28 July 2008


Five years ago this month, I was living in Rwanda. My sister had just left for the US on the same plane as my boss, and I was truly on my own in Africa for the first time. Days later, my friend and coworker D.'s husband died. He was 35, and he died of pneumonia. 35 year old men do not just die of pneumonia, not anywhere, not even in Africa. It's not such a different place than here. He died of AIDS, and we all knew it, although we none of us said it.

I have written before about his wake, how I sat on the floor in their bedroom, holding D. while she cried, while his body lay on the bed behind, a bandage wrapped around his head to keep his jaw closed. How I felt honored to be a woman among women where women handle the weight of death, and how I wanted to cry, "I'm not old enough for this!" I may not have written this part before, but that night when I slept in my own bed in my hotel, the Auberge Beausejour where I always stayed in Kigali from the first night I spent in the country, I woke up in the dark afraid to turn over, afraid that I might fight a dead body there next to me in the bed.

I got an email from D. today. She asks if I've forgotten about her, and if I can send some money. She had meningitis and was in the hospital for a month. It's from the "syndrome" she says, and I know. She hasn't had a job since I closed the country program for the organization I worked for in Rwanda. Jobs are hard to find, and she doesn't have many qualifications.

I don't know what to say. How can I say that I fall behind every month myself, that I'm more in debt than I was last month or two months ago, that I owe more money to two banks than she has ever or will ever see? How can I say that I need this money for organic milk and a nice interview suit when she has four kids who need food and school with an unemployed mom and no dad? How can I say that I bought new contacts this month and I thought longingly of a trip to Africa, that I went to Ethiopia for the month that she was in the hospital with meningitis?

I can't, and so I never answered last time she emailed, probably the last time I wrote about this. I stayed silent, and I didn't act. She is desperate, and I am... well, I feel helpless, but the truth is that I am not helpless. I make choices, and if I am completely honest, I have chosen to spend my money, what little I make, in a thousand different ways these last months, and none of them helped her. Not at all.

27 July 2008

off again

I do this every single week: I get on a later schedule on the weekend and I go to bed far too late on Sunday night, resulting in starting the week exhausted. Every single week I vow to get up earlier on Sunday morning so I can go to sleep earlier, and every single week I fail. It's just impossible to get up at 7 on a Sunday. Not possible.

26 July 2008


I ate myself sick on Liberian food, mixing greens and rice together with a spoon while an elderly white woman nearby said, too loudly, "This is so hot. I like spicy food, but I can't even eat this." Colors swirled around me, women in sparkling headties and men in embroidered shirts. I sat out the Grand March, but joined the dance floor under the ceiling fans when the unstructured dancing started, to West African music. After a while, I requisitioned a baby, and bounced him gently to the beat of the music. I leaned down and smelled his silky black curls, and ate yet another bit of toasted coconut ball. The woman sitting next to me told me about her daughter, running around with a thousand little braids, and how the girl's father is Liberian, how she's glad that she can know this part of her but she wouldn't let her visit, not until she's grown. I drank three glasses of water in a row, and finally surrendered the baby to walk home in the cooling air, wishing to go back two years in time, or forward, and be back in Liberia.

22 July 2008

abdication of principles

I have reached a new low. So low that I don't even want to admit it. So low that I hardly dare mention it for fear that my dad will make fun of me incessantly for the rest of my life, even though he's since been converted by evidence of the terribleness perpetrated by this place I am about to mention.

Back story: I wear contacts. I do not wear glasses. I have glasses, and they are dandy to have for such occasions as fire alarms in the middle of the night (here in Gone West) or pee breaks in a pit latrine in the middle of the night (back in Southern Sudan) or I don't really know what else because that's all I've used them for. I didn't have them on any other Africa trips. I just went blindly about in the dark. But I don't wear my glasses in real life, because they make me dizzy and I misjudge distances and they give me a headache, all of which I consider to be bad things.

