A graduate has arrived

Have you ever driven an incredibly long distance? You sat  in the same position for far too long. You contemplated turning back at one point after you had already gone too far. Your vision started to blur as you fought the road doze. You wondered if the destination was was even worth it – why were you even going, again? You even considered just giving up and moving into that Motel 6 right there, making a new life in a town that may or may not be named after a klan member. But you kept going.

You know that feeling when you finally arrive and take that first step out of the driver seat?

Ahhhhhhhhhh.

Your muscles ache. Your ass is numb. And your brain is fuzzy. But you’ve arrived. No matter that it’s 2am and no one is awake to greet you. That first real (and audible) stretch of freedom is all you really needed anyway.

Well, congratulations. You know what it’s like to complete a Master’s degree. (I imagine a PhD would be more like arriving at the destination only to hop on a sailboat to cross the Atlantic?)

So, yes. Finally I am finished with school (for good this time – really, no more!).  A bit later than expected – technically I finished at the end of February 2013, when it was supposed to be more like August or September 2012. But this allowed one (and now two) trips to Suriname. And then things didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped – I felt miserable quite a lot.  And I procrastinated just as much in my 30s as I did in my 20s…what can I say? Some things just don’t change.

But it was worth it.  Even if just to get on the cover, inside, and back of the University’s grad school brochure.  Supahstar.

2013 GSSS Brochure

After all of the writing, and reading, and ugh – all the thinking, it was worth it.  I finished what I started.  When the University sent me that email to let me know everything was processed and my diploma was printed, it marked an official end to the chapter that started this little, gigantic journey.

And when my friend sent me photos of my diploma (she picked it up since I’m not in Amsterdam), although I had already moved on to focus on Ancestors unKnown, I finally felt that relief of arrival.  

So I took a damn good and well-deserved stretch. But, ya know, my ass might still be numb.

BlackGirlDiploma - Gefeliciteerd!

BlackGirlDiploma – Gefeliciteerd!

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Quiet return to Amsterdam

Some time has passed since I returned to Amsterdam.  And the dust is beginning to settle.  Or maybe it’s not dust and more a misty rain – not the weather you hoped for, but somehow still refreshing and welcome.

Before I left Suriname, I told some partial truths.  My emotional state (I only cried in front of a couple of people, don’t worry) and abrupt plans to leave required some explanation, of course.  But the actual explanation did not necessarily fit into Surinamese cultural norms.  A place where dogs never go inside and cats are mainly misunderstood street wanderers, Suriname was not as sympathetic to the needs of my ailing cat as you may have hoped or expected.

“You’re CAT?”  This was the reaction from the first two or three people to hear the true reason for my return to Amsterdam.  They had this way of emphasizing “CAT,” perhaps hoping I actually referred to my AUNT named Cat.  Or as if I had said, “I have to return to Amsterdam because my blankie got a tear.”

“Your BLANKIE?” – now that reaction I would understand.

But I didn’t appreciate the judgmental responses that implied my CAT was somehow less important than whatever I could accomplish during those remaining weeks in Suriname.  And though I may have been overly sensitive and took the reactions of people with genuinely poor hearing too personally, I decided my bleeding animal-lover heart should stand on guard.  So I  started telling others that a family member was gravely ill.  And I just needed to be in Amsterdam for her.  No one asked questions beyond that, for which I was thankful.  Because as I left it, I hadn’t lied.  I just, uhh, shaded.

And since I’ve been back, I’ve barely told anyone I’m here.  Not that it’s a secret.  It’s just easier if things remain quiet for a bit.  During this time when I was supposed to be in Suriname, accomplishing all types of magical, thesis-related research and writing, I have gone somewhat underground, off the grid, minding my own, re-grouping.  Living a comfortably homeless life until my apartment is available again (I was able to infringe on Zora’s accommodations when my lovely friend and her daughter were also willing to take me in), I have been going from the guest room to the library almost every day.  Rates of productivity may still waver.  But my focus has been brand new.  This quiet return has been good for me.

