When I became a PhD Student…

…my entire life changed in ways I can’t quite describe, but will try to do so as accurately as humanly possible.

thealtphdplan.gif

I started off thinking that this journey would be one of accomplishment and accolades. Who doesn’t want to be a Dr.? Seriously. As far as I can tell, I’d be the first in my family – on both sides – and I could finally be like some of my colleagues at the CDC who use a whole slew of letters in their signature line. Imagine, Mrs. Government Worker, BA, MIA, PhD, BIYATCH! I thought it would feel great to say I was a no limit soldier, as far as education was concerned.

l-504.jpg

biogag

I also started off thinking that this wouldn’t be so bad. Much like how I naively thought that my Master’s program would be manageable while working a part time job, I naively thought this PhD could neatly fit into the hours after my full-time day job. I was discouraged by PhD students on 3 continents. I was warned by Professors everywhere, but I thought… pshawww… they don’t know me, like I know me. I got this.

Spoiler alert: I don’t got this.

93791989d975cdb6e68a2f2b394f29cb.jpg

pinterest

You know what else I don’t got? Any free time! An evening free of grad school guilt! Disposable income that doesn’t go to books! And, I’m going to blame my soon to be gone gallbladder on this PhD too… yup, I lost an organ, ya’ll.

Ok, so no, my PhD isn’t directly to blame, but a lot of things changed the minute I was admitted to my PhD program. I’m going to say that “bad genes,” as my surgeon put it, and bad habits brought me to this day.

gradschoolenergy.gif

1 – I eat a lot of quick and nutrition-less food these days. – When a PhD happens to you, it’s like nurturing a pregnancy, except there are no doctors to tell you what to do and you stay pregnant until you decide that you’ve gotten over the fear of giving birth. Lucky for me, I have a spouse that tells me to put the chocolate mousse down while reading the latest 20th century military war chronology. Others are not so lucky. If it has a wrapper, it won’t go bad in my bag for a day, and it can withstand tropical temperatures, I’ll probably eat it with reckless abandon. Oh, and did I mention I don’t eat meat… and I live in Africa? This means, my quick foods are highly likely to be deep fried, cheese or potato based, and/or purchased on amazon.com. Gone are my long leisurely weekends of making nutritious meals to last a week. If you find me in the kitchen NOT standing at the microwave and without a book in my hand, your eyes are deceiving you.

2 – About 6 months ago, I vowed not to beat up on myself about my weight. – This one act of self-love turned into non-exercise of all kinds. If it didn’t entail lifting a book to eye level or working while standing (b/c that’s just good for your lumbar system), I didn’t beat myself up for NOT doing. This means, all that fatty, sh$tty food I ate went straight to parts of my body that I didn’t even know I had. Who even knows where their gallbladder is? Really??

3 – I started letting other people make life decisions for me. – I realized that I needed to delegate a lot of my responsibilities to others, because there’s no way on God’s green earth it is possible to work my job, finish this PhD and live my life – succesfully – at the same time. So, to reduce stress on the latter and the former, I defered to people much less educated than wikipedia to make major decisions for me, including some about the state of my health. I let nurses tell me that I was too young for the surgery I obviously needed. I let those same people give me extended courses of antibiotics for issues they didn’t know how to treat. Essentially, I delegated the wrong decisions to the wrong people. So, I’m paying the price for breaking Management Rule #1 Delegate Authority but not Responsibility.

In short, consider this fair warning about getting a PhD and other acts of “doing too much,” which seem great on paper. I have to admit that in my attempt to get book smart, I’ve done a lot of dumb things. It makes you wonder, how they let me into this program at all. But, in any case, I hope those of you out there with academic ambitions, who still have all your organs take this as a warning. A PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a game of chess, not checkers. So, train, prepare, and take care of yourself for the longhaul!

phd.jpg

FAQs on me…

I’ve been ravenously devouring a brilliant book on time management for writers by Hillary Rettig and since I’m only half way through the book, I can safely employ her tools against myself. She writes a lot about procrastination and perfectionism in the first half of the book. This really spoke to me, especially because of my tendency towards overworking as a mechanism to avoid possible failure in my writing and also as an escape mechanism for having to be socially committed to obligations and interactions I’m not really interested in any way. (I’m an introvert, damn it!)

