28 April 2006
(wrist surgery + second wrist surgery possibly needing pins and a three month cast because worse than previous ligament tear for which you had surgery + fact that during recovery for first surgery you are hurting worse wrist more and more because it is all you have + doctor telling you to stay close enough for fixing of possible pin problems + need for occupational therapy)
(not having any money + need to fundraise in some time you don't have + no plane ticket + no idea where you will live or what you will do in Liberia)
(three exams + a final self-evaluation + a semester of which you remember little because you were so busy trying to fix your wrists and babysit enough to pay bills including medical bills + no notes for the semester because your wrist hurt when you typed or wrote + just having had surgery + being too tired to think possibly still from surgery and after-effects + both wrists still hurting all the time)
(almost four years of having more to do at every given moment than you possibly ever get done)
giving something up?
(assuming Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally from seventh grade math)
And, I'm scared to ask - what would I give up? I think I know the second answer, at least, and it is the last thing I want to lose.
25 April 2006
Actually, it's a pretty simple story. When I was three months old, my parents moved to Africa. Liberia, specifically. I was approximately the size of a loaf of bread, so I can't take any of the credit, but the result was that my first memories are in Liberia: I learned to walk in Liberia, started school in Liberia, lost my first tooth, well okay, in Nigeria, and basically called Liberia home for 10 years.
After that, it would've been pretty hard not to be interested in Africa, although I do know some people who have managed.
We left in 1990, which is an auspicious year for anyone who knows Liberian history. I spent the next several years trying to figure out this place they call the United States, and now I'm forever trapped between the two continents. Hopefully not in a bad way. It means, essentially, that I call more places home. Sometimes it is a bit like having amnesia. I forget that I know what I know, like which little plants will shrivel when you touch them, or where the back road next to the railroad tracks goes, until I am there and it works.
And somehow from this, I have managed to pull the beginnings of a career. I still don't know where it's going, but I studied international development in undergrad, worked for two years in Rwanda, and now I'm trying to find a way to use law school to work for justice. Somehow.
Now, for just one moment, I am going to rant about higher education. If you happen upon this blog, and you are interested in working overseas, in development or human rights or anything, really, please, go work or live or volunteer overseas first, for at least one year. At least.
Do not get a masters degree before you have worked overseas.
Just don't. No one believes me when I tell them this, but trust me. I know that it's hard to get a job with only a bachelor's degree. I know that it looks easier to continue on with higher education while your parents are still paying. But let me tell you when I have seen. I have seen many students come straight from undergrad. I have listened to them asking me, "How do you get these amazing jobs and go to such exciting places?" I'll tell you how: I have already worked there. It is much harder to get a great job with a great organization in Africa if you have never worked in Africa - or somewhere outside of your country - before. There is a great deal of competition for these jobs, and if you've never worked overseas, you just do not have the skills or experience to get the job. Your degree is too specialized for your qualifications.
Also, you need to know why you are here in grad school, lest you should go crazy. And you don't really know, unless you've done the work or at least been close to it, that you really do want to do it. Your safari in Kenya is not enough. Visiting your brother in the Peace Corps in Namibia is not enough. Even your semester in South Africa is just not enough. You have to work, and reasonably independently. Even if you volunteer, even if you have to pay to be there, you must get at least one year of experience before you go on to grad school.
I have spoken.
24 April 2006
Oh, suddenly the pain is beginning. Good thing I just took half of a pain pill. They prescribed 1 to 2 pain pills, but I thought I'd start out smaller. With the pain I'm starting to feel though, I may soon change my mind and dig right in.