Unfortunately, I am on my last set of contacts. I am on my last set of contacts and panic is setting in because they may tear and I can't get any more because I don't have health insurance and I don't have money and I borrowed money from my parents for the contacts but my prescription has expired, which means a $300 visit to the cheap eye place. Why do you even NEED a prescription for contacts? It's a racket.

So I have made a terrible concession. I looked up the W@lm@rt Vision Center, and I'm calling it tomorrow. Patronizing W@lm@rt goes against all of my principles. I feel dirty.

But yos, I am dead broke. It's this or blindness.


I was walking along today, talking to myself, as one does, (WHAT? you know you do it, too) and I caught myself saying to myself, "Is that tomorrow or next tomorrow?" Yeah, no one says that here. It's a Sudanism. Amused.

21 July 2008

some people think it's a good thing

Okay. I'm bored. I mean, I'm not BORED, but I'm a little bored. It's just... everything works here, you know? The biggest excitement I've had lately is schedule changes on the train. No one leap up and get too excited here. The other day, my train stopped because there was a mechanical problem with the train ahead of us and I walked the rest of the way to work. But how is this even a story? If I'd just stayed on the stupid train for five more minutes, they would have fixed it all and I would have gotten to work, probably still on time.

Our car slid off the road into a swamp when we were racing for a plane because our airstrip was too muddy for the Caravan to land once in Southern Sudan.

That was a story worth telling. And I told it, here. But oh, sob, weep. My train was delayed. They fixed it. Big deal.

The problem is that there are safety nets. I'm not big on super scary things. People think I am, because I travel to places like Tiny Little Town, and Liberia. But I would die before I bungee jumped or sky dove. (I say this, but I would probably do it. I would fret and worry, and then I would get over it and jump and love it. So I take that back.) I don't like super scary things, but I get so bored when everything works. I actually love places that have ditches too deep to be safe all along the side of the road. I love places where you get stranded ten hours from nowhere, with no cell coverage and no one to call even if you had it, and you have to hitch rides with random lorry drivers. Everything runs so smoothly here, and it's so very boring.

19 July 2008

all the cool people are in Southern Sudan

I've been missing Rwanda a lot lately. It may be the weather, these lovely, sunny 80 degree F days like every day was in Rwanda, or it may be the concept of staying in one place for a while, the panic that I have to tamp back at the idea that this, here, is it, is home. I miss the turquoise waters of Lake Kivu stretching in front of me every morning, and the walks down the little path where tiny boys herding huge cows greeted me shyly. "Amakuru?"

I miss the road through the mountains from Kigali to Kibuye, on which I knew - I still know - every curve. I knew which curves required slowing down and which you could take at full speed. I knew where the trucks were likely to pull out on the other side of blind corners, straining and groaning to get up to speed on the hills. I knew where I had to turn off my a/c in order to keep power in my own baby Land Cruiser. I knew where I had space enough to pass even though I couldn't see around the next curve. I knew how the buses and trucks would take the inside of the curve, even if that meant driving in the wrong lane. If you don't think you are going to die at least once on the drive to Kigali, I used to tell people, then watch out for the way back, because your brush with death is still coming. I can close my eyes and drive that road: up the long hill out of Kigali, through the streets of Gitarama filled with pink-suited prisoners, over the bridge into Ntara ya Kibuye, past the waterfall, next to gleaming inlets of the lake, and finally around one last blind curve to the roundabout in Kibuye. I am aching to drive it again.

In the park where I sit most evenings, a group of African men from all over the continent play football (by which I mean soccer, oh US Americans). If I ignore the perfect green grass and the white guys playing frisbee in the background, if I close my eyes and listen only to their voices, I could be back, somewhere in Africa. When I walk home afterwards, though an apparent utopia of grass and flowers, swingsets and bikes left tumbled on the front walk, I feel a bit of a jolt to be in this place instead of that.

