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Transient Mode: Home, Pt. 1

Cleo van der Veen's picture

I've been reading lots of briefing books from the UN on Syria. It’s odd; quotes keep popping into my head at unexpected moments. I'll be eating a sandwich and:

“…the violence in Syria has caused the migration of over 400,000 refugees into Lebanon, and a displacement of over 5 million Syrians internally and internationally…”

How many people is 400,000 any way?

The city of Cleveland. Cleveland’s population is 400,000.

Today my boss asked me to come to her office. I came in and she shut the door. She never shuts the door. Have I done something wrong? I haven't been here long enough to do something wrong.

She looked at me.

I looked at her. Well, not at her, but at the upper rightmost corner of her glasses. I looked at her.

“How are you?”

I answer: “I’m doing well.”

My answer is only sort of a lie, but the response was a reflex, no one expects you to answer anything other than “I’m doing good” or “OK.” “How are you?” has morphed into more of a call and response social ritual more than anything else now that I think of it. So if I lied, I'm not even sure if I did, I'm not sure that it matters.


I did.

A moment, a pause, and then:

“Cleo, I get the feeling you aren’t happy here.”

Oh boy. How do you respond to that statement? They didn't cover this in the “Antioch co-op workshops.” Then again, they didn't cover a lot of things. This isn't their fault per se, but how do you really make a workshop on how to pretend to be an adult for the first time? I digress.

“I get the feeling you aren't happy here.”

Blank stare.

Do I tell her that she isn't wrong, do I tell her that yes, I'm not happy? Am I happy? Am I happy working in an office, wearing suits, working on a computer and typing and researching and calling congressional offices all day? Am I happy sitting in a desk job? Am I happy reading Syrian Security Council briefing books?

I don’t remember exactly what was said after that. By either of us, but I know the gist of it.

I assured her that I am happy at the United Nations Foundation, that I do enjoy working here. Only sort of a lie. The truth is, I don't know.

I chose “here” to mean “at the UN Foundation” but what if “here” is “in Washington, D.C.,” or “in this co-op experience?”

I don't know if I'm happy in any of these “here’s,” but then again, how happy is a friendless, constantly moving, feeling unsettled, in a 100% new environment person going to feel?

Today, after the meeting, I looked back to when I first got to Antioch. I remember feeling the same way. It took me six weeks to really fall in love with the place, and to really feel like I was at home, to be really, truly happy there. Is this the same? Do I just need a few more weeks? That first month at Antioch, I played a game with myself. Whenever I felt uncertain about where I was I would ask myself. “Can I be happy here for the next day?” And if the answer was no, I asked “Can I be happy until lunch? For the next hour? For the next few minutes?” Eventually the time span that I could be happy for expanded, and I stopped asking the question altogether.

“Cleo, I get the feeling you aren’t happy here.”

I don't know if I’m happy here, I don't know if my happiness even matters, if it makes a difference, I just don't know. I’m sitting at work after everyone has gone home and writing into the evening because I really do not know. I don't know what to do when I go to sleep and still have the text of UN Security Council briefing books on Syria floating through my head. “…on the 28th of March, 2013, 23 UN personnel were detained by an unnamed group of armed persons, they seized the UN vehicles…”

I want to be happy in all of the “here’s”
“…they seized two firearms and ammunition…”

I do know that I am lonely. I have no friends.
“… the vehicles have not been located or returned…”

I do know that while I am at work, I enjoy making a difference, but I don't feel like myself, and am not myself.

I do know that I feel like one of the displaced people I read about in the briefing books,

I do know that I don't want to move rooms or houses or anything again.

I know that I probably will move again.

At the end of all this, I get to go back home and Antioch will love me no matter what.

I know that “… on the three separate occasions in the last three months there have been violations of the zone of separation by Syrian Armed Forces and the Israeli Defense Forces…”

Can I be happy here for 15 minutes?


Then let’s regroup in 15 minutes.

“…the Syrian crisis remains a threat to the stability of the region…”