Saturday, January 29, 2011

“The chief happiness for a man is to be what he is.” -Erasmus


2011: Be Gretchen.

Gretchen Rubin spent an entire year concentrating on increasing happiness by working on particular aspects in her life: her marriage in February, her work in March, her friendships in June, spirituality in August, etc. She writes about this year-long journey in The Happiness Project, which I’ve just finished reading. Through the course of this year, she comes up with “Twelve Commandments”; basically precepts that keep cropping up as she attempts to keep her monthly resolutions. Her very first commandment, “Be Gretchen”, is a concept that has been the theme of my life lately, and thus it is my 2011 New Year’s Resolution. (just in time! It’s legit to make resolutions anytime within the month of January, right?)

“I have an idea of who I wish I were, and that obscures my understanding of who I actually am.” Gretchen writes. “Sometimes I pretend even to myself to enjoy activities that I don’t really enjoy, such as shopping, or to be interested in subjects that don’t much interest me, such as foreign policy.” 

I mean, I personally love foreign policy, but I see her point.
Too often I compare myself to others, or attempt to be interested in things, because I feel like I should. Like it will somehow make me a better person. But I’m sorry, I can’t cite very many hip new bands, I’ve never read Harry Potter, I’ll never look good in skinny jeans, and I just don’t care that much about economics. I really WANT to. But that’s just not Cath. 

I once asked a friend when was the last time he did something just because he wanted to, just because it gave him life; not because it looked good on his resume or prepared him for the next step. To my suprise, this charming, composed, ambitious young man responded by crying. 

And I could empathize. Life is too short, and we each need to invest in what gives us life.
And what better time to exercise “being Cath” than in a completely new setting? You may have noticed that I changed the layout of this blog recently (and still working on it!) My adventures will be less African-flavored, but no less adventuresome. I’m staring again at my beat-up red suitcases, packed and ready to head to Washington DC tomorrow morning. 

Being at my parents' has been a fabulous whirlwind of reunions, celebrating the holidays, reading, conversations, planning for the future, and travels within the US. But besides gaining a couple of pounds on all this gluten-free goodness, I’ve gotta get out because I’m itching to get my hands dirty again. I thrive on work, I realized, and you know me…just can’t sit still. Time to move on.  

So on the eve of the month which is always quite difficult for me, I’m starting anew. I’m hoping February won’t find me this year, if I move to a different city, or at least that it’ll be a little gracious. There are just so so many unknowns that I’m staring down. Daunting? More than a little. Exciting? That too. 

Author Tal Ben-Shahar describes the “arrival fallacy” in his book Happier. The arrival fallacy is the idea that, though you may anticipate great happiness in arriving somewhere or reaching a goal, arriving actually rarely makes you as happy as you had anticipated. If there is one thing that I have learned in my life of travels it is this: the journey is the destination, as cliché as that is. I am being mindful of all these new adventures, and trying not to fear the future, and especially trying not to stake my happiness on “success” in my new DC life. 

I’m not going to lie- I’ve had a few terrifying moments when I think over the bigness of what is ahead. New city, new job, new friends (inshahallah), new weather patterns (alhamdoulilah). However, I’ve come to serenity in the thought that I just need to “be Cath”, and enjoy the ride, no matter how dopey or unprepared I actually am.  

So, still figuring out what “being Cath” means as I move on to The Next Big Thing. This is my newest adventure. 

“As the Spanish proverb says, ‘He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.’”
-Samuel Johnson

Saturday, January 15, 2011

What does Tunisia's meltdown mean for the Maghreb?

“I am a doctor. This country needs doctors. You see the disconnect.”

Recent events in Tunisia remind me of the words of one of Morocco’s "Diplômés Chômeurs." Swept up in a protest this past fall outside of Rabat's Parliament, I asked one young man to explain the words on his sign: There is a disconnect between youth and the supposedly democratic regime, he described, which leaves both the populace unhappy and the country underdeveloped. The human capital is there. The jobs are not....

Read my full article on PolicyMic, and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On Guantanamo Anniversary, Revisiting the Meaning of Torture

I've been "hired on" as a contributing writer for PolicyMic, particularly in human rights and Global Affairs. PolicyMic is an awesome new online platform for debate and high quality political discussion for politically-minded, sharp young thinkers – both liberals and conservatives. I'm so impressed by the work they've done already, and I'm excited to be part of the team. 

