29 November 2006

tea snobbery

The thing about New York that is going to haunt me (although it started in Rwanda, so maybe New York can't be blamed completely) is that it has made me a tea snob. Like I said, this started in Rwanda, where they grow the tea right there and package it into green boxes and blue boxes and yellow boxes. And then the boxes are oh-so-inexpensive and the tea in them is excellent. Very excellent. I grew up on herbal tea, but I became addicted to tea (plain old black tea, sometimes boiled with some ginger and tea masala) in Rwanda.

Now I live in New York (veeeery reluctantly; I should have done a lot more looking at law schools in other places instead of blindly applying based on the PROGRAMS schools offer, silly me). There are many whines I could whine about New York and how much I hate living here and how it has made even the thought of the suburbs (horror of horrors) seem lovely and sane by comparison, but there is some good tea here. There is a lot of good tea here, actually. And I think it's going to be a problem. People, I can now tell the difference between various black teas. I can tell you which one I am in the mood for on any given day. This is a looming, lurking problem. A person who can say, "I'm not in an Assam Meleng mood today. I feel more like a Milima." is not going to be able to slip calmly back into drinking Lipton, the yuckkiest of yuck teas. I am going to have to mail-order good tea when I move away from here. And furthermore, I'm going to have to get a tea-sspresso maker and keep whole milk in the house and...

27 November 2006

the anti-new york

Just as I was walking out the door for water aerobics this morning, my phone rang in my backpack. I dropped everything, fished it out and answered it, only to not be able to hear anything because I had stopped right outside the door of an apartment that contains two yappy little dogs who were yapping at their door because DANGER! DANGER! PERSON OUTSIDE DOOR! DANGER! DANGER!. It was water aerobics, cancelling, as I figured out when I happened to finally catch the words at a moment when the yapping was slightly quieter.

Blissful extra hours of free time ensued. I love water aerobics, but it's not too upsetting to be told that you don't need to get into a cold pool as your first activity of the day. And since the gym is near school, I end up taking a shower there and drying my hair under a hand-dryer and all that. Not sorry to miss that. But I still wanted exercise, so I did some of the core-strengthening exercises in the living room while watching an infomercial for acne products (only because I couldn't quickly/easily find the vcr remote to change the channel - I've never actually heard Jessica Simpson talk before this infomercial, but as it turns out, she sounds more ditzy than I expected). Then I walked to school instead of subwaying it. It was rather nice - sunny and busy, warm enough that I took off my coat and felt too hot with my backpack on. I kept looking down side streets and thinking that they ALMOST looked like a real city instead of this hypercity. And even in this good mood, even on this pleasant walk, I kept thinking detachedly, "I really hate this city." Which I suspect is how you know that you really hate a city, if even at its best and your best, you still hate it. This is not to say that I will not end up (or already am) all smug and self-satisfied about how I know New York and will never have to be one of those tourists inspecting a map confusedly on a corner. I probably will be thus smug and self-satisfied. But at least I will be out of here.

I wonder if I've made this better or worse by leaving in the summers. After all, New York can hardly compete with the soaring feeling of walking down a beach in Liberia or stopping to watch the sun set from the dirt road to our house in Tanzania. I am very wary of idealizing other places by comparison to New York, but I know, I know that when I looked out at the lake as I walked up the road above my house in Kibuye, Rwanda and when I sat on my back porch watching the fury of the rain and the waves in Monrovia, Liberia and when I stood on a balcony overlooking the lights of Kampala, Uganda, and when I lost myself on little paths through Buchanan, Liberia until I ended up at a home for the blind and had to formally shake the hand of a blind teenage boy who was squirming with excitement at my showing up in his backyard (sighted people alerted him to my skin color before I even got there), I KNOW that I told myself, "Don't forget this. This moment is as good as it will be in memory. In fact, this moment is better than you will ever be able to remember." So I know that I'm not just making this up. I really do hate New York and love other places.

I read an article yesterday about how some cities (*ahem* new york) are losing 20-30ish people and others (*ahem* portland, or) are gaining them. I suspect that all those people have the right idea.

26 November 2006

Thanksgiving weekend

I don't go to Michigan for Thanksgiving these days - by these days I mean law school days - mostly because it's expensive and right before exams and the last two years I've had to go to Michigan either the weekend immediately before or the weekend immediately after for various things like my brother's wedding and my Oma's birthday party. And the two Thanksgivings before that I was in Rwanda (2002: no celebration; 2003: beer-can chicken at K&S's house, I think. or maybe nothing. probably nothing. come to think of it, nothing. i worked.) and the Thanksgiving two before that I was in Horduras (2000: out in the campo on the day, celebrated Sunday with an amazing meal outside at K&Js - perfect happiness). I've gotten out of the habit.

