30 September 2010


Since I put the milk crate on my bike, I cannot swing my leg over the back anymore (I have a boy bike, with the high bar), and I have developed a bad habit of swinging my leg over the front, so both legs are on one side while I'm still moving. Every time I do it, I think, this is a mistake, but I do it anyway, because it's so convenient to just jump off. Literally.

Tonight, as I pulled into my driveway, I did exactly the same, and I wobbled, somehow, to the right and then over-corrected to the left and then back right, and my foot wasn't all the way over yet, and the bike and I went crashing in to the potted plants. It hurt. Badly. I scraped all the skin off the lower part of my shin, and my other foot is already a big bump.

The good news is that I did not destroy one of my landlady's precious plants. Just myself.

28 September 2010

Liberia for the win!

World Giving Index:

"The “World Giving Index” is the first report of its kind looking at charitable behaviour across the world. Using data from Gallup’s Worldview World Poll CAF looked at three different types of charitable behaviour – giving money, giving time and helping a stranger and used the results to produce the “World Giving Index”.

Australia and New Zealand topped the Index. Malta was found to be the country with the largest percentage of the population (83%) giving money, the people of Turkmenistan are the most generous with their time with 61% having given time to charity and Liberia was top of the list for helping a stranger (76%).

The study also found that being happy is more of an influence on giving money to charity than being wealthy."

I love that country.

(This might explain why it physically pained me to pass by the tourists who were lost and confused, clearly looking for a hotel far from any area of town that might have a hotel, even though 1. I was on a bike, 2. I was late for FIGHT class, 3. I don't know this town well enough to direct them anywhere, and 4. I watched to make sure they stopped the nearest pedestrian to get advice from someone who actually knows how to direct them correctly.)

26 September 2010


I didn't want to move here. I mean, I really didn't want to move here. It isn't that I was weeping and gnashing my teeth about it. I just didn't feel any excitement at all. I got an apartment and packed up my stuff and said goodbyes all very routinely, as if I had said goodbye many times before, which I suppose I have, and then I moved down here and started my new job and activities, very routinely, as if I had started over many times before, which I suppose I have, too.

Someone asked me yesterday if I was glad that I moved to Universe City and I said something diplomatic about how I am starting to see the city's good points, and M. laughed and said, "That's a no."

And yeah, that is a no.

It is probably good for me to be here. I know myself better now than I did when I moved to Gone West, and I'm being much more deliberate about building the friendships I know I need to be happy. I have the job I want. I may someday be very glad that I moved here.

But now? I'm not glad, now. I'm okay with the fact that I live in Universe City instead of Gone West. I am resigned to it. But I am not glad. I could have been deliberate about adding to my friends in Gone West. I would have loved to do this job with procedures I know, surrounded by people who already know and respect me, instead of starting back at the beginning.

I am fine, here. I am not weeping and gnashing my teeth. My life is filling with good things and people. It's just that, still, I feel no excitement about this place. It just is.

25 September 2010


After I woke up but before I decided that yes, I probably did need to get out of bed to go back to pick up my stuff from the church yard sale, I thought of the waiting room at the Toyota dealership in Kigali. I don't know why. It's not a place where I spent that much time, nor one that I have any need to think about, but suddenly there it was, with its darkened glass and sample sets of tires. It's funny how things come back to you when you don't even need them, when you may never need them again.

When E. came to Rwanda in 2004 to help me out for a few weeks, we were on our way to the Toyota dealership when the baby Land Cruiser's tire deflated. A person in a passing vehicle on the road to the dealership and further to Uganda waved out the window at us, and finally I figured out what he was trying to convey and pulled off to the side of the road.

People gathered, as they do, and I tried to change the tire, with a lot of assistance from the gathered men, in particular, but it was to no avail for an embarrassingly long time. I do know how to change a tire, but there was some complication that I cannot actually remember. Perhaps E. would remember it. I need a key for... something. To unlock the spare? Yes, I think that was it. I could take off the old, deflated tire but I had the wrong set of keys with me, and the spare was locked onto the back of the truck. The key to unlock it was back in Kibuye.

We scratched our heads for a while, and then I left E., on her first day in the country, along the side of the road with the truck and all of our stuff. I hired two bicycle taxis, one for the deflated tire and one for me, and we set off, the tire balanced precariously on the back of the bicycle in front of me, and me balanced precariously sideways on the back of the second bicycle, the mile or two down the road to get the tire repaired at the Toyota dealership.


