28 April 2008


I was in the exercise room, doing the elliptical. There were a couple of guys in there, so the tv was tuned to a basketball game, which is fine. I like basketball. The Celtics were playing the Hawks, which is fine. I like green. I was also listening to Wilbur, the iPod that replaced the fallen Wallace. All was well.

I noticed on the screen that there was a shot of particularly beautiful city that was clearly somewhere not in the West. There were closely crowded, open-windowed, two- and three-story brick buildings surrounded by a ring of blue mountains. "Oooh." I thought, as the scene changed to an aerial shot of a crowded market street. "I need to travel again." The camera zoomed in on a man, maybe Indonesian or Filipino, riding his bike down the street. I was feeling all warm and fuzzy and travel-happy.

And then I heard the voice-over. I had Wilbur's ear buds in my ears, so I didn't catch it exactly, but it went something like this:

"When you need to find the enemy...
The best way is already to be watching them."

I almost threw Wilbur at the tv, but it would have hurt him.

Do you know what this was an advertisement for? THE AIR FORCE. The freaking US AIR FORCE is advertising themselves by portraying entire cities and perfectly normal people going about their perfectly normal business as THE ENEMY. Not only that, but they chose THE BROWN PEOPLE.

There is something very, very wrong, and I am going to rant. I have been holding off on the rant, but I can no longer do so when the US Government is advocating racism so utterly blatantly.

People have been way too nice to white people in this country. Barack Obama's speech on race? Way too nice. This is a country whose government thinks it is okay to label anyone non-white as the enemy ON NATIONAL TELEVISION. This is a country in which a white seminarian who I heard preach a few weeks ago said, "When I worked at Target, I was told that you can't use racial profiling, even though it's more likely that minorities will be stealing," and I was the only person in the (all-white) congregation who was irate. This is a country in which white people don't have to notice when things are racist, because they can live their lives in happy little oblivion and say, "But *I'm* not racist. I have black friends!" Guess what, people? I PROMISE you that you have said something racist to your black friends, and your Hispanic friends, and your Asian friends, and your multiracial friends. I know that I have, and I know that I have wanted to beat myself for those stupid things I've said - the ones I realized, anyway - every day since.

White people in this country are NOT innocent. Oh, sure, some of us can point out that our ancestors came here only 50 years ago, or 100. But you know what? My grandparents, when they came here in 1950, could start a business and make money from the consolidated wealth of white America, an America that would not have hired a black man, or a Latino man with an accent, the way they would hire my white, accented Pops. We are NOT INNOCENT.

I miss the days when the difference between Republicans and Democrats was fiscal policy. I almost even miss the days when the difference was abortion. I still voted Democrat then (in my eighth grade Christian school class, I was one of TWO students who voted Democrat in our mock election in 1992 and our teacher said, "Wow, George Bush wishes this were reality"), but I almost miss the days when abortion was the big issue and I could just tell people, "Fine, waste your vote on abortion." Now? Now I am angry. I am angry at a political system that thinks it is okay to claim that Barack Obama got where he was because of race (because no WHITE MAN has ever been elected president?). I am angry at a political system in which people think torture and war are okay, because of "the enemy." I am starting to believe that Republicans want to kill the rest of the world and I have to say, I like the rest of the world and the rest of the world is made up of real people living lives just as real as any of ours here, so this makes me furious.

When I used to fly back and forth to Rwanda, I ended up in a lot of random conversations in airports. One time when I was flying through Detroit, a woman sitting next to me on the floor, waiting for long-delayed flights in the middle of December said to me, "Africa? Aren't they all terrorists over there?"

So fine. Be angry with Obama for claiming that there is xenophobia in rural America. People? There is. There is xenophobia and racism all across this country. When are we going to grow up enough to admit it and do something to change it?

27 April 2008


I think washing my hair is a waste of time. Actually, I think washing myself in general is a waste of time. Obviously I DO it, because it's socially required and I like feeling clean and it's nice not to have people cringe at my entry into a room, but I think it's a waste of time. I also think peeing is a waste of time, and cutting my fingernails. And that's about it. Just those things.

