31 December 2007

a whole new year

Five years ago, I passed New Year’s Eve in the courtyard of the Auberge Beausejour in Kigali with a Lebanese diamond smuggler who spoke only French when I had only begun to learn it. There were very few others in the hotel, which is why we ended up hanging out. He spent the evening (as far as I could understand) telling me about how he had gotten a girl pregnant when she was 15 (and he was about 35) so that they could get married. He bought olives and beer and 7Up and Pringles from the stores up at the Chez Lando corner and at midnight he gave me a kiss on each cheek, in the old European fashion from before they resorted to four or six or however many kisses the Europeans are doing now.

Later, he offered me diamonds that he was smuggling out of Congo through Rwanda and I got scared of the whole diamond smuggler as an acquaintance concept and gave him a fake phone number so that if he ever got arrested he would not have my number in his phone, although I did hedge a bit and say, “Well, I don’t know it well yet… I think it’s…” We saw each other a few more times in the Baguette (fine, LA GALLETE, stupid new name) and other such ex-pat hangouts, but I managed to avoid any more long discussions. (Still later, I told a U.S. government employee about this guy and she said, “Oh, you totally should have taken him up on the diamonds! My engagement ring was made from a diamond that a smuggler friend of mine sent me through the regular mail! He didn’t even insure them, he had so many!” Er, yes, because I WANT to encourage the illegal procurement of diamonds from war zones? NO. I would be quite happy never to see a diamond again until they are coming only from areas where mines are locally owned, operate without exploitation, and use the proceeds within the country. Even then, I think I would have negative connotations.)

Somehow, I don’t think my first New Year in this new city will begin quite as eventfully. Hopefully it won’t be as nerve-wracking, either. It is, perhaps not surprisingly, a bit unnerving to try to figure out how to interact with a diamond smuggler who 1. smuggles diamonds, 2. has an underage wife back in Lebanon and is telling you about what should have been his conviction for statutory rape, and 3. doesn’t speak your language.

29 December 2007

what we lose

In the summer of 2006, when I was in Liberia, some friends and I went down to Buchanan for a weekend. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and visited one of my father's friends, settled into a little guesthouse, and toured the town. We went to the house I grew up in, and we walked down to the Fanti Town on the ocean.

I woke up early the next morning and went for a walk. I didn't go back to our house. I didn't need to see it again. I just needed to be in the town, alone, without other foreigners to whom the town had no real meaning. I walked down an unfamiliar road and, when it ended, I kept going along single-file paths through yards and next to houses. I greeted people when I saw them, in English or in Bassa, and they all smiled and greeted me in return. I came to a house for the blind, and a young blind man, hearing that the kwi-poo was coming, stood in front of it, beaming, hand stretched out to shake mine.

I met the Liberia Christian High road and turned west. I walked past the house where the grandparent-like missionaries lived. I walked past the house where the two good friends my own age lived with their Liberian father and Jamaican (? - er, something Caribbean) mother. I walked to the river and along it, and then I turned back. I took a few pictures. I took a picture, at his request, of a twelve-year old whose legs didn't work, who pulled himself by his arms up onto a little stool to pose proudly for the photo. I stopped to chat to a man who wanted to talk about the hope he had for the future of the country. I walked alone, but I had scarcely a chance to be alone. I felt like I had come home.

This morning, waiting for the phone call telling me I am approved for my first real, independent, adult apartment in a U.S. city (it came; I am approved), I keep thinking of that walk, that morning in Buchanan. That is what I'm giving up to be here, to live here. I want this. I want to be a member of a bar and practice as a lawyer. But I also want morning walks in Liberia, and the two don't fit together very well. For the first time in a while, probably for the first time since I went back to live in Africa in 2002, I'm having trouble being both of my selves at once.

28 December 2007

the fear sets in

Assuming that I am approved (note to self: follow that advice and get a credit card to improve credit rating. Or don't, to preserve sanity), I should be able to move into my own apartment tomorrow. I had a big mental debate with myself. I can't afford what I really want, which is perfection in an apartment. I wanted a bright, airy space with wood floors and lots of closets, in a neighborhood I love, near public transportation, that allows cats because I want to get one.

