Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's Rough, But...


I won!
I've written a 50,800 word hastily hung-together no-plot travelogue/memoir!

Woot! Woot!




Wednesday, November 26, 2008

You Can't Win, Buddy

I went to the liquor store last night to pick up some wine for Thanksgiving. I was feeling punchy. I'd had a tough day.

Liquor store clerk: Can I see some ID?

Me: Don't worry, I'm old.

LSC: You look young enough to me.

Me: Was it the enormous pimple on my face that made you think that?! (It's true; I have an enormous pimple on my face).

LSC: (rightly so) ????WTF??


Poor little dude. He never knew I was just yanking his chain, but I had a good laugh.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Quick Trip or, Notes on Terrorism

With such a quick trip this week, I found it difficult to find time to do any research. As such, I kind of "showed up" in the Philippines without any context or understanding of the local culture. It wasn't really necessary, given that I spent my week sitting in a windowless conference room, but at times it would've been nice.

For example: After our meeting wrapped up Saturday morning, I took the afternoon and wandered around the many many shopping complexes interconnected via an open air skyway system through the Makati district. After a few margarita's and the world's best massage, I decided to try my chances at heading over to the Glorietta Mall.

I live in the land of the world's biggest shopping mall, so I thought I would be immune to the masses, but I was dead wrong. I have never seen crowds like that in my life, outside the Tokyo subway system at rush hour. I was crushed by tiny dark-haired Philippinos at every turn. Couple that with a very confusing skyway system and I was soon miserably lost.

On top of that, at every new shopping mall or department store, everyone had to queue through security. Sometimes there were several lines open and you walked through, opening your purse for a cursory glance by the sleepy security guard. Others were longer, like those you'd find at an airport (thankfully, I didn't have to take off my shoes) and twice as ugly.

I couldn't understand it. Shopping malls? You've got to be kidding me. Nothing I saw was worth protecting that much from theft.

When I finally joined my co-workers for supper that night, I mentioned the enormous crowds and the perplexing, ubiquitous security check points. Turns out, last year at this time, a bomb exploded, killing eleven and wounding 126. There's been no determination of whether or not it was Islamic militants, the government or just a freak accident, but it looks like no one is taking any chances.

Huh. That, along with the incident at the hotel, might have been nice to know before I arrived.

All of this got me thinking. I had a brief discussion with our VP the other day about the increased security around Manila (I've already blogged about what happend at our hotel last year). He had forwarded to me President-Elect Obama's recently issued brief regarding his administration's goals for the next four years. One of them included reducing the climate of fear in our country. Based on what we'd seen in the Philippines our question was this: does the increase in security guards, guns, night patrols, pat downs, liquid limitations and check points make you feel more, or less, safe? And secondly, how do you combat fear? Do you put more, or less, policeman on the street? Do you put more, or less, guns in private citizen's hands?

Isn't this just as difficult as waging war on "terrorism"? What do you do when the terror comes from within?

I realize that this very debate has been floating around in public discourse since 9/11, but it finally hit home for me. I was pulled over not once, but twice on my trip. The first time was random, but the second time was because I had house keys in my bag. Apparently, being able to get into your own home is ILLEGAL in some places. I mean, where is the line here? Does it make you feel more secure knowing I can't carry something as remotely pokey as my HOUSE KEYS on board? Might I be tempted to stab you in the eye and turn the knob?

More and more I feel I live in a world that Ray Bradbury would immediately recognize as twisted science fiction. As tripe as it sounds, I look with hope to the future that might return the innocence of the past. The kind of past where we looked at somone and thought, "Huh, they're different" instead of "I wonder what they're going to do with those keys..."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Do Your Research


This is what I get for not googling my hotel. I found out from our divisional VP today that exactly one year ago this month, our hotel was the set for a very real coup attempt. Yes, the photo above is a tank in the hotel lobby.
From our pals at Wiki:
The Manila Peninsula rebellion occurred on November 29, 2007 at The Peninsula Manila hotel in Makati City, Philippines. Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Brigadier General Danilo Lim, and 25 other Magdalo officers walked out of their trial and marched through the streets of Makati City. The mutineers called for the ousting of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and seized the second floor of the Manila Peninsula Hotel along Ayala Avenue. Former Vice-President Teofisto Guingona, Jr. joined the march to the hotel, as well as some of the soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

After several hours, Trillanes and Lim surrendered to government forces once a military armored personnel carrier had barged into the lobby of the hotel. Trillanes and the mutineers were arrested while several journalists that covered the event were detained. The journalists were subsequently released.
Dude, what a weird world.

I'm an Aunt!

I'm an aunt! I'm an aunt! I'm an aunt.

I am also still in the Philippines.

Aunt!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

You Should've Checked with the PR Department on That One

The Philippines are a predominantly Roman Catholic nation. In fact, I've managed to hit both of the only Roman Catholic countries in all of Asia this fall (the other being East Timor).

Unlike East Timor, there is also a sizeable Muslim population. Some of them are part of a successionist movement in the southern region of Mindenao. Not having read much about this conflict I can only comment on the poorly named Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF.

Yeah, you read that right: MILF.

Against my better judgement, I find it terribly difficult to take this group seriously.

Because really, a bunch of MILF's running amok in southern Philippines would be kind of awesome.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Another Random Asian Country: Philippines


Quick trip, for a week. Spending most of it in Manila, in a conference center and a hotel.


God Bless Wiki. Without it, I wouldn't know anything about anything....


