Thursday, May 1, 2008

Duke, my family and Hannah Montana! You get the best of both worlds...

The flight to Raleigh from Chicago was uneventful and much more pleasant than the previous one. Besides, Ryan and I watched Hannah Montana and listened to music together so what more could one want. When we got to Raleigh, Uncle Glenn and Aunt Ruth picked us up. We went back to their house and I slept more soundly than I have slept in a very long time… I didn’t get up until about 10am the next morning.

Saturday started off with a nice run with my Dad and brother through the historic Oakwood neighborhood. I was dying though. Truly and honestly I had spent the whole day yesterday traveling and hadn’t been in the same place for more than a few days. Taxing to say the least. Getting my legs just to pick up my feet was quite the chore. After running, a shower and a great breakfast the crew headed out to peruse the local flea market, a beloved pastime of my family. Besides two used books, which I could have probably done without, the only other items whose draw was strong enough to get us to part with our money were some great socks. I needed some new socks so it was prefect. Random, but good. Oh, and an aside is that there was this very convincing lady trying to get my Mom to by some Himalayan salt. It was supposed to be detoxifying, blah blah blah. The lady was quite the saleswoman and for a moment she had me going, but then I snapped back into reality when she said that one person she knew went to California for a detoxing treatment and on the way back, just in the airplane and through the airports, the friend had reabsorbed 247,000 toxins. That is BS if you ask me. That number is completely arbitrary, how on earth could you know something like that. I would like to see that list of those 247,000 toxins, thank you.

On the way back we stopped to grab some lunch meat to make a small snack, which inevitably turned into much more than that. So after our not so small afternoon snack it was about 4:00pm and everyone was about as far from wanting dinner in the next few hours as you can get. So my Mom, Dad, Ryan and I headed off to run some errands for me. I needed new running shoes, underwear, and a few other things that have since slipped my mind. The running shoes turned out to be more troublesome to locate that I originally had anticipated. First of we tried to find a Sports Authority. We had an address and a phone number, but the store was no where to be found. We even looked it up and it was listed in the phone book, so it must have closed or something, but man was it frustrating! So instead we went to Dick’s sporting goods. (Maybe that used to be the Sports Authority…) Anyway, Dick’s is way too expensive. I wanted shoes that I didn’t mind trashing and leaving in Burkina because that is what was going to happen. So we sojourned on to Target to pick up the other random things I needed. Afterwards, just before calling it a night we stopped at Kohl’s and to my delight found a pair of shoes that worked. Unfortunately, the box didn’t match the shoes and so we didn’t know the price and couldn’t find anymore shoes of the same style. We were going to just try and see if the lady would notice they were in a different box, but thought better of it. Turns out the shoes only cost $12. Talk about a steal! Oh, and my Dad found a pair of really really nice Asics, like their newest shoe but on clearance, clearly a mistake, for $24. They were just a hair too big for me but we bought them anyway for one of my Dad’s runners. A $100 pair of shoes for $24; that you can’t pass up. We got back to the Sappie House pretty late, actually, and had some pizza with Uncle Glenn before Ryan and I watched some Hannah Montana to finish off a very splendid day.

Sunday started with a lovely Skype conversation with Leanna. I missed talking to her and so it was nice to be able to catch up, even if it was only for 30 minutes. I grabbed a quick breakfast and then we all headed off to the Duke chapel for the Sunday service. We got there nice and early. Oh yes, and let me tell you to our surprise it was Alumni Day. SO the place was crawling with people! The service was okay, I hate grading church like this was an A- or a C+ sermon, but there has to be some reflection and everybody has their own preferences. I thought the choir was amazing. I wasn’t super taken by the liturgy, but I was still able to worship. Towards the end of the service I noticed this girl kind of sobbing to herself. I felt this overwhelming need to go say something to her. I didn’t really want to, but I know when I am being called to do something and so I took a deep breathe gently pushed pass my father and went over to say hi this is woman. I simply introduced myself and asked her if everything was okay. Apparently she was an alumnus and had sung in the choir so being back just brought back a bunch of memories for her. She indicated she had no prayer requests and we parted ways, but she did say my saying hi to her made her day. That wasn’t really my purpose I was just being obedient to what God had placed on my heart, but it was nice to hear.

