The week(s) from Hell!

IMG-20141024-00067These past few weeks have been so bad that it’s taken me a week to recover and even begin to start writing about it. After coming back from a grueling 2 week trip to the U.S., I head back to Southern Africa for what I hope will be a relaxed reintroduction to the joys of home. But, alas, the queen of doing too much did just that… too much and the wheels fell off…almost literally.

IMG_1302I arrive back from the U.S. on a Sunday and I, the dum-dum pop that I am, decide to go to work on Monday. This results in a drowsy, sick, achy, painful, grumptastic first day back at the office. I confirm that I do, in fact, have some kind of illness that requires antibiotics and I commence a course of the dream drug that is cipro. I’m feeling particularly bad for my co-workers who are excited to see me back, but are eagerly met with my stank face.

I decide that I am definitely going to Johannesburg for a seminar on Friday, which means that I actually need to leave on Thursday. Just 4 days after my 22 hour flight ordeal. Nothing but pure genius is at work here, when I convince a friend to come with me on Thursday to drive to Nelspruit after work and then wake up at 4am the next morning to drive the rest of the way to Jozi. Sure enough, I convince this poor sucker and what he doesn’t realize is that he has just joined my week(s) from hell. We end up leaving town early, because Mozambique’s national election results are coming out and we decide to clear out-of-town as soon as humanly possible. We’re on the road from Maputo to Matola for about an hour stuck in the slowest moving traffic since Driving Miss Daisy. Aside from the one time that I turn off the headlights (by mistake) on a winding pitch black road, we finally get some clear road and head to Nelspruit to a cute little hotel that’s a hospitality training school. All seems well that night when we’re greeted by really lovely people at the hotel, but the next day is when everything heads south.

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The next morning we head out at 4am, with my friend driving my old jalopy, and we actually make it to the seminar on time. I have a great day reading and writing and feeling like my life has some meaning!

And then we head to Sandton mall. I do some shopping, get my hair done, and buy new tires for the Jalopy. All seems right with the world…

IMG_1355…until I start to feel like something isn’t right. And by 7pm I’m back in the Jozi hotel feeling like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck. I end up crashing that night with paracetamol and ibuprofen cocktail in quantities that the CDC would not recommend. Mind you I’m still on this antibiotic thing that’s apparently not curing sh*t!

I wake up the next day for a long overdue meeting that turns out to be quite productive. I’m hopped up on so much drugs it’s amazing that I even understand what’s being said. My meeting ends, friend and I hit the road back to Maputo. It’s only 11:30am and we’re thinking we’ll get back before dark. Not so, friends. Not so…

IMG_1353We’re on the road for about 20 minutes when the car stops accelerating on the highway. So, I’m pretty convinced that my friend who is driving my car, must have done something stupid to cause this. But, his face is in genuine shock. We switch seats and, yea baby, this car is f*cked up. We plug in the nearest coordinates for a mechanic and head straight there. Luckily, it’s only 2 blocks away from my friend’s place and I know the neighborhood. We get there, the mechanic tries a bunch of things only to find that after 2 hours, 1 hour after the shop was supposed to be closed, he can’t figure out.

I call my friend – my poor, poor friend – who bails me out every time I need something in South Africa and she lets us regroup from her apt. My friend who drove with me decides to hitch a bus back to Maputo.

By this time, my OTC drug cocktail is being consumed at paces that cause liver damage, so I call my doctor who tells me to go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital to rule out bacterial meningitis. Bacterial meningitis?! When someone thinks you have bacterial meningitis, even when you’re sure there’s no way in hell you have it, you go to the hospital. QUICKLY!

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We go and wait in the lobby, pretty uneventfully. Until this happens…. which is also pretty uneventful until you watch the face of the man seated on the right get progressively more annoyed and disgusted. ROFLMAO

IMG_1327IMG_1325IMG_1322IMG_1321IMG_1331I end up getting blood drawn and waiting in the hospital for an hour, catching up with my friend – my poor, poor friend. And I’m sent home with a new cocktail of drugs that includes new antibiotics and no more answers on a diagnosis.

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We decide that I’ll stay in my poor, poor friend’s apt til Monday. My husband takes a bus down from Maputo. My poor, poor friend takes me to a pharmacy where I get my drugs in a locked shower caddy.

