…not in 2016, oh Lord!

static1.squarespaceI’ve come to learn that ex boyfriend issues are like daddy issues. They won’t go away unless you make them. For me, making them hasn’t always been easy. It’s better said that I haven’t always tried. But, as life keeps trudging along I’ve come to realize that a few things keep holding me back.

My first boyfriend spent a great deal of his time controlling access to information about everything – our relationship, his whereabouts, my ambitions. Weird, I know. But ultimately, when you’ve been secretly someone’s best friend for 5 years, you pretty much end up becoming each other’s worst enemy for life. My last boyfriend spent a great deal of his time neurotically controlling his own life and, consequently, controlling basic functions of mine: what I ate, when I worked out, (shit, THAT I worked out), what I wore… What was supposed to be a relationship built around health, actually turned out to be pretty unhealthy. Admittedly, I can blame a lot on my inability to use big girl words when in frustrating situations,*one very important thing I learned about myself in those 2 years.*

Sure, there were lots of short lived crazies in between: a flaky guitar player, a writer/ band producer of some sort, a philosopher, a customs agent, but let’s focus on the big fish…

I’m realizing that parts of my past relationships are holding me back from the future I think I deserve. Better yet, the future I think my family deserves.

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Ok to swim, Greece (2015)

Accepting that there was some island of good in that sea of bad, I’ve got to admit that I have been throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I’m realizing that now, while in a healthy and happy relationship, I’ve been rejecting certain behaviors and experiences for what they conjure of my relationship skeletons. I pretty much stopped working out and I threw myself back into artificial flavors and colors. Defying the controlling relationship my ex had with the food I put in my own body was a huge act of self redemption then. Now, 5 years on,I’ve got to get over it and realize that this act of defiance is no longer befitting. Actually, in his weird way, perhaps he was saving me from my own lack of discipline.

Going back even further, I realized a few years ago that my twenties were spent traveling not just for travel’s sake. I was running away from so many things. In many ways, travel was what justified my need for personal space and the ability to be expectation-less. It stopped my workaholic nature for just a moment, and it gave me some much needed distance from the excellence I was expected to exude. Like the Army reserves, “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” I could do what I wanted with my own life.

Now, perhaps, I have an unhealthy relationship with travel as escape, especially since I travel quite a bit for work – hence, I don’t get my own life anywhere anymore. So what now?

I say all this not to bash the people of my past or the memories of yesteryear but to put into the ether that some of the things I love have grown as a reaction from circumstances I hate(d). And while I’ve come out with all ten fingers and all ten toes, there’s still more to learn.

As we all gear up for the new year ahead, I’d say it’s about time we reflect before we resolve. Let’s do more than make lists about what we will do differently next year, let’s figure out what or who has stopped us all year long (or all these years) from doing what we’re promising now. Confronting the emotions those people, things,or situations conjure is important for success AND for self-correction. And we’ve got to own our role in our past, in order to reclaim direction.

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One thing I’ve learned is that humility never hurts. We are never the victims we believe ourselves to be at our weakest point, but we are certainly never as strong as our best reflection gleams. There’s a large swath of lifetime in between… so let’s inch one step forward in 2016, by taking a glance back.

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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Reflection Eternal

They ask me what I’m writing for… I’m writing to show you what we fighting for. Being outside of the great 50 states has me feeling more American than ever this new year. So forgive me if this comes off like an Uncle Sam (or UncleTom) commercial during the broadcast of the ball drop… but you’re already reading… so you’re stuck:

Ask me what I do and I’ll have to say, ‘I have decided NOT to live the American dream, but to participate in a process that permits others to do so.’ I feel most American when I’m not actually in America. I serve my country by living outside of it, acting as a representative of America, helping to decide who can and cannot come to America – How truly un American.

How does one define un American? I’m not sure exactly, but its something like living as if you’re always wearing a brand new pair of shoes. They look nice. Shhheeeeeittttt, you look great! But you’re uncomfortable, despite your intentions to fight the feeling. It’s an unsettling that can grow to the point of being prohibitive. That’s the majority of my adult days in the 48 contiguous. And it’s not something I fully grasped until now. I’m learning that I’m not alone in this sentiment, but most like me have already made their exodus. When joined with these atypical Americans in far flung places, I realize that this roving lifestyle is where I feel safest in my own skin, unapologetically sure of who I am and what I am not – normal, that is.

