Saturday, February 23, 2013

Wait, so when's recess?

Guess what I did today?  I made two double-sided stapled copies of a 29 page document by pressing a few buttons on my computer at work.  Not bad.  I've always been very tentative around technology, and tend to approach it with much consternation.  I am exactly the sort of person who has used a computer my entire life and still doesn't know what an 'operating system' is, or moreover what operating system I use.  I discovered recently that I have to constantly 'update' my computer to keep it operating, to the dismay of Tom.  Although I grew up grasping the concept of why television and movies are generally pleasing to me, I can still not operate a television to this day.  I am the worst kind of consumer possible.  I consume, I use, I take for granted, but I don't know what I am using.  Or why, really.

So, I was really proud today when I made some pretty legit copies all by myself.  I've also been impressed with my general ability to adapt to a workplace that has working computers, fancy desktop phones that hold calls, and online email/calender systems.  I haven't even mentioned the functioning refrigerators, microwaves, and coffee machines.  Well, now it's mentioned.  I mean, I've been working with dust, goats, and schools that don't have walls for the past two years.  My "workplace" was falling apart village schools with stray farm animals that you have to literally avoid as you walk around (as in--oops, I'll take a sharper left here to avoid stepping on this chicken), with Africa-bake oven classrooms with cow-shit mud floors and a tin roofs to create oven-like conditions when inside during the middle of the day.  I've worked with no water on the site, or sketchy water that the principals send small children to fetch from the local creek, I've dealt with sexism, repression, absent teachers, drunk teachers, pregnant students, corruption, curious students, collapsing latrines, lightning strikes, land disputes, distrust of education, tribalism, wet season, white ant season, grass hopper season, an extraordinary LACK of work and productivity and on the other hand, a joyous abundance of human contact and face to face time.  I've been lucky. 

Now cut forward to today.  This week was probably the first solid week I've ever spent in an American office setting.  It's like the twilight zone, but with cubicles.  All of these reasonable adult humans tucked neatly into a small space by means of strategically placed half-walls and desks.  And it's like a parallel-universe with all sorts of spooky unspoken rules going on.  Not the same rules as in regular life.  It's weird.  I keep on looking around, during specific periods of the day when my energy is both boundless and fragile from spending several hours staring at my computer and fidgeting in my too-comfortable bouncy chair, to see if anyone else is also clearly struggling.  When is recess?  When is the time when we all sigh, push back our chairs, turn our eyes away from the screen, shake out our stiff limbs, and run to line up at the door for recess?  No one's eyes ever meet mine.  I guess the -it's-recess-time-right?- vibes aren't universal.  And, I'm not talking about getting up to get coffee or pee or go home for the day or take a half-hour unpaid lunch break, because those things aren't really fun.  They are just another responsible working adult thing to do.

I think my problem is, is that I've gotten too used to an eternal recess.  For the last few years, I've mostly played.  I worked a little, too.  But it was never a separate thing that I went to do every day for 8 hours.  It was something that I would trip upon, while shooting the breeze with teachers, or when playing with students.  Work was something that happened, suddenly and miraculously, when I was doing something else.  When something productive clicked or just happened.  When a decision or idea was formed between two people.  When stories were shared, opinions voiced, smiles exchanged.  Work was being with people. Work was just a part of life, interwoven within the daily interactions and patterns of life.  It was farming, it was teaching, it was talking, it was learning, it was playing.  It's not as if there is anything fundamentally right or correct about this way of life.  It was just a radically different concept of 'work' and productivity.

I'm glad I'm working here now.  It's a wonderful job with a lot of creativity, self-motivation, and collaboration involved.  It's a job where I'll be able to work with international teens and teach them real-life important things like how to use condoms and how to make friends across gang-lines.  It's my dream place to work.  And, I'm glad I've started now rather than later, because it's only going to get harder to reenter the American workplace.  But, it still ain't easy.  Not just my specific situation.  More broadly, I've been musing over how unrealistic and silly American work culture is.

Silliness?  Besides not having recess every few hours, or just not being like recess in general, we live in a culture we have to sit in an office for 8-9 hours to get about 2-3 hours of work done.  It sucks because it's just a standard now.  It's not like you can say, "oh, hey boss.  I know I'm paid by the hour, but I just finished everything I needed to today within 14 minutes of arriving, and I'd rather not spend the next 8 hours pretending to do work while I read my friend's blogs and refresh my email."  Such silliness.  Do we really need to comb our hair and leave our homes every day just to go check our email for 8 hours somewhere else?  We all sit at desks in front of our computers, because it's what we do, and we sit there until it's 5 pm and then we leave and probably go sit on our computers at home.

