Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The foreign market

“I think you’re in the wrong market. You’re supposed to be in the foreign market.” …or something roughly to that effect. This, at least, was the observatory bit of advice I received from a friend a few days ago. Our mutual lack of serious knowledge in the field of economics is enough to verify that we were not discussing international econ; no, we were discussing personal relationships.

The domestic market, the foreign market. The South American market, the Asian market, the European market, and whathaveyou. Ignore the slightly disconcerting bit of possible objectification for a moment, please, and understand that we aren’t talking buy, sell, or trade.

For three hours, we sat procrastinating in the café, engaging in various discussions and debates (all high quality and classy, naturally), one such discussion being an overview and puzzling of recent developments and complications in my personal life, and the oddity that is the high percentage of internationals who play the supporting roles.

My friend’s explanation: I give off a more international aura, and apparently I’m meant to be in the foreign market, and not so much the domestic. Ah, so that’s why the Iranian/Kurdish housemate of the Cuban man I’d dated had no compunction in asking me out, unceremoniously dismissing what I thought was some universal guy code. Because I give off the air of being on the foreign market. Sounds simple enough, sure. Ahem.

An intriguing thought, though, isn’t it? By all means, please take a moment to reflect on your own market – domestic? Foreign? A particular specification of “foreign”? Maybe. What pulls you in, in what situations do you feel comfortable or uncomfortable, how do your character and interests translate across national and cultural divides, etc. Constant sarcasm, for instance, is a difficult one to translate, so those who are either unwilling or unable to tone that down may be most successful on the domestic market. …You get the idea.

The geographical politics of self-marketing. It was a thought that hadn’t fully occurred to me before, and still I hesitate to make broad statements; there are always exceptions, you know. In fact, I’d say the same thing I said when recently asked (yes, by an aforementioned member of the foreign market) what I looked for in someone: “Meh, I think we should try to avoid living by check lists when possible.” Sure, that was partial dodging, but it was also grounded in truth.

Over the past year, life has drummed one thing into my brain like it’s its job: our paths in life can and do take us in many unexpected directions, yielding people and experiences we never could have guessed or planned. In whatever market, let’s plan to embrace it, and leave the check list at home when possible.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Life's handiwork (and Rocky, naturally)

When did life turn into stories like this, moments like this?

It's a question I've found myself pondering more than once in the past few days, particularly as I bounced from Washington, DC, to Philadelphia to take a breather and visit friends. Between talk of development, foreign policy, and baby proofing in Arlington, to talk of art, American politics, and March Madness at UPenn, not to mention large amounts of personal story swapping and updates, I could help but stop to think how it all turned into what it has. We hear about how children grow up so quickly, especially if we aren't watching carefully, and how things around us can change so rapidly, but lately it seems as though personal situations often meet the same fate. When and how did things go from that to this? And where were we when it happened, eh?

The very fact that I spent the last couple of days gadding about DC and Philly falls into that sort of "different life" category. Buying a house warming gift for friends in DC -now including one of those aforementioned rapidly growing children, tripping about the apartment as she gets the hang of her newfound walking abilities- and sitting at a table for two, splitting samosas and gobi parathas outside of an excellent restaurant in Philly, all updating one another on our personal lives and talking about definite and less-than-definite plans for the future. 

As we get deep into the story swapping, I can't help but shake my head in wonder. Talk of baby proofing, careers and applying for research grants, various other plans for the future, personal matters and significant others, political discussions and debates (though those aren't new in my world, they've certainly gained in depth, breadth, and understanding), etc. Gracious. Some developments are, of course, gladly welcomed, and/or easily and naturally slipped into. Others find me very much still in the navigation process, and will continue as such - after all, there are some things we'll forever be navigating, aren't there?

The wonder, though, is when and how it happened. Can I pin it down to a specific event, a day or week, a month or season? Was there something that set it off, or has it been gradually sneaking up on me, just waiting for me to stop and reflect on life's handiwork? Possibly a bit of both. And of course it isn't the first time that such a realization has occurred, but it seems as though there are certain moments, moments when we pause, look back, and think a simple yet resounding woah. Look at that. Look at where we were and where we are, where we might be going.

