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Come Apart and Rest Awhile

"Travel light in life, take only what you need, A loving family, good friends, simple pleasures. Someone to love - and someone to love you. Enough to wear, enough to eat And a little more than enough to drink For thirst is a dangerous thing." ~Irish Toast

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Peace Corps Days

I have not posted on this blog in a long time, because I have been serving as a Peace Corps Education Volunteer in Uganda since November The Last Kira High Fives11th, 2013. Feel free to continue reading and journeying with me on my adventures and experiences for the next 26 months at my new Uganda Peace Corps Blog: mountainsbeyondmountainsuganda.wordpress.com

Always Yours,

Marvin Roxas

Where do we go from here?

I just got back from hanging out with a co-worker from Chef’s Expressions; one who struck me as being very bubbly, energetic and funny. But she had some experience under her belt and I appreciated that. We chilled tonight at her place in Towson, and watched Pacific Rim which was as good a Guillermo del Toro film that we were willing to watch that night.

The past two months have consisted of me working the weekdays as a landscaper at Greenfields Nursery at the intersection of Northern Parkway and Falls Rd and working as a caterer for Chef’s Expressions based in Timonium. I have worked in two of the largest service industries and I have loved the work. I respect hard workers and those who are devoted to bettering oneself in a given task and learning how to truly improve. That can apply to a certain skill, discipline, mental capabilities, and physical capabilities. However, I rarely judge anyone based on wealth and perceptions of background alone and that is what has irked me for the past two months. I somehow felt that the guests whom we served and the clients whose lawns we’ve scaped always looked down upon us. It was almost as if they felt that since they were giving us green paper in exchange for our services that they were better than us. I have felt it when they would appear to be uncomfortable looking at us in the eyes or being rude and bossing us around when they felt that something was amiss.

I also hear a lot of crap talk about one of the members on the crew who is Mexican. He is over 30 years old and has a bunch of funny and mainly stereotypical idiosyncracies. Sometimes he’ll burst into a Dora the Explorer song, Shakira song, or shout out a string of random, basic spanish phrases. Despite his less than stellar English, my conversations with him have convinced me that he is very wise. He has instructed me in the ways of landscaping many times and always has this creative solution to landscaping and an eye for aesthetics and completion that not many people have. Then we have the 19 year old who already has a 6 month old baby to take care of who still acts like a stubborn kid who would rather make it big in the music industry rather than compromise for the more stable 9-5.

I work with these two and two guys from Boys’ Latin who are both the foremen and younger than me. And despite my likes and dislikes about them they hold my respect for different reasons and so much more so than the respect I feel towards most of the clients whose grandiose houses and lawns fail to impress. I mean when you think about it, is it more impressive that someone pays some money to people who will get a mis-matched crew of misfits who somehow make a yard look beautiful and professional. We’ve even been judged at the beginning with some customers referring to us as “you people” or asking if our boss would supervise us to make sure that we did a good job. The good thing is that we usually impress our clients enough from their low expectations at the beginning that we get some tips.

The worst people usually come from the high end clientele for catering. Aw man it’s really funny sometimes hearing us being looked down upon or judged simply because we are serving you food. It’s true that most of us would never be able to afford it, but we get paid to serve you food that we are able to eat for free during our meal breaks. And it works out, because the money made from one day catering would still not be enough to pay for one guest at that same event. Tonight was when it really hit me. We were packing up from a catering event at CenterStage and using the elevator to bring our heavy carts down to the first floor, and an older man walked up to me and asked if there were any stairs to get to the fifth floor because “you people” were holding up the elevators. He was an asshole and his reaction just made me laugh. I wasn’t in the least bit intimidated by him and he appeared to be very entitled. And then there was the oe of the event speakers hanging out in the catering makeshift kitchen on the second floor. One of the chef’s asked him what his speech was about and he responded with, “Social justice.” When pressed for more information he just replied with “Well it’s a talk about social justice,” as if the chef wasn’t smart enough to understand the specific bits about his speech. That infuriated me that he was acting hypocritical and not giving someone part of his time because she was a person who was curious about helping and learning more about an issue that she believed in.

And so there are those whom I respect. These are the hard, sincere workers who are true people. I like people who challenge themselves and look for growth and change when things become too stagnant. I like the challenges of thinking on one’s own feet, the smell of good tilled earth, and the taste of butler passed hors d’oeuvres on my tongue. So here’s to the people who work behind-the-scenes for not that much money but have a life much more varied, interesting, and richer than some of the ignorant clients whose vapid interests I usually serve.

P.S. – I found out tonight that this one caterer whom I had served with several times had passed away this past friday. She had always struck me as an odd caterer who always asked such weird questions with redundant answers and sometimes doing things wrong. But she was also involved with high school literature and a girl scout troup that she was involved with. I remember that the last time I saw her I told her that we should exchange emails so that I could learn more about the programs that she was involved in. She was very odd and very weird and annoying at times, but as one of my co-workers put it, “She was one of the constant personalities of the Chef’s family.” I had the pleasure of being a part of this dysfunctional family, and for that I give them my respect. Here’s to you Ellen.

To Be Happy

Why am I sad? For this feeling there definitely must be a reason. I am now beginning to understand the feeling of helplessness that comes to most undergraduate students after college. I work these two dead-end jobs that do increase my current skill-set, but I just could never see myself working in these jobs for the long run. I’m leaving for Uganda, Africa in November and so many people are proud of me. I have teachers, professors, friends, acquaintances, and family members all telling me how great I am. But what hurts the most is trying to have just that one person accept you. There is one person whom I know does not like me, and I just cannot get over it. I’ve been much better at dealing with that over the past 2 years, but in this circumstance I can’t shake it off. It hurts because it hits me very close to home. She actually lives at my house; she’s the wife of my dad.

