28 September 2006


I used to never cry. Not never, but very rarely and usually from frustration more than sadness. Unfortunately, something seems to happen to women in their mid-twenties and tears become more common. I've done a survey. It starts around 23 or 24 and gets worse. At least, it appears to get worse, because today I was tempted to cry at a story I read on someone's blog about UN observers in Congo, living in a town with no electricity, who let anyone in town charge their cell phones on their generator, providing a very necessary service and securing their own safety. You don't kill the people who give you power.

A few weeks ago I went to a house (okay, apartment) warming party for a friend and realized that the urge to plug in my phone while there was power was very strong. I had to remind myself and actually verbally be reminded that there would be power back in my apartment when I got there. We have electricity here, you see.

Old habits die hard.

25 September 2006

ongoing randomness

I am wildly excited about my classes this semester. They are more work than I know what to do with - every one of them seems to want to have a big paper and a big presentation and a big moot court and... - but they are all fascinatingly about the topics I want to learn about: immigration, war, environment, justice. They all fit with the things I was doing this summer and what I want to be doing when I graduate. I'm excited to go to them (almost) every day. Except when I'm not, but that's rare.

On Saturday I took my little break and rode NJ Transit (free for students last week) to Princeton, where I no longer know anyone but I do know two things: the Bent Spoon (best ice cream in the world; I got coconut sorbet twice in one afternoon) and Small World Coffee (best almond capuccino and ginger molasses cookies in the world; I savored the capuccino and saved the cookies for later). So I walked around on the pretty campus and enjoyed the trees and the grass and being anywhere but the concrete city. On the way down, my enjoyment of the train and my music was hampered by a guy, surely a 2006 college grad, who insisted on 1. sitting next to me, 2. talking loudly on a cell phone about his new job in the city, so loudly that I kept turning up my music to deafening volumes in the sound-reducing headphones and still heard every word he said, and 3. not being quiet when I glared at him repeatedly, so that I had to finally say something to him and then he got up acting all annoyed and moved to the space between the cars. I felt like I had been mean and like one of those older people who yells at young people enjoying themselves, but really. He was the only one doing this annoying talking in the entire car. It had to have been bothering everyone and it was definitelybothering me.

But, lest you should think I encounter only people like this in my city life, here are two examples of really nice people:
  1. When a friend of a friend found out that I have a locker way down in an inconvenient spot (particularly since the golf elbow doesn't let me carry much in my arms or even on my back because it pinches the nerve), she offered me hers, completely unsolicited. It was so nice that I hardly even know if I dare take her up on the offer.
  2. I stopped to buy juice this morning at a place that squeezes it fresh in front of you. I ordered a small and got approximately the biggest cup of orange juice I have ever seen. I think it was twice as big as the size I ordered and paid for. It took me all day to drink it, but I think I've had my vitamin C for the day/week/month, now.
Oh, and speaking of my job this summer, which I am still doing, I get to travel for it next week. Travel! Okay, only for a day, but no one has paid for me to travel in quite some time. I am excited.

22 September 2006

I have a plan

In furtherance of my quest to combine getting everything done this semester (the chances are not good) with adequate time to unwind, I have a plan for tomorrow. It is a great plan, I have to say. But I'm not telling until I do it, because who knows who might stumble across my plan and take it for her/himself? Okay, probably no one, but the plan depends on so many things, like weather cooperating, that I shall just wait and treasure my little plan on my own. I just wanted to mention that I have it.

21 September 2006

Sometimes I forget where I am

21 September 2006
2114 hrs

I had a receipt from the tea I just bought and I came over to my table and deliberately set it on fire in the candle on the table. Then the whole cafĂ© started smelling like smoke and I remembered smoke alarms and got worried so I had to blow it out and get a plastic stirrer to fish the smoldering pieces out of the candle. Now my candle is out and I’m sad about it but I’m not exactly sure how to ask for it to be relit, given that there are charred, waxy bits of paper lying on the table next to it with a deformed plastic stirrer and this corner smells a lot like burning paper.

Also the internet is not working.

