Saturday, December 28, 2013

Version 28.0

My favorite quotation: "While the astronauts, heroes forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this world for nearly thirty years. I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each meal have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination." ~from the Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

In a few hours I will be 28. Most people don’t celebrate 28 as it 
is not the big 3-0 but I think it is important to celebrate every year of life. Someone told me that 28 is the perfect age as you are not too old or too young.  According to the Telegraph, women are most happy at 28. I wrote before on the lessons of the 20s that I have learned so far. I will reflect on something I am noticing. This past year so much went on in my life and 27 has been an amazing ride. I have noticed changes in my personality that I consider improvements and I credit them to my growth over this year. I am not afraid of aging. In fact, I feel more confident as the numbers increase. I noticed that I have let go of some of my neuroses and I am much more comfortable and confident in myself. Never having been much of the type of person to put things off until the ideal moment, I really jumped head first into things this past year (job, moving, etc.) and I am continuing to do that into my 28th. Let’s go into it shall we?

General maturity seems to be a normal aspect of 28. In society’s eyes at 28, you're still in the acceptable zone of single (even though I am not single), but time is of the essence. Most of my good friends are in relationships or married and with kids. I think that when you start hitting the late 20s, for some the idea of having kids is not as gross as it used to appear (speaking for myself at least). I have also grown a new found respect for family members as I imagined them at my age and knowing we would have been friends. Thinking of how they were at 28 gives me a new take on what it is like for me. Most 28 year-olds are done with college and have most likely had a job or two or three in the workforce. It has taken me a while to get into the career grove even though I have been working since I was an early teenager. I am now building and actually have career goals and a somewhat tangible path towards them. In 2014 I will start by simply finding a mentor.  I learned I am a sensitive person with a lot of grit and I don’t really like to show my sensitive side. I love a good challenge and this year I challenge myself to even more personal growth.

When we are born we immediately learn 2 things: to cry and to smile. I do a lot of both but mostly laughing, as it is infectious. At 28, my Quarter Life Crisis, happened at and ended by mid-26. I made decisions a long time ago about the kind of person I wanted to be and how I would live my life. So I am continuing to hold nothing back. I know this year is going to be Ariel Version 28.0.  

For Articles on 28 from others click here and here

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Millennial Nesters Reflection

In my free time I love to read blogs of various topics: life, career, beauty/fashion, running, crafts, writing, etc. I suffer from being one of those people that have too many interests, what I label as ‘being all over the place’. I find some of these blogs offer a lot of reflection which I really enjoy being a millennial. The world is so super connected and there is a lot going on and reflection is the last thing my generation gets to unless its in a list format. This is the reason twitter; FB and buzzfeed are so popular with my cohort. 

"Millennial Generation" Source
In the last week I found two articles that somewhat contradict and I would like to reflect on them. One from the WBUR website, points out why millennials are not leaving the nest and how to 'nudge' them out. This assertion was based on recent studies. The other was on Idealist Careers and asserts that parents whatever their respective generation is, affects their children's generation  [insert millennials here] view of their careers. WBUR quotes the term  “emerging adulthood” coined by a Dr. Jeff Arnett referring to the period of life between adolescence and full-fledged adulthood. Dr. Arnett says this is the ‘exploration’ period where, between the late teens and late 20s, people explore their options before committing seriously to a career, home, or family. This article says that millennials are making these commitments much later in life than generations past.

Thankfully they did mention some reasons including:
  • Shift in the economy that necessitates more education
  • Rising marriage age
  • Increased sense of personal freedom over the past several decades
  • Job market

Poor millennials, we just can’t catch a break. Later on in the article parents are mentioned and how they really try boost the confidence of their children to live independently. Personally, this is pathetic to me. Most millennials, thankfully so, have changed the ‘American’ new ideal of kicking children out on the curb ay 18, perhaps not intentionally but for the reasons above. Many households in the US, particularly minority ones, have inter-generational households and not only it this good for the family but it is good for the economy. Imagine all those independent millennials during the crash and recession of ’08 and where they ended up. There is nothing wrong with living at home. I want to be apart of my family; this does not mean that I am not independent but that I want to be involved and yes the benefits are even better. Money saved and bills paid on time. I have friends that only see their rents a few times a month or a year. That’s unacceptable to me.  