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And once again, I’m one big happy imposition.

Come Monday, hubby and I are at the mechanic bright and early. They say they need to order a part that won’t come until Wednesday earliest. So, we pack up and take the bus back to Moz to wait it out. I’m pretty f*cking sick at this point and I decide I’m taking the week off, because if I don’t I just may pass out or growl at someone.

IMG-20141104-00085The mechanic says we can come back on Saturday because all is well and they’ve fixed the car. We actually go on Monday, because there was no way to get there before the shop closed on Saturday. So we actually waste our long weekend for Veteran’s day inside our house doing all sorts of nothing. But we’re super excited to get this car back on the road, so we take the bus back down to Jozi. Get to the bus station at 4am and wait until the mechanic shop opens at 8am. We take a quick test drive because traffic is way too packed to really get up to any speed or go for long distances. So, we’re sufficiently satisfied with the results, pay the people at the shop and get on the road for some shopping before heading back to Moz.

In addition to spending about $300 on groceries, we get some much-needed retail therapy and by 3pm we’re on the road back to Moz. (I can’t help but laugh at the fact that in South Africa, the non-Christian customers & staff are welcome to have a crap a$$ New Year!)

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We’re happy. We’re smiling. We’re singing. And then… the car stops accelerating on the highway. We’re 2 hours outside of Jozi, which is also 3-4 hours outside of the nearest real city, and the car is finished. We pull over. Give it a rest and realize that we can go 30 kms/hr (and no faster). So we get the hell off the side of this road, put the hazards on, and drive to the nearest gas station outside of Belfast.  A really interesting duo of Boer dudes arrive to look at the car and they can’t figure out what’s going on, but it’s not engine or anything that they can actually see. It’s 8pm and we’re desperate. They say, go to the dealer. “Your car will get you there, but really, really slowly.”

IMG-20141101-00075What’s normally a 45 minute drive, actually takes 3 hours. By 11pm, we’re parked at a Mercure hotel to spend the night in Nelspruit. Luckily, hubby realized that there’s no way we could keep $300 worth of frozen meat in the hotel fridge, so his awesome friends drive 3 hours from Moz to meet us in Nelspruit to take the food back. Hubby also goes back, because he’s got to work the next day.

The next morning I get up and drive the jalopy to the dealership, where they tell me that no one can look at the car until 5 hours later. And that… I shouldn’t wait. Luckily, I have some more friends in Nelspruit who are on their way back to Maputo, so I hitch a ride with them back to town.  Fast forward, I’m back in  Maputo – working like a rabid dog – without a car and still kinda sick, and I’m on the verge of an emotional breakdown. I have to remember that no matter how bad things have been, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve never had to ride in  one of these…

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and I’ve never been seen wearing these pants…

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I head back to my doctor who proceeds to tell me that they think I have (or maybe had) mononucleosis, but can’t confirm. (WTH?!) And now, I’m on “watch” for a disease they don’t even know if I have. The worst part is that I can’t get an excuse from the doctor to NOT show up at work the next day.

After a week of chasing the mechanic, they say that they need to get a part from Japan and the estimated bill will be about $2000. Mind you, we spent about $1000 at the shop in Jozi. I complain to the place in Jozi and they tell me to bring the car back… to Jozi. I live 6 hours away and my car is broken down in the middle. I decide these people are f*cktards (which means that this week I’m in the process of writing a formal complain to the South African Consumer Complaints Commission). Anyways, so the bills are mounting, work’s still sucking, and my health is mysteriously evasive.

During all this mayhem, I get an email saying that a piece I worked on a year ago was accepted for publishing. Awesome! I’m thinking… maybe things are on the upswing. But, I’m weird like that so I only tell a few people, because I don’t believe this is really going to come to fruition. And guess what? It fell through within a matter of days. The publication (which shall remain nameless) comes up with some crazy deadline that makes no sense to get signed documents scanned and returned to them. Of course, the deadline comes and goes. They rescind their offer for publication and I’m now convinced that they got scared away because of some references in my piece, which have only recently become more nationally relevant. Whatever…

IMG-20141104-00084So, it turns out that 2 weeks later, I’m having what I call a “curtailment” day, which is one where I decide that I should just high tail it out of this place. Pack up all my stuff, find a new job in NYC – which is where I ultimately want to land anyway – and be the free-spirited, artsy academic that I know I’m supposed to be. But I’m carless, so how exactly would I get to the airport?