So the point is that I try to wash my hair as seldom as possible. When I was studying for the bar, that was every three or four days, and ditto when I was in Ethiopia. Now, what with working and the requirement of professional appearances, I end up washing it every other day, a fact that I find most annoying. Think of all the time I could save if I washed it less often. The problem is that by the third or fourth day, I need to put it up, and putting it up generally means, for me, pigtails. I have too round a face for a ponytail or whatever it is you normal-faced people do. Pigtails, or braided pigtails, are not professional. They just aren't.

I woke up several times last night in the middle of strange dreams about Southern Sudan and Liberia, and somehow I started thinking about how I only washed my hair every five or six days in Southern Sudan, and how often, in the morning, when I went over to the barrel-on-a-pole that served as our outdoor shower, there would be only a trickle of water and I would have to suspend my plans for hairwashing. I would go ask the cooks about the water. "Moya?" I would ask hopefully. "Ma-afi," they would say sadly, dragging out the aaaa sound. "Maaaaafi." No water for you.

Then I dreamed about the airport hotel in Liberia, the one that is now an overgrown ruin, and the river that runs behind it. In my dream, someone had built a new hotel next door, and there were families in canoes watching hawks and catching fish in the river, like some friends of ours did on one of the last occasions we stayed there before the war. In my dream, one person caught a six foot tall eel-like fish with a flattened beak-like mouth, and I thought it might be a duck-billed platypus because it could breath on land, and I got out my laptop to google it, sitting on the top of the cement wall by the river at the hotel across from Robertsfield.

Places are swirling strangely in my head.

26 April 2008


Last night I played darts with my friend S. and her brother N. in one of those smoky bars that leave smoke seeping out of your pores for days, even if you never held a cigarette. S. knows what she's doing, and N. used to be the darts champion of his neighborhood bar in Korea (they gave him his own set of darts, kept in a shot glass behind the counter for him), and I, they tell me, throw a dart like one would throw a baseball, with too much arm. I think it's necessary just to tell you upfront that I lost. I didn't lose that badly, but that was mostly the result of the fact that I took some extra "practice" rounds while S. was in the bathroom and when I accidentally hit a triple 15 and an 18, exactly what I needed, N. let me put them on the board. (Shhhhhh!) I'm a total feminist and stuff, but sometimes it's nice to be the wimpy girl who can't throw. And therefore is allowed to cheat.

25 April 2008

evening ramble

I am sitting around feeling all accomplished of a Friday evening, because this week I managed to do two long-dreaded things: call my student loan company (hate, hate) and change some things on my mobile phone plan. Except I don't think we call them mo-bile phones here. Do we? The rest of the world does. Anyway. My cell phone plan. I now have the correct address in there, the correct credit card number in there, and a text messaging plan that saves me a frighteningly large amount of money. I have never been a big texter, until this month, when I started working all day long in an office, which makes it hard to answer my phone. Now I text all the time, because this is how you communicate in 3.2 seconds while running up the stairs in heels. While simultaneously eating lunch. No time for calling, so vital information must be passed as quickly as possible. I've been intending to get a texting plan for a week or two, but didn't get around to it until today, by which time I had rung up a total of 301 text messages since the 10th. At twenty cents each, that is... $60. Seriously impressive wastage of money. Good thing they retroactivated it, or I would have cried when I got the bill. Really, truly. I am not pulling in an extra $60 a month (no! that was half a month!) for texting these days.

So, um...


The weather is nice!

Yes, I am that boring these days.

Oh, funny story. Sadly, to get funny stories I have to harken back to my traveling days of March, although I was reminded of it by the fact that my sister was just telling me about how people steal things from hotels. She works at a hotel.

I was on a plane from London to Rome to Addis Ababa and the guy sitting across the aisle from me was 1. clearly Ethiopian (language, etc.), and 2. clearly crazy. He demonstrated point two by praying loudly and nonsensically and by variously proclaiming to the flight attendant and me (despite my headphones and not looking at him) that he 1. is Portuguese because he loves Mozambique, 2. loves Ethiopian Airlines, and 3. STEALS A BLANKET FROM THE PLANE EVERY TIME HE FLIES ON ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES. Does it seem smart to tell a flight attendant on Ethiopian Airlines that, essentially, you have stolen and probably plan to steal numerous blankets? Does it?