I can't afford all of that, though.

In the end, I chose convenience (near public transportation; in-apartment washer and dryer) and light (floor-to-ceiling windows) over wood floors and lots of closets (I have one big one, but lots of cupboards in the kitchen). I chose a cat-friendly building over the trendy neighborhood. AND! There's an athletic center and a hot tub in the building. I don't actually go to indoor athletic centers, but I COULD. I MIGHT. If it's right downstairs and it's cold outside. I might.

It's so scary to be attached to one city for a while.

27 December 2007

depressing of new city

I know. I just all disappeared. Stuff was happening. Stuff like Christmas, which everyone knows about, and celebrates or not according to faith tradition. I celebrate. It was nice, mostly. Nice-ish.

Also, there was a wind storm that knocked out the power lines in our city. It didn't knock out our power, but it knocked out lots of other power, including that of the cable companies who issue the cable lines from whence emergeth the internet connection that our neighbors channel into wireless signals that we poach. My parents rushed around dialing up to the internet, but I just shrugged and went internet-less. It was an interesting turn of events, and one I would not have imagine possible even a year ago. Me, calm about lack of internet? My parents, frantic about lack of internet? The world is officially on its head.

The good news is that the wind storm also knocked out the power at church, which meant that services were canceled and I didn't have to make the speech I was scheduled to make. Normally, I like speaking at church. I like speaking in general, and I like speaking at my church even more. Problem is, as it turns out, that I like speaking when I have something to say. I was feeling ominously blank last Sunday, having heard about four different explanations of what they wanted me to talk about, none of which meshed with anything I had to say, and I had nothing prepared. (My sister tells me that I am MUCH BETTER at speaking when I prepare in advance instead of extemporaneously, which is hard when you have nothing to say and therefore nothing prepared. She kept asking me if I had practiced yet, and I had to say, "NO! I have nothing! NOTHING!") On Sunday morning, I drove to church early to prepare SOMETHING based on the sermon plan, and on my way, I noticed downed branches and then a few stoplights out and a faint murmur of hope - that I promptly banished - began to grow in me, and then the scrolling sign at church was out and then! Canceled! I was happy. I went home and wrestled my sister for the couch that we both wanted to use for napping purposes.

Another reason I haven't been around is that I moved to my new city. Now is not a good time to ask me about the New Home City, because I've only been here for 33 hours and I'm overwhelmed and I can't find an apartment I like and I got yelled at by a lady in a wheelchair for hitting the door button on the train at the wrong time. "HEY! Don't DO that!" she said, "I want to get OUT!" - I have pursed my lips up like hers, just writing that - and I said, "I'm sorry," but what I should have said was "SO DO I." After that I cursed New Home City under my breath for about eight blocks. And then I stopped cursing it just in time for my shoes to fill with water from the blasted everlasting rain. I could feel the water squishing around my toes. My feet were so numb that when I finally got to the store where I was going to buy new shoes, I had to walk around barefoot for twenty minutes before I could feel them again.

Fortunately, my new boots are good to -25 degrees F/-35 degrees C. Also waterproof. Even with wet socks, my feet were toasty warm for the rest of the day.

I have a nice list of apartments to try tomorrow. I really hope one of them works. A friend from college is very kindly donating couch space to me, but I get extremely benought (is that even how you spell that word?) when I don't have my own place to belong. Antsy, itchy, irritable. I need a space of my own.

22 December 2007

a Christmas vignette

Scene: the kitchen. I’m making a lasagna for a Christmas party tomorrow, my sister is sitting on the floor knitting, my mom is washing dishes. I have used two full bottles of spaghetti sauce on the lasagna, repeatedly saying how much I like it with lots of sauce, but the noodles don’t seem to be gone.

“Add another layer of noodles,” my mom suggests.

“No, I like it really saucy. I can’t stand it when there are too many noodles compared to sauce.”

I pause and think for minute.

“Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe I like it with lots of noodles and can’t stand too much sauce. I can’t remember.”

20 December 2007

11:00 p.m.

