30 November 2013

30: tidbits on a Saturday

I purchased items at H$M (insert an ampersand in there), and now I feel guilty, like I'm single-handedly destroying the lives of people around the world and also the environment. (Note that this is not a single-handed type of situation: the place was packed.) I think I will not go back there. 


I asked my Spanish teacher today if native Spanish speakers feel that ser and estar have different connotations, like I could explain, if I were forced, tiny differences between start and begin. He told me that US Americans think more about the nuances of English because we read a lot. "Did you ever see someone reading a book in Honduras?" he asked. (Not that I recall, although there are some amazing authors who write/wrote in Spanish.)

I am fascinated now. I never really thought about the reading culture - however much people complain that it is dying, there are still a huge number of people reading books in this country. I mean, I read a lot of books, but I have always been a book worm, and I assumed that the articles about the dying of the book were just talking about, I don't know, someone else. But maybe we do still read a lot of books in comparison to places with a weaker literature tradition and a stronger oral tradition.

"If I asked my friend, 'Como es tu padre?' he would tell me that his father is kind, and if I asked my friend, 'Como esta tu padre?" he would tell me that his father is fine, but if I asked him the difference between the two questions, he would say, 'What two questions? What do you mean?"

I take this to mean I need to memorize the sound of when to use ser and when to use estar. I feel like I had much more patience for this memorization kind of thing when I was approximately 14 years old, possibly because I was in high school and that's what one did in high school. Now I've been spoiled by the concept of understanding things, and I find rote memorization much more annoying than once it was.


This whole idea of not going in to work on the weekend is kind of fantastic. I didn't realize how much it weighed on me every Saturday to have to rush around and do everything in time to go back to work on Sunday afternoon, but this weekend I am not working for the whole weekend (I could go in; I have plenty to do, but I refuse, because I need a rest) and my lack of anxiety tonight is palpable. In the figurative use of the word. It cannot actually be palpated save in my imagination. But it is marked in comparison to most Saturday nights. 

In the absence of the need to rush in to work tomorrow, I am doing things like mopping the kitchen floor. It's been a while since any of us have had the time to do this, and it showed. The floor was basically sticky. I had to scrub off multiple gooey things that had been stuck for a while. 

Look, we are three busy girls. Finding a time when any or all of us is not rushing off to something else is difficult. I tried to explain this to the landlord the last time he was here, as he scorned us for not having cleaned behind the fridge (seriously? who cleans behind the fridge unless you are moving it for some reason?) and told me that his mom had a third grade education but she knew how to keep things clean with soap and water. 

Unless he plans to offer us a cleaning service, this frantically busy house of girls is going to have cleaning behind the fridge pretty low on the list of priorities, behind, say, surviving another week crammed with activities without having a nervous breakdown.

But today I had time to scrub the kitchen floor, and tomorrow I may even clean my room.

29: people

I stayed late at work today so that I don't have to go in this weekend (for the first weekend in two months), and when I came out of the building, the streets were full of people. The corners were so crowded that I had to push through the hordes. 

Inside the shopping center, fake snow blew out of a machine on the second floor, falling down toward the fountain. Crowds of people stood underneath it, and a woman tried to capture it on camera.

The line for the bucks of star stretched 30 people deep into the hallway. 

I thought about checking out deals, but there were too many people and I was too hypoglycemic, so I turned around and left. On my way out the door, a young Middle Eastern guy smiled and motioned for me to go through first. 

I really do like people.

Just half a block off the busy square with the tree and the lights and the masses, I boarded a bus no even less full than usual - all the holiday revelers must have driven or taken the train. We rode home like usual, save for a few balconies decorated with lights.

Truth be told, I went back out after I ate, but to a whole different part of town, where I finally found a long, warm, chunky sweater to wear as a layer over every single thing I own. 

I'm tired of being cold. Yesterday morning, while drinking my hot chocolate, I was wearing a down vest. Why? Because we keep this house at 55 degrees F. How else is a girl to survive? 

The fact that I've had to give up wool - I get itchy after just touching it in the store as I try to figure out what the contents of a sweater are - is really quite a problem for someone as consistently cold as I am. Many more layers of cotton/rayon/nylon sweaters are needed than are layers of wool sweaters.

It's insane, too, because two years ago I wore a wool dress pretty frequently, and now the thought makes me itch and get raw red spots on my neck. Obviously I got rid of that dress in the move to Gone West. 

It's hopeless. I need to go live on a farm. (If that seems like a non sequitur, read the article.)

28 November 2013

28: twice

There need to be more days like this in my life. 

Thanksgiving dinner out on the west side of the United States seems to start much later than it does in the midwest, and so I slept in, and I drank hot chocolate, and I went for a walk in the sunshine, and I made a corn pudding.

I had to fight the urge to make more food, but there were a great many people going to the Thanksgiving dinner, and it really wasn't necessary for each of us to bring 20 times the amount of food we could eat. I reminded myself of this every time the urge to make more hit me. I had two pans of corn pudding and some sparkling juice and a box of salted caramels. That is enough, I told myself.

It was enough. The table in my friend's little house veritably groaned under the weight of the incredible amounts of food. In addition to all the middle America staples, there were other amazing things: Puerto Rican rice and beans, stir fry with heritage rice, latkes. Best of all, there was a fresh cranberry granita. It was intended to be mixed with vodka, but I drank it barely diluted with club soda. I think I drank more than I ate, honestly.

