28 December 2006

Oh, and in weird other news: I realized today that even when I think I'm completely broke I tend to find money somewhere. In this case, in an old MI bank account that I closed out today. Not much money, you know, but I perhaps will make it to getting a job after all. This kind of thing only happens, though, when you are relatively rich - rich enough to have had several bank accounts in the last five years. Most people in the world aren't.


My expectations have severely declined in the last few years. I used to want things, lots of things for Christmas. This year I was hard-pressed to come up with three things. I want necessities. I want, you know, face wash and toothpaste. Those are the important things. But who is going to buy me new flouride mouthwash? (Well, don't, anyway, because I just bought some today.)
The thing is that I neither give nor receive at Christmas anymore. I can't afford it and neither can anyone else. Ah, well.

19 December 2006

buzzy little thoughts

(Apologies in advance for the ALLCAPS that happens later in this post. I couldn't help it. I'm surprised, honestly, that there is not more air rage in this country.)

I flew from New York to Michigan this morning and spent far too much time thinking hazily through tiredness about things that I realize, now that I've had some coffee, did not actually make that much sense. For example, in the haze of early morning, I was fascinated by the squares of highway and houses over the eastern part of the US. Yeah, we don't know.

I took the A train the length of its interminableness out to Howard Beach, and when it ascended out of the earth somewhere out at the far edge of Brooklyn, the first building I saw glowed so brightly orange from the rising sun that I thought for a moment that it was on fire. Far away on a hill, another building was doing the same.

At JFK, it turns out that my airline actually did leave from Terminal Four, it's just that of the roughly 100 check-in lines, my airline had two. Unmarked. And with signs only for international flights. So I wandered and asked for about thirty minutes before I found them.

Every time I fly inside the US, I promise myself I will never fly ___ airline again, whatever the airline happens to be that time. My airline today (I will not mention names, but I connected in Detroit, which should tell you everything you need to know) somehow could not manage to post the gate number on the departure list. Since Terminal Four at JFK has A gates and B gates at opposite ends of the terminal and with separate security lines, it is somewhat vital to know your gate number. I ran helterskelter between the two ends frantically asking people which gate the flight was at and no one knew until finally, 25 minutes before my flight was to take off ("YOU MUST BE ON BOARD THE AIRCRAFT 15 MINUTES PRIOR TO SCHEDULED DEPARTURE"), a security man finally knew. So I got in the line at the A gates and waited for a while and then a man came and started making the "If you are on the __ flight and you don't come to the front of the line right now you will get left" announcement and I had to sheepishly walk past about fifty people and get in line behind the WORLD'S SLOWEST SECURITY PASSER-THROUGHER. I mean, this guy, first of all, could not take his shoes off in fewer than five minutes. Then, he apparently could not push his bins into the machine but stood blankly next to them until finally I just pushed on mine until his went in. THEN, he had CANNED FRUIT in his carry-on luggage. CANNED FRUIT! When there are signs every few feet saying that you cannot bring food or drinks on the plane. THEN, he had somehow, between taking it off and going through the scanner, lost his fanny pack. I mean, the mere use of the word fanny pack illuminates a lot. Anyway, I finally grabbed my stuff out from under the machine (since he wouldn't move down and the TSA people had disappeared with his canned fruit) and sprinted for the gate. I don't think he made the flight. Not that the flight left on time, because of course an international flight was delayed and the luggage made it but not the people so they had to do that thing where they take off every piece of luggage and check to see whose it is so they can take off the bags of the people who are not there.

Okay, and here's the thing: I don't feel safe flying in this country. It's not the security measures. Clearly they are ridiculous and ineffective and nonsensical and don't actually keep us safe, but it's not that. It's the planes. I mean, how can I feel confident about riding in a plane that looks like no one has repaired it since I was born? How? There is peeling velcro and the bathroom lights don't come on and the seats are frayed and the windows don't look all the way sealed anymore. How do I know they are doing a better job with the mechanical parts? Somehow the African airlines I've flown on recently have had newer, prettier, shinier planes. I mean, Kenya Airways, people. It has nice new seats, there are no strange noises when the wheels go up, and the food is good. What's wrong with this picture, when I feel safer connecting through Nairobi than Detroit, despite the fact that there is only patchy air traffic control over Africa?

Now I am in Michigan and noticing once again the Michigan accent. The girl at the coffee counter just asked me if I had been "rang up." T said, when I called her in horror, that this is not Michigan but merely bad English. Point taken. But I hear the twang and I wonder if I used to talk like this? I've clearly turned into an East Coast snob. And I don't even like the East Coast. {sigh}

16 December 2006


Every exam I've ever taken in law school has ended the same way: I get bored with the exam and I finally look at it and think, "I can't look at this exam for one more second. I don't care anymore." and I turn it in. Which is what happens when you have four - or eight - or twenty-four hour exams. Who can concentrate for that long? I just lose it after about 3 hours. I would say 5 is my absolute maximum for caring.

