Adulting Is Hard: Career Choices

I went six weeks after graduation with no job offers. Not one. In that time I applied to about 25 positions across the East Coast. When I finally got one — hired on the spot — it was as a host in a new restaurant…which is not even remotely my field. But I took it, because I was bored and because I was running out of savings to pay for basic life necessities like rent and food. Not to mention my student loans. I took the job, with the private understanding that it would be a transitional, temporary thing to help me get by until I could find something closer to what I really want to do. (Full disclosure, I’m not entirely sure what I really want to do. But that is beside the point.)

Anyway, it’s 3 months later and I’m working 35-hour weeks (sometimes less, sometimes more) at this restaurant, where I have somehow ended up as the lead hostess/administrative assistant to both the general manager and the special events coordinator. I’m there 5-6 days a week — it was more in the beginning, I think my longest stretch was 16 days without a full day off — making $11 a hour. I’m good at it, I like my bosses and my coworkers. But at night and on weekends I’m still applying for other, more career-type jobs. Still no offers on that front.

…Enter a rep from the Literacy Lab, who finds me via the AmeriCorps website, where I still have a profile from back in undergrad. They send me a generic email, ask me to fill out an application to be a literacy tutor in Washington, DC. So I do. Think nothing further of it, because that is the way things have been going for me.

Then last week I get a call during my break between double shifts. It’s the rep, asking to set up a quick phone interview. We set it up for this past Monday evening. It goes well (despite the dodgy cell phone service due to a thunderstorm here) and she asks me on the spot to email her with my availability for a final interview. We arrange it for next Friday morning (eight days from today).

But wait.

…Enter my boss this morning, who comes up to me and offers me a position as an official admin/office assistant. It’s essentially a management position, with a pay raise and benefits like free meals and a key to the office where I would basically be running the show in the mornings until he gets there. I tell him I’m very grateful for the offer, but I will need a few days to consider it because I have a final interview for another job next week (which I had mentioned to him in passing last week) and I don’t want to accept and then have to quit in two months to go to this other AmeriCorps position.

Assuming the best-case scenario and I am offered the job at the Literacy Lab, here’s a pros and cons list of both offers.

AmeriCorps:

  • pro: gets me to DC, which would make it easier for me to find another job/internship there once my service is over next year; great networking opportunities during and after my service
  • pro: education award for my student loans at the end of my service; benefits are included (which I will need when my dad’s insurance kicks me off in November)
  • pro: gets me back to working with kids instead of stupid adults where I have to smile even when they yell at me about parking meters
  • pro: closer (if not completely compatible) with my desired field of IR/politics/foreign service/whatever
  • con: I would have to move again on a very tight budget, to a city I’ve not visited for over a decade (semi-pro: I have friends there and family nearby)
  • con: it doesn’t pay that much (semi-pro: I have a second, part-time online job lined up to start in September regardless of what happens with either of these)

Stove&Tap:

  • pro: a raise ($15 an hour) and more responsibility (but not so much that I would be drowning in it), with guaranteed hours and free food
  • pro: it’s comfortable and secure and I could do it until I find a job in my field (someone has to call me eventually, right?)
  • pro: I don’t have to move again for a while (since I’m living with a friend, my rent is insanely cheap) and I’m finally sort of getting used to living here; plus, Marie just moved to Philly and Marc is moving here in September
  • con: I really dislike living in the suburbs and I don’t really have any friends around here (see my other post)
  • con: I am terrified of getting complacent and stuck in an industry that I know won’t fulfil me professionally or personally…I didn’t go to grad school in the UK to end up in the restaurant business

So…what to do, what to do. Obviously I can’t give my boss a final answer until I find out the results of my interview, which wouldn’t be for another two weeks at least. However I don’t want to put him off for too long, because that’s rude and unprofessional. I’m at an impasse, with nowhere to go at the moment. And I hate that — I hate the waiting. I’d rather just make a decision and deal with the consequences and outcomes. But I cannot in good conscience pick one or the other without all the relevant facts.

I guess I’m going to do what I always do, for now, since I can’t do anything else.

Call my dad. And call my best friend. Maybe not in that order.

Keeping Myself Honest

I’ve been thinking a lot about my bucket list lately. At the moment, it looks something like this:

  • Get a college degree (including study abroad)
  • See the pyramids (visit Egypt)
  • Learn a second language (with relative proficiency)
  • Swim in the Great Barrier Reef
  • Fall in love, get my heart broken a little, move on
  • Learn to enjoy avocados (including guacamole)
  • See John Williams direct a live performance of his music (i.e. the music of my childhood)
  • Go to Hogwarts with my sisters 

Look at all those items crossed out. I’ve been fortunate in the last decade or so. If I died tomorrow, I wouldn’t really have any regrets about any of that. But I’ve been thinking that I don’t really need a bucket list in the sense that people usually mean it. Generally, a bucket list means…possessions acquired, destinations visited.

