Why Life Ain’t So Bad

Let’s cut to the chase, here’s why life is currently just grand:

1. Spoke in Twi twice today to two different Ghanaians. Turns out, I’ve still got it! Commence Azonto dance now:

2. Told a story in Arabic today in a conversational tone at a regular speed, as if I were telling the story in English. I was so happy, even if the story wasn’t as funny as I always thought it was.

3. This time next week I will be in San Diego with my best friend. Bring on the burritos!

4. Finally making friends in DC outside of the Foreign Service bubble. Don’t get me wrong, I love my colleagues, but sometimes it is nice to hear someone talk about something besides language training. Plus, as it turns out, non-State folks do really awesome things too. And they are normal people, normal cool people.

5. I’m still getting paid to be a language sponge. The Department of State is still high fiving me everytime I walk into my apartment.

6. I’ve stopped drinking as much caffeine, 90% less I’d say, and I feel much more alert and awake. Funny how that works.

7. I learned the proper way to say King Tutankhamun today, so that made everything seem a little more real.

8. Speaking of real, I sent in my housing form today. Now that makes things feel real. I just hope to the housing board gods that they give me an apartment that doesn’t smell like dead fish and is not inhabited by a gang of wild flat spiders on tour from Ghana. It still feels like language training is going to last forever, but I guess it is just another 4 months.

9. Christmas is right around the corner and I’m always reminded during the holidays about how grateful I am for all the opportunities that have come my way.

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Don’t let it slip

I’m fast approaching a date that I don’t want to pass. I’m terrified of November 20th. I don’t want it to come.

I don’t want to say I ended my Peace Corps service over a year ago. I want to remain within my one year mark. I don’t know why, but I don’t want to tip over into that territory. I want to be still fresh off the plane. Three days isn’t going to make a difference, because that date is going to pass no matter what, but I feel it sometimes. I feel it slipping. I feel the connection to my service slipping from my hands. Somedays I come home and cry because I miss Peace Corps so bad. No I don’t miss the hardships or the heartbreak, but I miss the feeling. I miss feeling impactful. Arabic makes me feel selfish. Learning a language is selfish. I’m learning this for me, so I can converse with others. I’m not doing something that has a direct impact on others right now. I get that this whole mindset of wanting to be impactful is just as selfish, but entertain my line of thought. I miss feeling smart because I had all this time to think and better myself. I miss being loved by a community of strangers. I miss feeling like I was doing something. I was someone. I miss that feeling when lights have been off for hours and suddenly the lights are back on and everything seems amazing in the world, like I could do anything because suddenly I had electricity. I miss the intellectual conversations I would have from my porch with other Peace Corps Volunteers, locals, or sometimes the goats. I miss the look on a farmer’s face when I told them something that changed their minds. I miss the smile from my small girls when I would turn on Gangnam style and we would have a dance party in front of the ravine. I miss my fellow Volunteers and the stories we shared. I miss it all.

I enjoy Arabic, for the most part (except when I’m patronized and demoralized), but I can’t really measure it. I can’t describe its impact on me, not yet. I can’t see it smile at me from across the courtyard when I run out of my room because a mouse scurried under my bed. Arabic doesn’t care that I know all about cashew nut quality. Arabic doesn’t excite me like a fresh batch of farmer data ripe and ready for analysis.

We are always ready and looking forward to the next moment, stage, or period of our life. But sometimes, you have to look back and realize where you came from. As much as I miss Ghana, I know that I’m going to enjoy going to my fridge and making dinner in my government apartment though. But right now, I don’t want missing Ghana to end.

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.

Double Validation

Today I received my official appointment letter, salary offer, and lots of paperwork. I was so excited just for that. I ran around the house dancing and making odd noises that could be confused with guinea pigs. And then this happened:

http://www.peacecorps.gov/media/forpress/press/2379/

Peace Corps finally did a press release on the Peace Corps Ghana Cashew Initiative. (And they used my picture too!) Michael took over my German software technology project and look where we are now! What was once just an idea tossed around by a few Peace Corps Volunteers is now a shining star in Peace Corps’s list of successes. Why? Because it worked. We worked. Our project was a sustainable success.

So I guess my crazy dream of becoming Secretary of State might not be so much of a pipe-dream after all. Because at this moment, I realize that anything truly is possible.

Life After Peace Corps

The first month after I finished my service, I would have told you “there is no life after Peace Corps! It’s all over. Your life no longer has meaning! Stay in country, never come home!” My readjustment is moving along though and while I miss the purpose Peace Corps gave me, I have taken to heart all the lessons I’ve learned. Two years seems like a dream now. Just yesterday, I was telling the story of my sunburn scar. I could vividly remember my host family hunting me down to rub Vicks all over my legs. My scar is in the shape of Antarctica, by the way. But my life moves on. So what exactly have I been doing since I got home? Well…

I’ve visited friends and family.

