30 July 2009


I used to read every word I came across. Interesting, boring, fascinating, I read them all. My question was: does it contain words? If so, I read it. Back of the cereal box? Read that. Theological magazine that happened to be on the desk? Read that. Poorly written book about something I didn't care about? Read that, too.*

Even during law school, I had a book propped up on the bathroom counter while I curled my hair. "If you don't read in law school," we were warned ominously when we started, "you will never pick up reading again."** No problem there. I read several non-law books a week during law school, even during exams.

I still read an awful lot of words every day. Most of my books end up with crinkled pages because I hunch over them while I take out my contacts and contact solution splashes onto them. I have easily 500 blogs that I read regularly to semi-regularly. I read books at a pace of one every one or two or three days, even with work and exercising and having friends. I don't read everything anymore, though. If a book is poorly written, I cast it aside. I haven't bothered with the side of my Nature's Path*** cereal box (admittedly, though, I am always reading a book while slurping up my cereal). I have books on my actual bookshelf, mostly books I picked up on the clearance second-hand table at That Big Bookstore, that I have not read. Some of them have been there for entire months.

Shall we just pretend that I have become more discriminating in the things I read?

The problem is the library, the wonderful, wonderful library. Also, the internet. Not because I spend too much time on the internet (although I do), but because the internet suggests so very many books to me. Every time someone on the internet mentions a book or I read an interesting article by someone who wrote a book, I put it on hold at the library. And the books just keep coming. I picked up two today and another one will be there tomorrow. Even I, voracious reader of the beautiful words, cannot keep up. After all, I also have 500 people's lives to keep up on. So now, if a book takes too long to get into and the three week loan period comes up, it goes back to the library unread. I can't even renew them, most of the time, because there are people in line behind me to read them.

There is a little part of me that feels guilty about this. I am missing out on potentially readable WORDS. It is practically against my moral principles to miss words that could be read. On the other hand, not all writing is well-done, and I am reading more on a wider variety of topics here than ever before. I love this library. If I knew how to take a screen-shot of my Hold list at the library, I would. I read books about religion and atheism, politics, international development, humanitarian law, how feminism has killed off love and passion, the Quiverfull movement, how the "purity myth" is oppressing young women in the US, careers, adoption, Mormonism, travel, Africa, the South Pacific, blogging, and really, anything else that sounds even moderately interesting.

Come to think of it, I really don't miss the days when I was so hard up for words to read that I read cereal boxes. Nor do I miss the days in Rwanda when I read each of my twenty or so books at least 20 times. Nor do I miss the days in Southern Sudan when I read each of my six books twenty or so times. (Dear Anne Lamott: Blue Shoe is possibly the best book every written, and it kept me alive in Southern Sudan, but I'm sorry, I haven't been able to read it since. I think after the 25th or so reading, I needed a break.)

* I drew the first line, I think, at the Purp0se-Dr1ven L1fe. Man, that book sucked. I had never before encountered such awful writing. Tip: Get a ghost-writer, please. Then there was The D@v1nc1 C0de. Worst writing ever. The dialogue... It physically pains me to remember it.
** I think they were assuming you would work insanely long hours at a law firm. If you are me, and you skip that route entirely, there is plenty of time for reading. The trade-off is that you are perpetually broke.
*** Heritage Whole Grain flakes. So delicious. And to think, in college I ate Lucky Charms three meals a day. (NO, why would I be kidding?) The thought of that kind of sweetness now kind of makes me want to barf. Apparently taste buds do grow up. Exhibit B: the raspberries and blueberries that I am now SNARFING. I grew up hating berries.

Now I have to go pack. I am leaving tomorrow morning for three new states (!!), one of which includes Yellowstone National Park, a place that has been shamefully missing from my travels thus far. I shall not internet, though, for an entire week. I don't think.

29 July 2009

"it's still not as hot as southern sudan"

The only thing people talk about these days in Gone West is the heat, and I am that well-loved person who cheerfully says, as we walk out into the rush of hot air, "It's still not as hot as Southern Sudan." It isn't as hot as Southern Sudan. I mean, technically, by the thermometer, it might be, but it doesn't feel as hot. This is a function of trees tall enough to provide actual shade + lack of humidity + air-conditioning in many buildings that you can duck into cool off + roofs that are made of something other than tin + windows that open + availability of cool beverages.

