30 August 2009


On my weekly Sunday afternoon ramble, I came across a money clip on the sidewalk. It contained a credit card and a driver's license and some receipts, and I picked it up tentatively, as one does, for fear that there is someone who is watching and about to yell at you for touching their stuff. No one yelled, so I checked the license to see that it belonged to the house in front of which I was standing.

No one answered the doorbell when I rang it. At length, I put the money clip in the mailbox. I took out a piece of paper and wrote "Your ID is in the mailbox - I found it on the sidewalk :)." I folded up the paper and tried to shove it under the door, but these new-fangled doors, I tell you, have no opening under the door. I finally stuck the note in the side of the door, above the latch, and walked away.

I'm sort of mad now that I didn't put my phone number on the note. It isn't that I want recognition or thanks, because I did what everyone I know would have done, but how will I ever know that the right person got it back? As I walked away, I kept thinking of all the possible scenarios that could result in the person not getting it back - someone stealing it out of the mailbox, etc. I guess I will never know.

It seems like more and more in life, as one grows up, there are things that one just cannot know.


I had brunch with some new friends yesterday, and I started, again, telling Southern Sudan stories. It's unfortunately, really, that the stories from there are so very amazing, because they give a false impression. I lived very comfortably and happily in Africa for 12.5 years, and three little months in Southern Sudan are the ones that get the press. THE SNAKES THE SCORPIONS THE FLIES THE LOCUSTS THE FROGS THE SPIDERS THE PIT LATRINE THE RAIN THE HEAT. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The problem is that people often DOUBLE OVER laughing when I tell them the story of losing Wallace in the pit latrine. Making people laugh like that is pretty addicting. That is one good story. Now it is. Now that I have Wilbur to replace Wallace. Now that I have access to music any time I want. It was not such a good story at the time.

"I really think the plagues in the Old Testament came from Southern Sudan," I said. And then, "Oh. Wait. Are you Jewish?"

They were. I HATE it when I use the phrase "Old Testament" while talking to Jewish friends. "YOUR BOOK. I MEANT TO SAY 'YOUR BOOK'." I am an idiot.

But anyway, at least the flies and the locusts and the frogs had to have come from where I was in Southern Sudan. I saw them myself. I felt the grasshoppers launching themselves off my head.

I always end the story by saying, "I would totally go back. It was absolutely worth it." And it was. Despite the culture shock and the critters and the loss of my dear, dear Wallace. It is impossible to put my finger on why, but it was. There was culture shock, yes, but there were also friends who danced with me in the center of the compound on the last night to the tinny music from a little boombox. There were critters, but there were also stars like you never see here, and bathing in the open air shower under a blue, blue sky. There was the loss of Wallace, but there were also women who sat with me and told me about their lives and asked about mine.

After months of telling my family that I wanted to leave, wanted to leave, wanted to leave, about two weeks before I actually left, I announced that I no longer wanted to leave. I was happy, and I wanted to stay.

I think their heads exploded.

26 August 2009


I can tell I'm living a little too cheaply. Last night, I panicked because my only ziploc bag fell between the stove and the cupboard and I couldn't get it out. MY ONLY ZIPLOC BAG. Yes. I refuse to buy ziploc bags (any bags, really) and so the only ones I have are the ones I have inherited from various places, like other people bringing chips in them and then abandoning them. So when my ziploc dropped between the stove and the counter and was irretrievable, I thought I would have nothing in which to take my snack to work. Fortunately, I found one other used ziploc that I had washed out and left in the dishrack. Whew.

What? This is how cheap I've got to be if I want to travel. And I do. Pry-or-i-tees. Plus, plastic is made of petroleum, and it contaminates the environment. And no one really needs more than one ziploc for each purpose.

24 August 2009


When I was in Ethiopia, 'lo these many months ago, in Lalibela, I admired the lanyard on which one of the guides wore his id, and he gave it to me. Like many North Americans, I am uncomfortable with being given things, perhaps because I myself have an inborn urge to KEEP KEEP KEEP my own MY VERY OWN things, an urge that I frequently have to fight, but the fact is that not everyone is as wedded to their possessions as we are here, and it is extremely ungracious not to accept the kindness of strangers anywhere in the world, and so I thanked him profusely and accepted the lanyard. And it is, frankly, an awesome lanyard. It is red and yellow and green, the colors of Africa, and says, "I [heart] Ethiopia" on it (only with a real figure of a heart, not the word).

