Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Best Laid Plans (Part 10)

The Countdown Has Begun!

Joe and I head out in two days! Already packed and ready to go is our cancer in a bottle – better known as deet bug spray, some toilet paper for those ‘just in case’ moments, immodium, pepto, our visas, passports, customs letters, sunscreen, band aids, malaria pills, flashlights and a very sexy fanny pack. After much trial and error, Joe has also found a protein bar that doesn’t make him wince (for those of you picky eaters out there, your leader opted for the peanut butter flavored clif bars). We purchased lots of those, as well as some additional bars for me. At Alicia’s insistence, we also purchased some mosquito netting for our beds. Not yet sure what we’ll hang it on but I’ve realized that, folded up as it is, it’ll also double as a nice pillow on the plane. I know you might be feeling some major packing component is missing from this list, but not to worry, Joe and I will not be waltzing around Ghana naked. This, for me, is actually the most challenging part of the pre-trip preparation. How can I be sure that my 3-inch black heels won’t be needed at the volunteer site? Are chandelier earrings really excessive? There might be a very appropriate occasion for my sequin top and I would be so disappointed not to have it. Perhaps I can be clothed and Joe can go naked. I bought spf 50, so he should be fully protected as he carries the equipment in his skivvies. Kimberly from Globe Aware says that there is nothing you can’t live without for a week but I beg to differ. So if you happen to be watching CNN this week and here of a story about a naked tourist running around Ghana, know that I did indeed win the battle over bringing the sequined top!

Hopefully, the next time you hear from me, I’ll be in Accra, Ghana!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Best Laid Plans (Part 9)

I Can’t Fight This Feeling

I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve put too much expectation into this trip. Due to the fact that, after a long term relationship with someone, your worlds inevitably get smaller and more connected, I have discovered numerous things about my ex’s life these past few months. To be frank, it is information that sends a pretty clear message that I have long ago left any area of his brain. Disturbing though it may be at the speed with which this process has happened, I will put aside my thoughts on why and how this has occurred. As I’ve mentioned before, it wouldn’t be fair to him or me to try to map out a relationship on a blog. However, I can admit that I still carry him with me. This is my first major venture without his influence for about ten years. And as I make decisions about the project, I sometimes find myself imagining conversations that would have taken place had he not left. Now I realize of course, that had he not left I likely wouldn’t be going on this trip at all, and yet, there he is, like a squatter in my mind. Although people tell me that this is normal – that it is in fact, more useful and healthy to walk slowly toward your new life rather than to swiftly run in another direction – to either another person or another life choice – I must say, sometimes I wish I could sleep and wake up in 5 years. It’s not that I don’t want this trip – quite the contrary – I’m eager for it to begin – I just lately have been feeling the weight of the circumstances surrounding its birth. As the ‘what if’s’ associated with any project fall away into a more relaxed feeling of going with the flow, the burden of why the trip is even happening seems to be rearing its ugly head. And that’s what makes me wonder two things: just how many expectations have I put on this trip and why do people give up on each other so quickly?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Best Laid Plans (Part 8)

So, I’ve started doing these video journals at home since Joe simply refuses to follow me around where ever I go. I thought of dousing myself in pancake syrup as a lure, but thought better of it at the 11th hour. The idea of the video journals began when Alicia had the gumption to ask me what my story arc was. I know, nervy, right? The fact is, as much as this trip and the volunteer work will be at the center of the story, the true epicenter of the doc is supposed to be dealing with the life change that divorce thrusts upon you. Because of this, Alicia pointed out, it just isn’t enough to record the process of getting to Ghana, or interviewing others who participated in volunteer vacations, it requires something more intimate. Now, while I’m sure, if it was required, Joe would happily follow me around in order to record some thought that had crossed my brain if it fell into the documentary’s realm; the video journals provide a bit more intimacy. This offers Joe the added relief of not having to watch me cry (which, I’ll admit, I’ve done in some of my entries). They say that people’s pasts and/or baggage follows them around in life and lately, I’ve found that both my ex, and this trip to Ghana (let’s pretend it’s in human form) are leading my personal pack. Their presence finds their way into everything I do: from work, to having drinks with friends, to dating, to sleeping. I think of it as being like the Verizon commercials that show human representations of cell bars following Verizon customers around everywhere they go. I’m told other people feel this way too – here’s hoping that they weren’t just being nice and my posting this blog doesn’t result in some mental health professional coming to my home to “invite” me to their “farm” in the country. Crazy or not crazy, it’s how I’ve been feeling lately – like I’m being metaphorically followed. Whereas a month ago, I found that this trip was pulling my focus from the demise of my marriage, recently it feels as if the two are getting closer together. I’m not sure why that is. I’m wondering now if this trip is going to be less about me beginning anew with a grand jumping off point, and more about intertwining the failure of my marriage with my need to have something else succeed. This documentary and my relationship with my ex have been further connected in my head because, as I recently confessed to Alicia, I am weirded out by the idea that he is reading these blogs. I know the phrase ‘lack of forethought’ is probably crossing your brain right now, but caution and jumping head first into something rarely coincide. You know, perhaps I should be video journaling about this right now…

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Best Laid Plans (Part 7)