A huge bit of silliness?  Email culture.  And, this coming from a serious lover of emails.  I love receiving electronic mail, almost as much as I love receiving real mail.  It's that someone invested several minutes into crafting something personal for you.  Or for everyone in the office.  It's exciting.  But, really, do we need to email each other about something when we are within talking distance?  Or walking distance?  It seems like nothing is truly official until it has been emailed.  And, I get that that's just the world now.  But it seems really silly.  Especially when I walk by the person who I have just emailed on my way to the coffee machine.

One of the biggest drags about Uganda was the amount of time and consideration that went into meeting someone.  Emailing is a bi-annual occasion for lucky villagers, phones often were out of network, out of batteries, or out of airtime, and more often than not I just had to make the trip to find the person I was seeking.  I would ride or walk many kilometers just to confirm something with a teacher or ask someone a question.  Sometimes I would find that even after all of my sweating, walking, and riding, that the person wasn't there.  It was so tenuous.  But, all the same, nearly every day I walked in journey of a person.  It was never a quick visit.  It usually would include sitting down, drinking tea with the host, greeting all of the family, talking about America, etc etc.  But it made those long journeys worth it.

I think I'll still take the ease of emailing over the exhaustion of work in Uganda, but sometimes it seems like sitting at a computer and emailing is equally as exhausting as biking in a rain storm over muddy roads to tell a headteacher something vaguely important. 

There's also the fact that on Friday night, I'm already slightly nervous at how little time I have before Monday morning.  Are two paltry days truly enough time for us to forget all the hours we spent restless at our desks?  Is it enough time to remember how beautiful the world is right before dusk, how content you can feel on a lazy Sunday, how right it feels to drink tea and read a book, and how essential being with the people you love is?  I don't know.  I'm leaning towards Friday- the entire day- being part of the weekend.  I'm also leaning towards doing your job but not overdoing it.  To free time---which should really not be called 'free' because it makes all the rest of your time sound like serving a sentence---and plenty of it.  All of our time should be ours.  It's the only real currency we have as humans.  And I say this while at the same time fully realizing that in two short days I'll be back at my desk, refreshing my email and making lists of things-to-do-when-there-really-isn't-anything-to-do. 

I think part of the problem with us is that need to have a recess, as a special event separate from the rest of life.  A better mindset is that all of life should be a recess, with a bit of work mixed in.  But, that's where we come in.  Even if we are strapped like untrustable patients to the chairs in our cubicles for those 8 hours, we can still make our life a recess.  My friend Kristin wrote a blog recently about DIY, not just as a hipster fad at craftiness, but as a more personal motto.  http://krads-outsidethelines.blogspot.com/2013/02/diy-yourself-valentines-day.html  .  Make things happen, instead of waiting for them to happen.  Instead of bemoaning your fate, spring to action and create the opportunity.  Same with everything, right?  There's no reason why we can't make our lives more playful and bearable, even if none of us can really escape our cultural standards and norms.  There's no reason why our work, why our profession, needs to come to define us and close us in as people.  We aren't pictures to be colored in.  We don't have to live, breathe, and obsess over what we have to do 30-40 hours a week.  It's a conscious choice, like anything is.  The choice being whether to let those hours of sitting and waiting come to define and limit you.  At the best, those hours of work, besides testing your patience and imagination, could seriously work in the opposite direction.  There are flashes of brilliance, moments of connection, when you feel as though you are there for a reason.  And the end of the day, you gotta make your own recess. 

No one can ever be 'above' culture.  I can't expect to waltz back into America, accept all of the endearing "welcome back's" and then spend the rest of my days resting on my laurels of alternative living.  What did I expect?  Exceptions to be made for 25 years olds who march to a different beat, who jive with a different life style?  That's also silly, because all of us march to our own beats and all of us probably feel like we don't fit into all the norms of our culture.  I don't know one person who enjoys paying bills or filling out paperwork.  And there are plenty of people in America who have lived elsewhere or who have different views on how to live life.  You can't rise above the culture, simply because you ARE a product of the culture.  And, you are living in it.  Whether you like it or not.  Work culture here does seem batshit ridiculous to me, but I can rest assured that I'm not the only one who thinks so.  After a talk with my roommates, I realized that what I experienced with bewilderment at my work are actually par for the course.  And probably not many people get off on sitting at desks for hours on end.  It's just something you might have to do for a while, and put up with. Life is an insane seesaw ride, and sometimes you'll be sitting at desks, and other times you'll be riding donkeys.  Or something. 