But, now I’m on to the part about time management, which she tackles in a very pragmatic way. Oh, how she made my heart sing when she spoke about how writing terse, direct and/or logistically actionable emails is part & parcel of being a good time manager. You have to know that this runs counter to what my more “old school” colleagues would like, which is typically an email that reads like a friendly phone call. And often, getting an answer they don’t like wrapped in more than 50 extra words of fluff and flower petals goes down easier than the straightforward adult response of “No.”

Any who, one of the techniques Rettig advises is establishing FAQs and templates. And, get this, she advises using the “signatures” tool in your email to preset template responses. How effing brilliant is that?! Well, first things first. I know that I should create FAQs at work in a variety of areas (I will start promptly on Monday morning!) and FAQs for multiple facets of my personal life, so I hope you’ll bear with me as I try to tackle the latter here.  This is totally self-indulgent free writing, like most of what’s found on this blog, so if this isn’t your shtick, now would be a good to click elsewhere.

On travel:

  1. Where do you live? – Maputo, Mozambique
  2. How do you like it there? – I like it. It’s grown on me. Maputo is a small town that’s been growing very rapidly since the 1980s and there’s still a small town feel to much of what happens here. I can’t deny that I’m easily bored, so it’s been a struggle to find my balance here. But, being here has made me slow down and focus a lot more than ever before. Speaking Portuguese makes this a much easier place to live than it would be for foreigners who don’t speak it.
  3. How many languages do you speak? – I speak English natively, Portuguese fluently and Spanish relatively well. I also speak basic Hindi. The latter 2 are pretty rusty since I haven’t spoken them in a while.
  4. How many countries have you lived in? – I would say 4: the US, India, Mozambique and Spain.
  5. How old were you when you got a passport? – 15
  6. How many countries have you traveled to? – Angola, Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Cape Verde, France, Germany, Ghana, Grenada, Greece, India, Jamaica, Morocco, Mozambique, Netherlands, Nepal, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, South Africa, Suriname, Swaziland, Switzerland, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.
  7. Where was your favorite place to visit? – I don’t have a favorite.
  8. Are there any places you don’t want to travel? – I’m not particularly interested in Eastern Europe, Israel, or Western Sahara, so I wouldn’t go out of my way to get to these places, but if a free or convenient trip was on offer I’d likely be willing to go.
  9. Are there any places you regret going? – No.
  10. Where would you like to go that you haven’t yet gone? – Bhutan, Mexico, Sao Tome & Principe, Ethiopia and Italy.

On Mozambique:

  1. What’s there to do there? – Mainly beaches and seafood. For more details, please refer to google.com, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, Club of Mozambique, and CNN Traveller.
  2. Where could I stay in Maputo? – Good places to stay in Maputo are the Southern Sun, Radisson, Cardoso and/or Polana hotels.
  3. What about the beaches?  – Within about 3 hrs driving distance you can reach beaches in Bilene, Inhaca, Macaneta and throughout the coast. Some can be reached by boat from Maputo port. If you have more time, Vilanculos, Bazaruto, and Mozambique islands are must-sees, I’m told.
  4. What do most people do for fun there? – Moz is best for people who like the outdoors, so that’s something to be mindful of. Maputo is not a big city, but there do tend to be nice parties at places like 1908, Coconuts, News Cafe and Silk. There’s usually no guest list or pomp and circumstance about getting in, just show up and pay the cover.
  5. How could I get around without a car? – As for transportation, cabs are available and they are easy to navigate if you speak Portuguese. There is no public transportation system. Locals use ‘chapas’ which are similar to dollar vans in NYC or ‘choupelas’ which are Indian tuk tuks.You can also rent a car at the airport. It is common for cops to stop you randomly and ask for pocket change, “refresco” (literally: ” a drink”, implication: you give them pocket change to buy a drink) if you’re self driving, so just be prepared for that.
  6. Do I need a visa to visit? – Pretty much everyone does, except citizens of the following countries: Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Swaziland, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe as they do not require an entry visa, when traveling to Mozambique for Tourism. If applying from the U.S., expect 4 weeks.
  7. Is it safe? – Yes, if you’re smart. It’s best to avoid night driving outside of Maputo and common sense goes a long way.
  8. Do I have to get shots? – No, you don’t have to, but it is recommended that you get all of your immunization boosters if you haven’t had them in a while. Typhoid, diphtheria, etc. Mozambique isn’t a yellow fever country, but if you’ve traveled to a yellow fever country in the past, they may ask you for your yellow fever card at the Mozambique border. Yes, you should take anti malarial medication and sleep under bed nets. And, if you plan to camp or do a safari where you expect to interact with wild animals, the series of rabies vaccine couldn’t hurt.
  9. How long do I need to visit? – If you plan to stay in and around Maputo, rent a car and self-drive, I’d say 5-7 days. If you plan to see more of the country and expect to fly to get there, I’d say at least 2 weeks.
  10. Can I stay at your house? – Maybe. Booking at least 1 month in advance is appreciated😉