Kind of like a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, necessarily jogging up the steps while humming/singing "Eye of the Tiger" in homage to Rocky and Sylvester Stallone (who, yes, has been immortalized with a statue at the bottom of the stairs). No looking back until you reach the top. Ok, now turn - and there it is. Philly. And all those stairs you just ran up. Quite the view, eh? Alright, now look ahead. Art museum, and everything that lies before and within it. Plenty to look forward to.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Curve balls

Called a friend out of frustration with life's apparent habit of screwing with my plans, especially of late; while I appreciate the keeping-me-on-my-toes and continuous-reminder-that-it-will-ultimately-work-out factors, it can get rather tiring. He called me out on my mixing of metaphors, though. A bit snarky/facetious, but an excellent point, when you think about it.

"Argh. Life seems to enjoy throwing me curve balls lately, just to see how well I can dodge them all."

"...Um, just for the record, you're not supposed to dodge them - you're supposed to hit 'em out of the park."

Duly noted.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rekindling the conversation

Spring break. Audible exhales as we all sigh in relief and resign ourselves, quite willingly, to losing a few days of potential productivity to much-needed recharging. Going out in celebration, movie watching, reading for pleasure, visiting and/or travelling, and, perhaps most importantly, catching up on sleep (current ability to sleep in and knowing that we'll regain the lost hour in the fall being the only thing saving me from shaking my fists at daylight savings).

In the process of the aforementioned recharging, I've just returned - or rather, restarted - a Paul Theroux collection that's been taunting me, unopened, for months, Fresh Air Fiend. Page 1, Introduction: Being a Stranger. "I was an outsider before I was a traveler... I think one led to the other. ...Exile is a large concept for which a smaller version, the one I chose, is expatriation. I simply went away. Raised in a large, talkative, teasing family of seven children," (Me too, she thinks. 1 half-brother, 1 brother, 1 step-brother, 3 step-sisters.) "I yearned for a space of my own. One of my pleasures was reading; reading was a refuge and an indulgence. But my greatest pleasure lay in leaving my crowded house and going for all-day hikes" (or bike rides). ...a good sign, isn't it, when you enter into a conversation with the author. ...No, I'd rather think that does not make me a crazy person, thank you.

And he continues. "When I went to Africa, a young man and unpublished, I became a mzungu, or a white man, but the Chichewa word also implies a spirit, a ghost figure, almost a goblin, a being so marginal as to be barely human." Funny- when I went to Ghana, I became an obroni, or a white person, but the Twi word also means, more generally, a foreigner. Perhaps not "marginal," per say, but often with that transient, different sense implied by that which Theroux describes.

One of those excellent moments when it seems as though the author has read your mind, thinks along the same wavelengths - coming at it from a different vein, sure, but ending up in the same general ballpark, and perhaps even the same bleacher section. Stumbling across an artist or particular song you'd since forgotten, or picking up the work of a favorite author... almost like having a good, long chat with an old friend- the sort that says "goodbye for now" instead of "goodbye," knows when to listen and when to talk, and is perfectly comfortable getting into a raging debate because there's a trust and stability in knowing even differences of opinion and long gaps of time can't endanger that deeper understanding and connection. Sure, sometimes my interjected commentary on Theroux is in a point of contention, but I'd consider our relationship superficial if we agreed all the time. Paul and I, reunited. Excellent.

Friday, March 11, 2011

On "human miracles" and the everyday...

Sometimes I wonder if people realize - or ever could - just how much influence they've had on me. Not in a you-got-me-addicted-to-pot kind of influence (for the record, I opted out when given that opportunity. ha), but in a knowing-you-has-somehow-opened-my-eyes kind of way. Contributed to the way I think and who I am.

I've said numerous times in recent weeks that if the past year has taught me anything, it's that life can - and often does - put you in places or situations you'd likely never plan or expect, and somehow it seems to work itself out. No matter how often I think back over it, I'm still amazed. The role that so many people have played along the way, some far more so than others, is astounding.