I remember meeting her for the first time in Boston a day or two before the graduation ceremonies. She didn’t talk that much, but I supposed that she was just being shy. When I got to spend more time with her at my old house in Maryland, I assumed that we were slowly getting along. I shared my meals with her and my dad, I would say hi and bye to her, and I would make sure that I hugged and kissed her on the cheek before I left the house. After I had returned from my European adventure at the end of July, I learned that she did not like me. She thought that I was thrifty at the expense of others, spoiled, Americanized and wasn’t thinking about my dad and the financial situation that this family is in. It hit me right in the heart. I did not expect to hear that my step-mother looked down on me. I guess it’s that feeling of wanting your parents to be proud of you, and even though she’s my dad’s wife, I still want her to see me as a stepson who accepts her. So far it’s been difficult.

We barely talk these days. She likes to glare at me or plainly look the other way or ignore me. If I don’t say hi or bye when she comes and goes from the house, then we will not talk. I get the vibe that I disgust her and that she mainly holds disdain and contempt towards me. This is apparent when we are in the same room doing something like cooking, and we both don’t talk. If we do talk, then I am the instigator and she responds in several words at the most.

But what really hurts me is that she sees me as this spoiled person who is selfishly going to the Peace Corps, while leaving behind all of these bills for my dad to pay. That made me feel so guilty. I had second thoughts about whether or not it was fair for me to ask my dad to help pay for my monthly student loan bills while I was volunteering in Uganda. My Peace Corps readjustment allowance would help to pay for about half of the monthly pay, but the other half would need to be covered either by myself or someone else. The original decision was that my dad offered to help, and I accepted. My upsets me stepmom. Her food tasted so good, but I no longer eat it or with her on principle. It sucks, because this means that I can’t eat with my dad too. I wanna be closer with him, but I also want him to be happy with his wife. And he can’t do that as much as he could when I’m around.

The thing is that I feel as if my dad has no idea what’s going on with this situation. I think that he just lets me be to come and go as I please. If I have to sacrifice my relationship and interactions with my dad so that he can be happy with his wife, then I’ll do it. I have been doing it, and I will continue to do it, because I have already put this family through a lot. I have seen myself as a financial burden to this family, but I can make it better. I just need this one last thing; the Peace Corps before I return and get a high-paying engineering job to pay my bills and pay back my parents for all that they have done for me. I am beyond grateful for everything, and even right now I am sleeping in my old room in my old house without having to pay for electricity, water, or rent. And I would do so, if I had the funds at the moment.

So for now I will continue to work to pay my dad enough money so that he doesn’t have to worry about the initial Peace Corps bill in November and the bills every month until I return. I don’t know if I’ll have enough, but I will find a way to make it work one day at a time.

They Endured

“They endured.”

~The Sound and the Fury Appendix, Dilsey’s final entry

I have a great relationship with my aunt. I get home from landscaping work around 4pm-5pm and then park in my driveway. More often than not I get home earlier than my aunt, and have the entire house and kitchen to myself. I have the ability to use the entire kitchen without her glaring at me, or can watch tv or do laundry without fear of my dried clothes being placed on top of the drying machine because I didn’t take them out right after they were done because I was still at work. I appreciate the quality time that we spend together as soon as she arrives home from work: she opens the door, sees that I’m in the kitchen, and then quickly heads upstairs. She does not leave the master bedroom until I am done cooking, cleaning, eating, and then watching tv. I sometimes say hi to her, and she graciously responds by immediately turning her body and face away from me and hurrying to whatever she was doing.

Sometimes we share jokes, like the time she ungraciously took out all of my clothes from the dryer because I left them there after already having asked if I could do laundry that day, and sure enough I had washed my Spring Awakening t-shirt with the saying “Totally Fucked” on the back. I’m sure that we both had a good laugh about that. The best part is the cleaning. She is a very clean and organized person. The stoves and counters are always sprayed, scrubbed, and wiped before, during, and after every individual meal. Now I’m a clean person too, but I suppose that I just cannot keep up with her. Sometimes I forget to put away my clean pots and pans away because they were still drying in the corner of the counter, and they are all piled up into the Lazy Susan where I am allowed to keep my dishes, utensils, spices, and non-perishable foods.

And I’m sure that she has a wonderful family. I was told by my dad that several of her relatives would be staying here at the house for a week sometime in the middle of the Fall, and asked if I could move out of my own bedroom into my brother’s empty room. I was confused as to why I should move all of my stuff from my bedroom into a room that is already the guest room, but I suppose that they would require more room. I have even heard about her sister, because their Skype conversations travel through the thin wall between my bedroom and the master bedroom. Obviously she brags about her new stepson who graduated Cum Laude from BostonUniversity in Mechanical Engineering, who paid and took out personal loans to pay his way through the last two years of college, funded his own internship in Berlin and his Eurotrip, and will be teaching other teachers in Uganda this coming Fall. I can definitely tell that she beams with pride about me when she complains to her sister how my dad does not have the money to help me pay for my student loan bills while I’m volunteering in Africa, how I show up to the house unannounced, how I need to text her to tell her when I am coming home, how I am a spoiled child who should move out and be independent, how I eat her food during mealtimes, and how I am thrifty at other people’s expenses especially my friends.

I like to think that her persona was modeled after the majority of her life living in the Philippines and her spiritual li. Her Facebook is practically covered with scripture passages and quotes concerning how God will provide and take care of us. They all seem to proclaim great wealth and blessings from God coming this way. One could definitely tell that her actions follow this posting on her Facebook wall: “A person’s most useful asset is not the head full of knowledge, but a heart full of love, an ear ready to listen, and a hand willing to help.” Goodness knows that she is a exemplary model of these traits.

