29 June 2014


You know how you don't think about things for years and then suddenly they pop into your head? 

I just thought about how, when my brother and I were little but old enough to do things like the dishes (so I was maybe 8 or 9 and R. was 5 or 6), my parents would go for a walk in the evening and leave us to do the dishes. I mostly washed, and my brother dried and put away. I suspect that my sister was around there somewhere, toddling about.

The sink in the kitchen in our house in Liberia faced setting sun and the road and, much farther away beyond the trees, the ocean. We would watch to see when our parents came into view again.*

R. and I would sometimes sing as we did the dishes (or possibly I sang and he humored me):

hurry hurry hurry hurry come on the run
hurry hurry hurry hurry day is begun
come along and hurry now there's work to be done
when you are finished there'll be time for fun

alright I come now, alright I come
don't be so worried, my little one
if I should work hard out in the sun
I'll be so tired that I cannot run

Mostly I was singing so that when my parents came within hearing distance they would know how very hard we were working.

Even before we were old enough to do the dishes or be left home alone for half an hour, we used to clear the table. The floor was cement, but that didn't stop us, especially my brother, from piling all five of the Corelle-ware plates on our heads and trying to carry them to the kitchen without our hands.

It's a really good thing that Corelle-ware plates are just about indestructible, is all I have to say about that.

* I feel like I remember, when the war started upcountry, that there was a curfew, and part of my watching for the parents to come into view was hoping that they would beat the curfew. It may have just been the memory of the earlier curfew in 1985, though, combined with knowledge of the problems in Nimba County in 1990.


While writing this, I looked up our old house on google earth, again, and noticed that there is still a path behind the house to the other house that was on the road between the office and the high school. The path no longer cuts from the right side of that house, though. It has moved over the years, as dirt footpaths do, and now it cuts from the left side of the house.

One time, as I was riding my bike on that path home from school, I looked up as I rode under a tree and saw a green mamba lying along the branch I was just going under.

I have even more vivid memories of the other path, from our house to the office, especially the corner by the office:

Trying to push an old bicycle wheel with a stick, only to get it caught somehow and jabbing myself in the stomach.

Jumping over the inevitable ditch between the path and the road next to the office.

The time that the G. family daubed their house with mud and we got to help.

Looking at the scab on my arm that finally taught me which hand was right and which was left.

Watching the clouds and thinking how wonderful it would be if I could just get up onto one and nestle into its softness and tell it where to take me.

28 June 2014

slightly more successful hiking

* Talk of gluten/gluten-freeness will be in this post *

I went for a hike today that was possibly a little beyond my current fitness level (no money for martial arts + bad knees means that all I do for exercise these days is go for long walks). But I met a new friend this week who suggested that I go on this hike, so I did.

I was determined that while I might be slower than the crowd, I would not have to stop for the dizziness of hypoglycemia that slowed me down on the last group hike I joined. I packed enough food to feed the entire group for the day. 

Most people seem to be able to eat breakfast, drive for an hour, hike 3.5 miles/2800 feet of elevation gain, and then sit down at the top of the mountain and eat lunch. I cannot. I will be dizzy and shaky a mile in. I need to eat immediately before I start out up a mountain, especially now that I do not eat whole wheat cereal for breakfast. I also need to eat along the way. By the time I get to the top, I hardly need to eat anymore. 

I ate in the car on the way to the mountain (a few rice crisps and hummus, some almond crackers, and some chocolate covered almonds - I told you I was not playing), and I filled my pocket with sour Jelly Bellies. I also drank a chai and started in on some Vitamin Water.

Good news! I am out of shape, but if I eat ridiculous amounts of food, I can make it up a mountain at a decent pace. (Side note: I am a turtle on hikes. I can hike forever and ever amen as long as I have adequate food and can go slowly, but I find that, as a general rule, men hike too fast. Even in my best shape, I still want to go slowly uphill. If you go slowly, you need fewer stops! It is brilliant. Men were leading this hike, however, and eventually I just slowed down and moseyed at my own little pace while they went fast and stopped, fast and stopped. Keep in mind: 2800 feet of elevation gain in 3.5 miles. It was steep.)

I ate so much that I was almost too full to breathe while hiking, though. Clearly I need to find a balance.

When we got back down to Gone West, I came home and laid down for "just a minute." Upon lying down, I immediately lost 4 hours of my day. Oops. This happened because I had two very short, interrupted nights of sleep in a row (I brought a friend to the airport at 5:30 am on Friday morning and got up at 6:30 this morning for the hike after going to bed later than I ought). 

I have no idea how I am going to sleep tonight.