About three weeks after I arrived in Southern Sudan, I sat, sweating, one evening, and tried to remember what it felt like to drink something cool. I could not. I had forgotten what cool water felt like in my throat, or ice cream, or basically anything at a temperature other than room temperature (at 100+ degrees F). When I had soft serve strawberry ice cream a few weeks later in Juba (I don't even like strawberry ice cream), I willed myself to remember the sensation of eating something cold, so I could take it back with me.

You get used to lack of cool things, though. After a few more weeks, I found the barely-cooled mango Vita at the little store in downtown Tiny Little Town as satisfying as any ice water I've ever had, when combined with a rickety wooden bench and a sunset.

When I step out into the sun now, here, in these brilliantly hot, dry days, I lift my face to the sky while those around me run for shade. I tried to sit in the sun on a metal bench in the park, but it was too hot. It burned me even though my clothes.

I've been to the K.'s pool twice this week. Last night it was still 98 degrees (37-ish, for you Celsius people) at 7 p.m., and I laid back on an octopus floaty, my head resting against its maniacal face, its wide mouth grinning like something off the midway at a carnival, and floated around in circles.

I would take years of this weather over one single winter.

25 July 2009

heat of the day

I left my bike at work last night because I was going out with friends, and I went to pick it up in the heat of the day today. I intended to go for a long ride along the water, but after I rode the train to the library to pick up a book that was not yet available and then walked to work and then rode my bike home along the waterfront that was packed with annoying hordes of people, I was already dehydrated. So I gave up.

When I switched my wallet and phone to a different purse this afternoon, in order to go out for the evening, I found, in the pocket, a folded blue card. I opened it up to see my photo, a few pounds heavier from the stress eating of law school, staring out at me. It was my SPLM/SPLA* travel permit from Southern Sudan.

This was the purse I used in my final semester of law school, and through Nairobi and Southern Sudan. I finally learned my lesson and brought a cute purse with me instead of the annoying supposedly-hard-to-steal travel bags so many tourists carry. So I was that person with a cute purse next to the dugout canoes on the Nile. It held my camera and money just as well, oh you skeptics who believe travel gadgets and gizmos are necessary, as that silly money pouch that everyone knows you are wearing under your shirt. (P.S. We also laugh at you when you wear your backpack backwards. Why don't you just wear a t-shirt that says, "I AM A TOURIST, AND THERE IS SOMETHING VALUABLE IN THIS BAG"? I once saw people doing this in the airport in Nairobi. I cannot come up with a reason to wear your backpack on the front of your body in the Nairobi airport. I just can't.)

I was just having a discussion again today with a friend about how US Americans dress overseas in ripped khakis, stained t-shirts, and flipflops because they think POOR PEOPLE WON'T NOTICE BECAUSE THEY ARE POOR and I got annoyed all over again at the thoughtlessness and disrespect my countrypeople so often show the rest of the world.

I am currently contemplating how I need to buy some cute sandals for my next trip out of the country. I don't need them here - my crappy Tevas will do, because no one cares what I wear here. But for travel, I have two new dresses already, and I'm hunting for shoes. (Okay, fine, there is a wedding involved in this trip. And no, not my wedding.)

My next trip is a little less than two months away, fortunately.

Fortunately because my passport is empty right now, and that bothers me. It itches and irks. I need to get started filling it. (Funny. The first stamp in this passport, as in the last, will be from Latin America, even though most of my travel in life is to Africa.)

Fortunately also because I feel stuck. Something needs to give, and perhaps a trip will help it along.

* Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Sudan People's Liberation Army, the people generally in charge in Southern Sudan.

22 July 2009


I was dragging myself out the door to go to Spanish class last night, ever so reluctantly (because I was tired, not because I don't like Spanish class), when the phone rang.

"What are you doing?" S. asked.

"I'm just leaving for Spanish class," I said, "unless there's something better going on."

Some people from her church were going sailing, she said, and I was invited.

I threw Spanish class out the window and went sailing.

I'm not sure I've ever actually gone sailing before. It's amazing how quickly the sound of the motors on other boats become a nuisance as you sail quietly along, your boat only producing the noise of water on the hull. We sailed away from the sunset and then back into it, the two canvas sheets rising above us. D. tried to explain the vacuum that sucks the boat into the wind. Physics class seemed ever so long ago.

