Monday, August 26, 2013

lessons of summer camp part I

I arrived safely in Illinois after ten weeks of summer camp and 9 days of post camp shenanigans. I was away from internet and most forms of technology which accounts for the radio silence. Given the opportunity, I more than likely would not have posted anyway due to exhaustion. Camp sucks every ounce of life from your body. One just has to hope that at the end of the summer, it will have been worth it. 

As is usually the case with camp, there were struggles and triumphs and lessons in every moment. My summer had a few recurring themes. Maturity, identity, and gender norms were amongst them. So now I will start where I ended, with the people I love and the family I gained.

I have lived a somewhat disjointed life. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it nomadic but I have not developed roots in one set place thus far. From one experience to the next I have met people in various places in life and stages of awareness. Life has been a string of moments occupied by an assortment of characters. Some have shaped me in incredible ways and some have shared laughs before the moment passes and we part as friends. 

Some friendships make complete sense in a time and place. Some outside force brings two (or more) people together, united against a common enemy or for a particular cause. Three and a half years ago I spent an amazing night at a park in Brooklyn with a girl who helped me see the world more clearly and I haven’t seen or talked to her since. But I also haven’t felt quite the same bond with another person.

A very wise friend said not long ago that real life just doesn’t feel as meaningful as camp. Every moment we were making memories and now we are simply living. And I mostly agree. At camp, and in many other scenarios that have played out in my life, the relationships we develop have an expiration date. It encourages us to appreciate every moment that we have with each other. Each of us will go on to real life. Whatever that looks like. And we will take with us the moments we shared. Changed in some way but still moving forward from the summer together. 

But we assign significance to each relationship and each moment. For me this has looked like bonding with other humans under time constraints. Life needs to have meaning regardless of an ending date. Moments should be important whether you have a million more or only a few to hold on to. 

Above all else, that is what I’m learning.

Friday, May 24, 2013

gotta catch 'em all

Similar to every other person, I have a complicated family. Not generally the fun kind that drives you bonkers at Christmas but you love no matter what. My relationships with my immediate family have been difficult and because of that, I have not always been terribly close to my extended family.

Most importantly, my relationships with my parents have been a source of anxiety, hurt, and a wide array of nastiness. It was never easy and rarely pleasant for many years. During that time, something important happened, I developed a new family, a conglomeration of individuals and groups that created my own little happiness. Not one of blood and obligation. My new family was a patchwork of love and support and mutual trust and respect. It started when friends’ families would invite me for holidays when I couldn’t get home to Illinois. For example, Thanksgiving ’10 lasted four days with at least four meals and a week’s worth of leftovers. By the time Monday and my overextended person rolled around, several more families had adopted me.

Part of this is simply going to school far from home. There are few things quite as sad as a college student alone in an apartment getting through the holiday season. But something about me screams “Take care of me!” I can only assume it is my general disregard for my own well being sometimes and my charming aroma of madness but whatever it is, I do not know anyone who has more people rooting for him or her than I do. 

In the past year or so, many of my relationships have changed. As any other twenty-something progressing through early adulthood, I have begun to widdle the relationships that might not be as healthy or make me as happy to be able to maintain those that truly matter. I also became an adult who was capable of maintaining relationships with extended family without the assistance of my parents which helps a lot.

The most important relationship that has grown in this process is with my dad. I won’t go into the gushy details of how happy I am, but I am. I wish we could have gotten here years ago but I am starting to understand why we didn’t and probably couldn’t and I am at peace with it. What matters is that we are where we are and it is a good place to be.

Best part of all of this is, I get to keep them all. From the three or more incredible women I spent time with or thought of on Mother’s Day to the Aunt and Uncle who are still saved in my phone with reversed genders (i.e Uncle Pam & Aunt Mark) because I was a very confused five year old. I love my collection of humans who love me. I may have just associated my situation with Ash capturing and collecting Pokemon… Hm, battling the Bauers and the Ballantines.

In sum, I am a lucky gal.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Perks of Nepotism

Nepotism and good timing got me a job at the office where my dad works. He does sales or customer something. I mop floors. At no point will I complain about having paid employment. I find it somewhat amusing that I am currently employed in a position I could get if I dropped out of high school but I see nothing wrong with my job. It is fairly mindless and mostly involves watering plants, tying myself up in a vacuum cord and hunting down the criminal who keeps stomping his muddy feet all over the kitchen area. I also do some manual production. Stuffing envelopes and getting orders together. I had a month until I leave for camp and I needed something temporary. The guy before me got fired because "he had a brain the size of a flea" and here we are.

