I’m a white girl, so naturally that means that fall is my favorite season because of the pretty leaves and nutmeg-flavored things and pulling out all the tights-and-ankle bootie combinations and comfy sweaters and knitted scarves and berry lipstick shades. If I had one of those new-fangled smart phones with Instagram, I would take photos of all these things equipped with hashtags about how much I love fall in case you ever forgot. (There is an iPhone 6 now??? I never even got the first one. By the time I get back, they’ll be on the iPhone 10.) Also, HALLOWEEN!!!
I’ve seen this article from The Atlantic shared several times over the past twelve days of September, and every time I see it I just think “YES!” I hate New Year’s Eve (boredom, fatigue, vomit) and I hate January (chilliness, only good holiday is MLK Day) and I hate winter (seasonal depression). Three strikes and you’re out. It’s time we picked a better time of year to renew. And what better season than the best season of them all?
I’ve made no secret of my self-improvement obsession on this blog. My “monthly challenges” were a thing for a while, but after the last one–practicing Ramadan–failed miserably after a mere three days, I got discouraged. In Peace Corps they try to teach us the practice of setting specific, measurable, reasonable goals. (The acronym is SMART but I forgot what the A and the T are for.) I nodded and smiled during those sessions, agreeing with the sentiment, and then returned to site and continued to expect myself to do EVERYTHING PERFECTLY ALL THE TIME, ALWAYS. I’ve never quite mastered this simple–but difficult–skill of balancing my expectations with my dreams. I had to get a 170 on the LSAT. I had to make it to the state championships for the 100 freestyle. I had to go to the gym every day and get a butt like Nicki Minaj’s. But I did not do any of these things. Why…because I lack willpower? Maybe. But really, all of those goals are unreasonable, and not necessarily big contributors to my happiness. Now I don’t have to worry about going to law school with a bunch of boring people, I got to eat whatever I wanted and wear yoga pants with my friends while we watched the state championships from the bleachers, and I do not have to replace all my jeans with Nicki-booty-sized ones. All of these things are for the best.
I’ve been in Albania for so long, but it still hasn’t taken the crazy American out of me. I still sit down every morning and plan out what I’m going to do using lists and logic and relying on faith that things will go as planned, ignoring the evidence that no matter how well I plan everything out it is bound to blow up in my face. Even something as simple as setting up a meeting with a local contact falls through because, as it turns out, the local government just fired that person this morning and they don’t know who will fill the position. Well then…I guess I’ll just go home and make a batch of cookies, but eat half of the batter raw before I actually bake them.
Chaos reigns in this land, and lil’ ol’ ambitious, progressive me is still pathetically pushing back. When I got back from America and allowed a week for my jet lag and my gastrointestinal tract to re-adjust to Albania, I made an autumn resolution of my own. I took a list of a few dozen ideas I had jotted down over the past few months and tried to make sense of them, to make a “2nd year action plan” of sorts. It looked great, and I launched into it, only to be faced with the same problems: dead ends, lack of guidance, lack of resources, not being taken seriously, and lacking the mental energy and willpower to push projects I didn’t have the knowledge or support to do alone.
This week I realized I had made the wrong resolution. I was breaking my own rules. Instead of being a hard-nosed American and coercing Albania into adapting to me, I had to adapt to it. For all I’ve learned about Albanian culture and language and history and politics, etc., I’ve never really embraced it.
So that’s my real challenge for these next seven months: embrace Albania. Don’t expect it to be something it’s not. My service is so much different than I imagined it would be. When I leave Kavaja they won’t build a statue of me, but I feel like I’ve done some good here. I need to gain sufficient grace to remind myself of that. And I will do more good. I just have to let it happen in its own time and in its own way…the Albanian way.
Life starts all over again whenever we want it to.