Of course I can’t take all of the credit, because I’m not perfect. I enjoy going out with friends at night, I sometimes splurge and eat out with the money I earned from landscaping during the weekdays and catering during the weekends, I like to smoke every now and then, and it is true that I do depend on my dad right now for medical insurance and a roof over my head. I cannot afford living in my own apartment right now before I go to the Peace Corps in November, and I will need to store my stuff here for the 27 months while I’m away. Yes there is a lot of bills and debt to pay, and maybe I am being selfish for wanting to travel away from it all for 2+ years and fulfill one of my life goals.

However, what gives me comfort is the knowledge that I have a family who loves me. In that respect I am much luckier and more spoiled than a sizable percentage of the world. My dad still invites me to the dinner table as my stepmom physically has her body facing the other way. He still loves me whereas I may only remind her of my dad’s past failed marriage. I am growing closer with my little brother in college, and I am so happy that he is living in a dorm and not at home. And my real mom is doing just fine in her apartment in Timonium. I have a fucking awesome family, and even though my stepmom does not seem to like me, she loves my dad I can respect that. I still love her as my dad’s wife and a member of this once-broken family that endures.

Back in Boston

I’ve been back in Boston since Tuesday August 13th but it feels like I’ve been here all summer. The apartment finally looks like it’s reverted back to its normal state with the tables cleared of random papers, the dishes in their proper cupboards, and the sink free from any leftovers. I think that I succeeded in all of my initial goals for my return back to my college town: make some money to counteract the cost of self-maintenance and travel, explore a bit more of Boston, and say goodbye to old friends. The first goal was easily accomplished through the Boston University employment office where I applied for a quickie job. A quickie job through Boston University usually involves a student usually applying for few hours-long job that someone needs. This usually involves something like moving furniture or babysitting or being a translator during a meeting. I applied for three jobs, and was called back by this woman in Newton, MA who needed help moving. She lived around the mile 18 marker on the Boston Marathon route on Commonwealth Avenue. It was one of the most interesting jobs that I have ever worked. Her family was old and rich. Her still-living mother was in her 90’s, the woman was in her 60’s, her daughter in her 40’s and still living with them. The house was a corner house and beautiful. The woman in her 60’s, who was a Justice of the Peace, used to be an art dealer so the house was filled with dozens of professionally framed drawings, paintings, and canvas. The first day I biked the 7 mile route from my house to theirs, and impressed them because they suggested that I take the T instead so that I wouldn’t be too tired. I first met her husband, who used to be an accountant, and we struck up a small-talk conversation. However, as soon as his wife, the justice, stepped in he turned to go upstairs up to his cluttered office.

The justice offered some snacks to me and then told me how we needed to load her rented UHaul van with boxes and bins. I started right away and made sure to make efficient use of the available space in the UHaul. I spent about an hour carrying and packing the boxes away. She was very impressed with my work, and we drove the van over to the new apartment. You see, the family was downsizing from a full-sized family house to a much smaller one. I helped her unload all of the bins and boxes using some bellhop carts, and then unwrapping all of the individually wrapped jars, plates, and pots of porcellain ranging from Budapestian porcellain to the Meissener Pozellan. Her 90+ year old mother and her sister came to help as well. As we were unwrapping, she asked me if it would be alright with me if I worked for a few more hours that day. I agreed, and she quickly asked if I wouldn’t mind working for a few more days at the same monetary rate offered for that quickie job. I told her that I would be free for  few more days and would love to work with her. I was fed dinner, paid $140 for 7 hours of work, and then driven home by her sister who was very intrigued with me.

And so I continued working for them at the rate of $20/hour. And it was one of the most fulfilling jobs that I have ever had the pleasure of doing well. I would wake up in my apartment here on Ashford Street, clean it up a bit more, and then head over to Newton to the family house where I would help the justice bubblewrap famous $10,000 oil paintings surrounded by $600 frames, carried more bins and boxes to the UHaul van, and even helped her husband the accountant clean up and organize his cluttered office. That last one was also cool, because I was called by him the night before and asked if I could help him. He said that he trusted me and that there were some documents that were so personal and important that he didn’t want the movers touching them. I was greatly honored by his request to allow me access to his personal items. And so we commenced the cleanup of his office. We moved electronics, papers and bills from the past two decades, and dozens of office supplies.

I learned a lot about that family that day. I learned that they were rich, had many things, but also had each other. The accountant and the justice struck me as hard workers. And I always impressed them with my math and science skills, because the family appeared to be more logically, administratively, and artistically inclined but not so much mathematically and scientifically inclined except for the accountant. The hardest part was parting with the things that they have had. It was hard for the justice, because it seemed that she had a long story associated with the life of the artist of a painting we were wrapping, a vignette connected to a piece of clothing that fell out of a bin we were carrying, or a tidbit about something that I said that reminded her of something. But she was also selling or giving away so much of her stuff. And she would confide in me that I was such a Godsend because she wouldn’t have known how to move her important possessions without someone else helping. The accountant was a larger man and had trouble walking, and the 40 year old daughter was still living at home and was having job problems. It almost seemed that this justice was the matriarch of the family and supporting it with her tireless will.

Literally, it almost felt like both she and I were the only ones doing work. But as annoyed as she appeared to be, and as much as they all bickered as a traditional New England family with its white-collar problems, it still struck me as one amazingly beautiful story about a family going through a tough time before it moved on and grew. Their house was definitely shrinking in size, but that only seemed to bring them closer together. It was cute to hear the justice still call her 90+ year old mother “Mommy.”