Now I shall go find something fun to do.

24 April 2008


To: Cashier

Yes, I did check for "breakage among [my] little eggs."

Please never say that again.

Thank you.

22 April 2008

random segue into a travelogue

Cheap thrills, people. I'm all about the cheap thrills right now. I expended all my money and more going to Ethiopia. (Hi, Mom and Dad! I have not forgotten the $1000 I owe you! Happy Birthday, Mom!) Currently, I am relegated to tea on the couch as a happening Tuesday evening activity. Total cost: approximately 9 cents. This is fun! Come to think of it, it's still better than last week's Tuesday evening activity: the joyous doing of the taxes. One good thing I have to say about having a real live 8-5 job is that when it's over, it's over. I can come home and watch Jon & Kate Plus Eight (WHAT? YOU KNOW YOU DO THAT, TOO. Or you wish you could) and go to bed. Technically, I should be doing the elliptical at night, but I work in a building with seven floors, any of which I might have to be on at any time, and I refuse to take the elevator, so if I don't feel like the elliptical of an evening, well, shoot me. Plus I do all those stairs in heels, which I think gets me extra stair-climbing points. Or something.

Actually, sitting and drinking tea is not that fundamentally different from what I prefer to do anywhere in the world. When I was in Ethiopia? Basically all I did was wander around looking for the nearest place to sit and drink a macchiato. The guidebook was all, "Awassa is great! You can see hippos! And other cool things!" and I walked along the lake and then I was tired and I got a drink and sat by the water with my drink, until a bird poo'd on me, mostly missing me, and then I got fed up with the lake and walked into town until I found a cafe, and then I drank a macchiato and ate cake. For lunch. I talked to the hippo boat people, but they wanted $15 for the ride, even though there were already four people in the boat, and they would not bargain, and I have seen hippos before, hippos galore, so I sat and drank my Sprite instead. And then my macchiato. And that cake. And possibly ate some ice cream. That part of the gorging is all a little vague.

Here is a photo of a macchiato:

Man, those things are delicious. Also, one of the best things about Ethiopia is that every tiny little town has an espresso machine and can produce these delicious little delicacies (am I repeating myself here?). This particular macchiato was not in Awassa, however, even though Awassa was my favorite town in Ethiopia. It was in Gorgora, a little town on the north shore of Lake Tana, for those in the know and to whom the phrase "north shore of Lake Tana" has any meaning.

In addition to seeking out coffee, I sought out juice. It's sort of embarrassing how much of my time in Ethiopia I spent in cafes, but I shall excuse it by claiming that this is the best way to see a country, like, a country for reals. Not just the tourist part. This is pineapple juice. Pineapple juice is often, if good and fresh, a little too sweet. In Gonder, though, the cafe I liked best would give me a lime or lemon to squeeze into it. Serious, serious bliss.

And, just for fun, here is a picture of MY BUTT. I know, very juvenile. But I don't post face pictures here, so what is left?

That's in Gonder. Castles, etc.

(P.S. Ethiopia pictures are up on facebook. Fie-nail-ee.)

19 April 2008

on a changeable saturday afternoon

I miss that stomach that I had back when I was a teenager, the one that could eat Nacho Cheesier Doritos and drink Mountain Dew for breakfast in the back seat of a fifteen-passenger van at the beginning of the drive to a service project. Now I drink a mug of mint hot chocolate (as I just did) and I'm slightly queasy by the end (as I now am). I can pinpoint when it happened: that summer in Liberia. I started the summer with a teenager's impermeable stomach and I ended it with an adult's stomach that prompts that oft-repeated warning, "You'll get sick if you eat all that sugar!" This is, frankly, not true for kids. They can eat all the sugar in the city and still feel fine. I, however, no longer can.


