Monday, June 13, 2011

She wears a pony tail too

Today, Saturday, is my 10 year high school reunion. Throughout the past ten years I have thought about this day and what it would be like. Where would we all be in our lives? What would be we look like? What kind of professions would we have? I am particularly bad at keeping in touch with people and have lost contact with good friends from high school. The advent of facebook has revolutionized this inadequacy of people like me, so I see updates and photos of people from lives past and communicate though comments and messaging. Not quite the same as sending an email, or picking up the phone when I am at my mom’s house to hangout, but it’s better than nothing I suppose. With this day looming I have started to think about what I have accomplished over the past ten years since my classmates and I parted ways and let the toll of time drift us apart. The more I thought about what I have done over the decade the less it feels like I have accomplished.

What I deem accomplishments:

• Graduated college, in 5 years, from a mediocre, small state school in East Texas

• Moved from Texas to see what the big, wide world had to offer (different strokes for different folks and Texas is not my stroke, no offense to those who’s stroke it is)

• Became really good at tying knots at fish camp, an skill that has proven invaluable many a time

• Completed a 200 mile sled dog race, in second to last place, with all of my dogs

• Finished my two year Peace Corps Service in the village, against all the odds it felt so many times

• Learned a foreign language, even though I am not fluent

• Extended my Peace Corps Service for a year to work with an organization that fits my interests perfectly and has afforded me several opportunities and given me unprecedented experience

During all the anxiety of graduating high school and taking the next significant life step, I never in a million years could have pictured myself in the place that I am. At 18 ten years seems like a long time and 28 seems old. I pictured myself with a master’s or PhD, with an important job and a salary to match, married, living on the coast, maybe a baby, traveling and beefing up my 401k. I didn’t know what I wanted a masters or PhD in, I hadn’t even sorted out my undergrad degree, I didn’t know what I wanted that important job to be, nor which coast to be on, nor which man to take as my husband. I just trusted that it all would sort itself out in time. Basically I had no clue what I wanted to do and the American dream filled in the gaps. I have been pleased thus far with my life, but have obviously struggled to find direction and focus. When I start to quantify significant life achievements they start to feel few and far between. There is no PhD let alone a master’s degree decorating my CV, I have not published anything (although I have a paper pending publication with me as the lead author). I haven’t started my own company or made my first million. I actually have yet to make enough money for the government to warrant even asking me to pay taxes, and my 401k hasn’t seen any value adding in at least 3 years. I am not married or have kids, although I am getting tempted to adopt and get on with the mothering side of life. You get the drift, I was feeling unaccomplished while lamenting my youthful ambitions.

Just as I was starting to feel like a failure the universe gifted me a wonderful opportunity. The African Growth Opportunity Act Forum was being held in Lusaka and the organizers of the event needed repertoires for the event. Don’t worry I had to look the word up. It is a beautiful way of saying note taker, minutes keeper, executive secretary, etc. This required some finagling on the part of the coordinator to get me a badge, but at one in the morning an email was sent directing me to pick it up at 7:00 on the day of the conference. On Wednesday I furiously scribbled notes and was told that I was on the Zambian news, furiously writing notes. My duties a repertoires were finished on Wednesday, but I was now the proud owner of an AGOA badge that cost participants Kw 2 million ($200) to obtain.

On Friday, I furiously finished work and repertoires responsibilities by 14:30 to dash out the door with the boss to hear Secretary of State Hilary Clinton give a speech at the closing ceremony for AGOA. We were mesmerized and inspired.

Dr. Simon Heck (WorldFish) and Dr. Geoff Heinrich (CRS) at the Clinton speech for AGOA
It’s hard not to think of the Bill scandals when you see the woman. Yet during her speech she referred to him twice. First, as the person responsible for signing an act to increase trade with Africa (AGOA). Second, she has been working on women’s equality issues relentlessly and told a moving story. When her husband was in a public office in Arkansas and she was a practicing attorney she was making about three times what her husband was making. But because of the laws and regulations in place in the United States in the 1970s (women were not allowed to have credit or take loans) she was not ALLOWED to get a credit card in her own name. She would not disclose the company but reassured us she has never done business with them since. With such conviction for women’s equality it leaves you to wonder why on Earth she is still married to President Clinton. But the overall effect that she had on the room was phenomenal. Here was a woman who seemed to overcome so much adversary encouraging the delegates that we too could overcome so many obstacles to bring Africa into its rightful place in the World. What a high to step out of a room into the cool African night, amongst the movers and shakers of Africa’s future.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, US Ambassador to Zambia Mark Storella

As if this wasn’t justification enough for the last 3 years of my life, my fellow Lusaka volunteers and I were granted permission to attend the meet and greet at the US embassy today, Saturday, with the very same Madame Secretary Clinton. It was hours of waiting, standing and “schmoozing” with members of the US Mission (Embassy, USAID, CDC). After she met with opposition party leaders to encourage a violence free election this year, she gave a short speech about the US Mission in Zambia. During this time she focused a bit of time on the Peace Corps, especially since the US Ambassador to Zambia, Mark Storella, is a huge fan! She congratulated us on being the second largest Peace Crops contingent in Africa (lagging behind Senegal by 2 volunteers), and having the highest extension rate of Peace Corps Volunteers in the World. This of course warranted a high five among fellow extension volunteers and some ululating. Thank you Secretary Clinton for this appraisal, appreciation and recognition. After her speech she slowly made her way out of the open hall shaking hands and greeting her staff in Zambia. It was a thrill to look this woman in the eye and shake her hand.

Hilary Clinton at the US Embassy Meet and Greet

I overheard a conversation in the restroom, a woman exasperated by her son’s resentment at having to spend his Saturday at the embassy on lock down waiting to meet Hilary Clinton. “Mom,” he vented earlier that morning “why do we have to go sit around for hours to see Hilary Clinton? She is just a person.” My dear boy you are right. She is just a person. But she is a person that has accomplished so much. Who was ambitious like we all are at your youthful, innocent age with endless possibilities at our fingertips because we don’t yet know how difficult it actually is to accomplish our dreams. She is a person who made it to the place that many dream of and few ever reach. She is a person who stands for success, has overcome obstacles, and taken her position in life and using it to the benefit of so many people who don’t have the courage or power to speak on their own. She is the person we thought we would be. My dear boy, keep your youthful ambitions and dreams, and realize that they are within your reach. It might not be on your time frame. But if they are dreams you truly want, you have every right to fight to make them come true. Hilary Clinton is just a person, human, full of mistakes and oddities just like each of us. She is the focused person we all hope to see in ourselves, who will pull her hair into a pony tail to meet all her obligations and maybe get a few extra minutes sleep in as well. She has inspired me to tackle the next decade of my life with the ambitious youth I so vividly remember ten years ago, walking across the stage receiving my diploma.

Watch out world, here I come.


  1. I love this post! I think you are amazingly accomplished, but I measure accomplish in the amount of frightening things a person does, and your life seems to me to be one big adventure. Also: I have a feeling that when you're 38, you'll look back on 28 and marvel at how young you were and how much time you had (and still have) ahead of you in which to accomplish all your dreams.

    Also, also: I love Hilary! She is so amazing and inspiring. So awesome that you got to hear her speak!

  2. Thank you my dear. You are super sweet. Funny how we all measure accomplishment in different ways. I look at you and Nathan with your many degrees, jobs (well the one you have for a few more months!), all your life goals (marathons, writing, traveling around camping and canoeing) and think that you have accomplished so much!

    Hilary was FANTASTIC! I really had no idea how great she was (I come from a conservative family we don't discuss such people).