Today, I got up and went back to the yard sale, where I bought still more, an ironing board and a fan and a jewelry box and a stand mixer and a dishrack and a saw and a little box of tiny drawers full of nails and washers and nuts and bolts and screws, and a couple of men from the church threw everything in a trailer and brought it to my house.

I need most of those things. The recipe for the last cake I baked, the night before I left Gone West City, called for "beat[ing] eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored." Try doing that with a wooden spoon. It takes quite some time, and it does not do well for the golf elbow.

Still, I begin to see the need for a garage.

Not for the future car.

For the (useful) stuff.


We drove out of the city to a vineyard on a hill.

"Are those the vines the wine comes from?" J. asked, gesturing outside the tasting room and the proprietor laughed.

"No, those are basically dead. They are just there for show. Our vineyards are further out."

Later, after a girl and her date left, he told us that she's come there with three or four different guys. "This time, she looked at me with a worried look, like she thought I would say something wrong."

We took a bottle of rosé out to the picnic table and ate chunks of baguette with cheese and tomato and roasted peppers and avocado falling out of them.

At the next winery, a man played an accordion and I took M.'s big fancy camera and snapped picture after picture of the blue grapes* and the rows of green vines meeting the darker green of the hills and then of M. singing Edelweiss along with the accordion man and M. and S.K. dancing around in circles.

* M. handed me some grapes from a bunch she got off the ground, telling me how delicious they were, and they looked so much like blueberries that I kept chewing straight into the pit and then making faces and spitting out the whole thing and I thought they just tasted bad until a few minutes later when I remembered that you don't eat the seeds with the grapes, and I ate a few grapes without the seeds. They were delicious.

24 September 2010

car thoughts

Much of the time since I moved to Universe City, it hasn't really mattered that I don't have a car. It doesn't change things that much. I mostly get to the places I need to be, by bike or by foot or by bus. People offer me rides all the time.

Every occasionally, though, like tonight, when I've dropped $100 (am a big spender, very big) at a church yard sale on an assortment of odds and ends like tiny footstool, orange velvet curtain, orange outdoor blanket, antique photo of lake and mountain in landscape frame, dresser, four-drawer old wooden library card catalog, approximately 8 nice wooden hangers, I really wish I had a car. Or a truck.

Because if I had one of those, I would not have been trudging down the street just to get to my bike to ride home, lugging more than I can carry, with still more left behind, and planning to get up earlier than I want to so that I can go back to the church and lug even more stuff home.

Because if I had one of those, there would be milk in my fridge, because I would have been able to stop on the way home and get milk, instead of realizing that I would have to park my bike, lock the bike, take all of the stuff off of it that I cannot very well carry, take off the seat and put it in the bag I keep for that purpose, drag everything into the store, pick up the milk, drag everything back out of the store, and try to figure out a way to fit the milk into the crate which is already full of stool, purse, curtain, and blanket.

Because if I had one of those, I would not dread the weather forecast. I would not dread the cold mornings when my ears want to fall off as the wind passes them. I would not dread the dark, because I would not be quite so trapped in my apartment.

The thing is, I feel guilty for wanting a car. I feel like I should be able to manage without one. Not every person on the planet can have a car if we want to keep this planet functional, and I don't really see why I should be one of the people who have a car, and yet I want one so badly some days, and I am trying to put it off, to wait for the right car and the right time, but I know I'm going to end up buying one, probably very soon.

22 September 2010


I went into a sporting goods store to look for gloves to wear at my FIGHT class. I opened a bunch of boxes and tried on a bunch of them, but none was quite right. In between, I chatted with the guy who worked there.

"It's a really fun class," I said, as we concluded that there were no workable gloves there. "If you ever think about taking some sort of martial arts or self-defense class, this is a good one."

"Oh, NO," he said, primly, "I don't like hitting, or being hit."

"Well, it's really more about what to do if someone comes at you with a gun..." I trailed off, and he found a reason to go off to run the register at the front of the store.

It was very, very hard not to laugh out loud. Does he think I'm planning to go find people to hold me at gunpoint? The whole point is what to do in situations in which you did not choose to be.

I am, however, that person who, after class, asks the nearest instructor, "So, what about, say, a machine gun? What do you suggest for disarming that person? Because there is the strap over the shoulder, which would make it harder."

"I suggest," she said, "taking cover."

I guess this FIGHT stuff is still going to be no use in much of the world, then.

20 September 2010


"You can't hike through the woods with an umbrella," S. told me, as we got out of the car.

"I don't have a hood on my raincoat," I said, "I need the umbrella."

"No real [Gone Wester] would use an umbrella on a hike," she said.

