In the last week, I’ve had a few thought-provoking incidents.
When picking out go-to attire for a woman’s closet, I was thinking of a scarf, black and white cardigans, and skirts that go to the knee. In my mind, everything was lightweight and flowing, and colors and patterns are encouraged. They all said LBD and plain black suits. I explained myself: you never know when you’ll end up in a mosque, or meet with a dignitary who would be insulted by bare shoulders. I thought this in all earnestness, and have given this “must-have” list to many fellow travelers. They looked at me, mouths agape, and someone said, “is that what your life is like? Do you just like meet princes and stuff every day?”
Well, not every day. But often enough to bring the damn scarf.
For jewelry, I was thinking of my funky fork bracelet from Cuba, a scarf that benefited women in Thailand, or politically snarky Cold War-themed earrings. The other responses were along the lines of Tory Burch flats, animal prints and “nude pumps.” to me, that sounds like the tag line of some crummy skinimax flick.
Yesterday in class someone gave me a hard time for writing out “His Excelleceny the American Ambassador to Canada.” People were laughing and the professor asked why. It’s over the top they said. While i know in part they only said this because they were offended that I called their paper over the top, they were also genuinely surprised by the terminology. My partner assured them we looked it up, but internally I was agitated. We didn’t need to look it up. I did to make her feel better, but i knew i was right, because I use that terminology. To be clear, to say Mr. So-and-so the ambassador to Canada is like saying Mr. Clinton, who used to be president. It’s not just a job, it’s a title; that title is forever.
I didnt end up defending my word choice because I was so incredibly taken aback. “I know you say it’s right, but it just sounds really pretentious,” they declared
And that’s when I realized it: no one else in that room had ever met an ambassador before. Just like no one in that other room had been inside a mosque before. A quick tally has me at nine different embassies in the last five years. Not that I always meet the ambassador. It’s usually a chargee d’affairs or something, but you always brief everyone for the possibility, and I have met several ambassadors. I won’t even bother to count all the various houses of worship. How is this not everyone else’s life? Aren’t they bored? How do they fill their time?
My life is different. It just is. I spend dusty days riding vans down pock-marked roads in the field. I find myself in four- and five-language chains of translation. I prepare for modesty and have rules about giving gifts or money, or allowing people to use my camera. Why? Because this isn’t new. This is my life. Eaving the US, travelling eveyr other weekend or so, packing at a the last minute, this is who i am. Learning what poverty looks like in this new place, counting heads, cursing people out in a foreign language when necessary. constantly knowing nothing, being an outsider, feeling useless. Meeting royalty, fighting over minutiae the likes of which most people have never imagined, debating whether to feed a starving person. Greece, the alleged armpit of Europe, felt luxurious to me. I felt guilty just for being there. It’s not all good or all bad, but it is definitely my life. And it is definitely weird to most people.
Honestly, i wouldn’t have it any other way. And that’s the bit that has me stuck. Because so much of that life doesn’t account for what else is my life: playing school with Bridget, watching Zach and Cody with DeDe, tea and old standards with my grandmother. Weddings and funerals in spades. Holidays that range from 30 to 90 people. Walking places alone at night that would make my mother’s skin crawl, bars where they know my name and order, sports teams that make your world and break your heart.
FAs I look forward, it seems like it will be starkly more difficult to reconcile these two odd pieces of my life. for one thing, model un will be gone forever. No more debate, no more conference, no more “mom!”, no more winning, no more neurotic, competitive delia. No more mentoring, no more embassies, no more overnight trains, no more brand new crop of friends every semester. That UNA part of me will never come back.
I will no longer have a partitioned life, a clear timeline and financial capability to leave, purposefully, for a little while. I talked the other night with a friend about the need to be relevent, to do the things that I consider “work” all the time. So often when people ask, amazed, “why did you do that?” that answer is, “because it’s my job.” When taking care of delegates and advising students to go abroad isn’t my job, what will be left? When I don’t have readily available ways to matter to the human race, to contribute, what will be left? He’s right: I can’t be happy if I’m not doing my work. It is a passion. But what if no one will allow me to do that work and pay the rent? Worse, what if they won’t allow me to do the work and not pay the rent?
When I don’t have this insane workaholic schedule, the one I started at age eleven with science team and forty hours a week at school, who will I be? When there are no lectures, no charity events, no competitions, no meetings, what’s left? And what good is all this experience and education, this thoroughly different life, these five fractured languages, if I never use them to help anyone?