29 March 2014


It turns out that I have a very hard time producing writing for public consumption during times of great uncertainty.

17 March 2014


Sometimes I think that the most useful skill I have, cultivated in East Africa, is that of driving on unlit roads when oncoming traffic has lights so bright I can't see. 

In Rwanda and Uganda, that was because no one believes in turning off their bright beams.

In the US, it is because my car is small and many big SUVs now have extra bright headlights that shine directly down into my eyes.

Either way, I have long experience in looking down to the side, away from the light, at the edge of the road and nothing more. It doesn't even give me a headache anymore the way it did when I first moved to Rwanda and would have to go to bed early whenever I went to Kigali.

16 March 2014

hope is our four letter word

I listened to a lot of radio stations in six days of driving to the Mitten and three days of driving back to Gone West. 

For instance, I can tell you that there is a radio station in Southeastern Wyoming that calls itself "Buckin' Country." My amusement level was high.

I turned off the radio and listened to Garth Brooks on my iPhone in Cheyenne, because obviously one has to listen to Beaches of Cheyenne and Rodeo while driving through Cheyenne. 

There are songs that will forever remind me of pieces of that drive. One of them I heard for the first time along the river east of Gone West. When it comes on the radio, I see the cliffs rising on the side of the car all over again. One of them I let play for the first time in the mountains in the eastern part of State of Happiness, driving on snow under a temporarily clear blue sky. (I had always before switched away when that song came on, because it sounded boring. Now I like it.)

As I got closer to the Mitten, I started noticing all the songs that talked about doing things that everyone else thinks is crazy. 

Mostly, as I drove, I scanned the airwaves looking for two songs that summed up the entire experience.

The first one was One Republic's Counting Stars:

Lately I've been, I've been losing sleep, dreaming about the things that we could be.

Hope is our four letter word.

Everything that drowns me makes me want to fly.

(The video is super weird.)

The second was Lady Antebellum's Compass

Let your heart, sweet heart, be your compass when you're lost, and you should follow it wherever it may go.

 (PS. What is UP with Lady Antebellum's name? I just can't even deal with it.)

14 March 2014


Let's talk about the plane.

I get obsessive about plane crashes, and this time the media is feeding my obsession. I spent just about the entirety of last weekend glued to some sort of screen, updating over and over to see if they had found the wreckage and what caused the crash.

I always read the reports on why planes crash, if it isn't manifestly obvious, and somehow this makes me feel better about flying, because mostly the things that cause crashes get fixed and/or are pilot error, and the pilots of the planes I have flown on all seemed competent except those approximately 13 year olds who flew the plane from the Mitten to Cleveland that one time. (Hint: most non-pilot error plane crashes are caused by ice: in the engines, the fuel lines, the pitot tubes, etc.)

The funny thing is that I'm not a nervous flyer. I read about plane crashes, yes, and knowing the why makes me feel safer, but fundamentally I get on planes and either I watch everything from the window or I fall asleep. I don't need to drug myself or drink like some people I know. I think I learned this from my momma, who taught us in our multiple transcontinental flight days (i.e. the 1980s) that planes and flying are interesting and cool. Now I am fascinated by planes and if only I made enough money to pay for lessons I would be flying them.


Considering that I will read obsessively about almost any plane crash (the wikipedia page that lists commercial plane crashes by year was a week long time suck for me when I discovered it), you can imagine that this potential crash has me even more mesmerized. The first thing I do in the morning, after cursing my alarm, is check to see what new information has been revealed.

A day before they released information that the plane may have continued to ping the satellites for an additional four hours, I sent T. an email telling her my predictions for where they would find the plane if it had not disintegrated in midair over the Gulf of Thailand. (Most of my predictions were out of range of the amount of fuel on board, though, it turns out.)

The one comment I have: if that plane landed somewhere - and it may have, given the amount of time it was in the air - there is at least a rebel or quasi-governmental group controlling some large territory who is in on the deal. You cannot land a plane that big on a tiny airstrip in the middle of nowhere.