"You told me I can't be a real [Gone Wester] for at least 20 years. I have 17 more years to use an umbrella," I said, and resolutely started off through the woods with a big blue umbrella over my head.

15 September 2010


I am not in pain.


I will be, though.

Right now, I am just a little tired and stiff, but I can feel the beginnings of "I can't get out of bed in the morning" coming on.

I started taking this class. I dripped sweat. I used muscles I did not know existed. My poor golf elbows... well, they will get used to punching and push-uping and disarming people with guns. They will have to get used to it.

Now I am going to try to stand up. Very slowly and carefully.

14 September 2010


I like tomatoes, but I'm not one of those people who eats them for fun. I have never been excited to put a tomato into my mouth. I like them in fresh salsa, and as a salad, and even on a good sandwich, but I don't eat them on their own. Just before I moved to Universe City, though, I was staying at S.'s house, and she sent me out to the pots in the driveway to pick some tomatoes for a salad.

I came back inside to report that there were no ripe tomatoes.

"Let me look," S. said, and pointed out to me all the ripe tomatoes. Dudes, they were orange. How was I supposed to know that orange tomatoes were ripe?

Then I ate one, and there was no going back. Orange cherry tomatoes are a whole new tomato.

One of my favorite things about this part of the country is the many, many farmers' markets. In bigger cities (curses on my need to leave Gone West City), there are farmers' markets every day, somewhere in the city. In Universe City there are... fewer. Maybe two. Or three. I don't actually know. I am new here, you know.

There are rows and rows of little green boxes at the farmers' market, full of small globes of yellow and red and orange, and on a whim or a craving (because, as I said, I don't even really like tomatoes that particularly much unless they are drenched in balsamic vinegar and eaten with mozzarella) I bought a box of orange ones and started popping them into my mouth one after another. They burst like berries when you bite them.

They taste like warmth, like summer.

13 September 2010

moment by moment

Yesterday, I sat at the top of a tiny little mountain, looking out over Universe City. A little ladybug crawled past, and my new friend said, "It's good luck." I held out my finger and the ladybug crawled on to it and lingered around the fingernail while we talked about life and its unexpectedness, how you move to a city on a whim or for work and your entire life becomes something different than ever you guessed it might be.


Today, I wore a pair of new shoes and immediately after work I went to the pharmacy and bought all of the following: triple-antibiotic ointment, thick foam bandaids, and heel-liners. So you can guess how well the new shoes worked, on their first day.

11 September 2010


One thing I love about Universe City: whenever a salesperson finds out that I am riding my bike (usually because I say something like, "No, I don't need that double-bagged. I have a super bootleg crate on the back of my bike"), they say, "Ride safe!" as I leave.

I rode my bike to a shopping center, over the river and through the woods, and learned something very important: google maps bicycle instructions: do not trust them. They will lead you astray. It took me an hour to ride something that google maps claimed would take 20 minutes. Most of the extra time was backtracking and experimenting with various streets that turned into freeway on-ramps.

(Another thing in favor of Universe City, though: the buses may suck, but the bike paths are fantastic. Most streets seem to have bike lanes, unless they are residential and not busy or there is some nearly parallel bike path. A bike is far more useful than the buses. Until it starts raining.)

This is one of those evenings when I feel vaguely sick about how much money I spent today, regardless of how badly I needed to spend it. Jeans: replacement for every-pair-I-own-has-holes -in-it. Shoes: replacement for foot pain and/or wet feet from shoes that have holes. Present for mom and dad for Christmas: brilliant genius thinking ahead. Food: self-explanatory.

(Apparently I am obsessed with the : today.)

On the way back home, I trusted my own sense of direction rather than google maps and it worked out much, much better. I'm still a little scared of riding my bike at night, though. Not for myself, but, you know, there are those cars. They cannot be trusted, especially on a Saturday night. I saw a BMW careen around a corner, slam into the curb, and keep going, which was not exactly comforting for someone on a bike, lacking all the protections of a metal box on wheels.

10 September 2010


I've met a few new friends this week and tried a few new restaurants. I am in that job stage where one minute you are thrilled with how well everything is going and how competent you are and then the next minute you feel like you've made the most amateur mistake on the planet. During the week, I'm starting to like this town.

Now is the test: the weekend.

The weekend forces me to spend time in my apartment, which means that I have to confront the truth, which is that I am living in chaos. I suspect that the stack of unpacked (but so useful!) boxes that block my route to the table and the assortment of boxes around the edge of the bedroom (but I don't have a dresser!) are not exactly helping me to feel settled here.

