>> 05 December 2016
I don't know who I'm writing this to, but I need to get some things down while they're fresh. As a PhD student, I know that I'm supposed to have imposter syndrome. The feeling that I'm just barely doing enough and that at any moment, someone will see through me for the fraud I really am and will kick me out. It has never actually happened though, probably because I am confident that I am good at what I do, and that the people in positions above me are sometimes muddling through just as badly as the rest of us. They're people, and I'm a people, and all we're doing is learning to be better at what we do, together.
That said, I definitely have a HUGE streak of imposter syndrome right now. On June 24th, I was in New York City, crying quietly to myself in St. Patrick's cathedral. I was suddenly consumed with thoughts of my Hawaii/Timor friend Jonas, who I knew was dying of some mysterious malady. The last time we talked, we'd had an awful fight about the line between our friendship and our professional relationship. I lit a candle after Mass (even though I'm not Catholic- I came to do the tourist thing, but I stayed to listen to the celebrants singing and the organ soaring) for Jonas' health, and for the chance to mend our friendship.
On July 24th, out of nowhere, Jonas sent me a desperate facebook message. I was in Austin, Texas, standing alone in the studio apartment of two friends who had lent it to me while they were out of town. I was on a little bit of a movie-montage summer journey of 'finding myself' and 'recovering from a dumb thing' or whatever. His message struck me like lightening - I was frozen to the floor. He was so careful, so polite, so patient, so sick. This was our conversation:
Jonas: Aloha Mana Melodi
How are you? Hope you are well.
It is so good to hear from you
I lit a candle for you at St. Patrick's
how are you?
Jonas: I am umder intensive treaement in bali and slowly recuperating
take it slow
Jonas: Plan to have kidney transplantation when fully fit
Melody: wonderful! do you have a donor?
Jonas: But its very expensive. Can I ask you for help?
The donors are my brothers
yes, do you have a way that I can donate?
Jonas: Can you please an account on gofundme.com on my behalf for online fund raising?
The application isnt avalaible here.
Melody: Sure, do you mind if I ask [person] at the US Embassy to help me?
I think if we work together, we can reach more people
Jonas: Yes pleas3
Melody: ok, I will do it right now 🙂
Little did I know what this really meant. I did not know that he needed fifty thousand dollars. It was already late when I got his message- I spent the rest of the night working, writing, researching. I did nothing else for the next three days. I did not know that this was going to take months of desperate begging, writing fundraising letters, thank-you letters, pithy and grabby headlines, emails to complete strangers, people I consider so far above me that I shouldn't be cold-calling them like this. I just said "sure". The things I didn't know could fill a book, but each need was taken care of.
I had to learn everything there was to know about kidney failure, dialysis, transplant - one of my best friends in Hawaii worked for the American Kidney Foundation and I called her that very night; later, a German doctor in Dili who has a background in kidney transplant reached out to me to offer her help. I had to learn about the medical capacity of hospitals in East Timor and Bali - two of my former housemates were uniquely acquainted with this issue in their capacities as supplies coordinator and trainer for the hospital staff in Dili. I had to learn how international banking worked - a representative of the receiving bank offered to personally keep an eye on the account to make sure everything added up correctly. I scheduled meetings with representatives from both of my American banks to see if they could match funds or make small contributions - they couldn't, but they advised me on how to protect myself with regard to taxation. I chatted to terrifyingly important people (people I've cited in my work!) about the mundane details of Jonas' daily life - they helped spread the word further than I ever could. I helped coordinate deliveries to keep his mind occupied - books and visitors arrived. I solicited freelance translators to translate my page and my updates into Portuguese, Tetun, Indonesian, and English - they came through in a big way. I had to learn what time to post my updates to maximize their exposure- I've finally gotten a good handle on international time zones after the many video-calls with Jonas and his brothers, uncles, and father.
Friends in Dili coordinated their own efforts; friends in the US reached out to their churches; friend and acquaintances and complete strangers from so many countries that I lost count contributed their funds and sentiments. A friend lost her husband suddenly, tragically; she requested contributions be given in his memory. In mighty fits and starts, the donations rolled in and I sent thank-you notes to every donor. All the nights I spent at Sky Bar, shaking hands and exchanging cards and being clever and charming felt like they were paying off. In Timor, I had a reputation for being well-connected - part of me feels mightily embarrassed about that, but the larger part is fiercely proud of the work that it took and is fiercely protective of the people I had the pleasure of meeting. In Hawaii (for better and worse) I am much more isolated, but I stretched the connections I have far and wide.
I learned a new kind of patience as I waited (and tried to understand) throughout the process of petitioning for support from RDTL, the Timorese government (apparently it goes like this: Jonas undergoes an evaluation from the director of the national hospital, who presents his case to the medical board 'Junta Medica' and if they agree to take it on, they present it to the government- via parliament? Not sure what happened after that). I learned a new kind of disappointment and optimism when RDTL did not agree to fund his operation, but did agree to pay for post-op expenses. I learned a new kind of gratitude as I saw the names of the donors, public and anonymous, month after month.
All the while, Jonas' physical and mental health improved, and he got stronger and stronger. The medical reports were more optimistic, the transplant started to become a reality.
Then, tonight, the final (huge) donation came in and we hit the fifty thousand mark. I was in the middle of writing some trite passage on the theoretical frameworks of language attitude analysis when I got the email. Like a scene in a movie, I stared at it, slowly pulled my headphones off and said, "No... what? No.... no WAY.... what?!" Then I immediately called my partner to *freak out* for a few seconds before messaging Jonas to give him the news. He freaked out just as hard as I did - called his parents - and I wrote a hasty, typo-laden, ecstatic update on our gofundme page.
So, you have probably forgotten about the imposter syndrome by now. Well, I haven't.
First, I can't help but feel like I don't deserve any of this; the unbelievable support, the encouraging messages, the reality that over 500 people donated a total of fifty thousand dollars - I can only chock it up to Jonas' likability. Second, I can't ignore that I stand to gain from this experience. Jonas gains a functioning kidney and a second chance at life. I gain a line on my CV, the ability to market myself as a somewhat adequate fundraiser or 'social media coordinator' or some such immensely employable nonsense, and the personal satisfaction of seeing a good job finished (and the not-at-all-charitable satisfaction of displaying our success to people who didn't believe we could do it- including the few who accused me of lying [seriously, there were people out there in the interwebs saying that Jonas had already died and this was all a fraud- I reported them when I could, but it was really hurtful]). I feel guilty for asking my friends constantly for money; where I come from, this is a somewhat tacky enterprise, and makes me worry that the people I value for their humanity will believe that I only value them for their monetary potential. Third, I feel guilty for feeling relieved that it's over. I'm moving to Australia in 5 weeks, and my doctoral dissertation is due to my committee in 11 weeks. I've been really worried that I would still be writing my pathetic messages, sitting among my boxes in an empty apartment in Canberra, while trying to finish this dissertation. Mostly, I was worried that I would fail at both.
So there it is. I'll see my therapist in two days' time to talk through some of these weird reactions and to talk about strategies for appreciating the present and preparing to move forward (seriously, if you don't have a therapist to talk to you about exactly those two things, get one), and then I guess I'll just keep going. If Jonas can brave this transplant, I feel like I can do anything.