31 January 2008

i got nothing

Life is all law, all the time, at the moment. It doesn't really make for riveting drama. I went back and re-read my Sudan posts (c. Aug.-Nov. 2007) and laughed hysterically, though. So that's always an option, if you are bored. I also spoke online to a colleague from Sudan who informed me that Tilt "was the worst site, by far" of the sites this colleague had visited in Southern Sudan. I will note that this colleague was THE SAME ONE who told me, before I went to Southern Sudan, that the location was "quite nice, actually." The alleged defense for this blatant lie is that "you wouldn't have come otherwise," a defense that persists despite my having said many, many times that I would have gone, regardless, but I would have gone knowing what I was getting into, which would have been better all around. "I would have gone!" I keep saying, "I thought I was tough! And now I know that I am, because I survived there." (I also gave this person this web address - Hi, G.!)

I'm also infatuated with my own photos. Not photos of me, but photos I've taken. I got a digital camera for the first time right before I moved to Rwanda in 2002, and I've been taking excessive numbers of photos ever since (as an example, I think I have nearly 1000 photos from three months in Sudan - what is that, an average of 10 a day?). Here, now, sometimes I leave my computer on, just to watch the screensaver of photos. Someday soon, I will post some of the ones that have caught my eye recently. But maybe not on a day when it is 20 minutes to 11 p.m. and I have not studied all day and I have to be somewhere at 9 a.m. and theoretically I'm supposed to produce some law for a practice exam at that time.

Just as an aside, can I just say that I lurve this city? And I lurve the alumni who come from my school? So nice! So not like New York! Eh-hem. Yes. Still disparaging New York, eight months after fleeing it. Someone asked me the other day if I ever missed New York and I thought for a while and then said, "The only thing I ever miss is the restaurants. There are some great restaurants in New York." And this is true.

29 January 2008

the quest for the perfect pepper

It seems strange to me that I buy green peppers from the normal grocery store for weeks, scrub them with dishsoap (pesticides. pesticides.) and layer them in deliciousness on my salads, and then when I go all out and buy the two-pack of organic ones (fewer pesticides), they both taste so bitter that I feel almost sick after eating a salad containing them and I'm forced to throw them both away. There's something wrong here.

And, YES, I buy multiple bell peppers every week. Red and green. I love those things. I would eat them like apples were it not for the fact they taste so very good with the carrots and baby spinach covered in extra-concentrated Italian dressing that I have to conserve them for salad purposes.

Oh, salad tip! My dad, who has insulin-dependent diabetes and therefore can't eat too much fat because it wrecks havoc with the blood sugar three or four or something hours later (I don't know), started taking off the top of the Italian/Sun-Dried Tomato dressing and pouring off the oil and now that I've tried it that way, I cannot go back to the oil-filled, less concentrated version. It's so good this way. It's just unfortunate that my local Safeway doesn't carry the Sun-Dried Tomato dressing. I miss it. And Meijer's, the home of every product one could ever want (still can't find Sweet & Buttery popcorn here, either).

One additional random story: I was hanging out with some people, friends of a friend I made in bar class, and one of them had gone to school in Michigan and a conversation ensued about why Meijer, the store, is commonly called MEIJER'S with an S. As in, "Let's go to Meijer's." The only conclusion that I've been able to reach about all of this is that all of us in/from Western Michigan think of Mr. Meijer who started Meijer's as our FRIEND, our ALLY in the purchase of ridiculous amounts of consumer goods, and we therefore think of going to Meijer as if we are going over to Meijer's store. You know, Meijer's! And he'll have just what we need!

I'm pretty sure Mr. Meijer is long dead.


I've given up on actual assurance from the airline that my payment has gone through (approximately six phone calls later) and I shall instead rely on the website, which now pops up a "confirmed eticket" instead of "you have no eticket." That sounds like I've paid, right? So for those of you who have not yet figured this out from facebook or by talking to me, the post-bar trip destination, come March, is Ethiopia!!!

Now, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, "Um. Ethiopia. Isn't that, like, soooo 2003? Didn't all the cool people go to Ethiopia in 2003 or at LATEST 2004? Why would you even BOTHER going in 2008?" And yes, the cool people did go to Ethiopia in 2003 and 2004. All the VSO volunteers in Rwanda did, and some others I met who were working in Rwanda, and they all sent back letters and mass emails that told us how many birr everything cost and where they went, but I didn't go. I played workaholic and the only vacation I took after March of 2003 was one single two-day weekend trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, followed by climbing Mt. Bisoke on the border between Rwanda and Congo. I missed out on Ethiopia.

So! Ethiopia it is! I bought a guidebook, which I have since had to hide from myself because do you know how I get about trips to Africa? Giddy, really. I get giddy, and giddiness does not bode well for studying for the bar exam. And I have to head off and spend my afternoon studying instead of thinking about how in just over one! month! I will be arriving in Ethiopia.

27 January 2008


A friend from Russia sent me a message on facebook, commenting on my photos of South Sudan. I caught myself, in responding, using the word "surreal," which I have a problem with on so many levels. First of all, surreal is one of those words that Westerners use when they go to Africa as they are romanticizing things like refugees fleeing across borders. You know, "the column of refugees snaking across the narrow bridge was surreal against the setting sun." Blah blah nonsense. It goes with the word "exotic," which I also hate, because it tends to be code for "not like us, and therefore less modern and smart, but awfully pretty. Let's take advantage."

