Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Break Up

B and I are officially over. It’s an ending I knew was coming, one that I had even thought about instigating on a few occasions, and yet, the heartache I feel is enormous and very painful. I left Paris on September 1st and it was a very difficult goodbye. Though most of my friends had already left the city in the months leading up to summer, I was still clinging to all of the wonderful memories I had there over the past year. The last time I punched in the code for B’s apartment building, walked up the 101 steps to my apartment, bought a baguette at the Boulanger… it was so hard to grasp the fact that my Parisian adventure was coming to an end. Not to mention the fact that my relationship would shortly be coming to an end as well…
B took me to the airport that Monday morning and reminded me that he would be seeing me in just three days. Turns out B’s friend, who works for Air France, had a flight scheduled to NYC and would be able to get B on the flight practically for free. B would spend 5 days in New York and 5 in Maryland and we would make the most of our last days together. But the reality of our looming fate caused a lot of tension between us and we spent much of his trip arguing, until we were able to talk it out and fully acknowledge our sadness.
On September 14th, I drove B to the airport to catch his flight back to Paris. There was a problem with his reservation and the airline wouldn’t be able to get him on a flight till the next afternoon—the same day my mom and I were scheduled to fly down to Florida for a week to house hunt and visit a family friend. I was so happy we would have one more day together but since my folks would be with us at the airport the next day, we decided to say goodbye beforehand and stayed up late into the night, spilling out all the things that we didn’t want left unsaid. So on Monday afternoon (exactly 11 months and 6 days after our first date) our goodbye was brief and as we hugged each other for the last time, B whispered into my ear, “I’m coming back for you…”, got back into the car, blew me a kiss and drove away.
And just like that it was over. The thing is they don’t tell you it would be like this… the grief that weighs so heavily on your heart, the days that seem to drag on and on, the nights spent alternately praying for sleep because you’re so mentally and physically exhausted, and praying for morning so you don’t have to lie awake in a cold empty bed thinking about the man who’s no longer a part of your life. It hurts not being able to call him, ask about his day, talk to him about mine. And the saddest part is knowing I no longer have the right to.
But on top of it all, I just feel shame. Shame for being so devastated and helpless over something as “trivial” as a breakup. People go through it all the time, hell, they go through worse all the time. It’s not like anyone died. It’s only the end of a love affair, and one that I was going to end one day anyway. So what’s with all the melodrama? (It reminds me of the weeks after 9/11 and how I just felt so distraught; I refused to leave the city but all I could do was cry and sleep. And I hated myself for being that way because I didn’t truly have the right. I was one of the lucky New Yorkers, I didn’t know anyone who died in those Towers, it didn’t touch my life the way it did thousands of other people. And yet, the grief consumed me for weeks on end).
So now, all I do is cry. I never knew I would feel this physical weight of sadness over ending things with B. Its like I'm walking around in a fog and everything has lost its meaning and importance, I don’t feel up for doing anything at all. I’ll be ok for about 30 minutes, maybe an hour, and suddenly something reminds me of him and my throat closes up again. No more slow dancing in his living room, no more singing made-up songs to each other, no more staying up late at night telling stories, no more excursions around Paris and France and Europe, no more silly jokes… I’ll miss him looking into my eyes and telling me I’m beautiful, I’ll miss arguing with him to put on a pair of dress shoes instead of his beat-up Converse sneakers, I’ll miss his hugs…
The craziest part of the whole thing is that our breakup is simply due to the fact that we are now living on different continents. There was no fight, no cheating, no boredom, no loss of love, none of the typical reasons that relationships end. It just so happened that it was my time to leave Paris but not quite his. And although I don’t think this is the person God intended me to spend the rest of my life with, I wasn’t ready to give him up just yet. But that’s also the reason why I’m trying to steel myself to this pain. Because in time, I know it will pass and I’ll be happy in the decision that we made to go our separate ways. As much as I miss him now, I know it will get easier. And one day, hopefully, we’ll be good friends and learn how to be an important part of each other’s lives in a new way. But for now I suffer and try to go on the best way I know how. And I just pray to God for the strength to get through the days and for help to carry this new burden. They say you never get over your first love…

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


As usual, I'm a million years late updating this thing about my Habitat for Humanity trip. But since I want to document this experience, we’ll pretend that I actually wrote this back in August like I should have :o)

One of the things I wanted to do while living abroad was some type of global humanitarian work. I found the perfect opportunity when a friend brought me to an H4H meeting with her. I joined the Habitat for Humanity chapter at American Church of Paris and we spent close to a year doing a bunch of fundraising activities that would allow us to send a team to Macedonia to build a home for a family in need—bake sales, concerts, raffles, silent auctions, you name it. By the summer we had raised 10,000€ and 12 of us were off to Veles, Macedonia for two weeks in August.

As excited as I was about the mission, the trip would take a huge chunk of time out of the last few days I had left to spend with B—something that never crossed my mind when I first signed up as a single girl who had recently met a cute French boy. But by August, the clock was quickly winding down so I was feeling especially sad about having to be parted from him for 2 whole weeks.

