Friday, December 29, 2006

What I Hate....

Automatic flush toilets that flush while you are still on them.

I'm also a bit afraid of what all the suction power is going to do. One of my biggest fears is that a snake will bite me in the butt one day while on the toilet. (Yes yes I would've made a HORRIBLE pioneer, I know). The pre-emptive auto flush taps into all those fears.

And not only do I feel rushed and paranoid, but also a little, well, unnecessarily cleansed.

I'm all for the european bidet (or even a well timed ABW), but come ON.

Enough said.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The War on Singletons

If I didn't know the whole Jesus backstory to Christmas, I'd swear it was created for the sole purpose to make single people feel like crap. Judging by the number of jewelry commercials on TV, if I don't get a diamond pendant necklace from some rugged man wearing a cashmere sweater I'll be compelled to put my head in the oven or, at the very least, be forced to whisper disgustedly to someone "He didn't go to JARED!"

This surfiet 'war on singletons' is brought to you today by: the office Christmas party. Apparently, at my company, it's 'family friendly' - meaning that spouses, significant others, partners, children and other hanger's on are welcome to attend, eat, drink and be merry. And it's tonight. But my question is this: What if you don't have any hanger's on? What if you just started and don't know anyone?

What if you're in the middle of reading a good book and, after a hard day of work, would like to relax at home in front of the fire?

And, although I know this is my comment every year, I am on a rampage right now and I just need to reiterate it one more time: it really stinks that I have to buy two Christmas presents for my married family members while collectively they only have to buy me one present. They live in a two income household!

Bah, humbug.

Furthermore - for all of you men who are thinking of going to JARED, why don't you take your greedy little wives to see the movie Blood Diamond instead? That ought to cure her.

M is for Only Married People are Allowed to Celebrate Christmas;

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

East Meet Mid-West

Across the courtyard from my brand new office highrise, there is a little art gallery. On my first day, I walked past and pointed out one of the photos in the front window to a new co-worker:

"Hey!" I said, "That's where I'm from!"

Today I wandered into the gallery on my lunchbreak and discovered that the artist, Maxwell MacKenzie was born in Otter Tail County, MN, incidentally the same county that my own mother was born and raised in. Now living on the East coast, he periodically visits MN, ND and Montana in the summer to take photographs of "desolate landscapes."

The nostalgia of these photos for me was overwhelming. A squat line of Sioux grain bins, sentinels across a blank prairie; huge skylines highlighted by one lonely silo; long forgotten farmhouses slowly being reclaimed by the earth, tiled at precarious angles and poised to collapse (I remember crawling through how many of those as a kid?!? Mom, why didn't you stop us?).

And then, when I noticed the $1500 price tags, I started to laugh.

I've been sitting on a gold mine all these years and didn't even know it!

M is for MN,

Sunday, December 10, 2006

What Is To Come

What is to come we know not. But we know
That what has been was good - was good to show,
Better to hide, and best of all to bear.
We are the masters of the days that were;
We have lived, we have loved, we have suffered...even so.

Shall we not take the ebb who had the flow?
Life was our friend. Now, if it be our foe-
Dear, though it spoil and break us! - need we care
What is to come?
Let the great winds their worst and wildest blow,
Or the gold weather round us mellow slow;
We have fulfilled ourselves, and we can dare
And we can conquer, though we may not share
In the rich quiet of the afterglow
What is to come.

-Wiliam Ernest Henley

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Stupid Megan Stupid Tagged Me and Took All the People I Would've Tagged. She's Greedy.


Six weird things about me:

1) I HATE folding my clothes once they're clean. My underpants often end up in a wad in my drawer. Strangely enough though, I DO like to refold my clothes when I'm done wearing them (if they're still clean within reason, ofcourse) and put them BACK in the drawer. Go fig.

2) I don't like anything in pop culture if I percieve it to be 'too popular.' (ie, it took me a long time to read the Harry Potter books!)

3) I recently found out that 'it is weird' to announce the number of boyfriends a person has after counting the remaining lit candles on a birthday cake that's been blown out. Apparently, this meaning is regionalized to the upper midwest and El Salvador. (These are the only people I can find to verify this!)

4) Raw chicken frightens me. I am compuslive sanitizer when I cook it. Just short of pouring a bucket of bleach over the counter tops/chopping block/knives/etc.

5) I don't like pie. Or anything with slimey fruit. Bleah. Conversely however, I luuuuuv pie crust.

6) I'd pick a ham sandwich over chocolate any day.

While I think this might be an interesting exercise for some, I've had a tough time coming up with 'weird things'. Per #3, since living in a large house, with many different people, from many different nations, I've learned that weird is a very relative term.

For example, I had a roommate in college that would, before eating, put down a place mat, set the table, pour exactly a 3/4 cup milk, make a plate of food and fold her napkin in a neat setting. I used to think this was weird. (No, not everyone eats out of a trough like I do!)

Of course, I used to think that paying your rent on time was normal - but I guess I've been proven wrong there, too.

So yeah, weird. Sometimes I am, sometimes I'm not.

Depends on who you ask.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

I Go for the Coffee.

I've come across an appropriately liberal Methodist church in DuPont circle that I just love. The church is what is known as a Reconciling Congregation - and being Dupont circle - it's full of same sex couples and others from the GLBT community. Also, there is a sign language interpreter and many handicapped individuals in wheelchairs assisted by wide aisles and even a few shortened pews so they can sit 'with' the congregation and not in the aisle. (If I were handicapped I would hate that!).

Also, lots of mixed race couples, which is reassuring.

And very friendly people, without being pushy (ok, maybe they're a little pushy, but it's nice).

The only down side is the parking, which can be brutal as there's no lot and it IS DuPont. However, even that has a plus side because you know how many people are out at 10am on a Sunday morning in downtown DC? Comparatively, not many.

PLUS, once you have parked for church you have a rockin' spot to check out the farmer's market, grab a cup of coffee and a newspaper or go to brunch in this terrific neighborhood.

But the real kicker? They have fair trade coffee.

Yes, I go to church for the coffee.

Jesus should've forgone the grape juice and went straight to espresso shots. He would've REALLY had the pews filled then!


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Communal Living is Not for Sissies

So, duh. DC is an expensive place to live. Studio apartments in an area you'd want to live in run a minimum of $1000, so I live in a group house (sometimes affectionately called a 'group home' by those of us who live here - tee hee).

Ahem, anyway, to live for under $1000 per month, I live in a gorgeous house five bedroom, three full bath, two full kitchened house with five other women. My first six months here were great. It was exactly the type of homey atmosphere I needed (I didn't know anyone in DC and TOHMF hadn't moved here yet, so I had an instant community.) And I like living with people - there's always a new recipe to learn, or someone to chat about your day with. Loneliness is not a real problem.

Every group house has its own personalities. Our house falls into 'garage sale homey', I think. It's comfortable, mostly clean, and full of lots of plants and light. There's tons of free parking and a great backyard (as someone put it to me last night: you could play football in your backyard!) I love the house (even its quirks) but sometimes the people...not so much.

Point blank: it's stressful. When someone moves out, or moves in, or someone invites their high maintenance mother over for six weeks, or falls seriously ill, or doesn't pay their share of the bills (or their RENT!), it is stressful. Living in a group house is a lesson in interpersonal communication, conflict management and controlled chaos 24/7. Sometimes, I'm just tired.

And while I love the house, I've been ready for a while now to move out on my own. Yet, I still can't afford the $1000 price (to live above ground, mind you, in a place I won't get mugged) and this house still has too many amenities to keep me (did I mention the ample non-zoned parking? Guess who hasn't switched her MN plates yet?)

Yet, when the stress comes (and it always does), I just want to run away. Or live with mutes. Or move to Tora Bora.

I can only hope that someday I will look back on these days (and the eleven roommates I've had so far) with lots of forgiveness of myself and others. I know that this season of my life is very short, comparatively, and I AM trying to enjoy it.

But really, how hard is it to change the toilet paper roll?!?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Eat Your.....Pumpkins?

Due to a bad cold, I opted not to pass it along to my cousin's three young boys and cancelled on my family plans for Turkey Day (she actually thanked me on the phone for not coming).

This left me with a freshly baked pumpkin pie on Friday. Luckily, I had roommates to help me with it, but I did indeed eat three pieces before the day's end. In fact, it was gone by evening.

Which of course, leff my conscious pricked: did my three pieces of pie count as my daily vegetable serving? or fruit?

Is a pumpkin a fruit or vegetable? Wikipedia states that botanically, it's considered a fruit (because it comes from a flower - and, as I explained to my roommate, has seeds on the inside like a berry) but culinarily it is considered a vegetable - it can be served both sweet and savory.

Humph. Who knew? Pumpkins have dual citizenship!

And yes, in case you're wondering, it IS finals. And yes, I DO have better things to do....


Monday, November 20, 2006

I am a Girl from the Prairie

I spent 18 years of my life staring at wide open fields, blank canvases of blowing snow, long stretchese of pink/blue skies and the sharp twinkle of the entire milky way. With the nearest neighbors two miles away - and nearest town five - I got used to feeling 'out there' by myself.

You get used to feeling alone, one small speck of nothing witnessing the cosmic drama of the universe and nature unfold. It can be very solitary and depressing, but it can also be very calming and self-assuring.

So, you can understand my frustration/culture shock sometimes at the mind-numbing traffic (taxi drivers are the WORST), constant pedestrians, worn down bike paths, hiking trails littered with garbage, sold out movie theaters, crushing mall crowds, people on the streetcorner, people in the grocery store, people in my house, people over for a visit, people in study group, people from Italy (making the total people population NINE in my house. NINE!) people at work, people on the metro, people people people ALL THE TIME.

Sometimes I feel that there are so many people up in my grill with their needs, wants, desires, must-haves, requests, demands and self-centered driving skills that I think I am going to scream and jump into the Potomac.