Secondly, surreal is something you say when you are talking about a life that you think isn't or shouldn't be yours. Someone else's, maybe, but not yours. Either you don't want that life, or it's so different that you can't really imagine it. But really, truly, it's not that different. No one's life is. Sure, we do different things and we have different problems and some of us have frighteningly smaller problems than others, but it's just living. We do it because we have to, and get through what we have to get through, and enjoy the moments we can enjoy.

And so I am annoyed with myself for using the word. Of course, things are surreal when you look back, because they are no longer real. But when I was in South Sudan, it was very, very real. It was hot, first of all, which I think I mentioned before, and it's very hard to feel surreal about anything when it's that hot. Yeah, yeah, you have the cows and the facial scarring and the kids who wear no clothes, and that's all very National Geographic, but you live, you know? I had a favorite outfit (cotton skirt and cotton shirt) that was strategically chosen as the lightest clothes I owned. I sunburned my scalp where I parted my hair every single day, so I had to keep moving it around. I sat with my computer on my knee under the porch of my tukul and emailed all of you. I longed for a cool drink at lunchtime. I avoided going to the bathroom in the middle of the day because the pit latrine made of metal sheets was absolutely the hottest place I've ever been. Very, very real.

Oof. Can't believe I even thought that word. It needs to go down in infamy with "haunting" and "savage" as words that should never again be used to describe Africa.

(P.S. There are photos on facebook, if we are friends there. If we aren't, we should be!)


Let me think of the most annoying possible thing that can happen at 4:40 a.m. No, it's not someone getting hurt or needing a hospital, because then I could feel like waking up had a purpose. No, it's not going out to a pit latrine, although I've done that, too, but at least afterwards your bladder feels much better. No, it's not noise in the hallway, because that you can at least fume about from the warmth of your own bed. It is, in fact, someone pulling the fire alarm FOR NO REASON in a building that is not, in fact, a college dorm, where such things might be funny, and having to get up and pull on your glasses and a sweatshirt and a coat and stumble down the stairs with all the people holding small, terrified animals, and stand out in the misty cold morning in your Christmas-themed flannel pajama bottoms with snowboarding moose all over them (oh, the indignity) while one single fire truck AMBLES over without even bothering to turn on its siren and three or four firemen MEANDER into the building and look around, and then finally being allowed back in to tromp up the stairs with all the other people who are not willing to wait for the disabling of the fire alarm to permit the elevators to work again, and then not being able to go to sleep, so you end up reading books about war for an hour and then never even hearing the alarm clock in the morning, although it appears to have been on.

25 January 2008

Blue Clay People

I went to a big bookstore to buy a guidebook for the post-bar trip (no, I still don't know if I've paid for the ticket, therefore still can't make the announcement - it's a long story). I wandered around for a while and ended up in the African History section, where I picked up a stack of six or seven books that looked good. Had I the money, I would have bought all of them, even the ones I've already read.

I ended up with just two: Emma's War, which is about South Sudan and which I read in Rwanda but want to read again now that I've lived among the Nuer and been to places mentioned in the book, and Blue Clay People, which is about Liberia and which I read while I was in Liberia two summers ago but could not resist buying because, well, it's about Liberia. There are many places in Africa that I like and could picture myself living, but there are only two to which I feel a fierce devotion, in very different ways. One is Rwanda, because it was my first adult country and I threw all of myself into it for two years. The other is Liberia, because it was my childhood, and I believed, for those years of my childhood, that there was nothing more or better in the world than that country.

So I bought Blue Clay People, which is, by the way, a very well-written book, and I started reading it waiting to get my hair cut (the haircut is a whole different story, coming soon). I read for a while, and then I remembered something: when I read this book, I feel hopeless. About my life, and about Africa, and about the world. I felt that way when I read it in Liberia, and I felt so again today.

I have read a lot of harrowing books about wars in Africa. Some of them made me sad (A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali). Some of them have made me angry (Shake Hands with the Devil). Some of them have almost physically hurt to read (Mask of Anarchy).

Very few books, though, have left me feeling hopeless. I was in Africa before I knew the difference between a yellow crayon and a red, let alone Africa and the Americas. I grew up with checkpoints and guns and tuberculosis and beggars missing limbs at the door to the grocery store. I sat next to the bed containing the shrunken body of a man who died of AIDS, and held his wife while she wept, and held their six-month old baby (thinking, admittedly, "I'm not old enough for this. I'm not old enough for this.").

I don't want to go on with my Africa creds here, but I could. The point is this: none of that has ever made me feel hopeless. I don't feel hopeless for Liberia, or Rwanda, or Sudan, or Congo. Discouraged sometimes, of course. But Blue Clay People does leave me hopeless. I have been trying to figure out why it does, and how it can.

I don't really have an answer to that, except that maybe it's because you can tell, from the beginning, that the author feels hopeless about Liberia. Even the description of his first arrival in the country is tinged with having fought the crowds at Robertsfield too many times. Because he had, I suppose, by the time he wrote the book. He expected to change Liberia, and he couldn't.

I wonder sometimes if having started out in Africa is the reason why I never feel hopeless about it. Maybe I'm too close to expect to change anything except myself, and maybe a few friends, the same way you would anywhere. Maybe that insulates me. Maybe.

And maybe it's like anything - when you first move into a house, you notice that the door squeaks every time you open it, and you have to jiggle the toilet lever to get it to flush. When you've lived there for a while, those are just the things you live with, and they aren't that bad, except that you have to warn guests lest they be embarrassed that they can't flush. Instead, you notice that the couch feels really good when you lie back on it after a long day of work, and that you know exactly where everything is.

Maybe any country is like that, too.