There was talking, too: talking with new people and old people, with little kids and older adults, with lawyers and bakers. 

At one point, when the only bathroom was occupied and my friend and I were experiencing serious results of the delicious beverage, we went to opposite corners of the frosting-over yard and peed in the yard (we cleared it with the hostess first). 

That makes twice that I have peed in a yard in Gone West out of sheer necessity. The other time, I didn't exactly have permission. I just sort of ducked behind a hedge off a main street. Oh, well. It's biodegradable.

27 November 2013

27: pull it together

I wasn't really thinking straight at the beginning of yesterday's post*, because of course I wouldn't be alive without modern medicine: I wouldn't have been born. My dad was diagnosed with Type I diabetes five years before I was born, and without modern medicine I would never have existed.

So there's that. Doesn't fix the antibiotic crisis, though.

In other news, I was supposed to drill with Crusher again today. Not rolling, this time, but practicing one particular thing (rear naked choke, if you are interested. no, no one is naked for this move. I think it's called naked because your poor little neck is exposed). Crusher is a lot stronger than me, so he just basically rolled over and rolled me with him while I was supposed to have his back. 

Fine. One of the coaches last week, after my arms hurt too much to continue, pointed out to me that Crusher has no posture. He gets by on force alone, and that only goes so far. "Keep him broken down," the coach said. "Just wear him out."

So when Crusher rolled over and tried to get the best of me, I let him roll. I kept him in my guard, though (this means I had my legs around his torso with my ankles crossed on the other side), and when we got to the point where I was on my back on the ground, I just reached up and fastened my hands into his gi at the neckline so he was constantly bent over. Can't get your torso straight? Not much you can do. He could basically stand himself up with me hanging off his neck, but he never did straighten at his waist to give himself some control. I WIN.

Then we played some crazy choking game where you try to get the ball through a goal but you can make people leave the floor if you can choke them. 

This devolved into a huge pile of adults crushing each other. 

Adults should not be allowed to play games like this. The same thing happened with the dodge ball in my martial arts school in Universe City: the kids can play it just fine, but the adults are too competitive. The balls hurt during dodge ball, and this game got pretty violent, too. I finally just started picking someone off and trying to choke them so they couldn't beat down my team's player on the bottom of the pile.  

We lost.

* I am not thinking straight much of the time, lately. Yesterday someone asked me, "How's it going?" and I answered, "Not much." She was pretty appalled. I am just too tired to process anything but the necessary. The focus kicks in for the necessary, but not for much else.

26 November 2013

26: antibiotics

I sometimes think about whether I would be alive without modern medicine. 


I've had malaria several times (I remember how wonderful the cool cement floor felt to lie on), and there were a few rounds of lung illnesses (pneumonia, etc.) when I was in middle school, and I've had strep throat a number of times, and there was that sinus infection in Rwanda. 

That's just the little stuff. That doesn't even count the TB that I could have contracted from my friend in Liberia when I was very small, or the vaccines that prevented me from getting cholera, or the schiztosomiasis.

The last few times I really needed antibiotics - for the sinus infection in Rwanda and strep throat in law school - I remember the distinct feeling of the disease responding to the antibiotics. I took the pills (amoxicillin in Rwanda and penicillin in law school) and literally felt better by the minute until I stopped feeling better and started feeling worse again before the next dose. 

My friend B., a surgeon who trained in Ethiopia, told me that it wasn't necessary to take antibiotics for 10 days in Rwanda, because there was so much less resistance to them. 7 days would be plenty, he told me. 

I suspect this is in part because, even though antibiotics are available without a prescription, very few people are educated enough to know when and how to take them. One of the guards who watched the house/office where I lived in Rwanda once came to me and said that he needed to go to the hospital because he had a headache. 

"I can give you medicine for it," I told him, and gave him 12 or so ibuprofen.

"How do I take it?" he asked, and I wrote down: two in the morning, two at midday, two at bedtime. It was a bit of culture surprise for someone who keeps a giant size bottle of ibuprofen all the time. (Although I try not to use it much anymore.)

Dr. B. also told me that he was horrified when he read US medical literature. "I do not have infection rates like that in my hospital," he told me. "It is rare that I have an infection after surgery. I don't know what is going on in hospitals in America."

What is going on is, in part, that we have been spoiled by antibiotics. When I had that sinus infection, as I got the antibiotics, I thought to myself that I could see how people died before there were antibiotics, because I wasn't sure how long I would maintain the will to live if my head hurt that badly with no hope of relief. I probably would have pulled through just fine, of course, but there is so much less risk to a life with good antibiotics: I can travel the world. I can go visit people in hospitals. I can go visit people in jail. I can go to schools. Whatever I pick up in those places, I'll probably be fine.

I can't imagine a world without antibiotics, even though I know that in my Oma's lifetime, her younger siblings died because of a lack of them.

The scariest thing is that we may end up right back there. My (potential) kids could die because of a lack of antibiotics. 

This article scared me, badly: Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future.

I've been avoiding anti-bacterial soap and hand sanitizer for a long time, but now not only am I promising myself to try to make it through any illness, even bacterial, without antibiotics, but I am also going to try to eat and drink only milk and meat produced without antibiotics. 

Because even scarier than the fact that we might be losing our antibiotics? The idea that it is our cheap, mass-produced food that is a huge source of the problem.

Go forth and avoid antibiotics.

25 November 2013

25: kasha

I meant to come straight home from jits and blog and read some stuff for work and go to bed, but I had some kasha that I had purchased to use for this salad, and I decided instead of doing the logical things to spend my late evening learning how to cook buckwheat instead.

