29 June 2009


I spent the weekend at the beach. At the coast, really, for the beach here is nothing like the beach that I know. The beach I know is warm, and the waves roll in over your head. When I was small, I would pretend Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, and I loved most the moment when the wave curled over my head just before it broke. If you look up at that moment, the sun shines through the green water and the leading edge of white races up and over,and then down around you so you tumble in-out-up-down until the rumble settles in the shallow. I could spend hours in the water, jumping over waves and then diving under them.

I still can. In El Salvador in 2001, in Liberia in 2006, I frightened the friends who swam with me by my fearlessness in the waves. A beach should be warm, and there should be waves. I can forgive a warm beach for lack of waves (Kenya, Zanzibar, Florida), but I can hardly forgive a cold beach.

One doesn't go to the beach here to swim. Only small, shivering children swim, all blue around the edges, and people in wetsuits surf or kite-board. I watch them from the blustery shore and long to join them, to be amongst the waves as they crash, but I know myself. I hate being cold. I hate it more than almost any other sensation in the world. I would rather be in pain than cold.

I live near the wrong beach. This beach is for walking, for allowing nature its way, for putting your head down and marching into the wind, even on a sunny day. I think, as I walk, as I revel in the wind and the wild, that I am happy, but not content. Never content. There is another place, many other places, where I want to be. I want to run headlong into warm water. I want to learn to surf and to kite-board in warm water. I miss the tropics.

26 June 2009


When I come home from work, I basically cast myself upon the couch and do not move for an hour or two. I have just seriously no idea what I'm going to do when I have a job that requires lawyer hours. I mean, really. Even the 8-5 thing wears me down. And real lawyers? They work many more hours than that. When it's time to move on, I may have to just give up the whole lawyer thing, cast it up into the blowing wind and see where things land.


I rode my bike to work again today, which I do like very much better than riding the bus. There is no waiting for the bus, no guessing whether the bus or the train will come first and then missing the other, no stop-start-stop-getting-motion-sick. I just ride my little bike along the water, upright in the refreshing morning breeze. By the time I get to work, I am actually awake. Which is good, because I can stay awake, and bad, because I'm chattering maniacally about nothing. It's probably better for the rest of the world if I stay half-comatose all day long.

25 June 2009

bike person

I've always been vaguely skeptical of people who wake up early and get exercise before they go to work. Mornings are for sleeping, I feel. The more sleep, the better. These people, they have the choice between sleep and being mobile, at some hour that should not even exist. (There is no hour that starts with a 5 and has an a.m. after it. Even hours that start with a 6 and have an a.m. after them are suspicious.) So people have this choice, and they choose to be upright and, I don't know, running in circles? Biking without moving at all? Or whatever they do.

Plus, one needs food before exercising, clearly, and you can't really exercise immediately after eating, so you need to wake up at least 30 minutes before exercising.

People were just naturally made to get their exercise after work, I think. Morning is too early.

At the same time, I've always wanted to be one of those people who rides her bike to work. I'm a little scared of cars, and I don't like having helmet hair to start my day, but what's really been stopping me from riding my bike to work has been the getting up earlier factor. I get up more than early enough, mostly because I'm so so slow in the mornings. It takes me an hour to be awake.

But it's summer now, and it's light in the mornings, and the bus/train schedule has gotten ever more annoying, and I've been a few minutes late for work nearly every day due to said schedule, and so I broke down and set my alarm 15 minutes earlier, and rode my bike to work. Twice, now.

It's quite nice, actually, in the fresh morning air. Riding my bike to work takes almost exactly the same length of time as the bus or the train, due to run/walk/bike paths that take me almost all the way there. (Plus additional time to park, change, etc.)

The fact that the alarm goes off some mornings at 5:55? Not so good.

But I look at it thusly: if I ride my bike to work, and home from work, that is 30 minutes of exercise right there. So on the occasional - okay, frequent - evening that I am just too lazy to get any more exercise, I've already done it.

Plus? I'm now that person who lives in a city and rides her bike to work.

24 June 2009


(Goma, DRC - 2003)

Hiking through a burn felt strangely familiar. When I was little, J. and B. and R. and I would play in the freshly burned fields in Liberia. The earth was often still smoldering in places, and we would dig through the crumbling, burned grasses. We had to be careful where we walked, lest we melt our flipflops. It smelled the same as those scorched trees I hiked though last Saturday. I could smell their burned bark as I climbed over them, and the smell of burned wood was so very familiar.

