22 February 2010

my own pea

We all know the story of the princess and the pea, right? In the story, a princess shows up at the door of a castle. She tells the inhabitants that she is a princess, and the queen in the castle tests her by putting a pea under 20 mattresses and 20 featherbeds. The princess is so sensitive that she cannot sleep. The pea, under all those mattresses and feathers, bothers her.

I have never gotten that fairy tale. In fact, I've always thought it was silly. Who wants such a sensitive princess? I want that princess who is grabbing her sword and leading the troops, not the one who has to be coddled.

That may be partly because I'm not at all sensitive to such things. I can sleep almost-but-not-quite anywhere. I can sleep through morning noise in the tropics. I can sleep on foam mattresses with slats poking through. I can sleep in rooms that smell bad. I am not sensitive enough to be a princess. Then again, I've never claimed to be one.

Last night, I washed my sheets and I was making my bed, when I lifted the mattress higher than normal and pulled out... my arm brace.

I've been looking for that thing for months, but it never occurred to me that it could actually be under my mattress. I knew that I might have put it along the side of my mattress (the frame is bigger than the mattress), and I've checked along the edge of the mattress several times, but I did not imagine that it could be all the way under my mattress without me noticing. After all, it is made of hard plastic. It is almost a meter long. It is probably two inches high, when lying on its side. How could I not feel it under my mattress?

I've been sleeping on a hard plastic object for months, and I never noticed.

I am so clearly not a princess.

17 February 2010

fragile stomachs beware

There was a black plastic bag blowing across the street today, as I walked back to work in the sunshine, and I started thinking. The drive between Kigali and Kibuye in Rwanda is two and a half hours of tight curves, and people regularly get sick and throw up on the minibuses. When I lived there, people would throw up into black plastic bags just like that one, tie the opening shut, and throw them out the window. (I had to be careful not to hit them while driving, because an explosion of vomit is just gross.)

A few years ago, the government of Rwanda outlawed plastic bags. I guess this was because they were unsightly and polluting. But I wonder: into what type of receptacle do people now throw up on the road from Kigali to Kibuye? And how do they get rid of the barf?

16 February 2010

anyone? anyone?

Is it just my warped little mind, or does everyone, whenever they see the Olympic flame, wonder how many times it has gone out and the people in charge of taking care of it have said, "Oh, crap!" and secretly re-lit it, meaning that the current flame is actually not at all the same as the original one?

15 February 2010


I might actually survive another winter in the Northwest, I concluded this afternoon. I went for a long ramble, for the first time in months, and saw the first crocuses of the year. A few trees have their first leaf buds. I saw two bushes with big pink flowers. It was good to be in the sun again. If there is one thing I have learned in three winters in Gone West, it is that one must take every opportunity to soak in the sunshine when the sun deigns to show its face. I sat on a rock in the sunshine talking to my mom on the phone, and an odd car of guys drove by and asked me if I had a headache (?). I am totally confused. The only two possibilities I can imagine are 1. that they were flirting with me, or 2. that they were trying to sell me drugs (they said "You should take some pills!" after asking if I had a headache).

Other than the occasional walk, I am on a diet of all Olympics all the time at the moment. It's a good thing I got a functional tv. I love the winter sports: skiing, skating, snowboarding. They are so much better than the summer sports. Skiing especially - I could watch it forever. The best part is the athletes crying on the podium. It makes me want to cry, too. I just watched the medals ceremony for the freestyle moguls and immediately had to google the lyrics to Oh, Canada. How embarrassing is it that I have lived half my life within a few hours of the Canadian border but I don't ever recall hearing the words of the Canadian national anthem?

13 February 2010


N. came over to carry out my huge, crappy tv. I can hardly wiggle that tv over a few inches, but he picked it right up and carried it, while I trailed along carrying a small package of shower curtain rings that I have long been intending to bring to goodwill (they don't work on the type of pole from which my shower curtain hangs). I felt fully useless.

