Mastering life?

It’s been a while, so I thought you might like a brief update/ reassurance I didn’t die in a tragic skiing accident (I’m 99.99998% sure this particular thought never crossed your mind, but just in case). Aside from a particularly stinky cold I caught on the tube last week which makes me sound all snuffly and nasal (which on the upside gives me an impeccable Portuguese accent!) I’m fine. I have now finally completed the Masters which I put on hold to go to Italy and then switched to study in Birmingham and although super fast-paced, demanding and at times extremely frustrating – especially in the last few months when I went near insane with the stress, expectation and intensity of it all – it’s been an enjoyable and worthwhile experience. Somehow, from somewhere I’m not sure exactly, I began the course off to an surprisingly good start – a distinction in my first assignment- (no-one was more surprised than me – I’d given up trying to write it and handed in what I had) which was reassuring on the one hand, but terrifying on the other as it meant I spent the whole year panicking that my good marks were an anomaly and that sooner or later the crash would happen and I would return to the realm of mediocrity. The fear of being exposed as a fraud meant that more than once I simply refused to hand in work- utterly convinced that it was total bollocks – only to be allowed an extension to calm down, eventually relinquish the piece and receive to my complete consternation a grade so totally above my expectations that it made me question my own sanity/perception of reality on more than one occasion. Someone even gave me an 80 on one whole module assignment…but they must have been drunk when they marked that, because I swear half of it was made up, and the other half was common sense. Anyway…
On the social scene things were looking up. My two best friends from the course: Carmen – a drop-dead gorgeous and utterly adorable Spaniard and Maria – an equally stunning yet feisty Pole with a wickedly dry sense of humour and I made the most unlikely Tres Mosqueteras – as Carmen referred to us- but we were a happy grouping nonetheless. I also bonded well with this British guy, and we got on so well that rumours started abounding as to the bizarreness of our relationship. We were just normal friends, who took the piss out of each on a regular basis and met up to each lunch together often but who would occasionally share a bed when I missed the last train home. This one off bed sharing (as it first started out) became a little too habitual (especially considering he had/has a girlfriend) and became perhaps too comfortable in cuddling when sharing a bed. There was no real physical attraction- we just became closer than perhaps necessary/appropriate. Anyway, long story short… he decides that this is too much and I won’t stay over again, then relents and flirts with me, then switches back to aloof, then relapses again (usually when drunk) and this is repeated ad nauseum and I get more and more annoyed at this shifting friendship. We argue lots, make friends again, do something inappropriate like hold hands in a club, he gets annoyed and shouts at me, we don’t speak then make up again. Bizarrely before anyone mentioned the apparent “weirdness” of our friendship everything was fine and he would stick his tongue in my ear and cuddle me in the night and neither of us would think anything of it in the morning, but after someone made this observation, he became markedly different and everything got messed up. In the meantime I made trips now and then down to London where I’d sometimes stay with my ex.