My uncle has a Bible and he’s reading Hebrews with a man who moved up from Benton Harbor after a few felony charges, to start a new life, and who tells me that the work I was doing in Sudan is needed here in town. College kids with dyed black hair are reading and smoking and discussing intellectual books. When we first came here in high school, three of us from white middle-class families feeling intrepid because our other friends were a little scared of this part of town, these college students seemed old and knowledgeable about the world with their artfully draped, faded, expensive clothes, and now they seem young and like maybe they are mostly just trying to seem smart. Smoke hangs in the air and permeates my clothes. I no longer flee upstairs to the nonsmoking section. I look at my glass and wish for just one more swallow of the perfect mint mocha, but I drank it down in the first ten minutes. There are people talking loudly about threats and reactions and what they will and won’t tolerate, and we are ignoring them and focusing on the board and the letters. We don’t have an official dictionary, so I’m asking J. about the words because he knows more of the dictionary, and he’s letting me get away with zaggers, despite, I’m sure, its failure to actually be a word. He beats me, by 23 points, and my uncle is disappointed, because he’s told everyone how smart I am, but I don’t mind, because I’m not that great at this shuffling the letters around to make words, and I don’t know the little sneaky words yet. J. offers to give me a 100 point lead next time if I will pay him a penny for every point he beats me, but I would rather lose fairly.

17 December 2007


One day while I was driving in Rwanda with U., the office coordinator, I noticed an old man walking along the road. I was 23, swinging this Land Cruiser Prado around the tight turns of the mountains, and he was 75 or 80, walking slowly up a mountain, leaning on a cane. “It seems unfair to me,” I said to U., “that I am young and have a car, and he is old and has to walk.”

U. looked at me oddly. “Everyone can’t have a car,” he said.

(I tell that story a lot, because he is right. We can’t all have a car. It would destroy the world. If I have one, someone else can’t, either in this generation or the next. Can you imagine six or eight billion cars depleting the ozone layer?)

After posting about my obscenely expensive jeans, I got an email from an internet friend who is currently in Liberia, regarding obscenely expensive jeans, which she also likes. It got me started thinking about the tension between spending money on the things that make us happy and declining to spend money because of the poverty in the rest of the world. I’m pretty chill on that, at this point, and I think my guilt about spending the money on the jeans was more because I thought I should feel guilty than because I actually do.

Like many people, I went through a stage in college in which I was very upset about the poverty in the world and the fact that most of us aren’t really doing anything about it. I cried when my parents built a new house in a middle-class suburb and we had to move out of the ‘hood. I had just come back from a semester studying development in Honduras and it all seemed so excessive to me. One bedroom in this house is bigger than many houses in Africa or Latin America. I was upset that we were not even trying to live simply. What resources would be left, I wondered, for the rest of the world, if we all lived in houses with two or three car garages (full of cars)?

I’ve mellowed, since. Well. A bit. I would still choose, if it were up to me, an older building over a newly-constructed one, because I don’t think we need all these new buildings that are killing forests all over the world (although if you start thinking about energy efficiency, those old buildings are pretty bad, and then everything gets far too complicated). I am still going to try to get by without a car in my new city as long as I can. I still recycle obsessively. I still prefer the lack of purchasing I do when I live in Africa to the buying and hoarding I do here in the U.S.

I haven’t stopped believing that the way we live affects the rest of the world. I’ve just stopped beating myself up when I don’t do such a good job of it.

And, too, I’ve learned something else, about myself. There are many things that I will not spend money on, even if everyone else has them. It is unlikely, for example, that I will buy a television in my new apartment. I never did get that sleeping bag that I wanted in college. I go to the library when I hear about a new book that I’d like to read but won’t need to keep and reread for the rest of my life. I’m still holding off on buying snow and rain boots (my hiking boots from Rwanda days have been doubling as snow boots for about four winters now, with the result of lots of freezing feet). There are many things that I can do without, and I do.

There are also things that I will spend money on, and those tend to be the things that I need to stay sane. I will spend money on comfortable, warm, long-lasting clothes that I will use frequently. I will spend money on quality tea and candles. I will spend money on decorative items to make my surroundings bearable. I will spend money on good running shoes and good pens (preferably refillable ones).