Planes took off nearly overhead. I craned my neck back to look at them, because that's what I do. I cannot see a plane without watching it.

The wind got cold, and I wrapped myself in the cloth from Tanzania that has followed me around the world, thick enough to keep me warm, but thin enough to dry quickly. A., who grew up as a missionary kid in Nigeria, commented on it and asked where it was from. A. and D. reminded me that they've been to Liberia.

"We were there in 1988," they said, "a year before the war."

The world is so small.

It was dark when we arrived back at the marina, and a little duck, separated from his mother by our boat, peeped frantically until she came around the boat and rescued him. He arched his back out of the water in glee.

A blue heron stalked along the dock.

20 July 2009


Something has been bothering me, and that something is the fact that once one is an adult, apparently summer is no more. It's nice out and all, but I can't really enjoy it, not like I did when I was in school. When I was in school, summer was a big change. It was free of all the I-should-be-doings, and the pace changed completely. Now it's just more of the same. Oh, I've been to the beach. I've been camping. I ride my bike to work. But it's not the same as those few long days after the end of school, before the beginning of a job, when everything is finally, finally done, and all that remains is to start something new.

This is my second grown-up summer, and I don't like it. (I should have had three grown-up summers between college and law school, but for the first one I was working with kids, so the schedule changed for their sake, and for the other two I was in Rwanda, where summer was eternal.) Last year was my first real grown-up summer, but I hardly noticed it because Gone West was all still so new. Now Gone West is familiar, and the forever-sameness of the days brings nostalgia. I wish for a real, slow summer, with lots of long, boring days full of trips to the library and reading on the porch.

19 July 2009

phone call

I woke up this morning to a phone call from a long number that ran off the screen. Africa, I thought, and it was. Satellite phone, I thought, and it was. It was an old friend calling from N'Djamena, Chad.

I had almost forgotten that I have friends in most African crisis zones. It is really a very small world, this relief work business, and you inevitably run into the same people on opposite sides of the continent. I was sitting in a Thai restaurant in Monrovia, once, when a girl at a table across the patio looked familiar. We eyed one another from afar for a while, and finally she came over and we recalled that she had done an internship in my little town in Rwanda three years before. She was working in Sierra Leone.

I hung up the phone this morning and started looking for international jobs, and caught myself staring at an advertisement for one in the very place I promised myself I would not go, not without serious changes in myself: Southern Sudan.

The friend who I talked to this morning is looking at going to Darfur next, and I pointed out mutual friends of ours who have already been there, and I realized that there really is nowhere new. Anywhere I go, I might run into someone I already know.

18 July 2009

it's late

Life is tripping along pleasantly. There is evening and there is morning. There is sun and there is cloud. There is too-hot-to-take-a-walk and then there is the fortunate realization that riding a bike involves a built-in cooling mechanism. Namely, wind. Until the way back, when the wind is in your face and you have to pedal twice as hard to get half as far. The dehydration begins to set in.

Fortunately, I headed to dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant immediately afterward, where I gulped down several glasses of water and diet Coke. And then spent the rest of the night finding restrooms once the necessary hydration levels were met and exceeded. The Ethiopian food was, I have to say, at its best tonight. I have a preferred Ethiopian restaurant, because I am a snob about the injera, because it has to be made out of tef, not rice, and it must not have those lumps. I have no patience for the thick parts on bad injera. When I was in Rwanda (have I told this story 1 million times before?), when I drove to Kigali, almost weekly, I was often commissioned to pick up injera from the house of an Ethiopian family with an Ethiopian maid and bring it back to Kibuye for my friend B. Since I love and adore Ethiopian food, I would come back to Kibuye with the injera and hold it ransom until I received an invitation to help eat it. One day, looking at the wot that we were eating with the injera (ok, I was eating around the meat, anyway), I said, "Those don't look like cow bones."

"They aren't." B. said. "They are goat."


I hate goat meat. I know, I know. Not only is goat the staple meat in Rwanda, but I worked on a goat project. I refused to eat the very product I was selling. But here's the problem: there were these goats, early in my time in Rwanda. They were all crowded into a small space, and the stench was incredible. Goat has a very particular smell. I can sniff out goat a few hundred meters and several turns away. So there was this stench in the small crowded space, this incredible stench of goats, and goat meat, to me, smells like that stench. It's just not edible.