On careers:

  1. What do you do exactly? – My day job is in international affairs, primarily management & operations. And I’m studying to get my Phd in Migration studies.
  2. What did you study? – For undergrad, Spanish & Latin American lit and African diaspora studies. For grad school, International Affairs w/ a concentration in Latin America and Social Policy: Race & Ethnicity. After that, I’ve studied culture, diaspora and migration.
  3. Did you know you wanted to go into international affairs right after school? – I definitely didn’t plan my career in any way. I feel like it chose me very early on and I haven’t found anything more interesting or stable to entice me away. I like living abroad and I like the challenges and variety that it presents. But, there are many careers that could be defined as international affairs or even development. I didn’t choose my career knowing all of these differences, but I think it’s been a good fit for me. Much of an international career isn’t about what you do for work, but the kinds of creature comforts or social/emotional support you’ll need to be your best at work.
  4. Is there any other career you could see for yourself? – A writer.
  5. What has been your biggest career challenge? – Trying to be adaptable and still being true to me – and not letting people walk all over me. Oh, and dealing with passive aggressive people. Oh, and supervising people.
  6. Are you afraid that your career makes you miss out on other things in life? – Afraid, no. But, I’m very conscious of the day-to-day events and happenings I miss while being away from my family & friends. I’m also thankful for the day to day spats and confrontations I also avoid by being away. Much like a long distance relationship, a career abroad has a lot of draw backs, but a lot of benefits too. When I’m home, I’m really there – there’s very little worry about the job or having emails interrupt my family time. I try to make up for my absence by being thoughtful, sending gifts, staying connected via email, etc. And one perk is that I have the opportunity to expose my family and friends to a part of the world many would have never visited otherwise. I appreciate that role and take it very seriously. I also respect the fact that many of my friendships are situational. I don’t take it personally or feel pressured by this anymore, but it used to get to me when I first started working.
  7. Will you change careers when you have kids? – No, not unless a member of my household develops health, learning or emotional impediments that would force us to stop traveling as a family.
  8. Have you found a mentor? – Yes and no. I think mentors, like friendships, can be useful in phases. I have a mentor who has been a great sounding board for the last 6 years, but she’s now retired and isn’t as in touch with the daily realities of the office.  I’d say we’re more friends that anything else now. At this time, I have secret professional crushes and most of the people I’m crushing on don’t know that I’m watching. I have found many people NOT to mimic though and that’s been a hugely important tool in my arsenal of professional development.
  9. What do you think is the key to success? – I think many people would disagree with me, but I’d say being ruthlessly honest when it matters. In my field, being diplomatic is important. But I find that people play it so safe sometimes that they have no identity, they appear to be unable to make decisions, and they allow conflict to fester when being open about their thoughts and decisive could go a long way for uniting their team. So, I think it’s important to be introspective, taking the time to formulate ideas that you can stand behind, and being unafraid to say those things to people around you. Even if you look silly or they correct your misunderstanding of events, I think you’ve gained from that exposure. And, especially when people are talking crazy, it’s important to be clear that you want off the crazy train.
  10. If you could emulate any professional who would it be? Who do you admire most? – I haven’t thought this one all the way through, but I’ve worked with and have a lot of respect for Vali Nasr and think I could really thrive in a career trajectory similar to his.