To sum it up, what I’ve learned in the last seven years is just to be a bit easier on myself: to wait a few more days before spending that money, because maybe it is more needed somewhere else, but also to take care of myself. Or even simpler: it isn’t a betrayal of my ideals to take care of myself, when I need it.

(I’m tempted to add a caveat: that my taking care of myself can and does get out of hand sometimes. I am aware of that and I try to curb it. Not everyone in the world can afford to take care of themselves, to treat themselves once in a while, and I am very aware that my ability to do so is a luxury. It is a luxury that every person should have, but not everyone does. Okay, clearly I have now added the caveat.)

16 December 2007

cookie monster

When I was small, I used to choose cookie cutters very carefully, sitting at our big table in the house in Buchanan. Before cutting each cookie, I chose a cutter and placed it in exactly the right spot, to make the exact cookie I had envisioned in my mind. When it came time for frosting, the same thing occurred. I chose a cookie, determined which frosting and sprinkle colors it should hold and in what design, and meticulously frosted it. By the end, the frosting was ground into the texture of the plastic tablecloth and it tasted like plastic if you swiped at it with a damp finger, trying to get the last of the sugar in a house where for my first birthday I had birthday bread instead of birthday cake.

My mom, on the other hand, made many identical cookies. She cut out an entire batch of stars and then an entire batch of bells. She frosted thirty cookies in a row the same color, sweeping the same kind of sprinkles over all of them. I always watched her a bit nervously. How could she DO that? What if she took one of my special ones and frosted it so boringly?

I made cookies today. Every cookie I cut was a star. I used each color of frosting until it was gone, and then I sprinkled the same nearest sprinkles on all the recently frosted cookies. I was an assembly line of cookies. Individualization of the cookies no longer carries the same appeal. My sister had to take over to ensure that we had some bells and trees and an occasional gingerbread man.

Remember how I was eating healthily to save room for Christmas cookies? I guess this is what I was saving room for, only now I feel sick and hyperactive from all the sugar. I have foiled my very own self.

15 December 2007

Thelma, our Christmas tree

It started snowing right before we started out to find a Christmas tree. This was good, because selection of a Christmas tree should occur under falling snow, but also bad, because snow is naturally wet and cold. When it falls on you, the chances are high that you will get wet and cold.

That is exactly what happened: we got wet and cold. We looked around at rows and rows of trees in someone’s back lot, getting wetter and colder, and we felt all the branches, looking for the trees with the soft needles. We like the soft-needled ones better because they don’t prick you while you carry and set up and manage the tree, and they don’t fall off, so you don’t need to sweep every day. We are a fundamentally non-cleaning family, if we can help it. (Obviously we do clean. It’s just that if one can avoid extra cleaning, well, why wouldn’t one?)

We eventually, after moving the car a couple of times so as not to be too far away from it and its beautiful warm passenger compartment (recall: wet and cold), found the area where the soft-needled trees were located. We picked out a nice, tall, lopsided tree, and cut it down and strapped it onto the top of the car – this was shockingly easy because the soft-needled trees also seem to be the light trees, so one person can lift a nine foot tall tree quite easily.

We killed off a strand of lights in a manner involving sparks flying out of the socket, and ended up rather short on them, necessitating a trip to the infamous Meijer, but at last I was left alone (why am I always alone for this part?) decorating the tree to some lovely Bach. I have strategies regarding decoration, and all of them have some logic. I can be very logical. The delicate ornaments have to go up near the top, where we are less likely to knock them off and where the lower branches can buffer them if they do fall. The heavy ornaments have to be somewhere in the middle of the tree, where they can nestle back in the branches and be supported by the sturdier internal branches. The plastic ones have to hang near the bottom, so there is something interesting to look at around the bottom edge.

