Thursday, May 8, 2014

Where Does my Strength Come From? Part 1 - My background

Am I strong? How do I make myself do the best I can everyday, living alone for so long? What is in me that gives me inner strength? Life has had its challenges and I have been dealing with a lot of them on my own.  I have achieved some things I wanted to, but some are still eluding me. As I am nearing my mid-life I have been thinking about this a lot.I don't have good answers - but I have given it some thought. 

First of all - why did I think about this at all? My background is quite different from a number of my peers and the more I think about it, the more I wonder how did I manage it all? I feel comfortable in my life right now - my job, house, health, social life etc. I have been living alone for about 20 years and have had to take care of a number of things myself. Where does the strength for all this come from? I may have an idea...but I have to go through ALL my life on this earth so far.

The Early Years:
My mother's love showing in this picture
My first 8 yrs in Dehra Dun (where I was born), were okay for me. There are a few things I remember I disliked: one was that being the youngest of all my immediate cousins, I was teased a lot; I never felt like I fit with my classmates - don't know if it was because I was the youngest? My parents move to Nigeria (with my brother and I) when I was 8 years old. My father had just changed his career to begin a new one as a professor at University of Ibadan. 

After two years in Nigeria, when I was 11 years of age, my parents sent me to Vanasthali Vidyapeeth, Jaipur, India, for one year. I was in the 8th grade at that time. Living in the hostel was definitely not easy. It was one mishap after another. But most of all - it was lonely.

After one year, my parents decided to bring me back to Nigeria for four years to finish O and A level (10th and 12th). Not easy at all!! My brother and I were in the same class (and section!!)  It was hard work and since I was always the youngest in the class - I had to work twice as hard to understand what everyone got easily. I finished 12th grade when I was 16. 

The College Years:
I was sent back to India to do my B.Sc. in Chemistry. I am very thankful to my father that he persisted on me studying Chemistry. I was back in the hostel after four years of living at home. I was also under the guardianship of my maternal uncle (mama) who I had met only once before.  So I had to adjust living in someone's else's guardianship other than my parents. I was only 16, and I did my best! And I am grateful to my uncle for making sure I got admitted in RG Girls College. I would not change that college experience for anything!  

After two years my father made sure I did my M.Sc. in chemistry and the only place I got admission was JV Jain College in Saharanpur (thanks to another uncle).  This was an adjustment of mammoth proportion - although I did not realize it at that time. First, I was living at home in my aunt's (bua's - my father's sister) in-law's house (not in the hostel), and second the family was a joint family. My first and only experience of such a home. Oh I have stories!! Again, in retrospect this was the best time of my education yet.

Oh back to Nigeria after 4 years; here Papa advised me to take some classes to pass time until we packed up and moved to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. So I took two classes- sewing and typing. Both were very useful - typing more than sewing :-). 

All these four years I was flying back and forth to India from Nigeria on my own. Now that I think about it, I lived out of two suitcases for those four years. That in itself was interesting as I had such few belongings :-) Parents would pickup and drop me off in Lagos and relatives in Delhi.

Then time to pack and move to Addis. Oh what an adventure! I will write details in another blog but needless to say it was another experience of my life. Again, on Papa's advice, I volunteered in the lab of a wonderful professor and mentor (and thank God - an organic chemist!!) in the chemistry department, University of Addis Ababa. (Educationally speaking, Papa has been my mentor and director, and it has paid off - at least from my perspective.) I also gave my GRE exams and prepared for PhD in chemistry in the USA.

One year later, I was in University of Toledo admitted and starting my PhD. I was very different than the other Indian girls as they all came from India (I considered myself part African). I also had a cushy landing as my brother was already in the university so I never had to go through what other foreign students had to go through of settling in a new place.

My brother and I in Chicago
PhD time was most eventful and memorable time of my life. I would not change a thing!! I had the best boss, best lab mates and a great room mate (my brother!). I also finished my PhD in a good time of four years. 

I would say that my education was smooth from my point of view. Whether it was my uncles or father or brother - they all helped make my education a smooth process.  All I had to do was study hard.  Well...and I did have a lot of fun on the way; I enjoyed every aspect of my higher education. By age 24 I was ready for post doctoral work.

Post Doctoral Life:
With a little networking I got my first post doc position at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, a premier place for PDT scientists in the world - as it was the birth place of PDT. This was also my first time living on my own in my apartment, managing my money, driving around in the city on my own etc....had some micro hiccups.

After working there for one year, I felt my first major hiccup. I was jobless for the first time in my life, at a place in time where I was supposed to have secured a job and be independent. I was 25 years old. I had a very hard 4 months. I literally hit the pavement in Buffalo, as they say, to find a job. I was wondering what would happen to me if I no job? What about my status in the USA? Where would I live? The uncertainty was too much. I had to move to Detroit to live with my brother and parents and go back on a F-1 visa. Not pleasant. 

Luckily while I was working at Roswell, I had managed to secure an interview with another leading chemist in PDT, at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. The interview happened in November in Ottawa, Canada (that interview was another experience I would rather not have again - ever!). I was offered a post doctoral position at UBC and I was happy to go to Vancouver, Canada the next year. One of my uncle's sister lived in Vancouver and they became my family there. It was such a blessing. 

My "Real" Working Life:
Just after 9 months in Vancouver, I was offered my first teaching job at Park University - how I got the interview is also another story! I interviewed in Seattle and nailed it! (When the provost gives you a hug after the interview you know you have the job!) I did not even know where Park University was on the map of USA. One month later, I moved to Parkville (near Kansas City) in January - middle of the snow season.

I have to mention that I had never been to Buffalo, Vancouver or Parkville before. I went to these places mostly by myself, found a place to live until I got a more permanent place. It was a little better in Parkville since the college had faculty housing, but I had not seen the work place!! What a surprise that was! A pleasant one. This will be a huge other blog.  Many key events happened while I was in Parkville: my H-1 visa, my marriage, my divorce, my green card and my citizenship. All very important events of my life.

My next move came after 11 years to Shenandoah University, Winchester, Virginia. I interviewed there, saw the place; but kismet would have it such that it was the worst two years of my life. I would never want to relive those again. I met some nice people and had some good experiences but as an academic - worst place ever.

My desperate search for job brought me to West Palm Beach, Florida, where I currently am. Here again were some adventures and mishaps very early on (mostly in the residential part of my life) - but all things happen for a good reason - right? As a result of those I quit renting and ended up buying my first home here which is now my little piece of heaven.

Then in 2011, I realized I was getting bored over the summer (and I did not want to teach) so I decided to go to India on my own (previously I had always gone with Papa because I never really felt safe traveling in India by myself). Went twice in two years and it was good experience. My blog for those years is already written.

In the meantime, I learned a lot about managing a house on my home, renovating, painting, finding a handy man etc etc. 

Its worthwhile to mention that while I was working in Kansas City, I went to University of Hawaii, Hilo, to teach organic chemistry during their summer semester (sadly, just one time). Lately I have a nice relationship with Capital University, in Columbus, where I have been teaching over summer, when I am not in India. So yet again I live like a gypsy!!

While at Park and Shenandoah, I was very active in attending conferences and workshops.  I got the chance to see so much of America through my professional development. I have driven in so many states and taken so many road trips.  I know for sure that I could do only because I was living in this wonderful - most comfortable country - USA!

So back to my original point - what makes me strong? Now that my background is all out there; I think I can assess what has helped me get here.

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