31 July 2011

broke but happy

Much as I loved living in Gone West, I realize in retrospect that I did not get out of my apartment enough. I very frequently didn't have plans for an entire weekend, and all I did to fill the hours was go for long walks and drink coffee.

Admittedly, coffee and long walks are some of my favorite things, but I rather prefer to be busy doing things with other people.

I didn't realize this until after I had been in Gone West for a while - I was so shell-shocked from being depressed in New York and from being culture-stressed in South Sudan and from giving up my international dreams that I couldn't really see anything for the first year or so that I lived in Gone West - but I needed more friends and activities.

By the time I realized it, it seemed too late, sort of, and because I didn't have a car, many activities that I would otherwise have tried felt too far away, especially when it meant meeting all new people after several bus/train transfers and then trying to get back across town late at night.

These are the travails of being a shy extrovert: you want more friends, but you don't want to have to go alone to meet them.

One good thing about moving to a new city is that I had to get out and make friends. I just had to. I knew exactly zero people when I moved here, and I love my coworkers, but they all have friends and families already.

Between fighting class and getting out and doing things, I am approximately 1000 times busier in Universe City than I ever was in Gone West.

The result is that I am happy, but broke. Also sleep-deprived.

I am not just broke because doing things costs money. I probably spend less on a day of hiking than I would spend on a day of wandering around Gone West. It's just that the more hiking and fighting, especially, I do, the more I buy.

There was the sword, of course.

T-shirts to wear for summer kung fu, when the gi is too heavy.

I kept jamming my toe, so I bought kung fu mat shoes.

I kept spraining my ankle, so I finally bought good hiking boots.

My knees have been hurting, so today I bought trekking poles.

I got tired of sunburning the part of my hair, so I bought a hat.

SOMEONE (hi, S.!) ordered us to wear non-cotton trousers, so I bought some quick-drying ones (short ones, though, since no one carries trousers long enough for me).

I sent my sister my old day-and-a-half pack that always felt a little short, so I bought myself a 60L backpack that fits me well.

I am happy about all of these things. Each of them improves my life in ways that I could probably measure if I took the time.

Most of the purchases I have made in my life that have made actual, substantial differences in my comfort and fill me with gratitude every time I looked at them are outdoor items. Unlike a dress that later begins to feel too short or not cute enough or whatever, a solid pair of hiking boots keeps giving and giving.

(Until your dad possibly throws one away when compulsively cleaning and/or leaves it in the van when he sells it. Details. Or maybe he didn't throw it away, and I've been unfairly blaming him all this time. Maybe someday we will find that single missing hiking boot somewhere in my parents' house and my long-term bitterness will be alleviated. And then I will have two good pairs of hiking boots.)

Between all of this hiking and fighting and doing, and a plane ticket to Michigan (the first one, I think, that I paid for all on my own), I am broke. Broke, and also happy.

25 July 2011


I am feeling cranky.

There is no particular reason for me to feel cranky, except that it is almost the end of July and I feel like I haven't gotten a summer at all. *&*^^%%( cold summer.

That, and I met a friend for dinner last week and spent the whole time watching his recent photos of Liberia pass on his computer screen. Curses.

I feel stuck.

Fighting class should help, but we didn't work until we wanted to fall over today. We just did some combatives and then practiced chokes from the side.

Last week, in advanced fighting class, we practiced the front choke with actual pressure. For some reason, the instructor and the guys in the class always worry that the girls will be freaked out by things like that - the choking, the hitting in the face. I am actually quite surprised myself at how un-phased I am by it all. It really doesn't bother me.

It makes me realize how very safe my life has been. I don't have a post-traumatic stress reaction to any of it, because no one but my brother has ever hit me. Oh, and that girl next door when I was growing up in Liberia who sat on my chest and told me to bang my own head against the ground. Details.

Also, I am starting to understand how people get addicted to exercise (horrors). I made a decision yesterday to give my knees a break (kung fu + running + hiking steep hills = ouch), and it was actually hard for me. I did go for a long walk, but it's not the same.


24 July 2011

the pox

I am fairly certain that I have never in my life had as many mosquito bites as I do right now, not even in South Sudan* where I bundled in a raincoat in the heat at night to avoid the mosquitoes that bit me through my jeans. The mosquitoes yesterday bit me through my clothes, too, including on my butt. THROUGH MY PANTS. (The mosquitoes in South Sudan bit me through my jeans. Similarly stubborn. Although they only came out at night.)

I didn't bring insect repellent, of course. Only wimps bring insect repellent. I don't even bring it to Africa, except to South Sudan, because when I was in Nairobi on the way there, my coworker told me that it was an absolute necessity.