When I first started my current job, right after I got back from Ethiopia, I got an id that came on a plain black lanyard, which I promptly ditched for a series of clips with retractable strings, all of which broke in succession due to the weight of the keys that were also attached. I initially considered using the Ethiopia lanyard, but I was concerned about fitting in or something stupid like that (as if I'm ever going to fit in. ha. have you ever heard of the hidden immigrant concept? where you look like everyone around you and you can act like them but inside there is a whole different world going on? this is how I often feel in the States). So I did not use the Ethiopia lanyard for a long time. On Friday, I broke the latest in the series of retractable clips, and today I brought in the Ethiopia lanyard, and it's making me so incredibly happy. Sometimes, I need little things to remind me that this life here is not the only life I've ever lived. Wearing this Ethiopia lanyard, like saying, "I bought it in Rwanda" when the cashier compliments my bag, is my own little way of saying, The world is bigger than this, and I refuse to forget that.

23 August 2009


Every now and again, I get absorbed in satellite images of the world. I am mesmerized by the fact that I can zoom in on my actual house in Rwanda or Liberia. I can see the little white rectangle of aluminum roof next to the lake in Rwanda, or just in from the ocean in Liberia. Both of those are actually pretty easy - in Rwanda, I just go straight west from Kigali to Lake Kivu and then find where the road hits the lake: Kibuye. In fact, I can see the shape of the peninsulas more clearly on the satellite than I ever did when I lived among those hills. In Liberia, I follow the coast down from Monrovia and then backtrack a little north of Buchanan.

I cannot, for love or money, find that Tiny Little Town in Sudan, and today I finally figured out why: what looked to me, on location, like one river (the White Nile) actually splits into a million little bits in the Sudd north of Juba. I learned this thanks to wikimapia.org, which has little rectangles around places that people have marked as various landmarks. I found on there Bigger Town Three Hours Away, and the Airstrip in the Middle of Nowhere, and some other oil fields, which pointed me to a road, which then disappeared, but I followed the biggest of the bits of river until I found the road that intersects with it here:

I can't really follow that road back to Tiny Little Town, though, for two reasons. First, the map doesn't have enough detail (silly map. doesn't everyone want to see detail in the middle of the Sudd?). Second, the road disappears into a patch of sand. Hmph. Not that I would be able to see much of the town, anyway, being that most of it is made up of thatched huts that aren't very visible from the air, but I am curious. I do know that it is somewhere at the intersection of that road coming west from the Nile and a road coming south from one of the oil fields.

It's quite satisfying to have nailed down the location of the town more precisely. I used to just scroll aimlessly through a huge section of Southern Sudan, hoping to happen upon something I recognized, but now I (sort of) know where things are. It's actually much further west than I had been looking.

Here is an illustration of why I had so much trouble finding it:

Go ahead. You try finding towns that look like that on a satellite image. And that's in rainy season, when things are green. In dry season, everything is the color of, oh wait! the roofs of the houses.


(If you are easily grossed out by hygiene issues, please look away now. Thank you.)

When I was in Southern Sudan, I didn't wash my hair every day. Okay, I never wash my hair every day. Generally, here in the US, I wash my hair every three days, but in Southern Sudan, due to water shortages, I washed it about every five or six days. By the fifth day, it's getting a little bit gross, so I tried to keep it to five unless there was a serious water problem.

And... it's been five days since I washed my hair. I don't know why. I just wasn't doing anything exciting this weekend, and it seemed like a waste to wash my hair when there is no reason for it. I acknowledge, though, that this is slightly distasteful and culturally inappropriate, and I have spent the whole weekend paranoid about people standing close to me because of it.

(Now you are wondering: why wasn't I paranoid about people standing close in Southern Sudan? The answer is AIR FLOW. We didn't live all cooped up inside buildings in Southern Sudan. Also, everyone had to carry their water from bore holes, so everyone was much more understanding about the water issues. People here... not so much.)

22 August 2009


I sat on the grass at the park today next to one of those rubber bracelets that support a cause. This one was blue and white and green and I picked it up just to see what it said. It said, "Kaimba Rebuild Sierra Leone."

I ask you. How on earth am I supposed to settle in as an oblivious North American in a boring US city if that other continent keeps chasing me like this?

I laid back in the grass. It was the sort of day that always reminds me of Rwanda: the sky was perfect, and the grass was perfect, and the temperature was perfect (80F, in case you are wondering what the perfect temperature is). I felt the sun warm me and the breeze cool me, and I could have been in Nairobi or Arusha. I could have been in my hammock between the trees on the steep hill down to the lake in Kibuye.

I thought about my hammock, the one I bought in Nicaragua and hung in Rwanda, and how once when I had a guest staying with me, the guest offered to cook and I accepted (I always accepted when guests offered to cook, which they did strangely often; perhaps I cook badly), and when said guest brought a plate out to me, I took it and sat back into the hammock, only the hammock had condensed itself, as hammocks do when there is no one in them, and I flipped backwards completely over the hammock and down the hill, landing upside down against a tree with pasta and tomato sauce everywhere, and I just sat there, laughing between trying to catch my breath.

I think they invented the word wistful for the way I feel when I look up at jet trails.

