30 July 2007

michigan is evolving

Who needs to go to Africa? We have power outages RIGHT HERE in Michigan. This is the second time this summer. Is that normal? I don’t think it is. We don’t have power shortages here in Michigan, do we? I don’t think I’ve ever known there to be two power outages in a row (er, in three months), other than when they thought they’d fixed the downed power line from the tree falling on it during a thunderstorm, but they hadn’t.

Is it bad that I sort of like having the power go off? Otherwise things are so always the same here. Lately we can’t even get a good cloudy day to change things up, let alone a thunderstorm. It’s just sunny, cloudless all the time.

Last summer in Liberia, whenever I woke up at night to a thunderstorm, I would get up and stumble about the house, unplugging everything. Wearing rubber flip flops, of course. Cement floor conducts lightning. It was an instinct too strong to resist. I would try to stay lying comfortably in my bed, enjoying the storm, but something in me kept saying, “What if there is a power surge? What if the lightning hits something? It will be your fault if the fridge is ruined.” So I would get up, while all my North American friends slept peacefully on, secure in their (misplaced) confidence in the electrical system.

Then the electrical system in the office started destroying people’s laptops, and everyone got on board the “don’t trust the outlets” train. But still they didn’t think to unplug things during thunderstorms. Huh.

Anyway, we don’t have city water here in Boring Suburb, MI. We have our own well, as does EVERY OTHER of the 30 houses in the neighborhood. The result is that when there is no power, there is also… NO WATER!! Because the pumps can’t pump without power. This power outage we just had was just a tiny one, one minute or so (just long enough to reset all the clocks), but last time, when it went on for an hour or two, we had to do things like ration water. And stay smelly rather than shower. It was exciting. Relatively. For Michigan.

I lost power a lot in Rwanda. At the end of my time there, we had power for about 40 minutes a day. It becomes more effective to turn the fridge off, leave the door open, and store things on its shelves than to try to keep it cool. But for a long time, I didn’t realize that we also had water shortages, until one day, after living there for over a year, there was no water. Weird, I thought. That’s never happened before. So I used lake water.

But it turned out that there were water shortages ALL THE TIME, I just never knew because the backup tank filled itself automatically when the water was on, and this was just the first time I’d gone through the entire tank.

I would say that makes me a stupid, na├»ve North American… but the truth is that we had an extra tank in Liberia as well. I know all about them. But this level of mechanization! In Liberia, we had to go climb up a ladder and physically turn the tap on when the tank was empty, wait for the water to come back on, and then climb the ladder and physically turn the tap off when the little water tower tank overflowed. Many a morning did we wake up to the sound of my baby (at the time) sister calling, “Tower floating, Mama! Tower floating!” because she heard the water splashing out the top of the tank.

28 July 2007

fix it

I really have no idea what people do when they are not 1. in a country where you can pay $2 or less and have almost anything fixed (i.e. Latin America and Africa), or 2. in a house with someone like my father and brother, who can fix anything.

I can fix a lot of things. I have a great deal of (probably misplaced) confidence in my ability to fix things, and I fixed things with my trusty toolkit all the time in New York. Drawer handles. Lamps. But there are things (my suitcase with the pull handle breaking away from the casing is an optimal example) that I just save and then present to my dad or brother and say, "FIX IT! Please!"

And in other places, as happened in Liberia last summer when C's sandal (and then mine) broke, you can just hand them to the nearest 15-year old, who is hawking dvds outside the restaurant, and by the time the food arrives, he's back with the sandal, repaired, and requests less than a dollar for it. But if one doesn't have a convenient, cheap repair service, or a free one like that supplied by my dad and brother, I suppose one just throws things away and buys new ones. It sounds expensive.

My dad has now fixed two of my suitcases - the little red one and the big hard sided one. The big one is going to require some filing down of the screws he used to reattach the pull handle, he tells me. That's the one problem with fixing things: they end up with things like pointy screw ends sticking out, or staples in your sandal. But they work. And it's so much more interesting than just buying a new suitcase. After all, this one now carries a story as well as my clothes.