A week or two ago, I was reading through my posts from Southern Sudan last fall. I realized that a year ago, I was getting ready to go to Southern Sudan, where I was miserable. To be fair, it was not all the fault of Southern Sudan (despite the HOT, which I have discussed in unending detail). I didn't really give it a chance, because I was so tired of leavings and arrivings. I wanted to be and to belong. So here I am, attempting to be and belong. Africa doesn't come up here unless I bring it up, usually, and entire days and weeks can go by with the people I meet never knowing that I am anything but a new lawyer who recently moved to Gone West. I have to accept, I suppose, that this place, this country, will forever be only part of me.

It seems lately that the authors of every international blog I read have up and moved to Southern Sudan. When they write about how difficult the place is, I can only grimace and nod my head in agreement. And yet, as they point out, there are people and beauty and joy there, too. I miss even that Tiny Little Town in Southern Sudan, even the mornings where I was sweating before I even got lotion on my face (lotion+ sweat = disgusting).

One of these bloggers posted a photo that I saw this morning: my favorite little bird in Southern Sudan (see this post). It's from the back, but you can see the little red blush-spot on its cheek. I smiled and, for a moment, I could be both parts of me.

17 July 2008


Since I have to go to bed immediately, I shall here place, instead of the long post I have been composing in my head, the following inane observation:

I think they have started adding rosemary to my favorite salad dressing.

The end.

(Aren't you glad you stuck around for that?)

15 July 2008

bird brain

Some days, for various reasons, I need to exit work through a set of double glass doors. They lock these doors at five p.m. and one has to go through a smaller side door, a fact which I am incapable of remembering. Today I crashed directly into the glass doors a mere fraction of a second after someone said, "The doors are locked!" because she knew, as everyone does now, that I would run into the glass doors. "Don't mind me!" I said, retreating through the smaller side door, "I'm like a bird slamming my head against a window! I never learn!"

13 July 2008

some title

So! It's Sunday again. I have no idea how that happened. I just woke up and there it was. I don't know what happened to those days in between, either. I'm pretty sure they happened... yes, I can go through and find at least one memory per day, so they did happen. I have just been blog and internet lazy. In my defense, the weather has been lovely, and every evening I face the internet v. walk dilemma and generally choose the walk. Because it's pretty out there! Unfortunately, I still feel as if something is sitting on my chest when I spend too much time in unfiltered air.

I was beginning to get worried that there was something more wrong with me than allergies (like lung cancer! hypochondria, again) because shouldn't springlike-ness be over by now? Shouldn't allergies by over? By July? But then I overheard a conversation in which random people downtown were discussing how a mere two weeks ago their allergies got to the worst point they had ever been and they were forced to seek prescription medication for the first time. So perhaps this is just the penalty one pays for the drawn-out winter/spring that never ends. Although it appears to have finally ended. HALF WAY THROUGH JULY. I never thought I would make favorable comparisons to Michigan, but! I have. I have actually caught myself saying longing things about how Michigan weather is beautiful starting in May.

In other news, since I have nothing interesting to say, I will inform you that I have become obsessed with the library. This may be another reason why you never hear from me. Every time I hear about a book I want to read, I just log into the website and request that it be put on hold, and then I prance over there on my lunch hour and pick it up! It's brilliant. Now I have lots of interesting books, and I read them, and the internet is boring by comparison. Even my internet. So. See you in a few weeks.

(I'm kidding. I hope.)

06 July 2008

three little stories

We meant to come back into town to watch fireworks from the top of my building, but the fire took a long time to start, which is what happens when you try to make it using a bow and a spindle, and so the s'mores were not ready until nearly 9:30 and the fireworks started at 10-ish. So we did what any logical people would do: we fired up the bucket truck and, one at a time, we rode to the top of the arc of the bucket and watched all the fireworks in a 360 degree span. When it was my turn, I rode up tremulously, clinging to the edge of the bucket, afraid of mechanical malfunctions sending me tumbling 55 feet to the ground. I don't mind heights, but falling is a fear. At the top, after only seconds, I called down, "Hello? Hello? I would like to come down now," but when the bucket touched down on the cab of the truck, I asked to be sent back up, now confident that it would hold. I stood 55 feet up in the air, dangling in a little bucket, turning around and around to watch a row of fireworks to the north and the sky lighting up like lightning to the east where the fireworks were just beyond a hill, and the sporadic flashes to the west and south.