Maybe at first you notice that you get pulled over six times in five weeks for not having a license plate (true story, y'alls) and that the police officer is hinting at wanting some money, but after a while you notice that you are having a good time joking with the officer about how long it takes to get a new plate. Maybe at first you rant about the market stalls in the street, but then you notice that you are stopping off to pick up a few things in those same stalls and it's so handy to have them right there.

I feel hopeless when I read this book, and I have to remind myself that none of that bad stuff is original to Liberia, and none of it will remain there. There is corruption everywhere, and violence, and the fact that we manage to insulate ourselves from it for a while, or build temporary structures to rein it in, doesn't mean it's not right here. I also have to remind myself that there is good stuff everywhere, that Liberia is more than the hopeless perspective of one aid worker for one of the largest international organizations in the country. (Also, I sometimes think the bigger the NGO, the more difficult to actually DO anything. That's got to be discouraging.)

Eighteen months ago, I was in Liberia. I walked to the cookie stand with a university student and he insisted on treating me to peanut cookies. I walked down a back road, said to be unsafe, and greeted everyone I met. When it rained, I took shelter under a random roof, and the family lent me their umbrella. Little kids looked up at me with big eyes, and the brave ones came with outstretched hands to shake mine. I sat in meetings planned and led by Liberians, and there were results. (Okay, sometimes there were no results, but we are talking about MEETINGS. Often, on any continent, there are no results.)

I have seen little snatches of the Liberia this book talks about. I've seen little snatches of that Africa. But having spent more than ten years of my life in Liberia... I sometimes think he's exaggerating. Not that he didn't perceive Liberia that way, but maybe perceptions and reality are not the same.

I believe, and I will continue to believe, that Liberia, that Africa, is a place of hope. Sometimes the statistics look bad, but there is hope in life, and Liberians live.

My favorite quote of all time, the one that I have used as an email signature for nearly eight years, is from Wendell Berry's Mad Farmer Manifesto:

Be joyful 'though you have considered all the facts.

24 January 2008

facing the oft-dreaded questions:

Can I stand my hair for another week, or do I need to cut it RIGHT NOW?

Why is my computer so slow?

Will my 3+ year old computer continue functioning through the bar exam, especially now that I spent $200 on new batteries for it?

Will I or will I not pass the bar exam? (Not is looking more and more likely... too much STUFF to learn.)

Will the airline ever confirm that I have paid for my post-bar trip tickets?

Why doesn't the loan company's fax number work?

Oh, man. How will I EVER pay back those loans?

(What is with me and the word "oft" lately?)

23 January 2008


I was trying to explain why I had to switch seats, and it turned into a fiasco:

"Well, there's this guy who was sitting in front of my old seat, and he's really twitchy, and I couldn't handle it anymore. He has the bowl cut. You know, the one that all the guys used to have, where the hair is longer on the sides? And what he does is he runs his fingers over his ears to pull all the hair to the front of his ears. I mean, you know how you tuck your hair behind your ears? This guy does that, only backwards, so all the hair is tucked in front of his ears instead of behind. He just tucks and tucks his hair forward for something like five minutes, running his hands over his ears over and over. And then when he's completely sure that all the hair is in front of his ears, he sort of - the hair sort of comes to a point, and he twists it a little and then he tucks the ends of it into his ears. So then his hair makes this sort of CURL on either side of his head, with the ends of the curls in his ears. And then he sort of PATS the loops of hair that end in his ears and touches them to make sure everything is in place and keeps touching it as if to ensure that the hair CANNOT EXIT THE EARS. And once you've noticed it, you can't unnotice it."

22 January 2008


I don't want to be all critical, but given that numerous people here have warned me that I have no idea what I'm getting into with the cloudiness and given that I am half from Western Michigan, which is something like the second most cloudy place in the country and is also cold, I felt justified in laughing when the top story on the news last night was the cold: it was 32 degrees at 10 p.m. and expected to get colder. No! Surely not! That's freezing! It's also a heat wave for January in many parts of the country. Very amused.

danger! danger!

I happened upon this list this morning: World's Most Dangerous Places. I always find these lists interesting, so I flipped through the slideshow and wrote down the list of countries:

Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Pakistan, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Chad, Lebanon, Liberia, Sudan

T. and I got in a long instant message conversation about how these lists are made and what they consider and how the places chosen for this list are probably chosen because they are most dangerous for foreigners (read: rich business men), not necessarily for people living in those countries. Although, for Africa at least, I think they are mostly on for least safe countries in which to be from that country.

For a brief moment, I was a little proud to have been to four of the top 13 most dangerous countries in the world, even though I've only been to one of them (Sudan) in 2007, the year for which this list was made. (The last time I was in Liberia was 2006, Cote d'Ivoire 2000, and DRC 2003.) And Burundi was my second choice for the big post-bar trip.

And then I realized that THIS SUCKS. Here is Liberia, war over, working to rebuild, and they still have to be on a list of the world's most dangerous places? How many of the last 20 years have they been on that list? Now I'm just annoyed.

So, fine. The Forbes and whoever people can go on about danger. I will go on traveling. I bet they have never built sand houses over their feet on the beach in the dark in front of a restaurant in Liberia, or sat drinking sweet mango soda and watching the daylight disappear on the bench outside a little grocery shop in Sudan, or scraped up their shoes climbing a lava rock in Congo. They are missing so much of the world.