I sense that I am still taking a very defensive stance towards America.  Like, "back off, old Abe*, I'm going to keep on doing things my way." or "screw off, Ben Franklin.  Early to bed and late to rise and a penny lost is a penny not to worry about."  And what?  Become a streetwalker in South Saint Paul?  Just so that I don't have to work 9-5 and be in an office and generally have a more flexible recess-like existence? Well, news flash, Ilse-- you don't need to be a prostitute to be on the playground.

...and since I always elect to end on a particularly wise note...


*I'm not really sure if 'Old Abe' refers to Abraham Lincoln or a famous eagle.  Either way, I have no problem with him. 


Love and Ludicrosity,
Ilse
 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

You say goodbye, and I say...goodbye.

These days I'm writing like a woman on fire, which suits me.  The funny thing- is that I often find it easier to write when I'm addressing an invisible internet audience.  It's harder to write to myself.  Or for myself.  I'm going to try to work on that.

I'm finding my stride a bit better here, in some ways.  I'm now on two soccer teams, which partially fills my overwhelming need to run around and kick things most days of the week.  I'm going to sign up for the spring ultimate frisbee league here.  I'll start running when Minnesota looks and feels less like Siberia.  I'll resuscitate my bike back to life, with the help of an old friend, and start riding to work.  Oh, and that's another thing.  See, I got a job!  I'll be a Teen Outreach Program Coordinator at this great placed called Neighborhood House.  Neighborhood House provides services to immigrants and refugee communities in the area, including free adult ELL/computer classes, a food shelf, homework help, etc.  It's great.  I always had it in the back of my head as my 'ideal' place to work.  At any given time, there are several RPCV's and AmeriCorps folks working there.  Foreign languages are thrown around like it ain't no thang.  There are people from East Africa, Central America, Eastern Europe, Asia.  It's so international.

I'm cognizant of my tendency towards wander-lust, and I believe a job like this will keep my feet and heart in Minnesota for a while at least, especially because I'll be working with people from all over the world.  And, I need that.  I can't just go frollicking off somewhere bizarre just yet.  That would be an easy way out.  It's probably harder being home right now, and trying to carve out some sort of pleasing, workable, social life for myself here.  I can't guarantee anything in the future, say a year from now- who can?- but for now, I'm excited to try my hand at living and working in the Twin Cities, a place where I have never lived as an adult. 

So, I'm steadily becoming busier.  This also suits me.  Not too busy, mind you.  Just some exciting, active, and stimulating things to do each week.  I'm still trying to hit my stride regarding friends.  Luckily, I live with two of them, so I get to see them every day.  So pleased with that.  But, I have other friends in the cities.  Because I live somewhat far from most of them and also because I don't have a car, I'm a little worried that I won't see them as much as I would like.  I'm also not used to spending a lot of time doing social things with friends- a big adjustment for many RPCV's- and it may just take me some time. 

The things that aren't so easy?  Sudden separation.  I feel like I've been severed from an essential organ in my body. 


Her life was so closely patterned off goodbyes.  Not only patterned, but also deeply loyal to the idea of goodbyes.  She simply couldn’t imagine a world or a time when people weren’t constantly leaving each other for foreign countries, schooling, or jobs.  Her only constant was this knowledge that no matter how closely she held someone, she would in the not-far-future have to mourn their inevitable separation from her life.  Not only her!  Many were like this.  But, not all.  And that’s where her wonder found its fixation. 

This is an excerpt from some prose I wrote the other day.  I have been reflecting a lot on how much more comfortable and accustomed I am to saying goodbyes than to saying hellos.  I realize that it's an international pattern, some side-effect of globalization.  We aren't our parent's or grandparent's generation.  We don't so easily meld our lives together now.  We meet, love intensely, and then say fond but purposeful goodbyes.  We embark on personal journeys, fly across oceans, move to other cities.  We see it as necessary (and inevitable) to put other things before people.  BUT!!  Not all of us.  That's the thing.  I have so many examples of friends and family who HAVE succeeded in staying together, in happily melding their lives together.  Couples who sacrifice for each other, so that they can be together.  That's why I sometimes wonder if it's a personal thing.  Global trend or not- people still make it work.  

