30 June 2010


One of the myriad blogs I read mentioned something about Kdrama, i.e. Korean tv shows, and now I am oddly addicted. I have never been to Korea, of course, and I don't know much about Korea, so I can't even tell you if the shows I am watching are supposed to be funny or dramatic. Maybe both?

I think they are hilarious, and I lean toward thinking they are intended to be, because there is so much slapstick in them. Girl gets hair stuck to new asphalt, for example, or women stand there shrieking and running in circles instead of away while a fake shaman beats them 30 times with a split stick. Then, too, there are the freeze frames on ridiculous, exaggerated expressions. I can almost see them written in the script: ACT REALLY SURPRISED.

The only series I have watched so far is The Woman Who Still Wants to Get Married (I am on episode 9). This is my new favorite tv show ever. I am probably going to weep when it's over. It's essentially the story of the why-aren't-you-married-don't-you-want-to-be-married-have-you-met-anyone-nice-lately-how-is-your-love-life-is-it-because-you-are-too-focused-on-your-career bullshit that single women get everywhere in the world. Perhaps it is more intense than the version single women get here in the US, but it's certainly less than we get in some places. (I haven't quite reached the age in the US where older people ask me "Why aren't you married?" but my single women friends five years older than me tell me it's coming. And in Rwanda I got that crap when I was 23.)

I also can't quite tell if the main character is supposed to be pretty and stylish or a little bit nerdy. Her one friend is the fashionable one, and her other friend the pretty one, and of course the main character actually is pretty, but I can't tell if she is supposed to be popular or just the regular girl next door.

I think I might have a crush on the main guy character, even though he is, I am not kidding, twenty years old. Sheesh. I'm thirty years old and already the cute guys are too young for me. Like all good actors, his talent is in his eyes. I can't even understand what he's saying, and still I believe him. And seriously, that smile. THAT SMILE.

The only problem is that they are subtitled, so I cannot multi-task while watching them. I actually have to pay attention. I am learning some Korean, though, by default. So far, I can answer the phone. "Yob-say-oh?"

27 June 2010

human connection

I have been using a neti pot to clear out my sinuses in the morning and evening, and I read somewhere online that adding a drop of glycerin to the saline solution can keep your nose from getting dried out, so I went to W@lgreens yesterday to try to buy some.

The woman who usually helps me at the cosmetics checkout (I go straight there because there is almost never a line) was straightening hair products in an aisle. I went over and asked her if they sold glycerin.

"No," she said, and I thanked her and started to walk away. "Wait!" she said, "I have some glycerin from Africa. I can bring it tomorrow if you want. You will come back for it?"

Never one to say no to gifts from Africa, I agreed.

"I will be here from 4 p.m. up to..." she looked at her watch, "up to about now. You are sure you will come for it?"

I assured her that I would, and asked where she was from.

She said, "Ghana," and beamed at me, "the country that beat the US this morning."

Today I went back with some coconut scones in hand, and we traded glycerin for coconut scones, and now I have glycerin made in Tema, and a warm glow of human friendship.

25 June 2010

"hell," apparently

I was randomly clicking around on the internet the other day when I came across this photo essay in Foreign Policy. The link that I clicked was something about the Failed States Index, which is the sort of thing that interests me. But lo! I had stumbled upon the perfect example of how the U.S. media turns the Rest of the World into Bad and Scary.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we? The title of this photo essay is Postcards from Hell. Postcards from Hell. You're kidding me, right? This cannot be real. Who let this article go to press with such a pejorative title? I can tell already, from the title, that the person who wrote this 1. doesn't travel much, and 2. buys into every stereotype of the Rest of the World.

At this point, I've mentally mostly discarded any words that are going to appear in the essay, because they are clearly going to be ridiculous, but I did read the first caption, below a picture of smoke in, probably, Sudan. Smoke! Where there is smoke there is fire! Fire means death and destruction, right?

Or, you know, that people need to cook food. There are both children and adults in that photo, and they all seem to be going calmly about their lives. They don't look particularly pained or upset. If that is hell, it doesn't look so bad. Am I to assume that every time someone lights a fire, they are in hell? Because we build a fire every time we go camping, and it's pretty great.

Here's my favorite line in the entire thing, right underneath that photo: "...as the photos here demonstrate, sometimes the best test is the simplest one: You'll only know a failed state when you see it." My mouth gaped open in astonishment. Apparently you can tell, from one single photo, selected by a person whose biases are pretty glaringly obvious, that a country is hell. An entire country. (I am so irritated that I am overusing italics.)

