Resistance is Restless

I am one of the many women who went to work on March 8th. I could say that I was in turmoil over it, but that would be a lie. That’s what I do… work. Every day. No days off (Wale voice).

I knew what I signed up for in this career and I knew this day would come. There’d be a moment when I’d be toiling over minutiae while everyone else was out fighting a good fight that I felt should be mine. This happened last year for any number of Black Lives Matter protests. It happened years before many times over. But, alas, life is not made of newspaper headlines or twitter rants. It is not the meta-narratives of history books that one lives while history books are being written. Instead, it is the particular histories of daily life that all seem mundane individually, but are collectively more than the sum of their individual parts.

In light of this, I’m sharing my mundane Women’s History Month resistance routine. The month started off with making a donation to WNYC studios so that podcasts like 2 Dope Queens and Sooo Many White Guys could continue to give me spurts of joyous laughter between monotonous policy drafts and email responses (#trypod). Luckily for me, there was an option to get Phoebe Robinson‘s (1 dope queen) new book “You can’t touch my hair..” I thoroughly enjoyed it and, as a result, snorted a few times. With that in my memory bank, I’ll be symbolically burning a bra all month long. Here’s how:

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The lady on left is looking how I’m feeling! (Today Show)

1 – Making my husband visit his mom!  – This trip is the gift that keeps on giving. My mother-in-law is the salt of the earth. She’s also very sane. Her physical presence in the life of her eldest son is very sobering for all who witness it. He, of all people, could use her grounding right now. I, on the other hand, could use some alone time, followed by girl time, followed by work like a dog time, followed by more girl time. Snowball effect accomplished.

2 – Reading Sonia Sotomayor’s biography – I’m going to read more about Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor’s life, because I hear she’s got a great journey to share. I also feel it will balance out Phoebe’s book in both heft and severity. I can’t just laugh and cuss all month long. I need to be inspired to do something positive with the platforms I have. I’m hoping the judge will remind me of  a time when public servants and leaders were actually admirable and inspiring; I wanted to be in that number. It wasn’t that long ago. It’s good to know that some of them are still around – kicking and screaming beneath very powerful robes (keep the cape). And, like me, she’s not an immigrant, so at least we have that in common.

3- Self care – Ask me why I have a physical, dental exam (w/ x-rays) and spa day booked before the end of the month ? My response is a direct quote from Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — A Burst of Light: Essays – I won’t be undone, disarmed, minimized or placated, so long as I am well fed, well rested, well loved and able bodied. My job is to stay that way!

4- Starting a business – My amateur meanderings have led me to two very stimulating entrepreneurial endeavors. And rather than pussyfoot around any longer, I’m finalizing the LLC for one of them this month and reserving the business name for the other. Not regularizing my business investments leaves me personally vulnerable and that’s not sustainable or growth minded. See, ya’ll, I’m speaking that business-lady talk. Bossy pants all month long! #queenboss

5 – Writing an article on women of the Diaspora – In the works, as I type, is a piece I’m co-authoring with my PhD advisor on 2013 research data I collected in India. It has taken a combination of guts, cajoling, and stagnation to get me to the point where I can finally write this long overdue academic article. Hallelujah! The day (or month) has finally come. My March 24th deadline for a draft is well timed, because I’m sure that my academic sisters, mothers, and friends will help me finally execute. “We can do it!”

Even if you don’t take on one of my 5 pillars of the month, you too can create your own mundane resistance routine. I’m sure you’re wondering how to make a difference within the parameters of your daily routine. My advice? Choose daily wins and small victories with big impacts. Deliberately support businesses and development efforts of women. Affirm their femininity and their excellence. Hug a woman you love, or a man who loves a woman you love. Stop, smell some roses, and then… get back to work! There is soooo much to be done.

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Best Books of 2016!