This is all fine and dandy. I get up at 5:30-5:45 am and I am home by 4 which gives me an hour to read at the forest preserve down the street before the dog walking crowd makes their rounds. If I have time which I haven't this week. It works well with my schedule, I'm getting paid well for what I'm doing, and I get to spend a couple hours a day with my dad which is pretty cool.

I'm trying to remember the last time I was spoken to like I was stupid. This does not include mansplaining. But like the other person truly believes that I lack the mental faculties to comprehend words larger than two consonants. I have my moments but in general, I'm fairly intelligent. As I become more and more comfortable with that and don't simply act unintelligent (for a variety of reasons) people talk to me less and less like I am. It makes sense but it has also been a while since I picked up on someone who thought I was inferior due to intellect. Age, gender, SES, sure. Intelligence, nope.

It is quite interesting meeting people as the daughter of their coworker who was about the graduate with a master's degree and just returned home from an internship in Rwanda and then interacting with them as basically a janitor and how that changes the way they speak to me because it does. They go from asking me for book recommendations to smiling and averting their eyes. Roughly half of those who do talk to me do so in simple sentences.

I won't bother going into details about the guy who pills food on the counter, looks at me, puts his garbage down next to it, and walks out of the room. Seriously, what self-respecting human over the age of four DOES THAT?

My favorite comment so far was on the my first day. A man came up to me and said, you are so pretty, why are you cleaning offices? ... Excuse me sir, but what on EARTH does that mean? What would you suggest I do? Go smile on the streets? That would make me either a beggar or a prostitute and I'm not interested in either of those situations. I was so confused that I shook my head and walked away. The same man later said he thought I was 16. That's not creepy or anything.

The point of all of this is, I get to leave. In two weeks I will be on my way to camp and then hopefully on to a job that I can appropriately use the 6 years of school I just finished. But most people who are working in my position don't have that option. In general, people don't choose to wash floors over just about any other job. This job is frustrating not because I empty the same recycling bin day after day but because the people I work with treat me as if that is all I am or all that I am capable of. I hate to think that people spend their lives doing this. No one deserves to be treated as less than based on occupation. Or really anything else if we are going to get down to it.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

moving forward

I was not sure if I would continue writing once I returned to the States and settled in. I'm still not sure what this will look like now but I felt like writing so here we are.

The word jealous in it various forms has cropped up a few times now since I've been home. People saying they are jealous of my experience or some derivative. These interactions make me squirm and I could not quite determine why but I've come to two reasons.

1. I'm not usually the person people are jealous of. Or at least it isn't articulated to me. I'm usually scoffed at and picked on for a lot of my ideas and behaviors. Which I'm fine with because I am content with my life. I try to do what I think is best and live a life I can be proud of. I know most people wouldn't make many of the choices I do and that's fine. This leads to my next point...

2. I have an incredible life full of people who love and support me, yes. I have had awesome opportunities that I'm sure are a product of privilege but I have also worked very hard. Throughout the past fiveish years of adulthood, I have made a few very hard decisions and been shaped by both wonderful and heartbreaking circumstances. I am a sum of every experience, just as everyone else is. To be jealous of my life at this moment discounts everything that led to this, which I don't think many people would be jealous of.

What I'm trying to say is that life is a procession of moments. Every moment people are making the decisions that are best for them. Others might not understand or agree, but every individual knows himself or herself and his or her experiences better than anyone else could. My decisions have led me in a different path than most, yes. I have made sacrifices and taken risks. Some have worked out and some have not. It does absolutely help that I have family and friends who support me through all of it.

And I haven't even begun to address what being jealous of my experience in Rwanda really means, which would take way more time than I have right now with graduation in a few days.

I'm not trying to discount others' feelings and I do appreciate the intended sentiment behind the word jealous. Basically, don't be jealous. Of me or anyone else. Live your life. Make the decisions and take the risks to make your life what you want it to be. Life is scarey and confusing and overwhelming but those aren't reasons not to live it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

So how was Rwanda?

It has been a while since I've written for a variety of reasons. Illness, stress, and general work load were major factors. I also found it more important to spend time in Kigali and with the people I care about rather than writing about it/them. And now that I'm safely home I've been recovering, starting classes again, and spending much needed time with the awesome people in my life. I'm feeling a lot better so I thought I would give an update.

Classes on Tuesday went about how I anticipated in many ways. People who I have never spoken to before were asking me "how was Rwanda?" to which I cannot provide a satisfactory answer. My professors have gone far beyond my expectations in helping me reintegrate into the classroom. The part I was looking forward to least about coming home has been relatively smooth sailing. I have a lot of work to do but everything will get done.