I decided to re-roast the kasha for the sake of non-mushiness (the internet instructions give dire warnings regarding buckwheat's propensity for mushiness), and then I cooked it by absorption, which is a fancy word for "kind of like you cook rice," with some veggie Better than Bouillon and added it to my mixture of squash and feta and pepitas and pickled red onion, and whoa. WHOA. That is some serious flavor. I wanted to eat the entire bowl at once, but that would leave me hungry at lunch tomorrow. 

And then instead of returning to the logical path, I decided to clean the kitchen, because why not? Most of the dishes weren't even mine, but I have a tinge of acts of service in me (ignore the Christianese if it bugs you), and so I set out to do all of the dishes except the jars, because I can't fit my hand into the jars and they make me crazy, but my roommates use a lot of them to store food. 

I did manage to read the stuff for work, but both the blog and the hours of sleep are getting less than I hoped to give them, and right now I don't really care, because I am a night owl and I forget, at night, how I will curse my alarm come 6:20 am.

24 November 2013

24: imaginary travel

In the evening, on Sunday at least, the bucks of star near my office fills with young Middle Eastern people who I assume are students, based on their age, although they do not bring things like books with them, since they seem to be entirely focused on socializing. 

The groups of men are much larger, and they take up several tables. The group of women is smaller, gathered around one table, and the genders do not interact except when a slightly older married couple comes in with their child and joins the women's table.

I quite like to sit there on a Sunday evening, reading over cases, listening to the sound of Arabic as I work. I don't understand it, so it can't distract me (the homeless guy muttering about the train does distract me, however), and I feel, for a moment, like I could be anywhere in the world. 

In the absence of vacation time enough to really travel, I have to take what imaginary travel I can get.

23: making it, barely

I read somewhere someone's opinion that the first step to changing your life is to make your bed every day.

I've been trying it, but I only remember about 1 in every two days, and so far not much has changed. I guess you have to give it more than a week.

I should also note that my version of making the bed is to pull the duvet up to the pillows. It is very unlike the bed-making my parents do every day, where they fold over the top sheet and tuck it in neatly. I just try to make sure the bed is covered by the comforter. 

Maybe that means I'm doing it all wrong.


I got all my ingredients for the work week today, since I'll be working tomorrow. (I forgot a couple of things for Thanksgiving, but those are all available at the grocery store three blocks from my house.) It's amazing how even my single day off becomes stressful when all the errands for the week have to fit into the one day.

I try to take time to sit in the tea shop, because I need that, but in the back of my mind is the running list of natural foods store, T@rget, Trader Joe's... floss. Don't forget the floss. Being a grownup is sometimes just a constant stream of things that must be done.

22 November 2013

22: Firefly

"I should go out and do something," I said, at the post-work debriefing, "but I really just want to go home and watch Episode 9 of Firefly. It's my first time."

There was something of a collective gasp, and my coworker said, "I have to say, I'm really jealous that you are watching it for the first time, and that you are at that point in the series. Just be prepared for some serious disappointment when you get to the end."

"Oh, I've already been warned, from before I started watching it," I said.

"There will be denial, bargaining, acceptance," she said. 

"Serenity does give a little bit of closure," someone else said.

"Not enough," said coworker #1. 

I was introduced to Firefly while I was in the Mitten, and I've been rationing myself ever since. I can't just watch it in marathons, because I know that there are only 14 episodes or so plus the movie. I only watch it when I can devote to it my full attention.

This show was basically designed for me: crew of upright outlaws roams the universe, committing crime and running from some big super-organization. It's like they know me. It's like they had a focus group of one before they invented this show, and that one was me. I am relishing it.

It came out in 2002, when I was heading off to Rwanda, and I have no idea how I have missed it all these years. Why did no one tell me?

Now that I have found it, though, I see references everywhere. There was an article about race and privilege in Firefly that I happened upon this week. 

See also: the car parked in front of me last Saturday.

I need to be friends with this person.

21 November 2013

21: proper-like

Every week when I talk to the grandpa in Guatemala* on skype, I look at myself in the little frame on the screen and think how very tired I look.

"I don't think you look tired," my roommate said when I told her this. 

"I don't think you've ever seen me not tired," I said. 

Part of it is that my only two really free time blocks - Tuesday night and Saturday - are given up in favor of learning Spanish.

The good news is that I can see a distinct difference in my Spanish from how it was three months ago. I told someone what was going on in Spanish the other day as we waited for a real interpreter to arrive, and my coworker looked at me in surprise. "I didn't know you spoke Spanish!" she said.

Neither did I, really, until the words came out all proper-like.

* Note: I do not think that the grandpa in Guatemala actually has grandkids. He is just of the appropriate age, and his son is of the appropriate age, that grandkids would be possible. Namely, he is older than my parents, who have grandkids, and his son is older than me, who does not have kids but is of an age to have them.

20 November 2013

20: Crusher

I usually go to stand-up fighting on Wednesday, but I love the M-W instructor's style and this week is my favorite position (turtle, remember?) and so I went to BJJ instead. 

The class was good. I felt like I learned.

And then we rolled. 

I somehow ended up rolling with a new guy, who wasn't wearing a gi. I should have realized that this would be a mistake, but I was all merrily excited to roll, and I didn't even think of it.