21 January 2008

commemorating, sort of inadequately

Hey. White people. I know you are out there, mostly because I am related to or went to school with a lot of you. White Christian people. Ditto. Did your pastor mention Martin Luther King, Jr. yesterday? Because she or he should have. Why is it that white pastors think they can skip this? It's sort of like how this one time I had a political argument with my uncle, who is a pastor, and he told me that things were much better in this country two hundred years ago and I said, "Uh. For WHITE people, maybe." One can only get away with ignoring things like slavery and racism when one is white. (Which is why I refuse to ignore it. I cannot tell you how many times I have been in a setting where all the white people think everything is fine, FINE, and then I straight-up ask the people of color, because they won't bring it up with me because, hey, I'm white, and then as it turns out, it's NOT okay. But the white people go on in sweet oblivion. I mean, I guess it must be sweet to be oblivious. Other than how it's WRONG.)

I was pleasantly surprised that the pastor of the church where I went yesterday, which was primarily but not totally white, ditched his sermon in favor of playing the I Have a Dream speech. (He mentioned that some people might not have heard all the way through. Is this possible? That people have not heard, or at least, read, the whole thing? Hm. I guess so. White people, maybe.) It always makes me cry. Or, it always makes me cry since I started crying over things when the hormones kicked in at approximately age 24. Before that, I just got a big lump in my throat.

Then, unfortunately, I came home and read the church's policy on women in ministry and became irate. I have no desire to be a pastor, but there is nothing that infuriates me so much as a church that says, "men and women are equal, but have different roles." People, we've tried separate but equal before, and you know what it got us? Apartheid. And, in the words of my all-time favorite book (paraphrased because I don't have it with me), "It is not just different but actually worse to be the God-ordained number two." I am filled with fury.

19 January 2008

a whole lot of things thrown together

I know that this is an old and oft-asked question, but WHY ARE WE FORCED TO USE THE HORRIBLE, QUASI-FUNCTIONAL DISASTER THAT IS MICROSOFT WORD? Why, why, why must it continually attempt to BADLY, WRONGLY guess what bullets and numbers I want to use? Why must it change PREVIOUS bullets and numbers when I try to make a NEW list? Why must it refuse to allow me to delete the aforementioned BAD, WRONG guesses it has made? How did Microsoft make it to the top of the software heap, anyway?

Why must I overuse ALLCAPS in order to express my frustration? A strategic, carefully placed ALLCAPS is helpful for expressing oneself. Too much of it just gets annoying. Like abbreviations do. I use π and Δ for plaintiff and defendant when I take notes in the legal world, but I refuse most other abbreviations. Even L and T for landlord and tenant starts to annoy me. ROTFLMFHDLKSJSDF? I will have none of that. Write it out, people. I do not maximize my text or instant messaging space very well. I cannot bring myself to use “u” or “tnx.” I don’t mind when other people do, but I cannot physically bring myself to type out those letters. (I do, however, find “g’night” to be much more fun on instant messaging than “good night.” It’s kind of like “G’day, mate!” but of my very own invention.)

You didn’t need to know all of that. Your life was probably not made better by knowing of my annoyance with abbreviations in modern communication.

(Lack of segue)

Three and a half years ago, when I started law school, I developed a lot of back pain. It really started to alarm me, to the point where I went to the doctor to make sure it wasn’t my kidneys or something, and the doctor poked around and said, “Nope, it’s your back muscles. Would you like some muscle relaxants?” and I said, “No, thanks. As long as it’s not causing permanent problems, I’ll just deal.” (Then I went back to the law school and spoke to a friend who shall remain nameless, who said, “Why didn’t you take the muscle relaxants? You could have given them to me! And why don’t doctors ask me if I want muscle relaxants when I go in with back pain?” To which I can only say that the doctors must be pretty good at ferreting out the people who want the drugs, and only offer them to the people who won’t want them, or who will only use them when they absolutely have to use them, rather than for recreational purposes.)

There is a point to this.

It turns out that studying is bad for you! The back pain is back! I somehow managed to avoid it through my second and third years of law school, which should tell you one thing: I wasn’t studying much those years. (In my defense, studying during the second and third years of law school is very different than the first year and what I’m doing now – 2 and 3L years involve far fewer very large books that must be laid flat on tables and hunched over. Also far fewer needs for typing up outlines.)

So my back hurts again, and I went to the drugstore and bought a heating pad yesterday, because what could be nicer at the end of the day than a nice warm heating pad on the back pain? I finished my studying et al. yesterday and got ready for bed and plugged in the heating pad, prepared for some pain relief, only to find, well, that the heating pad didn’t work. Serious, serious frustration. Fortunately, I exchanged it for a new one today, which will hopefully be soothing my back in just a few hours. Two of them in a row can’t be defective, can they? I really hope not.

18 January 2008

big plans

I called the airline that is going to get me from London to the location of big post-bar exam trip. (Destination announcement coming once I've PAID for the tickets - what, you thought the Netherlands was the big trip? Ha. I said big trip. BIG TRIP. Europe is not really a big trip. I mean, don't get me wrong. If you have never left the US and you are going to Europe, I am going to be thrilled and excited and happy that your world is getting bigger. But really? I was in Liberia before I was four months old. Europe is just not that exciting.)

It made me all smiley and happy, calling the airline, to think of this group of people from Destination Country sitting in an office somewhere, selling tickets that will take people to their homeland. I don't know why. Somehow it just seemed so... I would use this Dutch word that vaguely means cozy and homey, but I can't spell in Dutch. I'm still not sure if I spelled droppjes correctly yesterday, even after extensive googling. It just seemed like it would be nice, when you are living in a big new country like the US where everyone is always in a hurry and, let's face it, not very nice to immigrants, to sit in an office with people who speak your language.

So I called the airline and they are sending me documentation that will allow me to pay for the ticket and then I asked about a visa.

"Do you know anything about visas, if I'm traveling on a US passport?"

"Yes," my customer service representative said, "you can get one at the airport."

