I’m not great at starting new ventures. Changes are not my favorite thing.
Especially after the year I had. Since last August, I have been rolling down a hill. This is a metaphor for depression, bad luck, shitty experiences. Etc. Etc.
I have been ashamed, chosen second, lied to and so much of my identity compromised that I felt the need to keep everything close to my chest. I don’t feel like opening up anymore. I don’t even feel like being myself which is incredibly sweet and open hearted. I tried to say sorry enough to fix everything but sometimes it doesn’t work. I know that from experience.
I know that after I was raped, sorries never worked. After abuse, sorries were bullshit. After pain and heartbreak, cheating and scandal, sorry is the last thing you want to hear. I wanted to prove that I have changed but as soon as I went on my path to recovery, the people I said sorry to, closed the door behind me. It was hurtful. Like kicking a dog you no longer want. No matter how much it wants you or loves you, because it bit you back, you still threw it out.
I wanted to change. Not for them anymore but for myself. Not for people to break me so down. I never wanted to be in that position of shame ever again.
I decided to expect nothing from people anymore. I used to think highly of everyone I meet. Fuck that noise. I am going to just move on from that quiet kindness and say, “Fuck off more often.”
I couldn’t believe how much I wanted to close off the world. Truth be told, I wanted to do worse things. Drink too much, eat too much, or swallow enough pills. It was depression trying to push me off a ledge.
Actual clinical depression. Not some tumblr phobia we think of when life gets at us. Anxiety and depression rule my fucking life. Especially this last year. They were running the controls.
It was either him running the controls whereas disgust, joy, or anger would be quiet for now since I couldn’t be angry for too long or disgusted for too long or joyful for too long. Anxiety and fear ran the place and when those moments lasted for days and months, anxiety called its one true friend.
I cried almost every day. I could be making food. Then, tears would flow. I couldn’t stop feeling these things. I couldn’t stop it. No matter how much I tried. No matter how much I begged her to be strong.
So I decided that fuck off is my favorite phrase. Let rage come in but not fiery Lewis Black but cynic rage.
I am sitting here, staring at a screen for almost four hours and my feet numb and tingling with reawakening. The tabs are open and many blog posts are there for my eyes to scan.
Top 3 Places to visit for the end of 2016
Places to Backpack Right Now
Africa and It’s Beautiful Cities
And it goes on and on and sometimes I just bookmark them because the images are too painful to look at.
I am on a travel site, clicking the drop downs and putting down my airport in Lusaka and how far away I could go. And then the dates are the daunting feeling that I couldn’t shake off. How many vacation days can I have? How many moments can I have? How many places can I visit in the small amount of time I have?
Why is this so fucking stressful? Why is the idea of FOMO not allowing me to enjoy the pleasant life I have created? Why do I need to see four countries at once? Why can’t I backpack anymore and see the world with a bag and a charged blackberry?
Because Peace Corps ruined my life.
I was given an incredible chance to live in a village. Yes, true.
I was given a chance to live in another country in a rural setting for two whole years gaining skills in international development, international relations, public administration, program management and unforgettable memories. Yes, true.
I was given a job where travel was a given. It was encouraged and promoted within Zambia and all around Africa. I have visited most of Sub Saharan Africa and I am so dazzled and amazed at how much I have seen already that it makes me wish to see all of it.
But Peace Corps ruined me. I want to talk to locals and walk in local streets, have a flair for local language learning and negotiations and working alongside the new friends I would make. Making real connections and working hard to learn the culture and adapt. One month at least is what I put in for my departure and arrival dates. One month is what I need to really experience it. But no one has 24 days of leave when you work a nine to five.
And Peace Corps ruined me so much that I now need to work on my own to even have a schedule like that ever again.
Don’t do Peace Corps. You will fall in love with the world and never have a chance to experience it all after you’re done. Or maybe you will. Maybe you will fall in love with the world and never choose to leave the traveling spirit ever again. Maybe you will dance in crowds and walk through a different street every day and maybe you won’t say Peace Corps ruined you but woke you up.
Peace Corps woke me up to the world and I am not giving up on it anytime soon. I am in love with this world and I will search for it and connect with it as much as I can possibly do.
Even if it means I will be broke.
Okay, no. That’s why the nine to five happens. So I won’t be broke doing this. But I will always be a traveler and learner of culture and I am not gonna settle for less like a 3 day weekend to Cabo. I dream big. Give me a road, great people, and good food and I will see you in thirty days!
Do you know the chilling fact that happens most of the time?