Like I do every year, I signed up for Goodreads’ 2016 Reading Challenge and failed miserably. My plan was to read 52 books and just yesterday, as I read the final chapter of Paulina Chiziane‘s Niketche – a novel  in Portuguese language novel about polygamy in Mozambique – I closed the page on my 39th book of the year. Thirteen books behind, I could feel guilty, but why? I discovered audible and listened to 3.5 books (not counted), saved so many life minutes that I would have spent listening to garbage music or actually reading Mindy Kaling’s horrible book. I would say that’s a victory. And so, I will only feel, but so guilty before I share with you my annual book review…

First, I have to say that my reading heavily focused on the two areas – productivity and my PhD. So, while both may seem boring as hell to you, they were fascinating to me and really pushed me to my professional limits. Second, you can imagine why this year is extremely difficult for me to judge – naming favorites across vastly different genres is really hard to do. Third, I apologize in advance because many of the books I read are not readily available. Last, if anybody is particularly interested in reading in Portuguese, I suggest you get very familiar with wook.pt and their global shipping rates.

So, let the fun begin…

My top five are as follows:

978-0-8223-4191-8_pr.jpgLiving with Bad Surroundings by Sverker Finnstrom

You can read the book if you want to know what it’s about, but I particuarly enjoyed it for its excellent writing. As a PhD student struggling to contextualize and explain how everyday violence affects individuals and their life choices, I plan to fully mimic Finnstrom’s writing techniques and adapt them to my own study.

African Workers and Colonial Racism by Jeanne Marie Penvenne51ZX1QEahZL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

As I wrote in my amazon.com review: “I found this study to be utterly fascinating and eerily relevant to the contemporary labor constraints in the capital of Mozambique. Anyone looking for a serious text about Mozambican economic and social realities should read this closely. It is not about the countries beaches and it doesn’t wax prophetic about the Portuguese colonial system, which I’m sure damages some people’s idyllic view of Mozambique as a country and Portugal as a racially proximate colonial master. But, with Portuguese colonialism lasting well into the 1970s, anyone living, studying or working in the country could well benefit from reading this text and understanding how it affects present day realities.”

514B-YWWBmL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOur Black Year by Maggie Anderson

While every year I have tried to become a more mindful consumer, this book taught me how hard that can be. For those of us who live in food deserts, it’s hard. For those looking to support small businesses it’s hard. But, this family’s quest to try to exclusively patronize Black owned businesses while living in a predominantly Black neighborhood really showed me that the economics of poverty and patronage in the U.S. context are more complicated than I thought. I, for one, am taking a second to check the owners and competitors of businesses and products that I buy regularly. Entrepreneurship is to be praised and supported. Now, many years after this book was written, it’s even easier to support – no excuses. Your funds fund corporate ideologies and empires, the choice is always yours, consumer.

This Present Darkness by Stephen Ellis* 41y5BdSQ5sL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

This book was written by a dead man. Really! He died while doing the research, but the study was so valuable and fascinating that his team continued his work. The study focuses on Nigeria’s black market scams and underworld. If you know anything about my interests, you know that mob movies and illegal activity are my schtick, so this story strikes a chord in my intellectual and entertainment soul. You’ve got to read it!

Essentialism by Greg McKeown514M9KlQKQL._AC_US218_.jpg

I have become a productivity addict and while listening to Asian Efficiency’s Productivity Podcast, I heard Mr. McKeown speak. Basically, he takes a 100 years after your death approach to prioritizing what you should do daily. By his definition, you can throw away half the stuff on your current to do list and never look back. It’s very freeing to pay attention to your legacy rather than your inbox, but it’s also a lot of responsibility. Once you figure out what you want your contribution to humanity to be, there’s really no looking back.

The bottom dwellers:

The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read by Daniel R. Solin

The 7 Secrets of the Prolific by Hillary Retig

The Americanization of Goans by Ladis da Silva

Actually, all of these books suck, so I won’t waste more time on them than is necessary. They all have great premises and are about really riveting subjects, but they are poorly executed in my opinion. So, read them if you must, but don’t say you weren’t warned.

I look forward to a 2017 without a goodreads challenge, but still with a lengthy reading list…

I welcome your suggestions. Leave ‘em in the comments.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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