I also hang every single hangable ornament. Even though we have far too many ornaments (my mom teaches elementary school) and even though some of the older ones are hideous (we went through some poor years right after coming back from Liberia in which we pretty much had to make our ornaments), I still hang all the ornaments that have most of their pieces and a place for a hook to hang them from the tree. I just worry, with the same overly anthropomorphatization that used to keep all my stuffed animals tucked neatly into my bed, that they might be hurt if I neglect to hang them on the tree. Ornaments have feelings, too. Today, for example, I hung a one-google-eyed reindeer made out of a jingle bell.

14 December 2007


I had forgotten what it’s like to be busy. Is this what it’s like? Entire days in which I do not so much as turn on my computer? Did I live this way before computers? How did we all communicate?

I’m currently about 3000 blogs behind on bloglines. When I was in Sudan, I used to watch for new posts. Even ONE new post. Now I can’t keep up, at all. Not even with the blogs I most like and want to read.

Yesterday, I spent an obscene amount on jeans, during a break in the whole pretending to be a lawyer game. One pair of jeans. Jeans, singular. Approximately the amount I usually spend on three pairs of jeans. For one singular pair of jeans. I didn’t mean to buy them and I feel slightly guilty about the cost, because THERE ARE PEOPLE STARVING IN AFRICA and all. And I actually know some of said starving people, which one would think would make me more careful. I am a bad seeker of economic justice.

What happened is that I walked into a little boutique. I only walked in because I happened to be dressed up all lawyerly and wearing clicky shoes with heels and I felt, for once, like I could walk into such a place without getting that salesperson smirk, so I walked it, just to look, and then I tried jeans on just for fun and then I was paying an obscene amount for them. I’m not really clear on the process my brain used to get from “trying on jeans” to “paying for jeans.”

(I would, by the way, pay this much and more for fair trade clothes. One of my friends in law school, a Canadian lawyer getting an LLM, tried only to buy fair trade clothes. Very soon, upon procurement of a job, that is going to become my goal.)

Unfortunately, I am now spoiled. I tried on work sorts of trousers today in a normal price range store and guess what? Unsatisfying. Very unsatisfying. Obscenely expensive jeans have ruined me for normal clothes. It’s a whole new concept to me, this having jeans that actually fit. I’ve always wondered where people got such things. I see all these women with jeans that look like they were made for them, while I’m tugging at the waist of mine, trying to keep them from sliding all over. Now I know that they just spent more. Maybe a lot more. That doesn’t really make me happy, knowing how much money is going into jeans. I always thought the G@P jeans were too expensive. Ha.

12 December 2007

christmas all over again

The last ten years of Christmas decorations are proudly displayed in my parents’ middle-class, middle-America, very white subdivision. Nearly every year there is a new fad, and a few people know about it, but most people catch up the next year and suddenly the entire neighborhood is filled with last year’s new thing.

There are the white dangling icicle lights of ten years ago still lingering at a few houses.

Those white-light deer that were all the rage seven or eight years ago and stood proudly (annoyingly) in everyone’s yards have finally begun to disappear.

I think I’ve seen the last of the spiraling single-colored cones that were supposed to look like pine trees.

There are only two of the inflatable snowmen/santas left.

Last year there was only one house with the bigger, precisely spaced, expensive lights on the eaves. This year there are three. I sense the next trend.

11 December 2007

the streets of my hometown (quote)

I was driving this early this morning, in the dark, in the rain, down the main street of my (U.S.) hometown. Buchanan, Liberia, will always be my first hometown, but this city is where I learned to drive, where I had my first job, where my parents were born and raised, and where I come for the holidays. Surely that qualifies it as one of my hometowns.

So I was driving down the main street downtown, in the dark, in the rain, and I was suddenly aware of how very many times I’ve driven that stretch of road, beginning when I turned sixteen, when I worked at a bakery downtown and I had to drive there early on fall mornings, in the dark, in the rain, to open the store on Saturdays. During and after university, I worked with emotionally impaired kids, often starting at 7 a.m. I drove that road from our old house, and again from our new house after my parents moved. It is the beginning of the stretch of road that remained the same, wherever I started.

It runs past the hotels and the restaurants and the shops. It is five or six lanes wide, but only for a little while. A stubby road.