After church we toured the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. I got my picture in front of the sign covering the end of the name so it was simply the Sara Gardens :) The gardens were a nice idea, but I guess everybody else thought so too. There were a ton of people around and it was rather distressing actually. The gardens were beautiful, but somewhat hard to enjoy through the throng of people. So after getting our fill of nature we got back in the car and drove back to Raleigh. Arriving in Raleigh, Glenn gave us a short driving tour of the downtown area which was quite interesting. Once we were home and things were settled down again I made a few phone calls to friends. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon! Afterwards I went on a short run with my Dad and after a quick shower, my Mom, Dad and Ryan and I struck off again on our own, this time in search of a Walmart. Leanna had given me a short list of things they could use in Burkina and I thought I would oblige. The Walmart trip was surprising brief. I sometimes think Walmart is a sort of time warp. You walk in and can walk out 45 minutes later and it feels like only 5 have passed. Have you ever had that experience? Anyway, we had a little more time left and I was hoping to get to a book store. So Ryan, being quite clever, used google info via cell phone to locate a bookstore. We had to call Uncle Glenn for clearer directions, but it all worked out. The place we found was a Borders and I was able to replenish my stock of reading supplies. The new books added to my collection are Lolita, White Man’s Burden, The End of Poverty and Utopia. I was quite pleased by my selections. I used to cringe at paying full price for books, but now that I actually like what I am reading and hope to start a nice book collection it is rather satisfying going into a book store, finding what you want to read, granted that you already know what that is, and buying it.

When we finally returned from shopping round two, we all went out in search of Mexican food for dinner. I still wanted to have real Mexican food, a rarity in Burkina. However, the place we walked to closed at 8:00pm on Sunday, so we were out of luck. After walking around a bit we at last we settled on a sports bar slash grill place. We made the most out of it and things greatly improved after Uncle Glenn got them to turn the music down a little so that an actual conversation could go on… The one thing I didn’t like about the place was that if you wanted to substitute something else for french fries you had to add another one to two dollars to the price of your meal, even though a side of lets say potato salad actually costs less than french fries on the menu. That really frosted my cookies. So in my own little way I rebelled and ordered only a bowl of soup. The soup was pretty good so I can’t complain and the company was superb so again, lemonade from lemons…

After dinner my Mom and I went for a walk since we hadn’t really gotten a chance to talk talk because of all the activity going on. We walked up and down the street and it was great to flesh out how I had been feeling about grad schools and life in general. When we got back I made us some stove top popcorn and again Hannah Montana was the chosen evening entertainment. That night we only lasted through one show since everyone was wiped out!

Monday was my official visit day at Duke. I got there about 9:15am and didn’t leave until 3:30pm. It was nice that they had a whole schedule made up for me. I met with five plus professors. Each for between a half to a full hour! It was crazy. I was so beat by the time I walked off the campus. Just a bit overkill. The nicest part of the day was getting to tour the campus and have lunch with two current graduate students. They were very nice and helpful with offering honest information about the graduate program and how it is run. Just two quick notes. One professor started off her meeting with me by telling me she had emailed me and I had failed to email her back. Where do go from there? So I apologized and tried to move on. I honestly hadn’t remembered getting her email, so she looked it up on her computer and told me the date she sent it! Turns out later I did remember getting it. But it was a totally random email. She never identified herself as a Duke professor and simply asked if I had made a decision for graduate school or not yet. I seriously thought it was a grad student who had been recruited to check up on admitted students and see if they had any questions. So the fault is not all mine, the email could have been a bit clearer. Secondly, another professor I met with literally talked non-stop. I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise! It was ridiculous… and not to mention I was super tired and really struggling to hold back my yawns. However, my will power sometimes could not overcome my body’s need for endorphins that yawns kick out.