It's funny because I was known as the 'social butterfly' back home. But here, after a long day of just being with people, I just need a rest.

Whine, over and out.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ben Folds...and other Randomly Random Stuff

Here's my latest list- in no particular order - of stuff:

  • Ben Folds is to me what Dave Matthews is to Abercrombie and Fitch loving UVA students. (Minus the obvious fact that I a) don't follow the tour cross country or b) refer to attending his concerts as "spending time with Dave" (puke puke puke)). I just realized again last night - for the umpteenth time - how much I totally heart his piano rockin' suburban white-boy mockery and clever cuss-filled lyrics. He is totally entertaining in concert [made all the better by the $5 tix for AU students - thanks Maricar!]

  • So tomorrow is my birthday. I'm usually a big proponent of birthday celebrating - much to the chagrin of others around me (as in, yes yes we know, now can you stop talking about it??). I mean, it's your one day a year to be special. Aside from wedding and baby, I really think this is the only time a woman is allowed to demand some modicum of proper attention (appropriate to MN standards, of course). Let's just say I'm really happy that I don't need a man to do this one. This year, well, I kind of already feel a year older after all I've been through in recent months. So yeah. Birthday.

  • On Monday, I got my free gift of Oil of Olay Destiny (a month after I ordered it for Megan's wedding - um, thanks, I guess). After one application, it claims that you will 'immediately see luminous effects!'. I must be an outlier, because after I applied it, I felt a little greasy - but smelled nice. And no, those annoying freckles on my cheek (who gets freckles in the middle of their face???) have no disappeared yet. Judging by the size of the tiny bottle, I have about three more days to find out...

  • The word synergy is total jargon to me. Can someone PLEASE tell me in REAL ENGLISH what the hell it means?
  • I sang the national anthem this summer with a bluegrass band in Malawi. I have no idea why this popped into my head the other day, but it's appropriately random, yes?
  • And finally, because if I don't say this my sister will bop me in the head: admittedly, the pro-pie agenda was my brother-in-law's idea. When she called me up to remind me of this, my response to her was, "Well, welcome to DC!" Politics is rough baby, pass the pie. :)

Sham on!


Monday, November 13, 2006


It's official - I got a job! As of December 4th, I'll be gainfully employed as a project associate with an international development contractor. Woo hoo!

I don't have all the specifics on my work portfolio, but what I do know is that I'll be working in crisis areas (read: conflict, natural disaster, famine) probably in Asia. The job is located in DC, but there will be a significant amount of travel (re: frequent flier miles!)

More significantly, it's paid - a living wage! With benefits! And they they'll take out taxes (if you think this is a silly thing to be happy about, let me have a little chat with you..)

I. am. so. relieved.

...And satisfied. Out of all the millions of jobs out there, I actually went to school and got one in my field. At risk of sounding trite, I've reached my Personal Myth (atleast, for this portion of my life). I set a goal (or goals) two years ago, and now I've reached it.


M is for Employment,

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Yet Another Reason to Love Living Here

Ok, so, not only was yesterday the best day EVER, but on top of that, it's supposed to be 70 F today.....and 75 tomorrow.

Who says it's November??


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

If I Were Running for Office

Ok, in addition to the post below (see: Finally, the Saga Is Over), I am also excruciatingly happy that Rick Santorum will no longer be representing the great state of Pennsylvania (as well as the fact that Amy Klobuchar won Minnesota. Hooray!) Regardless of who ultimately wins control of the Senate, I feel good.

Sigh. In fact, it's just a good day.

I was telling my friend from PA this morning at the gym about my disgust for Mr. Santorum/adoration for Ms. Klobuchar:

(Me, sweating): "Yeah, so I like her because, unlike Mr. Discharge, she's pro-choice AND pro-gay. See, pro-choice and pro-gay, that's like, a (pant) double whammy to the Republicans."

(Me, pretending to punch neocons): "Wham! Bam! See, if I was running for office I would (pant) be pro-gay choice, and kill two birds with one stone. You know, the constituents like precision on these issues..."

(Her, sweating to the Oldies): "Um, have you gotten enough sleep lately?"

(Me, doing deep knee bends): "Yes. And on top of everything else, I would make all college students take a year abroad in a non-English speaking country; mandatory sterilization of all child molestors; automatic jail-time if you obviously stare someone's breasts at work (double time if they're young enough to be your daughter); legalize gay marriage, encourage mothers to tell their daughters that they are beautiful on a daily basis; replace lunch hour with 'walk around the block' hour, yearly mandatory 1/2 off sales of all major merchandisers (ala the French method); and make everyone get a hug before they go to sleep at night from someone they love. Not like, love."

(Her, huffing up a never ending staircase): "Are you sure you're ok?"

(Me, thoughtfully): "I would also have a pro-pie agenda. Everyone likes pie. And free dairy queen for everyone on their birthdays."

Finally, the Saga is Over.

For some reason this makes me sooo happy today:

Now I guess she'll just have to start collecting globo-babies.

M is for About Friggin Time;

Thursday, November 02, 2006

For Posterity

Strong Bad?

The whole painting...

The jewelled basket

On display (on the left, with collage hanging underneath it)

The diamond pitcher

So my professor has had us do these paintings from collages we made . On tuesday, after spending three weeks on them, he announced that we would be painting OVER them, for a lesson in abstraction (and learning to let go of perfection).

Before we do that however, I brought in my digital camera tonight to capture it for posterity. Alot of the other students commented on how the red-face (an aboriginal mask taken from National Geographic) looks alot like Strong Bad. Just like choose your own decide!

M is for Matisse, Monet and Magritte,


Pretty Pretty Pictures

My friend Emira just sent these fab pictures of Minnesota that her brother took. They're b-e-autiful! Enjoy!


Ok, so I happend to watch Meredith Viera's interview with Madonna last night on Dateline and I have some additional things to say:
  1. The baby's name is DAVID not Daniel.
  2. Apparently, she said she offered to help the father and his family, financially and he turned her down. This could have something to do with the poppy syndrome, I'm not sure. I can imagine that he'll just be happy to have those cameras out of his face. Poor, poor man.
  3. She also stated that she offered to bring the baby back more often, but he said no, which I understand. First of all, this baby is a liability for him, in terms of his family asking him for money (of which you can bet there are alot now!) Secondly, there really isn't anything for him in Malawi - it's not like the baby will remember his father or like coming back to a mud hut after living in a British mansion. However, I still maintain that this baby will have some serious identity issues.
  4. As for bad press, Madonna actually had the audacity to say that she felt it was because she adopted a black baby. Wha? No, it's because it appeared that you swooped in, Land Rover blazing, snatched up the first cute baby you saw (that didn't have AIDs), paid off the weak judicial system and whisked him out of the country. THAT'S why you got the bad press, lady. This ain't no racial thang. But nice try.
  5. To her credit - and she did say alot of things that make sense, I just like picking on the retarded things - she said she'd like baby David to know where he came from and to have a connection of some sort. That's nice, that made me feel good. But then she went on to say that perhaps she could find information about his mom - a picture or something - that would help him when he grew up. Which made me laugh, because, really? A picture? You think there's a polariod floating around Mchinji somewhere of this nameless, faceless woman? More than likely, this woman probably just worked herself to the bone, had to many babies and never saw a camera - much less a color crayon - in her life. Good luck with that one, lady.
  6. Lastly, I thought Madonna looked scary, almost pointed. Although my roommate pointed out that for being almost fifty, she looks fab, I thought her eyes looked red and everything about her was angular and sharp. She didn't look....comforting. She looked angry, defensive, devilish and I'm sure, more than a little tired. I'd say poor Madonna, but hey, that's life.



Tuesday, October 31, 2006

African Baby Bandwagon

Recently, Madonna adopted a baby boy from Malawi with the popular name of Daniel Banda. (Read more about it here). During my trip home this past weekend, several people asked me what I thought about this. I hadn't thought to make a blog post about it, but after expounding ad nauseum at the church bazaar, to my family and during the wedding on the topic, I thought it would just be easier to write a blog.

First, let it be said that Madonna is doing this boy a great service. Somewhere in the ballpark of 44% of Malawian children are chronically malnourished and 22% are considered "stunted' for their age (meaning their height-to-weight ratio is all out of whack). Although I can't say for sure, my guess is that this is due basically to the lack of pre/post-natal care, nutrition, sanitation and regular doctor visits. With Madonna, he is going to get enough to eat, clothes on his back, vaccinations and excellent schooling - something that we all take for granted but are severely lacking in developing countries like Malawi.

Secondly, let it be said that Madonna is also doing this boy a great dis-service. Although it's not unusual for children to be placed into orphanages even if their parents are still alive (as Daniel's father is), it IS unusual to be removing this child from its cultural context. I think I read some where that the father will be allowed to visit in England once a year, but surely there are also brothers, sisters, aunties and uncles who - unlike in America - are much much closer to the child and would also like to visit. Will this child grow up rooted in an extended African family, or will it become part of the globo-baby jet-set who are 'citizens of the world'? Granted, Malawi is not the place people dream of building a summer home in, but shouldn't the child go to Malawi instead of the family heading to England? At least Maddox got a hut in Cambodia.

I'm no child psychologist, but what will the cultural/emotional ramifications of this adoption do to this poor baby? Is it even worth debating if he gets the chance at a hot meal and a life out of poverty?

That being said, this child is also like the golden ticket for the Banda family. From what I understand about Malawian culture, this child will be sought after, harangued, chased down, called up and pretty much pestered into helping his extended family members - if they ever find out how to get in contact with him. And you know what? I kind of think it's Madonna's duty. She took their child, after all. In fact, I think she shouldn't have stopped at adopting just the kid - given that his family is still alive, she should've also set aside a trust for them, or adopted their village or something. After all, it takes a whole village to raise a kid, not just one white lady from Detroit.