The Philippines (Filipino: Pilipinas, officially known as the Republic of the Philippines, Filipino: Republika ng Pilipinas), is an island country located in Southeast Asia with Manila as its capital city. The Philippines comprises 7,107 islands in the western Pacific Ocean, sharing maritime borders with Indonesia, Malaysia, Palau, the Republic of China (Taiwan), and Vietnam. The Philippines is the world's 12th most populous country with a population of 90 million people.[4][6] Its national economy is the 46th largest in the world with an estimated 2008 gross domestic product (GDP) of over US$154.073 billion.[6] There are more than 11 million overseas Filipinos worldwide, about 11% of the total population of the Philippines. It is a multi-ethnic country. Ecologically, The Philippines is considered to be among 17 of the most megadiverse countries in the world.[8]


Prior to the arrival of Europeans in 1521,[9] the Philippines was already settled by Austronesian (Malayo Polynesian) peoples. The Philippines became a Spanish colony in the 16th century, and a territory of the United States in the 20th century. In 1896, rebellion led the Philippine Revolution that won independence from Spain. American occupation of the Philippines during the Spanish-American War led to the outbreak of the Philippine-American War. A Commonwealth government was established in 1935, which allowed self-governance. The country gained its independence from the United States on July 4, 1946 after World War II. Martial law was declared in 1972 which led to the insurgencies of the New People's Army and the Moro National Liberation Front. Liberal parties then led People Power Revolution of 1986, which would bring the country back to democracy.[3]


The Philippines is one of only two predominantly Roman Catholic countries in Asia-Pacific, the other being East Timor. Pre-Hispanic indigenous rituals still exist; and there are also followers of Islam.[10] Spanish was an official language of the Philippines until 1973. Since then, the two official languages are Filipino, and English.[3]


The name Philippines was derived from King Philip II of Spain in the 16th century. The Spanish explorer Ruy López de Villalobos used the name Las Islas Filipinas (The Philippine Islands) in honor of the then Crown Prince during his expedition to the Philippines, originally referring to the islands of Leyte and Samar. Despite the presence of other names, the name Filipinas (Philippines) was eventually adopted as the name of the entire archipelago


28 Going on 80

My birthday is coming up next week and as such, I will no longer be able to use my current favorite phrase, "I'm 28 going on 80". This phrase is usually my prefix to some revealing some granny-eqsque habit/ideaology I've acquired that may be unusual for someone of my actual generation.

For example, I have an extreme affinity for my crock pot. I love to floss. I made curtains for my bedroom. I cook - alot, in large quantities - for my household of one. I make bars.

If I had a lawn, I'd probably tell people to get off it.

My friend Joyce and I were talking about this last night and decided that we are definitely going on 80. Our conversation topics centered around the following:

Work
Why Work is Stressful
Why Work is Necessary
The Economy
401(K)s
Taxes
Malpractice lawsuits, driving up insurance
Taxing junk food
Politics
Norm vs. Franken
Knitting
Yelling at people to shut the patio door, we were cold!
The Library
What a Membership at the Historical Society Gets You
Grandkids

And yes, I was home by 10:15, for the weather.

///No granny panties, yet though.

////Ok, maybe one pair.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Post That Wasn't

Driving back from my parent's farm this weekend (which, to my astonishment, took only 4 hours and 20 minutes. Now THAT's a tailwind!) I mulled over deep thoughts fit for blog posting.

I'm mid-journal for the moment, having finished up my most recent during my trip to East Timor, and I've yet to find a new one. This means I'm dangerously close to posting items that the general public at large might find, at worst, embarassing, at a best, egotistical. Regardless, there are many many things I'm not prepared to share with the internets. (As my mom reminded me this weekend, my 82 year old uncle reads this...)

So, the best I can do is tell you what I'm NOT going to write about:

1) Fall. I'm of two minds about this slow slide into winter. On the one hand, the rise in baked goods is yummy and heartwarming - but on the other, it sucks that I have to bake just to keep my apt warm until they turn on the heat full time. I love my fall wardrobe and those fleeting crisp fall mornings, but I feel myself sliding into despair when I think about the bitter, long, upcoming winter months. Ugh.

2) The election. Me = patriotic. I emplore everyone to please, go vote. In fact, Vote Obama.
But dear Lord, can it stop now?

3) Turns out, I'm a "thinking" person. This has been used twice now in two weeks, from two seperate, completely unrelated people, to describe me. I'm not sure what this means. Mostly, I think it means I'm difficult. Hm. I think I'm going to stop thinking about being a thinker.

4) Hot dog, if people don't say the darndest things. My personal favorite from last weekend was being asked if I was pregnant.

I was going to write a whole post about the little indignities you have to put up with as you get older, especially in the form of unwanted questions that measure you against some strange standard (Why aren't you married/divorced/pregnant/pregnant again?) It's like older people have a sixth sense for finding your sorriest most bruised melty mess in your life, jabbing a sharp point stick into it, ripping it out of your gut, holding it up to the light and saying "Nope, she's lacking." And then they kick you in the groin.

But then I thought, you know what? I could care less what most people think. I don't have any control over the nasty rude things they say - they're going to say them whether I put up a stink and make myself miserably angry and irritated about it, or not.

So, I laughed with the little old lady when I told her it wasn't ME, but my sister who is indeed, 8 months pregnant. Turns out, she's a little nearsighted. :)

5) Sex
6) Drugs
7) Rock and/or Roll
8) Zombie Pub Crawl. Which was terrific, by the way. I finally got the bloody handprint off my car.
9) My awesome job. I'm going to the Philippines in a week!
10) Why I Haven't Blogged in Like, 8 Years.

That is all I'm not going to talk about.
Aaaaaaand, I'm spent.
M.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Are We In A Relationship or WHAT?

I have to laugh; awhile back I got talked into signing up for a Facebook page (although, I wasn't entirely convinced; I signed up with a 'nom de plume') and now it's become a source of discussion between myself and the same person who talked me into it.

When I first signed up, I joked "I'll do this because we need to take our relationship to the next level: the Virtual Level." 

(yes yes, it's a lame joke...)