Then my husband’s family comes over for family dinner and I have to think… what’s it all worth?

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Snippets from my life as a Mozambican-in-law

I owe you a really long post about the semi-disaster that was last week, but in the mean time, I hope I can tie you over with some videos of the good times a’rollin’ with my in-laws. Never a dull… or quiet moment with this crew!

Video clips from our Xiguiane 

The xiguiane is a traditional ceremony in southern Mozambique, held after the wedding. It is usually held in the home of the groom’s parents, where people of the family of the bride, are presented with gifts typically needed in African home, like pestles, belts, graters, mbengas (large earthen bowls), cooking utensils and cloth. This ceremony is very important particularly among people who, for various reasons, could not be present at the wedding . This wedding party is fully paid for by the family of the groom, which is why it is also called the “wedding feast at the groom’s house.”

At a cousin-in-law’s graduation, this happened… there’s no explanation. It’s just awesome.

They were trying to imitate the popular music videos like these:

TTYS XO,

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Sign Spotting

Often while I’m on the road, I find interesting signs and ads that make me go hmmm… Here are some (in no particular order) that kept me entertained!

Let’s talk money!

linhas de mocambiqueI am known for being a jet setter for reasons that are only partially attributable to me. Frankly, all of my recent voyages (for the last 5 years) can be 90% attributable to my profession. When at 19, I signed up for a career I didn’t really understand, I certainly didn’t realize the impact my career choice would have on many aspects of my life. My last thought was how it would affect my finances. I mean, I was excited about stable income, since I was a hustling nanny trying to live in New York City. So, now, it’s almost a decade later, and reality is settling in. What the Facebook pictures don’t say is that I am a glorified postal worker. I get to scan the world while doing, largely, menial tasks. But, when I walk out of my office to find myself looking at the sunset on the Indian Ocean, I’m reminded that this is what my 19 year-old self signed up for. The travel adventure!

But this isn’t about silver linings. And I can’t eat adventure. Let’s talk money.

People really don’t realize how financially stressful it is to live a constantly oscillating life abroad. Let me explain: When you have no idea where you’re going to live 2 years from now, it certainly makes keeping a budget difficult. I can’t talk to financial planners, because they want me to budget my groceries and stick to that level forever. They treat travel as a luxury, instead of a source of income. They want me to keep a log of my spending habits, but I struggle to keep track of the currencies and exchange rates. How much is South African Rand in dollars today? And the Indian rupee last year this time? They don’t understand what it means to have to travel to another country to get cheaper groceries – do I add in the cost of 2 tanks of gas and tolls to my grocery bills? My situation is abnormal, but not unusual. Just ask my military friends – they get it! Anyway, my world is one of feast and famine.

I am recognizing the patterns of my travel transitions. I arrive in a new country. I spend 6 months going places, buying things, traveling with new friends, and paying for it all on my credit card. Mind you, I have no clue what this funny money is really worth and I’m working like a dog during the week. I tell myself I have to enjoy this. I, You, WE only live once! Who knows when I’ll be back here again? And, did I mention, I’m working like a dog during the week? Let’s call this a 6-month feast of fantasy. At some point, I wake up and realize that I’m over my head in credit card debt and that something has to give. Usually, I find some finance clean up book (think Suze Orman, The Budgetnista, Personal Finance for Dummies, I could go on…), steal some tips, get a plan together, work all 7 cylinders for about 1 year to get my act and my credit together. Great, so now there’s 6 months left in this country of my career’s choosing and I want to take full advantage. So, I hit the bucketlist – hard! I depart for the continental United States with what seems like a reasonable amount of debt for a woman of my age and station in life.