I looked through about half of the essay, just for the pictures. Let's see a few examples of what "hell" looks like, according to Foreign Policy:

1. Somalia:

Apparently, hell looks like a beach, and a boat with a big motor. OOOh, you mean you are worried about the guns? If you haven't noticed, those men are not pointing those guns at anyone or shooting anything. Presumably, in hell, they would be. Hell depiction? No.

2. Chad:

Apparently now hell is... getting old? That seems mean. This woman actually might be laughing, if you look closely, and the people behind her don't seem at all upset. So maybe hell is sitting on the ground? Getting old and sitting on the ground? Doesn't seem so bad to me. Hell depiction? No.

8. Central African Republic:

This one wins for sheer stereotypicality. The CAF has had a civil war and some rebels from Uganda have hidden there. But no, the photo is of FIRE. A fire, I might add, that was set intentionally to get rid of snakes and scorpions. It has nothing to do with the war. But it looks like hell, right? So let's use it! Even though it's a perfectly legitimate use of fire. Hell depiction? No.

I could go on, but I will illustrate with just one more, my personal favorite, for many reasons -

33. Liberia:

So, we have a market street, with things for sale. We have healthy kids wearing nice clothes, with their hair braided and one of them even carrying a school bag.* This is supposed to be... hell?

No. I refuse to accept it.

Other pictures show: A man pushing a bicycle of bananas to market! Kids drinking from a water pump! A man with blood on his clothes! (That looks, frankly, like he works as a butcher, not like he is hurt.) A kid next to an abandoned mud house! The sign for a national park! Women lined up to vote! So scary.

I have been sarcastic throughout this entire post, but I am actually pretty disturbed, because this article told me that I was supposed to see hell in these pictures, and all I saw was people going about their lives. Is it far too cynical to say that I worry that the only thing that makes them "hell" in the minds of the people who chose them is the fact that, well, the people in so many of them are black?


* I should say, regarding this picture of Liberia, which I love, that it was taken by Glenna Gordan, who keeps this blog: Scarlett Lion, which I also love. Her pictures are beautiful and real, and nothing I am saying should be taken as a reflection on her work. I am only annoyed that FP chose to use her lovely photo as a depiction of hell.

Photo credits:
First photo - Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Somalia - Mohamed Dahir/AFP/Getty Images
Chad - Olivier Laban-Mattei/AFP/Getty Images
CAF - Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Liberia - Glenna Gordan/AFP/Getty Images

23 June 2010


Did you know that if you eat an entire pint of raspberries fresh from the no-spray stand, your mouth will start to hurt just like if you eat too much sour candy? I discovered that today. I just couldn't stop myself. I spent $3.75 of the $4 that I had in my purse on a green box of juicy red raspberries that left little red droplets of juice on my fingers. I ate some in the sunshine outside, enjoying the first beginnings of summer.

When I went inside, I offered some to my colleague, but she declined, so I set them on the corner of my desk. And then I ate a few of them. And then I ate a few more. And then I could see the bottom of the box and I figured I might as well finish them. And then my tongue hurt. It was worth it. They were delicious.

22 June 2010

happy place

On Saturday morning, I woke up drained and exhausted, from conversations filled with words no one meant to say. I woke up late, in a condo whose fee someone else had paid, and I packed up someone else's car, and I drove. I drove through beautiful, barren hills, for hours. I tried not to think, and I barely managed to slam on the brakes in time to avoid hitting the deer that paused, alert, in the middle of my lane.

When I got to Ye Little Town in the Middle of Nowhere, Northwest, I found my way to the B.'s house by sense of direction and visual memory, but no one was home. I hiked up through the orchard and stood on a hill in the sunshine, and then walked back down to read and write on the patio.

I felt as completely alone as ever I've been. I felt empty, rinsed by tears. It wasn't a bad feeling, save to our happy-skippy-jumpy culture. It was peaceful there, looking out over the valley at the setting sun, and I felt peace.

I plotted what to do if the B.'s and S. didn't come back. The camper was open, I noticed, and I could go into town for water. I would be fine.

Then suddenly they were all back, in a rush, filling the house with affection and tired kids. We sat in the new kitchen and ate and laughed and problem-solved about how to add to the sleeping arrangements. I beamed uncontrollably at everyone, delighted to see them, delighted to be in YLT, delighted.