Getting to the point of surgery was, as I expected, a fiasco. I arrived at 6:20 a.m., per my deductions from the convoluted conversations with the resident and admitting. I was early. I should have arrived at 7 a.m. Okay, so a bit early, but that's no problem, right? It turns out that the reason they did not call me to tell me the time is that they had not received my chart. They would have to wait until 7:30 or eight o'clock to get the chart. So I waited until 7:50 am, then asked the new woman at the deskif my chart had arrived. Of course not. She told me it would have to wait until 9 a.m., when the doctor's office opened. Since the surgery was supposed to be at 9:30 a.m., this could've been a problem. Fortunately, although everyone else had forgotten about me, my doctor had not. At about 8:45 a.m., he came out personally and said, "Why isn't she getting ready for her surgery?"so then they had to do something about me. I did all the paperwork that did not involve signatures and all of the talking to the anesthesiologist and all of the vital signs and all of the rate your pain and how it has affected your life and all of the changing into the skimpy hospital clothes and still my chart had not arrived, so the doctor did another surgery that was supposed to be after mine and in the meantime my chart arrived and I signed everything. The lovely doctor who doesn't forget about me initialed my hand in purple marker to make sure that he operated on the correct one, and I looked at his initials on my hand and suddenly wish that I had gone to medical school. I want to put my initials on people's hands. It's so cool. Actually the initials were earlier before my chart arrived, but after they finished the previous surgery, the hand surgeon who doesn't forget my surgery and the other doctor who I don't really know and I got into a discussion about whether Dumbledore is really dead and if he is whether he died to save Malfoy, and whether Snape killed him out of malice or if he is really still a good guy, and whether Dumbledore had to die so that Harry had to grow up. It's always good to know that you have the same interests as the people who are about to dig into your wrist.
Then I pretty much remember nothing because my first IV ever was pumping drugs into my arm. When I woke up, my arm looked like rubber because it was covered in Betadine, felt like rubber because it was numb from the shoulder down, and acted like rubber because I could not control it, so when I lifted it from my shoulder it flew up and hit me in the face. Trust me, I was pretty excited when I could finally move my fingers again and had a real hand back.
I am quite amused that I managed to have surgery despite the fact that no one but me and the doctor were planning on it. Story of my life. I feel like I have waited in a lot of waiting rooms with only my determination to ensure that the appointment I thought I had actually happened.
Maybe I am forgettable. No, impossible.
Okay, off to sleep off the Vicodin. The Africa story will have to wait. This voice recognition software is irritating me too much. Will it never learn?
Wrist pain. Need more Vicodin.
23 April 2006
- MRI films
- contact solution and case
- Wallace (my ipod)
I have a request for the story of why I'm interested in Africa, so you all have that to look forward to in a day or two, along with stories of the hospital ridiculousity that I'm sure will ensue when I arrive there tomorrow at 6:30 am.
In the elevator the other day, an older man with a cane saw my arms all splinted up and started praying out loud for them to be healed, as the elevator was reaching his floor. I was kind of disappointed that they weren't healed instantly, but hopefully the surgery will help that along.
One of the other doctors I saw this week told me that for this hand surgeon, fixing a wrist is "like you putting on your sandals, he's so familiar with it." So I hope.
22 April 2006
20 April 2006
Contrary to popular opinion, I'm not typing. Oh, no. I am not typing, I am talking. I bought voice recognition software yesterday, and now I am using it. Unfortunately, it sometimes thinks that I'm saying very strange things. Just now, when I tried to say “I am using it,” the program thought I said “museum.” I don't know how this happens. So writing (er, saying) anything takes forever. On the other hand, my hands don't hurt, which is a lovely thing.
So when you see me in a café, talking into my headset like a mad woman, you know what's up. I am mad, obviously, but I'm also talking to my computer. And the computer is listening. Tell me that's not scary.
17 April 2006
When I arrived in Rwanda in 2002, the war was just over 8 years past. That seems very different from 12 years, somehow. Kibuye was only recently safe enough to live in. We were only two or three years from needing an army escort to visit the province at all. While I was there, the UN dropped the security level in Kibuye to a one from a three (I know this means nothing to a lot of people, but trust me, a one is safer). Whenever I talked to people, they described things as "avant la guerre" (before the war) or "apres la guerre" (after the war).