I’ve just got…things to do. Things like:

  • Be a better sister and daughter than I was yesterday, last week, last year (always in progress)
  • Be honest and straightforward whenever possible…don’t give or take bullshit, but remain sensitive to people and situations
  • Be more body-confident, including figuring out things like what makeup works for me and how to wear high heels for 6+ hours if necessary (partially complete, but also an ongoing struggle)
  • Make the world a nicer place than it was yesterday, even if that means giving a homeless person a dollar or telling someone I like their outfit
  • Keep an educated mind at all times; stand for what I think is right, but be open to debate and change; do not open my mouth on a subject unless I have something constructive to say
  • Never, ever again let anyone shame me for being a nerd
  • Tell my friends and family I love them (more often)
  • Pay off my student loans…hopefully while doing something that I enjoy
  • Get back to (or exceed) the level of happiness and mental health that I had during 2014-2015

So I’m writing these things to do here, to keep myself honest about them. The internet is forever, right? So this will be here to remind me. It won’t be easy. It won’t be pretty. I probably won’t ever cross these off this list. But I think I can have a damn good time trying.

Adulting Is Hard: Making New Friends

I’m sick of handshakes. And I’ll explain why in a little while.

They tell you when you’re young that it is easy to make new friends if you’re nice and you just ‘be yourself’. And to a large extent, that’s true — children make friends and bond over the simplest things.

What they don’t tell you is that making friends when you’re older is far more difficult and intimidating. Especially when you’re no longer in school, where you are practically handed friends on a silver platter. I mean, in high school or college, everyone is there for a semi-common purpose and you are all facing relatively similar obstacles and triumphs. In university, freshmen or first years generally live in dorms or uni housing, giving them access to people of comparable ages and interests, which usually include exploring how much cheap vodka they can stomach in one night and still make it to a 9am lecture. Or if you don’t click with anyone you might live in proximity to, there are vast networks of clubs and groups to find like-minded people. It’s hard not to make friends in environments like that.

A drawback of making friends in high school or university is that after a certain limited number of years, you are bound to go your various separate ways, and keeping in touch over long distances and timezones is difficult. And as you move on physically, you also grow-up in new and different ways, changing as individuals. You might out-grow each other, which is perfectly natural, if a bit melancholy to contemplate.

I mention all this because it is currently happening to me, on a more painful, stark level than what I had previously experienced. Fortunately, I have not ‘out-grown’ my closest friends, nor do I want to…I can say with certainty that if I could never make any new friends ever again, I would be content with the ones I have for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, my geographically-closest, closest friend lives approximately 340 miles away. It’s the curse of meeting your best buddies when you live/go to grad school abroad. You all have to return to your country of origin eventually, whether you want to or not. (I’m distinctly in the ‘not’ category.) It’s a forced separation that is bridged by that wonderful invention, the internet. But it’s not quite the same as being able to have movie nights and going for drinks and cooking together and…hugs.

I miss hugs.

I’m sick of handshakes because that means that you are meeting someone new. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. But there is no warmth or affection in a handshake. No familiarity. I have shaken a lot of hands in the last couple of months. Met a lot of perfectly nice new people. I have coworkers and acquaintances in the form of my roommate’s friends. I am nice (relatively speaking, most of the time, after I’ve had coffee) and while I am a cautious person with my affection and my trust, I am generally pretty ‘myself’ with new people.

So why is it so hard to make new friends as an adult? One of the biggest obstacles to making new friends —  at least in my case —  is that I have painfully little in common with my new coworkers or acquaintances. We are either at completely different stages of our lives or we just have very different goals and outlooks. Which is all well and good for coworkers and acquaintances (it certainly makes for an interesting work environment)…but in my experience, not exactly a great foundation for lasting friendships. Another big obstacle is that I am spending most of my time working, with little opportunity to find a local book club or something social that would allow me to meet new people I might have things in common with. I also have very little intention of staying in this suburb longer than I have to; so any friendships I form will have to face my inevitable departure and I’m not sure I want to go through the forced separation again. Is it worth it? I don’t know.

And how do I get passed the ‘coworkers’ and ‘friend of a friend’ stage if I decide it is indeed worth the effort? I don’t know that either. Like I said, most of my best friendships have been the result of being in an environment where you make friends because you have to…you’re all thrown together at Ustinov College or the PACE program at Kennedy High School or in Olmeca 3 dorms and you don’t really have any choice but to make friends. But in a work or social situation where you don’t need to see/talk/hang out together outside of certain times, how do you even breach that distance between you and another person? Especially if you don’t seem to have much common ground. Ask to get a drink after work? Accept a movie night invitation from an acquaintance? I’ve done both, so we shall have to see how it goes from here.

Being an adult is hard work. And they don’t tell you about things like this…about trying to keep your head up when you send out 30 applications and don’t even get one interview or about figuring out the best repayment plan for your student loans or about making new friends when you’re not even sure you want to do so but a typed ‘xoxo’ can only go so far and you’re tired of shaking hands when really all you want is a freezing group hug at 1am.

 

I Finally Met a Donald Trump Supporter

Yes, in real life.

This particular Trump supporter is an otherwise perfectly-reasonable, perfectly-likeable woman. She is generally very nice and hard-working (she designed the interior of the restaurant I work in). A middle-class, self-employed, married-with-children white lady from the Philadelphia area.

I guess maybe I should back up a bit, provide a little context. So, I’ve been working during the day over the past week while the restaurant gets its final touches, and naturally I ended up meeting the designer. We’ll call her Jane — because I’ve given you just enough context clues about what she does and where she does it for you to figure out who she really is if I used her actual name, and I’d like to respect her privacy at least a little. Anyway, Jane asked me what my story was, so I told her, and it turns out that her daughter is studying similar subjects to what I did at university. We got to chatting, and she asked me who I was voting for. I have no shame in admitting that I am voting for Sanders in the primaries, and will work from there if it ends up that he is not nominated.