27 July 2007


I know, I make this big "I'm going back to Africa!" announcement and then disappear. Heh. I'm in a holding pattern, is all, for reasons out of my or anyone else's control. I'm going, I just don't know when, yet. It depends on all those lovely variables like who will be in Nairobi when. Good thing I'm patient (or was, until New York drove the patience screaming from my being and left me anxious and tapping my foot). Plus we've had people over to dinner the last two nights. I had to be all domestic for one of them, and the other involved multiple games of Scrabble, at which I am finally able to hold my own, in an "I operate on instinct but sometimes it works" sort of way (also I look up ridiculous, impossible words, which sometimes turn out to be real words! love that).

Meanwhile, life goes on. I have been stabbed in both arms and no longer have to fear tetanus, meningitis, or typhoid. I have purchased almost everything on my "to bring to Africa" list, and donated a large box of books and clothes to a thrift store. The basement is still chaos, but slowly evolving chaos. Every day there are a few fewer things down there, with some detritus having been packed neatly into a box for storage, or given away, or recycled. I might leave it better than when I arrived. When I pull something new out of an old box, though, I find myself saying things like, "Why didn't someone stop me YEARS ago? Mom, why did you let me keep these things?" In the store today, which we went to immediately after clearing out from the basement too many unnecessary superfluous things (I know that's redundant; bear with me, it's an inside joke), we walked around dazedly and kept saying, "All these THINGS! What is this country doing with all these things? What do people do with them all?" I want to get rid of more stuff, but it all has sentimental value and crap like that. Humph.

Before I go to bed tonight, I'm going to get out my big suitcase and start putting things in it, to get them out of the way and out of the chaos: the good hot chocolate, the contact solution, the vitamins. I'm on my way.

24 July 2007

moving on, moving on

Well, I have been struggling nobly along to say something interesting about my time here in Michigan. It's a nice place, after all, and should not be penalized for the fact that things here go right far too much of the time, rendering it slightly boring. We make our own fun, right? I read some quote while searching through my basement-of-doom that said something like, "We all make our own fun. That's the definition of fun. If you didn't make it, it's just entertainment." (I don't know who said that and have plagiarized it most blatantly. Um. It was in Real Simple once. That's all I know. Does that count as a citation?)

But, confirmed (verbally) today, this spot is about to get way more interesting. Or, let's put it this way: the interesting is about to get way easier to find.

Even with a verbal confirmation, I'm a little nervous about just throwing it out there. It's East Africa, is all I'm saying. Also, it's short-term, so I can find out if I like this whole new country that I have never been to before.

And I might have to leave in less than a week. Whew.

23 July 2007

holding pattern in Michigan

I really thought today was the day, people. The day when I would get word. And I did get an email about how we need to talk on the phone to discuss "the offer," but no such phone call was forthcoming. So. I waited by the phone all day today, unable to do anything productive due to the nerves. But I shall not do that tomorrow. Partly because it's boring and partly because I have far too much to do. (Typhoid vaccine? Meningitis vaccine? International Driving Permit?) I also have an entire basement to clean up. Too much, too much. Another reason why I got nothing done today is because when I was downstairs searching for my lost vaccination booklet (which I found, finally, in a purse I haven't used since Liberia. Oops.), my parents were throwing things wildly about in the pump room and found an additional three huge boxes of my stuff with which I must deal, at some point. Preferably before heading off to parts unknown (*cough* East Africa *cough*). I was overwhelmed and proceeded to play on the internet all day long, instead.

Until after 5 p.m., that is, when I could no longer anticipate potential work-related calls and so went blueberry picking with my parents. I have been blueberry picking just about every summer that I have been in the U.S. - so from 1990 to 2002, basically. I don't mind it. It's nice out there, and the blueberries are pretty. I am, however, or have been, something of a blueberry hater. I will pick them, but I will not eat them. They are so... berry-ish. I've never been a berry fan. But, having heard that if you try something twelve times you will learn to like it, I managed to learn to tolerate raspberries about six years ago, and I'm now at that same point with blueberries: I will eat them, but only if they are perfectly plump and perfectly blue and perfectly ripe. Don't give me just any blueberries. Now if only I could learn to like strawberries. Or cooked fruit.