Part of the problem in Malawi is the fact that individualism as we see it here in the West doesn't exist. It's called the 'poppy syndrome'; all the tall poppies in a field are cut down (but if you don't stick out, you'll stay standing). The same reasoning exists in Japan, exemplified by the saying "The nail that sticks up will be hammered down." Removing one child doesn't solve the problem that the ENTIRE boat is sinking. Something needs to be done about everyone, at once, instead of person by person (who is then pulled down by the needy extended family). Whoever advised Madonna about this adoption either a) failed to grasp this concept or b) forgot to mention it.

Madonna has gotten a little less press for another initiative she's putting together - her organization Raising Malawi. It's gotten alot of press due to the supposed Kabbalah underpinnings. While I don't condone prosteletyzing - well, I can't say she isn't the first one in Malawi - I also can't definitively say that Kabbalah shouldn't be taught. I really know nothing about it. I get the feeling that from this angle anyway, the press has blown things out of proportion. It's not like she's opening a Kabbalah madrasa (Watch out! It's a jewish jihad!). Perhaps it will only manifest itself in a morning hug. And who wouldn't like a hug in the morning?

Perhaps the only thing we can really blast Madonna for is lack of originality. I mean, adopting kids in the 00's is like adopting a rainforest in the 90's (or adopting a solar system in the 80's). Why don't we see any stars funding pit latrines? or a well trained police force? or mental health clinics? (talk about an underbelly of the underserved!) Is it that the poor don't need to use the toilet, or have laws enforced, or a safe place to recover from trauma?

It seems to me that stars take the best and the worst of their celebrity "for a good cause". Some child gets a red-ribbon on their wrist (if I'm not mistaken, a symbol of Kabbalah beliefs) and she gets some good press and a sexy cause.

But on the other hand, people now know where Malawi is.

What do YOU think?

M is for Madonna;

Sunday, October 22, 2006

So Much Better than Homework

Aside from attending class yesterday from 10-4pm, I have also been hacking away at my Substantial Research Paper, one of the last things I need to finish in order to graduate this fall. I found out on Friday that I passed my language requirement exam (mon dieu!), so all that's left between me and exorbant loan repayments are two take home exams and one enormous paper on Malawi. Wish me luck!

Of course, before I could get any real work done on the SRP, I participated in the fantastic Tour du Port in Baltimore today. Fifteen miles, lots of bananas, boats and bicycles later, I feel I've got a good grasp on this port city (atleast, by bike). Too bad it was so cold! After that, I let myself drink this and eat some of this (of course now I remember WHY I never eat/drink those things! ug!)

Now I'm forcing myself to sit in the library and write until the Simpsons comes on. Do I lead a strange life or what?

M is for More Homework,

Friday, October 13, 2006

Two Random Thoughts From the Drive Into Work

1) Sometimes, when I'm driving in the morning and the sun catches on the National Cathedral and the water is smooth over the tidal basin, I realize, all things (traffic, expensive housing, crowds, republicans) aside : I love living in DC. I love DC!

There's something intensely satisfying about living out a dream. Even a sometimes scary and inconvenient one.

2) My skin, apart from the random huge pores, has some funny discolorations on it. Like, it's not all evenly one color, even with makeup. Is this normal? From discussions with girlfriends, I think so. Even if the dark patch of skin above my that lip looks like a mustache? You bet.

For awhile - and in the effort of getting gorgeous for Meg's wedding - I've been thinking that I should buy this. I would finally have luminous skin! I could turn back the clock before it needed to be turned back! You could bounce quarters off my double-dimples!

But then I realized that hey, I'm 26 - too old to be falling for these stupid ad campaigns. Every other product out there has yet failed to turn me into a supermodel, why should this one be any different (esp if I have to save to be able to afford a small bottle!)?

So, in honor of my new vow to love myself no matter what, I decided to pull out another ad campaign:

Love the Skin You're In.

Done AND done.

M is for multi-layered anti-aging luminous skin transformation (starting from the inside),

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Pathos, the Lesser Known Muskateer

I know I'm just going to get blasted for posting this, but here goes.

Pathos, (n) greek word for "to suffer" or "emotion", both of which I've been doing alot of lately. And it's not like laughing and then crying. It's more like crying, then laughing, then angry, then crying, then chocolate, then laughing, then sleep. Oh wait, hysterical might be the word I'm looking for here...

Pathetic (adj), derived from Pathos. Not surprisingly meaning pretty much the same thing, only used to describe:
  1. a person who keeps wearing the same brown shoes out in the rain, even though they have holes in the bottom of them, because she a) doesn't have enough money to buy new ones and/or b) forgets about the holes.
  2. a person who's idea of a good time is getting into her gnome-y flannel pajama's by 8pm on a friday night and yelling at sappy love movies. (FYI: 'The Prince and Me' is REALLY STUPID).
  3. a person who cares - REALLY CARES - if the pumpkin on the porch matches the wreath on the door.
  4. A person who has tried to melt pumpkin candy corns and regenerate them into a larger pumpkin candy edible sculpture.
  5. a person who buys a dress for a wedding because a) it's burqua-esque coverage and b) $20 price tag. Oh, and haggles at the checkout for an extra 10% because there are some 'loose strings'.
  6. A person who perpetually interns in odd places, like boats, and subsequently comes home smelling like fish and untreated sewage - every day.
  7. a person who suspects that, if she tried, she could eat everything in the refridgerator in one sitting. (ok except maybe not that nasty mustard that's been in the back since 1994.)
  8. Oh and for those of you behind the scenes and know about this one: a person who goes and gets a wart removed and ends up bed-ridden for six weeks until her mother buys her a townhouse and she is carted away. She was definitely pathetic.
And finally, I bring you:
Pathoepeia, a type of speech that moves hearers emotionally.

I think I've done my job here.

Good day.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Mailing Malcontent

My roommates make fun of me because of my propensity to decorate. Every fall, this instinct is further perpetuated by the immediate female members of my family, who send me fun little "Halloweeny" type gifts from the Bibelot, etc. These packages usually consist of napkins, wall hangings, candles and the like.

And every fall I'm overwhelmed with guilt because I get these awesome packages and I never have any money (or forethought) to prepare one in return. Yes, I know, I am a holiday mooch.

But not this year.

Oh no, not this year. I had my ACT TOGETHER! I was shopping for Halloween gifts in August! I used tissue paper! I bought presents on the road! I had them wrapped (and addressed) two weeks ago!

But then they just sat in my car because:

I couldn't find a freakin' post office.

It's not that there aren't any in DC. Oh no. It's the fact that, working 9-5 Monday through Friday with class on Saturdays, I couldn't get to my normal post office during the day. (These packages, although small, needed to be weighed). At my old job in Dupont circle, I'd just walk down the street during my lunch hour and be done with it.

But my new job, down on the waterfront, is a different story.

Yesterday, desperate to ship them off (as it's now October - October! - and it's imperative that I get this package to my sister before she sends one to me (so she can deal with the guilt this year, not me)) I drove around downtown over my lunchbreak - for an hour.

An hour! In my car! On a gorgeous 80 degree October day!

I was so mad when I got back to the office and I still had those stupid packages. I was ready to drop kick them into the Potomac.

Then, of course, my office mate says (because inevitably this happens - my life is a sitcom, btw), "Oh, there's one up the street!" (You know when Peanut's characters get that scribble mark above their heads when they're disgruntled? That was me.)

So after work, I head deep into SW DC where my honky-tonky value skyrockets. I obviously don't belong or know what I'm doing. Case in point: I had to pass my packages through a bullet proof glass and shut the door before the postal worker would receive them, but I stood there staring at the postal worker before she said "Are you gonna put your packages down or what?" Uh, whoops.

But anyway, besides that little adventure, I finally - FINALLY - got those silly packages off. And now to reap the rewards..........

M is for Mail,


Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Great HMF Debate

I never knew this name would stick. I just started calling him it one day, he liked it and it seemed to resonate amongst our friends.

Sadly, until further notice, the HMF has be re-assigned a new name: TO-HMF. That is, The Original Handsome Man Friend.

Kind of like Original Recipe, only not.

This leaves the door open for (big breath now) a possible TCHMF (The Current HMF) in the future, and maybe, just maybe, further along TPHMF (The Permanent HMF).

Just so we have our names straight.


Monday, September 25, 2006

My Ipod Playlist, Lately

I've Been Down-Hearted Baby (Ever Since the Day We Met), Primitive Radio Gods

Dance Me to the End of Love, Madeleine Peyroux (hmm..not so much dancing..)

This Year's Love, David Gray

I'm Missing You, India Arie

And So It Goes, Billy Joel

Power of Two, Indigo Girls

Screaming Infedelities, Dashboard Confessionals

I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You, Colin Hay

Still Holdin' On, Clint Black and Martina McBride

Strength, Courage and Wisdom, India Arie

Torn to Pieces, Kelly Clarkson

Mr. Tambourine Man, Bob Dylan (this song has no special significance, except I like it and it
randomly reminds me of Malawi and an ambulance)

Run, Snow Patrol

She's Always a Woman, Billy Joel

Following My Compass, Hall Kristen

Winding Road, Bonnie Somerville (Garden State Soundtrack)

The One I Love, David Gray

Always on Your Side, Sheryl Crow

World on Fire, Sarah McGlaughlan

Sunday, September 17, 2006

i carry your heart

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it (anywhere
you go, my dear, and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whateer a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the roo and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

~e.e cummings

Monday, September 11, 2006

That's Right: Two Posts in One Day.