We keep talking, and throughout the conversation I gather that a) she definitely leans to the right-wing; b) she’s not thrilled with Obama, specifically Obamacare; c) she likes that Bernie is shaking up the establishment but doesn’t like his ideas in general or that he “seems to think that it’s his way or the highway, which is dangerous”; d) she thinks that Trump would be a good president because he’s an outsider who tells it like it is and wants to save the middle class and is just dumb enough to be swayed by better minds who hopefully wouldn’t let him destroy too much of the country; and lastly, that e) the “world order” is screwing up my generation’s prospects and we need to wake up and realise that a select few people control what goes on across the world (she used the example of the Bush and Clinton families).

I’m not even going to touch on subject (e). Who runs the world could take up at least three posts itself.

Anyway, you can imagine my shock when I am having this conversation with this woman I generally like and respect and end up realising halfway through it that while Jane is more intelligent and reasonable than the average Trump supporter, a Trump supporter she is nonetheless. Now I’m not saying that my respect for her went down just because of this conversation and its revelations, but if I’m perfectly honest, it made me look at her differently.

I won’t go into detail about why such a disturbingly large section of the country supports Trump. I know the spectrum of people who support Donald Trump is wide and varied and that many of these people are motivated by fear — fear of the way the economy is going, fear of supposed-terrorists and immigrants, fear of losing their privileged place in the fabric of American society. Others respond to what is seen as his ability to basically say “fuck off” to political correctness.

But I (and so many others) would argue that the last-mentioned quality is not one the United States needs in its president. His rhetoric does nothing productive and instead incites people to verbal and physical violence against those who dare to protest it, as we saw demonstrated in small isolated events earlier this year and then in larger scale yesterday in Chicago. Anti-establishment is good, if it were coming from a place of equality and progress (#FeelTheBern). But in Trump’s case, with the vitriol he spews at immigrants, refugees, peaceful opposition, even his GOP rivals…it clearly isn’t.

I also don’t want to get into why so many of his political campaign promises would be either be absolutely catastrophic or completely unworkable, or both. (Although during my conversation with Jane, the IR nerd in me was yelling to be let loose on how illegal it would be to follow through on his stance of “going after the terrorists’ families”. Not to mention how ridiculous he would look standing next to, say, Vladimir Putin, let alone getting Russia to agree on anything.)

In conclusion, this post has been 700 words of me trying to work through the fact that I actually met a Donald Trump supporter and that I survived the encounter without yelling at anyone or feeling like I needed to take a scalding hot shower to scrub off the racism and bigotry that might have rubbed off on me.

For your entertainment, I will leave you with John Oliver’s video, because he always has “the best words”.

Dear Anonymous

A couple of days ago, Hank Green (of YouTube, DFTBA, Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and various other fantastic things fame) was sent this anonymous question on his Tumblr account:

“To what extend are you Americans aware that you are hated in literally all non-western nations?” 

Hank replied in a surprisingly succinct fashion — normally, he and his brother John are more…verbose in their responses on Tumblr — with a link to a Pew Research Poll. (You can see the original post from the embedded text above.)

Now, I generally try to ignore such blatantly untrue things, especially on the internet, which allows people like the above questioner to hide behind their keyboard and spew hate and ignorance with no fear of repercussions. But having returned from extended overseas travel recently and intrigued by the research that Pew released recently (which I found and dove into thanks to the initial link Hank posted in his response), I decided to hit back at this anonymous person who apparently thinks they can speak for “literally all non-western nations”.

First, it should be noted that, on the contrary, sometimes people in Western nations don’t like Americans very much. Up until recently, especially when millennials began traveling more and consciously began to challenge the “ugly American” stereotype, American tourists were only liked as far as their money could take them and sometimes not even then. (Believe me, I’ve been to Paris…Parisians don’t really seem to like much of anyone besides themselves, and especially not Americans who can’t speak French beyond “merci”.) And, you know, the Brits still do think Americans are loud and rude as a rule, despite the “special relationships”. And Russians — my data will show later — definitely don’t Americans much (although I think Putin wouldn’t care to be lumped in with the West, so Russia can have its own category).

Second, I have significant personal anecdotal evidence that blatantly contradicts the assumption in the original question. Most recently, I was talking to an Egyptian guy who was driving me around Cairo for the day…an experience in itself and truly not for the faint of heart. Anyway, he worked at my hostel and was kind enough to drive me to the Pyramids and around the city and give me some insight into daily life in Egypt’s biggest city (of course, there was a price for him being my chauffeur, but not my conversation partner). I learned that before the “revolution” in 2011, he was studying for his degree in social work and wanted to move to Dubai to try and help reformed prisoners. And then one dictator got overthrown for another and he had to give up his studies and work to support his family. A hostel was the obvious choice because he already spoke great English and a bit of French, as well as Arabic. I bring him up because he was very candid with me…something I was grateful for, because not many Arab men are with Western women on first acquaintance. I asked him point blank what he thought of Americans in general and this was his answer:

“نحن نحبك ولكن نحن لا نحب حكومتكم” …which means “We love you but we do not like your government.” He explained further (in English) that he has been very happy with all the individual Americans he has met (graciously including me in that) and that they were nice, friendly, respectful people. But — and here he reflects the data I will be citing later — he and normal Egyptians generally don’t have much of a good opinion on the American government or its foreign policy toward Egypt. And really, given the recent record of “Talk Lots, Do Little” of the Obama administration toward Egypt, who can blame these everyday people for their indifference or hostility? The US government has done almost nothing for them, despite all the aid that is given to Egypt annually, mostly in the form of military financial assistance.

