“Mami yo nunca te abandono.”
– Mi Tesoro, Zion y Lennox ft. Nicky Jam
Exactly a week ago, I passed my viva voce with minor corrections, which means that this PhD is almost done and dusted with — alhamdulillah (praise be to God).
This is a historic moment in my academic life — perhaps even more so than when I submitted my doctoral thesis earlier this summer in June (pictured above), the day before I got on a plane to Nairobi to embark on another mission completely unrelated to academia. Immediately after submission, I spent three months in a village in the Kisii county of Kenya, and managed to squeeze in a couple of weeks of solo traveling in neighboring Uganda and Rwanda. After two years (well, technically, a year and nine months) of being cooped up in the library, reading, writing, and listening to reggaetón (sometimes all at once), I thought I deserved a little break. So I went a little crazy and did, among other things, volcano trekking in the home of the gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. To cross over from Rwanda to Uganda, I took a moto taxi, matatu (a passenger van), hitchhiked at the border, then got on a boda-boda (motorcycle) that took me to the Rutinda jetty, where I hired a dug-out canoe — bad choice, it turned out. I was fortunately rescued by a team of Slovenian volunteer doctors passing by on a motorboat, who took me safely to the island of my destination.
East Africa is a different story — back to this PhD: it wasn’t an easy journey, but it was one that I’d enjoyed tremendously. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that if someone paid me to do another PhD, I’d gladly take up the offer. I’d learned so much — not simply from hours of poring over books and journal articles and monographs, but also from conversations sustained and ideas exchanged over many cups of tea and coffee in Cambridge’s many coffeeshops. The bonds of friendship that have grown in depth and intensity also kept me alive throughout this PhD — I had friends who faithfully read my work and could tell me plainly to my face if it made sense or not; friends to gush about relationships and reggaetòn; friends to shop and try make-up on with at John Lewis; friends who also double as travel companions, for journeys near and far.
Without sufficient guidance from my supervisor, I might have faltered along the way. She had a way of probing into the deep recesses of my mind and memory to fetch the hidden gems that I never knew were there. She gave me the building blocks to play with, when I am sitting on my own in front of my laptop late into the night at Queens’ library. We work well together — she could begin a sentence, and I could finish it. She said I was a “thoughtful person” because I had “a nice way of arranging [my] thoughts in [my] mind”. The fact that our personalities scarily overlap also make it easy for us to understand each other. At times our relationship spills over into the personal side — at my post-viva party, she cooked a generous portion of mutton curry, and even gave me money to buy a cake for myself and some drinks. My friends were awed.
Of course, my mother deserves some mention here, for she is the whole reason I embarked on this endeavor. I am grateful for her continuous support, even if she at times doesn’t understand the logic behind my actions. I take this as a sign that she trusts my judgment and considers me “adult” enough to make them without her consultation. Friends — even love interests, and spouses — come and go, but we have only one mother in this world. And I am lucky to have this particular one as mine.
So today I am celebrating the success of one of the biggest experimental endeavors I’d undertaken in the quarter of a century I have lived in this life. I still recall my anxieties from my first year, in which I’d truly struggled to keep my head above the water. But what I’d reminded myself at that moment still rings true today: After hardship, comes ease (bersusah-susah dahulu; bersenang kemudian).