Here's the thing though.  Even though I'm a lot more used to saying goodbye than facing all of the terrifying implications of staying together, it has never become easier.  On the contrary, I'm becoming much less adept at recovering from these goodbyes.  The worry is that I'll never see it as normal or healthy to actually make that sacrifice, boldly take a step towards someone instead of some job, travel, or adventure.  That I'll become so embedded in the pattern of farewells and inevitable splitting-of-paths that I'll never recognize when it's worthy to think twice.  To say hello.  To accomodate.  

I'm jealous of those who recognize that moment-- the unique moment when you recognize another person as the person who you will sacrifice for.  And happily.  As much as you can 'regret' not living a life of adventure, traveling, vagabondry, and independence, I think you can equally regret not being able to recognize the times when it probably made a lot of sense to slow down and hold out your hand to the person you love. 

Of course this all comes about on Valentine's Day.  Makes sense, right?  But, Valentine's Day isn't just about having a romantic night with your lover.  It's also about appreciating and loving the friends around you--the kindred-heart-spirits in your life.  Which, by the way, is equally as gratifying and goddamn-lucky as being with your lover.  




I'm going to go to the local grocery store to buy myself 7 boxes of sweetheart candies and eat them until my clothes are chalky and my stomach hurts, and count it a victory.  

Love and Lint,
Ilse

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Importance of being Immoderate

So, in order to prove to myself once and for all my inability to be 'moderate' in anything, I have structured my year into monthly challenges that shall either make me stronger or probably just make me even less moderate.  Which may miss the point at bit. 

For example, February is no-alcohol month.  A month in which I will truly connect with my inner-being and learn a lot about myself.  Right.  So far, it's been a month where I have significantly upped my intake of coffee-beverages, so that it seems like I'm constantly preparing, drinking, or reminiscing over a tea or coffee beverage. My roommate/friend Kristin and I have pinpointed that alcohol is such an accessory of friendship, and that perhaps we are overcompensating with tea/coffee/chocolatey drinks because they also seem like an appropriate prop to have in hand when around friends.  Or, more likely, there is no neat explanation and I'm just a human see-saw who can never really be a balanced individual.  Probably if there was a no coffee-OR -alcohol month (god forbid) I would become an inveterate and compulsive juice drinker and develop diabetes over the course of 30 days.  And I fully expect that during March- in which I shall not consume any pasta- I will overcompensate by becoming a raging alcoholic.  All previous unknown sides of myself shall be revealed! More updates on this insane year-long relay-course to come! If you want to see a truly bellicose (and quite possibly drunk) Ilse, come see me in March!  WHAT IS A WORLD WITHOUT PASTA?????!!!

More on weird eating and drinking habits---I would like to formally announce that on this frigid and slushy day in February, there are no less than 7 containers of hummus in our fridge.  Please reference: There are three of us.  The culmination of 20 years of friendship has resulted in 7 half-eaten containers of hummus.  And this is significant!  Because, this means we are following our hearts!  Because, why else would one be compelled to own plural hummus (hummi?) at any given time?  Despite the many differences between all of us roommates--- we are united by our strong friendship, rich history, and hummus.  We are the sort of roommates who emerge from our respective occupations and caves around 7:30 pm (mine being professional house-wife for the time being) and reunite over containers of hummus.  And we are also the sort of individuals who have the delight of asking ourselves, "Dear self, what sort of hummus would you fancy at this very moment?  Shall it be Jalapeno or Asian Fusion?"

As a side note, I think what "adulthood" REALLY means to me is exactly this: having my hummus and eating it too. Laissez-faire hummus consumptions is my life long battle-cry that finally became realized. 