Now Idealist Careers post (also based on a study) is saying that parents influence the working mentality and career choice of their children. While I don’t deny some of my career is influenced that way I disagree with the vast majority of this theory. It is like saying that if my parents were democrats, I will be a democrat.  This article contradicts the WBUR one simply because if that were so we would have less liberal arts folks in the work place these days and more of the technical workers the government keeps harping on. It is also ignoring the pink elephant in the room: past generations had an easier “emerging adulthood” than the millennials. This cannot be denied just look at the cost of education and inflation for starters.

The questions we should be asking and answering is not if parents influence their children’s careers or even if millennials are still nesting but rather how can we help millennials meet their professional objectives in a globalized world? It goes beyond these scientific and technical jobs being proposed and more to do with the various aspects of adulthood.  Millennials don’t fit the mold of past “emerging adults” and their generations, so why are we still trying to compare while kicking us out at the same time?


Saturday, November 23, 2013

About that 10-year High School Reunion...

In less than a week my 10-year high school reunion will take place. Of course the first thought was, “has it really been 10 years?” According to a recent Buzzfeed article I will be entering the best year of my 20’s next month, 28.  Several people have told me this is the best age as you are no longer considered young but also not considered old. Alas, societal fixation on age and its nostalgia. Instead of focusing on the obvious 10 years after high school, I did valuable research by watching the film, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.

Spoiler Alert: The premise is two-tortured bff’s from high school turned party girls, receive word of their 10-year reunion. They quickly realize that their lives aren't as impressive as they'd like them to be since their days of being picked on by the popular crowd in high school. Instead of staying home they go to the reunion with business outfits, cell phones, and a huge fake success story. It’s a very funny flick. 

Circa 2002-3 Junior year of High School
Overall the film gave me insights on how I feel about my reunion. I will not be able to attend due to being outside of the country for work, but I have been thinking about who I am now compared to my 10 year ago self. It is no secret that I was never fond of high school and that I went to 4 different high schools in various states. I started as a timid 13 year-old and much of my time in high school was similar to Romy and Michele’s.  I can’t bear to actually tell the stories here of how I was picked on. I was quite sullen during most of those four years. I remember half way through my grandmother passed away and the profound affect it had on me. I was depressed for months and suffered from insomnia. I never fit in at any school I was at and I never really wanted to. I remember looking back that all I was thinking is, “I need to get out of here” even though I had no idea where in the heck I was going. I do not look back on my time in high school with fondness, but rather as ‘my lost years.’

Without realizing it I have sort of reinvented myself since my reunion and done things and visited places I never thought I would. If I were going to my reunion there would be no need to embellish on my post-high school life like the film. I am content with my progression. Also, I don’t feel the need to compare my life with my former classmates, popular or not, or get back at people for how they were in high school. This natural curiosity and comparison of others is typical, especially when thinking of high school. Funny thing is I am not the least bit curious as majority of my classmates probably do not even remember me or know I went to school with them.

I am more focused on the future than the past me, especially the high school me. When people refer to their high school years as the best in their lives, I can relate via my undergraduate years of college, which I consider the best of my life in terms of self-realization and growth. So while I am not interested in going to my reunion this time around and catching up with my former classmates who probably do not even remember me, I wish all those who are attending find what/who they are looking for and remember to be themselves. Everyone I am sure has changed drastically since his or her high school days, and I can only hope that it has been for the better.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Café au lait

