31 May 2008

not this site's normal topic

I was trying to explain, one day, how I feel cheated by the story that modern America - and every adult around me - told me growing up. It was the basic story: boy meets girl, boy asks girl out, boy and girl get married.

It wasn't until this year that I realized the crucial missing pieces. First of all, how do things get from meeting to asking out? And second, how do things get from asking out to marrying? The myth skips over them. I don't even know those pieces in my parents' story.

"So what will you tell your kids some day when you have them?" my friend asked.

I said, "I will tell them that some people find someone to love and some people don't. I will tell them that things will be okay and they can be happy, either way."

Then I thought for a while and I added, "I will also tell them that it's worth loving people. Sometimes you love someone more than they love you. Sometimes the other person loves you more than you love them, and you can't force yourself to love them more. The only thing you can do is be honest and gentle with them. And maybe they won't be honest and gentle with you, so you have to be honest and gentle with yourself. And sometimes that requires the eating of lots of bonbons."

27 May 2008

two bits

It's been eleven years since I graduated from high school and seven since I graduated from college. I've made lives for myself, long-term or short-term, in seven cities in five countries on two continents. I have an official card to show that I'm a full-fledged attorney, allowed into courthouses and prisons. And I sometimes still find myself thinking, as life happens, "Don't they know I'm not grown up enough for this?"


I love the location of my building. I love that I can walk to everything. I love that my commute is ten minutes on any of two buses or two trains. I love that there is an exercise room. I love that the building smells good. I love the courtyard in the middle. What I don't love? THE IDIOT WHO KEEPS PULLING THE FIRE ALARM IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. People, this is not a frat house. And pulling the fire alarm? By the fifth time, at five a.m., it's no longer funny. I just want to sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

26 May 2008


Do you remember Super Mario Bros 3 on Super Nintendo? I loved Super Mario Bros 3. It seems like the soundtrack of the early 90s, that doot-doot-doot-doo when Mario falls into the abyss. Frankly, I would like my life to be like that, just doot-doot-doot-doos when something goes wrong and then eternally popping right back up on the world selection screen, bouncing with excitement at whatever is to come next.

K. pulled out her old Super Nintendo from a box in the garage at 1 a.m. last night and we sat on the living room floor playing it. It came back to me - the jumping, the spinning, the fire power. Except that I'm disastrously bad at it after ten years and some rather strong spiking of the iced chai I was drinking. I fell into the crevices, ran into the ducks, and landed right on the boomerangs that the football player throws. And I've totally forgotten how to fly. But it was fun, in the dark, with the plinky music and the two-dimensional backdrop.

I'm inspired now. I want a Super Nintendo! Perhaps I shall track one down, when I get some money, when I get a real job, when I won't have time to play.

25 May 2008

iced coffee in the sun

The weather people predicted thunderstorms yesterday, but the sunshine and 75 degrees persisted until evening. I went to the library, again, and got the nine books that I had put on hold. They filled my backpack to overflowing and I staggered under their weight. I sat outside with the first of books at a coffee shop, drinking an iced toddy, as they call them here, cold brewed coffee with hazelnut syrup. I had asked hopefully at the counter about hazelnut cold brewed coffee, but that exists apparently only in New York. People are snobs about coffee out here, and they don't like them pre-flavored. The sun shone and the train clattered past me.

In the evening, I took the train out to S.'s place to watch a movie. The sun was heading toward setting while the sky filled with clouds coming, oddly, from the east. The light was nearly gone down where I walked, but it lit the tops of the ancient tall pines. Thunder finally rolled across the sky, and a few drops of rain landed in the very same place on my forehead.

24 May 2008

warning: hypochondria ahead

A long holiday weekend, but when someone asked me yesterday if I was looking forward to it, I said no. "I don't get paid for holidays, and I have a limited number of friends in this town because I've only been here for a few months, and too many of them are going out of town. I'd rather work." It's true but it's not. By the end of a week, I'm exhausted and worn down. My sore throat builds as the week goes on, and by Friday I'm googling "too many bruises" because I seldom bruise, but I HAVE A BRUISE ON MY HAND LEUKEMIA DYING HYPOCHONDRIA. One. Single. Bruise. The only one anywhere on my body (yes, I checked). In addition to not bruising easily, I am clumsy and I have a high pain threshold, so I run into things a lot. Mostly I don't remember them unless I get a bruise, like this triangular bruise on my hand, which is already almost gone, and then maybe if I think back carefully I remember how I slid into my desk too quickly and caught the corner of the drawer, or slammed the door on myself while trying to slip in with too many things in my hands.