So we (me and friends and roommate) made UnTurkey (why must vegetarians continually attempt to replicate meat?) and other vegan dishes including the vegan jollof rice that I have been working on perfecting so that my roommate can eat it (sh! don't tell any Liberians, they would be appalled at the idea of jollof rice without meat. and with fake maggi cubes. I mean, what self-respecting jollof rice has no meat? in direct hypocrisy about my vegetarian meat comment just back there, I added gimme-lean fake sausage which is good, by the way. so good that i'm thinking right now of going and making a nearly fat and oil-free patty of it for sheer eating enjoyment. and it's great in jollof rice. and jollof rice is just about the best food ever. i'm obsessed and make it in huge batches and take it to school to microwave for lunch.)

Anyway. There was cooking; there was eating.

Then I wasted Friday and Saturday and today not doing the studying and paper-writing that I must must must do. I'm in the frozen-by-all-I-have-to-do stage, which I hate.

Two things to note: there is no one at school on Thanksgiving weekend. And every person in the country is in New York on Thanksgiving weekend. MAKE THE SLOW-WALKING TOURISTS WHO TAKE UP THE WHOLE SIDEWALK GO AWAY. I actually cannot walk that slow, even when I'm not in a hurry. Also I had to walk through the Port Authority Bus Terminal today and... I have no words for the chaos of that place on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

20 November 2006

a day like alexander

as in, no good, very bad, etc.

not that it's actually bad. what's happening today is that i'm feeling pretty happy, but everything that can go wrong is doing so. i burned my fingers four times making a quesadilla to pack for lunch (then forgot to bring it to school). i cut myself six times while shaving in anticipation of water aerobics (two very deep and painful ones) and bled all over the bathroom floor. i whacked my elbow on the lock on the locker next to mine at the gym, then sat on the bench and hit my head on the corner of my own locker. by the end of the day, i'm going to look like someone pushed me down the stairs and kicked me, one big mess of burns and cuts and bruises.

18 November 2006

trying to decide

Is it a bad sign that when I just caught the words "security check" in my email (on an old email from my old roommate re. the returned security deposit), I immediately thought it was going to be something related to war? Specifically, I assumed, before I saw the sender and that it was old, that it was something about the security situation somewhere in Liberia. I'm not sure that thinking of war is a good first reaction.


I am only one person, clearly. Me. So I don't know how other people remember things. I only know how I remember them. And how I remember them is in pictures - snapshots - of people and places. They are surprisingly clear and detailed, when I concentrate on them. I can call them up, of course, but sometimes they also call me. Sometimes the pictures haunt me, sticking around in my head until I can't concentrate on other things. Sometimes they appear while I am doing something completely different and are, for a moment, clearer than the world around me. I've had a lot of these moments of memory this week and I'm not quite sure how to piece them together. Or even, for that matter, if they need to be pieced together. Maybe they can just be.

First, I remembered trying to back out of the Guesthouse in Kibuye. I liked to pull straight in, nose of the Prado into the bushes, rather than angling off to the side. I don't know why. I just did. Unfortunately, there is a ditch in the way of backing out when you pull straight in. Ditches, completely devoid of any sort of protective railing, are quite a common thing in East Africa. I learn quickly, though. I only actually backed into the ditch once and then developed a sixth sense about the location of the ditch so that I could swing out backwards quickly, even in the complete dark on the nights without electricity, and somehow I had this moment of memory this week of the dark of the Prado, the glow of the lights on the dashboard, and the instinctive knowing where to stop backing up and start pulling forward rather than drop my back wheels into the ditch. (This instinct only worked for THAT ditch, by the way. I drove and/or backed into a ditch or a hole about once a month in Rwanda. I can only say that it's a good thing I had four wheel drive. And that I could hire people to lift me out when four wheel drive wasn't enough.)

A day or two later, I had a sudden vivid memory of lying in the grass staring up at the Milky Way from just outside the Masai-Mara game park in Kenya in 2000. I was with a group of students from my college and after a long drive to the park and through the park, we wandered away from the fire (smart move when there are large animals all around, no?) and lay down in the grass to see the most brilliant display of stars I've ever encountered. The Milky Way was a whitish glow clearly visible all the way across the dome of the sky. Orien had not just a belt but a sword and feet and a head. For an instant this week, I was more there, lying in the grass talking about everything and nothing, six years ago, than I was here, in New York in 2006.

Then I was studying a few nights ago and remembered the basketball games I and then my brother and sister used to play on rec leagues in elementary school gyms around Michigan. I remembered the bleachers and the sound of the ball and the smell of the place (this one is clearly more like a movie than a picture; sometimes - often - they are). All the parents were in the bleachers and the guy was selling candy at the door. It came back to me all in a rush and I let my immigration law book drop slowly onto the bed and stared off at the pictures in my head.