Things I Can't Live Without:
  • my flash drive (even with a missing cover); the saving grace of all grad students everywhere.
  • blue Toshiba laptop (with DVD capabilities and built in games - how many times did this save me in Malaw?)
  • my 100 yen faux Kate Spade pencil case - no more fishing at the bottom of my bag for a pen.
  • the internet. I am seriously addicted to email. How did we ever do research without it?
  • my pink lambswool heavy-soled slippers. Good for walking on sticky kitchen floors with.
  • my black makeup case - this thing goes with me everywhere. I don't even unpack it anymore.
  • my bus pass! and student id card! (good for lots of free stuff - and getting into the gym!)
  • Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches. Seriously good stuff, for only 140 calories apiece.
  • Ann Taylor anything. Yes, I am a 50 year old woman. But I have nice clothes.
  • my new Razr from Motorola. It's not gold, but it'll do (thanks for talking me into it, HMF!)
  • America's Next Model. Janice totally rules.
  • H&M (and HMF!)
  • chapstick. lots and lots of chapstick.
  • my passport.
  • oh yeah, and the Red Pants. :)
List to be continued...I'm sure...

Being Dum rather, mediocre.

Last weekend my graduate program had their annual welcome back picnic. In between gabbing with new students, I asked one of my friends how she was awarded her research assistantship with my favorite professor. I knew from my roommate (who is also an RA) that before coming to University, she got a call out of the blue asking her if she wanted this paid on-campus position. I wanted to know what this "out of the blue" phone call was based on.

"Oh," she said, nonchalantly, "On GPA."
"What, like, undergrad GPA?"
"Um, yeah."
"It's based entirely on GPA?"
"Yep," she said, seeming uncomfortable.
"That's ridiculous," I said, "I had a 3.74 GPA in undergrad, why didn't I get a call?
"Did you have a 4.0?"
"A 3.9? You had a 3.9 in college!?"

So I asked my other two close friends, who are, incidentally also RAs in my program. They both had 3.9's as well. Well, my roommate added that she actually had a 3.98.

I gotta say, I was a little taken a back. I mean, I'm no genius, but I always operated under the assumption that I was no flub either. This encounter just further underscores the overall feeling of mediocrity I sometimes have about my academic life. I mean, I have a genuine love of learning, but I've always known that if I had to chose between being a brainiac or having a well-rounded life, that I would choose the latter.

I've rationalized in my own mind how this can be a good thing. For example, instead of being smart or having gone to the right school, I'm personable, sociable. I've often felt that what I lack in brains, I can make up for in quickness of wit and creativity of delivery. Or bluffing. [Never underestimate the power of a good bluff]. This gets you surprisingly far, and is a powerful tool in the right situation. In fact, I'm the poster child for cumulative applications - while I do semi-respectfully on the academic portion, I usually rock the essay or the interview. I suspect I've squeaked by on these talents many time.

However, while all this makes me good party fun, it doesn't necessarily demand respect. I've often felt like I'm playing a game whose rules I don't even understand (but in my mind, can be made up!). Sometimes, people underestimate me. Sometimes, this gives me an out to do a shitty job [when in fact, I should be called on it].

I have reflected many times on how different my graduate career would've been if only I'd had one of those RA positions. I could've been on campus more. I would've felt more connected to the community. I would've been "in" on campus activities, instead of just showing up in the evenings and racing to class exhausted from a full day of work.

I wouldn't have so much debt hanging over my head.

And while, deep down, I still know I'm a good person and that there is a place in life for me (hey, someone has to be middle management), I'm still a little disappointed at not being "The Best."

I think that comes from growing up in America. In Japan, they tell students to be part of the status quo. You expect to grow up and become a salaryman or an office lady (until you get married), not Prime Minister, or an astronaut, a neurobiologist or Steve Irwin. So when one does become mediocre (and chances are, they will), they're not terribily dissappointed that they didn't turn out to be Prime Minister/astronaut/neurobiologist/Steve Irwin (RIP, Steve!).

Perhaps we need more of that here. Or perhaps not.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: the strive for excellence is one thing.

The acceptance of being who you are is another all together.

M is for mediocre,

Monday, August 28, 2006

Best . Labor Day. Ever.

To celebrate the last officially official weekend of summer, my HMF surprised me with a flight back to Minnesota to take part in that superslice of summer, that harbinger of heartburn, the ten-days of tackiness, the deep fried the goober of good taste: the Minnesota State Fair (known to Insiders as the "Great Minnesota Get Together").

I. Am. So. Excited.

What makes this even sweeter, is that he went behind my back to email all my good friends (see Kate's blog entry) and let them know we'd be in town.

He even swore them to secrecy.

So now we're going to be able to get together afterall, complete with a Labor Day BBQ.

Life is good !

But next time, honey, wait until I've been off the plane for atleast an hour before telling me we'll be getting back on it :)

M is for MN State Fair!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Photos from Pilansburg Game Park, South Africa

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Home-Again, Home-Again, Lickety-Split.... the saying my mom would say everytime we pulled into the driveway back home. To this day, I have to fight the urge to say it when I come back.

I actually toyed with writing a whole long diatribe about international travel. Such as, when you board a plane, please refrain from announcing that you're looking for the "tequila train." Or explaining in loud form how you got so "effed up" the night before that you don't think you'll make it through the flight without ten beers. (Sadly, one of these blokes had a camoflauge MN hunting cap...) When the lights are off, stop shouting.

In fact, stop shouting. Full stop.

But, I thought that this type of entry would just come across as sour grapes. Especially as the list of complaints grew longer and more petty as the flight progressed (really, MUST you stand in the aisle and hover over me like the Hidenberg? Yes, please take your jacket off and hit me in the face...)

As for the increased security measures, well, it caused a few delays, but not many. When I initially boarded the plane, after the xray, they went through our bags and took away water, juice, etc. Even though I'd taken great pains to throw away my lotion (do you KNOW how dry those flights get?), they didn't even check my toiletry bag. But then, no one ever suspects the blonde...

I spent the rest of the flight trying to sneak my way into the first class toilet just to get ahold of their lotion...(really, what's the point in having a first class toilet in the second class? Does it have gold gilded seats? Does the toilet flush quietly? Are there actually towels to wipe your hands? Does it stink any less like urine?)...and pestering stewardesses for more water. Really, it made no difference to me. But those stewardesses seemed pretty haggard by the end of the flight.

The side trip to Johannesburg was absolutely terrific. I was warmly greeted and taken care of by a woman who had met me as a child twenty years ago, when she was an exchange student of my cousin. She and her husband used to farm in Zimbabwe until they got pushed off by Mugabe's "land reform" five years ago. They took me to a nearby game reserve, where we scoped lions, giraffe, rhino, hippos, impala and zebra from the relative safety of their '89 Toyota Carrolla. The next day, I had the opportunity to go to the Apartheid Museum. I never knew how little I knew until I went there. Fascinating.

Anyway, I have every intention of going back to South Africa again. It's beautiful and the people all think my american accent is hilarious. (In SA, it's pronounced "Amirican"). I hope to bring a whole bunch of friends or family next time.

Now I'm back and the first thing I noticed was the muggy, sweaty, swampy, luscious smell of the DC lowland. My skin feels alive again and I'm wearing shorts for the first time in nine months. It feels terrific. I feel kind of bad that I missed out on summer here, but I have every assurance from the HMF that it was pretty boring.

And that, I take to mean, is that there are no giant spiders. :)

Over and out,

Thursday, August 17, 2006

You Know It's Time To Go..

When you've started asking the spiders in your kitchen how their day went!

I'm taking off for some R&R tomorrow - will soon be back in the States and back to work!

Thanks for listening,


Monday, August 14, 2006

Old and New

Alicia, Belinda, Ruth, Kim, Desola and Alyssa

Wine and cheese party

Malawi is a revolving door of people, especially in these development circles that seem to recycle young people at three month intervals. You see it alot in Washington, DC as well.

At this stage of my life, I tend to find it exciting. Don't like your job? Wait three months, someone is bound to leave. Don't like your housemates? Wait three more months and the real kooky ones will get their mother's to buy them townhouses. There's always an opportunity to meet new people and almost everyone passes through eventually (ok that's slightly more true for DC than Lilongwe, but you'd be surprised - last week a few of my old coworkers showed up).

After a year, you're considered an old-timer and can look with derision at those people who squat for a few months. Thus, the dichotomy between old and new is created.

To stereotype: old timers have been around the block, made their friends, know the best bars, the best deals, have done all the touristy stuff (ostensibly) and can be extremely jaded, like old war vets. New comers are fresh, excited, ready to party, do touristy things, talk to anybody and go through crappy experiences (generally, the first few times) with a huge, dopey smile on their faces.

Not surprisingly, smart new comers glom onto older timers to show them the ropes.

Equally unsurprising is the old timer hesistance to let them.

And why should they? What with the revolving door policy, what sense does it make to create a friendship with someone who will be gone in three months? My college buddy Alonzo, who was from Mexico City and consequently had alot of foreign exchange student friends, once complained to me how painful it was to open up to someone only to see them leave. After the fifth semester of saying goodbye to his "best" friend with promises to email that never came to fruition, he felt burned - and alone.

I sympathize with this. It's hard to say goodbye to people. There have been a few awesome folks that I've met here in Lilongwe that I would've loved to have gotten to know better, except for this old-timer/new comer divide. They already had a circle of friends. I could quite clearly see their dance card was booked. Yet, I felt those were the ones who could provide perspective, keep me grounded, and engage in meaningful reflection. I found it alot easier to make friends with the other three-month interns (who then, consequently left before me! ha ha justice..)

Nevertheless, however painful the goodbye, it doesn't justify the shutting up of yourself. I've never operated like that; I secretly think it's impossible for me to do. My general philosophy is that people come and go into your life when you need them; some stay, some don't. It's not any failure of our relationship if we don't keep in touch - it's enough for me to know that we shared pieces of our lives for awhile. Besides, I have a fairly good track record of "re-meeting".

To those generous old timers who opened themselves up to me during my time here, thank you. Kim, Alicia, Belinda, Alex; I'm sorry I have to go. You have graciously touched my life.


Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Accident

The funny thing about having a blog is when people know you have one and see you on a regular basis, and crazy stuff happens to you when you're with them, it garners comments such as "I smell a blog entry!"

Which is what happened to me last night. Originally, I was so frightened, sobered and angry that there was no way I was going to share it. But then I received the aforementioned comment this morning from my friend. Now I feel a bit compelled and well, wiser to the complexity of these events, which I feel may be of interest.

Last night I went out with some friends to a bar. It was me, my Lutheran missionary buddies, my UNHCR friend who liked the hippos, my pal Al and Canada Jim , who had just returned from some R&R back at home the day before.

About 12:15, we decided to drive across town to the Old Town section to go dancing at another club. I hopped in the back of the Lutheran ambulance, a bit peeved that we had parked so far away because I've contracted tendonitis in my ankle due to all the flip flop wearing and it hurt to walk. This sounds silly, but it's important.

So, four of us got into the ambulance, while Al and Canada Jim take off in their own vehicles. Somehow, we start singing show-tunes (ok ok, it was just ME and no I didn't have that much to drink...) and rumble off down the road. Just as I was getting to the chorus line of "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria" we came across a terrible, fresh car accident.

It's Canada Jim. As he was crossing a bridge, the car coming towards him drifted into his lane. He narrowly avoided a head on collision (or worse yet, being pushed into the ditch) by swerving into the opposite side of traffic and clipping the guy on the passenger side (remember, British system = driving on the left, meaning the passenger side is really what we would consider the driver's side for all you Americans, Canadians and Continentals out there...)

Anyway, the accident must've happend just seconds before we arrived because Canada Jim was wandering around, disoriented (he had hit his head on the steering wheel, but was wearing his seatbelt - thank god- so only his left eyebrow was cut open). The driver of the other car, not so lucky. I didn't get out for a good look, but he was in the car, unconscious when we arrived. He was driving a low sedan and the entire front end looked like a meat grinder had been taken to it. Canada Jim's Pajero didn't look much better.

As luck would have it, we are a) in an ambulance with a nurse and b) about five minutes by car to the nearest hospital. The nurse, Kim, (who incedentally was the one who told me to write this in a blog..) jumps out of the car and runs to check on the other guy. He's alive and breathing, but she can't tell the extent of the damages. The three of us left in the car go to the hospital to wake up the nurses and get a stretcher.

Here's where it really hit home that we were in Malawi. Now, I haven't been in too many accidents in the US, or really even witnessed any gory ones up close, but I would imagine that within minutes the medics arrive and the police and everything is taken care of in a somewhat orderly manner. That expectation is morbidly laughable here.

The only thing that arrived within seconds was a) a crowd and b) a traffic jam. When we returned with the stretcher, the other driver was out of the car (dislodged by our courageous nurse and a few Danish high school students), lying on the pavement and gurgling. You could tell he was breathing, but there was blood everywhere. Kim has got it all over her hands.

I have to admit, the absolute first thing I thought (after I saw the passenger alive) was: AIDS.

My friend and I set the stretcher down and Kim starts coordinating people to help shift this guy onto the gurney. She catches my eye when saying this and all I could think of was "Pleasedontpickmepleasedontpickmepleasedontpickme". I feel like Peter, in the Bible, when he denies Jesus three times before the cock crows. I am a rotten human being; I won't even pick up a perhaps dying man from the road. I swear I heard a rooster crow in the distance.

Kim, perhaps sensing my split second hesitation, sucks in her breathe and says "Men." Catching her voice again, louder she says "Men! I need men to lift this guy!" I back away, grateful, and about twelve hundred onlookers surge forward. Kim is polite yet firm, manages to stabilize his head while arguing with one particularly beligerant sexist Malawian. I don't remember what about, but it's kind of gratifying to see all these fatsos being bossed around by a 115 pound nurse. They obviously wanted to do it their way, and she quite firmly wasn't going to let them.

After more arguing (the dudes wanted to put the guy in the PICKUP TRUCK while Kim wanted to wait for the ambulance, which was parked mere feet away, to swing around) they finally got him loaded into the ambulance. This was more than a normal undertaking, as the guy was easily 250 bils and there were five 110 lb bags of maize already occupying the back of the ambulance. Malawi: where ambulances become grocery stores.

I notice that there is very little interaction with the wazungu and the Malawians crowded around the accident. It was eery, really. We whiteys crowded on one side of the road and they crowded on the other. We barely spoke. I asked one Malawian guy if he knew the driver, but he just shook his head, which just made me madder. What the hell were you doing here then? Don't you have something better to do? To me, it was like rubbernecking to the nth degree, and it was tacky.

One Palestian guy stops his car in the middle of traffic, gets out and walks around the mangled car for about ten minutes. Frustrated, angry and scared, I finally ask him to move his car because he's going to cause another accident having it parked in the middle of a dark highway like that. "I just wanted to see if this was my friends car," he says, drunkenly.
"It's not," I snap. "He's Malawian. The other guy is my friend. Mazungu. Move yer damn car."

It's not until the morning that I realize it was completely within the realm of possibility that this Palestinian guy could've been friends with the Malawian, or even Canada Jim.

I also remember that in Malawi, those pesky onlookers that crawled out of the woodwork - the ones I assumed were there just for the blood and gore - were really the transportation safety net of Malawi. In a country where EMTs are unheard of, if strangers didn't come to help during an accident, no one would. These guys were just doing their civic duty. Both of these revelations conspire to make me feel like the biggest racist ever. Cock crow number two.

I talk Al and my UNHCR friend into driving me home to grab an ice pack and some water for Canada Jim, as his eye was swelling quite rapidly and he complained of blurred vision. Sadly, I had no aspirin in my house to speak of and it was too far to go to the other's houses. When we return, the police have just arrived (this is about 1 hour after the accident!).

Canada Jim tells his story, and the onlookers start arguing. To give Canada Jim some support via proximity, I cross over from "our" side of the road. I hear some discussion about skid marks. One particularly beligerant onlooker claims that the skid marks prove that Canada Jim was in the wrong. He concludes that the entire mess was Canada Jim's fault.

I am boiling. I start yelling about that's physically impossible if you examine the impact points of each vehicle and that the skid marks mean nothing. Secretly, I'm surprised because everyone stops to listen to me rant. Then the asshole tries to cut me off by saying "Are you done now sweetheart? Can I share what really happened now?" but I talk over him, louder, getting very shrilly. Not really making sense, just wishing I had a good comeback to his condescending "sweetheart" talk. The only thing I can remember saying is, "Sweetheart? Did you call me sweetheart? Listen here SIR (trying as hard as I could to put a sarcastic twist on that - and failing miserably), I know what I see and you're wrong."

I catch my breath and know there's still alot of yelling I could do. A lot. And some punching to the face, but I remember Canada Jim and swallow my pride. I think that arguing in a foreign country in front of police is a great way to get arrested, and that's the last thing I wanted to have happen, so I shut my trap. Yet, inside, I feel like I've just lost a major battle. Why couldn't I stick up for myself? Why couldn't I get this guys respect? What gives him the right to belittle me just because he has a penis?! Forget Jesus, I hear Susan B. Anthony rolling over in her grave.

I slink back to "our" side of the road while the jerkwad was just starting to accuse Jim of being drunk. I hear the third rooster crow.

Once home, I don't know whether to laugh, cry, sigh or just forget about it. I lay awake for a long time digesting the evening and then slip off into sleep.

Canada Jim's car is totaled, and he is shaken up, but ok. The passenger - who tested negative for HIV/AIDs - is in stable condition. Turns out the only thing of damage he did was bite his tongue pretty hard (that's the rumor at this point anyway). The police are still filling out their report and Jim will probably be dealing with this for a while yet, but everything has turned out much, much better thant it could have.

Remember how I was annoyed that I had to march the extra fifty feet to the parking lot to get into our car? Canada Jim had a better parking spot and therefore got to leave those few seconds ahead of us, causing the whole chain of events to unfold. The really funny thing is, we almost took that parking spot.

Wear your seatbelts.



Friday, August 11, 2006

A Story About Postcards

Yesterday I mentioned how every afternoon, around 3pm, I like to cross the dusty parking lot beside my office building and buy a cupcake from the grocery store. I go, one for the cupcake and two, for the excercise but I usually get three, hassled by this one guy URGENTLY selling batik postcards.

It goes something like this:
Me: (big white girl minding her own business walking across dusty parking lot, thinking about cupcakes)
Man Wearing Stocking Cap: (makes a beeline for me regardless where his is - usually from the grocery store steps)
Me: (still walking, pretending not to see him)
MWSC: Madam, Madam, you see I am very hungry. I have children. We have not eaten in four days. You see I am very hungry. (Takes out postcards)
Me: (I glance at him)
MWSC: I am very hungry, I haven't eaten in four days. I make these cards to sell.
Me: No, thank you.
MWSC: But Madam I am hungry! I made these myself!
Me: Not interested, thanks. (Kind, but firm)
MWSC: Hungry! (Pointing at mouth, expectantly)
(He trails me across the parking lot until I walk out of his jurisdiction (for some reason he won't follow me into the store or out of the lot))

This has happened atleast six times. Same scenario, same outcome. If at one time I was interested in buying his postcards, I most certainly wasn't after the following:

Once, I stopped and asked him how much for a postcard and after going through the hullaballo of saying stuff like "I'll give you good price", he quoted me an outrageous sum (like 4$) for one postcard. I'm sorry to say but I started laughing at him, and told him I'd seen those same postcards at a hotel for fifty cents. He played incredulous. "But Madam, I made these myself!" I peered at the cards, they were photocopies of batiks pasted on a single slice of cardboard.

He was obviously giving me the "mazungu" price, trying to squeeze as much money as he could from my pockets. I smiled politely and walked away. (Rule 1 of bargaining: if you engage in price haggling in anyway, then you are verbally bound to purchase the said product. It's the height of rudeness. I once got kicked out of a Bedouin marketplace by the heels of a screaming merchant for doing it. I wasn't about to rile up this guy.)