My friend R., up from Berkeley, and I walked down to a breakfast place this morning. She had eggs and potatoes with strange spiral fiddlehead ferns (she had heard of them, I had not) and I had a Belgian waffle. We drank coffee and talked about the million things people who were college floor-mates ten years ago have to catch up on. It was sunny when we left and a few blocks later it started hailing on us, although most of the sky was still perfect blue. We laughed at the insanity that is spring in the Pacific Northwest, and stopped at a little store full of items that someone from various parts of Asia might miss if they came to the US: tea bowls, little plastic storage containers, noodles of a million sorts, mochi frozen and not, strips of spiced fish, little pink Hello Kitty purses. I bought incense sticks and she bought mango gummy candy that she passed out to me on the walk home. I tried to eat it slowly, but I ended up chomping it.

18 April 2008

(apparently) weekly recap

Somehow, I forgot to file my tax returns prior to April 15. Well, I didn't forget. I remembered that they were due, but I couldn't open Adobe documents on my computer because of some classic computer idiocy and I spent my weekend in a somewhat stuporous state of joy over having (ding ding!) ** passed the bar exam** (we can talk about it now) and also it was sunny and beautiful that weekend and I managed to coerce someone with a car into leaving the city to go hiking in prettiness, so I was forced to work on taxes during my lunch hour on April 15, annoying surrounding colleagues with statements about how Michigan has no RIGHT to my money, seeing as how I made it all in New York and/or Southern Sudan, and then when I got home that night I had to remove all Adobe products (failures, all of them) from my computer and re-install them, and then it was 9:30 p.m. before I finished the forms for the feds, MI, and NY (partial year residencies: disastrous). So I opened up the handy little trip planning device on the public transportation website and betook myself, at 10:00 p.m., in the constant sprinkle, back downtown to drop my tax forms in the mailbox outside the central post office, where items mailed before midnight would get an April 15 stamp.

As I was standing at the homeward bus stop at 10:30 p.m., a creepy short little middle-aged man passed me and said hello. I nodded back (at this point, I didn't know that he was creepy; he looked normal). Then he asked me my name in a leering tone and I utilized the world-tested strategy of glancing at him and then away in utter disinterest as if he was the most boring specimen of humanity ever to pass before my eyes. (You would be shocked. This strategy of finding the person utterly boring works even in the parts of the world where "leave me alone" apparently means "please try to stick your hand up my shirt in a public place." It's brilliant.)

Slightly relatedly, I have started to notice that I say the word hello to people exactly like my dad does. People are mad friendly out here, and while hiking on Saturday, we routinely said hi to people passing us up or down. I found myself not saying hi but saying "hello," in exactly my dad's vocal cadence. It was like it was not even my own mouth speaking. Freaky.

Another funny thing: for the first time in a long time, I am perfectly happy to be where I am. I love my apartment, I love my job, I love my friends (old and new), I love the spring blossoms on the trees, I love dressing in a suit and clicky heels, I love how nice people are, I love riding public transportation, I love all the people my age in this city, I love being done with studying, I love the glimpses of summer coming, I love exploring this state. This is a really good place for me.

12 April 2008

I have had this conversation too many times.

Scene: karaoke bar, 2:15 a.m. Someone is singing a horribly sappy song about love and heartbreak and I turn around to stare at the screen to catch the true horror of the words. When I look back, my friend is singing along mockingly.

"Do you KNOW this song?" I ask.

"Of course. Everyone knows this song."

"Not me. I don't know this song." I say.

"How can you NOT KNOW this song?"

"Well," I ask, "is it from the 80s?"

"Of course."

"I missed the 80s."

09 April 2008


I don't have a car, so I take the bus and the train everywhere, at least until my bike gets tuned up. Today I had a meeting in another town down the way, which was the first time I had seen any town in this state but this one. I could have borrowed a car, but the bus stops right in front of my work and relieves me from paying for parking. I took the afternoon off and caught a bus along a winding road through forests of trees draped in vines and along a bluff above a river. I began to see why this area is considered so beautiful. (What I've seen prior to this... well, a city is a city is a city.) On the way home, pondering all that I had learned during said meeting, I noticed that my finger hurt, on the side. When I looked, I saw that I had another thorn.