I asked the justice what she learned about moving out, and she told me that she learned about how one can accumulate so much stuff that is not needed. She learned that what she needed was just good friends and family and a few cherished things. And so I labored, cleaned, and ate with this family and shared stories. We would mainly just talk about the Peace Corps and my eventual deployment to Uganda, Africa this coming November. She would then ask me about my travels and I would tell her about my Dresden Study Abroad Semester and my summer internship in Berlin and my recent Eurotrip with my two best friends this summer. She talked about her own travels and experiences throughout mainland Europe, and her husband would talk about his travels in Eastern Europe right after the wall fell. And on the rides home, her sister would talk about her daughter’s study abroad semester in Barcelona. We shared stories about our successes and our failures, and a small part of our beliefs.

Sometimes the justice would just stop our working to tell me a 5-10 minute story about a couple whom she had just married. This justice really did not want to preside over “cookie-cutter” marriages. She would sometimes offer her own backyard and parlor room to host the legal ceremony for Massachusetts’ couples. And then she would have a small cake with some candles in order to celebrate for a while with the two. But one of the most beautiful stories was about these two women whom she had married in the Arnold Arboretum. She was with one of them at the entrance and the other woman in the marriage was running a bit late. They had chosen to be married at a specific spot near the entrance of the Arboretum, because that was the spot where they would meet since they both worked different shifts as nurses at different hospitals. But then a group of young college students plopped down at that exact spot. The justice walked over to them and inquisitively asked them why they had picked this exact spot. Naturally the students responded, “Uh, I dunno. It just seemed like a good spot.” The justice then informed them that they had every right to be on that spot, but that if they chose to stay then they would be in the middle of a wedding ceremony. The kids then stated that of course they would leave. And as they were leaving one of them shouted, “You look so beautiful,” to the bride who as already in the Arboretum.

I eventually finished up my last day of work with them, and was then invited to join the entire family, including the sister, her husband, the Barcelona daughter, and a close family cousin called Bunny in order to celebrate the 93rd birthday of the justice’s mommy. It was an emotional meal, because the sister shared a toast about how this would be the last meal in this house after almost 2 decades of family reunions, parties, marathon barbecues, and get-togethers with families and friends. It was stressed that this was a house and not a home and that the home was wherever they all were as a family and where the apartment now is. It was a beautiful toast, and the food was amazing and consisted of cucumber and sausage lasagna, Caesar salad, and keylime pie. The sister had made it all, but she professed that she wasn’t a good cook. I bid my farewells to all of them, and exchanged emails with the justice, the accountant, the sister, Bunny, and the sister’s husband. I promised to keep in touch with my endeavors and to share my Peace Corps blog when I leave. I promised to send them messages from time-to-time, and then I was driven back along the Marathon route of Commonwealth Avenue and back to the land of bohemian musicians, college students, broken glass, and a very different family in a very different home that I was more used to.

Doldrums

I feel stir-crazy, and I haven’t felt this way since that day I was cooped up in my Boston apartment when the entire city was looking for the Boston bombers and the order to remain indoors was in effect. I yearn for something new, something exciting to spice up my life. Here I am seeing the lives of so many other people on Facebook and their endeavors. Then here I am on Facebook literally just eating, sleeping, and dicking around online until something happens. This is the feeling of reverse-culture shock for me. I was inundated with lights, people, experiences, adventures, and sounds for 24 days nonstop until it all came to a halt. I will write about it in a later blog post, but for now I just cannot get over how awesome the adventure was. I think that I am getting bored with the same old same old over here back home, because I have gotten used to the lifestyle of always moving and always adventuring. Maybe it’s similar to how teenagers always want to feel and yearn for that feeling of some sort of exciting emotion. It’s too quiet and dull over here, but I know that these are the last free dog days of summer that I will have in a long time.

However, I still know that I am lucky. In a few months I will be leaving to volunteer in Uganda, Africa for a 27 month Peace Corps volunteer assignment to teach secondary math and science education.  It also doesn’t help that I just got back from my Eurotrip with my two best friends 6 days ago. Now it’s just the waiting period between adventures. I am in the process of bidding farewell to my old college life, and in the process of moving on. But I’m stuck in this limbo of life between my mom’s apartment and my old house where my dad and his wife live.  It’s definitely not a bad life at all, but I know that there is something greater out there and something better that I could do with my time. And I don’t know if this is a good feeling or not: to have the consistent thirst for newer horizons or to be content at home doing nothing too extreme and staying content just being.

I keep forgetting how therapeutic blogging is, and I there are a few posts that I need to write down in the next few days.

Atypical Sunday

Last Winchester GrettosSo I guess that I am emotionally compromised for a bit. There are days when I just feel numb and apathetic, then there are days when I just feel as if there are too many emotions to handle. The evening before I had spent performing with my a cappella group, Allegrettos, for the last time ever. It was a small gig at Winchester High School where we have always performed year after year for a few hundred dollars. It was my first ever performance with the Grettos as a freshman in the fall and now it has been my last ever performance with them.

After that I headed to the CAD (computer aided design) lab in order to run some simulations on my Final Senior Design project concerning the test response accelerations of a raised floor system in areas of heightened seismic activity. I setup the simulations on four computers and wrote notes on the screens so that no one would touch them while they were running. I biked back to my apartment and invited one of my friends, Max, over to hang out and chill with me until one of the freshman in my a cappella group came over for a midnight bike riding adventure. We listened to some good music (Dr. Dog and Wilco) and then headed over to one of my other friend’s apartment houses at 87 Linden Street in the Allston neighborhood. His house apartment was pretty cool, and the way you entered into the apartment was through the back door after going on a wooden deck that connected to the second floor.

