State of the Molly

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The biggest obstacle to planning your future is not fear, nor indecisiveness, nor lack of commitment.

It is not having a chair tall enough for your desk.

This realization makes me a little concerned about my levels of grit and determination. I do not have to walk three miles for clean water, nor do I have cross a gorge on a rickety bridge to get to school. I simply have to stack a yoga mat, four placemats, used gym clothes, a backpack, and a blanket to reach staggering new heights – i.e., to rest my elbows on the table while typing.

I am feeling very empowered because I am reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, and after Chapter 1 (“The Leadership Ambition Gap”) I have already solved a seating problem that has dogged me for five months, and I have made popcorn IN A POT. I danced around the kitchen to the dull dings of the kernels bouncing about the pot. I was elated.

And it is times like these where I think my life is a farce.

If you’re asking why so serious?, it’s because Molly talked to her parents. This isn’t the first time this has transpired; nay, this is but a new episode in a series. After a lapse of x-number of months, I know to expect a thorough inspection of my life’s ambitions and plans. A “State of the Molly.”

It’s a good thing. I think.

I have been putting off and putting off confronting my next life step. First I blamed it on not having a functioning computer charger for two months. Then I blamed it on not having a functioning desk (hence today’s triumph). I feel like I am at the top of one of the staircases at Hogwarts: the choices for my next step swivel in and out of play. The staircases will briefly connect at some point – there’s a path to get somewhere – but how am I to choose even a staircase if I don’t know my final destination?

It’s time to whole-heartedly pursue this mystery destination. So I’ll start with the question posited by Ms. Sandberg (or really by the book Who Moved My Cheese?…whose title in and of itself rivals the following question):

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

 

Of bailes and bingo, beers and bartending

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Last weekend, San Luis banded together for a weekend-long fiesta to benefit a community member who had suffered from an accident. From this event, I learned the beauty of a tight-knit community.

I also learned the scientific formula for a proper Costa Rican fundraiser. It is:

(cerveza + fútbol + cerveza + bingo + cerveza + baile + cerveza) x rum² = IMMEASURABLE SUCCESS

On Friday, the Accountant asked if I would like to bartend for the weekend’s festivities. I’ve always had a closet desire to bartend; always been wary of the judgement that would come from my parents; and always feared that I lack the grit to command respect from rabble-rousers. But it seemed like a smashing way to spend the day, so I conceded.

To which the Accountant said: “You’re the second female bartender in San Luis history.”

Most excelente.

So with this girl ensuring a steady stream of cervezas, let’s move on to element #2. The afternoon’s soccer match, set to a smattering of rain, pitted two family clans, the Matas and the Lobos, against one another. (Side note: you know you’ve achieved reproductive success when your surname can single-handedly populate a soccer team.) (Second side note: Lobo = wolf, Mata = seedling. Anyone find the match-up disproportionate? Don’t, because the Seedlings won.)

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With the fin of futbol, all eyes turned to the auditorium for a riveting game of…bingo.

Yes, bingo.

The fervor with which people flock to a game of bingo is astonishing. Of all the festivities that day and the next, the crowd peeked at bingo hour. You might think, with all the hullabloo surrounding it, that the bingos churn out cars and sofas and flat-screened TVs, or maybe even, like, a super moist chocolate cake.

No. More often than not, it is Tupperware.

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Bubble building.

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If it’s one thing I absolutely love, it’s unapologetically dropping off the face of the planet.

It’s my favorite side effect of undergoing a major life change.

For the past two months, I’ve been operating under the assumption that it’s completely acceptable to not communicate with anyone because, you know, I’m experiencing extreme internal turmoil as I adapt to my new environment. Obviously, communication with the outside world would hinder the tenuous equilibrium settling into place.

Obviously.

If we’re being honest, though, my transition to living in Costa Rica was about as difficult as writing the sentence “Then I moved to Costa Rica.” It’s been one steady exhale since I set foot in San Luis. Days and nights slip loosely from one into the next, and time takes liquid form.

I’ve spent the past month blissfully constructing a new, fancy-free bubble. Bubbles, however, have their virtues and vices. Living in a whirling fish-eye lens brings certain things into magnification and shrinks others into obsolescence. Moments of blithe joy can melt into stinging self-consciousness and irrelevance. I don’t understand why the shifts happen or when they happen, but I’m learning to appreciate the perspective they bring. To feel a little unbalanced and unsure, a little raw and rash, is good for the soul. Not everything that’s shaky needs to be steadied. Not right away.

Sensory input is partially to blame. I’m living in a place where I can get a headache from running into low-hanging bananas; where the only litter on the ground is from monkeys tearing apart of bromeliads; where night after night the sky is a swirling sherbet mess. It’s a place where every morning I descend the hill to a gradient of smells – freshly wet leaves replaced by the puffy lavender of the lavandería, then by the sweetness of frying plantains. It’s a place bursting with things I want to learn, people I want to understand, beauty I want to absorb. It’s a lot.

This is a super indirect way of saying that presently, all is good in the proverbial hood. Maybe I’ve been crashing into too many seedless fruits, but I am oh so content here.