The thorns, which I have been taking out of my skin since four weeks ago in Gonder, attacked as I was climbing that mountain that I previously described. My choices were 1. grab thorn bushes, or 2. fall off the side of a mountain. 1. was a fairly natural choice, but those thorns are still working their way to the surface of my skin an entire month later.

08 April 2008

i interrupt my early night of sleep for this broadcast

I'm not quite sure who it was that authorized letting me loose on the world, but I think my release upon the earth was negligent and should be revoked. Also, that person should lose their loosing license. This morning I mailed two checks to pay two bills. At some point during the day, I realized that I forgot to seal the envelopes. Nice work, that. Anyone want to steal my identity? Anyone? Anyone? Here, HAVE IT.

I'm working a normal person schedule right now, and I'm blown away by how exhausted I am all the time. I have no idea how people live this way. And really, seriously, I have no idea how they manage to do anything but work. I can't. I get up at 6 a.m. and ride the bus to work and work all day and come home and fall over with exhaustion, scarcely to move again until 6 a.m. the next day. (Part of this may have something to do with the fact that, as recently I figured out, I need to bring more food with me during the day and just forget completely about that nice idea of a hot meal when I get home. I am just way too tired and hungry to cook when I get home so I eat whatever I can find and then I still have a hypoglycemia headache all evening from the extreme dip in blood sugar that occurred approximately between 4 and 6 p.m. Might as well resign myself to some years of eating all cold food.)

I was talking to another lawyer (ha! I just said another! lawyer! no, the bar results are not out. don't ask me about them. I'll fill you in if/when I want to talk about it). Anyway, I was talking to another lawyer today, who had done some international work prior to settling in Gone West, and he talked about feeling like there was a ceiling in international work that he could not break through unless he had some practical legal experience first. "See!" I wanted to say, "That's what I meant! THAT is what I MEANT." Only of course he had no idea what I meant because he hasn't been listening to me rant for the last few months about how I need U.S. legal experience even if (when) I want to work overseas again. Mostly, I like to tell people that I felt like I needed to work in the US for a while to understand my own legal system before (if ever) I go tell other countries what to do with theirs, that I felt like it would be arrogant, right out of law school (okay, ever), to presume to tell other countries what to do with their legal systems. (Many, if not most international legal positions, even INTERNSHIPS, involve some sort of advising/consulting.) But I have to admit, having some US legal experience will be good for me and my CV, as well.

05 April 2008

plane obsession

I spent my entire Saturday morning watching videos online of planes landing at scary airports. While I am quite possibly the only person reading this who is this obsessed with airplanes (must get a decent job so I can afford to learn to fly), I love this video of the landing at Tegucigalpa's Toncontin Airport in Honduras. The plane flies in through the mountains, turns 180 degrees at the end of the runway, and is on the ground before the turn is actually finished. Every time I've flown in there (um, three times?), I have sat on the left side of the plane - the side that points down during the 180 degree turn, and therefore stares at the ground coming up toward you, sideways and really fast. Rumor had it that the pilots were required to fly down in an empty plane and practice for a while before they could actually land. Rumor also has it that 757s are the biggest planes that are allowed to fly in there for fear of bigger ones being unable to stop by the end of the runway, the second (?) shortest international runway in the world.

03 April 2008

utter confusion

When I worked in Tanzania, we rode dalla-dallas every day, little 16 or so seat minibuses that were filled with as many people as could sit in the seats, stand hunched over in the aisle, squish onto the bump over the engine, or hang out the door. We never did know the word for the guy who called the destinations ("'Jirojirojiro!") and took the money, so we called him the bus pimp. He's pimping out the destination and trying to attract customers.

Bus pimps in every country call out the names of their destinations quickly and the words always run together. As it turns out, this makes the words, "Mexico" and "Meskel" sound identical. It also turns out that there are both a Mexico Square and a Meskel Square in Addis. It further turns out that even someone who speaks English will not understand a US American who tries to distinguish between the two. This is how I ended up, on my second day in Ethiopia, being kicked out of a minibus by numerous people, all proclaiming loudly that, YES, this was Mexko Square, get out of the BUS already, we need to go.

