26 April 2009

allergy medicine makes me sleepy

I read an entire book between Friday and Saturday, and when I finished it I was gloomy, because the book was gloomy. If there were ever a book that could throw one into depression, it would be Life as We Knew It. I read it alone in my apartment, all in a row, and when I finished, I was not quite sure that there still was a world outside my window. Note to self: Do not read end-of-the-world type books while alone and not feeling that well. Ugh.

Great debate: is it better to take allergy medicine and feel a little better (also, sleepy) or to avoid it and assume that avoiding it will encourage my body to stop reacting so violently to pollen more quickly?

I went to a bridal store yesterday with two friends, because S. had to try on bridesmaid's dresses for our college friend J.'s wedding this summer. While she was in the dressing room, A. and I wandered around mocking the dresses. Well, it was by accident at first. I said, "These dresses are hideous," quite loudly and, okay, only half inadvertently, and then after that there was no point in doing anything but making fun of them.

Primary issue: the straplessness. What on earth gave us the idea that strapless gowns were the way to go? Chances are about 99.8/100 that a strapless gown will either 1. dig into your back flub, or 2. gape open in the front so your entire guest list will see your boobies. And yet 99% of the gowns in the store were strapless. Why? Really, why? I am launching a campaign against strapless wedding dresses.

Secondary issue: the poofiness. This was actually less bad than I expected. Wedding gown skirts have been toned down in recent years. I have seen wedding gowns whose skirts caused the bride to look like a bell that you could pick up by her head sticking out of the puff on the bottom. It's like people don't want to have a figure at all.

I was somewhat placated by the tiny section of dresses with straps. And the fact that the poofiness now tends more toward swooping out lower down than puffing straight out at waist level. Still, I wanted to warn off the two brides who were trying on dresses, one of whom was caressing the (strapless) dress she was wearing, cooing (cooing, yes), "I don't want to take it off!"

Step away from the strapless, ladies.

But then I morosely said to A., as we were leaving, "Just watch, I will totally end up being the girl who buys a poofy, strapless dress. I sicken myself already."

In other news, I did not get carded while buying beer for beer cheese bread today. Sketchy. Does that mean that I look over 35 (over 40? whatever it is), or just that no one under 21 would bother to try to buy bad beer at 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon in a crowded store?

24 April 2009

(splutter, mutter, grumble)

Yesterday morning, when I woke up, one of my eyes (the left) looked like someone had punched me. Except without the discoloration. So, swollen. I could barely open my eye. The swelling went down after a while and I looked again like an un-punched human being, except maybe a little more tired than usual. I didn't think much of this, because there was some suspiciously hormonal weeping that occurred around bedtime the night before.

This morning, when I woke up, one of my eyes (the right) looked like someone had punched me. Except without the discoloration. There had been no suspiciously hormonal weeping the night before.

I occasionally manage to make logical deductions from the facts, and the one I have drawn goes like this:

pollen + (sinus headache that gets worse when I go outside for any length of time) + itchy eyes + scratchy throat + swollen eyes + (extreme weariness by 7 pm) + (constantly running nose) =

%$#&^ (splutter, mutter, grumble)

(Don't you think I should be a doctor? I am so good at diagnosing things. Actually, many people recently have told me I should be a doctor, and I tell them that they are right. I should have gone to medical school. Law school was a mistake. If I win the lottery, I will go to medical school. In between trips around the world.)

Anyway, back to my ALLEGED allergies. I am personally offended by this. I do not travel the world, exposing myself to various scary tropical diseases, just to be allergic to the Pacific Northwest. There are real things to fight off in this world, and POLLEN is not one of them. This is an utter waste of an immune system. I'll show you Things To Fight Off, silly body of mine.

Up until yesterday, I was hoping that the sniffling-sneezing-achy head (so you can rest) - oh, wait, that's a cold medicine - the general allergy-like symptoms were going to be reduced this year, as my body got used to the grass/pollen/etc. here. Last year, though, I never woke up with my eyes swollen shut. I guess that's a bad sign.