[Author’s afterthought: Hammocks inspire introspection, for better or for worse.]

The name of the game.

If you know me personally, you might have noticed that I have totally failed to address here the fact that I returned from Spain for good…like ten months ago.

My bad.

When I returned to the States last June, I fully expected to work for three months, pop a u-ey, and return to Santiago to teach for another school year as an Auxiliar de Conversación. With that in mind, I landed a serving job within a week of my return and started restocking my piggy bank.

But there were other issues in play. My in-house counsel presented a persuasive list of reasons to stay in the States, beginning with finances and ending with life ambitions. While the jury was still out, this happened: IMG_2846.JPG With a feeble sputter, out went my alternator and down went the gavel. It was time to face the facts. Besides stitching up my car, I needed to take responsibility for some lingering college loans, do some undistracted soul-searching, and establish a direction for my life. So on September 23, the day my return flight left Atlanta for Santiago, I tracked down a bottle of albariño and held a pity party for one on my couch. Whatever the following months would hold, Spain would not be a part of them. If you think I was about to acknowledge that with actual words in actual writing, you are, as my coworkers are fond of saying, trippin’. Denial, after all, is the name of the game.

So let me condense the last ten, non-Spanish months of my life: Molly became a server and, while dueling hopelessness, aimlessness, and physical exhaustion, she cultivated a variety of skills. Now, for hours on end, Molly can run in dizzying circles with gourmet hamburgers; gracefully hurdle children springing into the aisles; effortlessly fend off the advances of wayward condiments and creepy old men; and tirelessly refill Diet Cokes that are sucked down with the urgency of sucking venom from a snake bite. The skills I’ve developed during the past months will probably never make it onto my resume, though I could (and probably will) write a book about my experience with my current restaurant, because it has been that ridiculous. That’s for another time, though. The point of this post is to alert you of the progress peeking over the horizon. Have I discovered my life’s calling? You jest! But I have established its short-term direction. With my fiscal obligations currently fulfilled, I am excited to announce my next country of exploration: COSTA RICA!

Come mid-April, I will be ditching my Chuck Taylors, mustard stains, and greasy kitchen floors for hiking boots, thickset mist, and the cover of a rainforest canopy. This chica will be interning with the University of Georgia’s Costa Rica Program. I’ve already had one life-changing experience with UGA’s Oxford program during my undergrad years, so to be helping provide a similar experience for other students (in a whole new country) is making me positively giddy. So as they say in Costa Rica: pura vida. The next chapter begins oh so soon.

Cheers!

Molly

Winterless wonderland

Dogs in Georgia snow

I know y’all in the North get a good chuckle over how the South freaks out over winter weather. Here in Atlanta, the mayor declared a state of emergency over a potential inch of snow so this didn’t happen again. But snow is an absolute marvel to those of us who never get it. As I began writing this post, I couldn’t concentrate because it looked like some unearthly giant was grating romano cheese over my backyard. Sheafs of white pelted everything in sight. It’s more than a little distracting when your backyard turns into a highly decorated bowl of spaghetti.

If it gives you any idea of how foreign winter weather is to us, take me as an example. After I left work last night, I got into my car and realized I couldn’t see because, lo and behold, there was a sheet of ice plastered to my windshield. Feeling prepared for the first time in my life, I remembered that I had put an ice scraper (tag still attached) in my trunk. I pressed the open key, walked to the back of my car…and realized my trunk was frozen shut, rendering my ice scraper totally and completely useless. (The solution? Spoiler alert: coffee mugs aren’t just for drinking anymore.)

Anyways, what I initially intended to say is that I’ve got some photos from Laguna Beach headed your way this weekend. Hope you stayed warm and kept your ice scraper in your glove compartment!

Honey, I’m home.

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Yesterday I went to Athens. For a variety of reasons, it was much stranger coming back to my college town than to my hometown, where I have been (in denial) for three weeks.

I was visiting a pair of dear old friends. It’s a good thing that they are both “dear” and “old” because, for reasons I attribute to exhaustion, culture shock, and crushing aimlessness, my communication these days has been little more than wordless gurgling.

There is a reason, though, that it was good to see these friends. During the past couple of weeks, I have slowly crawled out of my hermit shell and begun to catch up with various people, with mixed results. With some, time had graciously stood still while we were apart. Laughter was easy and understanding effortless. We simply filled in factual gaps. With these friends, my thoughts and conduct were in harmony with my conscience and personality. In other instances, I experienced a disturbing inner dissonance – like I wasn’t fully comfortable with or supportive of what came out of my mouth, or, for that matter, others’ mouths. Having been away from everyone for eight months, it was strikingly easy to compare my interactions.

When I came to Athens, Athens Friend One (we best call him Vladimir, Vlad for short) wisely reminded me that the best people to be around are those around whom you feel you are the best version of yourself. People who push you to think and act in the way you are proud to think and act, who make you feel curious and passionate and excited and positive about the world you’re in.

It’s really quite true.