I had absolutely no idea where I was. I could have been in another country for all I knew. (The day before, it had taken so long to get to my friends' house that I started wondering if I was going to end up back in Sudan - clearly not, because Ethiopia is a very large country, but I was beginning to wonder). And I was decidedly not at any square. I know a square when I see one, and I was not at a square, but on a normal road, with shops and a sidewalk and a petrol station (fine, a gas station. I find it nearly impossible to think in American English while in other countries). I had never seen Meskel Square before in my life, but on the map, it was big, and where I was standing, at MEXICO Quasi-Square-That-Is-Not-a-Square, there was nothing resembling what I knew Meskel Square had to be.

I found my way, of course. After ducking into two internet cafes to surreptitiously check the guidebook and walking the length of the road linking the two "squares", I finally came upon a 14 lane wide road (un-be-leee-vable in Africa) and an amphitheatre that looked much more like my vision of Meskel Square. Which it was. And there was an International Women's Day ceremony going on, UNIFEM and rallying cries and all. Note to self: in the future, when coming from the west in Addis, ask for Bole Road, not Meskel Square. I am fairly certain that I recall reading that Meskel Square used to be called something else, possibly until very recently, and it seems clear that the new name has not yet sunk into the collective consciousness.

01 April 2008

beginning to recap

I realized that I've been not posting because I was trying to figure out how much to say - or not - about the whole Ethiopian men thing. I am tempted to spill out a ream of stories so that it's clear that I'm not just stereotyping Ethiopian men, but I think I'm not going to tell the worst of them for fear of descending into ranting or tedium. Just realize that when I tell a story and you think, "Hm, she seems a little on edge about Ethiopian men," there are very good reasons behind that, like constant, threatening harassment. We will just leave it at this: although there were no attempts at actual physical touching, the verbal harassment, particularly the language used, was such that I did not feel safe walking on the street at high noon in several towns I visited.

Moving on.

On the day I arrived in Addis Ababa, I took a taxi around the Ring Road to the empty house of some Ethiopian friends of mine who live in Rwanda. It was quite probably the oldest car in which I have ever sat, and it was missing such things as head rests and seatbelts (not that the seatbelts had been removed, but that the car was old enough to have never had them). The car puttered up hills very, very slowly, and when we finally got to the top of the hill, we sat in the car in the sun waiting for the person to come with the key. I didn't have a phone, so the taxi driver waited with me (and then proceeded to attempt to overcharge dramatically me despite severe bargaining, but that's unimportant). I was so incredibly delighted to be in Africa, sitting in the sun, warming myself after a cold, stressful winter.

When I opened the back door to get something out of my bag, I slammed it on my hand and scrapped up two fingers but good. Then I sort of looked at them without caring. I scoff at injuries. Blood was oozing out between my pinkie and ring finger. I shrugged and kept my hand away from anything light colored. I thought vaguely about the fact that some people might say that it's important to clean injuries that happen in new parts of Africa, where the diseases might be different than the ones my body is accustomed to fighting off, but I am generally completely unconcerned about minor diseases like infections and stomach problems (other than that fifteen-month long one. seriously. ice cream from the street carts in Liberia - particularly that one at Harbel - was a serious mistake.). I never did bother to clean that door-inflicted wound, and it healed just fine.

Later, I walked down the hill looking for internet. I passed little girls in school uniforms who giggled behind their hands at me, and a grove of eucalyptus trees that smelled like mountains. The two men and one woman staffing a tiny corner shop full of children's clothes but empty of customers (I don't know how customers would have fit, anyway) gave me suggestions about internet places. I took a minibus down the Ring Road and then back up it, paying minute amounts of birr (one, two) each time. I sat on the balcony and watched the sun set over a city lighting up for the evening.

I went to sleep under a quilt under a ceiling that was occupied by rats. I had been warned about the rats in the ceiling, but I didn't much care after 36 hours on planes. I listened to them scuffling around. I took a melatonin to convince my body that it really was nighttime. And then I slept in a real, non-moving bed.