We also may be the sort of friends who have far too many bananas between all of us, but I see this as more of a challenge than a problem.  We may have to develop some sort of coding system for bananas.  Ah, the culinary delights of living with like-minded 25 year olds!  We have crossed some sort of invisible threshold where we are no longer held captive by bagel bites and easy Mac, but rather bond around and worship The Great Green Monster Goddess---a delightful and unlikely blend of spinach, berries, and almond milk---amongst other things, of course.  Plus an alarming amount of salads.  We aren't complete weirdos.  We've been known to make a mean risotto, a sultry soup, a finely spiced sauce!  On less than stellar days, I can be found heating up some meatless- balls or tofu buffalo wings, but I try not to make it a habit.  For, I wish not to become the weird-food equivalent of the crazy-cat-lady, and spend my hours delighting in the presence of all my meatless- balls, each ball with its own name.  I take that back.  I admire one of Kristin's resolutions this year---to own her food choices.  Why SHOULDN'T I be the crazy meatless- balls lady?  You are what you eat and whether it be hummus, meatless balls, or a spinach smoothie, I accept it!  I don't really know when or how or where I crossed over from easy mac to eating raw kale, but I did it for a reason and it's damn delicious.  

I say, whoever you are,  be ye man, beast, woman, child, or horse, OWN thy choices! If you are nuts for brusselsprouts, or if you are brusselin' for nuts, FOLLOW THAT DREAM!  We don't live forever, and we should really spend at least 95% of our time doing exactly what it is that we want to be doing, whether it's drinking too much wine or covertly heating up a few meatless-balls.  We should also do weird contradictory things like monthly challenges that deny us exactly the things that we may want.  Because, maybe that's good too.  My friend Tom says that he only believes something if the complete opposite of it is also true.  So, EAT those bagel bites!  Or don't eat them, if you don't want to.  I am becoming more and more puzzled with each line that I write, which either shows that this blog was very insightful or perhaps that I really just need a glass of wine.


Love and Loony-tunes,

Ilse




Thursday, February 7, 2013

Comedy of Errors

Uganda gains more significance in my life, daily.  It might be from spending the last two weeks with my partner in crime and best friend from Peace Corps, and also from the awkward international skype phone calls I am attempting to get in the pattern of making.  It might just also be that the fullness of the last two years is just beginning to descend upon me.  No, I wasn't just 'away' for the last two years.  I was right in the thick of a different culture, grasping at straws, making cultural gaffes, sweating, and attempting to make connections wherever and whenever I could.  As I yell at my computer screen, hearing myself quickly revert to broken and stupid-sounding Uganglish, I do so with a huge grin on my face.  "EH, SO HOW IS THE WEATHER?" And then I hear a muffled and equally ebullient response about the rains coming back early.  After almost two months home, I'm eager to maintain these connections that I struggled so much to form in the first place.  I'm willing to talk about the rains, to gossip over the ill-fated headteacher of the secondary school, I'm more than happy to hear news of my female literacy group.  Doesn't matter what we talk about.  I don't think it ever does.  We are all just trying to transmit feelings and messages of love to each other, and our vocabulary is just too extensive.  I'm so happy to hear these voices, crackled and muffled, but somehow transmitted from the skittish Ugandan phone networks to my computer. 

There are many memories, a whole slew of them, that any normal person accumulates over several years and are lost in the sludge of a backloaded brain, that are starting to present themselves to me at unexpected times.  Two examples I'm especially fond of.  Remember the time that I got locked inside my room the first night of homestay? I could have written about that, but I don't think I had much time during training to do so.  Fact is, the afternoon I moved into my home stay family's house, I became suddenly and inexplicably (like most things) securely locked inside my modest room.  When I didn't emerge from my room for several hours, my family wasn't too concerned because they had received cross-cultural training, and heard that Americans are prone to do bizarre things like spend quiet time on their own for no apparent reason. But, when the sky started to turn dark, my poppa came to investigate and upon discovering my situation, became alarmed.  After a lot of huffing, puffing, tugging, my family outsourced and called upon other community members to assist.  Eventually, someone chopped down my door with an axe.  If that wasn't a strange experience, then I don't know what is.  This event following my bleary-eyed (us volunteers had drank and danced the night before) arrival to find my host mother and sister chopping vegetables on the stone floor of their house with a bunch of chickens wandering around.  Why hello culture shock!  How are you?  I loved my host family.  They put up with my oddities, both general American ones, and specific Ilse ones, and still loved me.  And they embraced me with such warmth and familiarity that I barely felt out of place when doing anything---even fetching water with my sister at the village river, or accompanying my host mum to the market to see where she sold her cassava.   And although I did tend to fall asleep before they had even started preparing for dinner, they overlooked these odd shortcomings and let me sleep. 

