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.

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Shocking Developments

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

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

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

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

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

Faces didn't change much from this expression.

Faces didn’t change much from this expression.

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

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

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

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

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

The Incident.

The Incident.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Horse, The Kids, and The Haircut

In this week’s edition of “What am I Learning? Eh, Not Much”, there isn’t anything too ridiculous to report.  I think at one point my Politics of International Economic Relations professor told our class of mainly Ghanaians that Ghana doesn’t have much to be proud of.  So that was charming. Also, his name is Bossman. What’s up with that?! Other than that, the main development that happened was me willingly participating in my History class!! I’m pretty sure I hadn’t raised my hand in class since High School.  Granted, the question was really easy (When did European colonization of Africa escalate?), but I think I deserve some kind of praise for opening my mouth and managing to spew out words coherently.

On Wednesday after class I took a painful fun trip to the post office to pick up a package of clothes my mother sent me 4 weeks ago.  A 30-minute tro-tro ride later, the package was finally in my hands! Wait. No. There’s 90 minutes of exaggerated misery to discuss! After figuring out where my package was within the office’s storage, running around looking for a place to photocopy my license, and having to rip open the box with a small knife so they could see if anything dangerous was concealed in my undies, I was finally allowed to leave! After paying a 15 cedi “service” charge, of course. For that money they could have at least spared me the humiliation of struggling to use any dangerous weaponry and knifed open the box themselves! At that point, I was too flustered and ashamed to argue with a taxi driver for charging 18 cedi to get me back to campus.

In other, more wonderful news, the orphanage this week featured the usual awesomeness I now come to expect.  I only spent 4.5 hours there Tuesday afternoon (the fact that 4.5 hours is my short day is definitely a problem), but that was not even close to the amount of time required to try getting a 4/5 year old to play board games correctly.  After about the 12th time I tried explaining the correct position capital “Ts” are supposed to be in, I decided any future effort would be futile. The heck with it! If they wanna have their Ts upside down, then who am I to stop them? It’s not like I’ve come close to mastering the English language.

No matter how many times I showed them what a “T” is supposed to look like, this is what would happen.

After feigning disinterest in staying to watch a movie with them that night, the worst thing that could happen ever in the world made its sinister appearance: Power Outage. So instead of watching a movie, I had to deal with miserable children afraid of the dark.  Luckily my phone has a flashlight app (thanks, App Store!), so I spent the next hour with about 8 kids piled on me trying to remain in the light. The walk that night in complete darkness to look for a taxi was only slightly more terrifying than it normally is.

On Thursday, things were back to normal in terms of how much time I spend there (over 12 hours).  Last week I mentioned how as an intern I’m supposed to be doing something slightly more substantial than just playing (shucks), so I was asked to work on Beacon House’s blog. I happily agreed and was set to start a post this afternoon (I feel like a traitor since it’s on blogspot), but, naturally, the password I was given to access the site was invalid.  Oh well!

I’m also going to work a lot with one kid and help him with math. Not to brag or anything, but I was basically the math prodigy of elementary school. Nobody could do basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division better and quicker than me! Seriously. I won all the math games played in 3rdgrade. So I figured helping to teach a kid how to subtract 16-9 would be right up my ally! Wrong. So wrong. I had no idea how to explain what to do.

Teaching him might be like pulling teeth sometimes, but he’s a good kid.

He was using his toes and I was trying to get him to just count backwards 9 times from 16 (since you can’t take off your shoes in class forever, as I explained) and things were just deteriorating.  I think the fact that it seems so easy and obvious to me made it harder to explain to him. But thanks to my new-found patience (the lack of attention span can be rough) there was noticeable progress by the afternoon.  Repetition and positive reinforcement are extremely important (at least that’s the conclusion I came to), so once I brought out the stickers, I knew everything would be alright. Who doesn’t love sticker rewards?!

During Thursday’s nap-time, I decided it was time for me to do something I had been dreading since I arrived in Ghana: get a haircut.  Since my hair is basically the one part of my body that I don’t have some unhealthy issue with, I was a bit terrified of what it would look like.  I asked the barber beforehand if he could use scissors instead of the buzzer and to keep it not too short. He smiled, nodded, assured me that he’d do whatever I wanted, and proceeded to pull out the largest buzzer he possessed (he tried using 2 smaller ones but my hair requires, as they say, the big guns) and cut it shorter than it’s ever been.  Since I’m the most dramatic person alive, I actually had to fight back a tear as my hair was being evisceratedcut.

Cut Right? More like Cut Fright

Afterwards the kids expressed dismay over not having as much hair to yank off, but about 20 other people told me that it looks nice.  Leave it to me to assume that they’re just all being kind and secretly think I look worse than I did before. Just as I was starting to accept that maybe it doesn’t look so bad, my aunt tells me on Skype today that it’s the worst haircut she’s ever seen.

On Friday I made the more-difficult-than-necessary decision to only stay at the orphanage for a few hours in the morning so I could go to the beach in the afternoon. The fact that I had to debate whether to spend my Friday with screaming children or lounging by the water is slightly questionable.  But it was a really great decision.  Once you look past the fact that the water is polluted with garbage (“Those aren’t plastic bags! It’s seaweed!”), it’s a really beautiful beach.  Looking back, I can’t believe that I willingly swam in that water, and if this were a beach in America it would probably be condemned, but the weather was perfect, the people were great, the beer was nasty alright, and there were horses to ride!

Me actively exploiting a probably abused horse. Look closely, and you might be able to see some trash in the ocean!

For $2.50 I decided it was too great a deal to pass up.  Afterwards, as I looked into the miserable, bloodshot eyes of the sunburned horse, I hated myself more than ever for exploiting him like that.  Sorry, little guy!

Yesterday all of us attended the Ghana vs. Malawi football game. It was some kind of qualifier for the Africa Cup of Nations. Or something like that. Anyway, it was extremely entertaining, with all the added benefits of being in the “VIP” section. Here is what I and the other “VIPs” got to enjoy during Ghana’s 2-0 victory:

Not sure what the purpose of this was, and not sure how the police didn’t do anything to stop this from happening. Seems a bit hazardous.

Not sure what these people are.

After a long week, it was nice to spend today (Sunday) relaxing and doing some reading for class.  As I write this I’m watching the US Open finals where Serena Williams will (hopefully) defeat Victoria Azarenka, the b&%^* who beat Maria Sharapova in the Semis.  While I know Maria would have had her wig snatched in an even more embarrassing fashion, I’ll just choose to not dwell on that.

And what better way to cap off a wonderful weekend than to have a grilled cheese sandwich!

Possibly the greatest thing to enter my mouth since I’ve been here

Thank you all for reading, and have a wonderful week! Happy birthday mom! ❤

My best friend sent me this video, and I hope you feel the same uncomfortable mix of awe and self-loathing for not despising a song performed by Miley Cyrus.

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.

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! =)