Another time, I was invited to lunch at the house of a lovely Ethiopian family in Kigali. The lunch turned out to be goat. Not wot, oh no. I can stick to the sauce in wot and just eat around the meat. Oh no, this was tibs. Tibs are essentially chunks oh meat. Sauceless chunks oh meat. For someone who dislikes goat and is practically a vegetarian but is a guest in someone's house, this is very, very painful. The family was lovely, so I had to attempt to also be a lovely person and eat the goat without making faces, which was clearly harder for me than for them. (The being lovely, I mean, not the goat-eating. I assume they liked the goat.) I am not naturally one of those people you meet and then say, "Oh, she is lovely." It's much more likely that you will say, "Man, we could NOT shut that girl up. Why was she telling all those stories about Africa? I mean, she's nice, but... Africa, Africa, Africa." But this family really was lovely, all kind and considerate. (Some people really are lovely. Others of us are naturally less graceful. We have to work at it.)

This is not at all where I intended this post to go. The point is that I ate some really excellent Ethiopian food today, even more excellent than the excellent food that this excellent restaurant normally produces, and I appreciated it even more than normal because I was tired and hungry from fighting the wind on my bike ride.


The other point is that life is pleasant but sort of boring. It's all very nice, but things are so much the same day after day. Fortunately, I am about to embark on spending all my (already non-existent) money on trips around the world, so that should spice things up. For a week or two at a time. And hey. HEY. This is why I have less than $100 to get me through the rest of the month: priorities. I have to pay bills and eat and save a little, and after that, travel is fair game. I look at it this way: I can have a car, or I can travel. DECISION MADE. I have got to add a continent to my list this year.

I need to go to bed. I am at that stage right now that used to require Mountain Dew, back when I could stand the taste of Mountain Dew, and hey, look! Once you reach the ripe old age of 30(ish), you can become delirious without even drinking Mountain Dew. All you have to do is stay up past midnight.

16 July 2009

because i have no story to tell

The African guys are playing football in the park again. I sit and watch them from the hillside, listening to their shouts, in English and the occasional French. One guy has his shirt pulled back over his head so he's wearing it only on his arms and shoulders. The look is so familiar to me, as familiar as the neighborhood boys when I was growing up in Liberia, but I can't remember if it is familiar from Liberia or Rwanda or African television. I watch them pass the ball and feint, trying to get past a defender. I watch them with such longing, such heartsickness, that I think it must be obvious on my face, even from the field.


I'm still learning to like berries. I waste too many blueberries, picking through for the perfectly plump, perfectly round ones without a hint of pink remaining, without the first wrinkle of age.


The air is the temperature of perfect comfort, in the evening, and even though being outside makes me sniffle and sneeze, I linger.

The allergies, though, have driven me to something I never thought was possible: I closed the window and turned on the air-conditioner. LOW! I turned it on LOW! But it is on. One day, after a week or two of not sleeping due to a headache that would not relent, I caved. I closed the window, turned on the air, and finally slept.

I miss the outside air. I don't miss the sinus headache.

12 July 2009

politicking, round 2

A while back, I wrote a post about Judge Sotomayor, which got a comment, which I ignored, because I have absolutely no desire to join the world of political blogs, and I figured the comment probably came from someone who happened across my blog while googling for posts about the judge. I write this blog first for myself, second for family and friends, and third for other people with connections to Africa. I don't need a wider audience. Just today, though, I figured out that the comment came from my cousin (hi, C!), who I didn't even know read my blog. Well, then. Cousins get responses where random commenters would not.

It's unfortunate that the word "empathy" got thrown around so much with regard to this nomination. I actually used the word in the opposite way - not referring to Judge Sotomayor, as most people did, but to the old white men who currently make up 7/9s of the Supreme Court. I said that these men "will never have anything more than empathy for people who experience daily discrimination," whereas a person of color has had the experience of racism. Experience, I said, leads to the making of better decisions.

C., I hope you don't mind if I quote part of your comment here. It said, "Last I heard the purpose of a judge was to determine the legality of an action, not if he or she "feels" the pain of the person who is being accused of a crime. Hopefuly, a person could be tall or short, gay or straight, right or left handed, purple or orange... but if he or she knows the law, then should be able to interpret (without bias) if someone did or did not break the law."