Apparently I am not meant to live in the grass-seed capital of the world. At least, not without serious pharmaceutical intervention. Good to know. I think I shall apply for jobs in Africa.

I was already doing that, actually. The fact that I'm not allergic to Africa is just an additional benefit.


Do you see this farmland? I'm not allergic to it.

(Itabire, Rwanda; 2003)

I am ALSO not allergic to these calla lilies growing wild:

(Gikongoro, Rwanda; 2003)

Furthermore, I am not allergic to this grass or these impatiens:

(Elsewhere, Southern Sudan; 2007)

I might be allergic to that spelling, though.

It makes me want to temper with those flowers, even if I'm not exactly sure how one tempers with flowers.

On second thought, I don't think I do want to temper with the flowers. They might win.

19 April 2009


I am slowly re-hydrating and recovering from five hours of hiking. It was sunny. And therefore it was hot. For a while hot was nice, as it is at the end of a seemingly interminable winter, and then it became just hot. But the wildflowers are blooming, right now, and the trees were covered in lichen, and in the piney woods, the air smelled like sun-warmed pine needles.

Really, though, even when it got almost too hot, the hot was still nice. It was nice to walk in the sun and nice to sit in the shade.

I am noticing an interesting phenomenon as I approach thirty, and I can't quite decide whether to blame it on growing older/up or on Gone West or on the five notebooks of thinking I have filled since I moved here. The phenomenon is this: I am finally able to enjoy the things I am doing while I am doing them, instead of living in my head, instead of thinking of everything that could be different to make perfect the thing I am doing. I am finally able to go for a hike and not wish that I was on a different continent or with a different person or doing something different. I am learning, as they say, to be fully present in the moment. I am not sure how I am learning this, but I am grateful.


While writing that, my computer went all blue screen of death on me, and when it restarted, I got a message offering me five things I could try to prevent the blue screen of death. I think I shall opt, however, for the sixth option: try not to catch your foot in the computer cord and knock the laptop off the table flat onto the ground. (I mean the flat literally, by the way. It fell open completely flat like a rectangular computer pancake.) That should fix it.

16 April 2009


I was over in the cursed wasteland of suburbia last Saturday, "helping" a friend shop for a washer and dryer for her new house.

Shopping for a washer and dryer went like this:

Me: Oooh, look at the red one. And this color is called chai! I like this one.
Friend: What should we be looking at?
M: I don't know, cubic feet or something?
F: This washer is 4.5 cubic feet, and the dryer is 7.5 cubic feet. And it's really energy and water efficient. Wait, why is the dryer so much bigger than the washer?
M: I think the clothes in the dryer need space to fall around. That's a technical term, fall around.
[The parties drift toward another row of appliances.]
M: This one is only 6.7 cubic feet. Do you need such a big one?
F: Not right now, but what if I adopt kids from Ethiopia? Then I'll need a big one.
M: True.
[Salesperson approaches.]
Salesperson: Can I help you with anything?
F: No, we're just looking.
[Salesperson leaves.]
M&F, virtually simultaneously: This is boring. Let's go get coffee.
M: I really am a feminist, but seriously, this is why men exist: so you can send them shopping for things like appliances. I just can't bring myself to care that much about dryer capacity.
[The parties exit Se@rs and locate the nearest St@rbucks.]

At some point in the day, I realized that we might far enough out of my normal range of travel that perhaps the Dutch store was nearby. (It's all just the far side of town, to me. The WRONG side of town. The boring side of town.) After prolific googling by the staff at the home repair store, where we bought nothing but did play with the paint color selector computer, we found the Dutch store, just around the corner, and I bought some aged real imported gouda for $17.99 a pound.

The whole point of this story is to tell you that I think I ate, tonight alone, 1/2 of the 0.6 pounds of gouda that I bought last Saturday. I feel deliciously sick. That cheese just has no equal.