I am consciously trying to relax. No schoolwork tonight, even though I have a long list of things to do tomorrow. I got many emails today about my work this summer and I miss it. I turn out to still be the contact person for several projects. For many reasons, it would be hard to turn them over to anyone else. I’ve got to see if there is anyone who will fund me to continue my internship, because as I’ve mentioned, I need cash. Law school is insanely expensive. New York is insanely expensive. I want to keep doing this work, this work that is the reason why I went to law school, this work that gives meaning to my being in law school at all. I don’t want to give it up to work on something more lucrative but less satisfying. Do not be surprised if you find me back there upon graduation from law school.

While here, though, I have a few things to say. I still haven’t gotten over the beauty of hot water. I am taking far too many showers because it is so very nice to stand under the hot. I don’t care what they say about how hot Liberia is: it is never nice to take a freezing cold shower first thing in the morning. Or last thing at night. I was about to start getting over the joy of the hot water and then the hot water in my building was off for three days. I had to shower at the gym, which astonishingly also has hot water. This was okay because I started another water class and you need to wash your hair after chlorine anyway. It is a harder water class this time. I plan to be buff by the end of the semester.

Also, there are far too many things to buy in this city. I would like to decrease by 4/5ths the number of stores with temptingly-placed merchandise that I pass every day. And I don’t even walk past the store areas that often. It’s just on principle. The less there is looking all appealing in store windows the less I will need to spend and the happier I will be. It’s actually a good thing that it is getting cold, because I can’t afford to replace all the summer clothes I had to abandon in Liberia due to:

  1. My realization that I never wore them, even in Liberia where I had few other clothes.
  2. My realization that the rainy season had destroyed them with rust stains.
  3. My realization that Joseph had destroyed them by washing them with a red shoelace.
  4. My realization that they had become all stretched out and unwearable by being washed by hand.

So no short sleeves left for me. Although I also realized that I have too many clothes, they are just not clothes I can wear to work. Not in the US, unless I work in my basement, and not in Africa, unless I work in my spare room. Not in a real office. I’m going to have to work on that before I, say, graduate and have to get a real job.

19 September 2006

I keep coming back to this (on repeat):

Grant us peace
Jesus, grant us peace
Move our hearts to hear a single beat
between alibis and enemies tonight

Or maybe not
Not today
Peace might be another world away
And if that's the case

We'll give thanks to you
With gratitude
For lessons learned in how to trust in you
That we are blessed beyond what we could ever dream
In abundance
Or in need

And if you never grant us peace

But Jesus... would you please?


(oh, it is nichole nordeman; gratitude)

18 September 2006


I wrote a post, yesterday I think, which I then did not post. It was about money in Liberia and how there are two completely separate worlds when it comes to money. But then I didn't post it because I hate to have people think only of poverty when they think of Liberia. Of course, most people in Liberia don't have a lot of money. But they are not "poor people." I don't really believe in "poor people." When I took a French class in Kibuye, one of the first things we learned how to say was, "We are poor." Really? We are poor? We the most wealthy eight people in town who have English as our first language and make enough money to pay for these classes? I've had it with the word poor.

Liberia doesn't have a lot of money. Neither does a lot of the world. Things could be better. We are working on that (some of us).

In the meantime, I miss Liberia more than I can say. Things were fairly unstable there right before I left and continue so, but I had a very hard time feeling unsafe. I stood at the balcony of our office one day with a colleague and we looked down at the street and a group of five or six little girls came by, carrying buckets of water and various other things and laughing and dancing the way kids do. I tried to explain that overused expression, "A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on." I've never liked that expression, but somehow it felt more true, watching these kids in a country barely free - tentatively free - precariously free of war. If they can laugh and play, maybe there is hope for the rest of us.

There is hope for the rest of us.

13 September 2006

it turns out

that all those seminars that I am so interested in are a lot of work. Like tons of reading and multiple large papers worth of work. A year ago I was completely stressed about one 30 page paper. This semester I have three. Whee! Let the rollercoaster begin.

(And how am I going to make money this semester? Because I need some, fast.)

my computer is still a mess

The nice guy from the company came and fixed it yesterday (new motherboard! free!) and now I've spent the whole afternoon NOT doing the billions of things I have to do for class and my summer's work, but trying to rid it of 702 viruses. Yes, 702. Most of which seem to be in inaccessible files and can't be healed. Or vaulted. Or deleted. Which means that I cannot download things onto the computer - it just freaks out and restarts itself. This thing has a mind of its own, I tell you. It's like a child. Or a puppy. I have no control. I only managed to get antivirus software on there in the first place because I downloaded it to my (new, replacement for stolen) flash drive from another computer and then snuck it onto this one before it noticed.