There were some pickers a few rows over who were speaking Spanish to each other and my parents, who seem to have a delusion that I am the language genius of the world, kept asking me, "Can you understand what they are saying?" Considering that 1. I had other things to think about (*cough* East Africa *cough*), 2. they were a ways away, and 3. why would I be eavesdropping on people's conversation?, the answer was, "If I'm really trying hard to pay attention." I did catch one snatch of conversation that made me laugh out loud, though. One woman suddenly exclaimed, "Really? He never tells me ANYTHING!"

Some things hardly need translation.

22 July 2007

garden variety apology

Apparently the word "wee" to describe the garden is an offense to the garden. Said garden is apparently "bigger than it was last year" and so does not deserve the word "wee" as a description. Because it has GROWN. Now, the garden is still pretty small. I would be lying to you if I said otherwise. BUT, I am instructed to tell you that it is bigger than last year. (I can't confirm this, as last year I was in a post-wrist surgery daze and the garden was not yet producing edibles and so I remember nothing about last year's garden.) In addition to beans and tomatoes, it has carrots and sunflowers. It's something like six feet by five feet, and somewhat overwhelmed by the height of the chicken wire fence around it.

As I explained to the party in question, "wee" is a diminutive that I used as an approximate equivalent to cute. Please go back and reread yesterday's post with that in mind, everyone. Wee = cute.

I have to placate that garden somehow so it will keep giving me lovely fresh raw green beans.

I had to miss some of the lovely sunny (again! it goes on and on beautifully here) to do some more organizing and packing in the pit that is my room. Why, I ask you, do I have things like Uchumi (grocery store) receipts from my first trip to Kenya in 2000? Forex receipts? It's like I thought I would never have another chance to buy Cadbury Eclairs or change money in Nairobi. Probably I did think that. I never expected to get back to East Africa. But do you know how many times I have been in Nairobi since then? If you count flying through, probably 15. If you only count staying there, probably 8 or 10. And I may be there again in a week or two. I clearly do not need these items. (Good thing I kept the shillings, though, huh?)

I also found a button that I had almost given up on.

21 July 2007


My mom has a wee little garden on the side of our house. She waters it every day, but the neighbor's sprinkler also conveniently waters it, so it's been growing like mad. Recently there have been some harvests from it - some tomatoes, and a dozen or so green beans every day or two. I happen to like green beans, especially raw, as do the other two people living in this house.

There seems to have been a green bean harvest today, and, um... well. My mom probably won't notice that all the beans she picked are gone, will she?



A while after I wrote this, my mom got up from her nap and went outside to water the flowers. I joined her out there and said, "Um. I have a small confession to make. I ate all the green beans that were on the counter."

"Good." she said. "I have a small confession to make, too."

"What is it?" I asked.

"I ate all the rest of the cookies."

one afternoon

If I could, I would bottle this day, just pour it into a little glass bottle so that when I need it someday, I can open it and take a sip. A little sip of this day, I'm sure, would cure any future ills.

I wasted my afternoon - "no, used." my mom said, "you didn't waste it." - I deliberately spent my afternoon curled up on two chairs on the back deck with the new Harry Potter book. As the sun moved, my shade disappeared and I moved further along the deck and then down onto the grass. The wind blew gently through the leaves of the trees that stretched far up over my head. A jet pulled its perfect double trail across the open space above me. Six hours of beautiful day later, with hardly a stop for the bathroom or a drink, I turned the 759th page and felt the satisfied sadness of reaching the end. I love a book that leaves me hoping for a better real world.

Finished with the book, recovering from my longing, I moved to the front porch with my computer. A plane descending, maybe to Chicago, caught the sunlight and winked at me from the clear sky. I love planes, and the idea that there are people going somewhere new, somewhere exciting, somewhere loved.