But now I’m back in America, where my job forces me to NOT work for a month. LOVELY! Finally, one Congressional mandate I believe in. I’m not used to living on my mom’s couch for 30 days straight, so I travel for about half of it. (Add up the cost of these plane tickets and “I’m back in Amurikah” spending sprees). I end up back in Washington for light work before I leave for the next destination. In Washington, I’m paying for expenses I’ve forgotten exist. Yoga classes? Gym membership? Cellphone bill? I’m not even sure how to use these services, but its nice to have the option again, so why not? Can you hear the happiness of my credit card companies growing? Oh! I forgot to mention that I took a pay cut for coming back to the U.S. of A., even for this brief respite. So, I’m spending like a princess, but my salary is that of an entry-level trainee at McDonald’s. This goes on for about 6 months or so. I tell myself that when I go to my next country, I’ll be able to catch up.

I get to the next new & exciting place. Trailing behind me are all the debts I’ve wracked up from leaving the last amazing city and floating my broke, overspending ass in DC for 6 months, and I still want to spend the next 6 months going places, buying things, traveling with new friends, and paying for it all on my credit card. You see this vicious cycle growing out of control? Well, I sure as hell do! And I’ve decided to stop this shit. Really!

How exactly? Basically, by going into my 7-cylinder year clean up sooner in the cycle. Why wait a whole 6 months before I realize that CapitalOne is milking me like a cow? And, by realizing that spending money is something I do, but I have to do more purposefully and carefully.

One thing that always worked for me when I was in college is the reminder that money is just a form of currency. It’s meant to move. It doesn’t grow unless it’s given and received. Life isn’t about hoarding – cash, experiences, or possessions. So, every time I needed my income to grow, I did something counterintuitive. I took it upon myself to give. I gave to charity, to the guy on the street I normally walked right past, to the kids raising money for their basketball team. Sometimes it was just a dollar. Other times more. But, it reminded me that not having money was never my problem. Having it and spending purposefully, instead, has been a life long struggle.

On this, my latest trip across the Atlantic Ocean, I decided not to wait for a whole 6 months or even a New Year to resolve to make a change. It’s time for me to go back to giving, rather than spending. And when it’s not purposeful or meaningful, it’s time for me to go on a fiscal fast. Oddly enough, most people don’t know what my fasts look like. And that’s part of why I’m sharing this lesser known part of my journey.

I don’t take travel out of my budget, because for me it’s not a luxury, it’s a fact of life. But, that’s my reality. In times like these, I’ve turned off my cable all together. I only put $20 of gas in my car and made myself make it work each week – to/from work only. I bought only fresh vegetables from the local market, rather than going to the overpriced supermarket with lots of variety, but imported packaged prices. And as I say it now, I know some people are saying, “what kind of fast is that?” The point here is that my fast is my fast. I have to do what works for me, not the cookie cutter budget from a book for people who lead a more predictable life than mine. Being a nomad is how I make my daily bread, but it’s up to me to decide how I slice it and if I can afford to butter it.

“So what’s the point of this long rant?” you may ask. Well, it’s 2 fold:

1 – I’ve found myself in many conversations lately where money was a topic. Particularly in Mozambique, people count your money for you. They ask what brand you’re wearing. They would rather travel to South Africa for an afternoon to shop for food than to spend the night on the same trip and see a nature park. It’s all about letting people see what you have, not about enjoying 1) what you have, 2) who you are, or 3) what your money can afford you. In this space (and even my hometown in New Joizey) being humble doesn’t translate. And no matter how honest I am, people always I assume I have money – lots of it. Let’s be honest. Since I’ve become a career woman, I’ve become part of the working middle class, who – once you actually count their incoming/outgoing cash flow – is actually cash poor. BUT my profession provides the basics in fabulous fashion. Read: Don’t be fooled. If you walk into my house, none of this shit is mine!

A lot of people’s self worth is tied to how much money they have and how much money others think they have. We are all victims and perpetrators. But, this is my latest attempt to shake myself free. This is my attempt to remove the veil that social media and distant allure perpetuate. Remember? My McDonald’s sized paychecks are provided by the employer that let’s me be a glorified postal worker in cities you’ve never heard of. It’s as simple as that.

Financial freedom is an individual road that we can all travel. Mine has taken me to two countries on the edge of the Indian Ocean, but yours may take you just down the street. Both are valid. Either way, walk your own path and be honest in that truth. Cash rich, debt free, and all the ebbs and flows between.