The final one was the road winding up from Kibuyeville into Itabire, one of the districts where we distributed goats in Rwanda. It was a little dirt track hugging the mountains, spiraling up and down again, over rivers, through pine forests, above waterfalls. In places the mountains rose straight up on one side and fell straight down on the other. The track was rocky, and slippery when it rained. One day we were driving along, up, headed to Itabire, and another truck was driving down, toward Kibuye. It was one of those steep places, where the road was barely wide enough for one car, let alone two. We pulled off as close to the edge as we could, and folded in the side mirror, and the other truck inched past us with its side mirrors both folded in, and stopped to talk for a minute. There was an old white nun in the other truck and after they passed, the veternarian with us said, "That woman has been here so many years. She speaks Kinyarwanda like a Rwandese." Doing or being anything "like a Rwandese" is the highest compliment a Rwandese can give.

So I remembered all these things this week. They don't necessarily need to have meaning, but I remembered them, and at each of them I smiled.

16 November 2006

that thing?

that thing that I've been worrying about for over a month? that has had me not sleeping and ranting to everyone who talked to me? that thing that made me possibly unable to pay rent and eat? that had me sick to my stomach for weeks at a time?

it's almost over, and will be by this time tomorrow.

i might have to learn how to breathe again. i've been holding my breath for so long.

15 November 2006


I'm learning, these few weeks, a lot about the difference between what I need and what I want. This whole semester I've been trying to conserve money. Conserve. Please. I really had no idea what I was talking about regarding conservation until the day I checked my bank balance and realized that I had less money to survive the last six weeks of the semester than I pay per month in rent. Actually, less than half of what I pay per month in rent. And I still owe rent for December and January before I get my next loan check. And I still have medical bills due from those wrist surgeries.

(This all came about, by the way, not so much because I was profligate with my money as that it cost so much to move. I miss the moving in Michigan where some friends and family come with trucks. Here you pay people. And you better tip and tip well or they will be really mad.)

(Also it costs a ridiculous amount to live here, between rent and groceries and utilities and being forced to hire someone to paint back walls that someone else painted. That last item being one I will try not to whine about anymore since everyone has heard the whining.)

Anyway, I'm learning things. I'm learning that I don't need expensive tea or coffee every day. Or even every week. I can make it at home. I don't actually need to eat near school but can go home and eat whatever is in the fridge. Bread and peanut butter? Excellent! It's food. I don't need to buy water. I can reuse the bottle I got for free yesterday. I'm amazed at how little I can manage to spend when I have to spend so little, but I still don't like the feeling of panic when I have to buy, say, contact solution and it costs $8.99 and that is just too much.

Isn't it strange how different it is to want things and not be able to have them here in New York, where they exist and are all around me, than it is to want those same things when they are difficult to get? For example, when I wanted a capuccino in Kibuye, I just dismissed the idea immediately. It didn't even register as a desire because it was so impossible. But here in New York, with a coffee shop on every corner? It feels close to impossible to resist the capuccino. Or new clothes. I got sick of my clothes in Rwanda, but it didn't bother me that much. They were just what I had and there was nowhere to get any others. Here in New York, every day I crave new clothes. I WANT them, I tell you. I want them NOW. They are right there, within reach. But I can't have them.

My cravings were much different in Rwanda or Liberia. I wanted what I could have - a dark chocolate Ritter Sport, an ice cream bar from the petrol station (Rwanda), gelato (Liberia), pizza (Liberia), dal makhni (Rwanda), milk shakes (Tanzania), fried plaintain chips (Liberia), passion fruit juice (Rwanda). Most of those things I don't eat here. I don't even think to eat them here. It doesn't even occur to me to want them, just like it doesn't occur to me in Liberia or Rwanda or Tanzania to want a Thai tea or a spicy black bean burger. My brain just adjusts.

All of this recent serious conservation of money makes me realize how wealthy I really am. I haven't spent much time not buying the things I want in the last few years, except when forced to do so by my geographic location. (Buchanan, Liberia? How about some chicken and rice? Or... chicken and rice? Or... it's Sunday, so no chicken and rice. No anything! All the restaurants are closed! So is the only grocery store!) It's humbling and a bit freeing not to buy the things I want and to keep the money for the things I really need. It's humbling to tell my friend that I can't come out to dinner for her birthday because I literally can't pay for my meal. It's freeing to see what I can do with the ingredients in the fridge. I'm just a touch proud of how long I can make a twenty last in New York these days.

But I don't want to do this forever.

Some people have to.

