18 July 2011

Flat tires, Syrian kitkats, and wisdom gained only by (re)packing

I’m home, after a day lacking power and therefore productivity at work.  There’s the Pixies playing on iTunes, food to cook, and a tempting Syrian KitKat in the fridge; but, strangely, despite memories of a very sweet college boyfriend (“Hey,” does it every time), ideas for an omelette and chilled chocolate, I just want to go for a bike ride.  It’s very hilly here on Fourth Ridge, and this means that after coasting all the way down, one does have to come all the way back up.  Yet it still sounds right.  So the computer goes off, I get ready, and go to get my charmingly (?) used bike.  And discover a mostly flat front tire. Do you know the disappointment of a flat tire? I rediscovered it. 

If it was my fault, that would be one thing.  You know, as in “wow, Kelly, way too much aggressive bouncing along dirt roads so deeply crevassed and rocky because of the rain that they are basically impassable…at least you didn’t fall into that crevasse.” Or perhaps, more realistically, “really, Kelly, what did you expect from falling directly into that crevasse?”  No, unfortunately, my bike was borrowed – without permission – from the house a couple weeks ago, while I was away for the weekend, and it was this event that evidently led to today’s crisis (no I do not have a bike lock, yes it was inside the house, now please give me a break about this, I’m still a little sensitive).  A few other things were also borrowed in the same manner, and dealing with it has been an ugly saga.  A very difficult and ugly saga.  While the borrower is gone, it feels like he is suddenly back and I am feeling stressed out and deflated all over again, right along with my tire.  I want to throw a wobbler, then a tantrum, and then throw another wobbler (thank you to all Brits for inventing such a wonderful expression as “throw a wobbler”).

However.  I can cite plenty of times in the past (yes, recent past too) in which, when faced with a situation like this, with a relatively minor disappointment revealing one lying deeper, that I have noisily or bitterly complained.  Cried.  Yes, collapsed, even.  But standing here, staring at my bike tire, in front of the third house from the end of the inside of the first block on Fourth Ridge, just by the split you take to get to the girls school (sorry, no residential addresses), I realize that this is just not worth it.  Rehashing the ugly saga doesn’t interest me.  Besides, I want a bike ride.  Oh, no, don’t get me wrong, I definitely whine and wobble a little, but quickly push out along my questionable road and try to make it safely to some asphalt.  And then I just pedal, downhill, uphill, uphill more (oh geeez-us, seriously), downhill, uphill again (why is nothing even?), all on the mostly flat front tire. I know, not great for the thing, but I’ll get it fixed tomorrow.  And if I’m going to continue to be Pollyanna-esque, the back tire is doing fine.  Solid.  Practically indestructible (taking it too far now).

So have I overcome? Do I now reveal, by my day to day existence, how to depose frustration, how to topple the tower of wobbler throwing?  Yeah, that’s a no.  During my placement so far, there have been issues decidedly non-bike related that have left me a mess, a parody of the self-sacrificial volunteer.  Like everyone, I have a tolerance threshold; yet I’ve watched myself feel grated by things I would never have anticipated.  I’m talking about varying perspectives on the flexibility of timelines and deadlines; or maybe when it’s appropriate to answer or return a phone call, and when it really shouldn’t be.  And then, of course, there’s what I absolutely should have anticipated.  Like the internal pulling back and forth between my own beliefs and my acceptance of the beliefs of others, deciding when it is necessary to speak and when it’s time to shut up.  Sometimes it feels like pedaling uphill, hard, bumping along a rocky road, trying to avoiding the crevasses, on a flat front tire.  I’ll tell you all up front: enye easy (it's not easy). 