"Okay," I said, "I was just wondering because the US State Department webpage seemed to say that I couldn't use dollars if I bought a visa at the airport. Do you know if they will take dollars?"

"Of course they will take dollars," he said. "That would make no sense."

Um. Okay. Still not sure I believe him. I might be getting a visa in advance.

(Note careful avoidance of saying the actual name of the currency - the State Department actually says that you can only buy a visa at the airport with local currency. I'm not doing that to keep you in the dark. I'm doing it because I carefully circumlocuted the actual name of the currency while on the phone with this guy. This is because, well, I cannot pronounce it. Hopefully I'll figure out that pronunciation once I'm there?)

17 January 2008

the netherlands

There is a certain cold early morning smell that always, when I smell it, makes me drink in a deep breath and say, "It smells like the Netherlands." We used to stop in the Netherlands coming to and going from Liberia and it seemed like the only time we felt that cold-but-not-snowy air. My brother and I would curl up on the little cushion on the brick ledge next to the fireplace in my great-uncle and aunt's house. We watched boats passing on the canal outside. I remember the feel of the brick of their patio under my bare feet when I crept out behind the adults to greet a cousin or wave goodbye to a friend heading to the airport to go back to Africa.

We ate bread and rusks with cheese or chocolate sprinkles for breakfast. My mom usually made us eat one bread with cheese for every one with chocolate sprinkles. That ended up being a lot of slices of bread to get in as many chocolate sprinkles as we wanted. At intervals throughout the day, we drank tea and ate cookies. Nearly every single visit, I tried droppjes (salted black licorice) again - and every time, I hated them. I don't know how many years it took me to learn that lesson.

When I went back and forth to Rwanda, I did the same. The whole world looks better when you have a few hours of sleep on Oom Cees and Tante Dieneke's couch between two overnight flights. For longer stays, they always had a suggestion for something fun that we could see or do: the beach? a traditional fishing village? a bike tour? Every time, I saw a little more of the country from which my fellow blondish, pink-cheeked, Dutch-descended Michiganders come. I love the feeling of belonging in at least one little place on all three continents: Africa, Europe, and North America.

Five years ago, I was in the Netherlands at the end of March. I went for a bike ride under sunny skies and watched the little green buds bursting out on the trees and I thought to myself, "In a perfect world, I would spend the last week of March in the Netherlands every year." The last few years, though, when I went to Liberia and Sudan, things just didn't work out to stop over in Amsterdam.

But on March 24, I'll be back there, in the house on the end of the row, right next to the canal, sipping tea or, a more recent addition, espresso with whipped cream, and watching the fire flicker.

beep beep beep beep beep

They seem to have finished the backflow testing in my building. I have no idea what a backflow is or how you test it, but we got a paper curled into our door handles two days ago that said that the backflow would be tested today and it would make the alarms go off. It did. The alarms went off many, many times. It was annoying. It was loud. I covered my ears and then went into the bathroom where there is no alarm and closed myself in and then I started to lose my mind from the INFERNAL BEEPING. I'm not trying to suggest that I was tortured, because I know the legal definition of torture and this is not it, and I'm not trying to minimize torture, because it is horrifying, but what I shall say is that I begin to understand why certain noises are sometimes classified as torture devices. If that noise had never ended? And been just a little bit louder? And I had been in a confined space? I would have broken, for sure, and said whatever they wanted me to say. Stuff that is not true, if that's what they wanted to hear. (Which is the whole problem with torture, isn't it? You get what you want to hear, not the truth. Also that pesky little human rights problem.)

15 January 2008

train-side conversation

Random conversation with person going in the same direction as I was after a gathering:

Me: I think I'm going to stop at Trader Joe's. I've run out of these amazing ice cream bonbons they sell there.

Person (laughing): Bonbons? Seriously?

Me, not getting the joke: Yes. They are really good.

Person: I'm sorry, I just cannot think of bonbons without thinking of M@rried, with Children. The wife was always eating bonbons.

Me: Oh, I never saw that show.

Person: You are lucky to have been away for those years. That was pretty much the only thing that was on when I was in grade school, and it was terrible.

Me: Yeah, I missed the 80s. But I was SUPER, EXTRA lucky, because I got to be in AFRICA. It's such a great continent.

And no, I wasn't being sarcastic. I was super, extra lucky.

money conscience

My stomach always tells me when I have spent money I should not have spent. It feels sick and heavy. This happened to me a few weeks ago, at the mall, when I had gone into a store to find some small-diameter candles. I picked out two or three of them, but when I got to the counter, the girl told me that there was a sale, and if I bought two aromatherapy items, I could get two free. Free! I wandered around the store for another 30 minutes, choosing and unchoosing, and then I got in line again, and waited, and got to the front of the line, and watched the clerk ring up my items.

And then I freaked out. My stomach said, "No, no, no!" and I stopped the clerk, with the six people waiting in line behind me, and said, "Actually, I just want those two candles. Can you take the others off?" It wasn't the money, because I went on to buy several far more expensive clothing items (that I needed) in the mall. It was the utter needlessness of the expense, and I just couldn't do it.

The same thing happened again last week. I had made up my mind to buy a tv the next time I saw a reasonable one at Goodwill. My friend M. pointed out that I can download many of the shows I like online (and the truth is that I watch tv so seldom as to make owning a tv ridiculous), but I thought ahead to being a real lawyer and how I might be, of an evening, tired of the computer and of words, and how there are things like Masterpiece Theatre that are harder to get online and maybe you are just blitzed sometimes and want to see what's on. Also, I already paid for the cable to be installed. So I thought maybe I would get a cheap tv, if one was available, and then I can cancel cable later if I prove not to use it.