My experience with sparring/rolling with the new guy is that it sucks. Not every new guy, but the new guy who is overeager and really strong and thinks he should skip past the rules because he is so into this new thing.

He mashed me into the ground. He didn't have any form to it, and one of the instructors pointed out to me later that he had no posture, either. He just laid his weight into me and pinned me down, and there was no way to get back up from the sheer force of him.

I could only think two things:

1. protect your breathing, and 
2. don't go self-defense ballistic on him. 

The only thing I could do was use my arms to keep him from getting his full weight on my chest, because then I would not be able to breathe. Because he wasn't wearing a gi, I almost tore his t-shirt trying to keep a grip on him, but I couldn't use the fabric to slow him down or keep him away. Instead, his entire weight was pressed on my arms, trying to flatten me.

And the whole time I kept reminding myself that this is jiu jitsu, not dirty street fighting, and I was not allowed to gouge his eyes or dig my fingers into his neck.

Which is not to say that I didn't want to gouge his eyes or dig my fingers into his neck. Oh, I did want to, very much.

It was a great relief to roll next with another fairly cautious yellow belt who would, like me, stop and think when we got to an impasse, rather than just crushing by brute force.

Then I had to give up, because Crusher had mortally wounded my gimpy arms for the evening. Ow. Next time I am just refusing to go near him.

19 November 2013

19: lucky

I went to my favorite Ethiopian restaurant alone on Sunday night. It's fun to go with people, but sometimes when I don't have time for a whole evening with friends, I just go alone.

I sit at the counter, because they are too busy to seat individual people at tables. I order two dishes, so that I can eat half of it for lunch the next day (Ethiopian is possibly the only leftovers I will actually regularly bother to eat. Fir-fir.* Mmmmmm.)

I bring a book, usually, or I play on my phone, or I stare at the wall. If I had more space between me and the person at the counter next to me, I might write. Eating alone in a sit-down restaurant is a talent. I remember the first time I really tried it, for lunch in Montreal, while I was cramming French before going to Rwanda, and I felt mostly uncomfortable. I felt like everyone was staring at me and wondering why I was alone.

Now I like it, quite. I talk to P., the owner, if he has a few minutes. I wave to his wife in the kitchen. I listen to the guy next to me try to pretend he liked the food. (If you like sourdough bread, you'll probably like it. If you don't, it will take some getting used to. I never liked sourdough bread, and I initially didn't like injera, because it is fermented, but now I love it.)

P. had a few minutes to talk. "I'm not educated like you," he said, and I said, "I need wisdom more than education," and he gave it. He's kind of my guru, sometimes. He always has good advice. I've even gone in there on several dates, and he is one of those perceptive people who can tell me in an instant whether this is a good guy or not.

Then he slid my fir-fir across the counter and refused to let me pay.

And it isn't about paying, but sometimes things like that are exactly what I need to remind me that there are some really awesome people in this world, and I get to know some of them.


* As far as I can tell, fir-fir just means that you took your leftover food, stuck it all in a container, and heated it up the next day, mixing the injera and the sauce into one delicious mess.

18 November 2013

18: jits

I"m sure the entire world will be fascinated to know that in the aftermath of my cold - I use aftermath loosely, since I am still snotting on a regular basis, and by a regular basis I mean about every three minutes - I feel like I am, for the first time in possibly years, maybe actually clearing out my sinuses. 

The bad news is that I feel dizzy when I blow my nose or sinus rinse my sinuses. Details.


I've been getting more serious about jiu jitsu rather than standup fighting. As in, if I have a choice on a given evening, I suit up for jits. The result has been two black tape stripes on my white-and-yellow belt in a span of about a month, where I had gone for three months with none. (Admittedly, I now go more often to a class where the teacher is much more about encouragement and getting to know his students, too.)

I've also been trying to roll more frequently. It's hard, because rolling after my class most days is from 8:30 to 9, and if there is one thing concerning which I feel frantic these days, it is protecting my going home, relaxing, and getting ready to go to bed on time window. And yet, I want to improve my jiu jitsu, and so I persist. 

We were practicing quarter position top today, which means how to get a person out of turtle position, and the moments were not few in which my partner rolled onto my hand or we smashed knees. I shall examine my bruises of honor by the light of day tomorrow and revel in them.

Then we rolled, and I got smashed by five orange and green belts. It was good for me. I learned some things. Probably not regulation things, but some of them worked for me. 

Unfortunately, the gimpy of my arms was not improved by all of the desperate gripping of collars and sleeves that I had to do. When you don't yet have the technical ability, sometimes all you have is the modicum of strength in your arms and legs to keep that person from crushing you. It sort of worked, and now my hands hurt.

17 November 2013

17: immigrant

The primary book about the experience of growing up in one culture when your parents are from another talks about how your experience in each place differs depending on whether you look like you match the people around you and whether you feel like you match the people around you.

When I was growing up, I looked like a foreigner in Liberia, and I felt like a foreigner. I was comfortable in my life, but it was very clear that I had a different life than the kids around me: I went to a mission school. I had my own bike. My mom read me North American books. 

Back in the States, even when I first moved to Gone West - honestly, probably even when I moved to Universe City - I felt like a hidden immigrant. I looked like the majority of people around me, but I was different on the inside. I had all these experiences bottled up inside me. I felt like it should have been obvious just to look at me that I had lived these other lives: climbing mountains to visit goat stables in Kibuye Province, riding dalla dallas in Arusha, hanging signs in markets across Monrovia, drinking too-sweet tea under trees in a Tiny Little Town in South Sudan.