It's a bit unsettling, really, to look back and think, What if I hadn't met ___? What if I hadn't gone to ___? What would my life look like today, who would I be today? Not to get fatalistic on you, but geesh. Working with someone in class a year ago led to our becoming close friends, which led, ultimately, to my spending a summer in Ghana. That summer in Ghana will now lead to my spending a summer in Denmark. Or had I gone the usual route of an English major at Dickinson instead of the graduating-early, double major that I am, leading me to spend a semester in Washington instead of a year in England. Sure, some other path would have yielded many opportunities of it's own, I'm sure, but the experiences I had and people I met in that time are invaluable, and I wouldn't dream of giving them up. And sure, perhaps some things could've gone better, perhaps there are some things that we wish we could change... but even the things that seem to have gone wrong led to other experiences, realizations or some kind of growth, etc.

One weekend nearing the end of my semester in DC, completely frustrated with the way a few things were going, I took a friend up on her offer for a day of three girls wandering about the city, brunching on a snazzy restaurant patio, art-museum-ing, and taking a rickshaw (seriously. try it.) down to the Tidal Basin. A top notch day, and just the sort of distraction I needed. On the way back to my apartment, I happened to make eye contact with someone in the metro, he struck up a conversation, and wham, it'd develop into yet another perspective I'd never have had the advantage of considering, and introduced me to others. Just like that.

Now, my goal isn't to wander into some fatalistic, philosophical conversation here. First and foremost, really, it's me babbling as I reflect in awe and unspeakable appreciation on all that people in my life have done for me, perhaps most importantly when unknowingly done. If only they knew... perhaps it's not so significant to them, but it is to the person they've shaped in some way or the thoughts they've raised. ...and second, I suppose, would be a reflection on that which I keep saying - somehow it works out.... with our own help and awareness. Appreciating the opportunities presented to us or learning from the people who surround us. Listening. Observing. ...It's simply amazing.

Of course, Elie Wiesel has far better incites than myself, and honestly, I just think he's pretty fantastic. ha... So without further ado or babbling on my part:

"You stop at words. You must learn to see through them, to hear that which is unspoken."

"And yet. Those are my two favorite words, applicable to every situation, be it happy or bleak. The sun is rising? And yet it will set. A night of anguish? And yet it too, will pass. The important thing is to shun resignation, to refuse to wallow in sterile fatalism... Must we stop time, then, and the sun? Yes, sometimes we must try, even if it is for nothing. Sometimes we must try because it is for nothing. Precisely because death awaits us in the end, we must life fully. Precisely because an event seems devoid of meaning, we must give it one. Precisely because the future eludes us, we must create it."

"And yet. Human miracles do exist, or rather, they could."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Flight (and pursuit)

Some time ago, someone asked me why I have such an interest in travelling - running from something? My response, accompanied by a bit of a smirk, was to quote Paul Theroux: "Travel is equal parts flight and pursuit."

...sometimes, though - as with so much else - it doesn't seem quite equal.

95 days to Denmark... not that I'm counting or anything.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It's infectious

Just had to share this latest bit from my friend Salam (introduced in a typically random story in the previous post) - his hope is too infectious not to share it, and share in his rejoicing as he looks towards the future.

"Thank you to you and the USA government and world. The human is brother and sisters. The UN Security Council resolution was historical. That brings the value of the USA flag, which is freedom and liberalism and justice. That was my expectation from the USA politic, since I started knowing the world around me under a dictator regime."

I can only imagine the atmosphere as demonstrators envision ultimate victories and the possibilities that lie ahead, even through the long and painful road up to this point. Only thing comparable in my experience, I believe, would have to be Accra's celebration of the Ghanaian defeat of the US in the 2010 World Cup - and that's saying something, because Ghanaians celebrated that triumph like nothing else. Mobs of beaming people waving (or garbed in) the national flag, shouting in celebration, literally dancing in the streets as horns blared even more than usual. Throw in the vuvuzelas, and it was a sound of solidarity and victory - especially when I recall a friend's comment that "We should just win it. Win the damn thing for Africa." - so resounding I half expected it to be heard in South Africa. ...and we're just talking World Cup. Imagine if we were talking about the hope for a more democratic government, human rights, safer and improved lifestyles.

Awesome, in the true meaning of the word. I could hug him for the sheer force of his optimism.