I would like to pause here to note that Quasar is curled up on my bed... Snoring. Loudly. Like I'm sitting at my desk across the room and I can hear his little cat snores. It's adorable.

A few things about being home have been difficult. That is, of course, beyond simply missing Rwanda, the weather, some of the people, and the work that I was doing. I feel a bit empty without it all but things are getting back to normal. The question mentioned above "How was Rwanda?" is the most infuriating question a person can ask but I'm getting it constantly. I feel pressure to give a concise and happy sentence about rainbows and smiles when my experience was far more complex. I've been searching for an answer that is true and accurate and somehow captures the past three and a half months. What I've come to is that Rwanda was worth it. The good, the bad and the in between. The frustrating and joyful and the mind blowing. Every minute that I was in Rwanda was worth every second.

Now all I have to do is get used to having four jillion choices of butter to choose from at the store and I'll be set. So much stimulation. Too many choices.

Monday, April 1, 2013

straightening the piles

Today I did something that I'm not proud of. But something important and I believe reflects the necessity of my parting with Rwanda. As I explained in a previous post, there are words that are not spoken or used in any context in Rwanda. Ethnicity for one.

I get fairly fired up when it comes to freedom of speech when it is related to the oppression of vulnerable populations. In the least condescending intention possible, I would consider genocide survivors to be a vulnerable population. Because 1. they have been subjected to extreme discrimination in the past and 2. currently, survivors are under represented in the group of people making decisions for them.

My previous rant about a coworker's refusal to highlight the manipulation of power at the district level was one instance of my inability to tolerate the censorship the Rwandan government has come to be at least somewhat known for. My inability to stay quiet when witnessing or identifying a violation of a person's rights is also ingrained in my character. It's more of a compulsion. Similar to straightening card piles when playing SkipBo. I have very little control.

But lately when playing SkipBo, I have been able to stop straightening the piles. Mostly because my efforts are fruitless and time consuming and also because it is silly to do when a mildly sloppy pile is not really doing any harm. So I keep playing and respect my opponents disregard for the state of our card piles. I'd say this is progress.

What is not progress is that I have stopped straightening the piles at work. What made me angry I have learned to negotiate with. I did not even lose my composure when a fellow member of the research team trivialized the fear of survivors living next door to perpetrators, probably related to the manic stress the government places on what they define as reconciliation. And at times the perpetrators were directly connected to the murder of the survivor's family or friends. Of course survivors are afraid. It would be insane for them not to be. Why didn't I say something?

A large part of me is afraid that my perception of the situation is too influenced by my own experiences, power, privilege, and societal norms to comment. But should fear and difference keep me from engaging in conversation? I really do hope not. Because maybe there are battles I should lose when it comes to censorship. In this case though I think the victory lies in the exchange of ideas.

The past few months have changed me. I don't think I can process everything I have taken in and the questions that I now have while entrenched in a cultural I will never be a part of or completely understand. The best I can do is find some sense in all of it.

Or maybe that is just my ethnocentrism showing.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A reflection on states' rights

When traveling or living abroad, I have taken with me a sense of pride of the US. Not that I expect people I encounter to love the US as much as I do because that would be silly, but I believe I was fortunate to be born where I was. 

While reading the news lately, I actually consider jumping ship and just watching as a country that I have been taught to love implodes in a cloud of bigotry and hate. I don’t mean this as a threat like I did with my 2008 election plans to make a run for Canada if Obama lost. With more and more reflection of where I am in my life and what I want my life to be, I seem to be facing serious ideological differences with a country that I once loved. 

It scares me that in North Carolina teachers are allowed to carry guns. I find it to be offensive that primarily upper class white men are deciding what I can and cannot do with my own body. More than anything, I don’t think I can live in the same country as people who believe rape is part of human nature and so men just can’t help it. 

Gun control, abortion, same sex marriage, education. What do these things have in common? They are all predominantly states rights under the Constitution. Anything that could have possibly arisen in the past two hundred years automatically falls under the jurisdiction of individual states. Basically, because the Founding Fathers couldn't predict the future, individual states can do bonkers with a "heartbeat bill."

 Which brings me to another point. The spirit in which the Constitution was written is not the spirit or conditions in which it is now read. Cool, we have the oldest constitution in the world. You know what is a lot cooler? A federal law banning automatic assault weapons or nationwide legalization of same sex marriage. Why can’t we accept that the Constitution was written in a different time and its practical application is hindering rather than promoting the quality of life of all American citizens? Law makers could still create laws in the spirit of the Constitution and founding principles of the country without being bound and constricted by an irrelevant document written by what were basically a group of privileged white men to begin with. 

With no disrespect for the founding fathers, of course. 

Just a thought as I wind down my day.