The Moments that Made 2011

On January 1st 2011 I found myself in a circle of women at a polygamous wedding, chatting feminism with the first wife as the new young bride entered the household covered in intricate henna designs. On January 26th, one day after my birthday, I stood alone at the famous Casablanca mosque, hiding my bright Nigerien clothing under a newly purchased peacoat and wondering what I was ever going to do with myself now that Peace Corps had abruptly ended. On January 31st I was in India, interviewing for a dream internship at an angel investment firm for social entrepreneurs and wondering how I was ever going to tell my parents that I wasn’t coming home. I’m not a jetsetter, my months don’t usually look like this, but 2011 taught me that you never really know what life is going to throw at you.

Attending an Indian wedding was enough to make anyone want to live there but I knew I needed to figure out if I could handle the India that exists outside the gates of the dazzling saris and Bollywood songs. So I took a train ride, by myself, in the lowest class, standing for hours, pressed against on all sides by skinny Indian men. I loved it and so when my parents left New Delhi I waved and jumped into the suffocating arms of a 17 million person city. I was quickly pulled up by the gentle hands of a few fellow Udall Scholars, two amazing Indian coworkers and an incredible Columbian housemate who showed me the wonders among the chaos. Having friends in a foreign country was enough in itself but having friends who were as excited as I was about going on adventures was paradise. My weeknights were often filled with Indian cooking experiments, surrounded by friends who knew as little about aloo gobi as I did. My weekends were spent on buses and trains, traveling to far flung temples and beautiful hill stations.

Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, found me covered in paint, shooting a squirt gun full of liquid paint out of an auto rickshaw. We were promptly shot back at by grinning Indian men from another rickshaw. I chased after an elephant on my way to work, only to joyfully haggle with the owner and try and get him to give me a ride for a non-tourist price. India beat Pakistan in Cricket and we all danced drunkenly in the streets, only to dance even harder the next week when India won the Cricket World Cup. I visited a few incredible women taxi drivers at their homes in the slums and was overjoyed when I was able to bring attention to their work by getting an article published in Forbes. I woke up early to see Delhi’s flower market, a full city block filled with beautiful flowers, soon to decorate the homes of India’s growing middle class. I traveled to a rural village and found that “rural village” means something very different in booming economy of India than it does in the sleepy villages of Niger. I interviewed countless women entrepreneurs, many who had braved domestic abuse to start their businesses, and wrote case studies for them to help get more funding. My friends helped wrap me in a saree and I got on a plane headed home after four incredible months.

Despite my best intentions, I teared up at the “Welcome to America” video on my flight. I visited Whitman’s graduation and relived the feeling of knowing everyone around me. I spent a few weeks funemployed, catching up with friends and even unexpectedly performing a comedy skit about Niger when I was forced onstage. My mom convinced me to join her on a half marathon and then another, close enough together we pretend that we ran a full one. I learned the joys of sloshball (drunk kickball) at my sister’s graduation and then started an all-consuming job as a program leader at a youth leadership/entrepreneurship program. I learned more about the heartbreaking racial and socioeconomic divisions in America than I could have ever imagined working in Oakland only 10 minutes from my fancy suburban home.

Social enterprises began to take over my life in a delicious way: Two of my good friends and I started a company to combat malnutrition in Niger through moringa oleifera, a superfood that grows there, and though we’re still very much in the R&D phase, we love what we’re doing. After Summer of Solutions ended, I found a job doing communications/marketing for Solar Mosaic, a company I love, and I finally found myself a real mentor. I started riding my bike 15 miles to work each day and found myself rewarded with a feeling of athleticism but without a stolen bike and Iphone.

My moments are turning into memories and my blog post into a memoir so I must stop. 2012 is upon us and who knows what adventures the new year will bring!