When I was previously in South Sinai for 6 weeks on that same trip (working in a hotel and diving in my spare time) I was treated well, especially once locals around town found out that I was American. I can’t tell you how many times I would say where I was from and the person talking to me would go, “Oh, America! We love you! Welcome!” (How much of that was excitement over how much money they thought I had to spend in their shop or restaurant, I’ll never know. But that’s not the point.) The point is that everyone in Dahab was welcoming and friendly and helpful, for the most part, before and after they heard about my blue passport.

In Amman, Jordan, it was the same. The falafel guy on the corner, the man in the pharmacy, the other staff at the hotel I worked at…nearly everyone I met asked me where I was from, and when I said “Ana Amrikiya” (I’m American”) the reaction was the same: Welcome to Jordan, how do you like it here? Say hello to Obama for us, he and the King are friends!

In Kenya in 2010, despite one scary outlier incident with a drunk guy, unsurprisingly people loved asking our group of mostly-Americans if we had voted for Obama, and smiled so much when we mostly said yes. In Qatar for my study abroad year, mostly the same, despite the tensions going on during the height of the Arab Spring, with Bahrain boiling over right next door and the US doing nothing about it. In Japan, again, the same welcome, the same very-polite open arms. In Istanbul (a city on the edge between the Middle East and Europe) I traded a kiss on the cheek and the little cash I had left for a gorgeous pashmina, and the proprietor grinned where I told him I was from and said he was proud that his scarf would go back to California eventually.

So you cannot tell me that people in non-Western nations hate Americans. They might not like the U.S. government or its foreign policy, but then, a lot of Americans do not like the U.S. government or its foreign policy either.

And now, in case all that wasn’t enough, I will present you with hard, quantitative data to back up these claims I’ve made, and to refute (maybe not beyond all reasonable doubt) the original statement. Keep in mind: as with all statistical data, the sample sizes vary, there is a margin of error, and social context (the researchers ability to contact people in the countries surveyed, etc) should be taken into account along with the results.

I guess I’ll start with how people around the world see President Obama as a leader, because it’s rather straight forward. Before I begin with more recent data, it should be noted in the interest of fair reporting that in 2014 Gallup released the results of a survey done in 2013, that placed President Obama’s leadership global approval rating in the average of 46%. However, according to Pew (2015), a median of 65% of people polled “say they have confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs”. Of course, his approval has slipped sharply in Israel (where his rating is down to less than 50%, especially among voters in PM Netanyahu’s Likud Party); and he “has never been popular in Russia” where his most recent poll comes in with only 1 in 10 Russians expressing confidence in him. Elsewhere, President Obama is still hugely popular in African countries and surprisingly strong in India.

Speaking of Africa (not including North Africa, because that is a different story), according to those polled in nine countries on the continent, the median approval rating of America in general hovers at 79%. Elements of U.S. soft power and key features of economic engagement in the region are also viewed positively by those in the countries surveyed by Pew. Everyone still with me? Because the continent of Africa is definitely “non-Western”, and it doesn’t seem like the very diverse people living there hate the United States.

In general, over the last two years (2014 and 2015, according to these reports by Pew) the American global image has remained somewhat consistent, with approval at median 65% and median 69% for each year respectively. For a more thorough breakdown of the survey results going back to 2002, you can look at this chart. Regionally, the Middle East in 2014 had a low rating of 30% approval and in 2015 “most Jordanians, Palestinians, Turks and Lebanese register[ed] an unfavorable opinion”. Asian countries that were surveyed (with the exception of China at 44% approval) also demonstrated a very positive outlook on the U.S., with highs of 92% in the Philippines and 84% in South Korea. Another notable outlier was Pakistan, which polled at just 22% approval. Heading south, Latin American approval of the U.S. was a solid 65% in 2014 and around the same in 2015, although ratings in Venezuela have dropped and in Argentina the increase has been slow.

Now that I have dumped all this data on you, I’ll give you my reactions and basic assessment and wrap this very long post up. Given my background in international relations and U.S. foreign policy, these approval ratings were actually higher than I expected them to be, especially on the African continent. Places like Turkey (where a favourable view of the U.S. is only 29%, see the Pew results from 2015), Pakistan, China, and Russia having a largely negative view of the United States didn’t surprise me one bit, given the relationships America has with these countries and the rhetoric on both sides, regardless of formal alliances and actions. Just because the Cold War is over doesn’t mean that the U.S. and Russia are best friends now; the U.S. continues to use drones in Pakistan and treats the country as an unpredictable nuclear power. The posturing of island building and continued tacit support for North Korea by China makes it hard for that nation and the U.S. to get along, no matter what the TPP says.

I could go on and on. (As I have in this post, apparently.) The point, however, was to refute the all-encompassing statement in the original post: that Americans are hated by literally all non-western nations. Given the last 1,600 words of personal and statistical evidence, I think I’ve successfully done that. So, in conclusion…

Dear Anonymous:  I am fully, painfully aware of the glaring flaws that abound in the U.S. itself and in its actions around the world and I am not trying to excuse or justify any of it. You personally might hate America — there are plenty of valid reasons — and you might think the world shares that hatred, and frankly, given the media, you might not be blamed entirely for coming to that conclusion. However, next time you try to spread that hate with your unfounded, sweeping statements instead of addressing it productively…

Don’t do it where an internationally educated, well-travelled American can see it.