Anyway, one more is gone. Now a few days devoted to a paper about peace processes and I'm all ready for Christmas!

(I can't believe I'll actually be done before Christmas Eve this year. It's like experiencing Christmas all new again. Maybe I can make COOKIES!)


Planned study time for this exam: four days.
Estimated actual study time for this exam: ten hours.
Time spent taking this exam so far: three hours.
Time allotted for this exam by professor: eight hours.
Percentage of points of the exam completed: thirty.
Percentage of me that just wants this exam over: 100 (thus the taking it early).
Percentage of me that wants to finish this exam: 0.
Number of people who have tried to come into the take-home exam room assuming that no one would be taking a take-home exam on a Saturday so they could use the room for studying: 5 (in the last two hours).
Number of people taking exams in this room: 2, including me.
Back pain on the pain scale: 8.
Number of minutes I've wasted on this post: 5.
Number of marshmallows I've eaten while taking this exam: 4 (large).
Number of other web windows open on my laptop: 1 (nytimes).
What I'm about to do: get back to work.

10 December 2006

i was a pilgrim in early life
i traveled at night
bound for
just ten miles north
of a civil war

immersed in mercy
and holy flood
that mingled with blood
my sextant headed for homebound lands
and twilight sands

but I grew weary and too far gone
to carry on
at first my homeland my empire soon
would there assume

~caedmons call (the kingdom)

blog procrastination

Semester Status as of 1916 hrs, 6 December 2006:

Room is hot, too hot for work. It makes me sleepy. I had to put on shorts and a t-shirt and open the window, but there is no screen and the cat could fall out, so I had to cover the open space with a curtain and shove a suitcase against the bottom, then try to create a gap further up. Too much work just to open a window. I put a pan of water on the radiator to try to alleviate the horrible dryness.

Papers in a double half-circle on the floor around my chair. Only about a quarter of them are applicable to the paper I’m writing now. Another third are applicable to the paper I want to start tomorrow if I can get this one done.

Burning a nutmeg-scented candle, which smells very nice. Playing music. Trying to get the writing mood – last night I got it just right and got up to 13 pages of my 20 page paper. If only I could focus, I could finish it tonight, except the footnotes.

I left my data key/flash drive/jump drive in a computer at school today. I had to call people until I found someone who was in that building and could rescue it. Fortunately I was smart enough last night to copy the main document onto the desktop, so I can keep working tonight.

But I’m not working. I’m writing this and thinking of how I should work. Bah.

2034 hours:

One more page is completed. I have drunk too much water to combat the horrible dryness of the radiator and now feel simultaneously parched (eyeballs feel like they’ve been baked) and overly full of water. Ate two lovely pieces of Cote d’Or Noir de Noir chocolate, the best chocolate ever (56% cacao – perfect amount). Too bad a bar costs $5.26. Can’t afford it. Back to customary international law concerning amnesties after civil conflicts {sigh}

2207 hrs:

Eyeeees! Pain!

8 December 2006
1526 hrs

The paper is almost done, but I have a mental block about finishing it. So close! 19 of the 20 pages are written. I just need to go back through about four articles and put in a bit more information from them and then finish the footnotes. Instead, I went grocery shopping. And okay, I needed groceries. When there is no food in the house I end up spending more on food outside the house or eating cereal eight meals in a row, which, although I survived solely on Lucky Charms in college, doesn’t seem so appealing now, even if the cereal is oat bran flakes instead of sugar, inc.

Then I made pumpkin spice muffins. I halved the sugar in them, because one of my biggest aversions (other than pig meat) is sweet cooked fruit or vegetables. I think jam is disgusting, similarly pie, except chocolate. And banana bread is near the top of the disgusting list. Pumpkin muffins only became acceptable last year when the mom of the kids that I babysat for made them with half the sugar. She thought the result was not sweet enough, but the kids and I did not seem to notice, as we ate a whole tray or something similar in one morning.

Also my roommate is vegan, so we used egg replacer. They turned out quite nice, although not as moist as I would have liked. So I put a little good-for-you omega-3-filled butter-substitute on them as I eat them. I’ve been gorging myself on them since I took them out of the oven. Who needs lunch? These things are positively healthy, full of ginger and cinnamon and pumpkin.

Mental block.

1620 hrs

So I’m working now, on this silly paper. It’s about Liberia, of course, because every paper I write is at least tangentially about Liberia or Rwanda (although I’m writing another paper after this one that might have to be more about DR Congo), and as I edited the background section, I remembered the day in 1997, at church, when we heard that Charles Taylor had been elected president of Liberia.

I write about this Liberia – the Liberia of 1989 and the Liberia of 1997 and the Liberia of 2003 – and I wonder if the Liberia I saw this summer was the Liberia my parents knew in the 1980s. I don’t know – I was ten when we left and as long as Liberia still speaks Liberian English and the ferns with the leaves that curl up still curl up and our house is still there, it’s going to seem about the same to me. Okay, fine, WAR, yes. I know. Phil, I was there. Things clearly aren’t the same when there are bullet holes in things and people I worked with and ate with and chatted with about nothing suddenly started telling me stories about violence and fear that I can’t imagine – or deliberately don’t want to imagine.