Regardless, I stocked up on Emergen-C and pro-biotic yogurt drinks and have committed to drinking one of each per day because I have concluded that this daily working gig is wearing down my immunity, what with all the not getting to bed on time and dealing with the general public and forgetting to wash my hands because by the time I get a break I'm just too hungry to wait to snarf down those almonds that have to keep me going for three more hours. I can't do that instant hand sanitizer stuff, either, because I don't believe in it. Many a time I wish I did believe in it, particularly on long drives to remote places in Rwanda or Sudan (other option: careful eating of granola bar without removing it from package or touching it with hands). But I disapprove of all that antibacterial, alcohol-based stuff because I think it's killing us as surely as it is the poor innocent bacteria, so I can't be one of those people who keeps it on their desk, not even the smelly yummy kind.

Last week, I found myself comforting a guy who was nervous and sweating about his drug charge by saying, "Some people who come in here have really BIG problems." And the weird thing was that he was comforted, and said, "Yeah, you're right. At least I don't have big problems."

21 May 2008

October 31, 2002

One of the things about law is that you are almost always dealing with dates that are over. We all know, of course, that different days mean very different things to each person. Someone had a baby today, we say, and someone lost the person he loved most, on this day when I went to work and sat there doing work things workishly all the working day. In law, though, every date means something. Every day I hear dates. Many of the dates mean little to me, except that I think about how I was in law school at the time, or was just a child. Today, someone mentioned October 31, 2002, and I realized that is the date I arrived in Rwanda for the first time. I waited my first five hour layover in Nairobi - I remember sleeping sitting up with my head on a table in the transit lounge, drooling because I was sleeping so deeply after two sleepless nights on airplanes. I flew for the first time over Lake Victoria and above those green hills of Rwanda. I heard the woman behind me explain to her seatmate that you know you are flying over Rwanda when the houses are built in rows along the road and covered with shiny new metal sheets, because those are the post-genocide reconstruction projects. I remember thinking that first time I landed at Kanombe Airport about the plane that was shot down in 1994 and wondering what it would be like for our plane to take missiles at the end of the runway. We drove through Kigali's streets, and though my bleary exhaustion I thought them far neater and more precise, if a bit dusty, than any African capital I'd seen.

Someone addressed a letter that day, on October 31, 2002, and someone sat in a boring meeting. Someone learned the truth, and someone never woke up after their afternoon nap. Someone fell in love, and I, I met a new home, and no one around me today knew that, that date or that meaning. No one but me, sitting at work, working and remembering.

17 May 2008

on the train

I'm on the train, in a corner seat next to the door, next to a man with an art portfolio and a rolled up tube of big papers. I'm looking out the window across the way, enjoying the view from what a friend of mine says is "the slowest joke of a train system in the world," but I love it, the way it trundles along among downtown buildings, stopping at stoplights and running alongside the cars on narrow brick streets like an awkward, oversized bus.

The man asks me about my bag, and I tell him I got it in Rwanda, but I don't encourage him, certainly not enough for the monologue he starts in a faded English accent about merengue, which he seems to think has something to do with Africa, and then about Indian drumming and how he drummed for four Be@tles songs and gardened for Jo.hn Lenn0n and Yok0 0n0 and am I an artist? "No," I said, "an attorney," thinking that if anything should quash the artist connection it would be something as prosaic as law, but it does not, because he finds another connection and he tells me that his daughter is studying law, and that if you give yourself over to God, pure love will find you. "I follow a small Indian religion," he said, "but at heart I'm a Christian and always have been."

I haven't gotten a word in edgewise, or sideways, or any ways for five minutes and I'm watching the stops and wishing that my stop was this one instead of the next one. "You become what you associate with," he tells me, "so if you associate with Harley riders, you will end up wanting to wear black leather, or play an instrument if you associate with musicians. The secret is just to give yourself over to God, and he will give you pure love. It's that simple. We used to know the truth about God, but we've lost it. You can see it in the ancient writings, but we don't understand them anymore."

I haven't looked in his direction since the question about the bag, but now he's apologizing for his beer breath, from drinking beer with his pizza at the street fair, he says, and I don't mention that I know the difference between beer breath and hard alcohol breath, and his is the latter.

"You have a nice aura," he says. "You search for the truth, don't you?"