2—I haven’t been giving like I should. I haven’t been giving, in any real sense of the word. I’ve been spending. And it’s time to make a change. I thought about doing this in 2014, but somehow my own wants got in the way. But 2015 is a different time and yet another opportunity to be better than I’ve ever been. Each month I will give $25 to a different charity in honor of or in support of people/causes that have touched me. Let’s be clear, I’m declaring this publicly not show off (or even inspire, frankly), but to hold myself accountable to a group of peers and family members whose opinion of me I value. Sometimes declarations said in silence are all too easily forgotten. A la 2014. So listed below are the 12 charities that will receive a donation from me next year.

1- Whitman-Walker Clinic, DC

2- Community Foodbank of New Jersey

3-Livro Aberto, Children’s Literacy in Mozambique

4-Newark Arts Council

5-The City School, Boston

6-The Susan G. Komen Foundation

7-Deepalaya Foundation

8-The Newark Museum

9-Harlem Children’s Zone

10-Children’s Aid Society

11-American Civil Liberties Union

12-Common Good City Farm

In 2015, I’ll be sure to send you a monthly update reminding you of the month’s chosen charity AND the connection I have with its cause.

Here’s to keeping me honest (Maybe that’s something else I can attribute to my profession) and showing the reality behind the passport stamps. May my journey be one you grow context from and one you see as a source of ideas. And may my every day as a public servant jet-setter continue to be as fun and exciting as the 19-year-old in me had hoped it would be.

Here’s to toasting up Martinelli’s instead of Moet… for at least another year.

an unedited something written on or about 8-18-11

Through no fault or blessing of our own orchestration we have somehow arrived at today with confusion. What of today is mysterious? It remains overwhelming and unplanned. For that, we show fear. For that we grit our teeth and hide. As if it were less unplanned than the day we were born. Less out of our control than the day we met. How contrived is the existence of privilege! How much we’ve learned to demand the unrealistic from life and receive. What is preparation anyway, if not faith followed by the planning of humans? My intimidation is apparent. The flailings of a drowning body have no concept of homicide – those that get pulled down in a quest for self-salvation. This is how we justify the pains we cause each other. But what of tomorrow when we have the knowledge of today’s ignorance? Maybe our reaction hints that we’re undeserving. Our expectations are so high. I want to be happy on the ground. I want to be grounded, with a new bottom line. I am tired of running from love.was paper

Down the Rabbit Hole…

DSCF2095The more I read about tragedies in the U.S. and the more I travel the world, the more I think about leaving it all behind. There have to be places in the world that don’t tolerate atrocities like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin’s deaths. There must be other places where Kametra Barbour gets more than an apology, where the national news (ahem CNN) would actually carry the story of Renisha McBride’s killer being sentenced correctly, and where Lavena Johnson’s death is investigated by the government, military, and people in whose name she volunteered her life to serve and protect.  I’ll never know if life is actually better elsewhere. No traveler ever can. My citizenship always gives me the gift of a speedy exit and the privilege of choosing when to see the grit and guts of local life. But, if I had to imagine 5 cities in the world where I – an educated Black woman with a small savings, a penchant for making travel my business, and a genuine appreciation for people of all hues – would be willing to give life a new go, I’d start here…

P10509735 – JohannesburgApartheid wasn’t that long ago and South Africa is by no means perfect, but from the POV of an Af-Am woman who needs a vibrant city with opportunities galore, Jo’burg offers a lot: universities that are world renowned, a banking system that makes sense, competitive job options, and lot of Africans who know how to have a good time. The Rainbow nation rarely sleeps in this town.

* Watch scenes from SABC’s new show Sticks & Stones.

* Shop Thula Sindi

* Arts on the Cheap at WAM

IMG_04254 – Sao Paulo

I love this city! Absolutely, positively love it to pieces. Much like Jo’burg it’s a huge city with lots to offer. And, again, much like Jo’burg it has it’s racial down sides. Looking around, you might not realize that you’re in (arguably) the world’s Blackest country outside of Africa. That said though, Sampa (as it is affectionately called) is home to every walk of life that Brazil calls native. Great sushi and German food abound. Italian designs and African hairdressers everywhere. Buses filled with all shades of the spectrum. If only they could do away with that horrible accent…

* Shop Oscar Freire

* Study & get lost at USP‘s campus

* See Carnaval pix!