Another great memory? I can't believe I've never written about this one.  The situation: the much awaited Peace Corps visit from our supervisors.  Often a source of concern for Peace Corps Volunteers, world-wide.  On this particular visit, both Thomas and I were interviewed at his house, separately by members of staff.  After my interview was done, I lingered in the back of the house, wanting to make dinner with Tom when he was done, but also wanting to provide at least an illusion of privacy.  During Tom's interview, it started pouring.  It really never rains calmly or casually there.  It's a stop-everything-and-seek-immediate-shelter sort of rain.  When Tom and our supervisor couldn't pretend the rain wasn't affecting them anymore, they moved from the front stoop to inside the house.  Although this solved the most immediate threat of getting soaked from roof-run-off, it didn't at all solve the more basic problem of noise.  Roofs in Arua are either tin or grass-thatch.  Grass really has the leg up, because when you are under a tin-roof, the rain hitting the roof sounds like a thousand machine guns going off at the same time.  So, as I observed discreetly through the back of the house, Tom and our supervisor had gone from quiet, professional talk to yelling at each other.  Because one ridiculous things always leads to more ridiculous things, I wasn't surprised to witness the duration of the interview.  Our cat Athena, who has some sort of problem, started reacting wildly to the crazy rain, and began jumping randomly and splaying her limbs all around the living room, executing back flips and basically acting insane.  At one point, she jumped onto our supervisor's lap and tore all of this official-looking papers from his lap all over the room.  So while Athena is tearing down curtains and acting out scenes from the Exorcist, the interview goes on, and I have to hand it to our supervisor for acting like nothing weird was happening.  Completely professional.  And then, as the climax to this story, as always happens during casual tsunamis in Adumi, all of the local wildlife started seeking shelter in our house from the rains.  I watched with horror from behind the door, as our favorite goat "Noodle" tip-tapped his way into the house, completely soaked and shivering to walk right over to Tom and our supervisor and plop himself into the corner of the living room.  Like some drowned, hysterical rat.  And, Noodle wasn't content with mere shelter in a warm house.  For the entire duration of her stay in our living room, Noodle screamed her brains out, for her mother, out of rain-caused anguish, perhaps to create atmosphere for the interview itself.  "BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA", etc.  And while we are used to this sort of behavior, it was completely fascinating to see how it played out in a so-called 'professional' setting.  To be in a serious discussion with your supervisor while pushing a rabid cat off your shoulders, ignoring the wailing of a dripping-wet baby goat two feet away, and all the while shouting to be heard over the pounding rain (and aforementioned goat).  I think this was one of the points in our lives where we realized that no matter how serious we take ourselves or our lives, it really is just a comedy.  A comedy of errors and bizarre circumstances. 

So, you know, if and when I ever take myself a wee too seriously, remind me that a screaming baby goat may change my outlook a bit. 







Love and Lunchladies,

Ilse




Monday, February 4, 2013

Stimulate, stimulate, stimulate!

If you knew me in college, or in any previous time of my life, you will remember me as a busy person.  Always slightly frazzled, rushing, probably perspiring, and with an obnoxious list of things to do and people to see.  Sports, coffee dates, clubs, papers, studying, shows, obligations, etc, etc.  I may have been the type of person without much time to spare for sitting around, watching TV, or just shootin' the shit.  I was the classic example of the roommate who was never there.  Which is unfortunate because I happen to love all of my old college roommates and my favorite moments from Madison were the nights we stayed in and did strange things. I've been thinking about this a lot, now more than a month out of Uganda, mostly because I've changed quite a bit.  Or perhaps because I have allowed myself to unlearn certain things and strip down a little closer to my onion-core.