So anyway, I gamely signed up and made up all sorts of crazy things about myself. However, much to my chagrin, there was no "HMF" status (listen UP Facebook!), so I had to list myself as "In a Relationship" and send him the link.

Can you believe it? He DENIED me!

Seeing as my photo used to contain a very sweet picture him kissing me on the steps of the capitol, I was concerned that the members of my burgeoning online followers might be a bit...confused. (Ok ok, I wanted the validation, too!)

Since we've been together almost five years, we both understand it will take more than his virtual rejection to keep me from hanging around. But still - denied over the internets? That's harsh.

And plus, I'm not the only one who's thinking about this. I've had several conversations with friends who were either in the same boat (or worse, my friend who's "boyfriend" overseas lists his relationship status as "single" !) 

Then, there's the awkwardness of being "friended" by people whom you ran away to the big city to forget in the first place. Do they actually get a notification that you've denied their friendship? Is Val Lindemoen going to pull my hair again in Sunday School if I don't? 

Several news (or news-esque) sites have started talking about this very phenom of the Virtual Rejection.

The Lede (A NY Times blog) writes:

And then, there are all the ways wearing your personal life on your digital sleeve can bedevil you. One of the Facebook members quoted on Canada.com described how the site's "in a relationship/not in a relationship" indication can do that:

"It's turned into this big thing, where if you just start dating someone you have to have this serious discussion: Should we change our Facebook status? Is it too soon? And then, if you break up, you have to change your status again and have that pathetic little broken heart next to your name on the (Facebook news) feed. No, thank you." 

So, I'm slowly coming around to my HMF's thinking. I used to think he was just ashamed to be with me (how's that for jumping to conclusions?) but now I think he's just got more common sense. I'm not worried anyway. Why would I want the virtual relationship, when I've got the real thing? 


Saturday, September 20, 2008

More Photos





East Timor Photos






Compare and Contrast

Driving down the road yesterday, I marvelled at the cleaniless of the streetcorners. There were none of those ubiquitous plastic bottles I'd come to expect, no candy wrappers, no pop cans, no shanty-towns, no potholes filled with nasty water, no barbed wire, no corregated iron gates, no haphazardly glass-shard topped walls, no open sewers - and no people. Granted, I was driving through a residential neighborhood, but it was hard not to notice the distinct lack of human interaction. Besides the well manicured berms and beautiful sidewalks, I could trace no sign of what actually went ON on these streets.

Cut to East Timor - where the streets are dusty, noisy and filled with garbage. My morning walk from the hotel to the office consisted of no less than three boys trying to sell me phone cards, two sidewalk vendors, a bank, three restaurants, one infant health clinic (with waiting families outside the door), a billard hall with its doors open, two stinking garbage heaps in the middle of the sidewalk, a dump, a hole in the sidewalk filled white worms and water (always made me gag), a random piece of barbed wire sticking out from the wall (caught my clothes more than once!), a pile of broken glass, and two brothels - sometimes with clients, sometimes not.

(I came to appreciate those brothels when giving people directions to our office for interviews - everyone knew where they were!)

If I ventured out in the day, I'd immediately be overwhelmed by the heat, radiating up off our concrete office yard. I always felt sticky and saggy (if I was coming from the beach, I felt sticky, saggy and DIRTY). For the first two or three days I felt smelly, too, but I soon learned that everyone - even malai - smelt that way to a certain degree. I can't say that I ever enjoyed having that body odor smell in the office, but I didn't bother me the way that I expected. The best thing I could do was mitigate it with an open window (if in the car) or just deal. I dealt.

In fact, with all the other smells around, I found that BO was the least offensive. Heat always seems to intensify stenches, making everything smell slightly overripe. Even "nice" smells (flowers, for example) became overpowering; the sweetness of the frangipangias lingering on far after I'd pulled them from my hair. What I really hated was the garbage pits and the open sewers; I always had a fear I'd slip and fall into one. Michael told me he once saw a severed dog head in the garbage pile by our office, which didn't endear me to them. I'd often watch with interest though, when a mother hen and her chicks picked through it - wondering what it was they found to eat in there...

I also stopped wearing makeup, because it just melted off my face. By the end, I might slap on some mascara if I was going out to dinner, but that was the extent of it. In fact, I stopped washing my face properly, full stop. That's because I ran out of face soap the second week in, and I was sweating so much anyway that it didn't really matter.

Really, the only hygiene thing that changed was my feet: they were ALWAYS dirty. I mean - black. Yes, I'd be wearing shoes - sneakers, even - but the dust would just seep its way in. This was problematic for me because I love flopping down on my hotel bed at the end of the day - a hotel bed that was pristinely crisp white. I had to take to washing my feet about four times a day though, just to be able to relax.

Dirt was everywhere, in everything. I took to washing my hands a whole lot and wiping down my computer on a daily basis, just because dirt got stuck on the keys. In the shops, everything had a fine film of dust on it. Shopkeepers would often throw water outside their doors to "keep the dust down", which worked, but also created some indavertant mud-pits.

These are the things that strike me now, as I'm re-entering American life. We are so clean. Our houses are so large, and our streets are spacious and safe. Communicating with someone is extremely efficient; I wasn't off the plane 5 minutes when I got a cell phone call (in customs, which is illegal, by the way). I went to the grocery store yesterday and I wanted to by dried apricots, out of season. Sure enough, they were there. And clean.

So, this time around, I can't say that I'm in culture shock, I'm most in culture awe. I'm grateful to live in a place where things are so comparatively EASY we don't even know it.

And yet, I'm miffed that we don't *have* to know it.

While I think most Americans would argue that America is great, it's all the more inspiring when you see what else it could be like. I am truly blown away by all we have here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wow, That's Pretty Proficient

I've been reviewing CV's for the past few days, and today I came across one that made me stop in my tracks. Under "Languages" they'd writte:

Proficient in English, both anally and written.