20 August 2009

long list of places I've flown

When I was in college, I used to sit in class counting up the number of airplane flights I had taken. I counted one flight as one take-off and one landing, so that one time in 1985 when we left Liberia in the wake of an attempted coup when things were pretty unsafe and our plane made an emergency landing in Dakar and everyone but our family got off the plane and my brother and I crawled around under the seats finding random bits of detritus discarded by other passengers before they finally fixed the problem and we took off for Switzerland, well, that flight to Switzerland counts as two flights, even though we never got off the plane.

I could count over 100 flights, back in college, but now I can't remember the last time I was bored enough to start counting airplane flights. There is the internet, first of all. During law school, I was that girl who was taking notes on real paper while surfing the internet at the same time. It had to have been utterly obvious to my professors. I mean, I was writing things in a notebook while looking at them and clearly registering what they were saying, and then zoning out completely obliviously on my computer while ignoring my notebook. More than just the internet, though, there just seems to be so much more to think about these days. Life is so full of things and people and ideas.

I thought about it today and realized that I'm no longer sure I actually could count the flights I've taken. There have been too many of them.

Illustration (post-college, only):

Chicago to Amsterdam to Chicago
Chicago to Honduras (Tegus-La Cieba-Roatan-La Cieba-Tegus) to Chicago
Michigan to Montreal to Michigan
Michigan to Rwanda
Rwanda to Italy to Rwanda
Rwanda to Uganda
Rwanda to Uganda to Rwanda
Rwanda to Kenya to Rwanda
Rwanda to Kenya (Nairobi-Malindi-Nairobi) to Michigan to New Jersey to Michigan to Rwanda
Rwanda to New York to Alabama to New York to Rwanda
Rwanda to Michigan
Michigan to New York to Michigan to New York (times a number I cannot even count)
New York to Rwanda to Tanzania
Tanzania to Rwanda to Tanzania
Arusha, TZ to Zanzibar to Arusha
Tanzania to Rwanda to Nairobi to New York
New York to Liberia to New York
Michigan to Nairobi to Southern Sudan
Juba to Rumbek to Tiny Little Town
TLT to Rumbek to Elsewhere to Juba to Rumbek to TLT
TLT to Rumbek to Juba to Nairobi to Michigan
Michigan to Gone West to Michigan to Gone West (times four? five?)
Michigan to Ethiopia (Addis-Gonder-Lalibela-Addis) to Michigan

Lists are boring. Except to me. I actually like cataloging my life that way sometimes, although I'm sorry for putting you through it. Right now, when I've been here in one place for a while, it reminds me of how very many places I have been in this life of mine.

Assuming an average of four flights per line (plus the lines that are repeated), that is well over another 100 flights.

This is all a really long lead-up to the fact that I have some plane tickets purchased. I am going to South America in 4 1/2 weeks. I'm going to Southeast Asia six weeks after that.

Continents I have never visited: Asia. South America (unless Central America counts. does it?). Australia. Antarctica.

I am going to cut that list in half within three months. Whoo hoo.

19 August 2009

eyelids propped up with toothpicks

The problem with a houseguest (or sister) who loves your town and does not have to get up early in the morning for work is that you spend their entire visit exhausted. And then they leave, and you are staring mindlessly at the wall, too tired even to get into bed.

I can't keep my eyes open. Which I guess means that I should be in bed instead of on the computer. Yes. Good plan. I'm going.

14 August 2009


The weather was beautiful and clear until Tuesday. Tuesday afternoon, it started raining.

My sister arrived Tuesday evening, and it's been cloudy and/or raining ever since. So I wonder: what is it about my family that draws clouds and rain? Every time I talk to them, I tell them how Gone West is cloudy and rainy all year but the summers, oh, they make up for it. The summers are beautiful and clear, the perfect temperature for sitting out on a patio of an evening.

And then my family members come, and it's cloudy. Universally, so far. When my parents came, we spent hours driving and walking around trying to see the mountain, always stymied by clouds. This town is letting me down. It's a good thing the best coffee and the best Ethiopian food and the best bookstore and the best park remain excellent, because otherwise my family's visits would be utter disappointments.

11 August 2009


Last Tuesday, as we were driving in Yellowstone Park, it started to rain. I rolled up my window, and when the window got to the top, it went straight back down. I rolled it up again, and it went up and then straight back down.

I looked over at S., who had her hand on the driver's side all-powerful window controls. "Hey!" I said, "Stop rolling my window down! It's raining!"

"Dude, I'm not touching your window," she said.

I turned back to my window, and rolled it up more slowly, bit by bit. When it reached the top, there was a horrible crunching sound.

