Monday, April 7, 2008

In which Amy visits and I later discover that I am a complete idiot

Note that the title merely represents two very separate story lines for this post. Amy’s visit was not the cause of my realization. First, the Amy thread…

The Saturday before Easter, one of my favorite professors at MIT came to Ghana and stayed with me for a few days. Amy Smith teaches D-lab, and was the person who first introduced me to Ghana. Amy is a mechanical engineer and specializes in appropriate technology. She spends a lot of her time traveling around to third world countries trying to figure out how simple machines can improve the lives of the impoverished. Pretty neat, no? She has (rightly) gotten a lot of great press recently, and I have included some links at the bottom of this post that lead to articles about her, her work, and also to the D-Lab general website.

It was so great to catch up with Amy and spend some time with her. This was the first time I had ever really hung out with a professor outside of the MIT environment. Although I can only hope to achieve the things she has in her life, it was cool to interact with her on a more level playing field, as I knew that I would not be graded on my hosting abilities.

We did all sorts of things during her visit. We met with some Peace Corps folks to discuss a possible PC-Dlab partnership, got to see some interesting parts of the city, and went to a Sloane School/Ghana alumni meeting thing at the African Regent, a very swank hotel near the airport. Little did I know that the airport would be the scene of one of the most stressful/hugely embarrassing moments of my life.

This leads nicely into the second thread of this post. On Wednesday, I had planned to take an Emirates flight through Dubai to meet my family in Tuscany for a little spring break. With ticket in hand, I entered the airport three and a half hours in advance, bristling with excitement.

It’s worth noting here that I have only ever, in recent memory at least, traveled with an e-ticket. Therefore, the piece of paper stapled to the top of my emirates ticket envelope I assumed to be my ticket. This is not an excuse for my idiocy, rather, a possible reason for it.

I got as far as the ticket counter, where the ticket agent printed my boarding pass, before he stopped me to look at my ticket again. Turns out, that stapled sheet was just an itinerary. Early on, I must have lost the actual ticket, which I think I mistook for a receipt. The following few hours were filled with tears and anxiety, as you may well imagine. Not to mention that I felt like a completely incapable and dumb American. How could I try to get on my plane without a ticket? The fine and lovely people at Yoshiken Travel basically carted me around and managed to find me a Lufthansa flight through Frankfurt to Rome for the same night. They even arranged to cancel my Emirates ticket so I could get my money back.

The flights themselves were ok. I sat next to a lovely older Ghanaian woman (are there any other kind?) on the way to Frankfurt who, after sharing my story with her, gave me her allowed alcoholic beverages for the evening. Needless to say, I passed out shortly thereafter. My connection in Frankfurt was only about an hour, and I figured that German efficiency would mean that I would arrive at my next flight with time to spare. Not exactly the case. I found myself running through terminals, pushing through customs lines as politely as possible (“pardon me….i’m so sorry, my flight is boarding” etc.), and finally being that jerk that gets on the plane once all the other punctual passengers have already been seated. I sat down and fell back asleep.

Despite the incredible stress involved, a few positive things came out of this experience. First, I now know that when traveling in Africa, paper tickets are required. This may seem clear enough to your average seasoned traveler, but I guess I’m still learning. Doesn’t everyone need a terrible international flying story? I no have mine. Also, I was able to get to the fam even earlier than I had originally planned, so I got to spend a whole extra day with them. Finally, I connected through Nigeria and Germany, two countries I’ve never visited before. After the debacle I had gone through, I’m counting them, for sure.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Easter Blues

Apologies for taking so long to post. Life has been a lot of crazy the past few weeks, which you will be reading about shortly. I have decided to break up the posts, and the first one, unfortunately, is a bit heavy. Fear not, however, as the next couple will be appropriately wacky and lighthearted to make up for this one.

Easter was a few weeks ago, and, to be honest, the days and weeks leading up to it was a sad time for me. A number of things contributed to my melancholy. It hit me for the first time that I am at least an ocean from my family and friends, and just how much I miss them. It’s strange to be away during a holiday that you typically would spend with loved ones. Work was fulfilling and busy as ever, but I still was unable to shake my general bummer feeling.

Easter is a holiday of death and resurrection, and it is strangely ironic that a good deal of my sadness during that time came from the unexpected deaths of two great men that I knew back home. They died at very different ages and for very different reasons, and the news hit me harder than I expected. One death was the father of a very close friend from high school. I have nothing but the most positive and wonderful memories of him, and I wanted to be home so badly to be with my friend and her family. The other was a close acquaintance from MIT, and I will always remember him as a loyal, kind and generous friend. As in the death of my friend’s father, I wanted nothing more than to be with my MIT family to mourn with them and comfort those who I know were far closer to him than I.

After hearing this news, and after a few not-so-great days, I was able to get out of my funk. Sometimes, I just have to look outside and remind myself of where I am. This chapter of my life is an adventure. I am not exactly in my comfort zone, and I’m probably going to have some bad days. But I’m going to have a lot of good ones, too. The inherent kindness of the Ghanaian people is something that I have continually turned to. Frankly, it’s very hard to be upset when the sun is shining and the people are nice.

I would like to end with a little prayer, or mantra, really, that is recited at Catholic funerals. It has always brought me a lot of comfort, regardless of my admittedly fluctuating opinions of the Catholic church. And since both of the deceased mentioned in this post were Catholic men, I thought it an appropriate way to end this post. They will be sorely missed. RIP Rob. RIP Mr. Barrett.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them.