So, now knowing for sure he's not on the up and up (if he was atleast a nice guy I'd chat with him, but he mostly just yells and breathes down my neck), I feel no obligation to even look at him.

But still, I give the guy credit for persistence. Yesterday he approached me again by saying "Madam I am very hungry, I haven't eaten in four days." (I wonder if he thinks a) I can't distinguish who he is from all the grifters or b) he can't distinguish me from all the wazungu. Little does he know his opening line gives him away)). I stopped at poked him thoughtfully, "You ask me to buy these postcards every day. If you haven't eaten in four days you should be dead by now!"

Without missing a beat he said, "Well then, give me some money."

Cheeky bugger!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Dog Days of Summer

Every day I remind myself that this is August, the dead heart of summer. I should be laying on the beach, sweating my mind off, drinking gin tonics and planning a 'mini-break' with the HMF.

Besides the last two, you'd be way off the mark.
Yesterday morning, it was 9 C (48 F). That's cold!

This past week I've been tucked away in my office, frantically trying to finish this 40-page research paper that's sucked away my entire summer and afforded me some pretty cool opportunities (can anyone say "Malawisaurus" without grinning?). But all I'm getting is squinty eye syndrom and the worst backache in the world, which means my back hurts, my eyes hurt, my brain hurts. I'm terrified that when my boss reads this he's going to say "We paid you to do THIS?! Give us our money back..."

I'm also planning a brown bag lunch (why was thisa good idea to do my last week here?) to aid in my thesis research, which should be good (lots of pizza) but that I have to pull together a presentation for. On what? I have no idea. I've got four days to figure it out.

I've managed to make friends with all the athletic people in Malawi who like climbing and running marathons, neither of which I can do and thus am reduced to cheerleader status (boo). I am in an office and have not gotten any real exercise in well over a week (last time I took a jog, I stopped after a little girl threw her arms around me in a big hug. How can you run after that? I was smiling too hard). We keep going out for "last dinners" with friends and keep eating my weight in mashed potatoes, then they go out and have kickboxing matches til dawn. I roll over and pretend it's Thanksgiving or Christmas. This has got to stop.

On top of that, I've become addicted to what I believed were corn muffins that sell for like, 25 cents at the grocery across from my office, only to find out today that they're actually cupcakes.
So now not only have I been cooped up in my office all week growing my ass, but I've been stuffing CUPCAKES into my face all day! Crap.

I need some endorphins and some vitamin D - soon. Every once and awhile I hear the crickets chirping and the light is just right (that mid afternoon that turns into a long dusk at home). It's only then that I realize it's actually August. Somewhere in the world people are sweating down to their eyelids and surfing.

I think it's getting time to go home.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Everyone thinks they own Africa.

First it was the colonists, then it was the Africans themselves (for it was we who taught them the idea of “ownership” in the first place) and now it’s the donor agencies, Peace Corp volunteers, travel-writers and Diaspora communities. Each group lays claim to the fact that their experience is the true experience; they understand the true essence of Africa. They know how Africa works.

We all do it. We all carve it up and take it away in little chunks, marketing it as validity in empirical form to our friends and family back home. We pander to church groups and editors, professors and politicians – yes, yes, this was My Africa. This is what it was – why don’t you hear, feel, taste, smell, touch, grade, evaluate, process, examine, scrutinize, accept, buy what I have brought back for you.

Put two Afrophiles in a room and watch the game of one-up man ship. You ate goat? I ate snake. You got scabies? I had gout. You broke your wrist? I was in a monkey knife fight. You rode a matola across the Serengeti? I pulled an oxcart. You lived there for ten years? I lived there for twenty. You married a local? I married three.

This territoriality – this fight for proof of capturing the “genuine” Africa is nearly impossible to overcome, even when you are the one doing it. On a personal level, this ranges from merely annoying to mind-bendingly frustrating (great, good luck with your three wives). On a professional level, of course, it can get downright dangerous.

I pretty much expect that everyone I know has had a more “genuine” experience than I have. In fact, I lay no claim to ever having an Africa experience in the first place. I concede; you win. You’ve interviewed more people (probably knew what you were doing when you did it, too), you ask better questions, you have been to more countries, you live in the village, you speak more languages, you eat goat, you like it.

I will not marry a local. I will not live here for ten years. I hobble to hospital when I sprain my ankle in a drunken wrestling match. I steer clear of the snake. And while I have tremendous guilt for this, I cannot change who I am.

Too many things have been taken from Africa. Too much gold, too many people, too many carvings, too many reports, program designs, project evaluations and power point presentations. And really, they are all genuine in their own way. I mean, come on, Africa has strip malls, too.

I have a resolve to bring. But in casting around, the only thing that I can bring is myself; a woman who likes hot water and dances “like a black woman” (true story, I was actually told this. I don’t know if it’s true or just the best pick up line ever); someone who hates rain spiders and only reads English; someone who makes faces at little kids to get them to smile; someone who has absolutely no talent except laughing at the wrong moments and arguing with government officials.

I guess my point is that there is nothing that is mine, there is nothing that I will bring back. By all accounts of those Afrophiles, this experience is not genuine, or the true Africa.

But it is there and so am I.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I Refuse to Have A Quarter Life Crisis

That's just it. How can I be in a crisis already? I haven't even DONE anything yet!

Sure, I can wonder around not know what the heck I'm doing most of the time, but I don't see this changing when I get to mid- or end- life, so it's not something I'm going to get worked up about.

I can also see myself stressing out about life decisions......but then ultimately trusting myself to make the right decision at the time, given the information that I have, for my own health and well-being. Not to get all wishy-washy philosophical about it, but life is my canvas and I'm going to paint it any damn way I please.

I understanding walking around asking questions about myself and others "Why is that child sick? How come this family doesn't use fertilizer? Where are the doctors? Are you going to sterilize that? Why isn't development working in Malawi? Would pirates or ninjas win in a battle to the death?"

But I'm not worried about it. As I said, I see myself doing this throughout my entire life - not just now. Not only at 26.

I mean, come on, twenty-six? I've barely had time to learn how to tie my shoes. How badly could I have screwed up my life by now? Not much. And even if I did, I'd still have time to reverse it, mitigate the damage.

People need to chill out. Quarter-life? Pfft. I've got my eye on the other 75 %.

Friday, July 28, 2006

This Is Pretty Cool

Visited States

Visited Countries

(NB: this does NOT count airports. In my book, you have to set two feet on the actual soil of the place (ie no driving through!)

Also, this map would be rather impressively filled up if you only went to seven countries: Australia, Russia, China, India, Brazil, US and Canada. Don't waste your time on piddly countries like Israel and Japan like I did (note small red speck in the Middle East region)!

To create your own map, go here.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Today's Cultural Lesson

Athough there are several others, the main historical tribal groupings in Malawi are the Chewa, Ngoni, Tumbuka and Yao, with the largest by far being the Chewa. The prefex 'chi' means language, so Chi-chewa means "language of the Chewa" and is one of the national languages of Malawi. (Of course, if you go up north and try to speak Chichewa they'll look at you funny because most people there speak Chi-Tumbuka. Sigh.)

Anyway, the Chewa people have many interesting cultural practices. For example, the Nyau is a secret society of dancers using masks and animal structures to reinforce cultural beliefs, ceremonies and taboos. They are usually initiated as young boys and remain Nyau for their entire lifetimes. The big dance, gule wamkulu, is usually done to commemorate funerals. According to this book I was given "Chewa Traditional Religion" by J.MW. Van Bruegel,

"The Nyau dance can take place any time of the year at the occasion of a funeral or a chief or a member of the Nyau association...The really big dance (gule wamkulu)...[takes place] at the commemoration of a the period after harvesting and before the start of the rains, that is especially from August to November."

Meaning, I have seen these dancers walking in pairs on the side of the road. It's pretty cool to be driving along and see two masked warriors-cum-spirits scaring the bejeesus out of everyone they pass. Back to the book...

"The Chewa consider all mysterious powers in terms of "hot" or "cool". Something that is "hot" must not be brought in contact with something that is "cool". The mysterious powers would destroy one another. Once such mysterious power is the power to give life. Sexual activity makes a person "hot". A menstruating woman is also "hot"...

This leads to a lot of interesting sexual taboos, rules and regulations on when, where and how, one can have sexual relations (either with a wife or someone else). If you don't follow these rules, you run the risk of causing mdulo (death/disaster) to yourself or those you love. Mdulo taboos are always related to sexual activity.

"The symptoms of mdulo are said to be swelling of the cheeks and of the legs... pain in the chest and vomiting of blood...Medical officers examining a person said to be suffering from mdulo almost invariaby diagnosed anemia...and chronic malnutrition. [...] The Chewa firmly believe in their explanation of the disease and do not easily accept European explanations or their medicies in the case of a mdulo patient...When we speak of mdulo we do not speak in terms of modern medical diagnoses, but of a complex cultural diagnoses: this child has mdulo - therefore its father must have committed adultry - the father has to confess his fault - the proper medicines have to be obtained from the medicine man and the proper way of applying them has to be followed strictly."

Let me preface the above by saying I have not met a single Malawian who actually doesn't believe in modern medicine (this book is well over thirty years old). However, that's not to say the spirit world is disregarded either (note the Nyau sightings mentioned above).

Anyway, that's not the best part of the book. A person can cause mdulo in a number of ways because there are a great many sexual taboos. During the waits for the rain, the chief cannot have sex for up to six months, for example (he must stay "cool" to attract rains). Sexual activity is also seen to destroy creative activity. Therefore, the other moments in which a man and a woman are (historically) required not to have sexual relations are:

  • when one of the chickens begins to lay eggs
  • when a goat or a pig has young
  • when they plant or harvest
  • when the wife or her sisters are brewing beer
  • when the husband goes fishing or hunting
  • when the wife is making earthenware pots
  • when the husband melts iron ore in a furnace
  • when the husband is making a drum
  • when she is preparing native salt (salt is very "hot")
  • when the village is being moved to a new place until the chief has a new house built.