15 April 2009

spring awakening

For months and months, I've been hibernating. Even when people suggested interesting sounding things to do in the (dark) evenings, I could not summon the energy to do them. Because I was tired. And it was dark. And I was tired. And it was cold. And I was tired.

Wah, wah, wah.

I went out after work today, for the first time in a very long time. I ate garlic fries and drank a mojito and laughed. We told stories. I told the story about the p*nis p1ercing. (Don't ask. I can only assure you that it was law-related and had nothing to do with my personal life.)

I felt like I was waking up, finally, slowly.

On the way home, walking along the water, the sky was big enough, clear enough, to be a dome again. The clouds flitted around the edges. The dark was coming from one direction and the light leaving in the other.

The man sitting in front of me on the train started a conversation with the man across the aisle, who had joined the army in 1944 as a 16-year-old. "I lied about my age," the man across the aisle said, in his jacket with military patches, holding his little US flag straight up on his knee "and there was a 14-year-old who enlisted the same day, but he had the option of the branches and he went into the navy. I was stuck in the army because my vision was 20/30 and I was underweight."

He explained how he'd been in the *** Airborne, in France and then in Germany and Austria with the Allied Occupation. "We were headed to the Pacific," he said, "but they dropped the bomb on Nagasaki and the war was over. It was the best day of my life. I was terrified to go to the Pacific."

He talked about his plane, the one he jumped out of, and how he saw one fly over this morning and he knew it by the sound of the engine, so familiar. As I got off the train, he was explaining the training they got, and how many men could not make the first jump off the tower, how that weeded out so many men.

13 April 2009

church stories

When I was little in Liberia, I went to church one Sunday in a relatively large church on the road to Monrovia. I went with my dad, who was a minister and therefore sat up front with the other important people. I usually sat with my mom among the women, but I was alone, so I sat in the back with all the kids, and, as kids do, I squirmed and talked to the kids around me. I fought to keep my headtie on slippery white-girl hair (in order to keep it on, if you have slippery white-girl hair, you have to tie it so tight that your head hurts), and I am sure I said know-it-all things to the kids around me, because I was a know-it-all. After a while, the guy with the big stick came by and whacked everyone a few times to make us shut up. He hit everyone except me, because I was white and immune, even though I was likely the squirmiest. Fortunately, I was also easily quashed in the face of disapproval from adults, and I am fairly certain that I was silent and careful for the rest of the service. At least, silent and careful when he could see me.

Another time, in another church along the road to Monrovia, or maybe the same one, my mom and brother and sister and I sat along the side of the raised platform at the front. My dad was preaching in Bassa by then, and he kept leaning down and pointing at something on the ground, raising great sheets of laughter. "What were you doing?" I asked, afterwards, and he told me he was talking about how God must have laughed, peering down at the tiny humans trying to build the Tower of Babel, trying to build something that would reach the heavens.

Our last Easter in the country, in 1990, we went to a service that was four hours long, all in Bassa. I set a goal for myself to sit perfectly still, and I did, not even nibbling at the hourly Wilhemina peppermints my mom doled out. Usually I could make each peppermint last at least an hour by first biting off little crumbs of the edge around the Queen's face and then working my way through the middle. This time I sat perfectly still, not moving or shifting or wiggling, except for the songs. It was a relief to stand up and clap, and to follow the songs, and to say the Lord's Prayer, in Bassa. "Abba vneh..."

When we came back to the US, we had to speak at churches, and my dad wanted me to read the story of Jonah in Liberian English. I was nearly eleven, and I was tired of being the odd person in a thousand different churches on two continents. I refused to read it until he started trying to read it himself. If there was anything that embarrassed me as a kid, it was listening to adults try to mimic Liberian English. (It still makes me just slightly lose it - I have a very low tolerance for those international, I mean, ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY US AMERICAN workers in Liberia who get all excited about how they are "learning" Liberian English. I have to literally stick my fingers in my ears and hum to tune it out. IT'S NOT A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE, AND YOU SOUND STUPID. Er. Did I say that out loud? It's just that I spoke that way from the time I could form words. And nobody works on "learning," say, Ugandan English. It just isn't done. Pick up some phrases, sure, but keep the accent you have.) So when my dad started reading the Jonah story in Liberian English, I snatched the paper from him and said I would read it, and I did. "Jonah was a prophet. Jonah head be hard. Jonah head be hard toooo much."