Again.  However.  Can I learn something here?  Here it is, as straightforward as I can make it: in committing to work in a different culture, with outlooks and values that can differ from my own, I committed to allowing myself to be changed.  I committed to being stretched in every direction, undergoing attitude adjustments and plenty of introspection, and experiencing moments that would be eye-widening slaps, falls flat on my face, wincingly awful cringes (oh yes), and jolting shifts in perspective.  How I deal with everyday differences, everyday frustrations, has had to change.  My core values are not going to shift, but how I choose to deal with issues surrounding those values within this cultural context has to.  Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not condescending to accommodate others.  I’m just trying to grow here. 

Sometimes, overcoming frustration or difficulty comes down to a simple decision – like whether to take the bike out or just go back inside, watch a movie and eat a KitKat*.  Sometimes, but rarely.  More often, I find it coming down to my commitment to this life I have chosen, a commitment I made before getting on the plane in February.  Of course, I know what it means now.  Quite honestly, that commitment has helped sustain me a few times.  In my first blog posting, before leaving the U.S., I mentioned that I would know what to pack about a month after arriving in Ghana.  Well, five months later, I’ll readdress that, and finally tell my February self what to pack. 

1) No expectations, and that really means no expectations.  Really.  I mean, you thought you brought no expectations along, but you were fooling yourself.

2) Lots of reminders to shut up, because sometimes you really just need to. 

3) An extra hard drive, because the worst message your computer can ever give you is “imminent hard drive failure.” 

4) More instant sauce packets**. 

5) Patience?  Chakra cleansing techniques?  A light heart and bouncy step?  Because they weren’t joking about ‘nkakra nkakra (small small).’ 

6) This understanding: you have to be ready to give up everything you’ve packed so neatly away.  And I’m not talking about the tank tops.  Funny, because I didn’t think you were such a great packer in the first place, February self.  But you’d be surprised, February self, all the things that you want to hang on to that just won’t fit here. And, likewise, all the things that will.  And I'm not just talking about about tank tops (but thank god for them, for them and for cargo pants).

There it is.  Perhaps because this posting has been about the absence of even surfaces, and more so, even temperaments (and now too much about tank tops), I have no smooth ending in mind.  Just plans to get a tire pump. 

* (yes, KitKats from Syria taste different)
**Thanks again, mom. You have no idea. Made spaghetti alfredo last night! fabulous.


  1. Hi
    I loved your tro-tro rules. You write really well.
    I thought I'd try to post this link to the radio interviews at the Africa Forum -

    Hmmm - bit long that - and your internet is probably sloooow. I may have to go to another conference with Mel/Mariah/IMF man in September.
    This one is a mega convention in Las Vegas. What could possibly go wrong?
    Take care.
    Lionel R

  2. Sorry, which Lionel Richie is this exactly? I know a few.

    Yes, tro-tro was the pinnacle i think. it's all downhill from there.

    Well, regardless, it's nice to hear from you. And thanks sooooo much for the attempt at public humiliation via link.

    Re. Las Vegas conference: now REALLY watch out for hookers and criminals. other than generally attracting them, aren't you around 97% perfect? you are assured great success. And be nice to Mel/Mariah/IMF man, he knows not what he does. well, thats a stretch. but still.
    Good luck with that.

  3. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the "February Self!" I can TOTALLY relate!! I completely 100% times one million trillion understand what you're going through right now. And I'm also finally getting to that point of letting go of the stuff I packed that really should go right back home: my beliefs about what accomplishment is, my standards of what quality work is, and my expectations of others and myself. None of those have the same definitions here, and when I really think about it, this laid-back, live-in-the-present-moment life really is quite nice (albeit only because it's temporary)! It's a welcome change of pace, and while we are who we are, we can at least try on something new while we're here. Much love, and thanks for the thought-provoking blog! MUAH!!!!!!!

  4. You're so gracious about Mel.
    I am in awe - as I was when you entertained that little kid with your amazing magic skills.
    She just adored you.
    I hope to get back over to Ghana in a few months. September will likely be Dubai, Las Vegas and Zambia. Until a few years ago I didn't do the big meetings. It's borrrring, let me tell you.
    I'd much rather be in Ghana right now. Very much so.
    Take care.