The following is a story I submitted to the Minority Peace Corps Association for their collection of stories written about RPCVs of color.
Center Stage Taking The Peace Corps Oath
The reality of being a PCV of color had not hit me until well after the swear in ceremony. Even though I had been only one in a handful of hopeful PCVs of color in my 60 plus stage, I was distracted on making such a change in my life. I joined PC for the same idealistic reasons many others do, I wanted to make a difference. After my research on Morocco I figured that being of mixed ancestry would be easy considering the Arab and Berber mix of the country. I was inspired by RPCVs growing up, I remember my family and I opening the invitation package together after I had trekked out to the mailbox to get it on a cold Vermont winter night, and the happiness I felt. My family has had Peace Corps in its DNA (4 served to date).  Growing up I was brought with my brother to RPCV events in my home state of Vermont for years and I came to love RPCVs. They were very different compared to other Americans, either it was their dress, speech, eating habits, etc. I had great experiences living and working in Latin America and thought PC was naturally the next step. I was used to being different growing up in a mostly white state and family. I wasn’t even fazed anymore at noticing being the only person of color in a room. I was reminded from time to time of my otherness from people staring at me, getting pulled over for no reason multiple times (I’ve never had a ticket before), or people being so bold as to ask, “what are you?”  So the Peace Corps did not present a completely brand new paradigm for me. It was a novelty hearing my mostly white stage talking about the reverse for them, and now being the “minority” after just a few days in country. I never understood that being white was difficult. I even tried to ignore the comments some made saying it must be easier for me since I looked “Moroccan,” which in my opinion is a broad statement to make since Moroccans vary in looks drastically.
My host siblings Amina and Brahim during 1st year in site.
I remember my first week in site and the first look on people’s faces when they saw the new supposed PCV and the disappointment in their faces. I quickly learned that the residents in the small Berber town in southern Morocco were clearly not expecting a brown person. They did not have one before me either so there was no buffer. Many flat out told me I was not American, especially when I explained my family’s heritage. I was not hurt by the fact that people did not recognize my birthplace but by the fact that I had to explain myself to them, which was no different than being in America. Fact is to most Moroccans and with the whitewashed standard of beauty promoted in the country, I was not exciting/acceptable and it was a hard pill to swallow. White PCVs seemed not to have that issue as they gained celebrity status immediately. Then again I was used to this when having to explain my unique linage, in the U.S. or otherwise. This is what it is like to be in between. 

Dressed as a Berber Bride
I often had experiences where I was not given the same attention as white PCVs while in town. Apart of me was happy with this but on the other hand a small piece of me took this to heart and felt like something was wrong with me or I was not enough. If a white PCV friend was hit on or engaged in conversation and I was not, I felt snubbed. I would not call this jealousy but for a person who has had to come to terms with being different their whole life it is difficult to not internalize situations like this. 

Teaching my weekly health class.

Reality is there are so few global women that look like me that are considered “beautiful” in the public eye. Also I would say that during my first year of service it affected my confidence and self esteem a little. It seemed the only time someone was interested in what I had to say was if I was explaining my background or trying to speak in the local dialect - Shilha. I drove to improve my Shilha in the hopes of meeting common ground with people and make up for not getting the blond hair blue eyed genes from my family.

In village, people eventually got used to me and I believe some came to terms with me being different. I also think my experiences as a person of color in the U.S. and Morocco really helped me understand my identity more.
Finished World Map Project at the local school.
Ultimately the experience of relating those in my village and helping them to realize their own goals, like improving their health, helped me to realize that development was my calling and I had a knack for being able to relate to people quickly. I didn’t have the experience that my relatives had, as I was a ‘modern PCV’ and one of color, but like all Peace Corps volunteers I was changed for the better by my close of service time. 

i:  Café au lait was the name a cab driver gave me while I was passing through the cite of Marrakesh. It means coffee with milk. 

To read more on my experience check out my Peace Corps Blog.   

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Brief Self Care Guide for Fieldworkers

I will be the first to tell anyone interested in development, particularly fieldwork, that it is not easy. While there are many reasons for this, one is the toll it takes on your body and mind. Many development newbies from the west think they can hack being in the field for extended periods of time without familiar comforts. I have  been in development for almost 5 years and I can tell you it is not easy on my body/mind. Most recently it has been difficult adjusting to a hardship post. I have almost been working in Somalia a year and I am just getting used to things like having armed guards accompany me on field visits/meetings or random gunshots. Mentally, it is really tough to be away from my support network. I do receive R&R (rest and recuperation) every 8 weeks, which does help. The point is: a fieldworker has to be creative when thinking of self-care and make it a priority. The first step is to say no to working on your days off. Vegging out, defined as the art of doing nothing, is very important to me in the field and since my compound has both our office and guesthouse, it is tempting for my boss to ask me to work on designated weekends. It does happen occasionally that I do have to work but I insist that fieldworkers do not make this a regular habit. 