I am trying to hold out for the church rummage sale. One of the ladies informed me, two weeks ago, that there were several nice dressers already donated there. Plus, half the point of church is that people help each other out, and I bet someone will help me get a dresser home. I guess, now that I think about it, I am not so much holding out for the church rummage sale as I have no possible way to get a dresser home before then, so the church rummage sale and potential church members with trucks are my only possible option to get to a point where I can actually unpack.


I just got distracted reading through things I wrote during my international work years, and I remembered how very much there is that you can't say on a public internet site, how very much there is that maybe you can't ever say in public. I had forgotten many of them, until I saw them there in words. They were just life.

I went to a bunch of African movies earlier this year (ugh, another reason to regret leaving Gone West City), and at one of the movies, which was about a sensitive issue in one of the countries in which I have lived, one of the organizers asked me if I would be the person to respond to questions after the movie.

I said no. Call me paranoid, to think that it could ever be a problem that I talked about that particular sensitive issue (about which I actually know very little) at a movie screening in Gone West City, but I did not grow up where and when I did to grow up to underestimate exactly how sensitive these issues are. I have a lot of opinions, but I keep my mouth shut about other people's countries' politics.

Writing of opinions, have I ever explained here my hierarchy of knowledge of a country? I firmly believe that if you have been in a country longer, you get to be the explainer. It goes like this:

One month in country > one week in country
One year in country > one month in country
Ten years in country > one year in country
Lifetime in country > everyone else.

If you are on the right side of that equation, you do not explain how the country works, or what people believe, or how the politics work, no matter how much you have studied it. You shut up. At least, I shut up, and I think you should, too.* This conveniently avoids the know-it-all person who says, "But I have a B.A. in Culture-of-Country-X, even though I've never been there." That person** is required to shut up under my theory. Although they never do.

* Exceptions to shutting up are made for asking intelligent questions.
** If I am friends with you, you are not that person.

08 September 2010


Addendum to Sunday's post: I had actually checked the Sunday schedule for that bus before I headed out expecting a 7:59 am bus. I was not blindly following a weekday schedule. Thus the annoyance: the bus does not even follow its own allegedly up-to-date schedule.

I need a car. I have been carless since I got back from Rwanda in 2004, due to three years in New York (car is more work than use) and three years in Gone West (car is just not really necessary).

I used to love driving, in Rwanda. I loved the tight curves on the road to Kibuye and the close brushes with huge, lumbering lorries. I loved the blinker to tell people if it was safe to pass and the hand kept poised over the horn to warn cows and kids who darted into the road.

I loved driving, but now S. says, "You are kind of a jumpy driver," when I drive on the way down to Universe City. I have lost my comfort behind the wheel, or maybe it's just that I still expect cows and kids to dart into the road, even on a smooth US American highway. I will have to earn my comfort back behind the wheel of my own car, the first one I haven't bought from my dad or been assigned at work.

07 September 2010

weather report

I rode my bike to work today. It took 6 minutes, including waiting to get across the single busy street.

Nice, I thought. I will have to do this more often.

Then it started raining. And raining. And it continued raining. When I left work, it was actually raining. Not drizzling, like it normally does in this part of the world, nor down-pouring, but just a constant, steady rain.

I didn't exactly plan for this. It goes back to the age-old question: when the weather report says 30% chance of rain, does that mean a 30% chance that it will rain at some point during the hour, or does that mean that there is a 30% chance that it will be raining at any given point in the hour (i.e. about 20 minutes of the hour)? Or are the weather people just often wrong?

I didn't have a raincoat. But I gamely got on my bike and set off, wearing just my corduroy jacket.

I got wet and cold and wetter and colder. If there is anything I despise, it is being wet and cold.

I went looking for a store that I thought was on a particular corner, and it wasn't, and I got more wet and more cold. Then I went to the grocery store and I had a terribly difficult time locking my bike because the front tire was too big for the allotted bike space, and I got still more wet and still more cold.

I thought about being annoyed and frustrated. I thought about despairing because everything was going wrong, wrong, wrong. But then I realized that yes, I was wet. Yes, I was cold. But I was only six minutes away from a warm, dry apartment, full of warm, dry sweatshirts, and I watched unconcernedly as the rain dripped off the end of my helmet's visor. I smiled at the other biker at the corner.

And then I wheeled my bike into the kitchen so it could drip on the linoleum, and I took off all my dripping outer layers right there so that they wouldn't get the carpet wet, and I put on flannel pajama pants and a sweatshirt and socks and curled up in a fuzzy blanket.