Life

  1. What do you do for fun? – At this stage in my life, this is a trick question that often makes me feel guilty about my answers. Honestly, I work on my Phd, read, and look for real estate investments, mostly.  I do a lot of other social and familial things, but I wouldn’t call them fun. Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t, but if the question is about stuff I do just for me, just b/c I like it… yea… those three.
  2. Why don’t you hang out as much as you used to? (and its variations: Why aren’t you so fun anymore? Why don’t you act a fool like you used to? etc. etc.) – Uhhh, on top of the fact that I think growing up is a huge part of life, I don’t find all the same things I used to do much fun anymore. Some things are fun, not because of the activity but because of your mind frame at the time or the friend group you had then. I don’t try to recreate past events, just because they were fun at one time in my life. Also, I’ve become much more selfish about the ways I use my time. If something is going to be draining, then I weigh the fun against the recovery time. And if I know that I genuinely won’t have fun, but just act as an accessory in the fun of others, I’m highly likely to bow out.
  3. What’s it like being married? – It’s a fun struggle. We laugh every day and we fight just about every other day. Our laughs have gotten longer and our fights have gotten WAY shorter, and so I think we’re doing something right. I still struggle with sharing space & delegating, we struggle with communication and verbalizing the need for support. But, we succeed in lots of things like planning together, being emotionally available, traveling together, being reliable, forgiveness, non-judgment, acting super silly and being vulnerable. It’s been a lovely, love-filled journey.
  4. How many kids do you want? – 5, adoptions welcome.
  5. What do you watch on tv? – I don’t watch much TV, but I watch the most mind numbing crap I can find, which means lots of cop and criminal investigation shows and things otherwise defined as ratchet, any kind of housewives shows or reality tv is a plus. When I’m actually trying to be dignified, I’ll watch HGTV. I rarely watch the news, (b/c who watches that stuff anymore without wanting to give up on the world… and I read the news online) unless it’s local news or the BBC.
  6. If you won the lottery today what would you do? – Buy a lot of property and start developing & designing. Gut my mom’s house and redesign it. Travel more. Fly some friends and family here for a visit. Strong arm my husband into getting an MBA. Finish out my contract here with a little more pep. Finish my PhD so much faster than ever before (b/c I’d get the research assistants and the books and the equipment that would make it happen faster). Publish this bad boy. Then go to a place where there are sidewalks, potable tap water, and there are Michelin restaurants in abundance. I’d eat and write, with equal fervor. I wouldn’t quit my job, but I’d be much more demanding about where I would accept to go next. And I’d start adopting and giving more to charities while I still had money.
  7. Is there any place you could see yourself living forever? – No. But, the closest thing to it is NYC.
  8. If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be? – Just one? Eek. Self-deprecating behaviors. I do a lot of feeling guilty about doing what I want, but then I still do it anyway. I wish I could stop feeling negative about these choices, feel less guilty and feel & act more empowered.
  9. Where do you see yourself in the next ten years? – I hate this question and I refuse to answer it.
  10. If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? – Amilcar Cabral and/or my maternal great-grandfather, Polly.

[THE END]

…a freewriting on fieldwork and Black Britain’s inspiration…

What was supposed to be a week spent reading and writing about the Indian Diaspora somehow became one consumed with fascinating books about Blacks in England. Oddly enough, my curiosity brought me to three books in the library that I devoured with speed and interest. All short texts, Roy Kerridge’s The Story of Black History, Phil Cohen and Carl Gardner’s It ain’t half racist, mum, and Tessa Hosking’s Black People in Britain 1650-1850, consumed my week with a whole new world of history, racism, quirky nostalgia and well earned pride.