14 June 2010


I really don't deal very well with violence. I went to this movie last fall with a group of friends, and I came out shaken and drained. "Why would such violence be entertainment?" I asked. I couldn't sleep that night. I do fine, though, with real photos of an actual murder scene. I can look at real autopsy photos, even of babies.

I do not do fine with the violence of the war in Liberia. I used to. I used to read every book, watch every tv show, while the war was still ongoing. But lately, I have watched a couple of videos of Liberia that included footage from the war, and I can hardly make it through them. I watch them - how can I not? they are of Liberia, oh Liberia - but it takes me weeks, sometimes, to watch a twenty minute video in thirty second intervals.

It's different, somehow, here, to see an individual person making a choice, however tragic, to kill another person. To see little kids, probably high on drugs, shooting indiscriminately in Monrovia, all those years ago, is a completely different thing. And maybe that's it: I can interact with people, on both sides of violence, as individuals, but I cannot deal with the anonymous violence or the entertainment violence.

One might wonder - and I have - whether it is Liberia and Rwanda that have given me this abhorrence for violence, or whether the fact that I keep ending up in pre-, current and post-conflict zones is just some awful joke the universe is playing on me.

08 June 2010


When I was little, in Liberia, ships dumped oil off the coast, or spilled it. There was usually a line of black gunk at the high tide line, and every time we went to the beach, we played in the waves and dug in the sand, and then we sat in the car with our feet sticking out so our parents could wash our tarry feet with kerosene.

I've been thinking of that as I see pictures of the Gulf Coast. Looking at pictures of the gooey brown water and the suffocating animals makes me feel sick to my stomach.

Then it makes me furious.

[Warning: swearing upcoming. I am too mad to do otherwise.]

Have you seen the charts of BP's violations of safety violations? If not, you can see them here: Center for Public Integrity. We should all be raging. We should be up in arms. This oil spill is going to affect the oceans of the entire world. How can it just go on and on?

I cannot believe that BP is doing everything they can to fix it. I just can't. Because they are doing nothing. If you ask me, it is time for the US government to step in and fix that shit. Someone knows how to fix it. Someone can get it done. Take the well away from that irresponsible company and fix it.

BP? Clearly isn't going to bother.


04 June 2010

the day I came to appreciate antibiotics

When I was living in Rwanda, I got a severe cold. I toughed it out, as one is supposed to do with a virus. I drank tea. I drank water. I got lots of sleep. I toughed it out until a day when I was supposed to be running errands in Kigali and instead was moaning on the couch at my boss's house, with his wife bringing me tea every few minutes. I could feel every heartbeat reverberating through my pounding head. I have a feeling that even now, seven years later, the smell of that vinyl couch would make my head hurt.

I finally called my friend B., who is a doctor, and asked him what to do. Since he was the one who normally lectured us about things just being viruses, I didn't expect much, but I was at the point where I genuinely started to think dying might be a relief because it would stop the pain. I was pleasantly surprised when he telephone-diagnosed me with a sinus infection and gave me permission to buy and take amoxicillin. The idea that the pain might go away made me think I might live. Within 24 hours, I felt like a human being again and was all dressed up, out on the town with friends.

I think of this almost every time I get sick, because it was the first time I ever really thought about what life was like before antibiotics. It was the first time that I understood how people died without them: they just could not go on. The disease won. And it still happens now, even in the rich world - we are not immortal, after all - but it is so, so rare, compared to the centuries past, compared to the poorer parts of the world, for a young, healthy person to die for lack of medication.

A few months later, while scouting out some goat pasture locations, I met a little girl with bloody pus dripping out of her ear. She was still trailing after the bigger kids, but clearly less energetic, and the ear obviously hurt. I talked my friend A., a nurse, into going to the pharmacy with me, and we collected the necessary antibiotics and took them out to the little girl's house. A. was from Malawi, but her medical Kinyarwanda was good enough to explain to the girl's mom how to administer the medication, and the next time I saw the little girl, she was running, laughing, up the path in front of me.