05 September 2010


I gave in and bought a train ticket to Gone West City. I felt trapped in Universe City, and I had to get out. The train left at 9 am, so I thought, to be safe, I would take the bus that passed my house at 7:59 am rather than waiting for the one at 8:29.

I was out at the bus stop at 7:56, but no bus came, neither while I was walking to it nor while I waited.

At 8:07 I started walking toward the next stop. And then the next. At the third stop, I found a schedule, which said that the first Sunday bus came by at 9:20.

I shifted my bag from one shoulder to the other, bent my head into the journey, and started walking, cursing Universe City all the way.

On the train, when I saw the first street that I could definitively say was in Gone West City, I had to fight tears. I was choked up all through the familiar streets, past the restaurant where we celebrated my new job, under the bridge on which I used to ride my bike to work. Three years ago, this was the city that gave me hope during my miserable days in the middle of nowhere in South Sudan. I was going to move here and put down roots. I was going to build a career and date boys. I was going to make friends and find a home.

And then the economy tanked. The job I wanted - the job I have - hasn't opened up here in two years, and it won't open up for at least a year or two, maybe longer if the downward plunge of funding continues. I wanted to do this job - I want to do this job - and so I moved. It is a minor thing, in the big picture, such a minor thing. There are people without any job at all. There are people afraid that they won't be able to buy school clothes for their kids. I just had to move from one city to another to do my dream job.

But all I keep thinking is, "I want to go home." Here in Gone West City, when the city train passed my apartment, I leaned against the window and thought, "I want to go home." I want this to be home.

04 September 2010


Not long before I left Gone West City, I ended up at dinner after Sunday night church with a bunch of people from the K.'s church (but notably, none of the K.s. I can explain how that happened, but it is a long and tedious story involving bicycles and jeeps and leaving the house at 6:10 for a 6:00 service, and it is unimportant to the story at hand).

The church people and I went to a wings place. I ordered vegetarian wings, which horrified some people, and there were trivial pursuit cards on the table, so we spent the meal quizzing one another on random facts from the 1980s and before (the cards were old).

After we ate yummy chicken or soy protein wings, someone ordered a plate of fried oreos and twinkies.

This is like a bad joke, right? Everyone mocks fried oreos and twinkies. They are both unhealthy in the first place, and full of preservatives, and then you fry them? Well, oreos are delicious, I think, but I despise twinkies. They taste like chemicals. This is county fair food, and it just hurls itself at potential mockery. I myself made fun of them as the order came out.

And then I ate my words, and a lot of fried junk food, because fried oreos and twinkies are utterly delicious. Somehow the breading and frying utterly transforms them. The twinkies lose their chemical taste as the filling melts into the cake. The oreo chocolate melts into the breading and the filling seeps into the chocolate.

I should have been able to predict this. Soon after I moved to Gone West City, I went with N. and S. to a party thrown by S.'s friend. N. and I, neither of whom knew anyone else at the party, ended up spending the evening grilling double-stuf oreo after double-stuf oreo on the grill. Steaming hot oreos, with the filling all melted, are addicting. I should have expected that they would be just as addicting fried.

So now when I read about the ridiculous things that are fried at state fairs, I no longer scoff. The people frying them probably know something I don't know (yet).

moving in

The easiest way to move into a new place is to go shopping and buy all new things and start over. That is much, much easier than trying to use all the old things in a new place.

This message is brought to you by the letter F and the annoyance of washing the old shower curtain.

03 September 2010

mental shift

I really cannot express how excited I am to go to sleep tonight, and to sleep until I wake up naturally. Sleeeeep.

I have had the best week, though, people. I mean, yes, I am in a new city. Yes, I know no one here. Yes, I miss my friends and coworkers. Yes, I am so exhausted I can hardly move. Yes, I am seriously annoyed by my lack of transportation.

(Everyone keeps telling me how great the bus system is here in Universe City, to which my (unspoken) response is, "Have you ever depended on this bus system? Because it isn't running at all on Monday. What kind of good bus system comes only every half an hour during rush hour and shuts down on holidays?" I am trapped here, ya'll. Trapped. I can't even get to a store that sells mascara without either 1. taking two buses, or 2. walking for at least half a hour. Trader Joe's would take me two buses or more than half a hour on a bike. Plus do you know how hard it is to transport milk home on a bike? Hard, very hard, unless you have the right kind of box/bag on the back of your bike.)

But. But.

All the stuff I can't talk about on a public website? All that stuff is amazing. On a social level, I wish I hadn't had to move here, but on a professional level, on a job fulfillment level, I am straight-up excited about what I get to do every day.