Stop Asking Why I’m 25 and Single

Before you think that I am just writing this post as a bitter, lonely, mid-20s spinster who is angry that she didn’t have a date this Valentines Day weekend…think again. I am in my mid-20s, but that is where that sentence stops being relevant to me. I’m not bitter, lonely (well, that’s up for debate at the moment, but it’s a different kind of loneliness), or angry that I did not have a date this Valentines Day.

In fact, I think Valentines Day is the worst, most pointless, most commercialised holiday in existence. This is including Christmas and whatever the hell has become of St. Patricks Day. I would not want to celebrate Valentines Day even if I was in a relationship with someone. If you don’t buy me flowers just because, I’m not going to demand them of you on a specific day in February. And I’m not going to buy pink lacy lingerie to wear to bed for one night– I’ll save that for your birthday or really any other day of the year (and it will not be pink).

I tell the people I love that I love them whenever I want. I don’t need a day to remind me.

Anyway, this post is not about or in response to Valentines Day. (Which, if you look at the history, is actually quite bloody and/or controversial, as most history is.)

Our society — whether we admit it or not — still has this ingrained tendency to place a woman’s worth in her relationship status. It starts at childhood — we are told to find our Prince Charming, to not be smarter than the boys because then they will never want to marry us, to dress up and wear makeup (but not too much, because then men think we are “fake”) to class in college to snag a man there, to wear a pencil skirt instead of slacks to a job interview. This is all indicative of the misogyny inherent in our lives. Men are victims of it, women are victims of it.  It needs to change. Which is why I proudly call myself a feminist.

But this post is not strictly about why I am a feminist. It is about one aspect of that part of my personality.

Lately people have been asking — both outright and as part of conversational subtext — why I am 25 and single. As if that is a bad thing. And in some ways, it is. In others, it’s really, really not. I would be lying if I said I did not know why I am single at 25. Here are some of the reasons, some of them more serious than others.

I’m 25 and single because I do not like doing what society (or anyone else really) tells me what I should be doing.

I’m 25 and single because I move a lot. Since I turned 18, I have lived in 3 different countries for extended periods of time. I used to leave San Diego and go back to my hometown during the summers, so any dating or potential relationships would have to withstand those three months, and it never seemed like they would or that it was worth it to try.

I’m 25 and single because I got cheated on during my first real relationship in freshman year of college. Six months and that was that. So I was wary of anything real for a few years. And then, like I said, I headed off to Qatar for a year.

I’m 25 and single because I have not been in a relationship that extended beyond one night in a bar or a couple of coffee dates since I was 19 and I really, really do not know how to be in a relationship.

I’m 25 and single because giving someone else that much of myself is terrifying to me. I do not know how to open myself up enough to really get to know someone, knowing they might hurt me in the end.

I’m 25 and single because I like being able to just…pick up and go to the Middle East for three months. Or move to the UK for graduate school without having to worry about stepping on someone else’s dreams or making a choice to try long-distance or asking them to come with me and then getting rejected. I like my independence.

I’m 25 and single because I’m terrible at reading signs or flirting or whatever. You want to make out with me in a bar in Cardiff? Great, I’m in, but please just either tell me that and we can make it happen or just kiss me and go from there. Don’t be subtle.

I’m 25 and single because I’m such a skeptic of men and their intentions. I’m the girl that will hear a terrible pick up line and go, “God, that was lame” and then the guy will be offended and give up. (Seriously it’s happened before.) But if a guy also just says hello, I’m automatically putting my guard up. So it’s a lose-lose situation over here.

I’m 25 and single because as it says in my intro post (and this is the biggest reason, I think) I tend to fall for people who are unavailable — taken, gay, far away, my best friend, whatever. Which is safe, because I will never risk a friendship or try to hurt someone else’s relationship for my own feelings. So I am just stuck in this agonising unrequited spiral, that keeps me from focusing on other potential relationships.

I’m 25 and single and I do not know where or what I am doing with my life. While it would be fantastic to be able to share some of that uncertainty with a partner, to have a hand to hold, to be able to send a message to someone who isn’t going to tell me, “So sorry, have to go, going to Spain on holiday with insert name here“…all of that is not strictly necessary. I can (and do) shake it off when I see my three of my best friends happily in their relationships– one of which I just…do not understand. Seriously, what do they have in common? But if they are happy, then more power to them. I can (and do) smile and be ecstatic when I receive a “save the date” card from my best friend from high school.

I’m 25 and single and at the moment, I am okay with that. No matter why society tells me, or how sexually frustrated I get, I am alright on my own. I always have been.

So stop asking me why I’m 25 and single. Maybe — just maybe — it’s because right now, that is what is best for me.

And, also, it’s none of your damn business.

Red Tape

My best friend is smart, hardworking, articulate, a good writer, great at small talk (seriously, I’ve never seen anyone my age able to schmooze like that), has two degrees and internship experience, is willing to relocate, wants to help save the world, and dreams of living in New York City someday.

He’s also a UK national. (But don’t you dare call him British. He’ll fight you. It’s an identity thing. And beyond the scope of this post.)

I mention all this because while he is more than qualified to do so many of the jobs that are available and hiring in our field, he is unable to even apply. He cannot check the little box that says, “are you legally able to work in the United States of America?” I have the same problem, except you just need to change the “USA” to “United Kingdom or European Union”.