Whew! I'm surprised they were able to reproduce at all! To be fair, in this book dated 1975 it does say: "These taboos are no longer observed by most of the Chewa. Some older people may still observe them."

But anyway, food for thought next time you're making a drum!

M is for Mdulo,


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Following up

Well, that last post is tough to follow, so I haven't written in awhile. However, that doesn't mean that my life has stopped since visting with Bill. In fact, if anything, it's gotten more hectic. Only a few short weeks left!

In the interest of time and because I am in fact, in Chadd's words, "Listy", here's a quick rundown:
  • Trip up north - full of hard travel on bumpy creekbeds-cum-roads into the bush with an angry administrator, lonely PCV and man who can't afford deoderant. Yum.
  • Eating lots and lots of nsima and surprising the locals by liking it. Not having a bowel movement for six days as a result.
  • Having an entire hotel room to yourself for four days.
  • Then the electricy goes out. At 7pm. Twice.
  • Visiting a prison (please dear God never put me in a prision in Africa) for a pit latrine project.
  • Seeing the "Malawisaurus" museum in Karonga. Yes, they had dinosaurs here! It's totally beautiful and you can talk your way around the exorbant 500mk asking price.
  • Driving through rubber plantation and watching them tap trees for the sap.
  • Falling asleep in the backseat of a landcruiser with BBC Africa on the radio and waking up three hours later in your destination, refreshed, with terrible bed head.
  • Arriving back in town to realize that yes, you have created a life here complete with really nice friends.
  • Moving into new - smaller, cozier - digs. Now we have carpet, and a pool.
  • And spiders! (Try showering with one the size of your hand and we'll see how far YOU leap)
  • And bats!
  • Going to a game park with the following: a sassy Zambia, a UNHCR intern obsessed with hippos and a surly Nigerian-American. Having a blast.
  • Eating vegetables that knocked my comatose colon back into action.
  • Eating so many vegetables so that the rest of my body was knocked comatose instead.
  • Taking a game drive with two italians and a lesbian german couple. Seeing: elephants, sable, impala, water buck, hippos, impala, an owl, elephants and more impala.
  • Watching the sunset on the Shire river.
  • Freezing ten feet from an elephant in front of our cottage whilst everyone ones scampers back inside. Only come unglued when he starts to charge. Eek!
  • Morning "game" walk. End up seeing lots of poop. And birds. Snore.
  • Safari boat ride with four Italians. Seeing elephants, owls, eagles, hippos, hippos and more hippos. Alissa is happy.
  • Having my camera batteries die.
  • Buying a great basket made of garbage from a women's project. Will look good with plant.
  • Singing "Ebony and Ivory" all weekend, poorly. Also, lots of cookies and cream jokes.
  • Watching Belinda get her birthday cake from the staff in a beautiful open air bush restaurant under the stars. Then making her dance around the campfire with a bunch of Englishwomen because they "need a chocolate chip!"
  • Paying $110 to laugh my butt off for two days.
  • Back to work.

So you see, I've been surviving. Magnificently.

Miss you all,


Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Red Pants President

Ok, so there are two versions to this story. The cool version, which will go in my memoir, and the ohmygodicantbelieveijustmettheformerpresident story that I will squeal over the phone to my HMF, best friend, roommates, and general population of France, when I get the chance.

The Cool Version
After a tough half day at USAID, trying to cut through red tape to set my pending trip up north in order, I met some colleagues from UNHCR to discuss the state of Somalia over a bottle of cristal and smoked salmon at the British High Commission. We decided to reconvene after I wrapped up a few loose ends at work and to continue the discussion over fine Colombian coffee overlooking the wild game park in Lilongwe.

However, that was not to be. After arriving home for a quick wardrobe change (to trade my Mahnolo’s for Prada. Nothing says “wild game park” like Prada), I received a phone call from my colleague at the Embassy. President Clinton was waiting at the airport, would I like to meet him?

Delighted, I scooted back into my Mahnolo’s and shimmied off to the airport to take high tea with the former President. As expected, he was charming, witty and able to remember small details about everyone in the room, including myself. After several photo opp’s, I asked him about a small bracelet (we’d call them “friendship bracelets” in prep school). He launched into a quaint tail about an indigenous group in Colombia that he danced with under Hugo Chavez. How delightful!

Unfortunately, our time was too short and the President was due in Rwanda. Soon, he took his leave, but not before I discretely slipped my business card into his hand and told him to call me anytime he was in Africa.

The Absolutely Random Version
Still being sick, I didn’t get up until I heard the car pull up into our drive way at 7:11am. Like a fish resurfacing after the long winter, I bobbed into consciousness with a start – and the sense I’d just had a very restful sleep. However, I had t-minus 19 minutes to get to work. This left me with time to throw my hair up into a pony tail, throw on some pants, brush my teeth and go to the bathroom. Then, work.

Apparently there’s a diesel shortage in the entire country, so unless I can come up with a good reason why I need to go north next week, my trip is definitely cut. I spent all morning trying to come up with a good reason.

To make matters worse, there are some errands I need to run and am unable to, because all of our motorcade had been usurped by the Embassy. Bill Clinton is in town for six hours, to sign a memorandum of understanding with President Bingu wa Mutharaika in regards to his new foundation/collaboration, the Clinton-Hunter Development Initiative. Apparently, he needs all twenty-four of our drivers to be at his beck and call, leaving me not only unable to complete half of my work for the day, but also without a ride home. Sigh.

I met some friends of friends for lunch at the British consulate garden, which sells cheap beer and nsima for 150 mk. We almost miss each other because I’ve left my cell phone at home, but they finally show up forty-five minutes later. By this time, I’ve REALLY got to get back to work, so we agree to meet after work (in thirty minutes) to go for coffee. (Remember, readers, diplomats rarely work after 1:30 on Fridays…). This effectively solves my transportation problem and I’m excited to get out on the town on a beautiful Friday afternoon.

True to their word, Belinda and Alisa pick me up after work and we agree to go to my house so I can change out of my awful outfit (note to self: don’t dress before you put your contacts in). Unfortunately, traffic is all tied up because of Clinton’s visit (he takes all our drivers AND our roads? How fair is that?).

I get home just in time to change into jeans and to answer my phone. It’s Alex, the Embassy information officer. Apparently my roommate, Alissa, called him to say that Clinton wanted to meet as many Embassy employees in the VIP room as possible – in forty-five minutes. Belinda just about flips out – she’s Zambian and would give her painful incoming wisdom teeth without novocaine to meet Clinton. I, however, hem and haw. I look at Belinda and am reminded gain of the priviledge I have in even making the decision to go.

I hem and haw because, as my experience in Geneva - and indeed with the Malawian officials - has taught me, these diplomatic visits rarely go as planned. I could be passing up a lovely afternoon of coffee and raucous conversation to sit in a dusty, gold-painted VIP room at the Kamuzu airport for an indeterminate amount of time (probably three hours or more). I wasn’t really excited by the prospect.

Coupled with that trepidation is the fact that I am simply not a celebrity-hound. The closest thing I’ve ever come to celebrity was Sam Donaldson in a parking garage (he wears a lot of makeup). Many of you will remember how I made a fool of myself in front of the New Zealand Ambassador by asking him if he’d ever been to New Zealand before. If anything, I should be shunning celebrity, not chasing it.

However, I knew that in the future - long dusty wait or not - I would've hated myself for not even trying. I decided to change out of my jeans and into my sassy red pants and black suitcoat. Now, for those of you who have seen these pants, you’ll know why I chose to wear them (thanks for sending them, M.!). They are Marilyn Monroe lipstick red, fit me like a glove and are instant confidence boosters. I suspect they are a little magic as well, as I have done things in these pants I would never have the guts to do otherwise.

After racing out to the airport with Alex and flashing our diplomatic cards at all the roadblocks (Alex is so good at this!), we were escorted into the VIP parking lot, past crowds and crowds of curious Malawians and into the VIP waiting area.

It was not at all what I expected. The Ambassador was there, of course. But so was the general service officer, in jeans, and one of our Embassy nurses with her two kids. Apparently, by the time the entourage decided it would be ok to meet Embassy staff, they had no time to get the word out. I was the only one from USAID there.

Furthermore, I was extremely lucky to have gotten the word while I was at home and could change (although, no shower). Our poor nurse had been stuck at the airport all day, trying to pick up some friends visiting from the US. But because of Clinton’s visit, they were delayed in arriving until he left. So, she decided, while I’m here…and pulled out her badge and dragged her kids along to the VIP room.

After waiting and waiting, and playing with the Peace Corps officer’s wet baby Caroline, he arrived. He is more slender than I imagined, younger and with grey-blue eyes. He seemed extraordinarily at ease, and I felt myself relax and kind of let go, as you do when you're first learning how to swim.

Strangely, I didn’t feel nervous as he moved down the line. I was more pissed that my camera had jammed and I missed getting a photo of Alex shaking his hand. His confidence inspired my confidence (or maybe it was the pants). I didn't even think of what I was going to say; I just relaxed and enjoyed the fact that I was in the presence of one Mr. Willam Jefferson Clinton.

Suddenly, he was playing with Caroline next to me. She handed him my keys, which I had used to distract her from pounding on the glass coffee table. He made small talk her parents, picked up Caroline before we could warn him she was wet – but he figured that out in short order and handed her back quickly without saying anything. He still had my keys in his hand, so I tactfully reached over and said quietly, “I am sorry but those are mine, Mr. President.”