Everything was going fine until dissertation writing/research time really set in and I… *drum roll please*… headed off to Haiti (yes, Haiti… the very same politically unstable pile of rubble you may of heard about in the news) by myself to research cash-for-work schemes targeting women in disasters and tried to link this to prevention of gender-based violence. For three weeks, I lived a surreal version of a Haitian soap opera with an ensemble cast including: an American girl, her Haitian boyfriend, his undernourished 2 year who was about to be embroiled in a custody battle, and a whole host of angry relatives on either side. I managed with varying success to: a) stay alive/take care of myself and at times the 2 year old who spoke no English and minimal french b) infiltrate the UN logbase to secure interviews with some of the practitioners/coordinators c) avoid seduction by a particularly muscly 30 something year old armed Albanian security guard who took me back to his place to ply me with alcohol and show off his worryingly accurate firearms shooting targets d) travel around the country to visit some shelter construction sites and e) become impromptu agony aunt/ sex counsellor and pro-choice advocate when the American girl (who suffered from some sort of genetic disability which meant she was always in and out of hospital) became pregnant (in the 3 week period I was there!!!… well slightly before i’m imaging but anyway) and is then faced with the dilemma of what to do. She was the only one who worked (earning about $1000 a month) and had to pay for his school fees (mature student), the kids medical treatment, schooling and what not, the food, the rent of the house, all the bills and was most likely pregnant with twins in a catholic country where abortion is illegal and he was initially opposed to the idea. She cried lots, he walked out for a while, I cared for baby, power-cuts ensued, I carried on caring for baby in the dark (cooking in the dark really is a skill) and I learned enough creole to get around by myself on the back of the most kamikaze motorbike taxi drivers you’ll ever find along the craters *ahem* I mean backstreets of Port-au-Prince. Oh, all the while doing research and faking that I knew any french. Talk about testing (experience)…
I soon found out that surviving Haiti had been the easy part- compared to having to write up the actual thing when I got back, went mad, spent prolonged periods of time doubting myself, writing, re-writing and despairing of my research which unhelpfully was on a complex interplay of topics that no-one in my department really knew anything about. In the final weeks I managed to not sleep, stress, fall out with everyone, get drunk, sleep with Maria’s footballer friend (which I don’t even really remember) fall out with some more people, stress some more and hand in an incomplete pile of bollocks. And then everyone – by which I mean all the international students and everyone from outside of Birmingham, which was virtually everyone – left, it was lonely and I stressed some more about the fact that I had messed up the dissertation but couldn’t tell my expectant parents, who were keenly awaiting news that their darling, precious daughter had maintained the distinctions she’d achieved in all modules -including the extra night classes in Spanish and Italian- and would achieve a distinction overall- something not even my genius of a sister- currently battling the fall out from a major government cock-up over the railways (she works in transport) had managed to achieve in her Masters. Oh and then my Grandma got dementia and cancer all at the same time, which meant she forget why the hell she was in hospital and with typical Irish spirit denied anything was wrong with her at all and insisted she go home. This worked out well until she had a heart attack whilst having a test to see whether she was fit enough to undergo an operation. Oh the irony! Well, I think they got their answer at least. She stayed in hospital, continued to claim everything was fine, except everything hurt and my mother understandably worried about her and shouted at everybody else. My father – whose own mother has Alzheimer’s and hasn’t got over his father’s death has decided that wine (for both her, my Grandma and him, is the answer) and everyone screamed at me to get a job.
Fast forward to last Monday. I have, by this stage, unofficially bribed my supervisor with lots of friendliness – including a well timed birthday card, but am still convinced that even he is powerless to prevent me dropping to a merit as what I handed in really was rubbish- the second half especially. Still unemployed, despite dozens of applications and several interviews (for what are largely unpaid positions in the NGO sector) I am trying to concentrate on finally passing my driving test. It’s getting embarrassing being nearly 26 and unable to drive… thankfully as I was frequently travelling and still look about 12 this wasn’t much of a problem before, but I was finally shamed into starting to learn when the boy across the road, WHO I USED TO BABYSIT, and my cousin who I HELD AS A BABY both passed their tests!! When people you’ve known since birth surpass you, you know you’ve been doing something wrong. Anyway, the plan was going well – my driving instructor has a reasonable amount of confidence in my ability- yet my mother, whose car I’m using to practice in, credits me with as much ability as mongoose to be able to drive  and is terrified- no, quite literally terrified- that i will crash and damage her precious car, so she shrieks lots, and likes to undermine my confidence by immediately making me get out and switch seats with her if ever I encounter a slight problem. I see her wealth of years of experience as a TEACHER have not been wasted upon her. Sigh.