I absolutely agree with you that the job of a judge is not to feel anyone's pain. If a judge tried to feel the pain of every person who came through their courtroom, they would quickly be overwhelmed. It is not enough, however, for a judge to know the law. Judges make nuanced decisions not just about which law applies (it's more complicated than it seems, often), but about how the law applies in various situations. That is where experience is helpful. It is not about bias, but the simple fact that a Latina woman will see, and emphasize, different aspects of the situation than a white man, based on her experiences of the world as a Latina woman. By virtue of the fact that their entire lives have been spent enjoying the privilege of being white and male in our society, there are things that white men simply will never see in a situation (unless perhaps they have spent a significant amount of time working on learning about feminism and anti-racism).

I think Justice Ginsburg made some excellent points about this in her interview with the New York Times (available here). For example, in the recent Redding case involving the strip-search of a 13-year old girl, Justice Ginsburg pointed out that the experience of being strip-searched will very likely be different for a boy than a girl. Male judges, I hardly need to point out, have never been a girl. They may empathize, as I said in my first post, but they will never understand.

White straight male judges often do not even see the problem presented in a case, or believe that it is a problem if they do, because it doesn't hurt them or people like them. If everyone could be like them, the opinions sometimes seem to say, there would be no problem. But the fact is that not all people are like them. It is dangerous to have a Supreme Court made up primarily of people who do not see the problem and are not willing to have it pointed out to them. This is why diversity (of race, gender, sexuality, etc.) on the Supreme Court is vastly important. We need people who see the problem, so they can decide what to do about it. This doesn't mean that the Court will universally decide for one group or another, but that they can make fair judgments about the issue before them.

It is never as simple as just interpreting the law. It would be great if laws were all clear and constitutional, but they just aren't. They are the work of human beings. Interpretation of the law is a hard job, and biases will inevitably enter into it.

We often make the mistake, in this country, of assuming that the biases of white straight men are the norm, and that anyone whose biases are different than those are "biased." Every person has biases. Biases are not the same as experience, but they can form from a person's experience. The question is not "Is this person biased?" but "Is this person aware of her or his biases and able to determine when the biases are helpful and when hurtful?" White men, because they are the "norm," may assume that they have no biases, which is dangerous (has anyone read a Scalia opinion lately?). Far better to recognize one's biases and deliberately lay them aside when necessary. I admire the fact that Judge Sotomayor is aware of her biases. I have never heard the white male members of the Supreme Court exhibit the same self-awareness.

Finally, for a Supreme Court justice, just interpreting the law is not an option. Lower courts do that, based on the criteria that have been laid out by the courts above them, but the Supreme Court is an independent branch of government, equal to the Presidential and Legislative branches. The Supreme Court decides which laws are constitutional, and therefore may throw out laws that the other branches have made or limit the situations in which they may make laws. The Constitution is specific in a few places, vague in a few places, and leaves out most of what we wish it would tell us. The Supreme Court does not make laws, but it does determine when laws are unconstitutional, and what standards should be used to apply laws. It cannot just "determine when someone broke the law." Its responsibility is far higher and greater than that.

And in my experience, whether you agree with what the Supreme Court does depends more on your politics than it does on the constitutionality of the law.

C., I know that you and I will never agree on the politics. I'm not trying to persuade you here, certainly not politically, but merely telling you why I wrote what I did in the first post. I respect your opinions, even when they are very different from mine. I know that we both formed our opinions about politics based on a desire to see this country at its best.

11 July 2009


I think what my bike needs is a bell. Sometimes people on the path don't hear my bike behind them, so they don't move, so I can't pass them. But I see people riding along with a bell, and they just ring it once, one brief little ding, quietly, and the walkers and runners move out of the way.

When people on foot and people on moving vehicles share the road, the faster vehicles need some way to alert the slower movers that they are coming. This is why cars have horns. We don't use horns so much in this country. Somehow I have the impression that using a horn here is a little rude, that it's something of a last resort. But in countries where in addition to cars on the road there are goats and cows and kids and bikes and women with huge piles of wood on their heads, horns are vital. You just hoot once or twice, lightly, as you approach the relevant slow-mover. It would be rude to lean on the horn, or to be a big white Land Cruiser driving maniacally through, but a light little hoot with a wave and smile is just a "hi! I'm here!" If you don't use it, you never know when someone might dart out into the road.