After the final meeting, my parents picked me up again and we went for a very early dinner to an authentic Mexican restaurant in Durham. It was really good. I ordered a Burrito which could have easily fed two people. Which it ended up doing because my Uncle had the leftovers for dinner :) After dinner we stopped by a goodwill store to pick up a suitcase for me to use to bring things back with me. $8.00 later I was owner of a rolly suitcase that I was confident would make travel through Paris much easier. From there we headed to the airport because my family was leaving to go back to Chicago. It was so great to spend with them. I really do have a great family. As my Mom was saying goodbye, crying, she asked me if I was really happy. She said I seemed really happy, but she just wanted to make sure I wasn’t pretending. I was able to reassure her that I was truly and honestly happy. In fact, I was the happiest I have been in a long time during those ten whirlwind days. I totally blocked work out of my mind and was about as care free as I have ever been! Awesome.

I drove the car back to my Aunt and Uncle’s house and we had a chill night. I packed up my stuff and when my Aunt Ruth got back we went out in search of some ice cream. It was close to 10pm so we were lucky to anything open still. We were headed to Ben and Jerry’s when my Uncle spotted an Indian restaurant that he promised had amazing ice cream. I was skeptical, but we gave it a try. After convincing the owner to serve us, they were pretty much closed up, we enjoyed a quick cup of ice cream. It was really good. Very different. Refreshing, light and nice. I think a monster chocolate number from another place would have not made me sleep so well or not feel so good on the plane the next day; so, the Indian ice cream plan worked out just great! Before I turned in for the night I talked my friend Carolyn on the phone. I knew it would be one my last chances to catch her and it was great to reconnect. She is at med school and LOVES it! That was awesome to hear!

Tuesday morning I got up and tried to accept Stanford’s offer for admission. They had gotten back to me saying that if I got the Oxford scholarship I could defer for a year and the same financial package would be offered. Talk about amazing. Anyway, there was a problem with the server. The department had forgotten to register my application as admitted so I couldn’t log on! Quel dommage! (What a shame!) so I spent a lot of the morning fretting about not being able to go to Stanford and losing the financial support. Because of that I was hesitating declining the other schools. I mean what if I couldn’t end up at Stanford and had to go to MIT? Anyway, I wrote up the emails to all the professors I had visited. The decline ones were the hardest.

I called the Stanford people as soon as they opened which wasn’t until 10am our time because of the time change. Well, we were supposed to leave at 10am so we were a little late heading out. We got to the airport in fine time. I said good bye to Aunt Ruth and thanked her for the amazing hospitality they had extended to us. Back to the acceptance dilemma, I left messages for Professor Hildemann and Professor Davis at Stanford letting them know the situation. There wasn’t much I could do at that point, so I chilled out and figured I would tackle it again once I got to Boston and was waiting for my flight to Paris. I called and talked to my Grandmom for a few minutes before leaving Raleigh and promised to call back from Boston so I could talk to my Grandad. That was a promise I was able to keep and it was so nice to talk to them both on the phone! It was a short conversation, though, as my flight was already starting to board… The flight from Raleigh to Boston was great. It was a very small plane and not full and the woman I sat next to was really nice. Talkative, but not overbearingly so… We had a few interesting conversations. Turns out she works for the Department of Defense. Nice. That just sounds intimidating doesn’t it.

At Logan airport I paid the $8 for internet and officially declined the MIT and Duke offers for admission. I was able to reach Professor Hildemann who said she would be able to take my email as confirmation of my decision and they would go into the system and make all the necessary changes. Phew. I was also able to email the thank you notes to the professors who took the time to meet with me. I really did appreciate it! With that I signed offline made a few quick calls to friends, my grandparents and then my Mom letting her know the acceptance has been registered and that she should start getting used to the idea of California ;) I tried to board the plane while talking to Annie on the phone, but the stewardess didn’t like that so I had to say goodbye… I shutoff my phone for the last time and stepped on to the plane that would shortly whisk me away from my homeland and onto four days of adventuring in Paris.