Walking over a lava flow, I told S. about Goma, the town in Congo just across the border from Rwanda at the north end of Lake Kivu. "In Goma," I said, marching along in my sturdy hiking shoes, "Mt. Nyiragongo erupted in January of 2002, and the lava covered everything, up to the second floor of some houses. You can see the second floor windows with the lava spilled partially through. You can see gates that are covered in lava up to the last foot or so, and you drive on top of the lava. The strange thing is that in Rwanda, in much of Africa, most of the kids are barefoot. But in Goma the lava is sharp, so every little kid I saw had at least flipflops. Lava. LAH VAH. I like that word." The lava crunched under my feet, just like it did the first time I ever saw it, in Goma in 2003.

You can leave places, but they never do leave you.

23 June 2009

city escape

(National Forest, Gone West - 2009)

We escaped.

We slept next to a rushing stream, so loud that we might have been alone in the campground for all we could here of our neighbors, so loud that my ears rang when I walked away from it.

We walked across logs, arms out for balance, to explore little islands and far shores unreachable by road.

We walked through giant forests that smelled of dry pine, crushing the needles under our feet, and then we clambered over lava.

We lost the trail in a burn. Four or five years ago, it was a pine forest. Three or four years ago, it was aflame. Now the blackened trunks were eerie and alone above the first returning underbrush. The wind blew the tops of them, far above, while we climbed over and ducked under fallen logs. My jeans were black with soot. My legs were bruised from the stubs of the snapped-off branches, my hands layered with splinters and tiny cuts. The dead trunks were so high above us that it did not do to look up.* It made me feel small, and a part of something huge.

We stood at the top and looked out over the world. Tiny raindrops fell on us from a clear sky, and we never did solve the mystery of the water droplets falling without clouds. A plant? we speculated. Mist on the other side of the mountain? But there was no mist, and we felt the raindrops even with no plants nearby. "Am I crazy?" we asked one another. "I feel raindrops, and I see them on my skin, but there are no clouds at all."

* For scale, see S. in the photo above, down in the lower right-hand corner.

19 June 2009

c. 2000

The first time I left the US with any degree of independence was when I studied in Honduras in 2000. It was my fourth time leaving the US in a year and a half, but all the other trips had been almost completely structured and/or supervised. (Minus that one moment in Cote d'Ivoire when my dad went off to talk to someone in the airport and sent my brother and I out into the roiling crowd outside the Arrivals hall alone. Deep breath.) We had a study group in Honduras, too, but we were all living with different families and had a great deal of autonomy while in Tegucigalpa. Most of the time outside the city, at least initially, we traveled with the group, learning about development projects.

We arrived in Honduras in the middle of the week, and within an hour or two, we were parceled off to families. That weekend, we went for a hike outside the city.

I promptly lost my group.

We were at a waterfall, and I was sitting up on the side of the waterfall, pondering its prettiness and journaling. There were people around me, until there weren't, and when I went down to the pool at the bottom, a few people milling about told me that my group had gone on ahead. I took off sprinting down the path to catch up with them, landed on the side of my ankle, and tumbled onto the path. I sat for a moment, self-pitying, almost crying, until I could drag myself up and hobble back to the pool.

I ended up hiking back up over the mountains with that other group, which happened to be members of a gym in Tegus. I wore the sturdy hiking boots of a teacher from California (who switched shoes with me because her high boots would protect my bruised and swelling ankle) as we hiked away from my people. The gym group would not allow me, limping and alone, barely beginning to remember my high school Spanish, to take the turn I knew I needed to take to get back to my classmates. I wrote a note on a paper and propped it in the middle of the path for my friends, should they come looking. Then we hiked for three hours, uphill, to the other side of the park, when I should have hiked only the 45 minutes back down to the lodge.

My group realized I was gone when they assembled back at the lodge at lunch, but it was hours before I reached the opposite side of the park and the park rangers put me on the radio to tell our professors that I had survived. I suspect that their panic at the disappearance of a student was nearly as great as my panic at being lost in a new country. (Okay, it was greater. At least I knew that I was alive. They didn't.)

A few weeks later, I almost lost my group again at a lovely stream. I'm pretty sure that after the second time they nearly left me behind, the professors checked for me (and possibly only me) every single time we got back on the bus. I clearly could not be trusted in beautiful places with streams running through them.

It's funny to me, now, after so many years of independence in so many countries, to think that I did not just say, "No, this is my path. I know that it will take me back to my group, and I'm going to go down it now. I will be fine. Thanks for your help." That's what I would do now. But at the time, two or three days into a new country, on my own for the first time ever in a new country, I was too scared, even on a beautiful, peaceful trail.

17 June 2009

home alone

So, my parents are gone. I am sad to part with them and would like to keep them here waiting on me hand and foot (love coming home to clean dishes. love), but alas, they had to (so they claim) leave. Now I am back to whipping up five little containers of rice and beans to take to work with me for lunch instead of just taking the lunch as my mom handed it to me on the way out the door. Spoiled, much? (There was also the fact that they had a car and paid for everything. Sweet.)

