How To Survive in The Darkest Timeline

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the last 30 days have been difficult.

It started with a phone call early Monday morning from my 38-weeks-pregnant host mom. “I need you to come to the hospital as soon as you can,” she told me. “There’s something wrong with the baby. I don’t think it’s alive.”

She was at a hospital about two hours away. I called my motorcycle driver and we headed to the hospital as quickly as we could. 

We found her in the ultrasound room, sobbing. “I don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “I’m scared.” I felt the same.

The cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck, and its heartbeat was irregular. The doctors scheduled an emergency C-Section.

I’ll spare you the tedious and heartbreaking moments of anxiously waiting outside an emergency room. I imagine almost all of you have at one point been in my shoes. It’s a horrible place to be.

As I was waiting outside the hospital room, my family halfway across the world was doing the same thing. 

After a few stressful hours, a sigh of relief. 

A baby. A girl! Ten fingers. Ten toes. A working heart. A healthy baby! A baby en bonne santé!

I congratulated my host mom, bought clothes and medicine for the baby, and headed back to my village. The next morning was my birthday!
On my birthday, my mom called. “Hi sweetheart, happy birthday!” We chatted for a few minutes, and then she told me the bad news. “I think we need to talk about your coming home.”

My village birthday party ended early so I could pack. The next day, I headed out on the same motorcycle that took me to my host mom’s hospital. 

The traveling was, more or less, a comedy of errors. After transferring to a very crowded car, I made it to the first of four airports. The gate agent at the first airport laughed at me when I told him I was here for the 14:30 flight. “You’re late! You missed the flight!” He was wrong, but it upset me nonetheless. At the second airport, the security agent tried to solicit a bribe from me. It was an exhausting 28 hours.

I made it home in time to spend a few days with my Bubbie (the Yiddish word for ‘grandma’). She was always my biggest fan, a strong matriarch, and a proud woman. Saying goodbye was difficult, to say the least.

Her funeral was on November 1st, and I flew back to Togo on the 4th. 

My 9-hour layover in Newark was significantly more comfortable than my 7-hour layover at the Lomé outdoor bus station. All I wanted to was go back to Pittsburgh, sleep in my air-conditioned room, and spend another day with my family.

When I finally made it back to my village, I fell ill. Two days in bed with a fever was not the welcome I was hoping to have.

Finally, on Tuesday, November 8th, I was ready to get back out there and be the best I could be. 

Then Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.

Not to be outdone, during the next four days, my dog got in a fight and needed medical attention, I threw up, and the motorcycle I was riding hit my friend’s puppy.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the last 30 days have been difficult.

And yet, here I am today, 30 days stronger, ready to take on the world. I would love to share with you some ways I learned to stay alive (and thrive) in what Community would call The Darkest Timeline.

  1. You have to find the positives. This is mandatory. My trip to my host mom’s hospital gave me the chance to eat Schwarma in bed on my birthday! I was able to use my newfound French skills to get out of paying an illegal attempt at a bribe. I saw my family for the first time in 4 months; I didn’t think I would see them for a year. The dog that got hit by my motorcycle is alive. I have a lot of frequent flyer miles. None of these things negate the dreadfulness of the last month, but each of them is a reason to smile.
  2. It’s okay to not be strong. The next time you see a grieving person, take a moment before you tell them to stay strong. It’s a well-meaning platitude, but putting on a brave face can sometimes make things worse. One of the best things you can do when you want to curl up in the fetal position and cry? Curl up in the fetal position and cry. And then get back up. Let yourself feel, and then let it go.
  3. Lean on your support system. I have been so blessed with the most amazing friends in the universe. While I was home, I got to spend time with so much family, my best friend, and a class of passionate second graders who were taken aback by my Togolese food options. When I came back to Togo, I was greeted by my new friends, American and Togolese. 
  4. Pay it forward. Sulking is okay, but what made me feel the best was diving into my work and hopefully improving health outcomes in a nearby village. I loved being in front of a crowd and teaching them about malaria prevention tips. It made me feel useful, important, meaningful. There’s also a chance that every kid in the village will present you with a yam.
  5. Exercise! Pavement therapy is good for the mind and the body. And it’s free.
  6. Comfort yourself with religion. Or music. Or television. Whatever brings you comfort, use it. I always come back to this verse from The Book of Job: “The Lord giveth, and The Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of The Lord.” I love my spirituality, but I know it’s not for everyone. So I also recommend Sufjan Stevens’s Christmas album and The West Wing. (Yes, I’m listening to Christmas music in November. Leave me alone. This is The Darkest Timeline.)
  7. Live your life in a way that makes you happy and honors the people you love. I’m going to be the best Volunteer I can so that no matter what happens in Trump’s America, my new Togolese host sister knows that she can grow up to be anything she wants to be. I’m going to try to honor my Bubbie’s memory by being more welcoming and thoughtful with my family and neighbors. 
  8. Stop for a second and realize how amazingly lucky you are to have made it to this moment. Think of everything you’ve overcome to get here. Wow! You should be proud of yourself. 
  9. Eat ribs for breakfast. Okay, probably don’t do this. But when you need comfort, allow yourself to find comfort. In the immortal words of Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle, Treat Yo Self! 
  10. Allow yourself to laugh. I could write an equally long blog post about the hilarious moments of the last month. Suffice it to say that I was recently the instigator of the most awkward three-person handshake of all time. It’s okay to be enveloped by sadness. But don’t let it be the only thing. 
  11. Remember: The best is yet to come. And trust me, you’re going to want to be around to see it.

I don’t know if this blog post is going to make a difference to anyone. Heck, I don’t even know if anyone’s going to read it! But it brought me comfort, and sometimes that’s enough. 

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the last 30 days have been difficult. 

But tomorrow is a new day, and the best is yet to come 🇹🇬❤️


10 thoughts on “How To Survive in The Darkest Timeline

  1. This is my favorite thing I’ve read recently. I’m very sorry for the loss of your grandmother, and the overall crappy month, but I’m sure she’d be very proud of how you’re handling yourself and trying to move forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So sorry for your loss. My philosophy is that courage and being strong sometimes mean that you say at the end of the day that you will try again tomorrow. Keep trying!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So happy you found some solace I’m all that’s going on. I love reading your blog and I miss you! Take care and send me your address so I can send you stuff.


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