We entered through the back door, which led to a hallway that housed his bikes, and then entered into the living quarters. Ah it was a very alternative college living area, as one of my friends put it. There was the kitchen with the liquor bottles lining the tops of the cabinets, and multi-colored Christmas lights weaving their way around the bottles, which gave off a very soft glow of dulled colors. The middle of the room had a metal table that was so low that one had to sit down with ones feet underneath it in order to sit at it. Around this table was a very soft L-shaped couch that was awesome to sleep upon, but not that great to lean back with.

Our host, Thierry, at 87 Linden gifted us with delicious micro-brewed beer and some Gin & Tonic with fresh limes. We chilled, and I Thierry's Houseremarked that his apartment reminded me of a hostel. It had the feeling that it held many stories over a long period of time with a wide variety of people coming in and out of that place. We listened to a very indie/alternative playlist that seemed to fit in perfectly with the chill hostel mood. I eventually left, danced a bit at the White Horse Bar and then headed back to my house where my neighbors were throwing an after-party for one of the all-girl a cappella groups at BU.

http://www.bu.edu/today/2013/linden-street-fire/?utm_campaign=prbumain&utm_source=social&utm_medium=facebook&sf12204665=1

http://www.universalhub.com/2013/nine-residents-rescued-burning-allston-house

I awoke with a hangover the next day, and instantaneously went on Facebook. I scrolled through the notifications, and read that there was a fatal housefire in Allston. I shook my head and thought, “Ah well, not another one.” I then took a closer look at the picture and realized that that was the exact same house I visited last night; 87 Linden. I quickly called my friend, Thierry, who lived at that house and he texted me back that he was alright; however, one of his roommates, Binland, who also lived in the attic with him may not have gotten out. One Binland’s friends, Amanda, called me and asked if I had any information about Thierry and Binland. I explained to her that our mutual host friend was alright, but that Binland was probably the one who died in the fire. I then got confirmation from Amanda around 3pm just as I took a picture of the pink flowers of a tree just outside of the Mechanical Engineering. I promised her on her Facebook wall that I would post the picture of the flowers.

http://www.bu.edu/today/2013/linden-street-fire/

Flowers for BinlandIt felt weird knowing yet another person who had died, especially since I was in such close proximity to where the fire happened, and she was probably sleeping already and just didn’t wake up before dying. I remembered the last time we had seen each other, which was at 87 Linden when I was working on an Engineering Economy assignment. Then the time before that was during a Halloween Party in Junior Year when I met her and found out that she was slated to go study abroad in Belize since she was a Marine Science Major. And it was so close to the end of Senior Year too.

I was at a loss during that day, and I biked passed Linden Street, and saw the aftermath of the blaze: the charred remains of a house with police cutting off entry to the street with police tape. I biked to campus, and attempted to continue my simulations for my Senior Design Project of a Raised Floor System. Needless to say, I couldn’t focus. But then my friend from Dresden Study Abroad, Sean Manton, called me and asked if I wanted to go spend a 30 minute break seeing his friend’s art exhibit by the Boston Commons. I naturally assumed that this meant seeing murals, paintings, or floral arrangements. We biked down Commonwealth Avenue northwards to the Commons, and the day was just so beautiful. Dads were playing catch with their sons, girls were frolicking on the grass, couples were going on strolls, and the world seemed normal again. We made it to the Commons and stopped in front of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, located on 138 Tremont Street. It is an Episcopalian Church that had scaffolding that led to the top of the roof in front of the facade. Sean and I pulled one of the fences in order to create an opening, and then climbed up the scaffolding to see Sean’s friend from Colorado who was in charge of a project to put an aluminum Nautilus on the front top of the church. I couldn’t believe that right now I was overlooking all of the Commons on the top of a very tall scaffolding structure.

Sean’s friend, John, explained how this design was desired for over 200 years, but they didn’t have anyone to build it at the time. So then Episcopal Nautilusthey recently had the ability to commission this design with a new artist using an aluminum shaping plant over in Colorado and then shipping it over to Boston. I explained to Sean that I never had a dull moment with him. I would say that it was the perfect way to take a break from the events of the blaze and my senior project.

We then biked back along the Esplanade, and I couldn’t help but smile at the feeling of sun across my back and people enjoying nature by the Charles. I then happened across Amanda with one of her friends on one of the short piers jutting out from the Esplanade path. She seemed pensive, looking out across the waters of the Charles as the afternoon sun started to set. She asked me how my day was, and I responded that it was good, but not perfect. She then inquires, “What would make it a perfect day?” I then respond with, “No senior design.” However, I knew that this was just a cover for my other emotions, but I knew that she was also dealing with many other emotions as well. I then hugged her and told her to take care as I continued biking back to the lab and to senior design work.

So I would say that this was my atypical Sunday. I did work, and my journey wove through the lives of so many others in many intense ways. Binland’s memorial was on Tuesday afternoon on Marsh Plaza and I honestly could not have felt so many weird emotions. There were engineering friends, two of her ex-boyfriends, old friends, and roommates. Then there was the realization that it wasn’t too long ago when we had all gathered at Marsh for solidarity, support, and mourning for the Boston Marathon Bombings. But together we could join as a community and share memories about those whom we had lost and loved.

Around this time last year the BU community lost Austin Brashears, Daniela Lekhno, and Roch Jauberty. And there have been so many lost since then, and this weekend was just the latest. But we will continue to strive forward, because that is all that we can do. There is life out here and it is good.

Binland’s Website

“We are the voices of the Ocean.”