I spent my first 9 months in Rwanda not reading about the genocide. I had read some things in college, before I imagined that I would ever go to Rwanda, but I avoided them immediately before leaving and I avoided them after I arrived. Instead, I drove around the country, taking in the green. I hiked up the mountains, watching the smiles. I talked to people, learning the sound of Kinyarwanda even when the words eluded me.
One day in March of 2003, I climbed a mountain and sat in a goat stable on a wooden chair. The old man who owned the house brought me hot roasted corn and we all sat in silence under the tin roof. The rain stopped, but the paths were slick with mud when we finally climbed back down to the car. I slipped and skidded my way down the mountain and across a meadow and as I walked I heard singing from a church somewhere in the fog. In that moment, the war seemed, for the first time, real to me. It was all around me, living in every person I passed. Each person lived it and each person lived with it.
I read the books eventually. I visited the memorials. Not the extremely graphic ones, not Ntarama or the one in Gikongoro. I visited Gisozi and Nyamata and the church on the hill in Kibuye. I sat for a while in the church, with the sunlight reflecting through the stained glass windows on the wall, and I prayed and thought. On another day, I stood outside a mass grave with a friend who told me that his family was buried in it. I stepped down into the concrete tomb to look down the rows of coffins while the guide opened one of them to show us a body that had been thrown into a pit latrine.
And then I went back to the Rwanda I knew first, where the kids cling to my hands and skip past me carrying pans of fruit on their heads and follow me down the road calling, "Muzungu! Amafaranga!" It took me a while, each time. There should be a holding room where you can think about what you've seen and heard before you are plunged back into the bright sun where the school has just let all the kids out to play.
I'm not very good at philosophizing on Africa, largely because I don't like being told what to think about things. I prefer just to hear the stories. I don't want people's interpretations of them. I don't want to pretend that I know or you know how or why things are as they are. And in general, I prefer to focus on the positive things in Africa. The news magazines will give you enough of the bad, if you bother to read about it. I also know that it is not fair to present only my experience years after the war and ignore the words and experiences of the survivors. But this is my blog, and I can only speak for myself. I can't pretend to know what it was like to live through 1994 in Rwanda. I was 14 years old and living in Michigan.
The Rwanda that I know is beautiful and peaceful. I am tempted not to talk about Genocide Week (even a week late) because I don't talk about slavery in the US or civilian deaths in Iraq or other things equally tragic. But I am going to post this anyway, in honor of all Rwandese who are rebuilding their country. It feels wrong to ignore the passing of Genocide Week.
We all still pray for amahoro.
Edit: a blog dedicated to the stories of genocide survivors can be found at: Rwandan Survivors.
15 April 2006
When I came back to the US, I handed in the Toshiba, moved to New York, and bought myself an IBM for law school. (It should be fairly obvious that I'm talking about laptops, not desktops.) I set it up with a new background: the view from my front porch in Kibuye. When I felt homesick for my little cabin on the lake, I could just look at my computer screen. This photo has been on the blog before, but I know you want to see it again:
A few weeks ago, I decided it was time for something new. But what? I didn't want a picture involving me, or even people, really. I wanted to stick with Rwanda, even though Tanzania is more recent, because it is Rwanda that I miss when I miss Africa. Tanzania was more like a pleasant interlude. In fact, I wanted something that felt close to home, not just any Rwanda picture. I finally settled on the view from the district offices in Kibuye, above the (only) roundabout, looking down the main road toward the lake. And sometimes when I'm sitting in class, I minimize everything I'm doing just to look for a while at Kibuye:
And that's not all. My screensaver is photos - photos of everywhere I've gone since I bought my camera. I love watching them, never knowing what is coming next: a storm over the lake? a little girl laughing? me smiling in a little plane? a row of extinct volcanos? It's amazing how pictures can connect you to so many parts of your life, even though you can only live in one place at a time.
This time it's campaign finance reform. First Amendment: Free Speech; Fourteenth Amendment: Equal Protection. What do we think? Not much, it turns out. I feel like I have to pull out the fibers of my brain (brains aren't made of fibers) in order to get anything on the page.