12 April 2009

rainy afternoon

We looked out the window in the afternoon and it was pouring rain. It seldom rains like that Gone West, where "rain" tends to be more like "mist." Rain was pounding down and leaping up from the sidewalk. It was almost tropical.

I miss rain like that. I miss violent weather. It doesn't rain hard here, and it doesn't get hot, and it doesn't thunder and lightning, and it's all so mild. I like my weather to be a little more threatening. I like feeling a little scared of the wind and the rain and the thunder and the waves.

S. pointed out a job opening in Sudan for an organization I know and love, and then we went to church. I spent much of the Easter service doodling about it, drawing sketch maps of Juba and writing things like, "$$$," because Juba is.

The pastor said, "Everyone needs community," and I wrote that in my scribbling, too. Because we do.

And that, my friends, may or may not be the very problem.

07 April 2009


I am that person in my French class, that annoying person who sits forward in her chair and mouths the answers to herself while other people are responding and has comments about everything. I bother even myself.

I'm going to have to tone that down next week, especially as it becomes clear that I cannot read French out loud. I know what the words are and what they mean, but the words on the paper and the words as spoken are completely different in my head. It's like I'm learning two languages at once.

And it's one thing to be a gunner, as we call those over-eager people in law school, and it's another to be a gunner who gets everything wrong.

Our French teacher spoke today about the disdain the French and the Belgians feel for one another, and I have a story to tell about Belgian snobbery.

SN Brussels, the Belgian airline, is run like a colonial airline. The attitude of the flight attendants seems to be that they really only allow non-Belgians on the planes because, unfortunately, they have to make money, and they really only allow Africans on the planes because, unfortunately, the rest of the world would scorn them if they were quite that discriminatory. But you can see, in the way they look at their customers, that they WISH they could be that discriminatory.

I am not a fan.

Since the flight attendants on my SN Brussels flight to Dakar and then Monrovia three years ago would not allow me to sit in the entirely empty row of seats I found, I was forced to wander the plane. I can't sit still all hemmed in for eight hours. It is just not possible. So I was wandering the plane, and I happened to be standing just next to the bathroom when a very handsome young Senegalese man came out smelling strongly of smoke.

Somehow, I thought that there would be loud alarms if one smoked in a restroom on a plane, but apparently not. There was no alarm. The very handsome young Senegalese man looked at me, smiled, winked, and put his finger to his lips for silence, and I smiled and nodded.

A few minutes later, a flight attendant came by and smelled the smoke and began to investigate. "Someone has been smoking in the lavatory," he said, "It is very forbidden. You have been standing here for quite some time," he said to me, aggravated. "Did you see who was smoking? It is illegal."

This was the same guy who had banned me from the entirely empty row of seats. I looked at him and shrugged.

Yeah, that guy ought to have been a little nicer to his customers, especially if he was going to ask them to police one another. The smoker was nicer to me than he was.

"You must have seen the person," the flight attendant insisted. "Who was smoking? It is forbidden to smoke on the aircraft."

"There have been a lot of people in and out of there," I said, shrugging again at 35,000 feet, somewhere over Mauritania.

06 April 2009

growing things

If I could bottle up days like this, I would. I would put the bottle on my shelf and admire the light shining through its amber glass, and on cold gray winter days I would take it down and open it, just a little, and inhale the fresh smell of earth and growing and pollen. And then I would probably sniffle and blow my nose for the rest of the day, and my eyes would water. Good times.

I am drinking local honey in hot water again, hoping for some bodily adjustment to this part of the world.