Amanda on the Charles

To Life We Sing

http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2013/04/22/178415907/agony-ecstasy-irony-the-fight-for-the-soul-of-college-a-cappella

And so starts the beginning of the end. I wanted to share the article above, because it resonates very strongly and intimately with me. I have been involved with a cappella since the sophomore year of high school. I was part of the J~Notes at Loyola Blakefield High School, and we weren’t that good. Honestly looking back, we kinda sucked at most of our songs and were reasonably impressed when I helped to arrange the simple Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” with my choir director. I didn’t think too much of this group, and felt more connected with my high school choir, rugby team, musical productions, or other groups that I was a part of.

Then back in Fall of 2009 I started my time at Boston University and participated at the SPLASH event on Nickerson Field. This event allowed most of the active student groups on BU’s campus to attract as many of the incoming freshmen as possible to their tables and get them to sign up for information meetings, auditions, networking nights, or practices. I walked down a corridor of tables around the center of the field. This corridor had tables filled with all of BU’s a cappella groups. I specifically remember this short blond girl, whom I later found out to be named Megan, yelled at me saying, “Come join the Allegrettos!” So I got one of their flyers and decided to try my hand at auditions for a collegiate a cappella group.

I auditioned with “I’m Yours”, got called back for a second round of auditions, and eventually got accepted into the group. It was during that second round of auditions that the Allegrettos performed one of their songs, “Semi Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind. I couldn’t believe my ears; it was just pure awesomeness to hear human voices joining together in some weird sort of harmony in order to recreate a song. The rest has been history, and one that is still hard for me to believe. I cannot stress enough just how much a cappella has shaped my college experiences, and it’s ridiculous to think that these a cappella groups were initially formed by students and all student-run. First of all there are the two 3-hour rehearsals Thursday and Sunday night. Then there are the gigs where we performed some of the songs that we learned in rehearsal.

However, the night that everyone looked forward to was the Night of BU A Cappella hosted by the Treblemakers a cappella group. In one of the larger BU auditoriums, all of BU’s a cappella groups performed two songs. It wasn’t an official competition, but it was a night where every group could be represented in the a cappella community and show itself off to the rest of the university with all proceeds from ticket sales going to the Franciscan Hospital for Children. There have been staples of the BU a cappella community, and then there have been groups that have come and gone throughout the years:

Co-ed: Allegrettos, Treblemakers, In Achord, The Bostones

All-Girl: Terpsichore, Chordially Yours, Aural Fixation, BU Sweethearts

All-Male: Dear Abbeys

Christian: Mustard Seed

Indian: Suno

Korean: K-Seoul

Night of BU A Cappella has been one of my favorite nights of the year. It’s a feeling of just being enveloped by such an intimate and intense sound of music. In response to the initially posted NPR article, I think that a cappella has evolved past traditional boundaries, and college a cappella has been proof of that. It has become its own community in college filled with its own drama, interwoven pasts as intricate as some harmonies, and performance opportunities as diverse as voice types. It is impressive to hear a well-produced song on the radio that impresses you, but it’s even more impressive when you can convey that same feeling using only voices. It’s just a different world, because choirs usually sing songs tempered by time and strengthened with the musical expertise of a professional composer.

On the other hand this is all student-run: from the musical arrangements, to group funding, to transportation, rehearsal space reservations, and even group structure. Sometimes I forget that all of these groups are self-run, and that it is through our actions, thoughts, and suggestions that events, performances, and songs occur.

It is hard to convey just how much a cappella has impacted my life. Some of my first real college experiences came from my involvement with the group both through our performances and through our social gatherings. My first ever time getting drunk was with a cappella, my first real college party was with a cappella, and my first time feeling a part of something much greater than myself in college was through a cappella. It had become synonymous with college life ever since I stepped foot upon campus, and I will never be able to convey that feeling of knowing that I would always have this normal routine where I would go to class, go to work, and then go practice with my a cappella group that comprised a large part of my college experience. There have been many adventures that I have shared with my group: running out of water and electricity in bumfuck nowhere Vermont, performing at every Night of BU A Cappella, drunken scavenger hunts, late night practices, singing outside on the streets,  tripping the fire alarm at our retreat house in Cape Cod, hosting a cappella parties, being the guest group of the now best a cappella group in the nation (Nor’easters), and travelling to perform at various gigs throughout the Northeast.

And I will end with one of my all-time favorite college experiences. It was the tail end of Freshman Year, and we were asked to perform as the guest group for RPI’s Rusty Pipes all the way in Albany, New York. It was an overnight performance and we sang “Otherside” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The performance was cool, but what I really remembered was how the after-party was filled with old Rusty Pipes alumni and how they all were singing old songs. We were asked to sing one, so we decided to do “Semi Charmed Life” and everyone joined in because the other groups had their own versions of it. As a drunken freshman, I loved every moment of singing in harmonies and rhythms alongside so many other a cappella members from different backgrounds and lifestyles joined together through our love of singing. I have never forgotten that moment, and I will not forget those notes, harmonies, friends, the sand beneath my toes, and the songs with the four right chords that could make me cry.

Marathon Monday

I know that I haven’t written in this blog for  long time, and I’ve mainly done stream-of-consciousness, but I decided to finally spend some of my free time writing here just to keep me grounded and put my thoughts down on paper. I don’t think that I was in the right state of mind to write down my feelings after the events of Marathon Monday/Patriot’s Day. So right now, after the fact I am now able to give life to my thoughts and words as well as to fulfill my role as archivist and historian of these events that have transpired.