Anyway, I'm back to my routine after an exhilarating five days of walks, waterfalls, and beaches. It's nice to sleep in a real bed again.

For various reasons, I may have to face that which I have been putting off for months: the decision about what to do next. My plan has been, for quite some time now, to ignore, ignore, ignore the need to make that decision. And it isn't that I can't keep doing what I'm doing, it's just that I may have to actively choose to keep doing it sometime soon (i.e., turn down something else), and that is more scary than just continuing to do it through sheer laziness.

I got a book out of the library, a book about humanitarian law (the law of armed conflicts, for you non-law people), and it reminded me of how much of my life I spent studying this stuff. Every paper I have written since 2001 (every paper whose topic I had the freedom to choose) has been about humanitarian law. It's been so much a part of my life for so long, and now it's just a book I take out of the library.

I have a dilemma: none of the jobs I really want to do exist here in Gone West. They are all somewhere else, generally across an ocean or two. And yet, I love living here. Except in the winter. (Which is most of the year.) And I also hate moving. And yet, I itch to go.

I guess that's really no different from the dilemma I've been facing since 2007.


Private note to the girl walking down the sidewalk in front of me today: if I can see the top band of your tights, your skirt is very likely too short. Either that or ditch the tights.

14 June 2009

my head has a hole in it

(Warning: this post is disgusting. Do not proceed if blood and guts bother you.)

For three years, I have had a bump on my head. It started during my last year of law school, as just a little hard bump that I scratched at sometimes. When I realized that it wasn't healing and going away, I stopped scratching at it and tried to let it be. I switched the part of my hair from the right side to the left so that the comb wouldn't irritate the bump, and it healed over.

I went off to Sudan, and then I came back and moved to Gone West, and I had no health insurance, and the bump grew slightly but not dramatically, and it wasn't until February of this year that I showed it to a doctor, who waved her hand and said it looked like a cyst of some sort, and to come back if it changed or started bothering me.

Yesterday it both changed and started itching. It seemed to be... oozing something. (I TOLD you it was disgusting!)

I made my dad look at it, right there on the top of my head. My parents lived in Liberia for ten years. It's hard to gross them out. They dug chiggers out of our feet. They soaked boils until the white center came out. I knew they could handle my head bump.

My dad emptied it of pus until no more would come, but it still itched. And itched. Finally, craning to see it in the mirror, I squeezed and something, um, hard began to emerge. Something that required a tweezers to remove it from my head. It was, from all appearances, a little white bean.

Now I have a little cavity in the top of my head, where the bean came out, and I'm not sure exactly what it was in my head. Options include:

  1. a cyst.
  2. something weird and tropical, probably picked up in Liberia, that is now finished and will go away.
  3. something weird and tropical, probably picked up in Liberia, that has now spawned and will be infecting my skin in other locations.
  4. something weird and tropical, probably picked up in Liberia, that has now spawned and will be invading somewhere inside my body.
I'm curious to find out. Not curious enough to cart the bean to the doctor to find out if it contains the larvae of some African fly or worm, but curious.

(Do not underestimate me, though. I do have the bean in my freezer in a ziploc. If it comes back, I need the evidence. These North American doctors need all the clues they can get when dealing with tropical diseases concerning which they generally live in happy oblivion.)

10 June 2009


I've been waiting all day for updates on my parents' exact location. They are driving from Michigan out to Gone West, and they did not detail their itinerary with sufficient specificity to satisfy me. So when they called at 3 pm, I sighed with relief. At last, I thought, at last they are going to use a cell phone for the purpose it was intended and update me on where they are.

But no. They were only calling for my legal advice.

People. I do not do traffic tickets.

Well, okay, I don't actually practice as a lawyer either. But I do know a bit about the laws of New State. Just not, you know, traffic laws, except what was covered in the booklet I studied to take the test for my New State driving license.

My advice was the same advice I've always given, the same advice I gave before I was a lawyer: go find the people with the power to handle it, and explain the situation in such a way that that person can best show his/her power by helping you.

Hey, it saved them $192.

And only delayed them by, er, two hours.

09 June 2009

Liberia & Uganda, today

I'm mostly happy with my life, but man... some days I just desperately want to go back.

08 June 2009


I really ought to post something about, I don't know, politics, so I can feel like I am contributing something to society. Mostly, however, my views about politics continue to consist primarily of scouting for photos of the First Family and then sighing in delight that Barack Obama is my President. I am not weeping every time I see him, anymore, but I'm still overwhelmed that he was elected in my lifetime. Today A. and I said his name a few times on the phone, just to hear it, just because it's so exciting that our President's name is Barack Obama.