"This is my stop." I say in return, standing up. "It was nice talking to you."

I ignore him when I hear him say, as I stand up to go to the door, "You are gorgeous," and instead I walk straight ahead, out the door, up the shaded street, and into the quiet of the library.


It's warm enough in my apartment to lull me into inertia. I can't quite get out the door, even into the sunshine and beauty, even though I reserved about 15 books on the library website and I can go pick them up just a pleasant little free train ride away.

The weather, the most boring of topics, has skipped from cold to summer in three days. We looked out the window on Wednesday and said, "Today is our only spring," and it was true. By Friday it was summer and 90 degrees. I walked 20 or so blocks in the sun after work to meet some friends, and when I got there they were sitting inside, hiding from the weather in the air conditioning. "We should sit outside!" I said, and they shivered and said, "No, no, it's too hot."

"I would be perfectly happy if the weather was always exactly like this." I said, and they answered, "Then you moved to the wrong place. This is exceptionally hot even for August here."

We sat outside for a late dinner, under an umbrella that we didn't need for rain or sun, and even I, the first person to get cold in any crowd, kept my jacket off, even at midnight. It was that balmy (balmy is a funny word, no? Like barmy, only less British. Both sound funny.)

I slept with the window open, two nights in a row now, and this may or may not correlate directly with the fact that the sore throat I have had since I returned here at the end of March has returned.

I am beginning to suspect, um, how can I say this... seasonal allergies. I have a hard time admitting such a suspicion, because I have so little patience for the concept of seasonal allergies. I mean, yes, I know that many people are very miserable because of them, but that does not answer the fundamental question: WHY? WHY should some people's bodies start fighting off perfectly innocuous things like POLLEN. Pollen which fertilizes other trees and other flowers? WHY? And why should I have started having a throat-closing sensation during spring while I was in college when I had never had it before in 8 years of Michigan springs? Why should it hve been alleviated by two springs in Rwanda (no spring) and three in New York (no trees), and now actually be at a point where I would consider buying medication if only I had money with which to buy it? Hasn't my body fought off enough things in its time? Did I feed it malaria and parasites and every possible type of street food in every country I've ever been in for nothing? Is it so bored that it has to resort to fighting off things that have no spite against me? I have no patience for such bodily betrayal.

Then again, I don't have all that much patience for how my throat feels like I might not be able to get air through it much longer, either.

14 May 2008


Intention: answer emails, write nice blog post, fix/print resume, go to bed early.

Actuality: go for long walk in beautiful evening, write nice blog post in head and fail to transfer it to screen, fix/print resume, go to bed too late.


11 May 2008

tall tales

It is light these days by the time my alarm phone goes off at 6:10 a.m. during the week. I can look out the window in the five o'clock hour and tell that the time for getting up is nearing. It is delicious to wake up at 7 a.m. on Sunday, see the light, roll over, and go back to sleep. It will, unfortunately, make it hard to sleep tonight when I have to go to bed early in anticipation of work.

We went out on Friday night, my friend S. from college and my friend E. from bar class and her friend E2 from high school. E2 got back two months ago from two years in Tanzania and Kenya and was craving the post-Africa therapy that is required during reverse culture shock. We spent much of the evening over artichoke dip and steak fries talking about long-delayed stand-up bus rides and aggressive prostitutes in Nairobi nightclubs and THE BEST JUICE EVER, fresh passion fruit juice at Java House (highly addicting). It might possibly have been incredibly boring for S. and E., who have not recently returned from Africa and do not need the reverse culture shock talk therapy. I'm actually less in need of the reverse culture shock talk therapy in recent years than I used to be, just because I've come and gone so many times (except for the part where I go on those rants about HOW MISERABLE EVERYTHING WAS IN SOUTHERN SUDAN EXCEPT THAT OF COURSE I WOULD GO BACK, which I do periodically, sorry to all who've had to listen to one), but that doesn't mean I'm not willing and eager to be a part of the reverse culture shock talk therapy. Yes! Who doesn't want to tell stories about getting pulled over 6 times in five weeks by Liberian police because the car I was driving didn't have a license plate, including the one time they told me I was under arrest and I got angry and started yelling and told them that I had a car and they didn't and how exactly did they expect to get me to the police station under those circumstances, huh?