  5. It's easy to be gracious by blog.
    I'm so pleased to be inspiring awe, especially with my magical ways.
    Your September sounds a bit crazed, possibly death-defying. But remember that big meetings = you are very knowledgeable and important. So pack your collection of music and other media into an awkward and ungainly case, and enjoy the hotel food. Hopefully you'll have Mel to keep you company, and that's never boring, is it.
    But come back to Ghana anytime.
    Take care-o,

  6. Favorite mental image: your Pollyanna self riding that bike. That sums it up Kelly...YOU ROCK...and your description of the discovery of a bike with a flat tire is priceless. We recently experienced this disappointment here...but of course solved that problem with a quick trip to the air pump at Cumberland Farms and Julien was good to go. And once again.....YOU ROCK

  7. So what's up, Lionel? Ready for September?

  8. Hi, I'm going to Dubai and Zambia , but not las Vegas.
    It's for the best.
    You write a little like David sedaris at times.
    That's a compliment.
    I keep having this strange dream that I'm in a taxi with 3 peace corps types.
    I'm in the front and we get stopped at an army checkpoint. A child soldier sticks a gun in my face and demands to see my passport and what I have in this strange black case I'm carrying. I get really scared, but the 3 peace corps dudes just keep laughing at me. What does it mean?

  9. Indeed avoiding vegas is perhaps for the best as a general rule.

    And of course writing (even a little) like david sedaris is a compliment, he is utterly fabulous. although i love augusten burroughs just a bit better. he swears more.

    re. dream. it's definitely odd. it tinges of malevolence per your description. is the laughter maniacal, or charmingly out of hand? that would tip it either way.

    i have had an interesting dream as well. a man in a b&w cowboy hat perches on the edge of a bench. latin music (samba? salsa?)in the background. he clutches this black case (what are the odds!) to his chest, somewhat desperately. i think a camera flashes. meanwhile, i laugh hysterically. then suddenly i'm in a taxi, feeling a bit moody.
    what do you think...is there some deeper symbolism here, waiting to be unsprung? so hard to say.

    well, in any case, i hope your music career is going fine. keep on singing!

  10. I read a synopsis of Augusten Burroughs' Dry.
    I've just finished watching the TV series Mad Men back to back (seasons 1-4 on DVD). You would love it. I'll see if I can get that to you sometime. Perfect for you.
    As for your dream -
    I think the black case signifies some deep rooted anxieties - I advise caution. What secrets are worth guarding so closely ? This man is dangerous, or maybe just a bit unhinged.

    I can't imagine you being moody - pensive maybe.

    I still have my Ghanaian anti dandruff shampoo.
    The sales person at the conference shop proudly (and loudly) announced that it had anti dandruff properties as I was browsing. I took this as a hint and immediately purchased it.
    Maybe that's what the mysterious stranger had in his black case.

    Keep on blogging!

  11. Well... I wouldn't take the loud and proud exclamation personally. Maybe s/he was just pleased to have something an oburoni could use. and with additionally beneficial properties, like dandruff damage control! and what fond memories you'll have, forever and ever, of ghana and hair care.

    Perhaps you're right about that darn case and that strange man. Although he didn't strike me as dangerous, simply tottering on some invisible edge. Perhaps he was clinging to the only representation, however silly, of familiarity and safety that was available to him at the time? If he's so internally gone amuck, he can't be all bad. Perhaps only 3% bad.

    i've watched mad men, in california, but only from the middle, for a few episodes, so i wasn't optimally engaged. no history, you know?

    and you'll have to do better than a synopsis. try "you better not cry" (christmas short stories, my first a.b. book, the beginning of our love affair), "magical thinking" and "running with scissors" (now a hollywood blockbuster!! - well, not a blockbuster). what great plane reading!

    ciao -