I found a $30 tv ($27 with the member's discount) and I loaded it up on my grandma cart and started for home.

I made it as far as the grocery store one block over before the sick feeling in my stomach made me turn around and return it.

Except, despite my having bought the tv not ten minutes before, they would only give me a store credit. Either way, the money was gone.

It turned out well, though, because after more thinking about the tv concept, I checked in again today, to find a smaller, more convenient, $20 tv. And with my store credit, I got both that tv and a pair of shoes, and I trucked them home. Without the grandma cart. The shoes fit in my backpack, but I carried the tv in my arms, linking my fingers on the far side of it. People driving by pointed and stared, although I can't figure out why. Or maybe I am paranoid and that guy in the truck was telling his friend where to turn.

Carrying of a tv for ten or so blocks turns out to be extremely bad for arms that tend toward nerve problems. For several hours afterwards, I couldn't feel my hands. That's a bad sign 'round here, especially since all this studying has already driven me back to wearing the long arm brace on my right arm at night.

Now I have a little tv on my little table that I bought with the couch last week. The unfortunate thing is that it doesn't work with the cable. At least, it didn't automatically work when I plugged everything in. I've never had cable before, so I don't know what the procedure is. When the cable guy was here, he said something along the lines of, "Now, when you get a tv, the first thing you need to do is..." and of course I did not bother to listen to what that one thing was. I just now got out the instruction book from the company, but what with the bar class and all, I have read too much instructional material already today and my brain is tired. I don't feel like opening it.

Oh, well. I didn't need to watch tv tonight, anyway.

(By the way, is it weird to buy shoes at Goodwill? Used shoes? I'm not too picky about things like used shoes/bedding/towels/whatever, but it seemed kind of weird. The thing is, I am attempting to conserve money for a post-exam bar trip (announcement of destination soon!), and shoes are insanely expensive. The comfortable kind, anyway, and then you need different ones for the walking around in the Northwest rain days than for the working days, especially if you are a woman. It adds up. I had just come from two stores that had (work and life) shoes I liked - for $129+. These were $6.99 and were not substantially different in appearance from the $129 ones. I put some baking powder in then when I got home, just in case. Eh. Who cares if it is weird?)

12 January 2008

staying right here

The first thing one learns in law school is that spell check is no longer helpful. It does not recognize a high proportion of the words needed to write about the law. One inevitably sits staring at words like “domiciliaries” for extended periods of time, comparing to a textbook or handout, making sure that it is actually spelled the way it is intended to be spelled so it can be added to the computer’s dictionary. I never bothered to add any of these words to my computer’s dictionary, so I stare at them for extended periods of time EVERY TIME I use them on my computer. And no, I don’t intend to add them. That’s what they want. It means that they win.

Speaking of domiciliaries, let’s discuss them, just briefly.

Did you know, if you are a U.S. citizen, that you are a citizen of a state? I know, you thought you were a citizen of a country and a resident of a state, but you were wrong. You are a citizen of the state where you are domiciled. The good news is that you can change your citizenship, just by moving to a new state and intending to remain there. Subjectively intending to live there. It’s like there is a little computer chip in your head reporting to your various states, “Yep, she’s here for good. Yep, intends to make this place her domicile. Yep, now a citizen.”

Know what this means? This means that, despite having lived in New York for three years (minus summers in Africa), I was never a New York citizen. This means that I was a New State citizen as I stepped off the plane (and could be sued here for anything and everything).

Furthermore, you can’t get out of this state citizenship by moving overseas. Ever. I know, you moved overseas fifteen years ago and you never intend to live in this country again. Your computer chip should be flashing like mad. “Gone! Gone! Gone!” Nope. Still a citizen of the state you lived in before you left. “But I left! And I subjectively intend to live in Country X forever!” Tough. Still a citizen of your last state. Still can be sued there for anything you did anywhere.

I always wondered how I could file tax returns as a non-resident resident of Michigan. Apparently I didn’t. I filed tax returns as a non-resident citizen of Michigan. And now, suddenly, with one plane trip, I am a citizen of New State. Very, very strange.

11 January 2008

my new orange couch

I have a pretty hi tolerance for clutter, but my surroundings are making me crazy right now. Even the presence of a couch (yes! a couch! and it is orange and cute and it turns into a bed if you pull at the front part! it doesn't have arms, though) upon which I am sitting, like a real person in a real apartment, is not enough to calm the little worry that is going on in my head about the clutter, the clutter.

Somehow, having a couch seems very adult. I have not had an actual couch since Rwanda, three and a half years ago. And actually, the couch in Rwanda was there when I moved in, so it didn't seem that adult, it just seemed like a furnished house. But adult people do this, right? They sit on couches instead of on butterfly chairs or folding egg chairs or leather office chairs scavenged from a building about to be destroyed? Right? They BUY couches. Today, i BOUGHT a couch. NEW.

Ehem. From Ikea, so it's not exactly an investment. But I like it.

We sat on the floor fighting with the insensical instructions. (Do you like that word? Insensical? I made it up. It's a mixture of insane and nonsensical. I like it. Goal: insensical to be in dictionary by 2010.)

Anyway, my friend S. and I sat on the floor fighting with the insensical instructions. "Do you feel like an adult?" she asked.

"No," I said, "I don't."

"Me, neither."