Oh, I have another comment: people keep talking about tracking the cell phones, and I want to laugh, because guess what? Cell phones don't work everywhere in the world. Remember the satellite phone of South Sudan? Cell phone towers no hay in some parts of the world. And cell phone towers that work with your network no hay in even larger spans of the world. (My cell phone worked in Vietnam but not in Honduras, just as one example.)

In the meantime, in between reading articles about where in the world is MH370, I have been creating myself a job and moving into the K.'s spare bedroom because I am now homeless. Details.

08 March 2014


Warning number one: This post contains descriptions of medical procedures.

Warning number two: My mom already heard this story. (Sorry, Momma!)

Last night, I was sitting at my computer at the dining room table. I needed something from the kitchen, so I stood up, and I stood on something sharp.

I yelped and jumped.

I leaned against the counter, turning my foot upside down against the stove to see if I could make the puncture bleed, for safety.

Just as I saw a red dot, I felt so dizzy that I had to put my foot down and hold onto the counter.

It was very strange. Yes, I had just risen to a standing position, and the low blood pressure I inherited from my momma can do that. (I think my last blood pressure reading, at the dentist of all places, was along the lines of 112/54. 52? Something like that.) It's just that this particular dizziness started long enough after I stood up that it seemed too late, somehow.

It seemed like it was related to looking at my foot. And I've never before been dizzy from any sort of medical thing, not even when I worked in an emergency room and saw some crazy stuff. When I had my wrist surgery, the surgeon finally had to tell the nurses to stop turning the screen so I could see the surgery, because he was the one who needed to see what he was doing. I always watch while medical procedures are performed upon me: shots, blood drawing, etc. I think it's fascinating.

(Oooh! I just did some research googling, and it seems that moving one's head is the cause of positional dizziness, so maybe the way I was bending my head down to see my foot caused it.)

07 March 2014

gone west love times one million

I was walking briskly to catch a bus this afternoon, and I smiled and said hello to a guy selling the homeless newspaper.

"Hi," he said. "You have really good fashion sense, by the way."

I love this town.

(I did look cute. I've been trying to actually get dressed every day, even though I am not going to an office.)

04 March 2014

coffee bzzzzzzzt

I have never figured out how to make coffee. Largely, this is because there is no point to my knowing how to make coffee. The only way I can tolerate coffee is when it is altered to the point of being unrecognizable by the addition of milk and sugar and possibly other flavors, like chocolate (delicious, delicious chocolate). 

Then I started feeling funny when I drank any coffee, so I had even less incentive to learn to make coffee, and I became a chai girl all the way. 

One of the people with whom I am staying works for one of the major coffee roasters in town. Since I have been neither leaving the house nor spending money, he offered to bring home some coffee. I asked for decaf.

Then the other person with whom I am staying showed me how to use the various coffee-making implements in the house. 

This morning, I decided to attempt coffee instead of my trusty Tea India. (I did not discover Tea India myself; I was given a box by some friends who accidentally ordered a case of it. But it is delicious.)

I ground the beans as instructed. I filled the little section on the stove-top pot. I added water to the proper section. I turned the stove on. 

Somehow, what I produced was an almost unpourable sludge that filled not quite 2/3 of my mug.

It smelled delicious, though, so I added a bunch of heavy whipping cream and even more skim milk, filling the cup to the top, and then some brown sugar, and I drank it right up.

Then I felt like my head was floating away for about five hours.

02 March 2014


It's been a while since I've been completely broke. Not a really long while - I was completely broke after law school - but a while. 

For the last few years, and especially the last year, my time has been worth more than my money. I could better afford to buy a lunch then to take the time to make one, because making one meant staying up a few minutes later, and I needed sleep more than anything.

I got used to being able to snap up that cereal in bulk when it was on sale, or that skirt when it finally hit the clearance rack. Shopping for clothes has been a stress reliever over the last year, and even though I only shop in the back of the store, I've still gotten used to buying things when I see them and I like them.

I can't do that now. It is a hard and fast line that I cannot cross: things cannot be purchased. 