22 June 2014

close encounters

Other recent encounters with police officers:

  1. State trooper next to the on ramp from one highway (speed limit 65) to another highway (speed limit 55). I was still going 66 despite signs about the change. It was dark. S/he did not pull me over. 
  2. Officer on a motorcycle behind me in one of those gentrified fancy-store neighborhoods. I actually remembered to stop before the box at the intersection so I didn't block it, so I felt pretty good. When I crossed the intersection, I got stuck trying to turn left into a parking lot, and had a brief friendly chat with the oncoming driver who was blocking my turn because he was waiting for pedestrians to cross. When I got into the parking lot, the officer pulled someone else over.
  3. Two officers on bicycles near the same street (it's the street where I go to buy macarons, sigh). People don't notice that they are police on the bicycles, so they do crazy things like pull across the street right in front of them. The officers caught up with me while I waited for a light, but I remembered to glance over my shoulder for bicycles before making my right turn. One of them was right there to my right, between me and the curb, but he waved me through the intersection ahead of him.
  4. Unmarked car over by the tea place passed me twice while I was walking. I peered after it both times, possibly making myself look suspicious in the process. Really I was just curious.

21 June 2014


Speaking of driving in a law-abiding manner: one time I was visiting T. in the suburbs of the Windy City, and for some reason she had to be somewhere, and I locked myself out of the house. (I think this happened when I went to get something out of my car and the front door locked automatically behind me. I should have just guessed at the garage code. I probably still could guess at the garage code and get it right.)

I drove around in my car for a while, and I happened to be returning to T.'s family home at exactly the same time as she was. She followed me through the neighborhood. 

I stopped at a stop sign, completely, as I do, and according to T., her mental sound track went, "What is that person doing? Why would you stop at that stop sign? Oh, they are from [the Mitten]. OH, IT IS M. OF COURSE IT IS."

driving too slow

I began my drive to Sunny Ski Town yesterday right in the middle of Friday rush hour. Oops. 

The radio told me that all the highways were backed up for miles, so I took one of the major east-west roads out of town. It was crowded, but not terrible.

After it turned into one lane in each direction, getting toward the suburbs, I passed a police officer on a motorcycle. I didn't think much of it when he pulled out behind me, because the whole line of cars was going about 29 mph in a 35 zone. I just assumed that police have to go places, too.

I looked in my rear-view mirror a few times, but he was just driving along behind me, and we were all going even slower now.

Then suddenly I heard a quick whoop of the siren. 

I pulled over, obviously, assuming that he wanted to get past the long line of cars to the location up ahead of us where I could see police lights.*

He pulled up next to me (oh, hey! now the police officer who just made me pull over is talking to me!) and said, "Sorry. I thought I had both lights on."

"Okay...?" I said, confused, as he kept going.

Then he flipped on the red and blues and I saw what he meant, that he had turned on only his headlight when he meant to turn on both his headlight and the lights that tell you to pull over. 

I would have pulled over a lot sooner if I had seen the red and blues. I was, in fact, paying attention.

The guy in front of me was not. 

The car in front of me (now in front of the officer) did not pull over. The car in front of that did, but the one immediately in front of the officer just stayed in the lane. The officer whooped the siren a few more times and pointed to the side of the road. The driver pointed at something ahead, and the officer shook his head and pointed again at the side of the road.

Eventually they both pulled off and as far as I could see them in my rear-view mirror, the officer was at the window of the car. 

I can't actually figure out why he pulled that guy over, either, given the whole 29 mph thing.

* Notice that I did not assume that the officer intended to pull me over. This is the brilliant thing about being (mostly) law-abiding: I never rarely have to worry about that. 

I suppose that he could be pulling me over to tell me that I had a light out or something, but what could he do, really? Give me a ticket for driving too slow? with the speed of traffic? My heart didn't even flip over. I was quite proud to notice that I was exactly as calm during and after interacting with the officer as I was driving down the road without him around.

I still haven't been pulled over in this country while I was driving. (By which I mean that no police officer in this country has directed me to pull over for the sake of discussing my driving and/or vehicle with me. Obviously I have pulled over to allow many a police car/ambulance/fire truck to pass me. Also I have been stopped by the police/checkpoints many times in Africa. Also I have been in the car while other people got pulled over for the sake of discussing their driving and/or vehicle with them. Which makes me think I should do a series on that. They have all been very interesting. No standard speeding tickets.)

19 June 2014


Periodically I forget that my environment matters to me. "I can live anywhere!" I think, and I sign up to live in a place that is tiny, or dirty, or damp. Sometimes I sign up to live with people who turn out to be unpleasable, and I spend months trying to keep them happy, to no avail.

After all, I lived in a tukul in South Sudan, right? I lived in a bedroom the size of a king-sized bed in New York. I can live anywhere!

It's true, in the short term. I can live anywhere. But I can't live anywhere and be happy.

Places where I have been happiest in my living situation:
  1. My house on the lake in Rwanda, where I could make myself toast and tea every morning and eat it out on the stone patio, looking out over the water.
  2. My apartment in Gone West Round #1, that over-sized hotel room that was all mine, with a short wall of southwest-facing windows.
  3. My duplex in Universe City, with the deck looking out over the trees and the city. 
I notice two trends here: pretty, and alone.

