28 February 2009

economy = bad

It's Saturday night and I, like a total bum, am home alone. Welcome to my thirties. (Okay, FINE, welcome to my thirties seven months from now.) I did, in fact, leave my apartment today. Twice! Well, once to the library/bookstore/tea shop,* and one just to the gym downstairs. I didn't actually leave the building that time. Still. It was an accomplishment, even if I was that loser who watches My First Home or some such nonsense (I wasn't really listening) while sweating on the elliptical.

I don't pay much attention to the news recently, either, because 1. it's depressing, and my life is depressing enough, thank you very much, and 2. President Obama has it under control. This country doesn't even need me anymore. He'll take care of it.

Did I mention that my life is depressing? I've been living in a bubble of deluded optimism about the economy until this week and then suddenly woe is me, money is about to be tighter than I thought (money is possibly about to be impossible) and now I'm embarking on a few months of all job search, all the time. Which should be fun with, what, 25% unemployment across the country? Geographic barriers have fallen, for sure. Suddenly those jobs in, I don't know, Berlin look pretty good. (I am joking about Berlin. I haven't applied for a job there. Yet.)

But enough about that, because I don't blog about work. Which is really too bad for you, because I have some hilarious work stories from this week. Which you won't hear unless you know me and call me.

Wow, that was approximately the most annoying paragraph ever, right about on the level of those childhood conversations in which the person said, "I know something you don't know! Nananabooboo."

I also notice that I am now writing like a blogger. A blogger who thinks she/he has an audience. I tend to pick up writing styles like I pick up accents when I travel the world. Regarding this type of posting, however: self, good luck with that. Go back to writing stories that do not require audience participation.

Now I'm going to bed.


* By the time you finish reading this post, you are going to be thinking, "Wait... I thought you said you had no money? Why the bookstore? Why the tea shop? Can't you make your own tea?" The reasons for my three stops today look like this: 1. library - free entertainment, 2. bookstore - to scope out books to put on hold at the library, 3. tea shop - because sitting alone in my apartment all day is just depressing, and I was not fit company for anyone due to fury about ensuing personal economic disaster.

26 February 2009

apparently i really don't care about television

During law school, my roommate got me started watching Lost. I watched the first three seasons during my third year of law school. Seasons one, two, and the first half of three I watched all in a row, sometimes two or three a night, cramming them like a good book.

Last year, I was studying for the bar when season four came on, and I had my bar study class at the same time, and I never bothered to watch it.

A few months ago, I put season four on hold at the library. I was about the 400th person in line for it.

Nearly three weeks ago, my turn came, and I picked up the six dvd set (to watch on the tiny dvd player I have borrowed from a friend).

I haven't watched a single episode, and it's due back on Saturday. I just really cannot bring myself to care. Certainly I cannot bring myself to care enough to turn on the dvd player and watch even one episode. I'd rather read a book or the internet.

This actually happens quite frequently with me and tv. Every once in while, while in the exercise room downstairs, I see a commercial for something on tv and I think, "Oh, Saturday at 8. I'd like to see that." Not once, however, have I managed it.

I gave my tv to goodwill.

It turns out that two years in Rwanda without a tv plus two years of law school without a tv plus a year in Gone West without a tv (i.e. for five of the last six and a half years I have lived without a tv) results in, well, not really being interested in tv.

I strongly suspect that I'm going to return these dvds unopened to the library.

24 February 2009


I can hear rain on my windows, my 4th-of-6 floor windows. I left the blinds open well after it got dark just to enjoy the sight of the trickles of water down the window.

No one else in my building leaves their blinds open, not on this side facing into the courtyard. I always wonder, on a brilliant Saturday afternoon, why I am usually the only one with open blinds. You cannot see more than a few feet into the apartment, not far enough even to see me sitting on the couch. I know from the few times that other people do open their blinds.

Are people so willing to live in artificial light? Don't they miss the sunshine and the clouds?

More importantly, how do their plants stay alive?


I am starting to think that my preemptive missing of this place was accurate. Someone please direct me to the part of this country (world, even) that is not completely decimated economically right now, and I shall apply for jobs there.

Somehow, like a lot of people, it never occurred to me that a recession could turn into a depression (I don't know if it has yet; I have been ignoring all news). I didn't think we could make those mistakes again, not mistakes bad enough for this.

