May 21, 2007

Don't Look at Your Belly Button

When I’m tempted to be hypochondriac about my health, body, life and soul, my mother says “Il ne fait pas toujours se regarder le nombril” which literally means “one should not always look at one's belly button”. Loosely, I think it means that it’s a little selfish and useless to over-analyze everything about yourself.

That may be true, but this weekend was the 4-year anniversary of my first post on this blog. For this occasion, I think that it’s a forgiveable offense to do a mental rewind of my life since that date. Allow me, if you will, to look at my belly button.

May 2004—Graduation from a Masters
In May, I graduate, fresh-faced, and remarkably unbeaten down from graduate school. It is such as exciting, scary time—I feel like a bird that has been let loose from a cage with all the world waiting to be discovered.

At this point, I have lived in France, the USA and Canada. I have taught in Japan and often visit cousins in France and South Africa. Hardly "developing" countries experiences. And yet, I ache to live in a developing country and be a witness to poverty and suffering. I am very eager to do my part in alleviating poor health in those that can’t fend for themselves.

August 2004 to March 2005 - First Real Employment
This is not my first job but certainly the first one that means something to me. I turn down a good paying job located in Rockville, and decide instead to work as a fellow (aka an “intern”) in an American NGO. I am paid pennies but am offered a position overseas. I can’t believe the NGO is crazy enough to send me abroad to represent it!

My “relatively” stable family life, suddenly dissolves. My sister goes to study in Canada, my parents go live in Madagascar with frequent back and forths to France, and my brother takes very responsible job in London with trips to the Middle East for consulting.

I am assigned to Senegal, a country that dramatically challenges my understanding of “developing countries”. The Senegalese are proud businessmen, gently Muslims, great musicians and wear their national clothes like princes. What a great country to start with! There are, of course, people who live in abject poverty and the most marking aspect of Senegalese society is the utter misery in which some children live. They are often sent by their despairing parents to be taught in Muslim school under tutelage of a “teacher”, who transforms the fleet of students into beggars and sources of revenue.

My social life is colorful and varied. My job, on the other hand, is not very interesting and I haven’t really made a difference in people’s lives.

March 2005 – August 2006
My company offers me a job in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country about which I know next to nothing. I barely look at a map before I enthusiastically accept the position. Immediately, I am thrown into the thick of things. In an environment where staff morale is very low, logistically difficulties seem impossible to overcome, and the management is unable to respond to staff concerns, the environment quickly becomes oppressive.

There is an overwhelming amount of work to do, we are understaffed. There are frequent electricity outages and security issues. Trips to the field are trying as schedules changes at the last minute depending on whether the vehicles still work, the main plane has crashed, or email contact with field partners can be made. And yet, my field visits and interaction with Congolese from rural areas are incredibly fullfilling and filled with magic and wonder.

I struggle and fight to get things done, especially when I think of my hard-working field partners, and don’t hesitate to work weekend and evenings. There are things to do in the evening (restaurants, pool, hanging out at other people’s houses) but no way to get out of the capital. I made very few excursions and the stress builds up like a slow-pressure cooker.

I am often incapable of surmounting logistical obstacles and am often distressed about not being able to do more. Though I never credit him, my boyfriend in the United States is an immense source of comfort and support. I decide to go back to the US and my heart breaks at the betrayal of leaving a country that needs so much help.

August 2006-October 2006 - Readjustment
The readjustment is not what I expected it to be. Sure, the shear number of cereal boxes at Giant is impressive, but that not the troubling part. The part that troubles me is that I am just so happy to be back. To be able to walk alone in the street and have unguarded time for myself. I am superficially avid to buy tons of fashionable clothes while experiencing a lot of guilt over every purchase.

October 2006 – April 2006 – Period of Mediocracy
I get a job in an african development agency. I work part-time for meager hourly wages (that amounts to less than what I was paid as a receptionist…4 years ago). The hours allow me to aggressively pursue my job search. The environment is pleasant but the lack of challenge in my job actually weighs on me.

April 2006 – Present – Back to Square One
After what feels like months and months of searching, I finally get a good job in Washington DC. Meanwhile, my parents come home permanently from Madagascar. My sister graduates and comes back to DC for the summer. My brother takes a hiatus from his very demanding job in a consulting firm and goes to India for 6 months to work in development.

Now that things have finally settled down, I find that things aren't exactly working out with my boyfriend. I also wish I had more of a direction in life. I feel in suspended animation, but have no idea what I am waiting for.

That's All Folks!


Victoria said...

In the eloquent words of Fatboy slim: you've come a long way, baby.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you remember the anniversary of your blog :). You should seek medical attention.

Seriously though, you're so lucky to have had so many experiences, seen so many places, done so many things (and still be in one piece to talk about it)!! You should be grateful and proud! And don't see yourself as directionless, see yourself as full of potential!

Besides, direction is way overrated. Life for the moment, that's my motto :)


How can you be a fatboy slim?

Kate said...

Right on, blogger-chica!

Thinking of you and can't wait to catch upin person soon.

jau said...

Awesome. You've had a wild ride. Sitting back and reflecting is deserved and important. Things will sort out, really! They really truly do, always. (The voice of a *MUCH* older and wiser woman speaks.)

Beaver said...

Honey - I doubt that you are back to square one.

All of us who started as interns in DKR, if we compared notes, would find that we have lived some life-changing experiences.

A huge hug. Thanks for the ride, and, by the way... thanks for allowing your friends to be a part, however small, of it.