I bought some 100% DEET in Nairobi and took it with me to South Sudan, where I applied it on several occasions and found that mosquitoes seemed to view it primarily as a marinade for the delicacy of my blood. Yum. Literally the only thing that worked was to have a mosquito-impermeable barrier between me and the blood-thirsty little suckers.

The mosquitoes on the trail yesterday had the same persistence. My friend T. and I ran into exactly one other person on the entire 5+ mile hike (I think everyone else had gotten the memo about the strange fact of hordes of mosquitoes in the normally insect-free Pacific Northwest), and that person had insect repellent and shared it with us. It didn't help. The mosquitoes feasted, unnoticing. Or perhaps enjoying the extra flavoring.

Only wimps bring insect repellent, but yesterday I was (metaphorically) curled up in a little ball on the trail, sobbing for some insect repellent.

Not actually, of course. What do you think I am?

We climbed up a snow-slope until it got too steep and slippery (I dropped both of my water bottles half-way up, when they fell out of the side pockets of my new backpack, and watched them slide faster and faster down the hill until they hit rocks; we rescued them on the way down), and then we climbed through the trees to the left, the slope so steep that I clung to bushes and trees to pull myself up.

From the top, we could see mountains:

(Hey! It's me! I have no photo of the mountain without me, and this one is at least somewhat identity-obscuring. Unless you know me. I think I am trying not to fall into the crevices between sharp rocks. Not visible: hundreds of chomping mosquitoes.)

On the way down, I hurled myself downward, over and over, in the direction of stable-looking trees that could break my fall. The only other option was to slide all the way down on my ass, and that seemed like a painful proposition. Too many splinters.

But it was this bad, mosquito-wise: we sat down for lunch at the top, were driven off by mosquitoes, and ended up sitting on the rocks in the middle of the snow field to get away from them. They still followed us there, but once we killed off all the ones that had migrated with us, no new ones seemed to be able to find us in the middle of the snow. So we sat there in the snow, in July, eating lunch.

The snow was actually much easier to descend than the mud, and after we ate lunch on it, I put on my rain pants and slid down the snow.

Plus: my brand new hiking boots made it the entire trip without pain or raw skin (I rarely get blisters - it goes straight to raw).

Minus: hundreds of mosquito bites.

Plus: mosquito bites don't itch me as much as they do some people.

Minus: I look like I have the pox.

(I didn't worry overly much about the mosquitoes because the bonus of living this far north is the lack of malaria and dengue fever, until my dad asked this afternoon, "Do the mosquitoes there carry West Nile virus or anything?" There is always something.)

* Interesting tidbit: with the split between Sudan and South Sudan, I have added a new country to my list without going to a new country. I was in Sudan, when South Sudan was part of it, and I was in South Sudan, except that at the time it happened to be part of Sudan. Obviously there are many far greater ramifications to South Sudan becoming an independent country, but I do find it kind of interesting that I can now put both Sudan and South Sudan on my list of countries visited, while actually only having been, back in 2007, to one country.

19 July 2011

sit a while

You cannot be particularly picky, if you live in the Pacific Northwest, about the weather on your hiking days. You have to just pick a day and go hiking. The weather will do what it pleases.

When you go hiking in July, however, you expect... something. I guess you sort of expect, at the very least, that the day will clear up a little.

Or not, thanks to the weirdest July ever. The weather did not clear up, and I ended up hiking in puddles masquerading as shoes. Cold. Also wet. IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE SUMMER.

I sort of miss living in a place where it actually gets hot (ducks flying rotten tomatoes cast by all those who despise the heat and love this place for its lack of it). It's just, you see, that it is never actually warm enough to swim here, and I do like to swim.

After hiking to the point of being soggy and chilled through, people came over to my house.

I love this. I love that I have a house that is big enough to have people over and (generally) clean enough that I can invite them over on a whim.

I threw some cookies together, and I had mojito ingredients and par-baked bread, and people brought fruit salad and burgers, and it was just generally so nice to have people over, at my house, in my dining room, talking and eating.

One of the things that I forget, here in the US, is hospitality. It's much easier to invite people over when you live in a place where there are not so many restaurants and coffee shops and bars. Here, it is simplest just to meet someone out somewhere, but it's also less fun, because there is not the cooking and improvising and clattering about.

I need to remember how much fun it is to invite people over. In Rwanda, I would invite people over to stay a few nights, just because they didn't have a place to go. People would stop by to pick something up, and I would offer them a soda, and we'd sit a while. It was nice. I miss that.

16 July 2011

on a saturday

In the entire 2.7 years I lived in Gone West, I only made it to the weekend farmers' market twice - once alone and once when my friend picked me up. I don't know why, really, except that it was basically closing down by noon, and I am quite emotionally attached to sleeping as much as possible on weekends. Exceptions to the all-sleep plan are made for activities that involve meeting other people, but when I'm on my own, I just don't tend to get up and out of the house very quickly.