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3 – London – I’ve always said that after one has lived and loved NYC, there’s no place else to live but London. That statement still haunts me to this day. The weather and the pound make London a difficult place to call home, but aside from those two very important factors I’d be on the first thing smoking to Brixton! Just being able to go to the Tate Modern every day just might be worth those bloody cold winters. Maybe…

* I could watch Notting Hill in Notting Hill, during Notting Hill Carnival!

* Brixton is awesome.

* I could watch BBC News every day on my TV, without cable!

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2 – Barcelona – I often have to stop myself from daydreaming about living near Las Ramblas and spending summers on La Mar Bella beach, for fear that I’ll just hop on a plane and never return. Talk about good food, nice people, arts beyond compare and falling in love with a city. I could start over, over, and over again in Barcelona and never get tired of the adventure.

* The Miro Foundation.

Caixa Forum exhibits.

Barca would be my hometeam!

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1 – Toronto – One of the most peaceful melting pots in North America, Toronto would have to be the most likely place for me to cast away. They speak English (in addition to 139 other languages and dialects). It’s just a few hours flight from home. And they have Uber! I’d have to say it’s the most live-able and like-able city on this list. Maybe it’s just a matter of time…

* Immigration made easy. Checklist here.

* T dot has got lots of shopping options on Yonge Street.

*Never a dull moment when Rob Ford is around…

 

 

If you need help deciding where your rabbit hole should lead you, check out this Buzzfeed Quiz
‘What City Should You Actually Live In.’ I got Barcelona!

They ask me how I know…

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 9.30.57 PMComing from a woman who is two weeks away from being married, it may come as a surprise that I’m thinking a lot about my exes, i.e. ex-boyfriends, ex-friends, ex-“dudes I used to mess with.” I always teased my fiancé that no matter how many skeletons I had in my closet, there’d never be a need to think twice about where the bodies were buried. Trust, they were always a continent or two away! But as the wedding approaches, I can’t help but laugh at the irony of the exes who have cropped back up, who have asked to come to the wedding, who are going to be in the country, who might be around after the honeymoon, who we’ll probably hang out with more than once, and who I never – in a million years – thought I’d welcome as friends into the ‘happily ever after’ phase of my life.

Really, this isn’t about them so much as it is about me. The woman who entertained them then isn’t the same woman who appreciates them now. I expected to carry animosities forever. I expected to be embarrassed by the idea of my husband meeting living reminders of experiences I haven’t always been that proud of. Yet, the years and experiences that lay in between have shown me that now I must be smarter, must be more practical, and must be in love!

I actually asked my fiancé if more than one skeleton could walk his way into our wedding party and break bread at our – very exclusive – celebration. And what’s more shocking than the fact that I even parted my lips to ask, is that he actually said “Yea, whatever.” That may not seem like much. But for a guy who actually doesn’t like guys that much, this is about the best I could have hoped for. And for a guy who I still torture to this day about how many “popcorn hoes” he exposed me to in the beginning of our courting, this is big. Moreover, for a girl who took a very long time to find her way into a mutually supportive, trusting, and communicative relationship, this is huge for me.

For some, thoughts of an ex bring the wedding jitters. For me, thoughts of an ex (or two… or three…) make me more and more excited about being a wife to the man I chose and who chose me.  All I can say is thanks to all the dudes of yesteryear and good luck in this lifetime. For those who I’ll see soon, my interest in their lives is genuine. It’s lovely to know that we’ve grown up in parallel, if not together. And for those who I’ll never see again, I wish them neither ill will nor well wishes. If this relationship has taught me nothing else it’s to save all my energies, positive and negative, for the present. Being here, fully here, has made all the difference.

I’ve heard it said that some people are only with you for a phase. I’m not exactly sure what it means when people pop up in random phases and happen to be in Africa when you least expect it, but I’d like to think that it means that friendships evolve with time, I can’t trust my 18-year-old self for my entire lifetime, and I’m ready for this next phase of life, called forever ever!