Three little girls had a lemonade stand on a corner. I was half a block away when they started calling, "Lemonade!" The little boy a few feet in front of me, running back to join them, said, "I KNOW there is lemonade."

"Not you!" they called. "Her! Lemonade!"

I bought a big glass of strawberry lemonade for 50 cents, and wished them good luck with their sales. "Thank you for choosing ***, ***, and ***'s lemonade!" one called after me, as if my lemonade stand options were numerous.


A man stood at the front door of a big old house, holding open the screen door and talking to the dog just inside the glass door behind. "Prince William! Tell them that I'm here! Tell them that I'm here! Bark! Just bark, so they know I'm here!"

It took me a few minutes, walking by, to figure out what he was saying, and that he was actually begging the dog to bark (that "Prince William" part threw me off).

Finally he started barking himself. "Bark! Arf! Arf! Bark! Bark so they know I'm here! Arf! Arf!" and finally the dog responded with a high-pitched yapping "Erf! Erf! ErfErfErfErf!"

03 July 2008

neither here nor there

I feel a little bit frantic about activities lately, like I have to do every one that pops up, because I'm never sure, what with the having of about four friends, total, when the next opportunity will offer itself. I'm actually a tiny smidge glad, though, that my friend who is downtown at a big event didn't call me back after I returned her call. I know that I should want to go; her new boyfriend is bringing his friends and meeting boys is, after all, the Point of Life. But I'm tired. Amazing how exhausting it is to be left taskless, and, too, I stayed out too late last night living the life of a girl in the city: sharing four appetizers for dinner with a friend and then meandering back toward the train, stopping at a pub and a "nice" sports bar on the way just because the sun wasn't gone yet and the air was so perfect for sitting at an outside table.

It's brilliant to be sitting outside in the summer in Gone West. This is why I moved here, this chance to have friends and to know, as you sit outside with them, that they will not be leaving, and neither will you. Not unless something goes terribly wrong. I miss sitting outside at night in Africa: in Kibuye, in Monrovia, even in Tiny Little Town in Southern Sudan. I don't miss knowing that the people I sat with would be a part of my life only for a short time, maybe even a only a day or two. I don't like what that did to me.

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, and I almost wish to be in Michigan, just long enough to sit on my parents' back deck and eat a spicy black bean burger with cheese and maybe hold the baby nephew I've never seen. Instead I'm going out to the K. house, where I've been taken in as child number 3, where everything feels familiar and US-Dutch.

I am split into a million different places. Sometimes I'm afraid that I'll wake up and it will be ten years from now and I'll be living in the suburbs with 2.1 children and a husband who doesn't ever want to leave this country. And sometimes I'm afraid that I won't even last here until next spring.

01 July 2008

bumbling lawyerly-like

I was wearing my (only decent pair) of black trousers today. They are a little bit wide-legged and I was wearing them with flats and a jacket that tied around the middle. I felt pretty good about this outfit until I was sluffing my way down a hallway and realized that what with the flats and the tied jacket, the clothes I was wearing felt suspiciously like pajamas. With slippers. I have confidence, from looking at my reflection in doors as I passed them, that I looked a bit more put together than that, but there was a moment of panic.

I am one of those people who we could kindly call overthinkers. Less charitable titles might include UTTERLY INSANE. For example, I am incapable of sending out a job-search related email without writing, editing, saving as a draft, re-reading, re-editing, pondering, re-reading, suddenly sending with a mental promise to never think of it again, opening the sent folder to read it one more time, and then being terrified every time I open my email thereafter IN CASE THE PERSON ANSWERED. You don't even want to know what out of the office auto-replies do to me, because they are toooooo soooooon! Too soon! This whole process often results in late bedtimes, because of just too much pondering when I've vowed to send out an email that night. I can't figure out if this whole thing occurs because 1. I have a tinge of perfectionism, 2. I lack self-confidence, or 3. I haven't quite figured out how to act like a lawyer yet. Or maybe a bit of each.