Managing Expectations

Managing Expectations

We crossed the ocean with them.  We flew over the Mediterranean and the Maghreb with them.  We took them in a bus to a boat and now up a dusty dirt road, into a women’s organization in a rural area that was lucky enough to produce a Mama Benz.  Benze as in Mercedes, meaning that this badass woman Mire is constantly on television, and is really rather running the show in Benin’s two major cities. We cram into an area too small for 25 yovos and about 60 partially-inflated soccer balls, nevermind the twenty or so Beninoise women who were recieving us.  As we pump the soccer balls and hear the excited screams of children too poor to go to school but clever enough to know we have soccer balls, a welcoming speech is made.  I almost spit my warm water when I hear this: Thank you so much for coming, and for bringing all of these wonderful soccer balls.  But the river is quite big, and perhaps next time you could bring a boat?” I am too stunned to translate it immediately.  But I do, and good lord are we all alarmed. The list continued.  Money, food, medecine, everything.  But the image of 25 kids splitting a boat into pieces so we could fit it into our checked luggage and then reassemble it in West Africa really showed how much we were misunderstood. Lori handled the rather imperious requests in a polite but assertive way, explaining that we were not an aid organization or in any way charged with the duty of dispersing funds (not true, but for...

Ego Goes Both Ways

Normally when I travel, yoga is a daily occurrence or more.  It calms me down, helps me sleep better and often attracts friends.  This past week, however, I did a few stealthy backbends and that was about it.  And man, was I suffering because of it. In yoga, one of the internal (eternal) quests is to shed the ego, something I have a lot of trouble with.  This means no mini victory dances when I get twistier than the tiny chick in lululemon pants.  In fact, I’m not even supposed to compare myself to lulu. Generally, not wearing my glasses and closing my eyes helps, but there’s still that little voice that makes me keep going when my flat feet are killing me, because I don’t want people to think I’m too terrible to hold a warrior I. This past week, I saw the harm of my ego cutting the other way.  I was uncomfortable joining in the small ragtag group doing yoga in the middle of breakfast.  This is totally unlike me, as there are pictures of me doing yoga pretty much everywhere: airports, bars, hotel rooms, parties, restaurants, the Sahara dessert.  I laughed, gave some superior advice from afar, and watched the group of newbies look confused and redfaced. Meanwhile, my back was aching for a good chataranga.  Given how easy it was to be “one of them” (gooba-gabba!) once I allowed myself to do it, I wonder how much of that otherness I was feeling was self-induced. By one of them, I mean a part of this new segment of NU’s population.  For them, I am...

The Secret Can Shove It

Here’s a great link on the dangers of la-la positive thinking, as demonstrated by Eat, Pray, Love and a great feminist take on the whole thing.  Thinking positive is good, but the philosophy only works if you’re already a person of privilege.  White, western, educated women can think their way to a positive, successful life because by and large, they already have it.  Your parents worked for it, your country paved the way for it, and your skin color certainly didn’t hurt. But what about people with (and I hesitate to say this, but it seems necessary) real problems?  Hungry people can certainly stay upbeat and do the best they can, but that won’t make them less hungry. It is the complacent who let themselves be oppressed, which is one of the better arguments for why dictators should bother to feed their people.  Keep ’em fat, happy and reading the Secret and suddenly their problems either don’t exist or are solely their fault. Not to be ridiculous, but the Holocaust didn’t happen because Jews were pessimistic or cranky.  People don’t have cancer relapses because they stopped writing in their daily affirmation journals.  Louisiana and much of Southeast Asia could absolutely not have used positive thinking to clean up after a natural disaster.  They used their damn hands.  Should you count your blessings?  Of course.  But the mindset that all things can be fixed with positive thinking also implies that the opposite is true: people with problems should have fixed them with optimism and “positive energy”. And in case you’re in a sleepy haze of dreaming your way to health,...

Something Worth Celebrating: National Coming Out Day

Instead of some long-dead jerk who didn’t really discover America (he DID land in Cuba though!) and even if he had, was clearly second-best to the vikings, let’s celebrate something real, something American. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That’s really what this is all about.  I don’t care what your politics or your religion are, everyone deserves to be happy.  They deserve to get promoted or hired based on their skills, to adopt if they’re fit parents and so choose.  To go on dates in public and not feel glares or hear slurs.  To go to school and learn, not hide from bullies.  If you have a problem with that, I think you’ve misunderstood America and what we’re doing here, and I’d kindly direct you to re-read some of our most important documents.  Or might I interest you in a stint in North Korea?  I hear Kim Jong-il isn’t a big fan of tolerance or civil liberties either. For National Coming Out Day, I encourage you to post on facebook, twitter or your blog encouraging our friends, families and neighbors to be comfortable in their own skin, whatever that may mean to them.  You should also look at the It Gets Better Project over on youtube.  Far too many kids have been bullied and lives have been lost.  Show people you Give a Damn. And finally, a plea: if you’re cruel to people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, trans, intersex, in transition, or a myriad of other things that simply don’t fit the standard view of normal, you’re only hurting yourself.  Inevitably, there are people in...

Why We Stay Home

There was a lot of backlash over what “Nomadic Matt” wrote on HuffPo about a month ago, and a whole bunch more backlash on post by Mike Barish on Gadling.  And I can understand why–there are a lot of assumptions inherent in both pieces, and people don’t like feeling judged.  I’m not mad at Matt, I just think he got it wrong, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which Mike considers paths that are different from his.  When I stay home, I’m not “choosing money” (or even long hours).  I choose my parents, my boyfriend, a hometown (and city) that I love.  I choose First Communions and first steps, 80th birthday parties and free movies in the park.  Matt writes of the elation that comes from a new world around every corner.  One of the things I have noticed in myself, and one of the things I’m most proud of, is that I have more wonder and whimsy in my everyday life because of travel.  I am a little jaded to “the big reveal,” to the simple notion of being in a different country or or on a different continent, but I find joy in all the tiny wonders, beauties and mysteries around me, no matter if I’m in Boston or Benin.  I feel sorry for Matt–his home is not special to him.  For me, Boston is still a place with new neighborhoods to discover, shows to see, books to read and people to meet.  Boston is also where I learn.  I learn about me, and about other cultures and places and languages.  I think part of my love of...

The Meritocracy Myth

I love the idea of meritocracy, don’t get me wrong; everyone gets what they earn, no more and no less.  I just wish we lived in one.  And I wish we didn’t have such a flawed, fanatical sense of what it means to live in a meritocracy.  I would even posit that we hold the meritocracy–the sense of getting what you deserve and deserving what you get–closer to our collective American heart than the democracy. Meritocracy leads to False Entitlement The problem with the idea of a meritocracy is that we act as though EVERYTHING is given based on merit.  If someone wins the lottery, falls in love, gets a good job or is thin and attractive, they say, “What did I do to deserve this?”  Most people eventually determine that they “must have done something right.” This ignores luck, familial ties, social/institutional advantages, gender, race, geography and genetics.  This then leads to thinking that if you have something, and it’s because you deserve it, then those who don’t have something must be lacking because they don’t deserve it.  Inevitably, this leads to major judgments (often of the moral variety) of those who are overweight, single, homeless, unemployed, less educated, poor, you name it.  Of course, for most Americans, this whole thought process takes place in less than a minute.  We’re Not Really a Meritocracy A meritocracy is great, but unfortunately we don’t really live in one.  Age, height, attractiveness, gender and race all have significantly more to do with your successes or failures than your actual hard work (or the other guy’s).  I think the people who don’t...

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