Meanwhile, in the outside I'm not in, the sun is shining and it is almost hot. I didn't think it could happen, but spring has won out again.
13 April 2006
I met with J and C tonight, the other two who are probably going to Liberia as well. And I started getting excited. Really excited. We were looking on the Liberian Embassy website for the visa requirements. Well, J was looking them up and I was trying not to hyperventilate with excitement and C was laughing at me.
One of the Liberia blogs I read had a post today about life in Sanniquellie, and I found myself thinking what I always think, which is that Liberia looks and sounds just exactly like the rest of Africa, which I have a hard time reconciling with the unique place that Liberia has in my life and family. Not only do I have all those years of life in Liberia, but I hear stories about those years and not all of them are as positive as my experience of Africa (both the Liberia years and the Rwanda years). Okay, that didn't make sense. What I'm trying to say is that the stories of Liberia in my family are not as positive as my memories of Liberia or as my experiences in Africa as an adult. Is that better? I have a hard time knowing which of my Liberia expectations are mine and which are inherited. Guess I'll find out.
12 April 2006
Sometimes, in the middle of corporations class, I have an existential crisis. A full on life crisis. It goes something like this: blahblahblah-securities-blahblah-fiduciaryduty-blahblahblahblah-fraud-blah-
registrationwiththeSEC-blahblahblah-public offering-blahblah-WHAT ON
EARTH HAS BECOME OF MY LIFE?
I would use multiple question marks but I disapprove of multiple punctuation marks on principle. I also disapprove of CAPSLOCK (unless used sparingly a la dooce, and as you can see I break that rule. I have just disapproved of myself.), the shorthand LOL (someone shoot me now), and unnecessary quotation marks (I prefer the complete absence of quotation marks to their overuse). Now you all know my grammatical snobbery.
I keep intending to say something about all that I can't do with my crippled hands, but I don't have time, so I will rant in a brief fashion.
I can't open doors. I can push them open but I can't pull them. One would think that a law school would have doors that open automatically so that wheelchair-bound students could press the button and get through easily, but it doesn't. In blatant violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I'm not even permanently disabled, but I can't open the stupid doors, especially the set of heavy doors. I have to take the elevator to avoid the heavy doors on the stairs. It's a disaster. I'm thinking of complaining. And suing if necessary. A person in a wheelchair couldn't even go to this school. And with my injury and the fact that I'm a student, I have standing to sue right now.
I love being a lawyer. What other kind of nerd thinks about standing?
11 April 2006
10 April 2006
I remember several of the waiting occasions very distinctly. Once, for example, I was waiting to meet a pastor in this one neighborhoood in Kigali (okay, I've forgotten the name. You know how there are some names you just can't remember? this neighborhood has one of those names.) I sat and sat and sat and moved the car and sat some more. I remember this waiting state of perfect calm. The waiting itself was grace.
Another such occasion was once in Budaha while I was waiting for a colleague from Kigali to meet me (it's the halfway point between Kigali and Kibuye, plus we were meeting some beneficiaries there). I was reading a book (always have a book along) and then people came and started talking to me. One man wanted to talk about the cost of higher education. How much is it in the US? (About $20,000 a year.) How much is it in Rwanda? (About $300 a year.) Could I pay for him to go to university? Erm...
A group of kids gathered. Sometimes, in a group of children, all of them are cute and personable and fun, but one child draws your attention. It's not always the vivacious one. It's not always the cute one. Sometimes it's the sad one in the corner. Sometimes it's the one who reminds you of yourself. I don't know what it was about this little girl, but I liked her. She was a little bit shy. I don't know her name (I think I did, but it was almost three years ago and the name is gone). But when my colleague finally arrived, I let the little girl climb into my car and stand in front of the passenger seat, clinging to the bar on the dashboard. As we drove the half mile dirt road into the village, she waved at everyone we passed, and then I stopped and let her out, only to have her chase after the car along with all the little boys trying to jump onto the back bumper and cling to the spare tire.