Those memories were all there, bubbling up inside me, all the time, but no one could tell by looking at me. It felt very strange to have all of that pass unseen as I drank coffee and bought groceries and ate sweet potato fries. Much of the time, I wasn't even sure how I was supposed to act.

All of those memories are much further away now. Sometimes even I forget that I lived them. Sometimes even I forget that there is more to me than a drone on the bus going to another day of work. I don't have to think about how to interact with the cashier anymore, or what to say when  I meet people.

I miss that feeling that anything could happen at any time. The world feels much more limited now, and I chafe at its smallness, but I can't find a way to escape, because I can't go back to that transient lifestyle of the international ex-patriot. Not alone, I can't, and I can't find someone to go with me.

16: memory

I feel like I remember getting a bath when I was a baby, on the counter in the house that my grandparents lived in when I was born. I can't be sure, though. I think it's impossible, because I was only three months old when we left for Liberia, and when we came back, they'd moved. But I have a picture in my head of the underside of the cupboards and a vague impression of that gold color that was popular in the 1970s. And I remember being cold.
The first thing I remember for sure is sitting on the cement porch in our first house in Buchanan, playing with a little plastic school bus, looking back over my shoulder at my mom in the doorway. I was not yet 1, my mom says.

I think I remember my mom reading books to me just about as far back as my memory goes, back when the books were Little Golden Books.

I remember sitting on the bricks on the side of our next house and the older girl next door telling me, when I was two or three, that white skin like mine was ugly and black skin like hers was beautiful, and running inside crying to ask my mom if it was true. ("Both black skin and white skin are beautiful," my mom told me, and I believed her, because she knew everything.)

There is a big cluster of memories around our first trip back to the US and my brother being born, which may have been before or after the skin color incident. I remember going to Meijer, and riding the mechanical horse, and picking out balloons, and the laundry chute, and riding in the kid seat on the back of a bike, and the dead pumpkins on the street (smashed jack-o-lanterns), and the lonely feeling of trying to fall asleep on the pullout couch at the B.'s house when my parents went to the hospital for the birth, and seeing my little brother through the nursery glass.

I remember getting my newborn brother out of his crib in his dark room when he was crying, and the shocked expressions on my mom and Oma's faces when I came down the hall, pulling him by his head, his body dangling between my legs. 

I remember being young enough to go to the nursery at church in the US.

I remember being in a Sunday school class at the Open Bible church in Liberia, with the bigger kids laughing at me because I couldn't write my name, and thinking (maybe saying), "I don't know how to write my name! I'm only three!"

And then there start to be a lot of memories: my brother pulling my hair out in chunks, my fourth birthday, my brother trying to escape the house via the locked screen doors (he would climb the horizontal slats to get to the hook), trying to learn to tie a bow on the waist strings of my jean skirt, really reading for the first time.


My Spanish teacher today asked me if I dream, and I said yes, but I'm usually too tired to remember the things I dream.

But then, driving home, I remembered my dream from last night. It's gone again, now.

Memory is a very funny thing. I have very clear picture memories of when I was young, but when I went back to Liberia, the pictures weren't always in the places I thought they were. I suppose when you are little, when someone else drives or walks you everywhere, you don't need to remember how the pieces fit together. 

Sometimes, driving home at night in Liberia, I would lie in the back seat of the car, looking up at the stars in their brightness that would never happen in light-polluted North America, and I would try to guess when we were making which turn, when we would get home.

16 November 2013

15: toto

When I spent a summer in Tanzania, I lived in a big, empty house with four other law interns. I mean empty in the furniture sense - the house had a table and chairs and a credenza full of dishes and some beds and a couple of living room pieces and that was it. Most of the rooms felt cavernous.

One night we were all sitting around playing with my iPod (Wallace - since lost in the pit latrine in South Sudan {sob}), and somehow the song Africa by Toto came on.

I have no idea how the song Africa by Toto got onto my iPod, truly. I completely missed its era of popularity, which I can only assume occurred either before I was born or while I was actually living in Africa as a child, and I'm not sure I had even heard it before that summer of 2005. 

Nonetheless, we listened to it in our cavernous house in Tanzania, laughing because:

1. Kilimanjaro is not visible from the Serengeti.
2. "solitary company," really?

3. "I bless the rains down in Africa." WTF. 

Basically, this song makes no sense at all, and yet it will stick in your head for days.

Then today, someone posted this video on facebook, and I laughed out loud, repeatedly, because it points out over and over just how ridiculous the song is, and the song, it passes beyond ridiculous into absurd and idiotic: 

Steve Almond and Toto

Quotes worth your amusement: 

"in fact, he has a moral obligation whose looming presence he compares to a famous mountain rising like another famous mountain over a famous desert, although intriguingly the mountain in question does not actually rise above the desert in question because it is several hundred miles away." (Side note: the Serengeti is not a desert, Steve.)

"two: benevolence begins and ends in my imagination."

"it is the love child of imperialism and muzak."

But you can't get it out of your head now, can you?

14 November 2013

14: bone-tired

It's not much of a secret that I've been phoning in this daily blog post thing in November. (What does "phoning it in" really mean, anyway? I mean, I get that it means that you aren't trying very hard, but why the phone? Why is the phone the easy way? What is the hard way?)

For the first time in quite a few years of blogging every day during most Novembers, I am seriously considering giving up. (I think I skipped 2009 when I was in Vietnam and Cambodia, but I did blog every day in 2007, when I was in South Sudan and Kenya for half the month.)