The Mind/Body Connection
For me I realize that stress and poor sleep are related. Before I moved to Somalia and for many years, I have been an avid runner with one marathon under my belt. I have not been on a run since July 2012, so how do I ensure my body gets proper exercise in the field. I have a schedule. Firstly, I practice yoga 1-2 times a week. Investing in a quality yoga mat is a must. Secondly, I do actual at-home workouts. I mostly use Jillian Michaels DVD workouts 3 times a week because they are 20-30 minutes and I actually feel like I have worked out afterwards.  Remember to stay hydrated if posted in a hot climate. To save space I transferred my DVDs to my hard drive. One may ask how to workout without fancy gear, but I say again that you have to be creative. For example, I made my own weights and while they may not be much, they do the job. Also, I often meditate and pray. These practices clear my mind, improve my mood, and help me remain focused. Without them I feel lethargic and apathetic. 

Use the Web
Another relief for me is Skype as it gives me a way to directly communicate with those I love. Make regular Skype dates with loved ones! The one thing I tell newbies is to keep busy. On weekends in a compound in Somalia, I do a number of things like writing blog posts and it is cathartic. Another is following career blogs, namely ones in my field like Whydev or Aid Leap Completing online trainings, like the new Sphere standards e-course, is a great way to boost your resume for free while keeping up to date with industry standards. On occasion a good webinar is very useful as well. Most recently I submitted a practice note to an academic journal, Development in Practice, another great resume booster and anyone can submit. For fun I am hoping to complete an online homeopathy training

This is so underrated in the field. Games, electronic or otherwise are also good. When I first got to Somalia I had a hard time sleeping. Games help me to zone out, resting my brain and allowing me to fall asleep quickly. Also I find that free time is good to watch shows/movies. I have a weekly schedule of entertainment, weather its shows or music/games and it really gives me something to look forward to each day. Invest in a good external harddrive. Most recently I was allowed to use the office projector to watch a show or movie and it really felt like having an at-home theater. Also, I recommend reading. The subject doesn’t matter or the platform (online articles, Kindle, or hard copy), just read!

Your Choice
Ultimately, how you spend your time in the field is up to you. I am one of those people who is always busy and cannot sit still. I have never understood the concept of boredom. The tips I have given are just a few but the point is fieldworkers must prioritize self-care if we are to be effective. There are plenty of resources out there. Try some and I guarantee they will make your life all around better.


P.S.: Why Dev is taking about self care all week. Check out these links here and here.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Millennial Bills, Bills, Bills

With the U.S. government shutdown this week and being thousands of miles from mainland U.S., I did what I do every first week of the month. I pulled up my monthly budget spreadsheet, and I sighed as usual. Now as a bonafide adult, this is by far the most depressing part of my month. In doing my checks and balances I happened across the NPR podcast on the latest Obamacare drama as it went into effect this past week. My generation, dubbed the millennials  (ages 18-34), are often referred to as the  young invincibles for our lack of health insurance. I looked over that line of my spreadsheet, -$117 Cigna Health Insurance deduction. I guess I am not invincible since my health insurance is automatically taken from my salary. On my Facebook homepage I found and clicked on the latest viral video the Obamacare vs. The Affordable Care Act. I sigh again at how trivial an issue of insurance is. 

While America debates insurance, I went back to my bank account. Like many in my generation I am swamped in student debt. I spend the majority of my income paying my undergraduate and gradate loans, and next was past health debt. When baby boomers where my age they were putting the same money I pay to Sallie Mae into paying a monthly mortgage all the while being able to save. I don’t save any of my monthly salary sadly enough, and I do have to borrow to stay afloat, which is normal for my generation. After my loans and health debt my highest expense is my living expenses, but luckily for me in Africa these expenses are quite low. If you were to look at this in the past, most people would say living expenses would be the most costly monthly expense they had. Times are a changing.  