We graduated from the same university seven years ago this May. We've both traveled two or three continents since then, and gotten graduate degrees, and worked non-hourly wage jobs. Still, we don't feel like adults. I didn't say what I was thinking, which is that maybe you never feel like an adult, and then someday you have to be the adult for the small people, and still inside you want your mom to bring you a flashlight and give you a hug when the power goes out and you can't see your hand when you wave it inches in front of your eyes and the world gets all scary and you are convinced that this will be the time that the bad guys slit the screen window next to your bed and jab you with that knife. (That was my childhood fear, yes, why do you ask? And it was rooted in reality, too, because for a while there was a rash of crimes in our town in Liberia in which people slit the screen and stole whatever was within reach on shelves or headboards.)

I also bought a printer today. A couch and a printer. That's like an establishment.

09 January 2008

hometown weather is on tv
i imagine the lives
of the people living there
and i'm curious if they imagine me

they just want to leave
i wish that i could stay

keep on coming
these lines on the road
keep me responsible
be it a light or heavy load

keep me guessing
these blessings in disguise
i'll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes

~faith my eyes; caedmon's call

some other news

I apparently feel some sort of pressure to write about Africa on here despite not actually being in Africa. Which gets sort of hard, because there are all these other things going on right now and I hardly have time to think about Africa. Well. “All” is perhaps an exaggeration. Mostly my days consist of frantic studying for the bar exam. I am reminded once again that it was not my study skills that got me through law school, oh no. It was my sheer ability to parlay tiny snatches of remembered information into eloquent essays. Let’s pray that this works on the bar exam as well. (Combined with my talent for multiple choice questions, maybe? Standardized tests love me, and I’m happy to love them in return for the undeservedly high scores they spit back at me.)

Meanwhile, I’m sleeping in an air mattress on the floor of my little studio apartment. I have two chairs: a fake furry butterfly chair that was on sale at a less-organized, less nice version of T@rget, and one a “last chance” kitchen table chair that was 99 cents at Goodwill. (I covered this one with a suspiciously Christmas-like red chair cover. Surely no one will notice the poinsettias embossed into the satin. But it was on clearance. How could I possibly have resisted $3.74 in favor of $20 for the non-clearance one?)

I have finally had to start betaking myself off to internet-less coffee shops in order to accomplish anything, because my apartment now has internet. Also cable, but that does not cause the same productivity problems because I have no tv to which to attach the cable. I do question, daily, why I got cable if I don’t have a tv, but I have decided (despite earlier anti-tv thoughts) that I do intend to get one when I have access to my friend’s car and a Goodwill. I love that place. Cheap things? Cheap things whose purchase did not require making of additional earth-killing things?

Hopefully this tv-procurement will occur in time for the Season Premiere of Lost on January 31. I’ve been anticipating that date since, oh, Sudan. Note that Lost is essentially my entire reason for getting a tv and paying for cable. Otherwise, I usually forget that television is an option when I’m bored. Isn’t that what books are for?

I might watch it now, though, considering that with cable I have access to all those cool investigation shows – not the crime ones but the ones that tell you about how things are done, how things are made, how things happen. In Sudan, I watched one about this plastic substance they can put on walls so they will withstand earthquakes. Unbelievable.

Random story regarding earth-killing, spurred by thoughts of Goodwill: on the Scrabble-in-a-smoky-coffeeshop evening, about a month ago, my uncle mentioned that he was getting a new truck. J., my Scrabble opponent, said something about it being earth-killing (paraphrase) and my uncle said, “That requires that you believe in global warming, which I don’t.” Clearly I was horrified. How can one disbelieve global warming, still? But for the first time, ever, I managed to come up with a response. I was proud.

“You don’t have to believe in global warming,” I said, “to know, when you stand on the corner of [major intersection in hometown] and smell the air, that the fumes that all those cars are spewing out are bad for human beings.”

Do you want to know what he said? Do you? Do you?

He said, “You’re right.”

08 January 2008

one moment

I don't know why it is that certain things just burst into my head at different times, but they do. I learn visually and I think visually and I remember visually, so they are usually pictures. Just now, my last night in South Sudan, in a team house in Juba, burst thusly into my head. (Thusly = law school type word that I scorn unless I can use it in a manner that amuses me. Tip: never, ever use it to start a sentence. That's the annoying law school usage.)

There is no reasonable reason for me to think about my last night in Sudan. I am sitting in my little apartment in the US reading blogs and what do I think of? Oh, yes, a narrow room with a bright pink mosquito net over a lumpy, wobbly twin bed. In the morning, people started passing before I was ready to get up. When I did get up, I looked out above the shutters to see a man dressed in an immaculate gray suit with shiny black leather shoes, walking steadily at a long-walk pace up the potholed dirt road.

07 January 2008

a symbol is just a symbol

I went to a church yesterday that had all (or nearly all) the world flags hung around the top of the back of the hall. I shall not attempt to defend the percentage of the actual service that I spent craning my head around to look for flags of countries in which I have lived. The percentage was large. (The problem was that they put the flags on three different length poles, so I could only see about 1/3 of them.)

The only one I could see from my seat was Kenya. Which was fine, because then while the preacher was doing the requisite New Year’s “we must be doing something right and God must love us because look how many people we’ve stolen away from other churches in the past year” speech to which I didn’t particularly feel a need to listen, I could think about Kenya and how I don’t know Kenya very well but it’s always been something of a sanctuary for me and how horrifying it is to read about what has been going on there in the last week. (If you don’t know: read newspapers, people, seriously. Even the cable guy saw my map of Africa and said, “So, explain to me exactly what is going on in Kenya.”)

Midway through the service, I found the Ugandan flag way over on the end, and that made me smile.