I was in that Liberia – the Charles Taylor halfway-at-war Liberia, as opposed to the bullets-flying-middle-of-war Liberia – for about two and a half weeks in 2000. And let me tell you something: it terrified me. The teenaged boys with the dead eyes terrified me. I slept in the same room as my dad and brother because the doors to the bedrooms opened to the outside and I couldn’t bear to be alone in a room open to the outside. Part of it was that as badly as I wanted it to feel instantly like home, it just didn’t. I had been away for ten very formative years and I had gotten used to a neighborhood in Michigan where my sister’s friends were not allowed to visit, where a gun got thrown into the backyard by someone fleeing the police, where a girl who had been beaten by drug dealers knocked on the door at 4 a.m. I could stand outside in that neighborhood at 3 a.m. throwing rocks at my parent’s windows when I got locked out (pre-cellphone), but walking through the market alone in Buchanan, Liberia in broad daylight made me panic and look about wildly if my dad and brother disappeared around a corner.

I have Rwanda to thank for getting me over that. When I first got to Rwanda, I was the same way. I didn’t want to walk around alone. I built up slowly – walking a little further alone every day, exploring a little more, meeting more people – until I felt safer in rural Rwanda than I have felt anywhere else in the world. (I still don’t like cities. Don’t feel as safe.) I have to do the same thing every time I go somewhere new – I did it in Honduras (although that was before and always with people), I did it in Tanzania, I did it in New York, I did it in Monrovia last summer.

I don’t understand the students from the US or Europe who go to Africa for the first time and immediately start walking about every street alone. I’m not sure if I envy them their lack of fear or fear for their naïveté. Every where, I remember the one of the first things J. and E. told me in Rwanda, passing on the wisdom they got from another of our regional coworkers: If there are people walking about and doing what people do, carrying things and talking and selling, it’s probably okay. If the streets are empty or the market abandoned, worry. So I live by that, which is why I never felt unsafe on the Back Road in Congotown, where I would stop and chat with a boy on a bike and people would call out greetings to me, or on the beach over by ELWA, where ditto the greetings, but with the fishermen. Also why I did feel unsafe on the beach just off the Back Road, especially the time when C and I were back there and these two guys appeared out of nowhere and started asking to talk to us.

I’ve come to depend pretty heavily on that feeling safe/unsafe sensor, and so far it’s done okay for me. So far. I was okay driving in Rwanda in areas that the State Department cautioned might have “unsavory elements” roaming about. I was okay in Arusha, where everyone told us we were about to get robbed every single minute. I was okay in Liberia, where things were dicey a good bit of the time.

Do you ever wonder how brave you really are?

I do. All the time.

04 December 2006

Do You See What I See?

love it, listen to it on repeat every Christmas, even though i think it involves destiny's child and even though when written out it doesn't have the same weight as with the melody that makes me want to cry:

(a song, a song high above the trees
with a voice as big as the sea...)

come together
pray together
stay together
celebrate the coming of the King

all my sisters
and all my brothers
come together
love one another!
join me now
lift every voice and sing

(I don't believe in exclamation points in general, but this deserves one because you can hear it in the song.)

i have no shame

I have a friend who spent the last two months living (free - a miracle in New York) in a former office leased by one of her friend's dads. Nine girls in two open spaces on the 11th floor of a New York office building. When the business left the office to them, they left all the furniture, which becomes key to this story. A long time ago, Peggy had promised me one of the big leather office chairs the business had left and asked if she could store one in my apartment because she's studying in West Africa next spring.

Saturday was the big day. This office building isn't that far from my apartment and, contrary to all weather forecasts, the day dawned cold but bright and clear. I've mentioned here the complete lack of funds going on in my life at the moment, so Peggy and I, too cheap to hire a taxi, loaded the two chairs up with her extra TV (wrapped around with sticky saran wrap on a spool just in case) and various bags and boxes and pushed them across one street and up Broadway a ways and over again, trying to avoid 1. crowds and 2. construction (bumpy makes it hard to push the chairs). A tour bus passed and I was tempted to hide my face lest I should end up on someone's "crazy New Yorkers" scrapbook page. Okay, I actually did turn away. I have some shame. But I will push a chair fifteen blocks through crowded Manhattan streets to get things for free. So very little shame, really.

The chairs are great, by the way. Very comfortable and just the right height for typing without damaging my wrists. Which are not fixed completely. I begin to think they never will be.

Anyway, as Peggy and I began pushing the chairs away from her building we looked at each other and said, "Isn't this one of those moments when you look at the hilariousness of what you are doing and can't help but think, 'I love my life'? It's too perfect."

(Update on paper one of three: 5 of 20 pages. It's a start.)