(When I was driving around Liberia in 2006, I noticed how often people looked surprised - sometimes shocked - when I met their eye and waved if I had to interrupt their path. I asked a Liberian colleague about it, who said, "Most white people driving big cars never bother to actually look at the people on the road. Of course they are surprised." I don't know that I know any other way to drive in Liberia, though. Growing up, we would pick up friends and friends of friends on the side of the road. Our drives up into the bush would sometimes begin with just our family, my brother and I sitting in the back seat of the Peugeot station wagon, and end up with a full car, my brother and I squeezed in the back-back (way-back, far-back) with various other people. In 2000, with my dad driving a pickup, we ended up with the bed of the truck full of people whenever we left Buchanan. At one point, when it started raining, someone handed me a tiny baby through the sliding window at the back of the cab, and I held her in the dry cab until the sky cleared.)

The point is that I need a bell on my bike.

Unfortunately, a bike with a bell should be a cruiser. It should have a big plush seat, and handlebars higher than the seat, and maybe streamers dangling from the handgrips. It's going to take a lot of work to turn my bike into that.

08 July 2009

present and past

I have been describing myself as 30 for quite some time now. Ever since the year turned to 2009, I guess I have been, even though my birthday isn't until October. "But aren't you turning thirty later this year?" someone asked this weekend, when I said something about being 30, and I waved my hand airily. "Yes, but 29 is such a useless age. I just decided to skip it." No age crisis at turning 30 for me.

When we lived in Birmingham, England, in 1988, we ordered a cake for my mom's birthday. We asked for a cake for 6-to-8 people, but got one so large that speculation said the bakery heard it as sixty-eight. We went around our building handing out cake to the neighbors, and when they asked how old my mom was, she said, "Oh, 29 again."


A. and I were talking today, for some unknown reason, about the airport hotel at Robertsfield in Liberia. "They should reopen that," I said. "Sometimes you don't know how long you'll have to wait, especially with the Nigerian airlines. You never know when you might need lunch or something."

"Well, there is always Kendeja," she said. "Where you can pay $150 for a taxi back to the airport."

"If I save up for a while, I might be able to afford some spring rolls." I said.

(There are, in fact, several little restaurants near Robertsfield. You can buy soft drinks, or greens and rice, or biscuits in little packets from a box on a little boy's head. When I was leaving in 2006, feeling all barfy due to the barfing that I had just been barfing prior to leaving for the airport, I got a Sprite and only made it through a quarter of it. I handed it to the driver to give the bottle back, and he started drinking it. "That's not a good idea!" I told him. "I'm sick!" He laughed at me and said, "You think that sickness can bother me? I am Liberian.")


I went jogging today for the first time in, oh, two years. I think the last time I jogged was in Nairobi on my way to Southern Sudan in August of 2007. Thirty (almost) I may be, but I can still jog without crumpling over. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

07 July 2009

ce n'est pas francais

Every week when I come back from Spanish class I think, "Oh, I'm going to listen to the BBC in Spanish! And buy a Spanish English dictionary! And, and... study up on Spanish!"

Doesn't happen.

My Spanish instincts are kicking in again, though. Today I came up with "fui" and "parece." Who knew those words were still in my brain?

On the downside, I did say, "que viven en una casa, pas un apartamento" at one point, utterly confusing the entire class. Pas does not exist in Spanish, it turns out. Funny that. You just have to use no, just like English. Too bad the just use no part of my brain has now been turned off in languages other than English. I also said something about a vache. That went over well. VACA. I MEANT VACA. Sh-yeah.

05 July 2009

they call the thing rodeo

"Two words," S.'s text message said, "Wrangler butts."

So we went to the rodeo.

We sat just behind the cowboys, where they line up leaning over the chutes to help their friends balance on broncs and bulls. We cheered for the steer wrestling, and sighed with disappointment when they got away. We held our breath as the women raced around the barrels.

And then we walked down and stood next to the horses as the fireworks went off, right in front of us. The horses startled and shuffled, finally settling with their heads close together. We held our heads too far back, until our necks cricked, to watch the flashes. "There should be more red-white-and-blue," I complained, and there were, in the finale. We agreed that the prettiest were the white falling sheets of sparkle.