He is SO getting an interview...

Liga Hau

I keep getting these annoying text message one after another, in rapid succession, about once a day. Each text message says the exact same thing:

Liga Hau / Call me

At first, I just ignored them, and deleted my entire inbox (the phone can only hold about 25 messages at any given time). But, finally my curiousity got the better of me - and because I hadn't heard from one of our project employees for a few days and I thought she might be in trouble.

So I called.

Me: "Hello!"
Dude: "Bondia. Hello?"
Me: "Hello?"
Dude: "Hello?"
Me: "Why do you keep texting me?"
Dude: "What?"
Me: "Why do you keep TEXTING ME?!"
Dude: "Why you calling me?"
Me: "Because you just texted me, asking me to call you! Liga Hau! Liga Hau!"
Dude: "I sorry. I don't speak English so well."
Me: "I don't care. Stop texting me."
Dude: "Why you call?"
Me: "..."

I'm STILL getting those damned texts.....

Saturday, September 13, 2008

SCUBA CHEESE


Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus


For the past two weeks or so, another old worker, Natalie, and I have been bumming around East Timor after Emily left. Actually, there's been a small group of us at the hotel who meet up for supper most nights and generally hang out on the weekends. It's made all the difference during the downtimes.

While I'd thought about doing scuba-diving while here, it takes about five days to get PADI open-water certified and, as previously posted, I've been crazy-busy with work. Plus, now that I'm (finally) leaving on Thursday, I thought all my options were over.

However, Natalie researched the opportunity and talked me into doing this open water diving course at Dive Timor. Luckily, they offere an intro course where you do a little book-learnin', a pool session and one open water dive - all in one day.

I've been snorkeling before (most recently, last week) and while it's always beautiful, it can be a claustrophobic experience if you don't remember to keep calm and trust in your snorkel. I thought it would probably be the same was with diving. Yet, SCUBA iss one of those things that I've always, always, always wanted to try. .


They say you won't ever forget the first time you can breathe underwater, and I have to say, it's absolutely true. Not only is it awesome, it's also bizzare. It goes against everything you've always done in your entire life, and I found myself struggling to fight against natural urges (such as wanting to rip off the mask to take a deep breath of air). Of course, you just have to keep reminding yourself to BREATHE, but it's hard because part of your mind is also telling you that that's impossible!

In the pool session, we learned how to fill our masks partway with water and then blow it out, as well as what to do if your regulator (breathing mask) gets yanked out of your mouth, and how to share air with your "buddy". For me, the scariest part was filling the mask with water, but after a few tries, you get the hang of it.

The real fun came when we hit open water. We dove with an instructor, Martin, who was constantly by our side and went over a list of hand signals with us so we could communicate underwater. Getting in and out of the ocean surf was a bit challenging (SCUBA gear is heavy!) but we managed. Once underwater, I had to constantly pop my ears to regulate the pressure, and get used to swimming with all that stuff on my back.

There wasn't much to see but white sand and blue water at first, but we eventually made it to a coral ridge. I can't remember (or name) all the fish we saw, but I do remember seeing a clown fish (NEMO!), a big grouper, several angel fish and lots of tiny little electric blue ones. The coral ranged from brilliant red, pinks, greens and yellows with tiny fingerlike wavies or thin filigrees. Martin poked an enormous pink clam and it shut tight. I saw a bright blue starfish the size of my face.

It was a bit freaky to be that near to wildlife and not be on National Geographic. We were careful not to brush the coral with our fins. Martin pointed out lots of little things, but as I wasn't really adept at turning, I didn't trust myself with getting too close. I found swimming accurately to be really tough - I kept running into the ground, or swimming too fast or generally just being overwhelmed by things to remember!

We we surfaced, both Natalie and I were laughing. What an experience!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Nothing to Say?

I have been trying for the past week to carve out time to post on this blog. Tonight, I've finally made myself stay awake long enough to handle the wickedly slow internet and now, strangely enough, I find I have little to say.

As is common with overseas work travel, these past few weeks I've been consumed almost constantly with, well, 12 hour work days. Not that I mind; I think it's well documented that I love what I do. However, unless I want to devote myself to endless descriptions of my tedious work schedule and adventures in Tetum translation, it doesn't make for very exciting blog posts. For that, dear readers, I'm exceedingly ashamed. Because really, is there really *nothing* I can find to write about East Timor? I mean, who the hell gets the chance to go to East Timor? And I have nothing tosay about it? That's messed up.

And yet, I've had very little time to find something interesting to tell you.

So I guess this is going to be a work blog post. Since my colleague Michael has arrived, and graduation has ended, my focus has completely shifted from "holding down the fort" to "batton down the hatches". That is, full steam ahead with extending our program here for another three years. In a nutshell, this has meant:

1) meet with potential partners, press the flesh, get to know your NGO neighbors and see how you can partner/overlap to make both/all programs a success. Also, poach staff.

2) continue meeting with the East Timor Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, keep them happy and get them to agree to fund 1.5 years of your program. Create, review, translate and sign MOU. Lather, rinse, repeat for subcontract that actually gives them the funds to do it.

3) meet with the three school directors to a) finalize the entrance exam for next years students b) finalize the teacher needs for next year and c) keep them happy

4) handle staff turnover. This has largely fallen on my plate, and I don't mind. However, it's been tricky to deal with attrition of old staff and trying to recruit new. Not only am I advertising new positions (wait, back up, that means actually assessing what our new staffing needs will be, and writing job descriptions and getting them translated) but I'm also trying as best I can to communicate to current staff that they will no longer have jobs. This is going mostly well, minus a few tearful breakdowns.