The crystallization of memory as if you left one person, one place, all swept up and clean and you hope to return to it one day without one piece of dust changed.
The crystallization is a brilliant process. It the pure freezing of time that we seek in our lives. Because that is what Peace Corps does. Gives you a slice of a world that never needed you, that existed on its own, and then it makes you love, live, and believe in the entire world. Then it ends and you hope you were part of something. You hope you could return to bliss.
But this is also the reason we remember our past romances and the reason we remember our childhood as our peaceful blissful years.
Even me, a child of domestic abuse with a parent who drank money away, I still could see the beauty in my childhood. The simplicity of the age and the fact that everything was simple. No decisions were made. Everything was made for us.
During my two years, my decisions were made for me. It was an ease I could quickly get used to because it was something I had to do. Nothing would work if I pushed for it. I was used to going with the flow as that was the cultural climate.
Then I was rushed back into the real world. And I thought I could use my skills to further my career. But everyone and I mean everyone did not care. They did not care how much I have gone through or how much I have learned because it didn’t help them or guide them. It may have tortured them with the guilt of lack of self-sacrifice or aggravated them that I couldn’t let go of my past.
My past will always be my present. Those two years have made me different. And yet, to the world, my experience is not worthwhile because even though I have experienced this, it is not good to dwell on the past. I have to move on and be better in a different environment just like I have adapted to the environment I was put in as a Peace Corps volunteer.
But now is the time to move on. To forget the past into rose colored filtered memories but to take what we have learned and grow from this. To remember it is our past and not for everyone to relive so that we have an optimal working space. Forgiveness is not our game. Forgive me, I am so used to other things.
What happened to my adaptability, I wondered?
What happened to my free-form style? Why am I so used to doing nothing? No drive behind my goals and dreams.
It wasn’t the lack of drive but the feeling of responsibility. I felt responsible for the lack of development I encountered in the village. I felt responsible for all the world’s problems that could be solved just because I got a taste of reality that made me feel like an international development believer. But instead, a dose of reality came after the reality check. That I am alone and one person in this field and that there are millions of strings and loops you have to take to get to where you want which is a developed country.
I also was ready for my easy career that was a perfect fit tailored to me. And that is the true problem. Struggle was part of these last two years.
Struggle. I was still a college graduate who had an entire path ahead where anything came come together from the lessons learned through Peace Corps. But the years have ended and I am closer to 26 than I ever was before.
Do I continue in development work? Do I go for public policy work to really change lives? Do I still write and become the writer that my ten year old self dearly wished to be?
And then another question came up to play: why wasn’t there enough time to conquer all these endeavors?
And the scariest thought of all:: Money.
I am here to say that this blog has always centered around travel and Peace Corps. But I am changing this. I am morphing this blog to represent me, Meghan Mathew.
I am an aspirational person and my dream was always to change the world either through the written word or the policies or organizations I start or work in that really make a calculatable impact.
I want to socially change the world through my actions and it may include all the goals I go for or may be through one. But you will see it unfold here. On my journey to joy.
As the final weeks come down to days, nothing scares me more than a ticking time clock counting down to an end of a chapter.
Pressure of change is the fearful moment in my life. Every time life had come in and started to change something, it was always a surprising moment defined to prove myself and take a step higher but always since the view is the same or feels no different, I don’t truly believe nothing has changed.
Until the end. Until when the hours are changing and I realize the woman who started this journey, who was at the beginning of this chapter and wrote this chapter, no longer is the same.
Pressure of change. Pressure of life knocking on your door and waking you up to the reality that good things eventually end is a frightening shock. My heart was on alarmingly high amount of stress. It beat fast and it was dangerous how it was normal that high every day. Migraines plagued my mornings and I was about to crack every time people asked me what was wrong.
What was wrong?
The most incredible thing I have ever done in my entire life. The life changing thing I chose to do and people were proud of me for, was about to end. Families and friends and lives have changed because I realized I didn’t belong to one country.
Close of service had many programs. First, signing off on district reports and final site reports to the program manager of your specific program. Then, a final language proficiency exam only done at Peace Corps Zambia. Meetings with a few administrators lead to canceling and closing accounts, and finalizing any last accounts that we have through Peace Corps and finally a meeting with the country director for final remarks, and information about future RPCV status.
And finally there I was, at the bell, in the courtyard of the Peace Corps compound and I rang out of service on August 19, 2016 at 9:30. Tears, joy, and still a heart pounding close to an almost heart attack, I couldn’t believe that after two years, I felt unchanged but of course, none of that is true. I was a different woman because of this experience and I would never take it away. i wish I could live in this bliss forever of working in a warm place and network of people who only could understand this experience compared to a population back home. I was and always will be Peace Corps and Zambia took my heart.