Alicia and I were recently in Times Square to change money. She for Canada and me for Ghana. Two things occurred on our little jaunt that were surprising. The first shocker was that, apparently, you are not allowed to get Ghanaian money outside of Ghana (surprise!). Doing this is, from what we were told, in fact, illegal. I have not even stepped foot into the country yet, and already I seem to be unwittingly attempting to break laws. The second eye-opener was that our teller – yes – the dude behind the counter – was actually from Ghana! I knew something was up when I asked if they changed US Dollars to Ghanaian Cedi’s and he looked at me like I had an arm growing out of my forehead. He politely asked why I wanted to do that and I looked at him with no small amount of bewilderment on my face and said, “Because I’m going to Ghana.” With that, a big smile crossed his face and he announced that he grew up there. After that, I had not a care in the world about not being able to fly to Ghana with a few Cedi’s already in my pocket because I had something better – an actual Ghanaian to talk to! He was wonderfully friendly and informative. He soothed my worries about Customs and we talked about food (fried fish, corn dishes), the weather (very hot, but lots of breezes) and he advised that Joe and I be on the doorstep of the Ministry’s Office when they open to get our press pass. He also recommended that we check out the Art Center in Accra but said to do my shopping on the roadside from the locals. I must say, if he is any indication, Ghana is going to be a very friendly place.

On a different note, I should also mention that I did my press pass dance today because (drum roll please), the documents arrived!! I even made Joe get up and dance a little. He attempted the poor man’s Macarena, but I’m sure he was dancing full out on the inside.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Best Laid Plans (Part 6)

Ode to the elusive Press Pass!

Why do you elude me?  You say that you are on your way and yet... why have you not arrived yet?  I promise to be good to you when you arrive... I will do a jig even, and, had I the skills to, I would happily perform a double-triple-loop-backflip.  Yet, here I am, with an empty hand, sitting by my mailbox, longing for it to be filled with some sort of official-looking paperwork.

While our visas arrived very quickly, it seemed that our application for the press pass was misplaced.  The people processing the information could not have been nicer or more helpful and have said that the information has been found now and is currently being processed.  However, the neurotic New Yorker in me will remain concerned until the actual document is in my shakey, nervous hands.  Joe, of course, is not concerned.  He merely shrugged, ordered another round of pancakes and sucked back his third can of root beer.  Joe has, it should be noted, informed me that we are in a marriage of convenience.  The convenience being that he figures, I worry so much, that he need not worry at all.  Convenient for him, stroke-inducing for me.  The truth is, I'm sure it will all work out.  The people I have spoken with have been great and want to help out, but I can also honestly say that I long for the day that I can talk about my want of the press pass in the past tense.  

If you're out there press pass, come home.  We promise to treat you well!!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Best Laid Plans (Part 5)

Embassies?  Consulates? Press Pass? Whaaa??

I am a narrative girl.  I make up stories.  I say... lets pretend that so-and-so meets so-and-so in a coffee shop and then...  Or, let's make believe that some girl meets some guy in the park and then...

I can for sure say that I've never uttered the words, "Can I document my travels as I traipse around Accra to sightsee, and then make my way to Ho to interview people and volunteer?" Nor have I ever asked my doctor if she wouldn't mind if I film myself getting a shot (and oh please god, let them not put me in the paper apron that opens in the front, while they administer my yellow fever vaccination and capture it for eternity on tape).  That is all very real.  Sure, I was never the type of writer that told far fetched stories.  You'd never catch me spinning a tale about a girl meeting a guy in the park, falling in love, and then combining forces to combat rockets shooting out some secret government bacteria.  My story would most likely entail my girl and my guy falling in love and then dealing with, oh, I don't know, relationship issues.  So, unless those rockets came with a surprise pregnancy, or a cheating boyfriend/girlfriend, it's not really a story I'm likely to tell.

I should say however, that just because my scripts are usually grounded in reality it does not mean that they are real, so now, my days of documenting the actual is throwing me off a bit.  My days consist of Joe's voice humming in the background saying things like: 'Julie's freaking out about plane tickets - let's get this on film!' Or 'Julie's freaking out about getting the press pass - let's get this on film!' 'Julie's freaking out - who cares about what! For godsakes get the freaking camera!'

It's all becoming real in a way that I never considered before: the budget, the plane tickets, the program, the interviews, the shots... yellow fever, hepatitis, malaria pills, tetanus, cipro for extreme diarrhea, an epi pen for my shellfish allergy... oh my... and while I've had many of these shots from previous trips or from swimming in the Hudson River (don't ask), hearing the list once again is, well, not a small thing.

Recently, I told my mother that I've been having anxiety dreams about forgetting to take care of something before Joe and I leave.  For example, my dream would have me forgetting something like the malaria pills only to then look down at my leg and see a smiling mosquito eating my ankle for lunch.  To this, my wise mother asked, "Then why are you doing this?"  I thought to myself, can I answer that it's because I'm getting a divorce?  Is that a legitimate response?  Should I even care if it's not?

From the stories I've heard, when relationships breakdown, most turn to the bottle, maybe have a lot of sex, refuse to leave the house, or bury their head into a huge tub of ice cream.  I don't know that I've heard the old tale of the person making their way to Africa.  Yet, I think the thought behind it is the same, and certainly I am not any different from anyone else.  You see, while I find myself having an anxiety dream about some Ghanian prison, I find that I'm not having a dream about my husband walking out again.  The rotation of ideas and thoughts and reasons for his leaving play less often in my head and is slowly being replaced by the trip.  I'd be lying if I said that I planned it this way, because I absolutely didn't.  I hoped for a distraction sure, but I never imagined how much this trip would consume me. And it's consumption in the best way possible.  Now I'm certainly not negating the building blocks of the drunken stupor, or the night of random sex, or the various flavors of a well-churned ice cream - it's just that that wouldn't do it for me.  I needed something more lasting, I guess.  I needed something that would match the pace of my racing mind.  

And I have to tell you... I think I've found it.