I have some opinions about the Sotomayor nomination, too, namely: h3ll yes, a wise Latina will make better decisions as a Supreme Court justice than an old white guy will. Aside from the fact that the more diversity of perspective we have on the Court, the better, a Latina has had experiences that a white man will never have in this country. Namely, having been a part of the non-ruling group. You can be the smartest fracking white man in the country, but you will never have been a part of any group but the ruling one. You can be the most compassionate white man in the country, but you will never have anything more than empathy for people who experience daily discrimination. Empathy and experience are not the same thing. A panel made up of only white men are just not going to get it, much of the time.

See also: more qualified than basically anyone on the Court right now.

And anyone who thinks affirmative action got her into Princeton and Yale, has clearly not:
  1. Been to Princeton lately (it's a haven of white people and unbelieveably expensive).
  2. Gone to law school (it's a haven of white people and unbelieveably expensive, sometimes to the point that I thought they were deliberately making it close to impossible to attend if you were not wealthy), or
  3. Thought about this issue at all (if affirmative action is driving the education system in this country, why are most institutions of higher education so overwhelmingly white? Why are there so few black/Hispanic/Native American lawyers/doctors/scientists? I'll give you a hint: it's not because black/Hispanic/Native American students aren't smart. Trust me, I went to law school with some incredibly smart people of color, most of whom worked much, much harder than I did to get there. If you are worrying about who is taking spots, worry about the slacker not-so-smart legacy white kid who went to expensive schools and could spend his summers "volunteering" so his application would look good, so he could go to a good law school, so he could make a lot of money doing nonsensical corporate work, so he too could send his kids to expensive schools. Because trust me, I know him, too. And he's probably headed for the Supreme Court.).

(The swearing in this post: 100% deliberate. For effect. Thank you.)

04 June 2009


(Southern Sudan - 2007)

A storm is whipping about the branches of the trees outside my window. There is nothing quite like a good storm, as long as you are safely, warmly under a sturdy roof. Like everyone, I went through a stage when I was little when I was afraid of thunder and lightning. In my teens, we lived in a house with a huge tree right next to my bedroom, which had no attic. The first thing that tree would fall on, if it went down, was me. So I wasn't scared, exactly, but sometimes in very severe thunderstorms I would go sleep on the opposite side of the house.

It was when I moved to Rwanda that I first really encountered a thunderstorm alone. I loved them, even though I lived in a house nestled under a large steep hill that screamed "landslide." Sometimes I would hear the clatter of rocks as a little part of the hill slide down where it had been scooped out to make room for the house. I found the storms more comforting than scary, though.

The only time I have been afraid of a storm, as an adult, was in Sudan. The one-room tukuls we lived in had wide screen windows to let the breeze in, and I got stuck in my tukul instead of the more sheltered mess hall when the storm hit. There was literally no way to leave my tukul without being instantly soaked to the bone. I couldn't see the mess hall let alone walk the 50 meters to it. The yard turned to mud and the water collected in four-inch pools. The rain was blowing sideways into my windows. I thought the lightning was going to get me, seriously.

Oooh. I just saw a triple-forked lightning.

03 June 2009


I am obsessed with the weather. Not with checking the weather, just with living in it. Weather is approximately the most boring thing one can possibly write about, especially when it's the same 15 days in a row, but I am so enjoying this weather that I want to write over and over about how perfect it is, how I'm alive, how good it is to be alive in these clear, perfect days.

Because it is.

It's also past my bedtime - 10:15, tonight - but I am trying to write something, anything, these days, because otherwise I build up the pressure to write a good post and then I never do. Time is scarce. I blame my lack of blogging time today on the following: cleaning my horrifically dirty apartment, too much playing on the internet, and taking too many pictures of flowers while out on a walk. I am allergic to these flowers, or something like them, and I have nothing more than a little point and shoot Canon, but I seek them out and take photo after photo, crouching by someone's flowerbed. "No, not a stalker, not at all! Ignore the girl in the flowerbed with the camera!" Ha. Sigh.

01 June 2009


I just made muffins using yogurt that had mold on it. The internet says to THROW AWAY yogurt with mold on it, but I have a very casual relationship to dairy products. This is what happens when you live in cow cultures for a while, in places without refrigeration. If ikivugutu is fine, moldy yogurt ought to be too, right?

Only once in my life has dairy made me sick, and that was in New York in 2006. (It was the first time I barfed since 1990 that did not involve the accidental ingestion of pain relievers on an empty stomach. It was exciting.)

So I think this yogurt ought to be fine in muffins. I did scoop off the mold. Plus it was blue mold. Isn't that penicillin or something?

I will let you know if I cause wide-spread food poisoning by this.