In Zambia, when I joined Peace Corps, I was the only female Indian American in the entire country from America.
The critical part of my service was the feeling of loneliness and small attacks that kept coming at me no matter how much I represented myself as a girl from New York, and born American. It was always something else before me as a person.
A small attack. About my culture or comment that seems harmless but actually, it always represents my gender and race in a condescending or dismissal of my true personality.
It is called microaggression.
Microaggression is a term coined by psychiatrist and Harvard University professor Chester M. Pierce in 1970 to describe insults and dismissals he regularly witnessed non-black Americans inflict on African Americans. Eventually, the term came to encompass the casual degradation of any socially marginalized group, such as the poor and the disabled.
It has also been seen as being “rooted in racism, sexism, or discrimination based on nationality or sexual orientation. It can be delivered casually or even unconsciously.”
This process comes from people who seem as if their words are harmless, completely coming off across as simple remarks and not at all attacking the real problem: the root of racism or discrimination or sexism. It is an easy way to say or ask if the person is another race while also sounding as the person is inclusive into society. Sometimes it is placed under the shadow of “learning about different cultures,” even though we are not their token resource for our specific background.
Psychologist Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership”.
He describes microaggressions as generally happening below the level of awareness of well-intentioned members of the dominant culture.
According to Sue, microaggressions are different from overt, deliberate acts of bigotry, such as the use of racist epithets, because the people perpetrating microaggressions often intend no offense and are unaware they are causing harm.
Micro aggressions are known to be subtle insults that direct towards the person or a group of people as a way to “put down”.
He describes microaggressions as including statements that repeat or affirm stereotypes about the minority group or subtly demean them. They also position the dominant culture as normal and the minority one as aberrant or pathological, that express disapproval of or discomfort with the minority group, that assume all minority group members are the same, that minimize the existence of discrimination against the minority group, seek to deny the perpetrator’s own bias, or minimize real conflict between the minority group and the dominant culture.
So in my case, as an Indian woman, Zambia is the not the first place where who I am was defined by the culture I came from. Countless moments of asking about my culture before even I have a chance to say to my own name. People would hear my name and wonder,
Wow, how did that happen?
In conducting two focus groups with Asian Americans, Sue identified eight distinct themes of racial microaggression: Alien in Own Land: When people assume Asian Americans are foreigners or from a different country.
Ex: “Where are you from” or “Why don’t you have an accent?”
Ascription of Intelligence: When Asian Americans are stereotyped as being intelligent or assumed to be smart. Ex: “Wow, you’re really good at math, can you help me?” or “Are Asian Americans this good when it comes to school work?”
Then the concept comes around to how Indians are so smart and creative that there are few negative connotations to the Indian race. People see them as model citizens with no problems with white people or racist people. But that is another concept.
Denial of Racial Reality: This is when a person emphasizes that as Asian American doesn’t experience any discrimination, implying there are no inequalities towards them.It correlates to the idea of model minority.
It even goes down to sexuality. Do you know how many times men in my life have asked or said,
I’ve never been with an exotic woman.
You are the first exotic woman I’ve ever had sex with.
I’ve never had an Indian.
It feels as if I am being checked off on someone’s list. Every time I hear, I remember how my only given talent was my erotic sensual self with an innate history in my genetics for Kama sutra.
Exoticization of Asian American Women: It stereotypes non-white Americans in the exotic category. They are being stereotyped by their physical appearance and gender based on media and literature. One example is Asian American women portrayed as the submissive or obedient type; they are also seen as Dragon Lady or Lotus Blossom. On the other hand, Asian American men are portrayed as being emasculated or seen as nerdy, weak men.
Invalidation of Interethnic Differences: This emphasizes homogeneity of broad ethnic groups and ignores interethnic differences. The claim “all Asian Americans look alike” was identified as a main assumption for this theme. Similarly, thinking that all members of an ethnic minority group speak the same language or have the same values or culture falls under this theme.
Pathologizing Cultural Values/Communication Styles: When Asian Americans’ cultures and values are viewed as less desirable. For example, many people from the focus group felt disadvantaged by the expectation of verbal participation in class, when Asian cultural norms value silence. Because of this discrepancy, many Asian Americans felt that they were being forced to conform to Western cultural norms.