I am starting to realize that my entire career - maybe my entire life - could change because of the economy. I may have to leave Gone West, and change my plans for my next job, which will change my entire career.

That could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing, but it will be scary for quite a while.

22 February 2009


Have you ever noticed that so much of the food we eat in this country just doesn't taste that good?

I've been thinking about this the last few days, about how much I enjoy the (mostly healthy) food that I am eating these days. I don't recall really enjoying my food much when I was younger. I remember cramming Nacho Cheesier Doritos and Mountain Dew into my mouth. I remember craving them, and other things full of sugar and salt, but I don't remember really enjoying what I was eating.

I happened upon a website where an author said that one of her problems with nationalized health care is that so many people in this country eat so badly that she doesn't think that the rest of us should have to pay for the health care needs that result. Ignoring the fact that if obesity and Type II diabetes correlate with poverty we are going to be paying for it anyway, one way or another (because poverty also correlates with not having private health insurance and therefore using the emergency room as your health care, which is expensive for all of us), but it does seem to me that we have lost, in this country, the ability and desire to make and eat really good food.

My mom and I were talking about chocolate yesterday and I realized that I just don't LIKE Hershey's chocolate anymore, or really any American-made chocolate. I can taste the oil in it, and that makes it not real chocolate. Real chocolate does not contain vegetable oil. It was Rwanda that made me a chocolate snob, actually, with the Cote D'Or Noir de Noir that was available in huge bars at La Baguette (whatever they are calling it now).

I also prowled my house yesterday looking for something to snack on, something to overeat, and found that it was virtually impossible to stuff myself in the manner of Doritos with the food items in my house. I ate some walnuts, and some tea. And then I laughed at myself, because it would take a LOT of walnuts and tea to truly overeat, in that way that makes you feel bloated and miserable.

So basically, I've become a food snob. This is the basic summary of this blog post. Most processed foods now taste like @ss to me. Instead, I buy and savor foods with strong, pure flavors. Instead of buying snacks, I bake more than I ever imagined I would.

I'm not trying to say that people who buy Doritos and Mountain Dew and overeat them are bad people doing a bad thing. There are many people who do not have access or funds for unprocessed, delicious food. There are many people for whom food is an addiction. There are many people who don't like the same foods that I think are so wonderful (extra sharp cheddar cheese, 70% cacao dark chocolate, I'm looking at you). But it makes me sad to think that so many people are living the way I did for at least the first 23 years of my life, until Rwanda: eating calorie-filled, flavorless food just because it's there, not because they are truly enjoying it. For the change in my eating habits, I partially credit my Italian-Swiss friends in Rwanda for making truly simple, delicious food with the ingredients they could find there.

Is it just me or does everyone feel hungry and dissatisfied after eating a whole mess of food sweetened with high fructose corn syrup? I hate that stuff.

I am finally getting to a point where I don't feel obligated to eat things that I don't particularly like or need. I went to a restaurant with some friends and looked at the menu and realized that nothing looked particularly good and I wasn't at all hungry anyway. And I ordered nothing. It was incredibly freeing.

And then I made my own sweet potato fries. I had never had sweet potato fries until I moved to Gone West. The only time I'd seen sweet potatoes was in that disgusting-looking Thanksgiving dish with the marshmallows on top. But with a little black pepper and salt, tossed with olive oil and baked in my oven, they were so good that I abandoned the ketchup on the counter so I could enjoy them straight.

There is some really delicious, healthy food out there.

20 February 2009

= old

The last few days I've been looking around my apartment and wishing I had one of those magnetic grocery list pads to stick on the fridge. HELP ME NOW. Apparently I'm getting old. No, old would be fine. This is worse. I'm getting middle-aged.

19 February 2009

a side of seasonal affective disorder

And so, I pull through another week. Kinda-sorta, only because of that holiday. I saw crocuses yesterday, little purple moments in the dirt, and I thought, If spring is coming, maybe I can make it.

I didn't believe them when they told me about winters here, about the dark and the gloom and the rain. I was here last winter, I told them, and I was fine, and anyway where I'm from in Michigan is another of the cloudiest places in the country. It can't be too much worse than that. But it turns out that it can be, because when I lived in Michigan I was in school, and school, as we notice, gets out much earlier than work. 2:42, or something, or various spaces between university classes. I still had time to be outside. Here, I work all day.

I want the sunshine back. Human beings were not intended to live here.