I just remembered this little girl because I read a story about a little girl excited to ride in a car in Africa. But anyway, below is part of the group of kids in Budaha. My little passenger is in the black and pink dress on the far left.
07 April 2006
Also, I'm changing the time on this blog. Over Christmas, my Aunt Lisa told me that if I was really not sleeping at the times I posted on this blog, I deserved to be as tired as I claimed to be last semester. But it's on Tanzania time, which is right now 7 hours, back then 8 hours ahead of New York. So pretty different.
I'm changing it to Liberia time. Four hours ahead, I think.
The deal is, it looks like, that I will be working under and for the organization close to my heart, reporting to their West Africa team (although I shall miss the East and Southern Africa people), in partnership with the Liberian organization (ie. also under and for them). If I can clear that with everyone involved, namely the Liberian organization people. If that makes any sense at all without names.
The excitement of all of this (being able to go, essentially), has me skipping and dancing. I have invented several previously unknown dances tonight. I cannot vouch for their stylistic quality, but I was out walking with some friends after drinks with our littlest class from last year and every few blocks I would start jiving to my own little beat of "I'm going to Liberia without entrenching myself even more in debt and working for my favorite organization in the process" dance. It was as scary as it sounds.
Instant message conversation with a friend afterwards, in which I sound rather too much like Bridget Jones:
It's a nice way to start a weekend. If only I knew what to put in the tenative budget. Airfare - check. Visa - check. Housing? How much is housing?
05 April 2006
04 April 2006
On my MRIs, there are little white spaces where there should be black lines between two of the eight marble-like bones on the wrist. This means, apparently, no ligament there. Or a torn ligament. Or a tearing ligament. HOW DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF? HOW? I am really at a loss. Shouldn't one notice as one is tearing one's ligament? How can it happen without me noticing?
(In other news, this phone conversation needs to end.)
But back to the point. I might have to have surgery. Minor surgery or major surgery. No one knows yet. It depends on how my hands react to being immobilized in these wrist splints for two weeks. And then how they react to possible minor surgery.
The problem is that major surgery (which looks likely on my left wrist, at least) requires three months of cast and three months of occupational therapy. I can't do it over the summer (Liberia), but I'm afraid to wait until fall. What if I really screw up my wrist in the meantime? And if both wrists need major surgery, that's a year of cast/OT. I can't start that in September - I have to take the bar next summer!
What if... what if...
I can't even think it.
A summer internship is not worth the permanent use of my wrists. But I can't get the surgery and go to Liberia with a cast - apparently there is a risk of the pins shifting. I really don't want to stay here. I don't have a job here. My arms simply MUST heal themselves. Or not be as bad as they look on the MRI. Or something.
Bah. Can't think about it anymore.
03 April 2006
As I heard it, I was reading an NYTimes article about forgotten diseases. One million people a year die of malaria in Africa alone. And I thought, "Actually, I don't care about what you can say to a group of protestors. And it's not troubling to me that you can't say anything to them. I don't care."
Then I wrote a bunch of scathing and angry political stuff, which I have now deleted as offensive to pretty much everyone on both the right and the left.
And then I got up to get a snack and accidentally swallowed one cherry of a Haribo gummy twin cherry whole. Which felt weird. And is not controversial.
02 April 2006
First of all, this week I bought bandaids that were not fake white people skin color. It's a big moment. Okay, so the "medium" that I bought doesn't actually match my skin, my skin being far closer to the fake white people skin color (although, I'm pretty white, and it's still NOT my skin color), but I bought the medium on principle, because I'm tired of things coming in fake white people skin color and nothing else. Do you realize that people in Africa are stuck with fake white people skin color bandaids? So I have medium bandaids and they are too dark for my skin and that makes me happy every time I put on on the rubbed raw piece of my foot where I made the mistake of wearing bad flipflops on the first warm (yay!) day here in New York.