I drove, and I parked, and I went in to hang out with lawyers, again. I’m trying to learn. I watch, and I ask questions of whoever will answer them. As we stood around, waiting for something to happen, I looked out at the rain falling on the snow and realized how very long it will be, in another place, before I can again say something like what I said today: “Was it the winter of ’98-’99 that it snowed 24 inches in 24 hours?”

You can only say things like that when you stay in one place for a while. I never do. Not in the last five years. Not even really in the last ten. I feel at home in many places, but I have few (no?) real homes.

10 December 2007

brief synopsis

Sunday: Colorado to Omaha, Nebraska.
Monday: Omaha to Michigan.

Two days; 24 hours. I have never been so happy to see I-80 disappear in my rear view mirror. It's a terrible, terrible highway. Too many semis.

Tired. Bed. 8:20 p.m.

07 December 2007

winter fresh

It’s been snowing for the last forty-eight hours, and it’s supposed to keep snowing for the next forty-eight. This does not bode well for the driving over the pass of hairpin turns and steep inclines that A. and I are supposed to do on Sunday morning. No, no, it does not. At noon on Friday, they had measured 21 inches at the nearby ski resort.

I’ve figured out why they give you those “2” and “L” options for gears in the car. It’s brilliant. (Still wishing for a Land Cruiser, though. Then maybe I could not be the person driving 35 in a 65 with a whole line of cars behind me, practically panting to overtake.)

Yesterday, while waiting for my sister to get done with work, I watched the snow fall. I watched the snow on the roof build up until it slid off two stories to the ground with a thump. I watched the cars slip-slide as they tried to get out of the parking lot.

And I formulated a PLAN.

I sprung it on A. as soon as she left her office. “We’re going sledding!” I told her, all but leaping about like a five-year old. She glared at me. “I’ve had a bad day. Why are we going sledding?”

“Because!” I said, chasing her down the stairs, “It will be fun! You’ll be in a better mood after you eat something, and then we’ll go sledding!”

The good news is that a friend of a friend holds the key to the sledding room at this resort-ish place, so we didn’t even have to use dining hall trays. Heh heh heh. We borrowed the key and got three brightly-colored plastic sleds. A. assigned me the green, gave D. the blue, and appropriated the fuchsia for herself. We took them out on the hill and threw ourselves down on them in the glow of a single light pole. A. and D. tried to stand on them like snowboards. We rode all on one, toboggan-style, and then we all piled on top of one another. We fell off laughing in the drifts and plodded up again.

My jeans were soaked through and my knees stung with the cold. Our faces were covered in snow every time we went down, blazing new trails in the powder.

And then we stopped and flung ourselves into the two feet of snow on the edge, buried our faces in it, and ate the snow like puppies do, disregarding the dangers of acid rain.

When the others were ready to stop and get warm, I wanted to keep sledding. I wanted to keep sledding so much that today, while they were working, I went back, alone. The only other people on the hill were a little boy and his dad. They took two more runs after I got there, as dusk was falling, and as they climbed up the hill for the last time, the little boy said to me, clinging to his father’s hand to stay on his feet, “You are lucky that you get to stay longer than us!” His father said they’d been there all afternoon.

I kept sledding, alone, on the same green sled as the night before, until I knew I had to bring the sled back so they could close. But first, I lay on my back in the deep snow, wearing multiple layers of jeans and sweatpants this time, and watched the unending snow, trying to find the point at which it stops being a gray mass and starts being individual flakes. The light came on, and the snow glowed under it. I kept wanting just one more run.

When I told A., she said, “You really are like a five-year old.”

I kind of like that. I don’t want to outgrow sledding. I also want to go again tomorrow.

06 December 2007

my people (sort of)

I have found my people. All these years of not fitting in, and here are my people, in the Rocky Mountains.

I’m only talking about clothes, here. Obviously I don’t have much in common with all the people who have never left the mountains save for a trip to Denver to go to REI. But I do have clothes in common with them.