I tried to drink in the sunlight this weekend, and then I remembered that I did feel this way in college, and I was just as desperate back then to drink the sunlight in January, that year when I went to Kenya and almost cried at the feeling of warm sun on my skin.

Last year, I had a flipflop tan, and I was always cold in the 40 degree weather, as if I'd acclimated to Sudan and my body could not register the change in temperature. Now I have no tan at all, and I'm not cold waiting out there for the bus, but I have no reserve of sunlight to get me through, nor hope of it any time soon.

This is my 15th full winter. I am starting to think that I need to do something to make sure there are not too many more of them. I don't want to move - I hate moving, and I love this city - but I'm not sure this situation is tenable. I can't hibernate for six months every year. It just doesn't work. But I seem to have no choice, in these winters.

On the days (and there are many) when the sight of yet another gray sky makes me want to cry, I remind myself that there are places in this world where the weather is always warm and nearly always sunny. Life is so unfair.

17 February 2009


We spent the weekend near the water, a group of wonderful women and I. We watched waves run and curl and tumble. We listened to the roar rise and fall. We walked and talked and walked until we ran out of beach, and then climbed rocks until our bare feet were raw and frozen. We laid on our backs in the sand and watched stars shoot across the sky. We argued about how best to make the pyramid of wood catch on fire. We baked beer cheese bread that did not rise and was heavy and dense like a stone. We read books and wrote in journals and inspected all the colors of the sand. We laughed until our stomachs hurt and we could not breathe.

"Did you ever imagine," I asked two of them, "ten years ago, when we were in college, that in ten years the three of us would be hanging out on the [Gone West] coast?"

At the end, I stood on the shore and stared at the sky turning from fuschia to crimson to salmon to orange to rust, at the water rushing back to meet an incoming wave, at the evening star up above the clouds, and I felt deeply grateful. Not just for the beauty and the company but for the ability, finally, after a decade and a half of discontent, of always wishing for more, to enjoy the moments I have and the people I share those moments with.

I am going to love my thirties.

13 February 2009

neon pink cupcakes

I'm finally starting to understand people who read food blogs. I've always been of the opinion that good food is nice, and good recipes are nice, and it's nice that someone puts those recipes online, but we don't really need to hear the details. But I've been baking a lot lately, and these last three days I've actually started truly experimenting, and suddenly I'm fascinated by what works and what doesn't.

While I was at the store on Monday night, I had a brilliant idea that I would make coconut cupcakes for Valentine's Day and bring them to work. I bought the ingredients I thought I would need, imagining light, fluffy white cupcakes.

Unfortunately, I bought the wrong ingredients. That, and all the recipes for light, fluffy white cupcakes seemed to involve beating egg whites with a mixer on high speed. The only mixer I have is a wooden spoon and some gimpy arms, a combination that lacks some of the effectiveness, I think. (It's annoying how the recipes all assume the modern conveniences. What on earth did people do before they had mixers? Maybe they just developed arm muscles. Maybe they had non-ruined nerves. Stupid law school.) I abandoned my idea of light and fluffy in favor of richer and denser, and easier to make by hand with ingredients already in my house.

I dug out the golden cake recipe that I used to bake on a coalpot in Sudan, and added coconut and nutmeg in addition to vanilla (I don't know, I read somewhere a recipe that involved coconut and nutmeg). And then I added the same to buttercream frosting and I baked coconut to sprinkle on top.

They were some pretty delicious cupcakes, although somehow they ended up more like a neon pink than the light pink I was imagining. Someone was a little free with the food coloring. Good thing I'm not a perfectionist or anything.


(I'm actually not really a perfectionist. Or Type A enough to be a lawyer. I think I'm going to ditch law and open a coffee shop somewhere in Africa, and bake delicious things and make delicious espresso. The evil Citibank that now calls me at 5:28 am cannot get to me if I am in Africa. Jerks.)

09 February 2009

disease mongers

There are only a few things that really, really bother me about Gone West. One is the cloudiness/darkness/early sunsets in winter. The other is the spitting. This is a perfectly nice, urbane city. It has a city center and tall buildings and homeless people and cultural events. It has real cement sidewalks, not dirt paths.