5) Rustle up 50 students for each school we work in for the 2008/2009 school year. If we don't have enough students at each school, we don't have a program, so this has also been trickly. My colleague and I came up with an off the cuff recruitment plan last week that I *hope* will work. We'll find out tomorrow when our staff come back to report out.

It's challenging, but mostly, I'm energized. Michael paid me what I felt was the best compliment ever one morning over breakfast when he said, "I can tell you're doing what you're supposed to in life. You've found your niche. You're constantly smiling."

And yes, it's frustrating. Last night, I just about wore myself to tears after working for twelve hours and realized I'd put the wrong contact information on our $600 newspaper advertisements (and that's only for one week!). It's also become patently clear to me that my hope of being hired on long term to this project will not materialize; there simply isn't enough money in the budget. I didn't really realize how much I'd been motivated by this possibility until suddenly, it wasn't there anymore. Also, it helps to break for lunch.

Today, I've chosen to move forward and just enjoy the last week I have here. I've met some amazing people; eaten a ton of fresh fish; run along the beach; eaten banana chips with homeless kids; snorkeled along a deep coral reef; met Jesus on a mountain top; watched an entire two seasons of Boston Legal; drank a crap load of Bintang beer; gotten a full body massage; karaoke'd until dawn; met old friends; made new ones; seen beautiful sunsets; flirted with Pakistani UN soldiers; received a gift to ward off the "evil eye" from the Turkish restaurant owner; learned Portuguese swear words; and eaten so, so, so much rice.

My boss in the States emailed me today to thank me for extending my stay, saying that he knew "East Timor is not an easy place." Don't tell him, but I haven't minded a bit. I don't know if I'd want to stay here forever, but I haven't minded being here for a month. The sunsets are beautiful and I keep running into good people.

Plus, there's beer.

What more could a girl want?

King of a boring post, but that's it in a nutshell. I'm still alive. I'm still kickin'. I still find joy in my ridiculousness.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hey, Pants! You F@*%ing?

Which is what was yelled to me last week, by a tiny impish woman.

Love,
Pants

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Legend of Timor- Leste

One day, a boy came across a baby crocodile struggling to make his way from the lagoon to the sea. As the crocodile was very weak, the boy took pity on him and carried him in his arms to the sea.

The crocodile was very grateful and promised to remember the boy's kindness. He told the boy that should he ever want to travel, he should come to the sea and call, and the crocodile would help him.

After a while, the boy remembered the crocodile's promise, and went to hte edge of the sea and called out ot the crocodile three times. The crocodile told the boy to sit on his back and over the yeras he carried the boy on many journey's.

Although the crocodile and the boy were friends, the crocodile was sitll a crocodile, and felt an irresistible urge to eat the boy. However, this bothered him and he decided to ask the other animals for advice. He asked the whalte, the tiger, the buffalo and many other animals, who all said, "The boy was kind to you, you can't eat him." Finally he went to see the wise moneky. After hearing the story, the monkey swore at the crocodile and then vanished.

The crocodile felt ashamed and decided not to eat the boy. Instead he took the boy on his back and together they traveled unti lthe crocodile grew very old. The crocodile felt he would never be able to repay the boy's kindness, and said to the boy "Soon I'm going to die, and iwll form a land for you and all your descendents."

The crocodile then became the island of timor, which still has the shape of the crocodile. The boy had many descendants who inherited his qualities of kindness, friendliness and sense of justice. Today, the people of Timor call the crocodile "grandfather", and whenever they cross a river, always call out, "Crocodile, I'm your grandchild. Don't eat me!"

(Taken from the book, "Timor Leste: Land of Discovery" by Daniel J. Groshong)

Graduation

Early Sunday morning, Michael and I, with our driver Jaime, went to Fuiloro for graduation.

Fuiloro is at the very tippity tip of eastern part of Timor, and the roads are wickedly windy. Although Jaime likes to drive fast, it still took us the better part of five hours, climbing through switchback hills (some with guardrails, most without), along pristine white beaches, amongst dry rice patties (it's dry season) and in the shadow of Mt. Matebian (the second highest mountain in East Timor). Contrary to my expectations, I only got a *little* car sick.

We arrived around noon, to be greeted by Father Manuel, the Director of the Dom Bosco school for boys. Everyone else wasn't set to arrive until three, so we had some time to relax, see that graduation preparations were in order and generally get a feel for the place.

The school is on an enormous compound, amongst farmed palm trees being intercropped with maize. They've got a small dairy with 68 head of cattle, two large basketball courts, a cathedral, the father's quarters, several dormitories, classrooms, a computer room (that our project built!) and several farm outbuildings. It was absolutely enormous.

Later on that afternoon, the Mission Director from USAID arrived, but the real show didn't come until about 6, when the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries - and his entourage - showed up. First the national police forces (PNTL) showed up, six deep in the back of a pickup with several large machine guns. Then the UN police showed up with two cars, followed by six black SUVs. About 30 people poured out, and Michael and I tried to figure out who was what and most importantly - who the Minister was. Weren't we surprised when he turned out to be the shortest, youngest and only barefoot member of the entourage! After an entrance of such pomp and circumstance, it was hard to stifle the giggles...

From that moment on the Minister's needs dictated our schedule. Mass was scheduled to begin at 6, but the Minister didn't want to go so we held it with out him (ahem, God waits for no one). We were supposed to have dinner at 7:30, but the Minister was asleep so we all had to wait (students included) until he woke up, showered and felt like eating. We didn't even sit down to eat until 9:30, and then the electricity went off because to save generator gas it's always scheduled to go off at 10...

By this time, both Michael and I were beyond exhausted. Yet, even with the lights out, we still weren't allowed to go to sleep, as a special bonfire had been planned. We originally thought this was just for the students, but all the adults were ushered out into the back football pitch (with cows milling about) while a gentle rain fell. It took about 2o minutes before the Minister was available to come out and light the bonfire, a little program was announced (in Tetum, of course) and the kids sang and danced with candles.

