Hashtag singleladyproblems

As my birthday creeps closer, a few thoughts have been dancing around my head. Mainly about how being a single woman deserves a tax break. Okay listen up married friends, remember when you got married all these random people showed up to this giant party you threw? Remember how they brought you presents and basically decked out your kitchen with cool shit? Have you ever tried to throw a dinner party without working knives or without a pan to cook your food in? Yeah, it doesn’t work out so well. So, while all of you married people are off being married and stuff, getting tax breaks for suffering with someone’s smelly bathroom habits and having two incomes, us single people have to buy our own kitchen crap. No, we don’t have to pay for little minions running around obsessing over Disney films and their eventual college tuition, but we, the single people, have to own a range of quality wines so that when people come over we can impress them with our knowledge of fermented grapes. We don’t have to pay for kids, but we have to host parties that last all night multiple times a month so as to keep our social cup full. And then, when you can’t get reservations to the fancy restaurant you want to go to for your birthday, you have to host a dinner party for yourself. Do you have any idea the burden it is to plan, cook, prepare, and decorate for your own birthday celebration? You spend more money cooking for yourself and a group of friends than you would just going out. Why? Because, anything less would be unacceptable. It’s either fancy restaurant or dinner party that will blow people’s minds. Being a single woman is tough, expensive, and somehow still socially unacceptable. There are no registries for “I’ve made it in the world” just for weddings and baby showers. But you know what we do have? Lots of fluffy sweaters from J.Crew, a shitton of throw pillows, and candles that smell like the South.

And the random nice skillet because your dinner party dictates the size of your skillet.
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#firstworldproblems

It’s all downhill from Monday

Since we are all really just an experiment at the Foreign Service Institute, I’ve been taking notes about my condition. I need more data points, but I have made some correlations that surely will be made into a lovely Excel chart at some point, all in an effort to avoid homework at all costs. The first thing I’ve discovered is my best day is typically Monday and it all goes downhill from there. But, working towards Friday is always uphill, so win win for me. The second thing I’ve discovered is my total and utter lack of patience for class past 10:11am. After 2.5 hours of class, I’m at my maximum saturation point and my brain turns to mush. Which luckily for me, the Egyptian word to negate things sounds a lot like mush, so I can just mutter that under my breath and pretend I’m really following along. I’ve also determined that I really enjoy learning languages, despite my attempts to derail class into a discussion on natural gas production in the US. I enjoy my time with my classmates, because we each have different strengths and we mesh together well. (I like m[]sh words now.) I know that when I’m struggling with something I can rely on my classmates to help me get where I need to be or to go off on a tangent and let my brain rest. I also immensely appreciate having a great friend who speaks Egyptian. That way I can have someone to correct my pronunciation and drill me on vocab when we are just out and about, also secret languages are fun. Also, she tells me I have good pronunciation and then I feel smug about my life.

Another discovery has been truly how vital work life balance is, also my English sucks now. Does that sentence even make grammatical sense? Eh, I don’t care. Either way, work life balance is not just a concept the Germans have down pat and Americans like to mock. Having a balance is good for the mind and the soul. I could study more, I know I should study more, because thanks societal and work pressure, but I don’t. Why? Because, I’ve found that excessive studying does not yield better results. In fact, it leads to worse results. My brain becomes fried and I’m practically useless the next day. I’m sure my brain is consuming some crazy amount of energy processing all this stuff all day, so when I come home and don’t let it reset, it overheats. Just like my laptop with a bad fan. I prefer to spend my time doing something completely unrelated to language learning, such as going to trivia or out to dinner, or dancing around my house to super loud country music, alone. And it’s awesome.

I’ve also found that by taking the occasional brain break, I’m able to come back to class or my homework and knock something out of the park. So now we come to the part of my post that I’ve really just been leading up to, because I want to boast, mainly because I’m shocked and excited, and hells yeah, why not? (“why not” is my favorite sassy thing to say in Arabic) So today, I wasn’t really feeling the first two hours of class, but then I started to feel a little bit like I was back on track. Then 10:11am hit me with a sleepy stick and I mentally checked out for 15 minutes. After the break, I met with my learning consultant and we had a one hour session where he will go over any exercise you feel like. For me, I need the most practice just talking, so he asks me random questions and we have a dialogue. I started talking about working for a natural gas company after college, which lead to a discussion on Qatar and natural gas rights. Which, frankly I couldn’t talk about before Area Studies because I had no idea there was anything to talk about. But, we sat there talking about maritime borders and natural gas fields in Arabic on a Monday freaking morning. And then we talked about the economy of Ghana and the primary exports, including politics between gold producing regions and national foreign relations interests. I blew my own mind with my seemingly out of nowhere ability to talk about these topics. But then I realized I was good at it because it was something new and interesting. I wasn’t talking about Oklahoma or food, but something different. And I loved it. So, I came home and did a 16 minute recording talking about Ghana’s primary exports, expanding more on different products. Off the cuff, just because. All in Arabic. We are just under 2 months in and this is where we are. I love my job. I have no complaints.

Life is awesome. And someone is paying me to do this. Inshallah y’all.

Things I Do Instead of Studying

Language learning is exhausting. But even worse than struggling to pay attention for a full 6 hours a day, is motivation. I have a hard time finding and keeping motivated in the evenings. I have lots of things I could do, but I still don’t know what works best for me. What makes it stick?! So, instead of studying, here are the things I do that I think seem productive, but really it is just me avoiding the inevitable:

1. Clean my house. Need your toilets scrubbed? Because I would rather do that than sit down and conjugate verbs.

2. Vacuum. The sweet dolcent tones of the vacuum cleaner are so soothing after listening to Arabic all day.

3. Translate English into Oklahoman. Because I don’t have enough languages in my brain already.

4. Blog. Avoidance level bravo.

5. Eat sour cream. Alright, I have an unhealthy relationship with sour cream. I sneak into my fridge, grab a spoon, and eat sour cream like it is ice cream. I just ate chips and salsa, so I could have an excuse to eat sour cream. So, basically, I just ate chips with sour cream and a wee bit of salsa.