On Saturday I was at a party with a friend and I remember having a nostalgic moment with her. We talked about how it is ridiculous that we can literally start counting down the days until graduation, and how classes will end within a month’s time. The talk eventually settled around how we had all travelled around the world and grown from our four years worth of experiences here. I then said, “We have all become displaced,” and our conversation fell silent amid the din of keg-stands, beer pong, and blasting Top 40 pop music. We had come to a moment when we realized that college students and those who grow up in life look for a home. We are displaced in our minds, through our emotions, and in our physical locations when we leave for college and new lands. That realization that college will soon end had already hit us and we are now desperately grasping to share moments among the friends whom we love.

So on Sunday night before Marathon Monday, I travelled from Boston University backwards from the Marathon Finish Line all the way to Midnight Cyclingthe starting line at Hopkinton. I journeyed there with two friends, a member of the BU cycling team Michael Wexler and a member of the BU track team Michael Bhat. We biked through the night on the marathon route and eventually made our way to the starting line. We literally chilled there in the almost freezing temperature until the rest of the Midnight Cyclists that had arrived at the Southboro Commuter Rail stop led the first wave of cyclists past the finish line. I biked back the entire way to Copley alongside the hundreds of other professional and casual cyclists who joined together in solidarity to bike the marathon route. I get to the finish line, and it felt like a moment of peace after an arduous journey there and back again. We take some pictures and I head back home to my apartment to finish making several gallons of sangria in preparation for intense Marathon Monday day-drinking.

I sleep well for a few hours and awake to my roommate and her friends pre-gaming in our living room. Before I could even fully open my eyes, I already take a few gulps of vodka and sprite. The rest of the day involves an adventure through the pre-gaming areas of Allston. I made it to a courtyard where hipsters were tossing a Frisbee disk, hippie girls were hula-hooping, my indie friend was taking Polaroid pictures, stoners were drinking cannabis-infused creamer, bros were passing a football, and drunk biddies were belting Beyonce songs.

I drank here for a bit, then left to another place where I got to play Fusion, a mixture of beer pong and flip cup. Ahh it feels like ages ago, Marathon Mondaybut the day felt so wide and so warm. There were friends everywhere, and all were invited to partake in a breakfast of eggs and kegs. I split off from the pregaming a little bit after noon, and walked towards south campus where the runners were going down Beacon Street. There were only smiles everywhere as I weaved in and out of apartments filled with European girls, Lebanese smokers, and cheering frat bros. I walked down the Beacon Street T lines towards Park Drive where the majority of my engineering friends were all cheering, dancing, and laughing with each other. I just felt so happy to be celebrating my last Marathon Monday with the friends whom I cared about and those whom I had shared my college experience with. This place had become my home, and I was sharing this gloriously beautiful day with my college family. These were the poignant moments of hugs with old friends, small adventures of drinking sangria behind garbage bins, and solidarity as a Boston community cheering on an event of almost superhuman endurance and skill.

And then around 3pm we started hearing rumors of a bomb. Most of us dismissed it as fear-mongering and just went about our normal activities of cheering and drinking. And then the texts and alarmed calls started flooding in and people started to take notice. The police started checking people’s bags even if they were unattended for a few moments, and even I got manhandled a small bit as the cops angrily asked if that was my bag lying unattended on the sidewalk.

Deserted BeaconAround that time, the marathon runners started getting diverted and the cops instructed spectators to start heading indoors. I took refuge inside one of the South Campus apartments with several of my friends and few other BU classmates. It was a very intense atmosphere; with one guy in tears saying how he felt like it was 9/11 all over again. We all tried to sober up as fast as we could, and when I looked out of the window the streets were all deserted and not a single marathon runner could be seen anymore.

I felt distraught, and the tv kept broadcasting the same message on all channels:

“BUPD has reports of an explosion near the finish line of Boston marathon on Boyleston St. Information that people are injured in that area. Please remain out of the area of the marathon route. Remain indoors and return to your residence at this time. More information to follow.”

I then made my way to Marsh Chapel where a few people had already congregated. I needed to clear my head, so I knelt down in prayer by one of the pews. I then made it back west to the Allston area and back to my apartment where I finally got internet access and saw the live-stream of what had occurred. What hit me the hardest was hearing about the casualties and the dozens of amputees. I literally empathized and started to feel like an emotional wreck realizing how so many people who had trained their whole lives for a these moments of joy and celebration could have their entire lives taken away. A lot has already been said about this issue, but there is always more room to share one’s story.

I just didn’t know, all I could ask myself was why? Why? Why did someone do this? What was there to gain from this tragic attempt to steal away people’s joy? I never found an answer that day, but instead I found an overwhelming feeling of the human spirit. All around me there were acts of human kindness, love, and generosity. The technology that we have said distances people from interpersonal relationships brought people closer together in times of crises that could not have happened before. I literally had dozens of texts and calls from friends, acquaintances, and loved ones near and far just to ensure that I was safe. I even got long-distance calls from friends studying abroad thousands of miles away. Then there were the Facebook posts, articles, stories, and pictures sharing how good can come from this evil. And that is what I wanted to share today; the goodness that eventually triumphs over the bad, the love that wins over hatred, and the good works that unite all humans together. The following are links to articles that have demonstrated the overwhelming response of people who have decided to look for the light in a day that was clouded.

http://www.businessinsider.com/inspiring-images-from-boston-2013-4

http://katielannan.com/2013/04/15/the-boston-marathon-is-everything-thats-right-with-the-world/

http://nesn.com/2013/04/boston-college-students-organizing-walk-to-finish-boston-marathon/

http://bucultureshock.com/stay-strong-boston/

http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2013/04/16/17782438-a-story-behind-the-photo

http://bostonmarathonconspiracy.com/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/gameon/2013/04/15/boston-marathon-blast-help/2086273/?csp=sporttumblr

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/04/15/if-you-are-losing-faith-in-human-nature-go-out-and-watch-a-marathon/

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/04/photos-stories-kindness-boston-marathon-bombing/64258/

“Runners know that timing is everything… And I will never forget that 7 minutes after I crossed the finish line Boston felt the first explosion… I’m so grateful to be alive”

~Rosie Woods (One of my BU friends)

“I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

~Anne Frank

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

~Martin Luther King Jr.

