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It’s Thanksgiving time once again, and this year I will be on a job interview at the same time the turkey will becoming out of the oven. How bizarre. I need to take every opportunity that I get, but when it comes down to it I miss being an active part of my family.

Living in another country has provided me with new way of seeing life. There is unconventional beauty everywhere because things are interesting. Life here is exciting because it is out the ‘norm’. Sandy has helped me reflect, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the ‘norm’ is necessary and I hope for that again.

I am from the Jersey shore. Life there is nothing like that horrible MTV program ‘The Jersey Shore’. I find assumptions that it is, ignorant and insulting. I did not tan in a box everyday nor do I fully understand what a GTL is, I am a local. They aren’t. I grew up riding my bike to the beach, and walking around my town barefoot to visit my neighbors on their porches.

I am the definition of a beach kid, born and bred and so was every friend I had up until I graduated high school. I learned how to swim in the ocean when I was one, ride waves on a boogie board when I was three, and swim against rip tides and body surf soon after. I am a scuba diver, my friends are divers, my parents are divers. I grew up watching guys leave school with their surf boards sticking out of their trunks to ‘hit the waves’ in mid January.

I spent my youth at the beach club where I spent all day with my friends swimming and having epic barbeques with my family till midnight. It has a dream like quality in my mind, I know its real but it was a bit too perfect.

Serious sandcastle contests, and swim meets with other beach club teams were the height of importance. Toe stubbing on the pool deck made Carebear Band-Aids fashionable, I don’t actually remember wearing shoes in the heat. Searching for shells and for hours keeping track of who found the most sea glass, building forts out of lounge chair cushions, water fights in the cabana while doing the dishes. I grew up there. We kept the same friends, discussed colleges on the beach talked about boys under the empty lifeguard stand after the beach closed. Made failed efforts to sneak into the nightclub next door, the bouncer was my school gym teacher… he grew up in the cabana next to us. Winter months are a vague memory, everything was a rush till the weather warmed up and we could jump back into the pool.

The beach club was demolished when I was 17 to build large unattractive luxury homes for the tourists from the North to stay in during the summer. Things can’t always stay the same.

Going down to the Point Pleasant boardwalk to play ski ball while my grandma played electronic poker, made me a pro at the game. By time I was 8 years old I had my own style of throwing the ball to win epic points. I’d win tickets worth enough to buy that cool neon eraser in the shape of a teddy bear for the tip my pencil.

I have a clear memory of being seven years old; walking back to our car, I see my fingers sticking together with sugary pink residue from cotton candy Grandma let me have. I remember sitting with gram and mom on the beach on metal and fabric chairs watching the town orchestra put on its weekly summer concerts. I loved sitting on my grandmas lap and falling asleep. The orchestra left just last year, no more concerts, only memories.

Now I take my younger cousins to the same boardwalk to eat waffles and ice cream and salt water taffy. We play the same games, and ride the same rides I did as a kid.

When I got older and moved to New York, I still got my summers in Jersey and would visit the beach some weekends in the winter to see the grey color of the ocean. Still taking my bike out in the cold wind to feel the sinus cleansing salty air, I would watch seagulls make tracks in the light snow. The people who work at the deli around the corner know my family and ask how everyone is doing when I stop in to grab a sub. Some things don’t change, but they probably will eventually.

We grew up with Hurricanes. My mom used to say they would open the back and front doors of Tradewinds to let the water run through. We used to make a game of racing the waves that flew over the seawall on our way home where we would tape X’s on our windows and prepare to clear out water that would inevitably flood our basement.

Last month the east was hit with Sandy, an ironic dainty name for a massive coastal super storm. Beach clubs were ripped from their pilings; boardwalks flew up like a bed sheets, local dives gutted by massive flooding and wind. My childhood hometown was ok with some damage and power down for over a week, but compared to everyone else, we were extremely lucky. People have died because evacuation was never something taken very seriously before. ‘Riding the storm out’ was a normal phrase people will use less now. Homes have been lifted and dragged out to sea. A friend of our family is currently borrowing my car because the three they owned floated away. Boats were sprinkled like confetti around and through split open homes. Towns were shut down because they were deemed unsafe due to open gas lines. Fires started, a roller coaster fell off a pier into the ocean, and many displaced now live in shelters. The stories I’ve been hearing are nightmarish, the pictures even more heart wrenching. We’ve never had one as extreme as Sandy and I’m expecting things to look different when I visit next month.