And then, just as I was about to drop off my feet, all 300 of us were forced to join hands and dance willy nilly around the fire to the school anthem. And then, just as I was about to weep tears of blood frustration, the skies opened up and *really* let us have it.

I have never been more grateful to be soaked in my entire life.

The next day, the graduation went swimmingly. The Minister was more ameneable to a realistic schedule and we were all finished - not just early - but TWO HOURS earlier than planned. It was a joyous ride back to Dili!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Faith

This weekend was the first graduation of the beneficiaries of our high school program. Due to unforseen circumstances, I was tasked to step in at the last minute (the last week, actually) to make sure everything went smoothly. It hasn't been as difficult as I worried, but it certainly wasn't easy either. I've been struggling with not only language and cultural barriers, but also the sheer logistics of stepping into something you didn't design, or really have any idea about, until one week before. Answering questions in that position is a bit tricky!

I've had to rely an awful lot on people I hardly know, trusting that things that should be done are, and believing when people tell me what they need, how much and the logistics to get it. I'm a believer in the natural goodness of people, but when you're walking around with a fistful of $20 in your pocket for unforeseen expenses, you begin to feel more like a human cash machine then "partner".

So, imagine my surprise and relief, when I arrived at the high school and everything seemed to be going well. In fact, the whole weekend went off basically, without a hitch (there are a few stories of course, but those are for a different post). I am enormously relieved.

Now that it's all over, I can reflect on the idea of faith. It's so much more than believing in thing you do not see. It takes an enormous amoung of intestinal fortitude, as well.

On the way out here, I read the book "Under the Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer. It's about a ritualistic killing that took place in Utah in 1984 by two Mormon fundamentalists that believed God told them to do it. It also underscores the root of Mormonism, and the rise of an essentially "American" faith (having been developed less than 200 years ago).

According to Krakauer, Mormons believe that the angel Moroni came to Joseph Smith in a dream in the early 1800's, claiming there were golden tablets buried on a mountainside in northern New York State. Although these golden tablets have never been discovered, Smith was able to find and transcribe them into what would become the holy Book of Mormon.

Crazy, huh?

One of Krakauer's minor points centers around the scientifically unbelieveable doctrines that most religions focus on. For example - Moses parting of the Red Sea, Jesus rising from the dead, Muhammed riding into heaven on a winged horse or Buddha reaching nirvana. They all ask that one suspends what everyday reality tells them to be impossible and make the leap between knowing with the mind, and knowing with something else. I mean, isn't the essence of religion to ask yourself to believe in something inconceiveable by mind alone?

(In Krakauer's case, he explores if it's crazy to think that two men were told by God to kill that woman and her baby or not).

In my case, it has more practical aspects. I have no prior experience that this graduation is going work; no history with those I was working with (heck, no common LANGUAGE, really); no basis for believing that it would be a success. This caused my greatest amount of stress - just not knowing with my mind.

Yet, in the end, there was precious little I could do. I could've driven myself nuts trying to find out what was going on with every last detail. But I was forced to give up trying to know with my mind, and just float in a sea of limbo - leaping into the sky on a winged horse and hoping to Allah that it really would fly.

It did!

And now I'm in heaven.......

It's over!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Expat Maxims 2.0

The length of time spent abroad is directly proportionate to the number of buttons undone on an expat man's shirt.

The toughter the job, the stiffer the drink, the more it helps.

The smaller the community, the more likely you are to become instant friends. (Hi Lucy!)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Other Foot

Yesterday, I went out to lunch with Luisa, the portuguese livestock specialist who works in our office. We talked about getting adjusted to new places, new faces and East Timor in general. She said something that I thought was both wise and sweet:

"The other foot lands after your first week."

Certainly, my second foot has landed. In fact, I think it may have shown up to kick my ass.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Jesus' Frontside

Here's what I learned at the beach today:



- SPF 45. Still not enough.

- Peeing in the ocean is always cleaner than the alternative.

- Perhaps one should not refer to wet swimsuit runoff as "butt juice"

- Jesus frontside is not nearly as nice as his back.

- The peaches comment was not really accurate.

- Walks along the beach are enhanced by old friends.

- Don't laugh at that 36 oz bottle of leftover aloe in the office. You might need it.

- Even cloudy sunsets are beautiful.

- If stuck in a transportation jam, ask a Norweigan.

- Always, always, always bring a towel.

- Beaches, even in non-developing countries, are really, really dirty. And that dirt gets
everywhere. I'm pretty sure I'm halfway to producing a pearl somewhere.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Jesus' Backside




Yesterday, Asha and her two friends from the UN took me to the outskirts of the city for a beach party. East Timor is an incredibly mountainous country, currently in the middle of the dry season, making it an ideal time to head to the water. Dili, the capital, is surrounded by an enormous reef, beyond which is the second deepest trench in the world (behind the Marinana trench) and diving/snorkeling/water sports here are a big deal.

Our drive took us down beach road, past the President's palace (since the assassination attempt on President Ramos-Hortas' life in February, it's been guarded by Pakistani UN soldiers, but because we were in a UN car they didn't give us any trouble) and through brown, craggy, dry mountains. The road, surprisingly, was paved, but quite narrow and there are no guardrails to be had. We drove past some burned out houses, left over from what I could only guess was either the 24 years under brutal Indonesia rule, the 1999 violence or the most recent riots in 2006. At any rate, we kept driving.

At the very end of a peninsula on the east side of Dili is a very large statue of Jesus, with his outstretched hands towards the sea. (East Timor is 90% Roman Catholic). This statue is pretty much the only landmark along the ocean, and there's quite a nice beach behind known locally as (you guessed it) Jesus' Backside Beach.