“Boston is a tough, resilient town, and so are its people.”

~President Obama

“This tragedy is not going to stop Boston… We will not let terror take us over.”

~ Boston Mayor, Thomas Menino

“There’s something particularly devastating about an attack on a marathon. It’s an epic event in which men and women appear almost superhuman. The winning men run for hours at a pace even normal fit people can only hold in a sprint. But it’s also so ordinary. It’s not held in a stadium or on a track. It’s held in the same streets everyone drives on and walks down. An attack on a marathon is, in some ways, more devastating than an attack on a stadium; you’re hitting something special but also something very quotidian. When we find out who did this, we may well find some fascination with the event—perhaps a foreign terrorist, or a sick American. Perhaps it was someone who spotted a terribly easy target. Or perhaps it was someone who saw a reflection of the human spirit and decided just to try to shatter it.”

~Nicholas Thompson, New Yorker

“As some of you know, I was 1/2 mile from the finish line when the explosion went off. I had no idea what was going on until I finally stopped and asked someone. Knowing that my family was at the finish line waiting for me, I started panicking, trying to call them. Diverted away from the finish line, I started walking down Mass Ave towards Symphony Hall still not knowing where my family was. Right before the intersection of Huntington, I was able to get in touch with Brian and found out he was with my family and they were safe. I was just so happy to hear his voice that I sat down and started crying. Just couldn’t hold it back. At that moment, a couple walking by stopped. The woman took the space tent off her husband, who had finished the marathon, and wrapped it around me. She asked me if I was okay, if I knew where my family was. I reassured her I knew where they were and I would be ok. The man then asked me if I finished to which I nodded “no.” He then proceeded to take the medal off from around his neck and placed it around mine. He told me “you are a finisher in my eyes.” I was barely able to choke out a “thank you” between my tears.

Odds are I will never see this couple again, but I’m reaching out with the slim chance that I will be able to express to them just what this gesture meant to me. I was so in need of a familiar face at that point in time. This couple reassured me that even though such a terrible thing had happened, everything was going to be ok.”

~Unknown

“Today, in the place I have called home, there is no doubt in my mind where this goes from here. If you have lived in Boston, you probably already know this. If you haven’t, let me assure you, that you need not doubt the strength or spirit of this particular American city. It proved itself in an earlier time, a time it was commemorating yesterday, Patriots’ Day. And the video of people rushing in to help the injured speaks for itself, but it is bigger than even that.

Boston is not the biggest city in America; it is not the most politically powerful. But it has an inner determination and power that only the foolish ignore. Next year, at the 118th running of the Boston Marathon, I confidently predict there will be more runners and more supporters than ever before.

The attackers, whoever they are must be incompetent.

They picked on the wrong city.”

~Jim Walsh, 90.9 WBUR

These were just a few of the sentiments that I saw within the past few days. I will say that there is a new-found sense of determination here Allston Sunsetthat has united all Boston students together. In a sense we all felt attacked and knew that what we needed to do was to stay together and hug our loved ones. There is a spirit here that prevails through the tears and sorrow, and through the toil and strife. As my close friend Mitch wrote down later that night:

“Today is a day that should go down in drunken college history. Unfortunately, the events of the day will be remembered for different reasons. Nevertheless, days such as this force us to recall all those important memories with loved ones that truly matter.”

And so in troubled days like these I will walk on the road that Patriots walked upon into the cool spring air and let Boston save me.

Let Boston Save Me

The Last Few Stretches

So right now I am in my 2pm – 4pm Senior Design class and unfortunately it is one of my least favorite classes. I guess that it’s just that there are so many things to do and Senior Design represents this one last hurdle before I graduate. I honestly don’t think that I am a learning a whole let, except how to work with vibrational computer simulations for response frequencies and how to keep the group afloat. This last semester in college has been one of the most-time consuming semesters that I have ever had to deal with during my tenure here at Boston University. It gets frustrating having to organize events for people and having to get things done since other people have trouble with organizing things.

It’s becoming crunch time and I just have to get through these last few classes, sleepless nights, and frustrations. I know that doing so many things are what gives me energy, but at times I wonder how life would be if I didn’t have so much to do. Right now in our Senior Design class we are going over our Midterm Project Reports. Our group got a B, which is perfectly fine with me. Content-wise we had an awesome report, but the biggest detractor was the organization of the material. I guess what I’m getting at is that I just need to rant about this class and the project. I feel as if I am a busy person, and I love 2 out of the 3 other people in my design group. The problem is just that I have consistently done several all-nighters in order to meet our deadlines. I have committed myself to upholding this group, as well as contributing to helping other groups whom I help to lead. It is frustrating knowing that the group can attain a much higher grade if I had more time to work on the project outside of my other extra-curricular activities. I just need to vent because it sucks being stressed about a class that should be one of the defining moments of my engineering undergraduate career. Instead, it has become this horrible ordeal that I have to experience in order to get to graduation in 1 month and 8 days.

However, just like all of the other stresses that I have gone through; I will make it through this experience and grow stronger from it. Hopefully I will be able to post more updates about life on this blog, and I expect to do so as my commitments start to die down as the year progresses.