I used to work with kids. At the beginning of every meal, every person had to say something they were thankful for, in lieu of a prayer. Nearly every sunny day, I said, "I'm thankful for the blue sky." (Okay, also usually for the kids that were there, etc. But always the blue sky, when there was one.) One little girl finally said to me, "You really like blue sky, don't you?" Yes, I do. I'm a bit weird about blue sky. It feeds me, somehow.

The sky is a perfect blue, today.

19 July 2007


I did some housekeeping around here today - took out a lot of names and some work descriptions from back when I was not so cautious about being stalkable (New York will do that to you) - so if a whole boatload of old posts suddenly appear on a feedburner, I apologize.

Meanwhile, still waiting. I am haunting the Africa blogs again, searching for more like an addict looking for a fix. And I don't want news analysis, people. That bores me. My friend IE from the Tanzania days often sends me instant messages that say, "Amuse me! Amuse me!" That's how I feel. I want details of life in Africa. Give me some stories. A few pictures, maybe. Give me just a moment in which I can almost see the sky and the bright clothes, almost smell the green and the cooking fires. I'm craving.

I went to a terrible box store today, the really evil one that starts with a W and ends with a Mart and involves scary grinning smiley faces. I couldn't help it, though, even though I hate the store, I stood caressing the digital cameras. Mmmmmh. Small camera that I can fit in my pocket. Mmmmmmh. 7 Megapixels. My mom had to drag me away forcibly, pulling me behind the cart she uses to protect her feet from the horror of the little cuts in her ligament that are plantar fasciitis. (We have weak ligaments in this family; witness my two wrist surgeries in April/May 2006.) Okay, she didn't drag me away. I dragged myself away, moaning, "I'll buy that when I get a job. Then I can put it in my pocket and take all the photos I didn't take in Liberia because I'd left my camera behind." This wasn't as much of a problem in Rwanda because I HAD MY OWN CAR. And the camera fit perfectly under the passenger seat. I'm craving.

One thing I've learned about jogging is that it makes you really hungry if you do it for, say, 30-45 minutes. And if, like me, you jog about two hours after supper and you are theoretically trying not to eat in the evening because you don't want to blow up into any larger a round shape than three years of law school have induced, you'd better learn to sleep hungry. I'm craving.

laughing my head off

I think this may be the funniest post I ever posted on this blog: 13 July 2005 (Tanzania)

18 July 2007


I'm getting just a touch impatient. There is a possibility on the horizon, and in only a few weeks I might be somewhere else. The thought is bittersweet. I have been here in my parents' house longer this time than at any point since I graduated from college, and I am, somewhat unexpectedly, enjoying it. I expected to be loopy by now from the stint back in the abode of family, but so far, only a tinge of loopy-ness. I have no friends in this town, which is a bit of a downer, but being free of every responsibility except: 1. applying for jobs, and 2. unpacking hideous chaos of boxes still tossed about in the basement, has meant that I have time to do things like go to the grocery store with my Oma. I love that when she mentions how long the little SmartCart is taking to putt-putt down the aisle, that she's lagging behind me and my long legs, I can say, truthfully, "Oh, no problem. No hurry." Because there really isn't a hurry. I have no plans, save to check my email and hope for word on the next possibility. I love that I can play two games of Scrabble against Mom and Oma (I won one today! Finally.) over tea and a lunch of spicy black bean burgers with cheese. I love that I can spend a Sunday afternoon on the lake with my family, and when the trailer breaks down, I don't have to think, "Now how am I going to get everything done before tomorrow?" I love that I can go for a long bike ride with my mom uphill and downhill and along one of the most beautiful roads that a very beautiful Michigan has to offer. I love that every day I have time to jog.

I'm ready for something new. I'm ready to be on one of those planes I see flying east across the sky in the evenings. But I also know that when the day approaches to get on that plane, there will be a part of me that wants just a little bit more Scrabble and bike-riding and jogging and having time to be with all these people I see so seldom. There will be a part of me that wishes I had made it out to Colorado to see my sister. There will be a part of me that will stay here, waiting for the next time I can make a salad and sit down to eat it with my parents, covering it with dressing off of which my dad has poured all the oil to make it healthier. I will miss this Michigan summer, when I had nothing to do but be.