When we got to goodwill, it took a long time for someone to answer the doorbell, long enough for N. to go back to the car, get the tv, and bring it over to set it on the large tv that had been sitting there for a while and was soaking wet. When the goodwill guy came, he was tall and dark-haired, wearing safety glasses. He told us to step inside and then he said that the tv was ruined because it was raining (it's always raining here) and rain had fallen into the little slots in the back and the tv would have to be recycled.

We protested. "We just got here! The other one has been here for a long time, but we just got here with this one. I'm sure it is fine. The rain hasn't gotten into it yet." (All this protest, it occurs to me now, for a tv that doesn't actually work very well - the picture is bright pink.)

The employee, whose name began with an M., looked at us gravely. "I am very sorry to have upset you so greatly," he said. "Please accept my apologies."

More protesting. "No, no! It's fine! We aren't upset at all."

"Good," M. said. "If I may say so, you two have a very positive spirit. I can feel it when I speak to you. Is that all right? Do you mind that I say that?"

"That's fine," we said. "Thank you."

"I like your beard, sir," he said to N., who reached up to rub his stubble and said, slightly confused, "Well, I don't have much of one right now. Yours is nice, though."

"If you don't shave for a few days, you will have one like me," M. said, clearly proud of his own beard (which was, truly, a very nice beard). "Lots of people in this town have beards. They are very popular."

"Yes," N. said, "I guess they are. I have one sometimes."

We donated the tv, and when I got home I was delighted by all the free floor space in my apartment. My bike is no longer pinned behind my bed by a huge immovable television that I never turn on. I am sure that will be even more delightful when the weather clears up and I can actually take my bike out from behind my bed without fighting the tv, but for now I am just enjoying the open space, and the fact that I can get to my bedside lamp without flopping all the way over my bed.

And pretty much every time I see N. from now on, I am going to have to tell him how great his beard is. Whether he has one or not.

04 February 2010


I got my hair cut today, where I always do, where the students cut my hair and it only costs $12. I am not extremely picky about my haircut, so the students are perfect for me. I don't even request a senior unless I am getting my hair colored. The only thing about which I am picky is that the lengths line up in front. My hair has a tendency to be slightly longer on the right side than the left, no matter how precisely they cut it.

I have never liked the way I look in mirrors when I am getting my hair cut. It is something about the wet hair drowned rat look and the harsh fluorescent lights. I'm pretty much over it, though, because I have learned through long experience that once my hair is back down and trimmed, I will be delighted. The drowned rat look is just something one has to go through to get to the nice haircut, I suppose.

Two chairs down from me, a girl came in with her mom. The girl was an early teenager. She was not the confident, popular kind of early teenager depicted on television. She was the kind of early teenager I remember being: awkward, uncomfortable, miserable. (Sometimes I think that I was miserable for 19 years straight: from 1990 when we left Liberia until 2009 when I found myself suddenly, surprisingly happy in Gone West. Not that I didn't have happy moments, but I think the general arch was misery.)

I remember being this girl, and I saw from the moment she sat down that she would not like her haircut. I saw it in the way she looked at herself in the mirror. I saw it in the way she held her hair out from her head. Halfway through the haircut, watching her face as the stylist feathered short pieces on the back of her head, I knew, too, that the haircut was all wrong for her. Not for her face - it looked darling - but for her moment in life. I could see on her face that she wanted something that turned her into those confident, popular girls. Instead, she got something that required confidence that she did not have.

The instructor finally came over and talked to her about it. "I don't want to do anything that will make you even less happy," she said, and the girl and her mother left. When the stylist came back upstairs, she sat down in the same chair and cried. The instructor told her not to worry about it, that the haircut was perfectly done and she could not have changed anything, and then got called away. A few other stylists and another instructor gathered around her, trying to comfort her. They were still there when the first instructor came back to check my hair.

"I'm sure you saw what happened there," she said.

"Yeah, I did," I told her. "The problem wasn't that she didn't like the haircut. The problem was that she didn't like herself."

"Yes," she said, "that's the nature of being thirteen."

As I left, I saw the instructor go back to the crying stylist and I hear her say, "The problem wasn't that she didn't like the haircut. The problem was that she didn't like herself," and I smiled to myself.