It's worth it, though, for days like this. I sat in the park at lunch, feeling the cool breeze on my back and the sun on my face. Summer is coming, slowly but surely. The springs are so long and cool here, but these days crop up periodically to give us hope and life.


I am attempting to grow plants from cuttings. This is a big step. I could never keep plants alive at all before I moved to Gone West. I think I generally forgot to water them. But when I moved here, I bought a jasmine plant, and then I bought a little palm, and then I got a mint plant, and then someone gave me a rosemary plant. Periodically, I nearly kill them, especially the mint, by leaving the blinds closed too many days in a row or neglecting to water them. (How is it possible that the mint keeps drifting near death? As R. said, "Isn't mint a WEED?" Why yes. I very nearly kill a weed, a weed that I am trying to keep alive, on a regular basis.)

But I have kept at least one plant alive for over a year, so I am taking a big risk. I got some cuttings of a strange bumpy-leaved plant from someone at work, and I bought some root-grow stuff and I had the potting soil that S. gave me, and I am trying to grow the cuttings into plants.

Hopes ought not be high, but I am ever the (secret) optimist. And it's been nearly a week and they are all three still standing tall in the dirt, not crumpled over in a dead heap, so I am hoping cautiously. If this works, there will be great rejoicing.


but in the end
what leaves you broken
in the end
makes you better...

~plumb, better.

01 April 2009


I have joined a French class. I had to do something. Life starts to feel so all-the-same here in the USA. (Side note: in Tanzania, there is a town called Usa River. Very confusing. It makes me want to read the name of the country in which I was born as oooouuuusa.) Anyway, without the daily chaos that is life in a not-so-risk-averse country, I get bored. Sleep, bus, work, bus, internet, sleep. It's fortunate that my job is interesting and ever-changing, or it would all be very tedious. Taking French feels like I am moving forward. (So does applying for jobs in other countries, but that's a whole different topic.)

I went to my first French class yesterday. It was held in a rather elderly high school building, and there were photographs on the wall of sports teams dating back 50 years. It even smelled like school. We sat at chairs with desks attached, all of us continuing learners, only now we all try to sit in the front, books open, eager to learn. I worried about the class being too easy or too hard, but it was just perfect: a good review of passé composé and some new vocabulary. (Good news! This teacher is going to teach us how to swear. FINALLY.)

I had forgotten how fun French is. I leaned forward in my seat, trying to catch everything, finally seeing in writing things that I already say instinctively, thanks to conversations in Rwanda. I am usually a visual person. I want everything written down so I can remember it. Languages, though, I somehow remember by spoken patterns. I can hear when they are right or wrong, even if I can't define why. It came back, slowly, and I felt myself beaming as I listened to the teacher speak. I wanted to leap up and say, "I understand everything he's saying!"

At one point in the middle of class, I felt the world spin around me and I was two places at once. I was in the metal and plastic desk in an old US high school classroom round and I was in a wooden desk in a round open-air Rwandese university classroom. I took a French class in Rwanda, at the Kigali Health Institute, five days a week after work. I think I have mentioned this before, but on the first day of class, the first sentence we learned to say was, "Nous sommes pauvres." We are poor.

It was not true. Every person in that class was comfortable, by Rwandese standards. We were NGO workers and civil servants and lawyers and church leaders, Rwandese and Kenyan and Ugandan and Malawian and US American (um, that would be me), and we could afford to pay for a fairly expensive class. I am still sad that we learned that phrase first. (Now that I think about it, though, maybe it was a complaint on the teacher's part about his pay. Ha.)

Sitting in class last night, I felt disparate pieces of my life coming together and tearing asunder. I was thrilled to be speaking French, but I couldn't stop feeling that I was speaking it in the wrong place. Wrong country, wrong classroom, wrong continent.

I was disappointed to walk outside into the cold with the sound of traffic instead of into the warm air with the lapping sound of the waves on the lake and the bell-like sound of my favorite frogs. But not too disappointed. I was too happy for that. Sorrow and happiness coexist, always.