Which led him to move on to me. The conversation went smoothly, I clasped his hand in my two (it’s an affectation I’ve picked up in Africa) I introduced myself. I told him I was working with USAID for the summer. We chatted a bit as two strangers meeting through a mixture of mutual acquaintances and happenstance at a wedding buffet line would do. I thanked him for coming, and that was about it. It all felt very smooth and relaxed - it was just as I'd introduced myself a million times before.

He moved onto the Embassy nurse, who was next to me with her two kids (note to self: if you want lots of face time with a politician, stand between a baby and young children). He loved our nurse, as she was from Louisiana and talked to her quite a bit, even after our group photo. Standing next to her, I was naturally drawn into the conversation.

That’s when I noticed the small, dirty friendship bracelet that he had on his right hand. It had even dirtied his cuff (although, with our dust, it could have happened here). Without thinking, in fact, as naturally as you exchange pleasantries at a cocktail party I touched it and said “What’s this?”

That launched him into a story about an indigenous children’s group in Colombia. I didn’t listen much to it, because at that point I’d found my business cards in my left hand pocket and was wondering if I could slip it into his pocket. I decided that there were too many flashbulbs and, given history, it would look a bit strange (um, and illegal?).

After he finished, his entourage signaled that it was time to go. As he disengaged from our conversation, he clasped my hand again. At that point, I had my card in my left hand and I hesitated for a second. Then I actually think the pants took over, as literally the words “What have I got to lose?” fell into my head. I thanked him again for coming and said “I wonder, Mr. President, if it would be possible to give you my card?”

What was he going to say, no? I mean, if he really didn’t want it, he’d throw it away later. I’m sure the Ambassador and everyone else in the room was shocked by my audacity. I mean, who was I, the intern to give my card to the former President? What did I think he was going to do with it, call me? (Or perhaps they were secretly impressed by my chutzpah. Who knows? However, I grew up in the Midwest, I’m genetically trained to think they were shocked I didn’t stick to status quo).

Anyway, I was mostly thinking that he could get me a job with the Clinton-Hunter Development Initiative. That he would be so taken aback by my red pants that he’d call me up and offer me a job. I was not thinking of becoming the next intern scandal, I swear. I am still vacillating on whether or not this was a good idea. I’ve probably embarrassed all my colleagues, but who cares? I’m out of here in four weeks –I’ve got nothing to lose. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” is my motto.

This from the woman who wasn’t even going to go.

M is for Mr. (former) President.


P.S. This TOTALLY beats the time I kissed the third undersecretary from the Turkish Mission. I'm moving up! :)

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Trip Down South

Last time I posted, I had just come back from Zambia, and had, unfortunately, come down with a cold. This week, I headed down to the southern region for work. It was my bad luck that by that time my cold had turned into a full blown case of the flu.

My plans were to head down to Zomba, a picturesque town nestled in the valley of Zomba mountain and home to the University of Malawi. Incidentally, it is also near the site of Mwandama, the much touted Millennium Village. The drive south from Lilongwe was absolutely breathtaking – at one point the road is actually the boundary between Malawi and Mozambique. My driver, Evance, also served as my surfeit national tourguide for the entire three days (This is the old road, Madam; the new one is across town. This tree is a baobob, Madam. Madam, this is a market. This is where Andrew lives.” My exclamations of “oh really” rapidly turned into grunts of acknowledgement, and then into nods of silence.).

At any rate, Evance was good for several reasons: he took good pictures of me prancing around on the Mozambique side of the road (although, there is no stamp in my passport and no sign to prove it – except for these pictures which you will have to take my word on. So many African borders are like that, it seems), he knew all the cheap spots to eat (our per diem allotments for this trip meant that two of his four kids could go to school for another three months), he knew exactly where to go when I said “It’s just behind the stadium, near the World Bottle Shop” and, most importantly, we visited his in-laws while in Zomba (he had to pick up his four bags of maize). I was greeted so warmly by them and handed a baby (FYI: “aribe kabuduila” means “she’s not wearing a diaper” in Chichewa).

The Millennium Village WAS impressive, but I suspect only because they got quite a lot of money to make it so. They had a great idea to make it sustainable: each farmer was required to give two bags of grain to the chief, who stored it for the school feeding project. Next year, each farmer will give three bags, with two going to the school and one extra to sell so that the community can use it to buy fertilizer and other inputs the next year. They hope to be sustainable (well, they have to be because the funding runs out) in five years.

However, as I was leaving, I got sucked into a committee meeting. It appears that a few farmers had decided not to “donate” two bags. I suspect that this will be an ongoing problem, especially with the increase to three bags next year. And also, one bag’s worth of profits only buys a third of a bag of fertilizer, so they’ll have to up the number of maize bags even more to get everyone a 50 kg bag of fertilizer. It’s simple math. (But I digress. I’m putting cynical Mtanga back in her box and continuing on with the story…)

While that was invigorating, the extension worker who took me around the project had plum wore me out. Because I hadn’t been able to locate any tissues before I left Lilongwe, I was forced to use the handkerchief I’d stolen from my father years ago for it’s actual intention. So that day I wandered around, ankle deep in mud (irrigation project), delirious, with a big red handkerchief dangling from my nose.

That night wasn’t much better. We stayed in an embassy owned cottage on the top of Zomba mountain (oh did my sinuses like that!). What would’ve otherwise been a nice place to stay for a holiday, was murder for someone exhausted just looking for a comfy bed. First of all, it was about thirty-five degrees on the top of that mountain and there was no hot water. I was thankful for a bedroom with a heater, but that didn’t help much when the electricity went out about four am. I was so looking forward to a good nights sleep, but unfortunately, I had eaten some bad stir-fry as well and was up all night with a stomachache and the heretofore mentioned African runs. I didn’t shower (well, I get bonus points for washing the mud off my feet, but there was no towel…) and I had forgotten tea bags, so it was hot water for breakfast and some biscuits Evance purchased at the grocery the night before. Needless to say, I was not at my best the next morning.

There is a great verb in Japanese, Gamberu, meaning: to persevere. For some reason, gambattemasu, “I will keep going” or gambatte “keep going!”have slowly become my own personal mantra, both in Malawi and yes, I’ll admit it, in my life in general. It sounds so damned inarguable when used in the command form (Gambatte! Gambatte! Like the rat-tat-tat of a machine gun) that it spurs me forward in all things.

So anyway, I “gambattemasu’ed” my way through the rest of the day, meeting with a smallholder group in Thondwe and an even larger group near the town of Mulange. It was will say something to a few of you if I mention that between the two meetings, I actually FELL ASLEEP IN THE CAR. Poor Evance didn’t know what to do, he didn’t understand that I don’t take naps. He couldn’t appreciate the precedence that was taking place. Understandably, he couldn’t see why I wasn’t hungry and wouldn’t let go of that by now slimy handkerchief.

So when we rolled into Mulanje for lunch, I told him he could choose the place, as it would be him who was eating. He took me to the “best” restaurant in Mulanje, which I think in this case resulted in the “cheapest.” It was a dark, but clean, hole in the wall that served nsima with chicken, beef or liver for 150 kwacha (one US dollar). I decided on a coke and a samosa, which must have confused them, because it took about thirty minutes for them to prepare it. In the meantime, Evance silently shoved in his nsima whilst I lay my head on the table.

But I am only telling the miserable parts of the story. Surely, there were several highlights. There is nothing – NOTHING – like pulling into a village center to be greeted by women singing and ululating (that’s my new favorite verb – it means “make a noise like a turkey” – my own father does this very well). At any rate, about thirty women singing, dancing, and yes – ululating – is so invigorating and warm that it melts away all frustration in an instant.

Also, holding babies, trying to carry a 50 kg bag of maize on my head (FYI for the metrically impaired, that’s about 120 pounds), cheap narchi (that’s mikans for all you Japanese, clementines for the rest of us wazungu) and finding my African grandfather. (***sidebar: taking a note from my Sikh friends, I find it is just easier to shorten my name so people understand it, rather than slowly spell it out each time I meet someone (in this case, about forty people per day). So I have begun introducing myself as Mary, because it is a simple and popular name here. So popular, that the chief of one village claims he is now my ‘African grandfather’ as I supposedly carry the same name as his granddaughter. See? That doesn’t happen with a name like Mtanga...)

On top of meeting with excellent people – talking not only specifically about fertilizer but also broader topics of development in general (great stuff for my thesis) – I was given new perspective on my studies by a woman in Mwandama village. She had earned her BSc in Ghana and was searching for more scholarships to continue her schooling. She asked me if I had scholarships to go to school, I replied, “No, only loans. Lots and lots of loans.” She smiled and said “But that is very lucky!” “How so?” I wanted to know. “Well,” she said, “You have access to those loans.”

Right. How strange to be lucky to be in debt. Yet, in a country where interest rates for fertilizer are upwards of 30% or more, being in debt was just like breathing. At least my loans were (ostensibly) getting me somewhere, rather than further into debt.

The rest of the trip wrapped up quite nicely. Let me just say that I love working for a government where the hotel rate is $95/night. This means that after the awful evening in Zomba mountain, I stayed in pretty much heaven on earth. I was able to eat some soup, take a hot shower and drift off to sleep in a double bed whilst watching ‘Ray’ on satellite tv. Divine. After a quick tour of a local fertilizer plant the next day (please tell me it’s safe to breathe in ammonium nitrate), Evance and I headed back to Lilongwe (only after stopping along the way at individual roadstands to buy onions, potatoes, clementines, okra, garlic, groundnuts and barbeque’d field mice. Yes, you read that right).

So now I am back, with a little over four weeks to go. From this trip I’m pretty much left with the feeling that Africa could kick my ass easily if it wanted to. I will readily admit, I am a big wuss. I like hot water. I like a warm bed. One night in a cold cottage and I was reduced to Mtanga paté. However, I am consoling myself by saying at least I was putting myself out there, even if I did get kicked in the sinuses. And I indeed “gambatemasu’d”.