13 November 2006

cautious raising of the head

I've been gone for too long, buried in the internet-less dead zone of my apartment. I didn't mind so much - my apartment has too much heat and a red vine-covered duvet that I am in love with and paper lamps that create this warm glow and an attack kitty and a cupboard full of tea and ibuprofen - but I feel like I've been out of the world for weeks, huddled under my covers with nothing but books and an annoying jazz station and random television shows punctuated by waking up to make an ibuprofen, dimetapp and tea run to the kitchen. I finally gave in and took Africa-procured antibiotics whose dosage I couldn't exactly remember and of course the internet wasn't working so I guessed. Some days it turns out I took too much, resulting in some days at the end with no antibiotics to take. Hopefully I don't relapse, because I can imagine how much a real doctor is going to like my "I took this amoxicillin from Africa in my own made-up dosage..." This is why they don't let people like me be in charge of our own antibiotics.

I say the same thing every time I wear this one white shirt that I have, which I do spill on, every time. I keep wondering why they let me do such things. Someone should stop me. We all know I can't handle a white t-shirt. And yet it's so soft and cozy and comfortable, especially when it's been washed with fabric softener and I wear it and then I spill again. Always. Why do they let me do this?

I feel better, though, and have since about hour 18 of taking antibiotics. Stupid every cold turning into something more. The number of sinus and throat and ear and etc. infections I have gotten from colds in the last four years is approximately equal to the number of colds I've had. Give or take one cold.

Anyway, I have returned, somewhat reluctantly, to the world of those who leave their apartments and check their email and read their assignments and go to class. And I'm not sure I like it out here. I'm seriously considering crawling back into bed, expecially now that my roof no longer leaks and my floor is almost dry and my duvet is no longer getting soaked through every time a drop of rain falls on the roof. I think it's going to be better this way, without all that excess water.

05 November 2006

It really annoys me when people insist upon talking about law in the law school. The cool people don't do that, people.

where i belong

I was with a friend in a cafe last night and the waitress was studiously ignoring us and the four other tables that were waiting for their bills. I finally caught her eye from across the room and made the universally recognized "bring the check" symbol - writing in the air. And suddenly I remembered all the nights in Kibuye when we sat into the night at the Guesthouse, with a waitress waiting off somewhere in the dark ignoring our every request until finally we could make her notice the writing in the air. The Guesthouse had (it's closed now) a cement triangle pointing out into the lake with three or four tables on it and a few lights on poles that were always too bright if you were facing them and too dim if your back was to them (you couldn't see your food). Out at the end, on a few rocks peeking above the water, the crested cranes stood looking out at the dark, making lowing noises every now and again.

I hardly remember what we talked about. Gossip if the VSOs were there. Tennis. Our home countries and how they compared. Something. I don't remember. I do remember looking out at the clouds and stars and moon over the lake, reflecting on the dark water. I do remember feeling the wind kick up and shivering even in my fleece. I do remember looking across the water and seeing the lights go on in my house when the power came back. I do remember the feeling of pure contentment to be in the moment I was in.

I would like that feeling to come more often in New York, but it doesn't. That feeling generally requires, for me, some beautiful nature around me. City streets and buildings don't do it. Lakes do it. Mountains do it. Oceans do it. Forests do it.

I felt it this summer standing on the beach in Liberia, standing on a huge rock formation and watching the lines of the waves white in the dark. I felt it years ago in Colorado, on a path winding up a mountain. I felt it in Nebraska, surrounded by empty fields. I felt it on the train through autumn-colored Connecticut this fall.

But not on the subway platform waiting for the A train. The best moment of the subway for me is when it comes out of the earth, like the N does in Queens or the F in Brooklyn. I feel released. This is how I know I'm not a city girl.

01 November 2006

little bits of moving

I've moved a lot in the last ten years. Every time I move, I throw some things away and still I end up having more than when I came. When I moved to New York in 2004, I had two suitcases. Two. Now I have an entire room full of stuff - a bed and a desk and two bookshelves and two roll-y drawer things and three lamps and dishes and books and a paper globe light that I hung from the ceiling with my own two hands (and I just realized that the seam on it is facing forward. Gr.). I have been unpacking and organizing all afternoon and I'm still not done. Even with all the extra space - this room being more than twice as big as the old one, similarly the closet - I am going to end up with boxes of unused things under my bed. What ARE these things that I've collected in two years and don't use? I keep wondering. Some I know. Some are source articles from a paper I wrote that I might have to make publishable. Some are journals from various trips. Some are clothes given me in various places that I just can't make wearable to school (one pair of trousers with suns on them is literally twice as big as me around the waist and the legs are too short). But I just can't throw them away.

Meanwhile, my roof leaks and plaster is raining down in the corner. They keep saying someone is coming to fix the roof. I don't mind, as long as it doesn't rain. Or snow. I wonder if the roof will cave in when it snows.

Very thirsty work, this moving, on top of water aerobics this morning (which is getting hardcore. I am sore). I have been drinking water all night and now tea and I am still thirsty and I have yet to have to pee.

Oh, just realized there are multiple seams on the paper ball hanging from the ceiling. That's part of the look. All is okay.