Let’s review:

c. 1989, Liberia: I am wearing a swimsuit and frolicking about in the rain with my brother and the neighbor kids. The girl next door (I think Naomi, but it might have been Matu) asks me if what I’m wearing is a bodysuit. I immediately develop a complex about bodysuits and am very disappointed, when I get back to the US a year later, to discover that they have gone out of style and are unpurchaseable. I have only managed to own one in my life, and that was in high school and I wore it under my overalls. (Speaking of which, why aren’t overalls back in style? They were so comfortable.)

c. 1993-1999, Michigan: I am incapable of shopping on my own, because who knows what it is that is actually acceptable to wear in public?

c. 2002-2004, Rwanda: I bring lots of long skirts to Rwanda, hoping to be culturally appropriate, only to have the staff of our partner organizations look at me climbing a mountain in a long skirt and hiking boots and ask, “Don’t you have any TROUSERS?” I immediately send for jeans to be brought with the next available traveler. The jeans turn out to be too big, but what choice do I have? I wear them every day.

c. 2004-2007, New York: I am chronically underdressed in a city were women seem to think it’s a good idea to go jogging in heels. I wear jeans and long-sleeved t-shirts and brightly colored sneakers, obstinately.

But now I’m here in Colorado, and these are my people! I can wear jeans and a zip-up sweatshirt and a down vest and hiking boots every day and I look just like everyone else! No dressing up necessary!

Then I wore a suit for a day in court, and I did the unthinkable: I tucked in my shirt. I haven’t tucked in a shirt since the high school days when that “blousing” thing was all in and I wore really big shirts and pulled them out so they would stick out. Those days were bad. I’m trying to forget them. But then I was going to court and my shirt was long enough to stick out under my jacket and so I tucked it in.

I looked mad professional.

In the one place where I don’t have to be. In the one place where the attorneys wear their own down vests in court, I was wearing a tucked-in button down shirt, a suit, and heels.

Still, I looked hot.

05 December 2007

living in the wilds of the U.S.A.

We are in a mountain lion area. Remember how I was all freaked out about snakes in Sudan? I really have an animal problem, because I am now terrified to get out of the car IN MY SISTER’S PARKING LOT A MERE 20 FEET FROM THE DOOR in case there might be mountain lions just stalking me and wanting to eat me. I drive in and sit in the car for only a minute, to check all around, but not too long, because hopefully the noise of the car keeps them away, and then I dash for the door (dangerous, because the parking lot is sheer ice). This only happens when I’m alone, as if the presence of another person renders mountain lions non-existent.

Then again, animal-wise, I’m amused that the ribbon on my moleskin planner was chewed off at the edge of the page by that tiny little mouse that lurked in my tukul. Mice used to freak me out in New York, but I had to prioritize in Sudan. You can only be scared of so many animals and insects even in the throws of culture shock. I loved that little mouse. I should have brought it home with me. It could be my pet.

04 December 2007

the crazy and the Ethiopian food

Random quote from my sister’s friend after I whined about the other drivers on the slippery pass through the mountains: “Yeah, people up here get a Subaru and they think they can drive 80 over the pass.” (I saw what he meant yesterday when I noticed a tiny little Subaru station wagon – all wheel drive, like that gives you free rein to drive like a maniac on icy roads.)

As I was driving back down through the pass on the way home from Denver, in the dark, I drove around a curve that seemed very, very familiar. The only problem is that the curve I know that looks exactly like that is in Rwanda, about a kilometer before the bridge when you are going from Kibuye Province to Gitarama Province. “They are reusing scenery again.” I told my sister.

“Reusing it?”

“Yeah, I think they’ve used this curve before, in Rwanda.”


“Like the Truman Show, you know? The set designers are reusing scenery in the movie of my life.”

She might have thought I was a bit crazy.

Denver, by the way, is cool. I could live there. I’ve been there about 8 or 9 times, but always in the suburbs, which could be anywhere in Boring, U.S.A. This time we went straight downtown and shopped at the downtown mall. Except we didn’t buy anything except burritos at illegal pete’s, which is like chipo.tle or q.doba, but BETTER, because it’s local and also it’s a bar. Beer AND quality non-mass-produced burritos? What could be better?

I don’t like beer. So that could be better. But it’s the atmosphere I’m talking about.