As Lucy, one of Asha's friends noted, "It looks like two peaches in a sack".

I can neither confirm nor deny this. JC's bottom was really high on the hill while we were at the beach, so I'll just have to take her word for it. Perhaps someday before I leave I'll take the trail up to the top to see his front-side, but for now I'll just let it be.

But it was a looovely beach. Fine sand, almost deserted, blue-green bottom (filled with sharp rocks though!) and we had more than enough food/alcohol to sustain us until dark. I arrived home dirty, exhausted and funned-over.

Today, I'm working a bit in the morning and then ... off to another beach!
M.

Photos to come soon, I promise. I'm just too lazy (and the internet too slow) for me to post them every day.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Bar Scene

Last night, I went out with our DCOP, Asha, who is leaving on Sunday. She had organized an outing with several of her friends to try "Lobster paella" (which turned out to be 'arroz con mariscos - rice with seafood) at a Portuguese restaurant. The food was good, the wine was better and we were soon out of there for a local nightclub, Motions.

As in Malawi, there's really only one nightclub and on Thursday's, it's packed. We showed up around 10:30 pm to find two large rooms (an enclosed outdoor patio and a sweaty block room filled with pulsing portuguese dance music) packed to the gills with beefy, brawny, relatively short Portuguese policemen. I have never seen so many decidedly straight muscley men in one bar since......gosh, forever. Too bad they kept stepping on my flip-flopped feet (yeeowch!) and non were really interesting, just..muscley.

We stuck around for a few hours - I ran into Emily again, and her friend Andrew - and then we left for karaoke. It was on the other side of town, run by two tiny Chinese women. We were the only folks in the place, and man did we party down. The only song I didn't sing was "Dancing Queen" but I'll get it next time.

I didn't get home until 2am.
Now, back to work.
M.

Cultural Lesson

People have often asked me what the hardest part about traveling overseas is- the long flights, the strange food, the inevitable diarrhea, etc. But easily the most frustrating aspects of international work travel are the different ideas regarding time-management. This trickles down into enormous inefficiencies that make tiny tasks two- or three- day affairs. Just trying to finalize the number of graduates, for example, is like being nibbled to death by a thousand sluggish minnows.

Me, I'd rather die quickly, decisively.

Blame it on Protestant Work Ethic or whatever, but I really hate wasting time when there's lots to be done in a short period. I am punctual, to a fault. It annoys me when people don't come to meetings on times, or worse yet - don't come prepared. (I'm also annoyed when people don't read the attachments, but that's another blog post).

Anyway...

I understand that my views on time and time management are not universal - I really do. It makes honest-to-God-good-hard - sense to me that getting things done in a country that doesn't have a working postal system, stable electricity grid (power went off three times today), and operates on a cash only basis will take more time than usual. In fact, it's nice to slow down.

But what drives me bonkers are local cultural sensitivities that - as the malai (foreigner, in Tetum) I will never ever understand, and yet, must carefully tip-toe around. As you would imagine, it's virtually impossible not to trip those cultural landmines and splatter stupid expat everywhere.

Yesterday, our office manager was putting together some invitations to Ministers at the Department of Agriculture. Seriously, their names and titles were listed on a sheet of paper and although I don't speak Portuguese, I am fairly certain that the word "Secretario d'Agricultura" means Secretary of Agriculture. The honorific title in this case would be (ta-DA!) Secretary.

Stupid malai, trix aren't for kids! You know it's not that simple.

Noooooo no no no no no no no. The office manager, the COP and I had a long discussion, at which time the DCOP got involved, then the native Portuguese speaker, then the communications specialist, then finally, the drivers. We settled the matter by emailing a third-party affiliate (local) who confirmed the next morning that the honorific title was not "Secretario" but "Excellency".

As I was making a joke about it this afternoon, the DCOP said, "But you don't get it. This is a big deal. If we address him wrong, we could be FINED. It's a common practice."

Life saved, but only by a hair.

I am taught, yet again, that nothing - ohhhhhhh nothing - is ever as simple as it seems. It's a good lesson to be reminded of, but boy, is it going to be a long three weeks.
M.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tais Market

Today, Asha took me toe the Tais Market, which are traditional woven cloths. According to one website I found :

Tais are traditionally made for ceremonial occasions and/or given as tribute in traditional ceremonies so there is no traditional custom of selling or buying which is why at local markets you rarely see them for sale. There are two main types Male or Mane and Female or Feto, The Mane Tais are usually quite large piece of woven cloth with tassles at each end, These are tied around the waist and worn like a sarong, The Feto Tais have the ends sown together to form a tube that you can step into and wear like a dress.

The strange thing about this market was its tiny size. The way I'd heard it talked about from other expats is that it is _THE_ spot to go for tais., but it was small and relatively out of the way. It was clearly marked with roadsigns to lead the way (a rarity here!) and evidently erected in cooperation with USAID and the Ministry of Tourism. Yet, it wasn't very impressive. The best thing it had going for it was mass - atleast 20 shops piled together in "traditional" corregated metal huts. I guess USAID provided the metal? I dunno. While certainly handy for "tourists" (in this country, its mostly development/UN folks), it kind of sucks for the vendors. I always felt a bit bad for vendors in this situation, because unless they all agree on a bottom price, there's no incentive for shoppers to buy from them and not go to a neighbor.

I also bought a moon-shaped crown, on which I can't find anything but this picture to help me explain it. It's the thing on the woman's head in the top picture. Cloth, you can get anywhere in the world, but a half moon/horn crown is something else entirely. Will search around tomorrow when I have more time to discover what on earth it does...

