and an elephant family that we would have to escape from.  While none of that happened, for those 15 minutes I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and appreciation, perhaps more than I’ve felt before, for those 30 days I spent in the “wild.”

These feelings of nostalgia were replaced with revulsion when we first entered the bat cave. Their feces? Not too olfactory-pleasing. This unpleasantness was quickly erased once we saw/heard literally thousands of bats in the cave.

Our next and final stop was Mogo Rock, a place girls were kept for 6 months as part of their rite of passage into womanhood.  After climbing up the rock (which at one point required hoisting ourselves up with rope), and absorbing the beautiful views of the reserve, we agreed that being forced to spend half a year up there didn’t sound too bad.

Always a sucker for a beautiful view

Riding in the back of the pickup truck to the reserve’s entrance was a perfect way to conclude a fantastic day trip.

To make this week even better, I was lucky enough to spend another 25+ hours at the orphanage.  I mentioned last week that I was going to work on Beacon House’s blog, and hopefully the posts I wrote will be finished editing soon.  It isn’t anything too substantial, but hopefully substantial enough to make the supervisors stop asking me to do something that leaves some grand, monumental impact on everybody’s lives there. Again, I just wanna play and help in the classroom.

On Tuesday night, I was asked to lead a prayer. You can imagine how I reacted to that (If you guessed uncomfortable giggling and declarations of embarrassment, then good job!).  Before this happened the kids were read Bible passages about the importance of being honest, so all I could think about at that moment was how disappointed Jesus must be in me.  But telling these people that I’m Jewish after all this time just doesn’t seem like something that needs to happen. Instead I’ll let them think of me as a really bad Christian.  Definitely the safer choice.

On Thursday, I went through the normal morning routine of playing with the preschool-aged kids and babies and helping in the classroom until lunch. I ventured off during naptime to a restaurant called Luscious Temptations (!!!) to indulge in some Western, Oboruni food. In other words, it was the most expensive meal I’ve had since

Food rewards are the best kind of reward

coming here. I spent a hefty $12.00 on pizza and passion fruit iced tea, but damn it, I think I’ve earned this “luxurious” meal.  I devote so much of my time to these kids, and yeah, I really love it, but sometimes, those kids can be a pain in the ass difficult. As Donna from Parks and Recreation would say, Treat Yo Self!

I had 30 minutes to kill in the office before naptime was over so I decided to read…until an unnaturally large cockroach crawled next to me across my bag.  I’m not about to stay in the room with that monster with me!

That night right before it was time to watch a movie, the power went out (again). So much chaos ensued, and I couldn’t resist taking a picture of it:

Oh gross, his tears are all over my shirt

Not everybody was miserable, at least:

Guess this is what kids do these days when the power goes out

Friday’s highlights include me trying to help collapse a baby stroller (does it look like I would know how to do something like that?), reading The Gingerbread Man to the kids, and splurging some more on Chinese Food.  My plan is to just starve myself all week so I can afford these 2 days of extravagance.

We Love Our Matth..er..Class!

(WARNING! SEVERE MELODRAMA FOLLOWS)

I’ve already spent over 70 hours at Beacon House, and it’s been beyond amazing, but I think I need to start worrying about how close I’m getting with some of the kids. I’m finding myself falling into similar patterns that forced me to leave the day camp I spent 10 summers at. I mentioned vaguely a few weeks ago why I left, but I guess I can elaborate more now.

You spend so much time with these kids, and they’re genuinely happy, even ecstatic to see you. (Seriously. So many hugs).  They say the cutest things like  “I want you to come every day.” They start depending on you to help them with whatever they’re learning, and you feel wanted, needed, appreciated.  I’m not really used to feeling these things, and just like I did 5 years ago, I’m getting emotionally attached to a few of them.  I know that this is happening, but I don’t know how to detach myself.

I don’t know why I’m so good at forming relationships with people 10 and under but am completely clueless at forming relationships with people my age.  Maybe it’s because they don’t expect much out of me, and for whatever reason I don’t feel intimidated like I normally am when talking to people.  Maybe it’s because I have some yearning to go back and redo parts my childhood. I see how wild, free, excitable these kids are and I don’t remember ever being like that.  I’m connecting with these kids for the same reasons I did at camp—because they represent aspects of myself that I wish I possessed. I wasn’t able to form many friendships growing up, and I think that jaded me, affected the way I interact with people today. My confidence is…negligible, and I just don’t put in much effort with people because I expect them to automatically not be interested. I’m still always surprised when people seemingly want to talk to me or be around me.  Case in point: My uncle just asked me via Skype if I’m practicing “safe friend.”