It's a way better story than the current one about how one of my bank accounts has $39 in it and the other is in the red and people keep saying, "This is why you have credit cards," except that I don't have a credit card and I'm glad I don't have one because then my whole paycheck would be done by the time I got it so I'll just be scavenging food from friends for the next four days until the paycheck shows up. The paycheck which will promptly be used to pay back and close out the overdrawn bank account so I will still be broke ergh how did this happen I have not overdrawn a bank account since college and I even called to find out my balance stupid delay in recording uses of the debit card.

Well. That story is not so fun. Bring on the Africa tales!

08 May 2008


Shockingly busy days; feeling quiet by evening.

At the train stop, a man riding by on a bike handed me a ticket and said, "Don't waste your money. Use this." Over his shoulder, he called, "It's good!"

I was on my way to Trader Joe's and I usually use one ticket to go there and back because they are calculated by time, not distance. I took the ticket and I got on the train and then I sat looking at it closely. That star? Did that mean the ticket was only for someone with a reduced fare ID? That 08:52? Was that a.m. or p.m.?

On the way back, I bought my own ticket. The machine spit out two gold dollars and a silver one. I put them in my left pocket and the ticket in my right. I tore up the old ticket - I didn't want anyone else to get into trouble - and poked it in between the St@rbucks cups sticking out of the trash can.

05 May 2008

beddy bye

It is 8:04 p.m. Do you know where your children are?

They still run that thing on the 10 p.m. news. Have you noticed? (The news is at TEN p.m. out here instead of ELEVEN. How weird is that?)

I know where I am, and that is about to head to bed. I thought I had escaped the flu that was going around but no, I just got it after everyone else and have spent the week feeling sick in approximately every part of one's body that can be sick: stomach, joints, throat, head. It's fun, I assure you. Fun!

Yesterday I made the mistake of thinking I felt okay (thank you, copious amounts of ibuprofen) and played wiffle ball in the yard at my friend's parents house. I rocked the wiffle ball, thank you very much. It was sunny and beautiful and I was wearing my lapa wrap-skirt that my mom and I made from African cloth last summer and I was barefoot in the beautiful green grass and airplanes flew over and how could I not play? And then the ibuprofen wore off and the fever and throat pain came rushing back and I went to bed at 8 p.m., like I'm about to do again.

It's been a really long time since I went to bed before it was dark. It's oddly satisfying.

03 May 2008


That post this morning didn't go where I intended it to go. It just sort of trailed off. I intended to say something about how during the week, when I'm riding the bus in the morning and rushing about at work and coming home exhausted to my beloved little apartment, I can think of no place in the world I would rather be than right here, right now, but that sometimes on the weekend, when I'm a little tired and a little sick and sleeping for twelve hours at a time and then meandering about doing laundry and dishes and reading the blogs of people who are in places like Rwanda, then I miss that life I always thought was going to be mine.

I was going to say that, and also that adding almond essence to my tea was an excellent idea.


During a break in things yesterday, I read parts of a BBC article on the plane crash in Southern Sudan aloud to a friend. "Shocked?" I said at the end. "How can they say Southern Sudanese are shocked at the plane crash? I'm not shocked. Do you know what those planes are? They are single-engine Cessnas flown by Kenyan pilots who are forced to fly 16 hours a day without a break and who send text messages by satellite phone while in the air, or they are Antonovs flown by Russian pilots who are still drunk from the night before and who are beginning their drinking again while in the air. How is anyone shocked when they crash? I flew on about 20 of them and I was always shocked when we didn't crash."


Every morning, I take the bus to work. The bus stop is a block over, and I stand next to the covered booth in my tights and heels and wait for the bus. Sometimes one bus comes first, sometimes another. One morning I had just turned the corner when the bus came by and I would have missed it had the driver not known me and my bright blue KLM flight attendant coat and stopped a block early for me. "Isn't it nice when your bus driver knows you?" she asked as she opened the doors for me. I'm beginning to recognize people: the older black man in a suit and a camel coat, the young Asian girl with the skinny jeans, the middle-aged white guy with the floppy hair and the black overcoat. One of my colleagues complained about the bus, how there are so many strange people who take it, how it's better to drive, even though you have to pay for parking, but my buses are filled with people on their way to work and school, people just like me. We all sit in the sunlight as the bus goes down that hill and over that bridge, listening to our music and playing our sudoku and staring out our windows.

I like riding the bus in the morning. It like the time it gives me to wake up. I like the people. I like the fact that I'm not using any more fuel than would be used anyway. I like watching the city go by. I like walking from the bus stop to work, under the rapidly greening trees.