It also has spitters. This is utterly unacceptable. Has no one here heard of TUBERCULOSIS? SARS? THE COMMON COLD? Why why why are people spreading SPIT all around? It's disgusting. I thought we ended this practice round about the turn of the last century. Spittoons? Wasn't that what they were for? Little boxes to spit into so that disease did not run rampant?

Perfectly normal people do it, too. Today I was walking down the street behind a cute, well-dressed guy, kinda-sorta checking him out, if you want to know the truth, and suddenly he leaned over and SPIT in the middle of the sidewalk. I was revolted. I wanted to throw up. One day, a woman leaned out the door of the train when it stopped at a station and SPIT on the platform.

I have tried and failed to come up with a good reason for the spitting. I cannot think of one possible situation in which I would feel the need to spit in the middle of the sidewalk, short of someone poisoning me. It's simply not necessary. Human beings do not have a need to spit as a matter of routine. At least, I don't. I can foresee a situation in which I had a terrible hacking cough and was coughing up yellow or green stuff, but even then, I think I could make it to a trash can or the little dirt area around a tree. There are many trash cans and many trees-in-the-sidewalk here in Gone West. And still the spitting is constant! It's not like it's only sick people who are doing it!

I am tempted to throw up my hands in despair at the lack of civilization out here. It is the one true thing that makes me think that this place is still the Wild West. And yet it has the veneer of civilization in the form of concrete sidewalks. Honestly, that is the most disgusting part. I am far less disgusted by spitting into dirt paths. At least it gets mixed in. Here? I have to dodge circles of spit while walking in heels to work. It is positively nasty.


08 February 2009

living vicariously

For the last few days, I've been obsessed with this blog: Jangano 2009! Because those people? They are living my fantasy vacation. I seriously cannot imagine anything better than someone giving me six months, some people I like, a Land Cruiser, the appropriate visas, and enough cash to get by, and turning me loose on the continent of Africa.

Unless the better thing was all of the above things and a whole YEAR to drive around Africa.

Driving around to new places is my favorite way to travel. I do not like backpacking.* I know that there is this lovely fantasy of backpacking around Europe and Southeast Asia and all, but I despise the whole concept, for the following reasons:

  1. I am not a turtle. I was not intended to carry all of my belongings on my back. People, I like to be able to bring my contact solution. Do you know how heavy contact solution gets when you are carrying a big bottle of it on your back? (And no, if I'm traveling for any length of time, I cannot bring the small bottle.)
  2. Public transportation, while lovely and valuable and delightful and the best way to be of the people, man, does not go to all the places I want to go. If I had not had a car in Rwanda, I literally would not have been able to get to the majority of the places I went. I usually ended up giving rides, so I felt like I had something to give, but I got to far more remote places than most people ever could. And in Ethiopia, I skipped some things that I wanted to see because public transportation wasn't reliable enough to get me to the next town if I got off the direct bus in the middle of the route.
  3. I hate packing and unpacking everything. The thing you need is INEVITABLY in the very bottom of the stupid backpack.
  4. Backpacks get too heavy if you bring books, so what are you supposed to do in the downtime?
This all makes me sound hopelessly snobby and also hopelessly rigid. All the cool people backpack. But the truth is that backpacking is overrated. It only sounds romantic. It is 60% exhaustion and wanting to whine but not wanting to piss off the people around you and waiting for buses and not knowing where you are going to be able to put down the STUPID BACKPACK and only about 7% actually seeing the things you want to see.** Totally overrated. If you can at all afford it, renting a car is the best way to travel. (This is always the sticking point, though. If I only have the money to choose between backpacking somewhere new and staying home, I always choose the backpacking. I just do it while stifling my swearing. At least you see that 7%.)

* Note: the traveling-around-a-country kind of backpacking, with buses and trains and all, is a very different thing than hiking with a backpack. That, I love, provided I have a good backpack. I think it has to do with 1. not needing to be clean and presentable, 2. not sleeping in a different city every night, 3. less time to read anyway, so the books are a moot point, and 4. nature is pretty, so I'm generally in a good mood.
** The other 33% is sleeping, obviously.

07 February 2009



The woman paused, scissors poised to cut into the cloth between the one yard and the other 7/8ths of a yard. "You can buy less than 7/8ths if you want," she said.

"No," I said, "I think I might just buy the whole thing."

Watching her fold up the flannel with little red and brown polka dots, I continued, "I think I've turned into my mom. She always used to buy way too much cloth. We had a whole closet full of it at one point."