So here are these wildly enthusiastic kids who run over and hug me every morning I arrive and again every night I leave, desperately fighting for my (MY!) attention and I just…turn to mush. These feelings of acceptance are so rare for me that I just latch onto them whenever/wherever they come about. I know I’m just making it harder on myself for when I leave. I like to think that three months from now they won’t see me as just another person who has come and gone in their lives, but that is the most likely scenario.  Maybe they’ll miss me for a little while, but they will definitely get over it. And then it’ll be me, five years later, missing yet another kid.

Yikes. Maybe working with kids is just something I should avoid.

If you managed to make it through the messy ending to this post, you’re rewarded with the wisdom of Amy Poehler. I’ll post two videos from her web series “Smart Girls” here, but I seriously recommend watching them all when you get the chance. Thanks for reading!

Alright, one more!

Summer Musings: Past, Present, and Future

I know I haven’t written anything these past few weeks, but seriously, I haven’t had much to say.  My Spring Semester ended as quietly as it started (like every semester before it), and I can honestly say that I feel like I learned pretty much nothing of interest…except that American History is unpleasant and that Statistics is…lame.  But not as lame as Math & Politics (don’t get me started). Anyway, it was a pretty mediocre four months in terms of grades and academic interest, but whatever. What I will take away from this semester is my internship at USAID, affirming my interest in International Development, and settling on my study abroad location (Ghana). Fun stuff!!

Now that I’m home I’ve begun my little internal countdown until I leave for Africa (August 2).  I haven’t allowed myself to really think about it yet, but I know that will change as the weeks go by. Sometimes I really can’t believe the decisions I make; part of me thinks I’m completely insane for choosing this location to spend 4.5 months in, over more conventional places that would have probably made my mother less horrified. If somebody told me 5 years ago that I would be going to Ghana instead of somewhere like Paris or Australia, I would have laughed. But here I am, less than 2 months away from going to Africa once again. (FYI: Polio, Hepatitis A and Yellow Fever vaccinations are not pleasant to receive at once.)

I can’t help but think back to last June when I was in the early days of my month in Botswana.  Looking back, that was probably the best month of my life and it has taken a while for me to realize that and appreciate that experience. I don’t know if I’m ever going to have another moment like that when life is so completely simple and carefree. I probably wasted too much time feeling awkward and out of place (per usual), but by July 1 I really think that I formed some great relationships with a few people. I really miss being out in the middle of nowhere, seeing elephants every day, showering under the stars, playing ridiculous card games (and gasp! Drinking games!!), baking bread, sitting around the fire, and doing some really meaningful work with so many wonderful people. (Things I don’t miss? falling into the river and down a tree within 24 hours. My life.) It didn’t matter who we were or where we came from. We all came together from all over the world with a common purpose, working together to help in any small way we could. Maybe I won’t return to that place or see those people again, but one year later I can freely say that I will cherish that month of happy memories always.

So here I am, just weeks away from my second trip to Africa in a completely different situation, one that will likely challenge me so much more than my previous travels abroad. I look forward to sharing every experience and will hopefully have a weekly entry under a new blog focusing on my time away.

In the meantime, there’s fun to have!! I was in Cape Cod last week visiting my only friend from school, and I can sum up those days by saying that everything there is better than Long Island, except for maybe their pizza (a pretty huge disadvantage for them). Every single house is more beautiful than the next, and the beaches make Jones Beach seem more disgusting than it usually feels. Plus, there are some wild and angry people there, and those are two of my favorite personality traits!!

Other than that, I’ve done some “reading.” I put that in quotes because for my first Summer Reading experience I chose…50 SHADES OF GREY!! I can probably write about 5 separate entries on the horrors hidden inside every page of that “book,” but I can probably sum up the experience with the following quote: “I’ll agree to the fisting, but I’d like to claim your ass, Anastasia.” What the actual Hell?!!? The rest of the book is equally or more horrifying and if I ever read the words “inner goddess” again I will not be a happy boy. But who am I kidding? I will probably read Book 2 soon just so I can hate myself some more. On the bright side, I started Life of Pi so that should be less physically painful.

Also, I saw Once on Broadway with my mom the other day and I can honestly say that it was best musical I’ve seen, probably ever. I don’t remember the film that much other then not really liking it (I must have been insane that day) but seeing it on stage was a really beautiful experience. If you’re going to NYC anytime soon..get tickets!!!

Other then a trip to Vegas this coming weekend (Celine <3) and a couple trips to Florida, this summer is gonna be all about Ghana planning and hopefully some minimal fun in between! I’m looking forward to starting tennis lessons again tomorrow and watching Maria Sharapova probably lose win the French Open this weekend! Let’s pray for that beautiful big bitch Goddess.

Until next time, have a wonderful summer and thanks for reading! Here’s my current favorite song by Damien Rice.

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.