It may seem odd that this combo of white advocacy and white criticism was entertained fully by my skeptic brain, but the excuses it provided to procrastinate and also to empathize shouldn’t be underestimated. Sifting through Kerridge’s thinly veiled superiority complex as both a historian and a bastion of knowledge on black authenticity, I learned about the SS Empire Windrush that brought many West Indians to England in 1948. And while pondering Melissa Harris-Perry’s most recent departure from MSNBC in response to their lack of support and undermining behaviors, I read Cohen and Gardner’s account of Alex Pascall’s experience with his radio show Black Londoners in the late 1970s and 1980s. I learned the names of Ignatius Sancho, Tom Molineaux, and Francis Barber from Hosking, and experienced a burst of reminders about white sympathizers like Granville Sharpe.

More important than names and dates, these texts resurrected Pan-African understandings that I have – for a long time – not explored. They also reminded me that while so many people draw inspiration from African-American images, they know very little of African-American realities and instead cling to stereotypes at both extremes of the socio-economic spectrum. These texts mentioned the many African-American British loyalists who found themselves in England at the end of war for independence, only to be treated as unwelcomed hangers on. They made mention of the Sierra Leonians and the diversities of experience and histories between those returned from the Americas and the natives who took them in as neighbors *unclear if done so willingly*. All told, one thing all these British texts had in common was a reminder that Black British history wasn’t African-American history. In fact, Kerridge makes it a point to remind people that African-American history, no matter how Nubianized, has become revisionist history for Blacks all over the world – something he deems wrong and historically inaccurate.

What do I take from this? Probably not what you’d expect. I take the pride in being of the ancestry of slaves and deep pride that that history has been exported, invented, reinvented, spread and mimicked around the world and infused into daily actions of people who barely know our names. I take great pride in realizing that while we may be greatly misunderstood, domestically and internationally, we are ever present. In British history books our presence is to be countered. On the mainstage of MSNBC our presence is to be critiqued. And somehow, being present is an act of militancy.

I suppose this take away speaks more about where I am in life, than what these authors expected their readers to absorb. As an African-American who is often asked about my expat lifestyle, about my identity now that I am married to an African, about how African I feel, I have struggled to find responses that I am not later ashamed of. They could have been better worded. They could have paid homage to multiple realities. They could have been more open, more closed, more accurate, more imaginative, more or less…entertaining. I have to ask, am I making a Diaspora of my own in my travels? Is that question, in itself, self-serving or trivial?

I’m pondering greatly what my presence means. Whether or not being an expat makes me a migrant, an immigrant, an interloper or an interpreter. Being present has been a privilege, but it hasn’t been without responsibilities. Living while Black isn’t easy anywhere, but living while Black in Africa, representing a politics of the West, studying a people of the East and eeking out, dangerously, some semblance of normalcy in the short 24 hours I’m given daily – feels militant. It feels defiant. It feels counter to expectation, counter to understanding and, for me, just surreal.

People have asked me to start talking about my experience more – as a traveler, as an academic, as a professional. To be the story has always been my goal, but never my lived reality. To do so would be to be exposed. To do so would be to show vulnerabilities in a veneer of strength, to expose a brain behind the face of so many transposed expectations, to give words to deliberate, self-preserving, silences. Silent presence helps to hide self-consciousness and inarticulate descriptions of what it means to be me, today, in this world of worlds, in these spheres of power and in the banal spaces of daily life.

So what started out as a week of reading about a series of others has been a very critical site of academic and personal metamorphosis. It’s the moment when I learned to write my presence, not just in the stories about me, but in the stories that have come my way by virtue of my presence – in the workplace, in the interviews, in the academic spaces that I transit.

In the coming year, I hope to be less preachy and more exposed. I hope to share my field notes here – explaining diversions that make no sense to me – and expressing feelings that Psychology Today may say have no name. What all these three writers have given me  this week is a history that demands a voice. It demands that trivial events are written, in the hopes that they will later become a history – a history of boring questions, fleeting moments, principal characters – as complex and confusing as the lived experience.

I hope to give you mine… and one day, may it become a history, so that those same voices who silence us daily won’t plain write us out forever.