He’s spent the last four months or so emailing, Googling, and making phone calls on both sides of the Atlantic trying to get someone to explain the American work visa process — or even to tell him which one he might need to figure out the process of. There are multiple types of work visas in the US and all of them require different documents or guarantees. The commonality seems to be that you need an employer to sponsor you for the visa…but in order to even apply to work for said employer, you need a visa. If you do manage to get a visa, they are by no means completely secure — you can be forced to leave the country at the whims of your employer or the State Department if they hit some sort of limit for the year. Basically he’s hit a dead end for the foreseeable future.

Being an immigrant has always been hard. Historically, Americans collectively know this better than any other nation. It’s just…hard for different reasons now. And this is to say nothing of how difficult it is to be a refugee or an undocumented migrant.

I began this post days ago and now I cannot for the life of me remember where I was going with it. There was supposed to be some scathing social commentary. Not so anymore. I suppose it’ll just remain an unnecessarily long ramble.

More broadly, I’m incredibly angry that we live in a world where the state of Texas applies to ban Syrian refugees from settling there. (Thankfully that petition was rejected.) I’m sick of the fact that your country of birth dictates where you can live and work, or that a country you crossed oceans and deserts and endured unspeakable hardship to get to has built a literal wall to keep you out. I’m upset and disheartened that there is nothing I can do about any of it at the moment.

I’m sad about the moments my best friend and I are missing; I’m sad that our conversations about our uncertain futures always carry a level of “if” instead of “when” in the subtext; I’m so selfishly sad that neither of us nor our wider circle of friends have any real means of reuniting.

I’m frustrated by the whole process — the red tape and barred doors that my best friend and millions of other deserving people face in search of a better life.

 

 

Chipped Nail Polish

I have been more or less permanently back in the United States for about…two weeks. I say “permanently” because I am paying rent (albeit to my cousin) and looking for jobs that will help me pay my student loans. My belongings have been shipped from the United Kingdom; my dresser is set up in my new room. My address has been changed; I am looking into getting a new drivers license. I cancelled my UK phone plan…to be fair, the service was shit.

Yet somehow, the thing to rub it in the worst has been my nail polish coming off. It’s a dark navy blue — matching the dress I graduated in. The dress is at the back of my closet now. And it’s like the last remnant of an amazing week — an amazing year — is slowly disappearing as I fall back into a terrifyingly ordinary day-to-day routine.

I miss it. The awful hills you have to walk up to get back to Ustinov from basically anywhere. The silhouette of the cathedral in the background of every picture. The mound where we went up to watch a solar eclipse or take pictures after getting covered in coloured powder during Holi or huddle like drunk, freezing penguins at 1am during a party that was evacuated because someone decided it was a smart idea to smoke in the toilets.

Most of all I miss breakfast-and-Tesco with Scott on Monday mornings. Baseball with Steph; wine with Karla. Dylan and his camera, Karissa and her advice. Walking Elsie and cooking with Chris; whisky and human sunshine with Aja. Books and sports with Ruth and Libby. Rob and Corey and Pep and video games and smoking. Pizza, coffee, and Youtube videos in our kitchen with Claudio. Fangirling with Marie, dinners with Nadine and Victoria. Seeing Lara and Mike and Marc and Siobhan at the bar.

They say when you miss someone, it means you loved them enough to feel their loss. And maybe that poetic bullshit is helpful to some people. Not to me. I’m a practical girl — I don’t want to wax on about missing someone. I want to fix the damn problem by going back to them. If I wanted to love someone from afar, I would launch myself into a cheesy regency romance novel. Or go star in another remake of The Great Gatsby.

Actually, I just realised how ironic this is. I say I don’t want to go on and on about missing someone. But that’s essentially what this entire post is about. So sue me. I am allowed to be emotional about this, especially since it’s 2:30am and I am homesick for people who are scattered across the globe.

Seeing you after four months apart was like coming home. Sort of like the universe going, “Here are all the people you will ever need.” And then the universe followed that up five days later with, “Sorry, sucker. Time to leave again. Good luck with that.” My only regret of that week is that I was so sick of goodbyes by the end that I didn’t even give you — any of you — a proper hug.

I cried myself to an exhausted sleep my first night back in the United States.

I’m grateful for technology — 4,000 miles (give or take) and 5-6 hours time difference are vanished by the wonders of the internet. But it’s a poor comparison to the year we spent together. Just like chipped blue polish has nothing on the shiny smooth colour of a freshly painted nail.

I should sleep now. Until tomorrow, internet. I will probably regret this later.

Tired

I was highly idealistic at 18, as a freshman/first year of university. A lot of us are, I think. Some people lose those rose-coloured glasses over time. I am one of those people. When you study international relations or international conflict or anything of the sort, you accept that some measure of heartache will come with it.

I am a cynic, yes, but I don’t mean to give you the impression that I hate the world. I don’t. I know how truly beautiful the Earth is. I have seen blazing sunsets and crashing waterfalls and deserts sand dunes that roll on forever and mountain snow so pristine it looks like a painting and the ocean stretch on until it meets the sky. I know all about the goodness that humanity is capable of…I have seen kindness and compassion and simple acts of love.