Anyway, it’s Monday and we’ve argued for the umpteenth time about my driving ability and her irrational and largely unfounded fears that I will destroy her pride and joy and she goes off to tutor and I get a call from an educational charity inviting me to an interview/assessment day down in London. Whilst I’m on the phone, I also receive the astonishing news from my supervisor that somehow he’s managed to contrive it that both he and my second marker (the guy who’d previously given me 80) give me 70 on my dissertation, which although excellent in the first few chapters, becomes deciding shitty towards the end and is, it’s fair to say, overall a bit of a mess. Nevertheless, in what is a fine piece of fiction, they both managed to downplay the quite evident limitations of the study and play up the strengths overall deciding that it’s just about good enough to secure me that distinction overall that I needed. (I was on 73, so really should have only needed around a 67/68, but stupid uni rules meant that I needed a distinction on both taught and research modules, despite the higher weighting of taught modules). I’m ecstatic/ relieved and so is my Dad and it means he’s finally able to drink the vintage Barola wine I bought him from Italy set aside for a celebration and my Mother is pleased as much as she can be. Neither of them really understand what I studied, or what a distinction is. The only indication that it might be a good thing is the wide grin across my face. All is good. The Grandma’s are informed that they can buy new outfits and look forward to a trip down for my graduation- they’re none the wiser as to what it’s about either- and everyone’s generally pleased but now even more insistent i get a job. Cue London and an interview to join a government backed graduate scheme to help combat educational disadvantage in British schools. As a fiercely proud state schooler, with an interest in poverty alleviation through empowerment and capacity building, this is right up my street. It was the genius sister who naturally first suggested the idea.
I got down and get interviewed by a forgiving young Colombian.  I ramble, but he manages to neatly fit my answers into the appropriate boxes. Next a group case study and finally a practice example lesson with disruptive teenagers – well adults pretending to be teenagers. It all goes quite well and I generally pleased with it, but still apprehensive as to whether I’d be successful. I have dinner with my Uncle – who’s not really an Uncle, we just call him that – and head home the next day as he heads to China (I swear my love of travel comes from him, not my parents as ever since I was a child he was working abroad and coming back from exotic adventures with t-shirts, gifts and crazy stories. There – I’ve answered the nature or nurture debate in one go! Anyway…) Two days later, in the middle of what might have been another “you’re not good enough” arguments with my Mother, I get a phone call announcing I’ve been offered a place, not to teach History (which was already full) but Modern Foreign languages, by which I mean Spanish. Pah! Me? Spanish! Stop laughing. Oh well, alright then, laugh (I did). But just a little. Yes, silly old me… whose stubborn reluctance to speak in Spanish or ever bother studying grammar was evident for all to see, will now be inspiring the next generation to learn the language. It also means I’m turning into my Mother, which is such a frighting thought that I can’t dwell on it for a second. And the Mother is pleased. Temporarily at least. As of next September I’ll have a job for 2 years and a reasonable income and I’ll stop being an embarrassment to my Mother, who tends now to refer to my Sister as an only child in bragging competitions with other parents as the other child (i.e. me) is single, unemployed/student who can’t drive and still lives at home (well for a year at least) Oh the shame!
So then everyone’s happy again. I have a job and a Masters all in a week but it’s not a job for now and I’m still unemployed, single and living at home, so it’s not quite time to start boasting just yet. Yet I am happy and justifiably pleased that all my long nights of drudging home in the cold, the dark and the rain finally paid off. And I finally proved I was good at something, even if that something was writing rambley essays on complex conceptual arguments that aren’t really practical or relevant (In a mundane, everyday world at least), then doubting myself, being really indecisive and panicking for long periods of time. Oh and sometimes speaking in a foreign language, usually to help people buy train tickets at tube stations. And then all the friends from home who’ve been nice and mature and responsible for aaaaages and see me as some immature perennial gap yearing time waster who wouldn’t know responsibility if it came and knocked them on the head decide that the scheme isn’t good and that I know nothing about teaching or anything in general and they’re just amazing and I’m just a joke. Grrr! Well thank goodness I’m heading off to be irresponsible and time waste over the other side of the world in a couple of months time as I’m heading to Honduras (coincidentally the only other H named country I’ve yet to visit) to work for an NGO on some sustainable development projects related to coffee growing.
Aside from that, I’m trying the odd writing project – I entered one travel writing competition and I’m considering blogging a trip around Italy in search of the perfect ice cream entitled La Dolce Gita (gita being a trip/journey in Italian- what do you think?) and generally trying to keep myself entertained.
Well, apologies for going on longer than I’d anticipated, but there’s the catch up… I hoped you’re suitably amused by the news and I hope all’s well in your world.
An update if you have time please.
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