These days, I struggle to get a few paragraphs on the screen before I collapse into bed.

When I came back from the Mitten, I had one entire day of working without the constant burn of anxiety in the bottom of my throat, but it's back now. I worked, again, a flat-out, no-breaks day until I absolutely had to leave if I was going to spend a few minutes at a coworker's birthday drinks before rushing off to jiu jitsu.

I was determined to get my chai, though, since I hadn't had time all day, so I got the chai and then went to the bar, where they told me I wasn't allowed to bring in outside drinks. 


I asked the bouncer if I could just put the glass mug I was carrying in my bag if I promised not to drink it inside, and he let me, so I spent the entire time in the bar hiding the mug in my bag while trying to keep the chai from spilling out. It was a little awkward.

I didn't make it to jiu jitsu. I left the birthday shindig just a little too late. Sometimes - more often, lately - other things are more important. Things like having food to eat tomorrow, and things like sleeping.

I might be a little obsessed with sleep. It's all I can think about some days.

Serious question(s): at what point does the depth of my exhaustion become an actual problem? Should it even be possible to be so bone-tired? Does this mean there is something wrong with my body?

13 November 2013

13: useless desires

This song, for some reason, is Universe City to me.

And so much else in life:

 (Patty Griffin; Useless Desires)

(I'm not sure about the photos in this video, but I couldn't find a video that was just the song or just Patty Griffin singing the song live with good sound quality.)

12 November 2013

12: 11, 12, 13

A week ago, I wrote 11/12/13 on a piece of paper a bunch of times in a row, just because I liked how it looked.


It wasn't until I wrote 11/6/13 the next day that I realized that I had only dreamt it. 

Which is strange, really. Why would I dream about a date - not a day, just the date on the calendar - that has no meaning for me at all? There was nothing special scheduled today. I hadn't thought about it at all before the dream. I just like the numbers.


What I actually did today was fly across the country, chasing the setting sun. (We never did catch up with it.)

I managed to pick up a cold on my east-bound flight last week, though, so during our descent into Gone West today, I chewed six pieces of gum in frantic succession, trying to keep my ears from doing what they were doing, which was feeling like they were about to explode. I kept putting in earplugs and then when they hurt too much taking them out and then when not having them in hurt too much putting them back in. 

After some very painful popping like I haven't felt since I had an ear infection in college, I can now hear again, mostly.

11 November 2013

11: cold

I'm not sure why it feels so very cold to me here in the Mitten. My roommates in Gone West keep the heat on 55 degrees - I get to turn it up to 60 for my shower - and while that is cold, it doesn't feel unbearable.
But here, for some reason, when it is 66 degrees in a house, I am downright freezing. Freezing. As in, give me a blanket and a comforter and I will sit on the couch in a huddle.
I think it's the outside walls. My parents' house is not so bad for this, because it is reasonably new and efficient and the walls are not icy to the touch, but in an older house, I literally start shivering. INSIDE THE HOUSE.
This leads me to something I have thought about many times in the last few years: how entirely different one's wardrobe is, depending on where you live.
I've been spoiled, in the last few years, living in a place that doesn't get that cold and where I have a car.
I don't need the snowboots I need in the Mitten. I don't need the many thick layers. I don't even have a good warm winter coat.
On the other hand, it rains, and so I have many pairs of waterproofed leather boots. I have lots of cardigan sweaters for work. I have sweatertights. I have varying levels of rain gear.
When I lived in Rwanda, I didn't have any of that. I had skirts and trousers for the day. I had a light raincoat. I had a fleece for evening. Other than running shoes, I had almost no close-toed shoes.
But right now, I live in a place where it rains and it doesn't get that cold. And I kind of forgot, coming to the Mitten, that it would be so very cold. I need to re-think the clothes I bring with me when I come here, and maybe I need to buy some warmer ones.

10 November 2013

10: dinner

My mom and I made a big pot of T.'s blog version of West African peanut soup (we used to call this groundpea soup in Liberia, and my mom made it for years after we came back, out of a cookbook, but this version has sweet potato in it and all things with sweet potato are automatically and forever better), and we served it for Sunday dinner. 

The kiddos scorned it, of course. They survive on bread and fruit. But even my brother ate a big plate of it over rice, and when it came supper time, I ate it again. 

I had also seeded four pomegranates (the kids wouldn't touch those, either). My dad's great-aunt asked me if they were hard, and I said no.

Then I ate a forkful of them. 

"They are hard," she said. "I can hear them crunching." 

Is crunchy the same as hard?

My little niece was terrified of me two years ago, but now she takes my hand to walk down the street or through the woods. She drags me over to play snakes and dinosaurs with her. 

And the sun shines, and the days pass. 

09 November 2013

9: past

I went to lunch today with a coworker from long, long ago. From the beginning, almost, before State of Happiness, before law school, before Rwanda. 

We talked about the people we knew back then: our coworkers, who we've mostly lost track of. The kids we worked with, who he has kept up on via the state prison website. He rattled off names that I, in leaving for Rwanda and a whole new life, had forgotten. 

We talked about whether the work we did back then gave those kids a chance, or whether it was just too little in the sad stories of their lives. 

We talked about how we ended up in the same career, despite our different paths to it. 

I feel so very different now than I was 11 years ago, the last time I saw him. And yet, he is the same person, only older and more grounded, and he seemed to think I was the same, too. 