I am not your average American. And, let me say, your average American expat is certifiably cooler than your average American townie, hands down. Don’t debate with me on this, I’ve thought it through. We might have a few more loose screws and a more liberal policy on the use of controlled substances, but we are the adventurous types. We don’t fear planes. We don’t think home is a house. We can’t answer ‘where are you from?’ with a straight face. We’re used to being lied to. We don’t live in a bubble. We spend our money liberally. We live like today is tomorrow and yesterday didn’t happen, because we’re always jet lagged, we don’t have a sense of time, and the possibilities are endless.

Enough about us, more about you. Americans, I’ve learned, often underestimate the power & privilege of their passports – even when they don’t have one. Just by virtue of being American there are many of life’s trials that you don’t experience. Sewers exist. Safe drinking water pipes into your house. Streets are passable. You have public transportation and welfare for goodness sakes! Despite the inequities and disparities, America presents the most opportunities for its populace – above and beyond anywhere else I’ve ever visited or lived. And frankly, our rich don’t do rich like other people do rich. I mean – the other day, I wanted to ask this lady if a diamond mine exploded over her entire life. We don’t bling like Indians bling. We don’t trick out cars like Southern Spaniards trick out cars. We don’t do palaces like Middle Easterns do palaces. Sometimes we have an inflated sense of self, but most of what we lack is perspective.

I wish it was on sale at Walmart for New Years, because then everybody would be able to get some. I know this is the season for turning over a new leaf and believing we are capable of doing things in the new year that we’ve never been capable of in our entire lives. It’s a time to set high hopes and build unrealistic expectations, that still may deliver us to a happier medium than the habits we currently employ. We say we’re going to live in the now and love smarter, live bigger, act better. Well, my resolutions from 5 years ago are pretty simple and they ring true every day. So why change a good thing?

1- STAY AWAY FROM UGLY PEOPLE: Ugly people exist in all shapes, forms and stripes, but what they have in common is that they permit themselves to behave badly because they’d rather not address the fact that they’re spiritually vacant. I can’t be around these people because that isht is contagious and their company is a poor reflection on me.

2- BUILD THAT BEACH CHAIR: Jay-Z ain’t never lied

3- USE THE PRESENT TO LIVE PURPOSEFULLY: Barnard women are always ’bout that work. As my fellow alumna wrote, ‘Do yourself a favor, instead of being sorry, just enjoy being yourself.’ These words are applicable outside of the context in which they were originally delivered. Doing & being better begins with simply being honest about what that means and having the back bone to live it out, unapologetically.

Here, there and everywhere I’ve seen how not living in my own skin has resulted in a dream deferred. And while I was perfectly fine reading revolutionary Cape Verdean writers in soul food restaurants in DC, and dancing to Zouk at clubs near Grand Central Station, I’m thankful to ring in the New Year in the reality that I’m reading contemporary New England writers while eating Chinese food in Thai restaurants, and listening to young American rappers while shopping in Indian boutiques.  I’ve learned to be ok with not being normal. At this point, I’m pretty convinced that diversity actually lives on the tips of my eyelashes, and every time I blink I send a little bit more out into the world – for the taking. That’s my truth.

Perhaps I’m resolved to unapologetically live without borders and to be the center of my own universe, because it just feels so good. I wish I could box it up, sell it on the black market and send the surplus wrapped in gold leaf to my friends, family & frienemies. I make no secret of the fact that this time last year, I didn’t think I’d make it to this day. So in this day and every day forward, I feel obliged to live my truth; I accept that God makes no mistakes, coincidences don’t exist, and I got work and atoning to do. Now that I am able to step back, oceans away from my abnormal norm, I realize that happiness is like a new pair of retro Jordans in Atlanta – in short supply and in high demand. “And no one’s takin’ mine…”

I’ve chosen to live on the other side of the world, and that – my friends – has taught me a thing or two about living purposefully happy. In general, I don’t advise skipping town and country, but at some point you have to stop expecting a different result from the same situation. It’s time to get some perspective.

I’m not too sure how you plan to get your happy/ healthy fix this new year, this new month, this new day. But, I do wish you well on your journey to finding it and living it; and I am at your disposal to assist in whatever way I can to help you take steps forward. My progress is yours and yours mine… we’re worlds apart, but ultimately in this together. And while we are truly beautiful just as we are today, we are too privileged for mediocrity of any hue.

Now watch [we] work…