Second Class Citizenship: This theme emphasizes the idea that Asian Americans are being treated as lesser beings, and are not treated with equal rights or presented as a first priority.
Ex: A Korean man walks into a bar and asks for a drink but the bartender ignores the man and serves a White man first.
Invisibility: This theme of microaggression focuses on the idea that Asian Americans are invisible in discussions of race and racism. According to some focus group members, dialogues on race often focus only on White and Black, which excludes Asian Americans.
Race or ethnicity
Social scientists Sue, Bucceri, Lin, Nadal, and Torino (2007) described microaggressions as “the new face of racism”, saying that the nature of racism has shifted over time from overt expressions of racial hatred and hate crimes, towards expressions of aversive racism, such as microaggressions, that are more subtle, ambiguous, and often unintentional. Researchers say this has led some Americans to wrongly believe that racism is no longer a problem for non-white Americans. An example of such subtle expressions of racism is a white person being white.
According to Sue et al., microaggressions seem to appear in three forms:
micro assault: an explicit racial derogation; verbal/nonverbal; e.g. name-calling, avoidant behavior, purposeful discriminatory actions.
microinsult: communications that convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person’s racial heritage or identity; subtle snubs; unknown to the perpetrator; hidden insulting message to the recipient of color.
microinvalidation: communications that exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a person belonging to a particular group.
Gender and sexuality
Women, including trans women, report experiencing gender-related microaggressions.[not in citation given] Some examples of sexist microagressions are “[addressing someone by using] a sexist name, a man refusing to wash dishes because it is ‘woman’s work,’ displaying nude pin-ups of women at places of employment, someone making unwanted sexual advances toward another person”.
Other gender- and sexuality-related microaggressions include the sexual exoticization of lesbians by heterosexual men, linking homosexuality with gender dysphoria or paraphilia, and prying questions about one’s sexual activity.
Transgender people are often misgendered (labelled as having a gender other than the one they identify with), among other forms of microaggression.
People from the LGBTIQ+ community have reported experiencing such microaggressions from people within their own community. This is because others make assumptions on their lives based on their own experience and understanding. While not always intentional, people commit anti-social behaviours based on these misconceptions, resulting in people feeling they are the victim of microaggressions.
The following have been proposed as “microaggressable:
Assumptions of inferiority
Denial of sexism
Traditional gender role assumptions
Denial of individual sexism
Denial of denial
What we feel from microaggression?
Recipients of microaggressions may feel anger, frustration, or exhaustion. African-Americans have reported feeling under pressure to “represent” their group or to suppress their own cultural expression and “act white”.
The common problem in our own Indian American groups is the distinction between white Indians and actual Indians where our culture is reduced by any person not only white people and we have to suppress our own cultural expression and act to the dominate culture that surrounds us.
Over time, the cumulative effect of microaggressions is thought to lead to diminished self-confidence and a poor self-image, and potentially also to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and trauma.
These systems pile up. Moments like these either end in a forced smile or an eruption of anger that forces everyone to think I am a crazy ethnic girl pulling out my race car or gender card or even my bisexual card. No matter what I feel as if I have to fight to be a city girl who loves good music, really fashion, wrapped hair and art and writing and then after a proud Indian-American strong bisexual feminist.
I do not mean everytime I hear these statements, that I am going to pull out my speech and scream and yell because people who go through micro-aggression do one common thing: take it in and give a false smile. But it adds up, to the point where I am in tears or I am angry or I am making jokes of my own culture just to feel as if I am at least part of my own joke.
When someone asks me instead of where I grew up but instead goes for the source of my skin color,
“When are you going back to India?”
“Sorry, I’m going back home. To Brooklyn.”
Jokes sustain me longer than keeping it in. But afterwhile, I explain my joke or I cry or I scream. That is when the stereotype of angry feminist or angry woman or in the cases of Black men and women, the “angry black woman.” We call something out from the countless amounts of microaggression in our daily lives from the subway down to the corner store to every interaction we have with a person, not from our culture, gender, or “group” and then when we break, when we are weak and can’t take no more,
we are called bitches, and angry, and wrong, and noisy.
Moments like these either end in a forced smile or an eruption of anger that forces everyone to think I am a crazy ethnic girl pulling out my race car or gender card or even my bisexual card. No matter what I feel as if I have to fight to be a city girl who loves good music, really fashion, wrapped hair and art and writing and then after a proud Indian-American strong bisexual feminist.
I am Indian, bi and a woman but Indian, bi, woman is not ME.
So my advice is this for those who don’t understand what to do.