 

Fountain at Herty Field (Athens, GA)

Oxford, revisited

Bikes on Broad Street

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University Parks

University Parks

Radcliffe Camera, Oxford

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Port Meadow

Port Meadow

High Street, Oxford

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There are days when your newsfeed works against you. Yesterday was one of those days. Three of my friends are headed back for another term at my hallowed Oxford without me. And both BuzzFeed and the NY Times decided to gang up on me and remind me why nothing, nothing can compare to my semester in the City of Dreaming Spires.

Oxford is hard to describe to people who don’t know it. I’ve tried to explain it by saying “the air smells intelligent,” which doesn’t make any real sense and, instead, makes people doubt how I ended up at Oxford in the first place. But I stand by it.

There’s a cool edge to the air that quivers with potential. I breathed it as I walked down cobblestone lanes, trying to wrap my brain around the fact that 800 years of students had strolled them before me. I breathed it as I biked down Banbury Road with my dinner gown flapping in the wind. I breathed it as I ate potatoes, potatoes, and more potatoes in a Harry Potter dining hall, sitting next to some of the smartest people in the world, who will go on to be neurosurgeons, composers, writers…leaders of the modern world. I breathed it deeply as I ran along the banks of the Isis and watched rowers’ oars beat like butterfly wings. I breathed excessively it as I hyperventilated about paper deadlines and my increasing sleep debt. Oxford was the deepest, most scintillating breath of air I’ve had. Try going back to standard oxygen after that.

If you happen to have the glorious good luck of still being an undergraduate, I urge you to check out this program to study for a term in Oxford. (And no, you don’t even have to be a UGA student!) It absolutely rocked my world. Three years have passed and I still see it as the best three months of my life. Now please, I’m going to go happy-drown in memories.

Cheers,

MB

Week {20} in review

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This past week has been brimming with sun, and I have been eating it up like chocolate. I have been positively glued to my Chacos, froyo, shorts, and the park. The Spanish do this odd thing where instead of dressing for the weather, they dress for the season. So even though it was sunny and 70 degrees outside, coats and scarves were everywhere, and my attire was met with choruses of “fresquitaaaaa!” (“chilly,” more or less). Because I care. Anyway, last week, I

  • Scandalized the teachers at my school by wearing Chacos in March. The temperature of my toes was of grave concern to everyone.
  • Cheered Escarabote on to second place at the Annual Boiro Primary School Smackdown (a.k.a. student foot race on the beach)
  • Witnessed a riot
  • Learned how to make gluten-free orejas (a typical Carnaval food) with a teacher from my school
  • Guided a couple of visiting auxiliar friends around Santiago
Gluten-free orejas

Gluten-free orejas

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Music in the streets of Santiago

The "carrera" (race)

“Carrera” on the Boiro beachside

Impromptu didgeridoo concert

Tea time

Tea time in the park

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A cloudless cathedral

Tuesday troubles

Approaching the riot on Rúa de Hórreo. The fence on the left surrounds the parliament building.

I would categorize yesterday among the oddest of days. Why now? Yesterday, I witnessed my first riot. I kid you not, I was photographing daisies in Belvis Park fifteen minutes before I was photographing burning trash cans. (And, speaking of photographs, what even is the protocol for posting pictures of riots to Facebook? I legitimately googled “wrong to post riot pictures to Facebook” and there doesn’t seem to be a strong precedent.) I followed a cloud of smoke up a street bordering Santiago’s parliament buildings, and found myself in a scene of heavily armed police, smoldering plastic, and wayward flying glass bottles.

So what was the issue here? From what I’ve gathered, it was a protest of marineros (sailors). The European Union has imposed certain quotas on how many of each species of fish sailors can catch. They left it up to Spain to divvy that quota up between the different regions. Galician marineros are unhappy with that allocation. It’s politics, people. The sailors say the Spanish government screwed them over and gave a much bigger cut to regions like País Vasco, which doesn’t have nearly the amount of shoreline as Galicia. If the amount you can fish is cut, so is your salary, and so is your ability to live. Spain in crisis.

It’s sad. People are desperate.

Tonight in one of my English conversation classes, we discussed the riots. Hearing the opinions of the students, who are Ph.D. and Master’s students, I am starting to come to terms with how shattering this economic crisis has been for Spain. Though the majority of them are against violence in general, several of them also expressed that there was no other alternative. The democracy, they explained, was not working for the people.

I came away startled. I’ve always, always accepted that violence is never the answer, and I assumed every other rational person was on board with me. It’s times like these when I realize how both insulated and blessed I’ve been. It’s one thing to see riots in the paper and on TV and judge violence from a distance. It’s another thing entirely to listen to your students grapple with and hesitantly accept violence as the last course of action for a very real situation.

Anyway, just so no one is worrying, I am fine, and Santiago is perfectly safe. Tuesday was an anomaly, but a weighty one at that.

MB

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The police form a barrier between the protestors and Parliament

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Police surging after protestors

A fireman puts out the smoldering remains of garbage bins (protestors had lit them on fire and shoved them at the police)

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