I had a roommate in Universe City, sort of. But after about six months, she functionally moved in with her boyfriend, and I didn't see her again for a year. I'm not kidding. She did not sleep in the house for a year. I knew when I went home that I was going home to an empty house, and it was glorious. (Then I got a new roommate, but by then the place felt like mine.)

After a fairly miserable year in Gone West Round #2, in a house that smelled like cat pee and wasn't  very welcoming at all, and four months of mooching on the good graces of friends in Gone West Round #2.1, I moved into an apartment on Sunday.

It's a sublet. I may have to leave at the end of August when the guy who lives here gets back from a summer of hiking in Colorado. 

But in the meantime, it is mine, all mine, and I cannot tell you what a difference it has made. 

It is tiny, this place. It is a studio, with a nook for the bed. The kitchen has black and white tiles on the floor, and the drawers are nearly painted shut. The lights all have pull chains to turn them on. There are numerous locks on the door that no longer function, and three that do. 

The windows face west. The place is bright and cheerful, and already I have a series of photos of sunsets taken out the window. 

I get work done here, next to my fridge full of healthy food, and then I walk through the neighborhood in the evening.

When I come back to this little space, I feel like I'm coming home. It's been a long time since I felt that way.

08 June 2014


On Friday, I was walking downtown when a guy asked me to take his picture. I took several of them in front of the backdrop he wanted, and then a couple more in front of a sign with Gone West's name on it, and then more in front of another sign.

When he found out that I am also a lawyer, he made some guy take a picture of both of us together and he insisted on buying me coffee at Starbucks. (I actually got a chai, and I think he got tea.)

Then we sat in the park and drank our tea while we talked about cultural differences. 

"If a girl says no when you ask her on a date, you have to keep trying," he said.

"No," I said, "if a girl says no when you ask her on a date, you should accept her answer. If she later decides that she likes you, she will let you know."

"Maybe it is different in India," he said. 

"Even in India, you should accept when she says no," I said. 

I have a friend who studied in India who told me that the harassment from men who would not let things go when she said no was intolerable.

"But you said sometimes women change their minds."

"Women don't change their minds when you keep asking," I said. "They usually don't change their minds at all, but if they do, it is because they see that you are a good person who does not pressure them."

04 June 2014


I have a new hobby, which is exploring the alleys of Gone West. Like Universe City, there are many neighborhoods in Gone West that have alleys halfway between the streets, i.e. they make a cross shape in the middle of a block. The alleys are unpaved, and they have no name. (There are a few streets that peter out into dirt roads for a few blocks, too.)

I love the alleys and dirt roads: I love wearing flipflops, crunching on the stones. I love peeking into people's backyards. I love pushing through the high grass where no one has mowed the lanes yet this year.

It reminds me of being somewhere not-so-paved, somewhere less sanitized.

I love this city, but sometimes I get bored by living in a place where everything goes so smoothly. The most excitement in a day is generally a bad driver sharing (or not sharing, usually) the road with me. 

And so I wander, and I pass through these almost secret little paths in the middle of a city, where one house is neat in front and full of junk in back, where one house has Private Property signs on the grass next to the two-track, where a dog barks at me through a fence and I say, "Hey! Be quiet!" and from the other side I hear a woman say, to the dog, "Yeah, hey! Why are you barking?" and I laugh on the inside.

02 June 2014

medical :: tonsil

Whenever I find myself having the mental go-to-the-doctor-or-not debate, it involves my throat. It's like my tonsils are little sensors that go off whenever there is something wrong in my body.

This time, specifically, it is my right tonsil.

I have been feeling my right tonsil for a while - I mentioned it to my dad on Friday, and by then it had already been going on for a while - not so much in a painful way, just that there was clearly something there in my throat, which usually there is not.

Starting yesterday, though, it's been hurting, that one tonsil. Last night I had a moment where I wasn't sure I could swallow my own spit around that tonsil.

Today, I keep getting things stuck on it when I swallow food. Does that sound disgusting?

It is disgusting.

I am not going to the doctor, however, because twice last year I went to the doctor convinced that there had to be something wrong because I felt so awful, and what did they tell me? Allergies. (Some of which is actually non-allergic rhinitis. For which I use the short-hand of allergies because everyone knows what they are.)

Also, I have my annual physical next week, and it feels silly to go to the doctor two weeks in a row. If this is non-allergy allergies, I'll be fine until next week. If it's viral, I'll be fine until next week.

If it's strep throat, I'm screwed, but hopefully (likely), given the way my eyes are watering and my nose is running, it is not strep throat, and I will survive this period of VERY HIGH GRASS POLLEN, and next year I will remember to dose myself with much more sudafed much sooner.