Check out my first article, on a subject that is near and dear to my heart: torture.

I'd love your comments!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lessons Learned

Here’s a little secret about me: I always keep my New Year’s Resolutions.
Here’s the secret about the secret: the trick is to only make resolutions that are so general that you can’t help BUT keep them. For example, my resolution for 2009 was “Trust”. And for 2010 it was “Learn”. Of course, I have a bunch of subheadings about what exactly I need to trust and what exactly I want to learn that year. But as 2011 has just smiled its pretty face, I pulled out my 2010 New Years Resolution Learn List, and have also been spending some quality time reflecting on what exactly I’ve learned in the past 15 months in Morocco. Here are some of the highlights:

  1. I learned Arabic and French better than ever before.
  2. I learned how to surf
  3. I learned that all accomplishment and success means nothing if you don’t have community to share your triumphs and trials. The world loves accomplishment. You may be handed accolades on a silver platter. But none of this matters if you don’t have love and community. None of this matters if you aren’t actually learning from experience. Friends and family are essential to a healthy and joyful existence, as are vocations and avocations that tug at your heart and bless the world. However, I am not my work. I am not defined by what I accomplish, or what is bullet-pointed on my resume.  “To go fast, walk alone. To go far, walk together.” –Rwandan Proverb.
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  5. Wisdom has 7 pillars: 1. Humility 2. Mournfulness: a broken heart over evil that exists in the world. 3. Meekness: being wise as a serpent yet harmless as a dove. 4. Obedience: seeking to do right. 5. Mercy. 6. Purity: being free from corruption. 7. Peace: being a peacemaker.
  6. Make friends with your neighbors. It’s the best thing you can do for your personal safety.
  7. Conflict resolution begins with humility. First, examine my own role in the conflict, and see what I am willing to sacrifice in order to reconcile. Don’t run away from conflict; face into it.
  8. “The ultimate weapon in conflict: deliberate, focused love.” – Ken Sande
  9. It doesn’t matter the work I do, it doesn’t matter what I do or don’t have, it doesn’t matter my uncertainties, it doesn’t matter where I am, it doesn’t matter my circumstances…the only thing that matters is my attitude towards my circumstances.
  10. I already have everything I need to live the life I’ve imagined.
  11. My dream job: world peace through dinner parties.
  12. I learned how to write grants, research skills, public speaking, how to write better, and how to ask tough and sensitive questions gracefully
  13. "Prayer embraces the world", to paraphrase Henri Nouwen. Prayer is not just asking for things, it is an attitude of the heart.
  14. The last half of this year I’ve been going through the lessons & practices of solitude in my daily meditation. To be refreshed in the face of life’s difficulties, we must go from a place of loneliness to a place of solitude; a silence which reorders our life. This means not cutting ourselves off from the world, but rather standing upon a refreshing, intentional platform from which all our actions are directed.
  15. I learned about heartbreak and resilience. And forgiveness.
  16. Patience. Almost nothing moves at the pace of American Pragmatism. Learn to enjoy the waiting.  “Happy is the man who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.”
  17. Do not shave your legs before swimming in the Dead Sea. Trust me on this.
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  19. The most essential element of a healthy relationship is clear, honest, consistent communication.
  20. I learned more than I could have imagined about torture. Torture continues to be a State practice in over 70 countries. It is a serious issue because it destroys the psyche of entire communities and has after-effects stretching for generations. The United States is a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, however the 2006 Military Commissions Act allows us to detain “enemy combatants” indefinitely and gave policy makers impunity for certain war crimes like torture. This has been used broadly since the “War on Terror” began, both on and off of American soil. Shame on us. Shame on others who hold innocent prisoners because of their own pride, ego, and fears. Shame on anyone who uses torture to assert their authority over another human being. I have learned that torture is an active, serious issue, particularly for Americans, and I need to do something about it. (What?
  21. When it comes to doing research: knock on doors unannounced. Keep knocking.  
  22. Dates, olives, and rosé make the most elegant welcome party for weary travelers. Lay those bits out and they will know that their arrival is truly special.
  23. Be present. Be present. Be mindful of the present moment. What is truly worth concentrating on? What should I be letting go? “The issue is not where you are, but how you live wherever you are.” –Henri Nouwen
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  25. Always begin speeches with an anecdote, and add one in the middle too, right when people are starting to zone out.
  26. And perhaps my biggest single accomplishment of 2010: learning how to drive stick shift.
Happy New Year