While I was waiting for an available computer from which to download the antivirus, five annoying people were playing on the computers in the "communications center" doing things like reading about Football 2006 and printing five separate Mapquest pages (how many trips can you go on? Before the next time you access a computer?) and I started feeling borderline irrate, because I needed to do IMPORTANT THINGS like get antivirus software for my laptop so that I wouldn't need those computers anymore. I tried to remind myself of how long I waited patiently for things to happen in Liberia, but it turns out that this is not, after all, Liberia, and my patience level is completely different. In Liberia (Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and so on) I can wait indefinitely, just sitting and watching the world go by. In the law school in New York, it makes me crazy, because I know that those web pages are loading instantaneously. How can it take them so long? One girl was writing a paper in the communications center. The very height of these computers (standing height) should tell you that they are not intended for such purposes. Go to the library! Plus, I have important things to do, and no one is going to take, "I was waiting for a computer" as a good excuse in this land of multiple computers per person when I have a computer.

I was waiting for a computer.

12 September 2006

I cringe just to say this (who says this?)

I love my insurance company. And my hospital. I got a call this morning from the hospital to let me know that my bill of $5000+ from the May surgery is now $35, thanks to the insurance company. Oh, and the woman who called me has a daughter who wants to go to Africa.

11 September 2006

I do not approve

I do not approve of this cold thing. I expected at least a week or two of warm before the cold set in, but I forgot that I came back a week later this year than last. So I only had three or four days of warm, and now the cold has set in.

I do, by some miraculous change of events, approve of both my classes and my class schedule. Here's the beautiful thing: I have class mostly only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they never start before 11 a.m., and I like all of them. Really. I do. I have actually started doing the reading, for the sole reason that I'm interested in it. I don't have to set an alarm clock except maybe on Tuesdays and Thursdays depending on when I go to bed. Can you imagine? I am living this semester virtually alarm-free. This hasn't happened since I was in Rwanda and set my own work schedule (which started at nine, thank you very much. I don't care what time government offices open). The beauty is that I'm not tired. I spend a lot of time being tired, so the concept of getting enough sleep on a regular basis is changing my whole outlook on everything. New York. Law school. Winter. I mean, everything. I can even handle the cold if I'm not tired.

Still miss Liberia, though, and my work. I keep trying to do work for my work there, but time is short and I'm already out of the loop. I've been gone for a week and things have moved on without me. I'm very sad about it, but sort of resigned. As happened when I first came to last school, I left Liberia for one reason alone: so many people in Africa want to go to school, and I CAN. Not to finish would be a slap in the face to all my friends who wish that they could. It may not be the best of reasons. Some people may not like it. But it got me here and I am learning.

I still have some Liberia posts in my head. They are coming. Slowly.

10 September 2006

So I'm back in this country, which I didn't really want to come back to, and things are plugging along. I have classes. I have an apartment (sort of - long story - but at least I came back to a place to sleep, unlike last year). I have friends, apparently. I miss a lot of people and things in Liberia but I also spend a lot of time going, "FOOD! There is good-tasting FOOD here!" It isn't really that there isn't food or isn't good-tasting food in Liberia so much as that without 24-hour power you can't really store much food and I so couldn't really eat at home and I worked too much to eat anywhere else, especially at the end of my time there. I discovered new things in Liberia about how long I can go without eating, and I'm a little bit alarmed that I am going to implode in a frenzy of excitement here in New York about Italian food and Indian food and Mexican food and, and, and... all of it. If one is going to Liberia, however, here are some things to remember:

  • You actually can live on cream crackers and spreadable cheese (Laughing Cow is the best).
  • Lebanese bread molds after a day or two. Also cheese molds, even if it is in the fridge.
  • Il Gelato has amazing gelato and amazing pasta (although the pasta is only good when warm).
  • Both the Royal and Plaza Pizzeria have great pizza.
  • The fridge and freezer take on a funny smell when they are only on for half the hours in the day.
  • Diana's has the best falafel, but other places will do when you are so hungry that you are about to eat the table.
  • You can only eat oatmeal so many mornings in a row before it makes you gag.
  • The eggs are funny (something to do with being imported - old - from India because all the Liberian commercial egg-laying chickens were killed off when avian flu arrived). Don't bother with omelettes or pancakes unless you are willing to deal with them tasting like old metal about half the time.
  • Liberian food is very tasty, but if you don't eat meat, you will get hungry again in two hours.
I happen to like Liberian food. Almost all of it. Not the clear fish sauce, but everything made with palm oil. I like bitterball. I like all types of greens - collards, potato, cassava leaf. I like palm butter. I like jollof rice. Pretty much just put palm oil in it and I'm going to like it. At a conference, one of my female coworkers looked over my shoulder and said, as I was tucking away a big plate of rice with bitterball soup, "You like our food?" Apparently, yes, because I am enjoyinga great deal of it a great deal. Unfortunately, it is often made with mystery meat, which I do NOT like. So I have to ask for it without the meat, and then it turns into rice and palm oil, basically, and I get hungry again almost immediately.

But anyway. Now I am in New York and overwhelmed with the options. I want to have cupcakes and ice cream and hummus and naan and crepes and frozen coffee drinks and bagels and everything all at once. I'm trying to go slowly. I'm still overly excited right now about baby carrots and Sabra hummus. I'm also overly excited about breakfast cereal with good milk. Like I'm eating the hummus and the cereal three meals a day. I'm sure that will, erm, settle itself soon.

04 September 2006

culture shock

In Monrovia, there are handwritten signs everywhere that say things like, "Don't peepee here!" or "Only dogs peepee here."

So it is a bit shocking to be in Brussels and walk into a store, look at the wall marked, "Souvenirs" and see a red t-shirt that depicts a cartoon character man peeing, with the word Belgium underneath it. THIS is Belgium?

I'm not sure I like this place. It's too shiny and they apparently pee all over. And hot chocolate with a waffle-thing that is too sweet to eat cost $8. Oh, and they give you your change in euros, which means that I will be arriving in the US with 9 euros and about 150 Liberian dollars. And not one US dollar.

03 September 2006

1 September 2006
1624 hrs
Really, it’s not just amazing that I rarely get sick in Africa. It’s amazing that I don’t have cholera daily (just for saying that, I’m sure I’m coming down with it now). I do virtually everything you are told not to do. I use the water to brush my teeth – and I’m not careful not to drink it, either. I eat ice cream out of the push carts. I eat salads and sliced fruit. I neglect to wash my hands. I pick my pen up off the floor and put in back in my mouth. I am a tropical diseases handbook in waiting. Yet here I sit, stomach perfectly content, except that it hasn’t been fed all day. Speaking of which, I feel kind of dizzy.
This is my last official day in the office. Tomorrow is Saturday, so I’ll work, but I won’t work so much, really. I’ll just organize papers and documents so that people can later find them.
I think I’m getting meningitis. This is what I get for not getting stomach problems and refusing to pay $90 for the vaccine. Never mind that it is supposed to be prevalent only in the Sahel and Sahara during dry season. I have it. I know I do.
Or possibly this feverishness is malaria. I stopped taking the Larium because I was too lazy to stop at the pharmacy and buy the medication.
(Or possibly I did not sleep enough last night and there is no breeze through this room. And I haven’t eaten today at all. That might work, too.)