Truth is?  I'm a complete introvert and have always been.  Check out Susan Cain's book or TED talk to learn more about what actually an introvert is, but it is definitely NOT someone who is antisocial and/or cranky and reclusive.  Or boring.  Like many introverts, I'm a person who needs and thrives on low levels of stimulation.  Meaning, in order for me to function as a happy human being, I need a lot of time involving quiet, introspection, reading, writing, and peace.  It's how I charge.  I enjoy action and excitement as much as the next person, and will always choose an adventure over the quotidian, but I cannot function or feel comfortable if I am constantly immersed in a social environment with high levels of stimulation.  Think entering a busy bar full of flashing lights and a ton of people I need to make small talk with.  It even makes me lightheaded.  In this same vein, it doesn't take MUCH to excite me or engage me.  I'm learning more than ever that perhaps in the past I was always running, running, running around the next corner to the next event/excitement and this completely exhausted me.  Now, I know that it's not about how many places I go each day, or how many things I do, because it's NOT a competition or a race with the rest of America.  And it feels good to slow down.  I'm not advocating for couch-potatoery, to drop all of your noble missions and drink tea all day, but it wouldn't hurt for our culture to be a bit more accepting of other ways of life.  Or for other personalities.  So often it seems that we are a nation forged from the cheer and bombast of extroverts.  In job interviews, we feel forced to come across as gregarious, we are taught about the merits of leadership, confidence, all of these good things.  And, they are good things.  But, a wallflower can be JUST as confident and strong-willed as a CEO or a lawyer, can bring as much focus to their dreams as any idealist, and hold the same adventurous spirit that leads many along the path of vagabondry and world travel. At the end of the day, it's all about feeling at peace with yourself.  It's not about forcing yourself to go against the basic grain of your personality.  At the most basic building blocks of who I am, I am quiet.  I am also more stubborn and hard-headed than you will ever know.  And, it's not something that I can change or force out of myself.  In a culture where to be loud is to be confident, where to be aggressive is to be independent, where to be a social is to be adventurous, I oftentimes sense the implicit criticism that introverted people receive from others.  It's almost like a condition we would like to see voided from our system.  It's something to worry about.  We worry about people who spend too much time on their own, too much time reading, not enough time mixing with others at bars or events.  At the base of it, this is exactly how many people across the world, including myself, gain their sense of peace and center themselves everyday.  And this concern directed towards introverts, whether it be in the classroom, field, bar, or workplace is close-minded, just as it would be ignorant to make an extrovert feel bad about themselves for spending too much time with others and too little time on their own.

I'm interested in seeing a nation or a culture where it's not seen as 'lazy' to have a quiet day reading by yourself.  I spent much more time in Uganda sitting under mango trees and drinking tea with friends than I did doing anything productive, at least in the way we see it here in the states. And, that was difficult at first.  But, it was okay.  Everything is okay.  I hope that I learned a lot from my neighbors and colleagues towards the simplification of my daily life and concerns.  And although it may not work for everyone, or suit everyone, having a simple daily existence is something that very much eases my anxiety and centers my being.  Anything that you do is okay, even in a nation full of pull-yourself-up-from-the-bootstraps and shoot-for-the-stars and other inspirational locker room posters. I enjoy being busy, because who doesn't like a sense of purpose and to feel part of a dynamic existence? I just don't want to rush around like a batshit crazy beheaded chicken just because I sense vaguely a national pull to be a little too busy.  Works for some, but doesn't work for me. 

This blog post is just as much for me as it is for you, dear internet.  I speak at a time of increased cultural frustration, at a time when I'm really starting to feel the aches and pains of cultural whip-lash.  When I'm trying to find a job, and productive things to do, in the middle of a brutal winter, and when it appears that just about the only thing I am qualified to be is a school lunchlady.  It takes a while for these frustrations and confusions to become evident.  I thought I had skipped it entirely, when I came home and became immersed in Christmas, holidays, travel, friends, and excitement.  But now, surrounded by busy (happily so!) friends and family and neighbors, I can't help but to feel like there is something wrong with me.  Something off.  Even when I know that I'm an intelligent, confident, strong-willed, and curious woman who happens to delight in her own company and the strange and wonderful people and world around her. 

Dear internet, people are different.  At their most basic chemistry to their outermost layers, two human beings can resemble each other in radically few ways.  And, that's okay.  Anything you think or do, is okay.  I'm constantly in awe of my friends and family, in the myriad ways they march, sing, whisper, and dance through this world--- all of them uniquely suited for exactly what they are doing.  There is a reason behind their happiness, because they follow the beats of their hearts, because they feel confidence in what they do.  We are all of us different from each other, but also uniquely suited to love and appreciate the particular quirks and drives that make us our own individuals.  And while I sometimes feel out of place, in my family, my group of friends, I realize that it's also a human trait to feel the burden of your own personality.  There are no good or bad personalities or characteristics, and whether you tend to shout on the phone, or stumble over words in conversation, it's a hope that these quirks be seen as gifts rather than defects.  I don't want to apologize for being myself, especially not TO myself.  And I always wish to quietly admire the characteristics of my friends and family that I will simply NEVER exhibit.  Because they are amazing. 

Everyone, thank you for your work.  Let this ramble of a post be seen as a way for an introverted person to express her love for herself and for the people that compose her life. 

Love and lebansese food,
Ilse