13 January 2010

a heart just can't contain all of that empty space.

So I was wrong. Being home finally got to me. The excitement and freedom started to wear off and I'm now nostalgic for the simplicity of Ethiopia. It started with the consumerism of the holidays and the announcement that the city of Orlando had, in a gesture of empathy for those laid off and unemployed this year, decided not to put up its $30,00 (ish - I can't remember the exact amount) holiday light display. Then, a "generous" businessman stepped in and offered to front the bill. For at least as long as I've lived in the state, we've had a teacher shortage and one of the nation's poorest-performing school systems. Why does it not occur to anyone to donate that money to a teacher's salary or textbooks instead?

It was all downhill from there...seeing the time and money we spend on decorations, on gifts selected and given out of obligation, not love. Are people really happier receiving a gift they don't particularly want or need than simply spending time with the person who gave it? I know I'm hardly innocent of spending money on superfluous things - I could have just as easily posted this from a free computer at the library instead of on the expensive laptop I'm currently using. I still intend to eventually own a dog and spoil it in the American tradition. I don't need an iPod or a digital camera or any of the other expensive electronics I own, but a starving kid in the Congo certainly could have benefited from that money. I'm not claiming any false sense of superiority here, just venting. But everything in moderation, right? I don't need these things, but they're at least useful, in a sense. Maybe we should have our major family gatherings around days that would allow us to just celebrate our relationships instead of trying to express them in material things - Independence Day or Thanksgiving, anyone?

What's more depressing is the realization that Americans aren't unique in this, we just have the means to take it to extremes. The vast majority of the world would follow in our footsteps - or at least the spirit thereof - given just a dash of disposable income. I saw it even in Ethiopia, one of the poorest nations in the world. I suppose I should find solace in the fact that maybe this is an inherent part of human nature, but I'm just sad. I desperately don't want to be one of those people who's seen "real poverty" and is forever a sanctimonious jerk to everyone she knows, but I have to say it once here because I can't just ignore it anymore. I'll spare you in the future.

This all spiraled out of control into my sobbing profusely cleaning out my closet for the first time since early high school and seeing firsthand how much I've wasted in the last decade. Seeing how far a dollar goes outside of the US just makes realizing my own selfish waste that much more disgusting (not to mention going through clothes that are a painful reminder of how much thinner I once was). Writing about it is incredibly cathartic, so thank you for reading.

In another shocking development, I had a sudden craving for shiro wat. I thought it would take a lot longer than that to miss Ethiopian food, but here I am in DC, evaluating reviews of Ethiopian restaurants online. I think John, a group 2 volunteer, summed up beautifully the hold Ethiopia eventually had on all of us:

As of late, I have been falling in love with Ethiopia. It’s stubborn, ungracious, dirty, dangerous and I absolutely love it. Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to move out here, but I definitely feel that Ethiopia will always have a special spot in my heart.


Friends, family, and readers of this blog have been asking me "what's next?" After two months bumming on the couch at home, I moved to Washington, DC, where I'm working for Dance Place in the development office and NARAL Pro-Choice America's organizing and affiliate office. So far, both jobs are going well. I'm particularly enjoying being surrounded by young, motivated, and socially conscious women at NARAL after two years of working almost exclusively with men. And I'm looking forward to free dance classes! My cab driver from the airport was an Ethiopian, so I was able to shock him with a few basic greetings and then we discussed Meles' merits (or lack thereof). I love this city.

As for what's next... After the Marshall scholarship debacle, I went ahead and applied direct to St. Andrews University in Scotland and hope to be studying for a master's degree in international security studies next September. I'll continue posting here as I come across interesting things, but probably less prolifically for a while. Thanks to everyone who's followed this blog for the last few years!


Robin said...

I have had your blog in my RSS feed since we left Jordan, I'm a "religious" reader. I can really appreciate the sentiment of what you wrote. I'm glad you're enjoying DC, good luck with St. Andrews! :)

Nadia said...

Jess, I've been blog stalking you but never commenting for a long while. I love your musings here. I've tried to deal with these issues my whole life.

The frustration will ease but never disappear. Promise.

On the bright side, at least you ended up in DC where cravings for Ethiopian foods can be satisfied!

stephiesue said...

oh sister...i miss you so much! you are just as funny in writing as in person!
so you made it into school in scotland?! how long will you be there? i'm gonna start saving right now! good luck!