Then we managed to buy all the Christmas presents for D’s family. The girls, at least. It’s hard for boys to shop for their sisters, apparently.


I’m only talking about that part so that I can talk about the GOOD PART, which was the copious consumption of Ethiopian food. When I first ate Ethiopian food, back in college, I wasn’t sure about that sour bread stuff. I felt like the sauces we had (it was a vegetarian Ethiopian restaurant) were not quite spicy enough to cover the fermented flavor of the injera. Then I went to Rwanda, where I happened to be friends, or at least acquaintances, with most of the Ethiopians in the country. I ate a lot of Ethiopian food.

(One time, I was invited over to this Ethiopian family’s house in Kigali and I was really excited, because I loved Ethiopian food, but unfortunately, the dad of the family had recently been having stomach problems and had been told by a doctor that goat was the best meat for his stomach problems, so all of the dishes involved goat meat. I hate goat meat. I hate goat meat because this one time we imported 85 big, meaty goats from South Africa, and the smell of 85 goats when they have been stuck in a pallet for 14 hours in the back of a DC-10, pooping and peeing and doing what goats do, is utterly terrible. I couldn’t breathe. The ammonia was burning my lungs. And there is the slightest hint of that smell in goat meat. So I can’t eat it. I had to literally choke down the sauces that I otherwise would have loved. But then their two little kids danced to Russian music – they had lived in Russia for a while – and spoke Russian to me, and it was so cute that I got over the goat meat.)

Now I love the injera. Plain, with sauces, whatever way I can eat it. I do still love the spicy sauces most, though. Doro wat, for example. A had to break out her favorite slogan during the meal: “Eat through the pain.” We did.

01 December 2007

the downside of fuel efficiency

I am generally very anti-big vehicles. Like the horrible Hu.mm.er. Or the almost as horrible Ex.cur.sion. I think people need to be given a choice: your big truck or your life. Pick one and we, the other citizens of the world that we hope will last until our grandchildren’s days at least, will take the other. Pick. Now.

Then again, I do think there are times and places for big four-wheel drives. I needed my four-wheel drive in Rwanda. If I hadn’t had four-wheel drive, how would I have gotten out of all those ditches into which I backed? Okay, I probably would have done exactly what I did when I dropped my front passenger tire into a manhole: hired people to lift it out. That works, too. But it is very satisfying to be able to get oneself out of the predicaments into which one gets all on one’s own, just by jumping out and locking the tires and putting the truck in four-wheel drive. (I don’t know why so many ditches just LEAPT up and surrounded my back tires. The ditches of Rwanda had a conspiracy to make me look stupid, is all.)

Also, I needed all ten seats (two benches and two sideways flip-downs) quite often, and if I didn’t need the space for people, I needed it to haul things. Things like dead goats that had to be brought to the Ministry of Agriculture. That was fun. (Actual Truth: I refused to get in the car when there were dead goats in it. I made someone else take them. They were dead. DEAD.)

A four-wheel drive with a pretty high clearance is basically essential anywhere in South Sudan or Liberia. Even the capitals. You are going to need the truck just to maneuver the potholes. Little cars – I know, I drove one for a while in Liberia – are practically swallowed up by the potholes. Although I do hear that they are repaving Tubman Boulevard right now.

You also need a four-wheel drive up here in the mountains of Colorado in the winter. When I walked over to meet my sister for lunch, I suddenly noticed, while crossing a driveway, that I was going nowhere. I was moving my feet, but they were slipping back as fast as I moved them forward. I was on a treadmill of ice. I’m sure I amused the two passing cars.

When I borrowed my sister’s car to run some errands after lunch, I had to call her almost immediately. “Um.” I said, “do you happen to have a shovel?”

She came out with a snow shovel and we shoveled out the wheels. Then I pushed the pedal to the floor and she pushed at the hood. A shower of snow rose from the spinning tires. I slip-slid backwards and forwards and backwards again. When I finally got started going forward, I didn’t dare stop but just waved at her as I blasted my way through the snowbank at the exit from the parking lot.

I love a Corolla for the gas mileage and the sparing of the earth, but in some conditions you really wish for a Land Cruiser.