After the service ended, I walked slowly around the back of the sanctuary, looking up at familiar and unfamiliar flags. I was worried for a moment that I might not recognize Tanzania and Sudan (South Sudan has a different flag, which often flies alone or in combination with the Sudanese flag in South Sudan, so I wasn’t sure I would recognize the Sudanese flag alone). But I found both of them.

The Rwandese flag was outdated. Six or seven years ago, Rwanda adopted a new flag: horizontal stripes of spring green, yellow, and a wider blue stripe with a yellow sun. The one hanging in this church was the old vertical stripes of red, yellow, and darker green with a black R in the center. I suppose it should be expected (I’m sure the flag company doesn’t send out updates every few years), but I was disappointed not to see the real Rwandese flag, which I think is one of the prettiest.

The Liberian flag was hanging directly over the center aisle. I walked out under it. I wanted to reach up and touch it, but, like all the others, it was too high, and I felt a little blossom of sadness and nostalgia. So many things are out of my reach right now.

04 January 2008

head too tired for a title

When I walked outside this morning, it was bright and warm. The sun shone through perfect wisps of cloud, and I was wearing too many layers. By the time I came home, the wind blew so hard that I staggered against it, moving my legs just to stand still at a stop light. The leaves behind a tall building scuttered in little tornadoes. My hair whipped about so wildly that even I could hardly tell which side of me was the front. I peered through little gaps in the mess of hair and lost my way, stumbling into the edge of a parking lot when I should have been firmly on the sidewalk.

In between, I went shopping. I bought dress trousers, on clearance, and a puffy orange jacket. Black would have been better, but they were out of my size in black, and the jackets were also on clearance. I've been shivering away in a slightly-warmer-than-a-fleece black coat of the sort I've been envying on the rich girls since college (NOT as warm as the rich girls seemed to pretend, or else I'm cold-blooded like a LIZARD), and a down vest. It's not Michigan cold, people, but it does get shivery. When I bought the coat, the girl behind the counter said, "Well, happy hunting in that coat."

"The good thing about this coat," I said, "is that I won't get SHOT."* The better thing about it, really, is that it makes it more difficult to get run down on a street corner at night. That's the one downside of my propensity for dark jeans and dark outerwear, a propensity which I intend to remedy now that I've discovered that all future lawyers have it. (Bar class, remember? You've never SEEN anything as boring as the attire of an entire room full of future lawyers. I think maroon was the brightest color in there other than my, eh-hem, bright green sweater.)

* One could dispute this. I meant that in the context of hunting, I would be less likely to be mistaken for a deer or the various other things one can shoot here in the Pacific Northwest, which seem to include several types of bears and mountain goats. In the city, however, I don't think wearing orange is going to have any bearing whatsoever on my likelihood of getting shot.

03 January 2008


So I'm sitting in my new apartment eating bonbons...

What? You think I'm kidding? I AM eating bonbons. They happen to be cappuccino ice cream bonbons from Trader Joe's, which I think makes them all the better, and the only reason I can even use the plural is because I am having two, exactly, but I am eating them. Bonbons.

Actually, I didn't really have anything else to say. I just like the idea of eating bonbons, and talking about eating bonbons.

That, and I have discovered why people are so loony about Trader Joe's. Loon-y-tics. I was severely tempted to make out with many foods in there today, including but not limited to: ice cream bonbons, these delicious little cereal Os with which I am obsessed, mint hot chocolate mix, dark chocolate covered almonds, garlic naan, chicken spring rolls, black bean and cheese enchiladas... I think you get the picture. (Obviously I did not BUY all these things. I would BALLOON! I'm not trying to be weight-ist here, but I can't afford any new jeans now that I've purchased these obscenely expensive ones. Ballooning cannot happen.)

Hm... bonbons.

02 January 2008

a world spinning around

In the Truman Show, one of my favorite movies ever, Truman has dreams of going to Fiji. Someone asks him where Fiji is and Truman shows him on a globe and says, "You can't go any further away before you start coming back."

I'm feeling a bit that way about this new city. There is an eleven hour time change between here and Sudan/Kenya. Eleven hours! I am on the opposite side of the world!

I am madly in love with my little apartment. I just sit in it for hours, and look around and smile and say, "This is MY APARTMENT!" Mine.

But I can feel Africa over on the other side of the world and it won't be long before I start coming back.

I marked New Year's Day at 1 p.m. (East Africa), 2 p.m. (Central Africa), 4 p.m. (West Africa), 9 p.m. (Eastern U.S.), and 12 a.m. (Western U.S.).

I went to a bar on New Year's Eve where live entertainment was provided by an "Afro-beat" band. I might PERHAPS have made fun of the white guys in African shirts. (No comment.) My friend asked me what I thought of the music and I said, "Well, it's a lot like someone took African music and just threw it at jazz. It's not very common to have saxophones in African music" It had a good beat and we all danced a lot, but the sound of the drum made me homesick for going out in Africa. I hate going out in the U.S. Going out in the U.S. is so LOUD and you can't talk to one another and the purposes seem to be two: 1. to get drunk. 2. to pick up men/women, depending on one's persuasion. In Africa, one can hear oneself think at bars and the purpose is to sit back and talk to people, new and old.

"You can't go any further away before you start coming back."


(Random unrelated Fiji side story: one year in college, my roommate's parents came to visit her right after they had made a trip to Australia and Fiji. They were telling me about the trip when I met them and regarding Fiji they said, "It was so terribly poor. It ruined our vacation, to have to see so many poor people, just all along the road like that with their awful little huts." I very nearly choked on my water and I got out of there as soon as I could. Yes, it IS terrible, isn't it, when the wealthy white people of the world have to so much as SEE that not everyone in the world is wealthy and white? It just RUINS one's expensive vacation.)