I had two job interviews. One interview was in person, the other over the phone. Both were for jobs in DC. I got both interviews through the Peace Corps advantage – Non-Competitive Eligibility. I didn’t get either one, but it’s okay, because….drum roll please…

I passed the Foreign Service Oral Assessment!

I’ve dreamed of being a Foreign Service Officer since I was 16. My mom got me the book Inside an Embassy when I was young. I remember reading the vignettes late at night dreaming about becoming a diplomat.

I took the Oral Assessment in January and passed with a score of 5.7 out of 7. A score of 6 is pretty much the current ceiling, so I was very happy to get a 5.7. I studied for four months leading up to the test. I practiced interview questions, did timed case management exercises, and did six group exercise sessions over Hangouts. I was 100% dedicated to passing this assessment. Why? Because this is what I want to do with my life. This isn’t a job. I’ve always wanted a career. I used to look at Office Depot catalogs as a kid and day-dream about having a corner office after working for 30 years at the same place. That was me. Some things never change. So what’s next?

I need to pass a medical clearance (thankfully it isn’t as rigorous as the Peace Corps one) and obtain a security clearance. The latter is going to take some time, since I’ve lived overseas. In the meantime, I’m going back to work for my previous employer. I couldn’t be more excited to return. I don’t have to hide my intentions, everyone knows exactly what’s going on. I get to work with my friends. And I get to live with another friend. I’ll be back in the city I adore. I really couldn’t be more grateful to the agency for bringing me back for a bit.

So for every bad moment I had in Peace Corps, I can now feel it dissolving. Everything balances out in the end. I’m sure I’ll have a different set of problems to deal with working as a Foreign Service Officer, but Peace Corps gave me the tools for tackling anything that comes my way. So yes, there is life after Peace Corps. Just give it time to work itself out.

It Goes to Eleven

It’s hard to believe it has been 8 days since my birthday already. It feels like just yesterday I was standing at the station in Techiman, waiting to board my final bus to Accra. I didn’t expect my service to end this way. I never expected anything that happened to me during my service. But I did expect these final moments to be a mix of emotions. In just eleven days I’ll board a plane bound for Germany. My service will be over. It already feels over though. I no longer have a site. I no longer have attachment. I’m just ready to go home.

For the past week, I’ve been a robot. I’ve had to forget my emotions and set aside my beliefs. I became numb to everything. The days passed by and I didn’t even realize it. I’m tired. My bones ache. I long for a sofa. I long for a bed that my feet don’t dangle off the edge. I long for home. Home is no longer here. Home is America. Home is my family. Home is so close, but still so far away. I’m ready.

I said my goodbyes to my community. Today I said goodbye to my favorite batik lady in all of Ghana – Auntie Esther. She surprised me with a gift too. I felt humbled and loved. In the coming week, I’ll say goodbye to my Peace Corps friends. And I’ll be heartbroken. They have been there for me through the many many difficult times I’ve endured. I’ve listened to them cry. I’ve listened to them rant. They’ve heard me scream. They’ve heard me laugh. We’ve been to hell and back together and that’s something no one will understand. Now it is time to return to my friends who’ve waited patiently for my return, for my friends that supported me even though I could never fully explain what has happened here. I hope they will still recognize me underneath the plethora of freckles and African fabrics.

Life will never be the same.

Last night I attended a cultural event that was fantastic. One of the most powerful moments of the night came from a famous Ghanaian singer. She didn’t sing, she told her story. She told the story of a famous woman being denied the privilege of singing the National Anthem at a World Cup match because some Ministers, big men, said a woman was a bad omen. At this point, she couldn’t even continue telling her story. It was too raw and too emotional for her. To have the honor of being the first woman to sing the National Anthem at such a big event and then watching it slip away from you because some men think they know what’s best. Her story seemed simple on the surface. It seemed typical to me. But it stirred something in me. It reminded me of the injustice I’ve dealt with being a woman in Ghana. It reminded me of the times I had to work twice as hard to get even a shred of respect, because I was a woman. It reminded me of the times I wasn’t taken seriously because I was a woman. It reminded me of all the times someone treated me like I wasn’t good enough. It reminded me of the fear I’ve experienced living here. The fear I still carry with me.

Her story made me reflect on my service and the challenges I’ve faced. And I came to one conclusion:
I’m strong.

Despite everything, I’m still here. I’m going to finish my service. I’m going to get the hole punched in my ID that proves I’m now an RPCV. No one can tell me I’m not worthy. That I’m not capable. I’m not good enough.

Africa has shown me that hidden beneath this freckly white skin, I’m really a sassy black woman.
And I’m damn proud of it.