Learnings, Somaliland
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on starting over, again

It’s 3:00 a.m. in Hargeisa, and I’m caught between a (literal) nightmare that woke me, and suhoor, the pre-dawn meal before Ramadan fasting begins, which makes it useless to go back to sleep now. So, let’s do this…

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I’ve long been a fan of the start-over, the blank page which holds promise, tabula rasa. I made “art” prolifically as a child, but one errant mark of the crayon gave way to a whole new creation, the first (second, fifth, twelfth)  “failed” version tossed aside. Even today, my amateur paintings are often four or five layers deep, whitewashed multiple times in dissatisfaction, a more economical alternative to swapping in a fresh canvas. I never had much patience with fixing, or saving a sinking ship, which always seems to get me in trouble. When I do stick it out, it’s with a “new leaf” mindset: This isn’t what it was before, it’s something different. That’s how I’ve always found the energy to dig in to relationships, jobs, creative projects, etc.

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Ironic, then, that in my newest endeavor I find myself dealing in drafts, writing and editing technical documents, swimming in comments and tracked changes, juggling words and requests for modifications, referring back and back again to previous versions. It’s an exercise in patience and in seeing a thing through to its conclusion. Normally I’m frustrated by the minutiae of collaborations over Excel sheets and punctuation (Team Oxford Comma here!), especially on the receiving end of commentary (everyone’s an expert!). But working from a humble home office, the writing process becomes akin to linguistic Tetris, or the way I suppose Tetris enthusiasts feel about a game I find terribly stressful but appears sublimely satisfying to win. There is a framework, a spatial limit, visual configurations, time pressure, and you have to spin and swivel and manipulate the content until it fits in its perfect place. In my case, with the added challenges of clarity, meaning, and multiple players.

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I find new projects popping up left and right, led by zestful friends, colleagues, and others hustling to shape their passions into tangible outcomes. It makes me weary to think about the sheer, relatively maniacal level of commitment required to see passion projects forward, a dogged persistence that I don’t think I can muster, until I do, but then the next hurdle comes into focus and I’m back to doubting. Holy month of Ramadan upon us in Hargeisa, I consider the role of faith in our winding journeys into infinite uncertainty, and where, exactly, we’re meant to apply it. Faith in tomorrow? Faith in a higher energy? Faith in ourselves? Faith in an outcome, any outcome, that will lead to another and another, and so on?

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Over the last week I’ve been (also maniacally!) investigating my familial lineage via public records accumulated on Ancestry.com, spurred on by a curious comment from my mother at a recent family gathering, something about “we might be Canadian” (turns out, we lasted about three generations before hightailing it back to New York and we are, rather indefatigably, Irish with a kick of German). I acknowledge the possible spuriousness of these linkages to increasingly hazy forefathers/mothers, but I’ve built out this family tree to the late 1700s on one side, and the mid 1500s on the other, and I’ve decided to have faith in this mosaic of baptism certificates and arrival records and obituaries, in this ever-blooming garden of names and birthdays.

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As I click through the branches of my tree that sprawls beyond my computer screen, I realize: I am not a clean slate. I, myself, am one product of hundreds of years of scrappy mishaps and second tries, mistakes, spills, risks, and errant artistry. These dozens of people (with their dozens of children, sheesh!) must have screwed up at one point or another. They must have had regrets, broken hearts, and afternoons overrun with joy. They must have colored outside the lines from time to time, and made the best of what they had, betting on relative uncertainties and with faith in the nearest landmark as they crossed oceans, chose sides, betrayed and loved, loved and lost.

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Distracted as I am by the potential of fresh starts, I realize that I find faith in the long game, in the big picture, and in the full breadth of the family tree. Whatever scrambling, naive effort I put towards creating anew is quickly lost in a sea of pursuits by those who came before, and those yet to arrive. My efforts are also given life by the same struggle, failure, and achievement of antecedents, derived in muscle and in spirit from a long lineage.

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So here we go, starting over (again), whatever meaning that has or lacks, and working to make the best of it. Good luck and a hearty cheers to those making similar moves, in whatever way large or small, and a reminder that you are, inherently, part of a longer story that will hold your failures and successes and keep them as an example for future wishers, dreamers, and doers like you.

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Note: Photos from a site visit to an admirable endeavor by a former colleague, who is committed to protecting and rehabilitating endangered species that are often illegally trafficked and mistreated in this part of the world, including cheetahs and gazelles that don’t appreciate nosy photographers. For now, funding comes from his own pocket and labor from those around him he inspires and motivates. If you have any leads on resources for species conservation or wildlife rescue in the Horn of Africa, please let me know!

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