03 June 2010


In person my doctor (who is actually generally not at all patronizing, but treats me like an equal, which was why I was so annoyed last Friday) managed to convince me to allergy-proof my apartment. Her theory was that my immune system is overloaded enough dealing with the outdoor allergens, and if I can eliminate even the tiniest source of allergens, it will help. Mostly, this consisted of two things: stop using my down duvet (weep, sob), and put a protective cover on my mattress (dust mites: fair point. I got this mattress out of a garage). I bought a mattress cover and put it on, easy-peasy. Then I had to figure out how not to freeze to death without my duvet.

The only thing I own that could possibly replace my duvet is a quilt that I bought from a women's cooperative in Rwanda. It is made of squares of lapa/kitenge fabric, all blues and greens and yellows. It is really beautiful, if rather a different look than the reds and oranges of my apartment. I can cover it with the empty duvet cover, if I want a uniform look. Unfortunately, it smelled like basement. It was stored in my parents' basement for a year or two after law school. Clearly, it needed to be washed.

There are no laundromats within walking distance, and the washer in my apartment is economy-sized (the washer-dryer stacked atop one another kind). The quilt is huge. It is king-sized, because I had a king-sized bed in Rwanda, and not only is it two layers of fabric, but they actually did put a layer of some sort of stiff white stuff in the middle (batting?). So, big. Heavy.

This is why we have moms, so when we move out on our own and do not yet have confidence in our housekeeping abilities, we can call them and ask them the crucial questions: "Mom, do you think I can wash this huge, heavy quilt in my little tiny washer?"

"Well," she said, "how full is the washer with the quilt in it?" She raised the prospect of burning out the motor, and when I said that my building managers would kill me, she said, "Why? You've been a great tenant."

We decided I should go for it.

As it turns out, drying such a huge quilt in a little dryer is a much more trying proposition than washing it in a little washer. I spent my entire evening taking the quilt out at ten minute intervals and turning it so that the inside parts would be on the outside and exposed to the warm air. Now I think it is dry, although it's hard to tell for certain. I took it out and draped it over my bicycle, more because I was tired of turning it than because I was sure it was completely dry. So... here's hoping.

02 June 2010

actually, the opposite

It isn't that I'm exactly glad that my doctor spent a long time looking up my nose with her little light and then said, "Yeah, it's really swollen in there. I can't see much. You're going to need a CT scan so I can make sure that all the swelling hasn't trapped bacteria in your sinuses," but it was sort of gratifying to know that I'M NOT CRAZY. OR A WHINER. (I mean, obviously I am a whiner. Why else do I have a blog but to whine? I am not a needless whiner, is all.)

It turns out that it is really easy to make your doctor think you are drug-seeking. First, she tells you that she is prescribing you an allergy medication with a decongestant. "Is that going to make me sleepy?" you ask. "Can I take it in the morning and still be awake for work?"

Then she says, "Yes, actually, it's the same ingredient as Sud@fed, so it generally has the opposite effect. It tends to amp people up."

Then - and this part is KEY - you just say, "Oh, right, that's what they use to make meth, isn't it?"

Mission accomplished! Now she thinks you are a meth-head.

"Uh," she said, "do you use meth?" (Subtext: because how else would you know what meth does?)

"No," I said, oblivious, having not even realized that she would take it that way, "but at work I see a whole lot of people high on meth." It wasn't until later that I realized exactly how my comment had sounded.

She gave me the prescription anyway. Seriously, though, she has no idea how many stories I have heard in a professional capacity that start with, "Well, I hadn't slept for three days because I was on a meth binge..."

01 June 2010

unmade plans

I fully intended to go to the beach yesterday. I was going to get up early and take the bus or train to S.'s work to pick up her car and drive to the beach by myself. And I woke up in time, but of course it took me too long to get out of the apartment, and of course I decided to take a different bus route, and of course the bus was running on a Sunday schedule and I waited for over 30 minutes for the next bus to arrive, and of course I had overdressed for the day, expecting cold rain at the beach, and so I arrived at S.'s work huffing and sweating, overheated and annoyed, muttering under my breath and wearing rain pants while the sun peeped out of the clouds.

Instead, I went to the outlet mall (I gave up nature for shopping. heh) and got a baby shower present and the new colorful sneakers I've been wanting (the last pair they had). I got lost on the back roads trying to get to the K.'s house, and then I gnashed my teeth with frustration and drove in circles. When I got there at long last, we sat around chatting with church people. We took rides on the old fire truck. And then, when everyone had left, I sat in the (cooled) hot tub with a book, like a warm bath, and read until I absolutely had to go give S. her car back.