"It's really endearing when daughters turn out like their moms," she told me. "I love it when my daughters tell me that they do things just like me, as long as they are happy about it."

"I think my mom is amazing," I said. "I am really excited to become more and more like her."


Last time I got my hair colored, a year ago, the students at the Aved@ Institute gathered around and gushed over it. "This is virgin hair?" asked one guy with purple sparkly eye shadow out to his hairline while caressing my hair, "I've never seen virgin hair before!"

Apparently everyone colors their hair. (They should all be as broke as I was in law school! Uncolored hair would abound!) Looking around today, though, I saw many women with bleached platinum blond hair, getting it bleached all over again. I wanted to beg them to do lowlights this time. I was positively conservative having sandy and honey-blond put into mine, with the special gentle dye that they can use only on uncolored hair.

For one brief moment, right now, I have absolutely perfect hair.


In the last few minutes of sunlight, I sat in a little park, on a bench, with my owl notebook that I'm writing in these days. A tiny girl in a pink sweater with dark brown curls came over, trailed by two uncertain-looking older people. She pointed insistently at my notebook, talking in not-quite comprehensible words, and her people were too unsure to simply remove her from a conversation with a stranger.

"Owl." I said, and she echoed, "Ow."

"Blue tree."

"Boo tee."

I handed her my pen, and opened the notebook to a back page, where she scribbled for a bit until I took pity on her grandparents, who were clearly uncomfortable with the stranger concept, and took the pen away so they could pick her up and carry her, screaming, to the other side of the park.

When placed on the ground, away over there, she ran straight back to me.

03 February 2009

uuuuuugh in key of delicious


I ate too much.

Macaroni and cheese and cornbread and peanut butter pie (I scorn the recall) and sweet potato fries (whose other name is ORANGE FRIED DELICIOUSNESS OF CRACK COCAINE). Sweet potato fries might possibly have ruined normal chipses for me.

Remind me not to eat southern food, ever again. Too many carbs. Too much cream. Too much over-stuffing myself.

I have to be careful not to move too much, lest my over-capacity stomach revolt. I think I'll go to bed instead. If I can sleep. My stomach is so full that it might compress my other organs and make it impossible to breathe in a prone position.

Tooooo much fooooood.

02 February 2009


Today was a beautiful, perfect sunny day, the kind that starts with clouds of warm breath in the cold morning air, with jet trails across the eastern sky, the kind that warms up enough to walk outside at lunch with coat unbuttoned and friend complaining that she'll sweat if I make her walk up the minor slope from the library, the kind that welcomes sitting in the park in the sunlight, soaking it in and reading a new library book, the kind that makes me look around and think, "I'll miss this place when I leave," and then it's all confusing, because I have no plans to leave, but somehow the perfect day makes me think that I will, someday, maybe even soon.

01 February 2009


Yesterday I was mooning over a print that I desperately want (you can see it here), and as one does, I sent the link to my sister so that she could make up my mind whether or not to spend $30 on something that I do not, strictly speaking, need.

She vetoed the purchase, and then it occurred to me that I have thousands of photos that I took myself, and surely some few of them are good enough to print and hang on a wall. Perhaps not as perfect as that one, okay, but with more personal meaning. And I could probably print and mat several of them for the price of ordering one online.

I proceeded to waste several hours looking at every single picture I've taken in the last few years in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, DR Congo, Tanzania, Liberia, Senegal (airport only), Sudan, and Ethiopia.

It's funny all the things you forget. I was amused to notice, for example, that right in the middle of the Rwanda days there is a gap for the time I went to Italy. Like any (ab)normal person, I brought my good camera to Africa and it was only when I went to Europe that I started worrying about getting it stolen. So I brought my ancient point and shoot film camera to Italy.

I also didn't remember that I had visited so many genocide memorials in Rwanda. They are such a tiny portion of my memories of those two years, but apparently I went to the one in Kibuye, at least, repeatedly. (And took the same photos every. single. time.)

I now have a set of about 10 photos that I think have possibility, and I'm googling things like "photo composition" because I haven't the first idea how to make a photo look good for such displays, particularly since I have a random desire to make the photos square. That part's not working out so well. Also, I wanted lots of reds and oranges, but it turns out that nature is more greens and blues.

And, for example, is this too boring? Too colorless? Please inform.

(Lalibela, Ethiopia - 2008)