S. bought a bright pink straw hat. "This hat is awesome," she said, "I'm going to wear it at work every day."

"People are going to make fun of you." I said.

"No, they're going to think it's awesome. I've been wanting a pink cowboy hat for a long time."

Today when we met at a concert on the water, I sat down beside her before she saw me. "How did you find us?" she asked, "Did you call?"

"I recognized you by the hat." I said.

03 July 2009

late night planting

I found myself, just after midnight, sitting on the kitchen floor dipping the ends of cuttings into a fungicide that says, "wear a mask and rubber gloves when handling this product. absorption of toxins is increased by consumption of alcohol," when I just got back from an evening of consumption of alcohol. Not a lot of alcohol, but alcohol was consumed. By me. I meant to plant the cuttings before going out for the evening, but you know how it goes. You come home from work and there is a little interneting and a little eating and suddenly you are late leaving the apartment, but the cuttings won't last until tomorrow all a-wrapped up in a damp paper towel, so you have to plant them in the night. While apparently extra-vulnerable to the toxins.

01 July 2009


I was once fairly competent in Spanish. I lived with a Honduran family for four months, and we managed to communicate perfectly well in Spanish. By the end of the four months, my head didn't even hurt after a whole weekend of all-Spanish-all-the-time.

I lost it all the day I first formed a complete sentence in French, in Montreal in 2002. By the time I left for Rwanda 6 weeks later, it took a great deal of concentrating to explain to the Spanish couple waiting in line for the flight to Nairobi in Schipol Airport that there was another waiting room apres, um, I mean, despues de [1] the security check. Now I can understand most of what I hear in Spanish, provided the person speaking it is in the room with me (on the phone I am a disaster, complete and total), but I cannot produce actual thoughts without enormous effort. I almost have to close my eyes to think of Spanish words. When a visitor at work asks me where to go, I scrounge though my brain for the words. "Niveau? No... Oh! Piso? Um...Tercer? Tercer piso! [2]" Usually I end up just writing 348 or whatever room number on a post-it for them. It's embarrassing, really.

A week ago, I started a Spanish class. My French teacher is teaching the same class this quarter as last quarter, at a further away location, and I didn't feel like taking it over again. He is a great teacher, the class members are great, and I learned a lot from it (mostly Parisian curse words, heh), but a lot of it was also repetitious, this being the, um, third time I have started at the beginning in French. (I don't really need to start at the beginning, because when I am immersed in it I speak French kind of okay, but I don't know any actual, you know, spelling. Or grammar.) So, I am waiting for the fall to take French class again, when my teacher is teaching the next level up at the right place. Instead, I'm trying to revive the Spanish from the deepest crevices of my brain.

It's hard. After half an hour of listening to Spanish, I can sometimes produce a sentence or two, but the general gist is utter mental confusion. Now I am thinking in both languages, and sometimes neither. Sometimes, trying to think of a word in one language or another, I lose it even in English, which I would like to think I speak fluently.** And I have no idea what I'm going to do when I switch back to French. I think I'm going to have to take both classes at once in the fall, in the hopes that they will learn to coexist in my brain.

Translations, for the English-inclined:
[1] after
[2] third floor

* Random funny story related to the title of this post: when I was in Honduras, I was introduced to a Honduran cousin of my host family named Estephanie. For weeks, I called her Estephanie, like Glo.ria Estepha.n (sp?), thinking it was her name. Which, no. Her name was actually Stephanie, but due to the fact that Spanish words do not start with the letter S, everyone called her Estephanie. It was only when I saw her name written that I realized that her parents had purposely given her an American name, and that name was not Estephanie. She also went to a bilingual school, spoke perfect English, and frequently traveled to the US, so I'm sure she was wondering how a US American could possibly mispronounce her name.
** Random funny story related to three languages: in Rwanda, people would often ask what languages I spoke other than English and French. When I said some Spanish, I was repeatedly told how wonderful it was that I was trilingual. Other than the fact that I can hardly be said to be lingual at all in French or Spanish, I found it very odd that people who spoke Kinyarwanda, French, English, and often Lingala and Kiswahili would be complimenting me on my tri-linguality. When pressed, they would tell me that they were not quadra- or quinta-lingual, that only French and English counted. I, however, am far more impressed by the Kinyarwanda, French, English, Lingala, Kiswahili combination than by a trio of related languages that share the same roots for a great many words.