It is disturbing to watching events play out from so far away, and not being able to do anything is even more troubling. I am now a paying subscriber to the NY Times online site to heal this disconnection slightly. I get to see how the rest of the world is seeing my community; emotional, strong, hardworking, and loving. New Jerseyians take care of each other and we are proud of what we have. I call home as often as possible to see how friends are doing, getting their homes fixed and lives back together. All I’ve heard is how nice people are being, and I feel really proud of everyone.

I wish I were home to help out. I will be home in exactly a month, I promise to do my part and give as much energy as I can muster to ‘Restore the Shore’. Restore the possibility of making new memories similar to what I am privileged to have.

So to friends, family, and neighbors- in the spirit of Thanksgiving I am thankful for you, the memories that I share with you, and for the faith in knowing more will be made because we are a determined crowd. I’ll see you in December with bells on and possibly work gloves.

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Leaving Cameroon is both exciting and surprisingly nerve wracking. I’ve almost gotten used to this lifestyle, almost. What is it going to be like to go back to a place where everything is extremely accessible and I blend in? I’ve been living by myself in a fairly quiet apartment. At home there are people coming in and out of the house pretty regularly, my parents who I love dearly, want to know my plans so they can coordinate, and I am not integrated into peoples lives as I was 5 months ago- people have to make room. When I lived in New York it was easy to visit home, only being and hour away. When I lived in Italy, my family came to visit me. This is the first time I will really be ‘visiting’.

What am I really looking forward to?

New York, you have no idea how amazing that city is until you become comfortable there. My museums, which I believe got me through the stress of college, are safely the same as I left them and so is Cafe Fiorello’s. I plan on ice skating and spending New Years with my friends and seeing a Broadway show with my mom. I am excited about what it will feel like to be there and after living in Cameroon the traffic and subway delays shouldn’t even bother me.

Hanging out with my mom. We’re supposed to be making cookies together. At first I was thinking I didn’t want to do anything when I got back- but I realize this is definitely not a chore.

See all of my cousins. I am a lucky girl with over 20 cousins, whom I actually feel close to and miss seeing.

My friends, I’ve known most of them forever, and I have no doubt that we’ll be making many awesome memories that I can take back with me

The Grove– for some reason I’m really looking forward to going to this outdoor mall with those expensive stores you wish you could buy ON rack all the time, but you would go broke after 2 outfits. I plan on buying a latte at the Starbucks there and shopping the sale sections at J. Crew and Anthropologie, and maybe the Papyrus.
(Apparently I have this new appreciation for gift cards. It’s amazing to me that there are stores devoted to these beautiful little things that create feeling in people. They are printed, and put on display to be chosen for specific people who may find deep meaning in the words, who keep it for a month and then throw it away. There aren’t really printed cards here. Finding anything here that isn’t second hand is amazing never mind a 3$ greeting card with glitter.)

It’s Christmas, so I get to feel warm and fuzzies with my entire family. I get to live with a huge Christmas tree in a gloriously decorated home (to my mother’s credit, she is obsessed with perfect decorations)

-I really want to go to Franks and The Windmill. These places are staples of the Jersey shore and not to be ridiculous, but the best deli and hot dogs in the whole state.

I’ll be home for 3 weeks.
Will I be sad to leave, making me have to re-adjust again? Or will I look forward to leaving because of all the excess stuff that I don’t have to deal with, and the simplicity of life here?

I don’t know and… I shouldn’t spend time wondering because I guess it doesn’t really matter. As cheesy as this sounds- I’ll be home for Christmas with my family and friends. Consequently I am very lucky. I’ll just concentrate on that.

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