As for Zora, she’s not graceful yet.  But her recovery has been.  We’re both adjusting to her new circumstances.  And the future on 3 legs looks quite bright.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all of the well-wishes that have been sent our way.  It’s helpful to know that not everyone thinks I’m a hot mess with a torn blankie and poor judgment.

As for my apartment, I move back in tomorrow.  And all I want to do is sleep in my bed for 23 hours.

As for Suriname, plenty of stories were lost in my poor time management and bad news shuffle over the last couple of months.  I just have so much more to say and do related to the subject.  And I will share, I will.  But for now, I’ve realized that the month I spent in Suriname blew some major doors off their hinges.  And the direction of this already complicated life path has shifted yet again.

As for this new path I’m on…I see sunshine ahead. Lots of it.

 

An anniversary, a milestone, and more to come

The one-year anniversary to mark my arrival in the Netherlands came when I was in Greece.   I sat in a cute little restaurant in Athens, avoiding returning to my temporary dorm-like residence, getting a little tipsy on wine.  At that time I attempted to write the 100th post for black girl gone.  Most of it was about the journey that brought me here – a journey that began far longer than a year ago, as evidenced by this blog alone.  But it was a ho-hum of a post, with the weepy sorrows of years long gone.  I can get plenty of that with a quick scan of old posts.  So fortunately, a dead battery and a failure to save resulted in the loss of what I had written.

Beyond acknowledgement of a challenging path, some really smart decisions, and a newly found trust in my instincts and distrust of expectations, I think my one-year anniversary and 100th post should focus on what’s next.  The year, and whatever else ahead…

1) Genealogy overload

I went almost completely dark on my personal family research well over a year ago.  And last year I picked up the projects of several others in Amsterdam, researching family histories that stem largely from Suriname and the Dutch Antilles.  But I’ve even fallen behind with them.

No more of that.  Re-opening my own research, while furthering and creating noise around the local genealogy project will be a priority.  My family research has left plenty of unanswered questions.  And the local interest and passion for family history is certainly enough for me to gain more momentum for the project in Amsterdam.   For this reason, you can expect somewhat of a shift in this blog.  Expect more family history and genealogy-related posts.  Accept it, my friends.  This will be a defining aspect of my life.  In the longer-term, I expect it to take me back to the southern states of the U.S., Salt Lake City, Cuba, and southern Africa – at least.  I expect to earn the title of genealogist.  And I can’t wait.

ancestors await...

2) Write a Master’s thesis

By August.  I want to (and I will) finish by August.  Is denial of access to one’s family history a form of social oppression?  It will be some type of a comparative study of black Dutch and black Americans, as descendants of survivors of slavery, and their perceptions of identity, as potentially impacted by a (lack of) knowledge of ancestry.  Or something like that.

study habits

3) Suriname

It’s there.  And I don’t see why I shouldn’t be.  So I’m setting my sights on creating a plan to spend a few months moving a genealogy research project forward in Suriname by the end of this year.  This will require support, funding, and a more concrete idea.  But my instincts are telling me this will be important.  So before I understand it so clearly, I’m going to work on putting a plan into place.

Suriname census

4) More traveling; more writing

I continually taunt myself with the cliché, “life is short!” But hell if it isn’t.

I enjoy traveling.  And I enjoy writing.  I need to do more of both to spend more time enjoying this too-short life.

the look of travel

5) The fellas

I’ve gone back and forth on this issue, to dramatic degrees.  All resulting in very little.  Dating/not dating/white boys/no boys/single lady/ cat lady.   I’m putting all of it away.  To be honest, this is less about some level of personal growth, and more about simple boredom with the subject.  Look, folks. I’m human, okay?  Of course I notice that most of my friends are in stable relationships that are leading to marriage and/or babies.  But that doesn’t mean any of this knowledge occupies a significant amount of space in my mind.  It shouldn’t.  And it doesn’t.