2 September 2006
1308 hrs
As I anticipated, I’m not working. I’m listening to 16 Years, a very interesting song involving a girl telling a man that she’s sixteen and if he touches her “thing-o,” she will tell Mami or Papi, depending on which line of the chorus it’s on. I’m also playing with the son of one of my coworkers, whose car I took (where mine is – well, it’s an open question – one of the drivers took it last night and I haven’t seen it since) to take the little boy to get ice cream. Outside of the supermarket, some one asked is he was mine, which if I were to have a child with a very dark-skinned man might be possible. This morning little J was complaining that his shirt, a bright yellow California jersey, was scratching him. His father asked why he was not wearing an undershirt and the boy said, “They can’t wear any underwear playing basketball,” with clear scorn for anyone who wouldn’t know such a thing. I love kids.
I need to work and simultaneously I can’t bear to do it. Everything is ending. I sit in Il Gelato with little J and wonder if I will eat gelato there again. I tell the beggars outside the supermarket, “Next time,” and realize that it is very possibly a lie. I said goodbye to the woman who cleans the guesthouse this morning and tomorrow will say goodbye to the man who cleaned our old building. (Speaking of which, tiny rant, I have spent the last three weeks in a house whose hotplate was electric and therefore only worked when the power was on, plus it doesn’t get hot enough to actually boil water. So I can’t eat there. Also they turned the water off completely for several days and did not supply enough water in a barrel to last. It was not pretty. Everyone smelled bad.)
When I came to Liberia this summer, I was most afraid of two things: varmints (cockroaches and snakes, particularly) and insecurity. Insecurity I got. Things deteriorated while I was here. I don’t walk the back road alone anymore. I don’t walk the back road, actually. The cockroaches I managed to survive. Snakes I didn’t see (thank you population density). In general, though, this summer has been better than I could have imagined. I didn’t sleep enough. I worked way too much. I was really scared a couple of times. I was really happy much of the time. I can’t bear the thought of getting on the plane.
Sixteen and half years ago, it was raining as we sat on the plane in the dark, ready to leave Robertsfield. I remember the yellow glow of the airport lights through the water on the window. Six years ago, my dad and I looked at each other as the plane took off into the thick July clouds and we both blinked away tears to be leaving Liberia. Tomorrow, I will be alone as my flight as it departs RIA for Brussels. (I’m still not used to this RIA thing, by the way. When did things get so complicated? Robertsfield.) I will probably cry. I cried when my plane rose above the patchwork green hills of Rwanda two years ago. Or maybe I will be done crying, will have finished it after leaving my colleagues and friends scattered all around Monrovia and at the airport. Either way, I will strain to look back out the window at the last of Liberia.

4 September 2006
0425 hrs in Liberia, 0625 hrs in Brussels
I didn't cry. And my pride about not getting sick is completely gone as well. Wrong on all fronts. I spent the night before leaving Liberia making periodic races to the bathroom but not actually being able to throw up and get things cleaned out in my stomach until right before I left for the airport. So people probably thought I was dying as I got on the plane. I thought I was dying for a while. I was, for an hour or two, really unsure that I was going to make the flight, but then I remembered that the next one isn't until Wednesday and if I get back on Thursday I will have missed more than a week of classes, and that would be bad. So I hauled myself to the airport and felt better and better until I actually ate food on the plane.
I was depressed to find out that I had a middle seat and no windows were available. When I got to my seat, the woman already there had a baby and wanted the aisle, so I got a window. And then a flight attendant came and moved her for most of the flight so that the baby could have a bed. In the end, I was one of the few people who got two seats to themselves and I was so tired from all the bathroom runs and barfing that despite having “slept” until 2 p.m., I fell right back to sleep, 40,000 feet in the air notwithstanding. Probably the best night of sleep I've gotten on a plane since I started traveling alone.

01 September 2006


I had an encounter with a lizard this morning. I was standing looking down at the parking lot and he was running along the top of the fence around it, through the loops of razor wire. He had an orange head and a darker orange tail. He stopped and bobbed his head up and down, up and down and I thought of one of my friends saying earlier this summer that he had asked around and no one could tell him why they do that. I wondered if my lizard friend was smelling the air. Then he turned and looked at me and for a long few moments we stared at each other and I thought, oddly, that maybe what he was bobbing for were my thoughts. I finally had to break the stare and turn around to greet someone. When I turned back, he had run down the wall to the ground. A few minutes later, he spotted a bland gray female lizard and chased her around the corner, where he lost her and sat and sulked on the edge of the flower bed.


When I was packing to come to Liberia, my parents told me that there was no way I would need a sweatshirt. I brought one anyway. And a long-sleeved shirt. Not only do I need the sweatshirt, I need it every day. The airconditioner in my new room is stuck on and stuck on cold. Frigid, really. I sleep in socks. In Liberia.

I get cold easily. I'm cold here every day, because no matter how warm it is during the day, it is cool in the mornings and there is no hot water. None at all. Even in a warm climate, cold water in the morning is really cold. And in the evenings, sitting near the beach, I wear the sweatshirt. Sometimes I even wear the long-sleeved shirt and the sweatshirt, which is a whole new level for Liberia for a non-Liberian, although Liberians wear winter jackets and beanies on these nights, so I feel justified.


I'm flying out in two days. Two measly days. A summer in Liberia is far from enough.