This morning, though, I was determined to get up in time to go to the farmers' market in Universe City. I even went to bed early so that I would get plenty of sleep before the appointed hour for getting up.

Of course, I left my house 40 minutes after I planned to, but I did leave, and that counts for something.

True confessions: I got sucked in by a jewelry booth first, and delicious fruits and vegetables were therefore not the only things I purchased at the market. But eventually I found the farmers' market headquarters and bought a handful of little wooden tokens in lieu of cash. I wandered about blissfully, as one does at a farmers' market, and bought raspberries and sugar snap peas and coffee and some plants. There was a woman taking a picture of the colorful root vegetables, and little kids eating (actually eating!) samples of salad greens, and a woman handing out stalks of lavender.

"The best way to like a town is to wander around the farmers' market," I said to T., in a text. And it's kind of true, even when it's raining in July.

13 July 2011


Last week, my momma and I bought raspberries and blackberries and bread and coffee (me) at the farmers' market, and we sat in the sunshine and serious mowed through the raspberries. Yum.

"Just think," my momma said. "If someone tried to make these, with all these little cells filled with juice, they would be incredibly expensive."

This week, I was driving past the farmers' market for the third time that day when I noticed bitterly that they were closing down and I was on my way to a work location, and I wasn't going to get any raspberries.

And then I stopped myself, and I turned the car around, and I went back, because I had already eaten lunch at my desk while working, and I realized that the five minutes it would take to buy some raspberries, my favorite part of summer, was worth it.

I bought two boxes of raspberries and two boxes of sugar snap peas, and I put them carefully in my trunk. I went to my work location, and I went back to work, and I sat there with a mound of raspberries, eating the ripest ones first and saving the lighter ones for the next day.

I needed that.

04 July 2011

7/4/11 or 4/7/11. whatever.

I can hear fireworks but not see them, here in my treehouse. I think the fireworks in town might be behind the trees, and I might miss them all together.


Just as I wrote that, I began to see fireworks. They are not the big, professional fireworks. They are the expensive, illegal, individual kind. They spark off in all directions.

Once before, in this country, I missed a professional fireworks display on July 4th. That was three years ago, and we rode the bucket truck up, in turns, to watch the individual kind go off at random almost 360 degrees around.

We rode the bucket truck up again today, at the K.s', just to see. To see the Mountain Visible from Gone West, and the other one, those two that I miss so much. To see the hills curling round protectively. To see the house below, and to wave down to the people.

"Grandma!" Little J. called, as his grandma rode up and up. "Grandma! Do I look like a toy?"

My momma is here, and the drive back down to Universe City, still painful when there is grilling and swimming going on back there, at home, was slightly less awful than usual. (I called the K.s' house home today, to my momma, as we were sitting under a tree after I threw candy from the back of D.'s fire truck in the parade. "I want to go home," I said, and she said, "To [Universe City]?" "No," I said, "to the K.s' house.") But at least with a passenger there was conversation and I could point things out: the town where R. lived for a year, the highway where a high speed chase went on, the turn toward downtown.

I love having my momma around.

02 July 2011

like he wants his rodeo

This ain't my first rodeo, ya'll.

Fine, it was my second. That made me something of an expert, at least compared to my Bostonian friend. I am not sure she enjoyed the rodeo. I did, though, enough that I am now listening to Garth Brook's song Rodeo. I suspect that the facts that: 1. I grew up - partly - in a smallish city in the Midwest, and 2. I listen(ed) to country music, make me much more able to get the rodeo world. In fact, I like it. It feels like a fair, and what is not to love about a fair? I have only two words to say about a fair: elephant ears. And the same goes for a rodeo.

So yes, the rodeo. I like a good rodeo. I like the cowboys in their Wranglers and chaps. (All men should wear chaps now and then, yum. That is actually how my friend sold me on the rodeo idea the first time I went: "Wrangler butts," she said. "That's why we go to rodeos.") And it's funny, because going to a rodeo, as opposed to hanging out with overly-educated, quasi-urban people exactly like me, made me really miss that world.

"I've been missing Michigan lately," I told my rodeo 2 friend.

"Yes, but if you moved back there, you would miss [this state] too much," she said. "[Gone West], at least."

"My whole life is missing places," I said. "I will never be able to live anywhere without missing other places."

Every place forms you, but it takes a part of you, too. I wouldn't take those parts of myself back, not even if the places were offering, but I wish I could visit the pieces more often.

Nothing makes me feel more longing than fireworks, and this is a bad weekend for that.