This year, whatever happens with the fellas will be fine with me.  Let’s just leave it at that.

"I don't like any of these boys..."

I enjoyed last year very much.  And it looks like, more than ever, I’m in control of the year ahead.   So I think I’ll enjoy this one even more.  I hope you’ll continue to join me!

Let the Master’s Begin

As of this week, I am officially a Master’s student.  After a semester of “prep,” the University of Amsterdam has deemed me qualified to work toward a Master’s in Sociology.  Never mind the fact that the somewhat disorganized University hasn’t provided me with a new id card and my residency permit is currently in limbo (let’s all pray to the spirits that I don’t get kicked out of the country before someone figures out how to process paperwork).

Last semester felt like a valuable warm-up.  Sort of like a Taebo work-out after not lifting more than a glass of wine for the past eight years.  And now I’m getting ready for capoeira (something that I’ve always wanted to do – both in and out of metaphor).  Now I have three classes: one on social theory, another on qualitative research methodology (beginning with ethnography), and finally migration and integration (my concentration).  Anyone have any well-written, academic papers I can buy?  I kid, of course.  I’m almost positive I can handle this.

I’m not as nervous.  My apartment is furnished.  Dutch no longer sounds like complete gibberish (except when I try to speak it).  I’ve met some great new people.  And I know the differences between Weber and Durkheim.  If that doesn’t make me a future master of something, I don’t know what will.

But this is it.  I basically have nine more months before real life picks up again.  So while I’m studying this semester, and preparing to write my thesis next semester, I will be thinking and planning for the future.  A source of income, a place to live, and a way to turn the ideas in my head into something real.  After this, I’m not sure how many do-overs I’ll be granted.  So I need to make this time count.

And if you’re wondering, returning to the States (to live) is nowhere in the plan.

Time for School

I am indeed moving to Amsterdam. But I can’t forget that this move is for a purpose. Going back to school.

Recently I’ve become consumed by all of the planning and logistics. Fill out this form, email this person, pay this agency, ask this person something. Housing, visas, financial aid – they’re all important. And fortunately, the University has been really helpful as I work through everything.

My course registration materials may be the most exciting email I’ve received so far – well, maybe with the exception of having a place to live. Reading through course descriptions and deciding which will suit me best helped the idea of studying full-time again to sink-in fully.

As I mentioned way back when I was first accepted, my first semester in Amsterdam will be a semester of preparatory classes. This, they say, will set me up for success in their Master’s program, which will begin in the fall of 2011. Until then, I will take three classes: two required and one elective. My required classes are Research Methodology and Foundations in Social Sciences. For my elective, I have chosen “Experiencing Differences” as my first choice. This course focuses on ethnicity, gender, and sexuality in the context of the Netherlands.  According to the catalogue, the course will “provide insight in the concept of cultural diversity in relation to the construction or social formation of identities and communities, and processes of exclusion and inclusion.”  Ooh!

I’ll go to class several times a week and commit to reading every single word of my assignments (unlike my approaches in undergrad and law school, during which skimming was a preferred strategy). I’ll write my papers well in advance of the deadlines. And I’ll get to know my professors beyond our required interactions. I’m doing the school thing right this time, not taking one moment of it for granted. I expect the setting of Amsterdam to either help me appreciate and take full advantage of my circumstances – or it will be the main distraction that I will need to resist to get my work done.

Following my remedial…or rather, prep semester, I’ll begin the Master’s program in Migration and Ethnic Studies, within the Dept of Sociology. Merging all of the recent work I’ve been doing with my family research, I’ll be seeking to prove the importance of genealogical research for black youth throughout the African Diaspora. And I’m hoping to turn my research into something concrete. The ultimate goal is to start an organization that will provide young people with access to their histories.

Before any of that can happen, I have to go to school.  And I’m finally ready!