This is the reality my generation lives in, being overqualified and in debt. Like my cohort I am resolved to accept this and even though I am a hardworking person, I do not see this getting better, Obamacare or not. What America does not understand is that if millennials are not kick started somehow the future of the economy is not going to improve. I know scores of my generation that have been unemployed for at least a year or more. Luckily, I have a job, and one in my field. I am overqualified for my work but this is also a reality for millennials. And somehow I stay positive. I may never know non-debt in my lifetime but this cannot affect me making life decisions such has marriage, having a family or a house. It may financially but I refuse to let it affect me emotionally. So while I am very happy to be working in my field and gaining valuable experience, I remain positive that someday I will get a position in my field that will leave my monthly budget spreadsheet in the green, a color I have never known yet in my 27 years. Looking on the bright side, at least I have health insurance. Thanks Obamacare :)


P.S.: How Millennial are you? Click here to take the Pew Research Center Quiz. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

It’s Okay: A Letter to Atheists

To Atheists I know and will know:  

I have wanted to write this for some time. A few acquaintances and relatives have disclosed over the years that they lost their faith in God, are agnostic, no longer believe in the existence of God or revealed that they never actually believed in the first place. This has not shocked me. I have read the current studies stating that people are leaving organized religions in droves, especially in the U.S. and Europe.  Many had these systems imposed on them simply by being born into a family that shared a particular religion and have left during the beginning stages of adulthood. I find that there is enormous tension between believers and non-believers; tension I feel should not exist. I believe in God and also believe that we are all entitled to believe in what we want. We must respect these beliefs, even if we do not agree with them. One thing history teaches us is that tolerance takes time. This goes both ways and I do not think we should waste time arguing on it. This is very important as all societies are heterogeneous in some way or another and humans will never share all the same beliefs. 

All atheists are not equal. One atheist that I know is okay and not threatened with my beliefs and we openly talk about each others, whereas an atheist relative, always wanted to tell me how foolish I was and literally argue with me for my belief in God. Every single conversation I had with this atheist centered on the existence of God. It was like this was the only topic that mattered. I tried for months to just keep things calm but it kept coming up. It was to the point where I was attacked over everything I said, even non-trivial subjects like the weather and I could not even say a greeting. I chose to break ties with this relative but I hope one day to try to recover the relationship. I wondered if and why some atheists are like this? I see my faith as a journey and not a destination. Those who do not believe are on a journey too, one of acceptance. I want atheists to know that I accept them, but I would like for them to accept me as well. I do not want to persuade you to believe in God, or subscribe to the same faith system as I do, I just want get along with you. I like Neil deGrasse Tyson and science, especially astronomy. I even like Bill Maher. 

Just as I do not want to be lumped in a category as all believers, namely Christians (Catholic in my case), I do not lump all atheists in one box. In fact, I do not even believe in categorization. I often struggle with my faith. That does not mean I want to just let it go though. I believe the greatest challenge that my faith has taught/teaches me is to love everyone unconditionally; even those I feel have wronged me or do not believe what I believe. This is going to take a lifetime to achieve and I am very likely never to get there but my faith propels me to try. No one is perfect but that is what makes us humans. As the world’s belief in religions evolves with time, tolerance is very needed. The next generation will not be raised the same way I was and globalization is changing how people view beliefs in a higher existence.

So this letter is to call a truce and apologize to atheists that I know and will know, my friends and those in my family. I am sorry if your coming out as an atheist/agnostic has brought hurt, judgment and pain from believers. Know that all believers are not alike.  I would like us to both challenge ourselves to attempt being friends with each other and end the bantering that gets us no where.  If I am the only believer that accepts you, then let us be an example to others. Feel pride in who you are and what you believe and know that there are believers out there that are open-minded and want to extend an olive branch.