He told me that I always have found the interesting people and interesting things to do, and it's funny, because I don't remember that in the girl I was, but then, she flew off to Rwanda alone on 8 weeks notice, so she must have been braver than I remember. 

08 November 2013

8: cold

So, the Mitten is cold. It welcomed me with a little spattering of snow this morning, and my ears about froze off when my momma and I went for a walk in the dark.

When I flew in yesterday, everything was rust-colored under a grey sky. This morning, it was all grey and white. And this afternoon, it was back to blue and green and rust.

I got up yesterday morning at 3:45 am Gone West time, for a 4:30 cab to the airport. It felt extremely painfully early and, in fact, it was extremely painfully early.

It worked out great, though, when I fell asleep at 9:30 pm Mitten time last night and slept right on through the night. This is how to overcome jet lag, my people: wake up so insanely early that you can sleep whenever, wherever. Doooo it.

Now I am off to enjoy life off the Internet.

07 November 2013

7: airborne

Even after all these many flights across the world, it still amazes me that I can wake up (far too early) in one city and by early afternoon be most of the way across the country.  

They have eased the rules on the use of electronics in-flight - you can now play bejeweled on your phone as the plane takes off and lands, as long as it is in airplane mode- and I find it oddly unsettling, because when I have that little box of knowledge in my hands, I keep having urges to do things like check the weather at our destination or quickly check in with someone via text. Very soon, there will be no airplane oasis in the sky. 

Not that I have ever been able to actually work on a plane. Ha! For some reason, my brain turns off on a plane. It might just be instinct, though, based on all the many years of not being able to access anything while airborne. 

Anyone want to place bets on how long it takes before the last flight attendant stops accidentally saying, "All electronic devices must be turned off and stowed during take-off and landing."?

I had to sit in a middle seat on one of my flights which, fine, everyone has to take their turn there every now and again, although I try to avoid it, and so when it happens I try to accept it gracefully rather than revealing the incredible annoyance I feel, but I was extra annoyed today because I am silver premier, people. What use is my loyalty to your airline if you cannot even upgrade me to economy plus? I ask you. 

If I had know that this was so big a plane that it went all the way to an F seat, I would have begged and pleaded at the gate. I saw standby people getting economy plus seats. 

Hopefully this means that my middle seat duty is done for a year or two. 

06 November 2013

6: leave

I fully intended to go to jiu jitsu tonight, but that did not happen. I missed my bus, you see, and then I realized how much there was to do this evening.

Instead, I ran around town in the rain. The figurative kind of running. The kind where I kept parking my car on dark side streets and running into buildings to pick up one thing here and one thing there.

I'm beginning to sound like a broken record about how much I've been working, but I will say this: I have basically been running a flat out sprint for weeks, and this evening I left everything as complete as I could get it, and I walked away. 

I have a cab coming at 4:30 am, and I'm going to watch the sun rise over the Rockies on the way to Sprawling Former Cowboy Town, if I'm not asleep in my seat.

These whirlwind long weekends in the Mitten leave me sometimes more exhausted than when I arrived, but it is something other than what I've been doing most waking minutes for the last six weeks straight, and I need that right now.

05 November 2013

5: nunca

I am a little bit annoyed with myself for signing up for NaBloPoMo again. 

I mean, look. This is one of those points in life - possibly the first point in life, actually - where I am becoming very deliberate about what gets my time and what does not. I have to be deliberate about this, because otherwise work and jiu jitsu are going to take over my life, and we all know how I get when I don't get enough sleep.

Speaking of which, I got up and left jiu jitsu last night after the main class and before the rolling, because I knew I needed to go home and do some things and not get to bed too late. I was sad to do it - I really want to improve my jits - but it was also very deliberate. 

It can be really freeing to make choices like that.

I have narrowed my life down to: work, exercise, Spanish, sleep, rest, and occasionally a friend or two if they fit into the weekend. And, apparently, blogging.

"I know how to say that I"m tired," I told the Guatemalan grandpa on skype, "but on the other side, how do you say...?"

"Descansada," he said. 

"I'm never descansada," I said. "I would like to be."


Today I went to Trader Joe's. Fine. Not exciting.

On the way in, I went to the right a little to drop a clumped up kleenex from my pocket into the garbage can as I walked by it. The kleenex slipped out of my hand, so I had to turn back around to see if it actually made it into the trash can. Turning back toward the door, I tripped on the bunched up mat outside the door, did a little pirouette, and stumbled into the store. 

Elegante. With an extra e, obviously.

04 November 2013

4: pay

I have reached that critical point where time is worth more than money.

I never really thought I would reach this point, given that I have basically spent my life doing work that pays nothing in exchange for feeling like my work is helping the world, but two nights ago yet another one of my headlights went out, and there you have it: I paid to have the new one installed.

Truth be told, I also thought maybe a professional should do it since they keep burning out - if you touch the bulb with the oil of your fingers, it burns out faster, and I've now replaced at least four bulbs in the three years I have owned this little car.

That, and the rain has started in earnest. I've changed the bulb before in the rain, but the thought of spending what remained of my Sunday afternoon standing in the rain trying to pry off the back of the headlight compartment on the driver's side of my car (the driver's side light on these cars is notoriously hard to change) just sounded awful. 

Regardless of my many excuses, the fact remains that I violated the cardinal rule of the Dutch immigrants to the United States: never pay to have done what you can do yourself. I don't regret it one bit.