And then, after a while, it will be winter here, and warm where I am, and I will gloat unmercifully.

17 July 2007

spot o' tea

Every Sunday night, my mom goes over to her mom's house, my Oma, for tea and to pick up the Sunday newspaper (we get it every day but Sunday, I'm not sure why). When I'm home, I usually go along, and by the time we get in the door, Oma has put the kettle on for tea. Lately, Mom and Oma sit at the table while I get the nice china cups out of the cabinet and proceed to try to make three cups of tea out of two teabags. It's generally something like: pour water over teabags into two of the cups; take out one teabag and put it in cup 3; pour water into cup 3; take teabag from other cup and add it to cup 3. Then we drink tea and talk about all the news from church. Who is going off to be a missionary in foreign lands? Who was sick and couldn't make it? Also, what are my cousins doing?

Two nights ago, I missed the Sunday night tea because I was fetching my dad from where we had left the boat trailer when, on the way home from boating, it nearly lost a wheel. There was a horrible clanking noise that kept coming and going after several stops to investigate and then oops! Wheel wobbling about four inches. We stopped, and the guy across the street came up to help us (boozy breath and cigarette and all) and we parked the boat in his yard and went to get parts (bearings) and left my dad to put things together while we went back for the other car. (Side note: this guy used my phone for a minute, which then smelled like cigarette smoke so badly that I had to air it out by holding it open out the window of the van while driving 60 down a country road. Don't worry, I wrapped its little string thing around my hand.) So my mom went to Oma's and I went to pick up Dad, where we discovered that the part was wrong. Anyway, that's why I didn't go to Oma's.

Last night, I was tired and wound up and wanted to watch some tv, which I never do because we get approximately 4 channels, three of them fuzzily, so I made some of the very same kind of tea that we always have at Oma's. But! It was just me, so I made it full strength. Turns out it's pretty good tea. I didn't really notice before in its weakened state.

Then I ADD-ishly flipped channels for thirty minutes before giving up on tv all together and going off to bed.

13 July 2007

No word over here. No word at all.

I'm feeling a bit discouraged. One can only live for so long in the basement of the very generous parents.

11 July 2007

debate in my head

Option One:
Familiar (and beloved) Country + Law + Non-Funded + No Firm Long-Term Prospects?

Option Two:
New and Exciting Country + Non-Law + Funded + Longer-Term Law Prospects?

(Oh, and what about the part where option two has already had someone apply, be offered the position, and turn it down? And I feel like I have a relationship with them now. And I might want to work for them eventually, even if I do option one right now.)

Anyone? Anyone?

08 July 2007


It's hot. Prairie hot. The wind blows dry hot air across the not-prairie of Michigan. In the shade, with the breeze, if one did not move, it might be okay, but the thermometer on our front porch reads 101 degrees. That may not be quite right (we suspect this thermometer of exaggeration), but let's just say that it's hot in Michigan right now.

Yesterday my brother and sister-in-law and I took the boat out on a lake. (I know! The boat!) This boat just randomly appeared a few days ago - it was in the driveway when I got back from Detroit. It's a long story involving a guy who used to work for my uncle and my uncle and my brother and his friend and my brother again and my dad all having owned the boat at various times, but now after years of disuse, it is registered and loaded up and in our driveway. So we went out on a lake and parked on a sandbar and swimmed a bit and ate too many Pringles, as one does on a lake. On the way back from the sandbar, my brother showed me how to drive it so that next time he can go tubing while I drive.

Boat driving is harder than it looks. There aren't any roads, so it's all random and things can come at you from any direction. You have to assume the other drivers are sane, which they might not be, especially with the drunkenness factor. I was driving and saw three parked boats and a moving one ahead of us, in the direction we needed to go, and said to my brother, "There are three boats! Which way should I go?"

"Ah..." he said, "any way you want. Just don't hit one."

Right. I knew that. Yes, I am (used to be, at least) blond.