But it is hard to keep the faith that people are generally good when you read a news headline that announces that there have been more mass shootings than days of the year 2015 so far in the United States. A full passenger plane was brought down by a bomb and fell in the Sinai desert, not only destroying the lives of those whose loved ones died, but the economy of the region as well; bombs went off in Beirut, and then in Paris; a domestic terrorist killed multiple people at a Planned Parenthood; governors in multiple states decided to (illegally) refuse entry to refugees, with one state (Texas, surprise surprise) going so far as to sue the federal government to stop refugees being settled there; hostages were taken and killed in a hotel in Mali.

All this in just the month of November. To say nothing of the smaller but no less terrible tragedies that do not get reported on.

I am so, so tired. Tired of the Islamic State, tired of the hatred being spewed by right-wing Christian extremists, tired of children dying because they weren’t vaccinated, tired of trying to explain why #BlackLivesMatter is the most important hashtag in America right now, tired of climate change deniers, tired of the mass shootings, tired of the Donald Trumps of the world. I’m tired of people dying so senselessly all the time. I’m tired of it all.

This isn’t a note to say I am giving up on the world. I still find IR fascinating, I couldn’t imagine studying or working in a different field. Whether I end up at the State Department, in a non-profit, or with a think tank, I still believe in working hard to leave the world better than I found it.

My best friend is one of the most articulate people I’ve ever met and he once said something to the effect of, “Small positive change is better than no change at all.” I don’t think he or I realised at the time how much that would resonate with me. That philosophy has been my guiding light for a long time…he was just the first one to put it into words.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have moments where all I want to do is curl up under a blanket and never come out.

Jaywalking in Jordan

This post could also be titled: “Refusing Marriage Proposals, Finding the Best Falafel, and Making a Perfect Omelette in Amman, Jordan”.

I’ll start with the last part first, and explain what I was doing in Jordan (and how I could afford it) as I go.

A little while ago I came across this website called Workaway, which connects volunteers and travellers with families, small businesses, and nonprofits who need general help or a specific service in exchange for free room and board. You pay a small fee for membership and an account (I believe it is £30 for two years) and you can find opportunities literally all over the world. The site is monitored and reputable, and both the hosts and the volunteers get reviewed by each other, so you can see where you might fit in and avoid places that don’t seem appealing. You do not get paid monetarily, which means that you can enter the country of your choice on a visitors’ visa and stay for as long as you are permitted on that visa (but remember to check specifics on embassy/consulate websites and see about visa extensions and restrictions if you want to stay longer).

Anyway, I was trying to figure out what to do in between the end of my Masters programme at Durham in September and graduation in January since I did not want to go back to the United States yet and recent changes to the laws in the UK meant I could not stay in England to work short-term. (Cheers for that, Theresa May.) Long story short…I found a hotel in Amman, Jordan, that was looking for volunteers. I’ve been dying to go back to the Middle East since I left in 2012, and had never been to Jordan before, so I jumped on it. Booked a flight, arranged to work and stay in the hotel for a month, and arrived on October 1st.

While I am going to keep the names of the hotel and the staff to myself, just for privacy reasons, I will say that hotel was nice and the regular staff was small (and all male) and all really welcoming and fun to be with. Two of them spoke great English, and I got to work on my very-rusty Arabic speaking skills with the rest of them. They were also very protective once they got to know me…when you are polite and Western and female, that apparently gives certain men the idea that you can be persuaded to go to their rooms and won’t take no for an answer until one of the staff comes and pulls you away from an increasingly uncomfortable interaction, while glaring at the guest in question.

The hotel has an enclosed rooftop terrace with a spectacular view of Al Balad (Downtown) Amman, and that was where I spent about 5-6 hours every morning for a month, working the breakfast shift with one other regular full-time hotel employee. I was a combination waitress, sous chef, dishwasher, prep cook, and cleaner…and this was where I learned to make a perfect omelette, in addition to really good pancakes and a number of other more traditional Arab breakfast and lunch dishes. I knew how to make omelettes and pancakes prior to arriving in Amman, of course, but when the food is for paying guests, it has to look as nice as it tastes, which was the initial challenge for me. In the past, it didn’t matter if my chocolate chip pancakes weren’t perfectly round; here, it did. There was a lot of laughter on the part of the regular employee and frustration on my end while I figured that out. That being said, I did get to eat a lot of imperfect-looking pancakes that still tasted good, so I couldn’t complain too much.

In my free afternoons, I explored Amman. The first rule of living in Amman is: learn how to jaywalk. There are no lanes (thankfully most streets are one-way), hardly any stoplights, and even fewer drivers who actually pay attention to them. The streets are so congested, though, especially in Downtown, that it is easy to just cross the street whenever you feel like it, weaving between stopped cars and overloaded lorries. Or you make a run for when there is a gap in the traffic (generally the drivers will stop, but it’s always a gamble). The cops just ignore you, because everyone else is doing it, and there is too much honking going on to have a conversation about traffic laws anyway. If you are ever in need of quick transport to hospital, don’t bother calling an ambulance, because even with their lights and sirens they can’t get through; better to just grab a cab, preferably one that has working brakes and seat belts and is willing to drive on the pavement.

The souqs (markets) are an interesting mix of fruit and veg venders, household goods, and cheap children’s toy stores. The shops in Al Balad are typically divided into sections depending on products – one street is full of women’s clothing, another with fabric, still more with mattresses, men’s clothing, shoes, and the inevitable cheesy made-in-China souvenir shops. (You can find authentic Jordanian-made stuff, you just have to look for it and be willing to pay more for it.) Once you know the main streets and a couple of basic landmarks, it is fun to get lost in the maze that is Downtown Amman. Honestly, you can avoid the newer parts of the city altogether — it’s all huge hotels and embassies and malls, although the area around Seventh Circle is fun to walk around.