6. Dance around my sunroom. Turn off the lights, blare the Taylor Swift, and shake it out. Nothing beats avoiding language like shaking your hips until they fall off or your neighbors complain.

7. Happy hours. That’s work right?

8. Watch the cleaners in the office building next to my apartment. They have these nifty little backpack vacuums that look super fun.

9. Shop on Amazon, but never buy anything. It’s the best of all worlds.

10. Read the FAM. The Foreign Affairs Manual, because it’s only creepy if I quote it.

11. Text people. Everyone needs to know every little thing I’m doing right?

12. Do yoga. Well sorta, and in bursts. And then I get bored and would rather stare at those vacuum backpacks.

13. Make lists.

Late night confessions of an ELO

It is currently 3:15 in the morning.  I’ve been a little stressed out with language and the lack of anything else in my life.  This stress is manifesting as a sleepless night.  So what’s a girl to do when she’s stressed out in the middle of the night? Read the Foreign Affairs Manual,  naturally.  It’s beautiful,  everything is laid out so nicely.  The structure is reassuring and comforting.  My Arabic class is missing some structure and clearly my nighttime wandering mind was looking for something soothing and pleasing to ease my stress. 
And it’s working,  nothing is more reassuring than knowing the FAM is always there.

Grumbles and Gratitude

I often grumble about language classes. Mainly because I never talk about anything else besides language nowadays. I grumble about how mentally exhausting it is and how everyone expects more out of us than I physically have the capacity to do. I grumble about how difficult it is and how somedays I feel like nothing sticks. I grumble about homework and not knowing how or what to study. I just sorta grumble all day long. And this negative energy is miserable. Language is hard, boo hoo. It can be incredibly frustrating to have no measurable or perceived notion of progress. We know what score we need to obtain in order to get off language probation and go to post, but there is no real measure in class of how we are doing. It feels like we are just building a lego castle one brick at a time, but we have no concept of what the final design is supposed to look like. I spend so much mental energy on Arabic, when I get frustrated it seems to come out as whatever emotion my body’s emotion roulette wheel just landed on. Most of the spaces are filled with tears. Because learning a new language is hard.

But when I get too far into the weeds of language despair, I sit back and think about everything that has happened in the past year. I start listing off things I’m grateful for. I start thinking about the little things that make me happy. I think about how lucky I am to be doing what I am doing. And suddenly all my worries seem so much less significant. And I feel right with the world again.

Three years ago, today, I was boarding a plane bound for Ghana. I spent two years hot, sweaty, and poor. I treasured running water and air conditioning. I obsessed over food. I was rarely healthy. And now I have the greatest luxury of all: a good paying dream job. I am eternally grateful for everything I have, because less than a year ago I had barely anything. I used to grumble about the stench of my latrine when someone forgot to put down the cover. Now I grumble about getting paid to learn a fascinating language all day? Perspective is truly everything when you’ve seen both sides. Sometimes, I just forget to look back. We all do I guess. It is so easy to get wrapped up in our own world and issues, that we forget to be thankful. We forget to take a step back and see the bigger picture. And sometimes this girl needs a post-it note on the back of her door that says: “suck it up, cupcake.” Just a friendly reminder that gratitude can affect your attitude.

And just when I thought

Just when I thought things were looking up, they pull the rug out from under us and now give us two languages to learn. Essentially, spoken Egyptian and written Modern Standard Arabic (for reading). And then they hit us with triple the normal vocabulary and too many grammar rules and far too little English for me to feel comfortable. I’m that person in class, you know the one. That one person who drags everyone else down because I’m not up to speed. I just keep looking for the lightswitch and I can’t seem to find it. My biggest fear when I accepted this job and what I watched play out in A-100 is feeling substandard to my colleagues. And the hard reality is I might not be able to shine in a management GSO job for another 4-6 years. I sure hope I can find some confidence in the next few days. But in good news, my Twi and German are making a wonderfully swift comeback and improving by the day!

Phasing Out

Phase One is almost over. I had some great moments and not so great freakouts. The learning curve was pretty steep, but I think I really like Arabic. For now. Hands down the most entertaining part of class so far has been learning words that sound like terms we use in Oklahoma that are highly inappropriate to be saying at work. I honestly feel like a kindergartner again, not just the learning a new language and script, but my complete inability to keep it together when a select few words are uttered.

1. Her brother. It sounds like whoo-ha to my ear. In Arabic, you might translate a sentence and say: “her brother is nice.” In Oklahoma, if you say “her whoo-ha is nice” you best be getting your mouth washed out or a slap across the face.

2. I was. It rhymes with blunt and is a not so nice thing to call a lady. So needless to say, I die laughing every time someone nonchalantly uses it in a sentence.

3. Only. Fuck it. There’s no other way to put it, simply sounds exactly like fuck it. On a scale of one to even, I just can’t.

I sit in class giggling like a little girl, because apparently I grew up in a barn. Maybe Arabic has taken over the part of my brain that also controls baseline maturity. I can’t help but laugh and my teachers can’t keep it together now either. I try using it in a sentence with a straight face and my teachers start snickering. It’s rather great actually, why? Because, I’m having a good time. I’d rather be laughing as opposed to crying. I’ll take immature giggles any day of the week. At least I’m getting an ab workout.

Next week, our class changes again and we move on to full Egyptian. All Egyptian all the time. I’m just excited that I’m starting to get the humour. Take this short skit for example. The guy says one thing the entire time – do you want to drink tea?