After about 10 hours of travel and a 6-hour layover in Belgrade (we went to the city center to see a bit of the town—nothing much to report), we finally arrived in Skopje late at night and were picked up by our local driver to go to the hotel… and I use the term “hotel” loosely. What we walked into was the most run-down, depressing, dirty, ancient place I had ever seen—and, naturally, the only hotel in the village. When they led us down the dark corridor to our room, it reminded me of a scene from a horror movie and I had to fight the urge to turn around and head right back to the airport. The room was no better: two stained twin-sized cots with moldy, itchy blankets over them, a couple of rickety nightstands, thin washcloth sized sheets for towels, sheets strung up as curtains to only halfway cover our street-level window and the luxury of all luxuries: a floor fan. With the weather getting up to 120 degrees in the shade, the fan would turn out to be a welcome friend in the days to come. Thankfully, I was rooming with my good friend Temi who is not only a good sport (much better than me I admit) but absolutely hilarious as well—she’s English, I think they’re just born that way. She made the situation bearable with her endless jokes about our bug infested bathroom (with no shower curtain, a shower head with a mind of its own, a toilet that only flushed on good days, a tub so high you practically needed a step stool to climb in, no ceiling and water that you had to let run for 5 minutes before it would heat up) and the dusty town and its inhabitants and playfully suggest that we call a cab to sneak us to the airport in the middle of the night so our group wouldn’t know we were missing till sunrise, by which time we’d be well on our way back to Paris. I literally got a headache every night from laughing so hard, as she kept me up till midnight to gossip, share stories about our boyfriends and joke about our pitiful state.

So when we reported to work on the first day, it was a big shock to all of us to find out that we were not building a home for an underprivileged family. Instead, we were adding an addition (3 floors, 2 extra bedrooms and a couple of living spaces) to the already nice home of a family who wanted to expand. To say it was a disappointment is an understatement. I had all these grand illusions of saving some poor family from destitution—moving them out of their run-down dwellings, possibly even giving them indoor plumbing for the first time. And by the looks of the village, there were certainly families who fit the bill. But for one reason or another, we were given this case and we were to spend the next two weeks working on expanding a home for this mystery family.

Two days before the end of the mission, the heat, lack of nutrients (you pretty much get a choice of cow or pig in Eastern Europe) and the physical labor just took its toll on me (imagine carrying big pieces of rock and buckets filled with cement up and down stairs for 8 hours a day with few breaks—we’re talking serious sh*t here) and I nearly collapsed—I was vomiting and felt dizzy and lightheaded. I had to be taken back to the hotel to rest for the last two days.

The highlight of the trip a weekend holiday at Lake Ohrid where we actually had real beds with clean sheets, AC and TV… we were so thrilled by the luxury we stayed inside blasting the AC, wrapped up in the comfy bed, watching CNN.

Oh, I forgot to mention the fact that myself and the 4 other black girls on the trip caused quite the commotion. Everywhere we went, people would stop us to take pictures, ask us to hold their babies, want to touch us, talk to us or secretly snap us with their camera phones as we walked by. It was kind of amusing at first—I was used to blatant staring after traveling around Europe—but when it became situations where an entire restaurant would fall silent to stop and stare and it went on day after day for two entire weeks, it started to get a bit annoying. We couldn’t go anywhere without having our picture taken—and when one person asked for a picture, soon a mob would form around us and everyone wanted a picture. A guy in a shop in Veles even stopped us in the street to say he saw us in Ohrid the weekend before—keep in mind, Ohrid is 3 hours away from Veles. It was absolute insanity (and funny too, looking back now).

On the flip side, there was the night we went to dinner and got accosted by 15 kids (ranging in age from 5-12) there for a birthday party. They started singing "Happy Birthday" in English and we loudly joined in from across the restaurant. Afterward, they shyly came over to our table and started asking us 101 questions—and collapsing into giggles every time we responded in English. Later they sang and danced traditional Macedonian dances for us until their parents finally pulled them away. There's something about the pure innocence and curiosity of children that is just so adorable.

But for two weeks, I’ll say I endured. I complained every step of the way, about the bugs and the heat, about the difficulty of the work, about the fact that the home we were building wasn’t the kind of mission project I had envisioned, about the terrible accommodations, about the lack of privacy, about the building professionals who were supposed to be helping and supervising but instead, spent their time joking with each other and smoking cigarettes.

Its not until weeks later that I realize what a snobby bit*h I was—I was whiny and angry and disappointed and felt that the work was beneath me—why did I have to build an addition for a family who lived in a nicer home than I did? I finally realized that it wasn’t about these other people at all. It was about doing the work that God had called on me to do.

More than anything, this trip was a lesson in humility. God puts obstacles in your way to help you grow and learn how to become better people. He wants you to do good deeds because you WANT to help, not for what you’ll get in return. And I admit, I wanted the feeling of satisfaction I’d feel when we helped a family climb out of poverty. When we drove past the slums with the barefoot Roma (gypsy) children running around piles of burning trash, the devil on my shoulder complained, “Why couldn’t we build a home for them instead? They need it more.” But I realize now that I was missing the point. Sure our family wasn’t destitute, but they expressed a need to H4H and our role was simply to perform our jobs, not to evaluate the family’s economic situation and judge whether or not we felt they were worthy. We were there to help—and to do it with a happy heart. You give with the best of intentions and can be happy about that, the rest is out of your hands.

And while I didn’t figure out most of this until I was nicely settled back into the comforts of America, I am grateful for the experience. I’m glad to have helped THIS particular family because it became a test of sorts, and allowed me to find yet another area in which I am flawed so that I can try to fix it. My actions prove I’m human and still have a lot to learn. That sometimes (or oftentimes, whatever) I take the wrong course of action, sometimes I can’t see the bigger picture and sometimes I do act ugly. But the fact that I was (finally) able to recognize this makes me feel at peace with myself and feel that I’m heading in the direction where God is trying to lead me. We’re all flawed and that’s ok—as long as we eventually wake up and realize where we’ve gone wrong and try our best not to make the same mistakes again, we’re not too far off track.

So, lesson learned; I will never volunteer to build a house ever again. Nonetheless, I’m happy I was able to experience this and participate in such a great program. I’ll gladly help with the fundraising efforts and all the pre-planning, but when they request a team to go out and fulfill the mission, next time I think I’ll kindly decline :o)