On Thursday I went to get MRIs on my arms to ascertain why they are so gimpy. I was looking forward to being slid into a big machine, but it turns out that they have little MRIs for arms and legs and the tube was only big enough for one arm at a time, stuffed in like sausage with foam pieces to keep it from moving. And I sat in a reclining chair covered with a blanket (because it was 63.4 degrees F in the room - brr) and tried to take a nap despite the fact that the machine made bizarre machine noises that changed every few minutes. I missed my class because it took so long to do both arms (there was a computer error, apparently) and as I walked back in the sunshine while missing class I thought to myself, "Why do I EVER go to class? This is so much nicer."
I stopped in a little park and sat on a bench to eat some Smart Puffs (the second best knublechjes - can't spell that word because it's Dutch and I don't know much Dutch - ever, after or in competition with Honey Wheat Pretzels) and read a book that I had with me. I had only been sitting for a few minutes when a huge group of high school kids from the nearby somewhat-scary police-filled high school gathered in front of me, forming a circle around two boys who were posturing at each other with their fists up. I worked respite, right, so I assume that teenagers are teenagers and they generally don't scare me that much because I have broken up about 100 teenage fights and neither did these kids scare me, until the two boys started actually beating one another. Not just wrestling and trying to knock each other down, but actually hurting each other. Within two minutes, both had swollen eyes and were bleeding from their noses or mouths. A couple of burly tough-looking men came by and tried to pull them apart, but the group of kids said something to them and the men stood back and watched. I wasn't going to break in if those men wouldn't, but I refused to just watch and the concept of guns or knives being added made me a bit cautious, so I packed up my stuff to go. As I was packing, one kid was on the ground and stayed there and the other guy backed away with his hands in the air in victory and then the rest of the guys in the crowd rushed him and beat him a bit, with girls hanging on their arms trying to hold them back. I walked away without looking back, hearing people on the way saying, "There's a big fight in the park" as they rushed over to watch, while sirens began to whine in the distance. But after a few blocks, I saw an ambulance going the other direction so I'm not sure if the police were actually on their way to the fight.
It turns out, according to my hand specialist, who has not yet read the MRIs but has looked at the x-rays, that I don't actually have carpel tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow or even golf elbow. Those things all involve nerves and apparently my problem is ligaments in my wrist, as revealed by the little bones in the wrist, which look like marbles on an x-ray and are too far apart when I make a fist. I no longer have to wear the medieval cast-looking braces from hand to shoulder at night. I just wear wrist braces. I also have a better perspective on what to avoid to avoid pain - anything with a clenched fist, anything involving pressure on my bent wrist. I'm in a lot less pain as a result. I also have more time, because I ice only my wrists. It's a beautiful thing.
Just as one final note, let me say that the weather in New York right now makes the being in New York almost worthwhile. I'm not sure that I appreciate the weather more because it comes after such a long period of weather misery, because I did appreciate the perfect weather in Rwanda every single day, but I keep thinking, "I could almost stay in New York if the weather was always like this." The sky is clear blue, the trees are beginning to show green, and there is a tree outside my constitutional law class window that is covered in snowy flowers. I can wear flipflops and skirts and on Friday the boys and I got Sponge Bob popsicles at the park and when we got to the playgound the littler one refused to a. finish the popsicle, b. throw it away, or c. go play and leave me to deal with the dripping rainbow mess that it had become. I held it for him, letting it drip all over my hand and onto the ground, which took some self-discipline because of the sticky feeling, while he took little bites, and then he said, "Put in da na-kin." and I said, "Popsicles melt outside. We can't put it in the napkin. It will melt." and he said, "In da na-kin. In da na-kin." so finally I wrapped the sticky half-eaten, mostly melted mess in a napkin, cleaned him off as well as I could with three remaining napkins and a little bottle of water, and sent him off to play. Then I heartlessly dumped Sponge Bob in the trash.
And when he called from the top of the jungle gym, "Swide, May-nie, swide!" I climbed up, in my long jean skirt, and picked him up and put him in my lap and we slid down the spiral slide and he ran off laughing after his brother.