It's freeing, actually. I didn't realize how I had come to depend on shopping to make me feel just a little less stressed out.

I still go into stores, especially downtown, because I need somewhere out of the wet and cold to wait for appointments or the bus, and I can't afford to buy coffee to pay my rent at a table in the bucks of Star.

When I go into stores now, I told a friend yesterday, they feel like museums. Children's museums, maybe, because you can touch all the pretty things and admire them, and then you put them back where you found them, and you leave. Before I met up with her, I was in the jewelry department at a discount store, trying to pass a few minutes out of the rain. I looked at all the shiny things sparkling on their little hooks. I let the stones run through my hands. I straightened the links of the chains. And then I walked away. 

Looking was weirdly almost as satisfying as any purchase. I still had the sensory satisfaction of seeing and touching all the pretty new things, and let's face it: the one thing you bring home never looks quite as lovely on its own as it did among all the other shiny new things. Plus I left with the satisfaction of knowing that I resisted a temptation. I left happy.

01 March 2014


I heard an African filmmaker talk about a movie she made, and she said, "One thing about me is that I'm not afraid to be broke. A lot of people are really afraid of being broke, but I'm not. I could do what other filmmakers do. They apply for grants, mostly from France, but it can take three years to get the money that way, and I'm impatient."

I love this.

I especially love it right now, because I need it. 

I'm not glad to be far away from my family - that pang still comes. But this place. I can't describe what it means to me.

I'm so glad to be here.

I walk the tree-lined streets of my neighborhood, and I'm so glad to be here.

I stand on the bustling streets downtown, and I'm so glad to be here.

I go see an African movie, and I'm so glad to be here.

When I think about it, this is the first place in this country where I've felt like I belong. I was 10-and-a-half when we left Liberia and moved to the Mitten, and I tell people sometimes that it was like Mean Girls, the movie, except that I never became the top Mean Girl. 

We moved to a place where everyone was the same, particularly in our religious community, and the penalty for being different was high. The place I came from didn't matter: no one cared about the tiny articles I found and cut out and kept, the ones that told me what was happening back in Liberia. I had to beat Liberia out of myself in order to be part of the sameness, in order to have friends, in order to be not-alone. (The guilt of doing that, by the way, when the place you are beating out of yourself is in the middle of a terrible war, is also bad.)

In college, I reached back and found Liberia again, and I held it close. I found other people who had lived in other countries. I took classes about African history and politics. I went back to the continent: to Kenya, to Liberia, and then, later, to Rwanda and Tanzania and Liberia and South Sudan and Ethiopia. But the truth about being an ex-pat in Africa is that you are always from somewhere else. I will always be white and US American. No one will ever mistake me for belonging there.

My first week in Gone West, I went to a New Year's Eve party. There was an Afro-beat band playing, and everyone dressed differently. There were women in sweatpants, in evening dresses, in white pants suits, in jeans, in long hippie skirts. There, finally, it didn't matter whether I'd figured out the right thing to wear. It didn't matter if I fit in. Gone West is sort of like that. It's a big enough city to accommodate all crowds, and yet it is not focused enough to have a thing, like the Big Apple has fashion and finance or LA has movies and suntans (I stereotype; I've never been to LA). Gone West is like a big overgrown town, where everyone does their own thing without much caring what everyone else does.

The relief of that pressure to fit in has given me the freedom to figure out who I want to be. I can wear what I want. I can be who I want. I can be a lawyer who is good at what I do without being too educated or too opinionated. I can do martial arts and wear dresses. I can be a single 30-something professional who has a full, happy life. I can be a woman who lived in several countries and misses them, but who is exactly where she wants to be.

It maybe isn't fair to the Mitten - my dad tells me how much it has changed, and how much bigger the world is there now - but when I go back, I feel those walls closing around me again. I feel too educated, too dressed up, too foreign, too single, too loud, too different. It puts me right back into that high school despair of feeling like I'll always be on the outside. Or at least, that I have to pretend to be someone else in order to be on the inside.

I've created my own inside, here, party of one, and I like who I am in it.