It's true. I remember that feeling, the desperate hope that this time, this haircut, this outfit would make me beautiful, popular, confident. I remember the disappointment when I was still myself and no one noticed my new outfit but my few closest friends. I hadn't changed at all.

I am so incredibly thankful to be 30 instead of 13. It's so lovely to like yourself.

03 February 2010

the gloomy days of feb

It's February. It is very definitely February. When I leave my house in the morning, I nearly universally forget to bring an umbrella. By lunch, it is nearly universally raining. I borrow an umbrella from a colleague or beg one from the lost and found, and it barely covers my head. Its spindles poke out beyond the sagging plastic.

I tromp through the rain to my favorite coffee place, the one with the espresso so perfectly pulled that I almost can no longer drink coffee elsewhere. A. has a tiny new shop, and I stand there in a willing row with all the other addicts, waiting for my little mug of cappuccino with the perfect foam lid.

"It's so small!" my colleague says when, occasionally, I get it to go and come back to the office bearing a white cup wrapped in my reusable coffee sleeve. "You go all that way for something so small? Why don't you just get a bigger cup at the place across the street?"

"Cappuccino is supposed to be small," I tell her, sipping my six ounces of coffee perfection. "And this coffee is worth it."

When I'm done with my little cup of cappuccino, there is nowhere to go but back to the office. It's raining and cold. The parks are dreary. During the summer, I try to keep my coffee consumption to a few times a week, but here in the winter, I get it every day. If nothing else, I need the walk to get me out of the office.

Winter feels unending, in February. Last winter, I was hibernating at this time. This year, I have promised myself that I will get out more, be more social. I am trying to fight the winter weariness instead of succumbing to it. It's been working fairly well, but this week my strategy has failed me. It could keep up with the weather, but it couldn't keep up with life's random onslaught of difficult things.

This week, I switched to quieter music. The music I usually love hurt my heart. I updated my status across the internet to reflect my crankiness. I am writing a lot. The notebook I bought two weeks ago is nearly half full.

If you had asked me when I was 20, I would have said that by 30 I would know myself. I would have said that by 30 I would be able to just live, without needing to think about why I did or said what I did. I would have said that by 30 life would be easy. Indeed, I have learned a great deal about myself. I know many reasons why I do what I do. I am mostly happy. But I don't know everything, and some weeks I wonder why I said that, or why life is sometimes so hard.

The best thing that I have learned in 30 years is that even the worst moments usually end. This is not the worst moment, but I still need to remind myself, sometimes, that this will end, too.

01 February 2010


For a long time, I have not had a functional television. I had one, and then it stopped working because it stopped accepting instructions from the remote control and without a remote control it would not go to channel 3 and without channel 3 the cable couldn't get through, so the tv was worthless.

Then I managed to get rid of that tv (dropped it off at goodwill), but S. promptly gave me another, which she had gotten for free somewhere. It is huge, and it sits on my floor. This one works, but the color is... unusual. Everything is very pink. I turned it on twice, I think, and then I got annoyed with the cord that ran across the room and took it off and stashed it somewhere and then the next time I tried to turn it on, I could not figure out why the tv would not work.

I gave up on tv.

A week ago last Sunday, I read in the Washington Post online that Masterpiece Theatre was showing Emma that night. I suddenly had incentive to make that tv work.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the cord to plug in the cable box. After searching on and off all day, I finally found it. On my kitchen table. Yeah, I dunno. I managed, victoriously, to get it to work about four minutes before Emma started. I watched a very pink Emma, but I did manage to watch it, in my own apartment.

This Saturday, I was at goodwill and happened upon little, functional tvs for only $15. I was delighted. A tv that does not take up half the floor space in my apartment! A tv with normal colors! A tv that I can move from place to place without calling reinforcements!

The new little tv works amazingly, but I have no way to get rid of the big tv. Right now, I have the ever-so-classic pile o' tv look going on here: the little tv sits on top of the big one. I really have to do something about that.

But this new, functional tv acquisition means that I can watch the Olympics! I love the Winter Olympics. Skiing, snowboarding, luge, skating, even curling. It is 7.3432 million times more interesting than the Summer Olympics.

Um. When do the Olympics start?