I sat in my pleasantly dry car while the men at the oil change place six blocks from my house fought with the notoriously difficult cover of the driver's side headlight box, and it only cost me an extra $10 or $15, and it was glorious.

03 November 2013

3: fruit

I read somewhere that onion-family vegetables prevent some sort of cancer, so I went out and bought a sweet onion to carmelize. One large sweet onion, carmelized, could be dinner for me. I love carmelized onions so very much.

(Pro tip: add a little splash of tamari right at the end and let it carmelize with the onion for the last minute or so. Whoa.)

I'm not sure if I actually like cooking or if I just like the idea of cooking and the products thereof, but I find myself doing it when I have a rather more leisurely evening, so I must like some part of it. 

If you can even call carmelizing an onion cooking, because otherwise my basic food prep for the week was to de-pith a pomegranate, cut up a little pineapple, and wash some apples to eat with Justin's Maple Almond Butter (GET SOME OF THIS STUFF NOW). I'm on a bit of a fruit kick.

Rather more leisurely evenings are rare these days, and so I treasure them all the more.

2: Waldo

At some point during the last few weeks, I decided to be Waldo* of Where's Waldo? for Halloween. 

Then I spent the next few weeks worrying that Waldo was The Costume of Halloween 2013 and I'd be one of many Waldos at every party. 

For some reason, I have a terrible time thinking of creative things in the way of costumes. (See also: those puzzles where you are supposed to come up with words like "undertow" based on a drawing of a tow truck under something. I fail at those puzzles, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.) Most years, I am something like A Bumblebee. A Butterfly. A Boringness.

Still, I was determined to be Waldo, even if I was only one of the many. I went to a bunch of different stores to find a red and white striped shirt - seriously, why is it so difficult to find a red and white striped shirt? This should not be so hard. I finally found one at goodwill.

And then the hat. Apparently no one is making red and white striped hats this year. (The actual hat is white with a red strip around the bottom and a red pompom, but I would totally have cheated and used a red and white striped hat. Except that I couldn't find one anywhere.)

In the end, I made a trek out to a fabric store on Tuesday night, and then on Wednesday night, after I got home from fighting class, I dragged out my roommate's sewing machine and I made a Waldo hat out of fleece. I used this tutorial. It came out mostly okay, if a little lopsided, but it was fun to try to remember how to fill a bobbin and thread the machine.

Not so fun was the five and a half hours of sleep I got that night as a result. My normal not-enough-sleep crankiness goes into overdrive when the sleep I get goes under six hours. I should probably have come with a warning sign on Thursday: Approach at Your Own Risk. 

No one was maimed, though. It all turned out fine.

* There is also a female version of Waldo named Wenda, apparently, but I don't see why I can't be Waldo just because I am a woman. That is silly. I was Waldo. Girl-Waldo.

01 November 2013

1: November/rage

It's November.

Yup. Sure is. 

Last night it took me more than 45 minutes to complete a 10 minute commute home, for the second time this week.

On Tuesday, I gave myself a break and drove to work, which turned out to be a Very Large Mistake. 

Some, I don't know, water main broke, and one of the major arteries through downtown was closed. This was a minor inconvenience of about ten minutes delay in the morning. 

I left work at 6 pm, expecting to dash home, eat something, and have a few minutes to chill before my skype Spanish lesson. 

38 minutes later, I had driven an eight block circle right back to where I'd started, thanks to one-way streets and no right turn intersections and the fact that the street I started on was the one that was closed at its intersection with the major artery through downtown with the broken water main.

I took a different route across the river and I was home 10 minutes later.

Last night, I got on a bus that was already full, and I stood in the little open space in front of the back door so that I wouldn't have to hold on a pole, because that hurts my gimpy hands. (Gripping anything for too long does: a pen, a bag, a book.)

Half an hour and 9 blocks later, I noticed that a women standing in front of me in the aisle had one arm in a sling and a bandage on her other hand, and she was holding onto the pole with the bandaged hand, wincing every time the bus moved and she had to hang on.

Everyone ignored her.

Look, I've been there. I know how it feels to stand there desperately hoping that somehow, some way, someone will notice that you have this invisible pain (or in her case, not invisible) that no one wants to notice because then they'd have to give up a seat.

One day, I was stuck up at the front of the bus where you have to hold on to a bar above your head, and that is the worst for my nerve issues, and when the bus emptied at the back, no one moved back and I finally had to push past people to at least hold on to a pole at waist level. It hurt.

We are not supposed to stand up for ourselves. We are supposed to suck it up and take it. 

By we, I mean women. I mean everyone in polite society, but I especially mean women.

Even more, if you are a poor woman, you are supposed to suck it up, because the world assumes that probably you brought it all on yourself, and this woman was poor.

(And frankly, that infuriates me, because people are so deliberately blind to the part where WE DON'T ALL START OUT IN THE SAME PLACE and it's so f*cking unfair to expect people to overcome things that NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO OVERCOME and to judge them if they can't. Shouty voice.)

Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I leaned forward over the seats in front of me, and I asked her, "Would you like to come stand back here where you don't have to hold on? It might be easier on your hands."

And then I was just angry at everyone else on the bus and their unthinking selfishness and I said, louder, "OR SOMEONE COULD GIVE YOU A SEAT."

"I might just get off at the next stop," she said softly. "Maybe the next bus won't be as full."

The woman who gave her a seat was herself in her 50s, and I wanted to smack all the young, healthy people who didn't.

I had another 20 minutes on the bus to sit with my righteous rage, too.