The main historic tourist attractions are the Citadel and the Roman Theatre. The Citadel sits on a hill and was built by the Romans and then taken over by the Umayyads, then the Abbasids, then the Ottomans, etc. (there is also archaeological evidence of the natives who were there before the Romans, of course). It is mostly comprised of a crumbling Roman temple and the sketchy remains of a fort, and the beautifully preserved Umayyad Mosque. You don’t really need any of the guides who meet you inside and try to sell you a “tour” for 30 JD (which gets progressively cheaper as you keep refusing, surprise, surprise). The view is the best thing about the Citadel, with nearly a 365-degree look at the sprawling city. The Roman Theatre is in Al Balad, a two-minute walk the hotel I was working/staying at. It’s a half-circle of concrete steps and benches that ascends up three levels. It is in good condition now, but since it wasn’t preserved with authentic or completely native materials, you can definitely tell which parts of it are original and which had to be rebuilt or added. Still, it is fun to climb all the way up to the top and just sit and people-watch. The climb down is much harder, because the steps are all so steep and uneven. When I was there the first time, they were working on putting up a huge banner that said “Samsung” (for a marathon that was happening in the city the next day) and to be honest, it ruined the atmosphere a little.

Other tourist attractions (also frequented by locals) are Rainbow Street (basically a really long street with lots of different shisha cafes, rooftop bars, and restaurants); the Jordanian Museum (home of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which was really cool); and the two best places to get Jordanian food. The first is Hashem, a locally-famous, mostly-outdoor, not-much-to-look-at restaurant that serves a set menu of bread, hummus, veggies, fries, spicy babaganoush, and the best falafel in Amman…all for about 3 JD. The second is just down the street and is a tiny little bakery called Habibah Sweets. The best thing they sell is the traditional Jordanian dessert called “kunafa”, which is a sweet cheese covered in melted sugar sort of pastry thing. It’s hard to describe, and is so sweet that you really can only eat like three bites, but it’s so good you end up eating the whole giant slice. Every night the queue extends down the block and out into the larger street and it is totally worth the wait.

Now, on to marriage proposals. Without going into too much personal detail – and in order to avoid for the moment the mess that is sexism and gender roles in the Middle East and wider world – I was put into the awkward position of having to refuse two different offers of marriage during the one month I was in Jordan. One was more straight-forward; in Petra, after learning that I was American (a mistake I made when answering the inevitable “Where are you from?” question) a random male shopkeeper decided to follow me and my two new Canadian friends around for about 15 minutes asking if I would have a cup of coffee with him and if I would like to marry him so he could go to the U.S. I shot him down (nicely, but with growing frustration since I just wanted to explore Petra in peace) and eventually he gave up. I started wearing a ring on my left hand after that, since apparently physical evidence of me being “taken” was needed to forestall questions like that.

The second proposal came from the employee at the hotel that I worked with the most and was much more genuine…and therefore a much more sensitive issue to deal with. About 10 days before I was due to move on from Jordan, he came to me while I was eating dinner and asked if we could talk. He proceeded to tell me that he had never met another woman like me, and that he was “really in love” with me. He earnestly went on to say that he would marry me tomorrow if I accepted, and that he thought we were destined to be together, and that it didn’t matter to him if I wasn’t Muslim. (He assumed I was Christian, which I am not, but it seemed pointless to correct him at the point.) The hilarious irony of this whole thing was that he had told me all about his wife and his three daughters, who lived in Egypt; previously we had also had multiple conversations about his family values, about cultural differences relating to dating/marriage, and about how Islam prohibited multiple marriages for a man unless he can provide completely equally for both/all of the wives.

I was, of course, completely taken aback, and all I could think of to say was, “Thank you”. He let me think about it for a few minutes (I think he could tell that I was in shock) and then asked for my opinion on the matter. I obviously told him that I was very flattered, but that I did not feel the same way. His response was to say that maybe I needed to think about it some more. To get out of this increasingly awkward situation, I said yes. So he backed off and we went about our respective evenings…mine included frantic messages to my three best friends asking for advice on how to handle it when it came up next and ranting about how I shouldn’t need a reason to refuse a man, since “no thanks” should be enough. But again, that is a whole other subject for another post another time. A couple days later, I was armed and ready with more excuses…erm, I mean, reasons?..on why we could not get married and why I did not feel the same way as he so passionately did. When he asked for my feelings on the matter again, I used a combination of “I talked to my father and he was not happy about it” (while feeling disgusted that I needed to resort to that); ”I did not come here to get married”, (truthful and convenient); and “I see you as a brother and I am in love with someone else” (also true). That last one seemed to (thankfully) drive the point home, and he was very gracious about being rejected so thoroughly. We never spoke about it again, and I certainly didn’t mention it to anyone else at the hotel.

….Until the staff and I were exchanging goodbyes the night before I was due to leave (I wouldn’t be working that morning) and he kissed my cheeks far too many times than was probably socially acceptable, tried to give me a very nice ring (that I refused to take), and told me that, “He knew we would be together in this life or the next”.

Needless to say, I was very glad to have the excuse to go pack. Thanks for reading, and look later for insider tips on visiting Petra and the Dead Sea.