Put your money where your principles are…

11247970_10204759314167049_8826692576397745492_nLast year, I wrote a lot about my efforts to discipline my spending, weigh and balance what my financial choices say about me, and to be a mindful giver. This year, I hope you’ll join me as I try to turn all those words into deliberate action. I read a horribly controversial book by Chika Onyeani just a few months back and despite it’s crass racial rhetoric, it left with me a strong sense of responsibility for my financial choices.

We all watched quietly in 2013 as thousands died in Bangladesh’s Savar/ Rana plaza building collapse, but I’m sure that you – like me – turned away with a feeling of helplessness. Those of us who felt anything at all likely donated money to an active charity doing rescue and recovery. What we did not do, surely, was research the brands that sourced garments from these factories that told their sweatshop workers to return to work despite visual indications that the building was unsafe. We didn’t stop buying the accused brands and we certainly didn’t demand retribution. According to Forbes, we’re talking about Benetton, Primark, Walmart, and JC Penney among the names you know, but Carrefour and NKD among those you don’t.

I could say I care because many haven’t compensated the lost and injured, but frankly I care for purely selfish reasons. I care because even those that have paid something have surely turned profits 100 fold on the labor bought and sold on the cheap in far flung places. I care because I’m sure they overcharged me, underpaid their workers and made out like fat cats on both our complicity.  I care because I want to do no harm, and apparently, shopping endorses forms of slavery that big businesses will say are sanctioned because you and I keep spending. I care because where I spend my money threatens to paint me as both an idiot and an asshole if I don’t pay enough attention to understand the implications of those financial choices.

In this new year, I am making a sincere effort to make better financial choices. In addition to starting a budget, which I have never actually had in my life, and increasing my monthly charitable giving, I am making a concerted effort to spend my money mindfully – #shoplocal, support free & fair trade, shop small and minority owned businesses, read the ingredients and animal testing disclaimers on all labels, research before clicking ‘check out.’

Some transgressions are unavoidable, like the Tantalum in our iphones or the chocolate in the dessert served at our favorite haunt, so that’s all the more reason to take a stance on what we can control. We have all gotten used to the ease of Amazon Prime and the convenience of big box stores, but the easier it is to buy and the cheaper goods seem to cost, the more likely it is that companies are cutting corners – in paying their workers, in being socially responsible, in doing no harm to the environment. The list goes on…

So, this year, I want every dollar I spend to NOT be easy. It should take effort and deliberation to wrench my pennies from my pockets. I want to monitor the life cycle of each cent and I want to know that this year, my hard earned money went in greater percentages to better causes. The filter between receiving my pay check and buying material things should only allow mindful purchases, necessary objects and proud choices to make their way onto my bank statement. And if I can have a face to put to the names of the brands in my closet, in my pantry, and in my office – all the better. If this process makes me shop less, what a priceless added benefit! I hope you’ll consider making a similar declaration to reverse consumption as a habit, and consider spending an act of protest and philanthropy.

It takes a village to do right by the world.

***

See below a short list of the businesses I’m considering supporting going forward. I haven’t done all the reading I need to, but I like what I see so far. I hope you’ll do some research too and let me know if I should re-consider. Comment with the names/ lists of other brands and businesses to consider that aren’t listed here. Help me grow this list!

*No, I haven’t been paid to list those below and I won’t get kick backs or discounts if you shop. Some brands I’ve tried already (evanhealy, bami, Geeda’s, MOMs & Grenada Chocolate Company) and have had great personal experiences, others are completely new. There’s no funny business here. *

Bath and Body

Home

 

Clothing and Accessories

  Food & Dining

 

 

Lists to comb and consider for U.S. shoppers:

Fair Trade Clothing

Black owned businesses

Black owned spas

Women owned businesses

Toxin-free cosmetics

Black owned bookstores

Cruelty free products

 

 

#musicamonday #MUSICMONDAY (18)

Welcome to the 18th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

When my FLOTUS kicks beats, you better believe she will be featured right here. Listen to Lady O.  Go to college: even though the prices of most 4 yr degrees are too damn high! Try, apply, study & succeed. #StayMadAbby is cute today, but it needs to be the fuel to Keep Abby Mad 4 years from now and 4 years after that… and so on & so forth.

#bettermakeroom