05 July 2007

red and white (some blue)

On the 4th, for a little rebellion because a cookout is boring, T and I went to Canada. We got lost and then eventually found our way, via the very sketchy Detroit map in my US/Canada atlas that showed a teeny bit of Windsor, to a waterfront park. There was book reading in the grass and a summerberry fizz in a coffee shop with a fish tank in the wall.

We made it through immigration in both directions even though I was somehow more nervous at a land border (taking my dad's car through) than at any airport, ever. Or at the land borders in East Africa. Or ever. It may also be a result of having taken immigration law last year. Sometimes it doesn't pay to know too much.

Oh, Canada.

I was feeling all tough, being in Detroit. I can do this, I was thinking. I was driving defensively, slowing down at night way before the lights so as not to get penned in between cars if there was a problem. I was prepared to have the car broken into or stolen on the street (my dad's car, you recall, so I could sacrifice it). I went out to the car this morning ready to see scratch marks on the door (I actually was pretty confident that the car could hold out against thieves. I trust it, but I was hoping for at least the chance to have my trust vindicated), or broken windows, or even no car.

But did I get broken into? No.
What did I get instead?

A parking ticket.

Welcome to %^&*-@(*$# Detroit, ya'll.

03 July 2007

singing over and over in my head

So I'm in the Big D (and don't mean Dallas). If you don't know what I mean, just think for a second about Michigan and which city, if any, you might know in it. A city that starts with a D. Cars? Oh, I give up.

Driving here seemed to take forever (I hate I-94 with a burning passion because 1. no one seems to know how to drive on highways in this state - merge, people! merge!; and 2. too many evil semis) and I very nearly crashed myself on the freeway because I was twisting around trying to watch the planes landing at DTW. I was thinking about how I, myself, might soon be on a plane flying through that airport. Going... well, somewhere soon to be determined, maybe, I think. And then announced.

Concerning the big Deeee, I have this to say:

1. It cannot take that long to heat up spinach artichoke dip. No, it cannot.
2. I hope my car doesn't get broken into. It's not made by a US automaker. T says that's good. Less carjacking possibilities.

What? I'm in DEE-TROIT, people. Stuff happens here. Or maybe it won't, but you can't necessarily totally assume it won't. And no, I don't mean the suburbs where the white people all fled some time ago. DEE-TROIT City.

02 July 2007

day by day

This morning, I opened the fridge to get some milk. When I saw the inside, I instinctively grabbed the milk and slammed the door as fast as I could. Not because there was something gross inside, oh no, but because the light on the inside of the fridge was off and my internal voice said, "Power's out. Close the fridge door." Then I checked the light switch for the kitchen and the power was indeed out. My dad came in and said, "Yeah, it flickered a few times before it went off. Maybe an accident or something."

I have a journal somewhere from when I was little in Liberia. On one day, when I was 9 or 10, I wrote, "The current just went out. It dimmed before it went out so I think we are in for a long one." This cracks me up every time I read it, because what nine-year-old has opinions about the kind of power outage that is going to last a long time? Only one who has seen a lot of them.

Yesterday we went to Saugatuck, which is known 'round these parts as something of the gay center of Western Michigan. After we arrived and pulled the bikes out of the car and started exploring, I whispered to my mom, "I feel right at home."

"Why?" she asked.

"Look at all these gay men with stylishly spiked hair! It's just like New York."

We rode around Saugatuck for a few hours. My mom bought a single 25 cent wash cloth at a garage sale where the woman looked at our bikes for a long time and said, "Those bikes yours or did you rent them?"

"They are ours."

"Ooh." she said, "Schwinn. Nice."

We are serious bike riders, you see. We have helmets and rear-view mirrors.

I jumped on the bungee tramp. (Have you seen these things? They are amazing. You just bounce, really high.) And then my mom and I shared a waffle cone of ice cream with bits of toasted, chocolate covered coconut in them. Bliss.


Progress. Maybe.

I'm sort of stunned. Can't breathe very well. It's awfully far from Liberia.