The problem with the horrible crunching sound, more than just the horrible crunching, was that we were driving S.'s mom's car. She offered, and her car has air-conditioning, and it was 100+ degrees the day we left, and her car has airbags, and I persuaded S. that we should take her up on it since S.'s car is a little tin can and, as we all know, I fear cars. Not cars. I fear accidents. Between cars, with people in them.

If we had been in S.'s crappy little car, the horrible crunching sound would have been a little problem. I'm pretty sure anything on that old Sentra can be fixed for under $50. Not so much on the new Passat.

I cautiously pushed the button the other way to roll the window down, just to inspect the damage.

And the window fell down into the door.


I peered down into the door, but there was nothing to be seen. I was at least relieved to realize that what I saw of the window as it disappeared seemed to have been in one piece.

I should note that it was still raining. Harder and harder. As soon as we could pull into a parking space, I grabbed my towel from the back seat, opened the door, and looped the towel up over the top of the door. Fortunately, the door could still close with a towel in it.

All day, we just hoped for clear skies and left the car wide open at the Mud Volcano, at the Lower Falls, at Old Faithful. When it got cold and S. rolled her window up, I said, "Yeah, yeah. Your window rolls up. Show-off."

It started raining again as we left the park to drive to S.'s grandparents' house, so I put up the towel barrier again, holding it down with both hands to keep it from flapping in the wind. Rain still came pouring through the corner of the window, and I improvised by putting the hood of a raincoat through the handle above the door and holding that down, too. (Don't worry. There are photos.) A few cars were stopped on the side of the road ahead of us. S. stopped our car and, peering out from behind the towel and raincoat, we saw, thirty or so feet away, just on the hill going up into the forest, a grizzly bear on all fours, staring straight at us.

The fact of a large grizzly bear mere meters away barely had time to register in my head before S. was speeding away. "That bear looked pissed off," she said. "Bears are fast. And our window doesn't close. Because it has fallen into the door." (We laughed every time we said that, about the window. It never got un-funny.)

Back at S.'s grandparents, we affixed duct tape to a long screwdriver and managed to pull the window out of the door. We duct-taped over the top of the door and on the side, and called it sufficient. It got us thirteen hours home, with a lot of extra road noise. "Don't look at us like this has never happened to you," I said every time someone glanced at our inelegant tape job on the way home. "You know you wish you had duct tape on your passenger window. All the cool kids do."

Word on the street is that this is a very common VW problem. Happens to everyone, sooner or later. The response from the VW dealership was something like, "[sigh] We know." S. and I offered to pay for the repair, between nearly falling over with laughter about the window falling into the door, but doubtful will that be needed. Her mom was allegedly just grateful to have it back cleaner than it's been since it came off the lot. Allegedly. Which is a position for which I am deeply grateful.

09 August 2009


Our drive to Montana went something like this:

Me: I'm hungry.
S: Well, there are lots of restaurants here. Pick one and stop at it.
[45 minutes pass]
Me: I'm hungry.
S: Well, there are lots of restaurants here. Pick one and stop at it.
[2 hours pass]
Me: I'm hungry.
S: Well, there are lots of restaurants here. Pick one and stop at it.
Me: [Sigh] What is P@nd@ Express?
S: Crappy greasy fake Chinese food.
Me: Oh. Can you hand me those graham crackers?

I just cannot even bring myself to eat at fast food restaurants anymore. I am spoiled by Ethiopian and Thai and the just generally delicious combinations of food in this foodie town.


Every place I go, I want to move there. I loved the hills of Montana, and the barrenness, and the long winding valleys. I loved the lonely houses tucked back in the hills, and the self-sufficiency of the tiny towns. If I had a thousand lifetimes, I would spend each of them in a different part of the world, living every kind of life imaginable.


On Monday, I found myself standing at a table, making ham buns. (I don't eat ham.)

"Are you having ham buns at the wedding?" I asked J., the day before. "I don't think it would be a real Dutch wedding without ham buns."

"No," she said, "but that is a great idea. I was just thinking that we need some sort of snack after pictures and before the wedding."

So J. and J. came back from the hairdresser in the morning with bags of square white buns (I sent specific instructions on the appearance the buns should have in order to be true ham buns), and while the wedding party was off being photographed, I stood in the reception hall, dancing to Wilbur's music, buttering 36 buns and filling them with ham/turkey/salami and four kinds of cheese. (I made the turkey ones first so the ham and salami would not contaminate them.)

I have a new appreciation for the women who make all the ham buns at every Dutch wedding and funeral. It's a lot of work.

06 August 2009

a rich country

So I was standing at the photocopier, as one does, photocopying things, when it hit me how amazing it is to just walk over to a photocopier and use it. No shortage of paper. No shortage of ink. No bringing medium-to-large orders to an outside printer. This, my friends, is what it means to work in a rich country: when you need copies, you just put the original in the photocopier and push COPY.

It still flabbergasts me sometimes.


I'm back. Also tired.