After leaning my pant leg on some wet table varnish (which is now a permanent part of my wardrobe), we left. The work days are going fast, but soon I will be left to my own devices to organize an entire graduation in a language I don't speak - so I'm doing my best not to panic.
Tonight, I'm going out with my colleague who is leaving and will hopefully drink my cares away, wake up and the entire graduation will be over.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Smallest of Small Towns

I can't believe it's only been two days since I last wrote - it feels like forever. I've put in two eleven hour days at the office and have also been pulling 22-hour days, thanks to jet-lag (yeah, thanks) and the roosters that play call and response outside my door.

Dili is a tiny, dusty backwater with, as far as I can tell, two main roads: airport road and beach road (I'm not kidding, they're really referred to by these names). It's not that much different from any other tiny, dusty, backwater town, save the inordinate amount of UN cars around and the correspondingly high expat community.

My hotel is quite nice - it would be a three star hotel in the States, but it's definitely a 5 here, by virtue of having ice cold air conditioning and free in-house internet (although it's DSL, not wireless but hey, I'm not fickle). It helps that it is literally right behind our project office, so I can easily walk to work.

There's alot of dirt and trash and random barbed wire on the street on the awy - plus, I walk by two "massage parlors" which are exactly what you think they are. For the most part though, it's not too bad. Plus, it always helps to be about 50 lbs heavier than even the biggest thug- that always gives me comfort.

The hotel is right around the corner from the beach, and there are many restaurants where you can sit and drink in the sunset (about 6:30 pm every day). My first night here, some project staff took me out to the beach where we had fresh barricuda and shrimp. Yum!

Being a girl from Minnesota, I have been surprised at the quantity and voracity of the mosquitos though. They just won't give up! I've got welts all over that won't go away. My first night here, in the brain fog of 3am, a mosquito bit me right in my PALM! I was in agony for hours. Luckily, the office has plenty of bug spray (and I packed my malaria meds).

But, the real surprise came tonight, as I was finishing up a meal in the hotel restaurant.

I don't know if this is a testament to what a small world it is, or if I've finally become a seasoned traveller, because I ran into someone I KNOW. As in, an old friend/co-worker whom I used to work closely with. And she was sitting at the table in the courtyard right in front of my room! She's been in East Timor for the past month, working on another project for my old company, but is leaving in a few days. I had heard she was here in July, so I just assumed that we missed each other, but there she was! I am truly psyched to see a friendly face. We're going to meet up later this week; she's going to be my entree into expat life here.

This is so random, I thought it deserved a blog-post. I mean, who travels across the world and runs into someone they KNOW?

And now I'm wondering...... who am I going to meet next?

Monday, August 18, 2008

East East = as far East at you can get

This afternoon I finally arrived in East Timor, which incidentally from Minnesota, takes two and a half days. I spent 24 hours in Japan, arriving at midnight to Bali where I spent all of 5 hours before taking off again. Thanks to my own inability to follow international date lines, I spent about three hours too long in the Bali airport this morning, awaiting my uneventful flight to Dili, the capital of East Timor.

After three days and two nights of relative solitude and sleep deprivation, I can very easily say that East Timor (Timor in Malay means East, meaning that the official name of the country is East East) is pretty much the farthest corner of the globe I've been to yet.

It's similar to Banda Aceh, in that it's remote, has a tenous relationship with Indonesia, and been through a devastating turn of events (in Timor's case, national violence instead of BA's tsunami). However, the scenery and attitude couldn't be more different. First of all, I arrived in early afteroon, in sweltering heat, to a mountainous island deep into the dry season. BA, last November by comparison, was lush and green with opportunity.

East Timor is 90% plus Roman Catholic - which means less strict dress codes than BA and more alcohol, always welcome to the Western woman's palate. If I were charged to make a guess, I'd also surmise that the standard of living here is much lower - and the population much much younger. In relation to the other countries I've visited, upon first impression, this feels like to poorest.

Granted, it's only been my first day - but so far so good. the hotel bed is comfortable and the internet accesible. My work colleagues are terrific - they took me for supper of cooked barricuda on the beach - and I'm sad of thinking that they are both leaving by the end of this week. But then, if they weren't leaving, why would I be here?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Nardom Ctnoruy: Timor Leste

Because it's been a while, here is the next random country: East Timor!


Because I can see the collective puzzle of faces (literally and figuratively, since I had to explain this to a host of strangers this weekend), here's more information from your friend and mine, Wikipedia:
East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste (officially the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste) is a country in Southeast Asia. It comprises the eastern half of the island of Timor, the nearby islands of Atauro and Jaco, and Oecussi-Ambeno, an exclave on the northwestern side of the island, within Indonesian West Timor. The small country of 15,410 km²[1] (5,400 sq mi) is located about 640 km (400 mi) northwest of Darwin, Australia.
East Timor was colonized by
Portugal in the 16th century, and was known as Portuguese Timor until Portugal's decolonization of the country. In late 1975 East Timor declared its independence but was invaded and occupied by Indonesia later that year, and declared that country's 27th province the following year. In 1999, following the United Nations-sponsored act of self-determination, Indonesia relinquished control of the territory and East Timor became the first new sovereign state of the twenty-first century on May 20, 2002. East Timor is one of only two predominantly Roman Catholic countries in Asia, the other being the Philippines. At US$2,500,[2] the per capita GDP (purchasing power parity adjusted) of East Timor is one of the poorest nations in the world. Its Human Development Index (HDI), however, corresponds to a medium degree of human development and places East Timor 150th among the world's states.
Strangely enough, Lonely Planet DOES publish a guidebook..! (Which I haven't bought). I'm heading over later on this month to assist a project that's kind of stuck in limbo. And by limbo, I mean, all the staff are either going on vacation, quit, or have gotten mugged.
...Isn't it strange how challenges alternatively thrill and terrify you?
Lot's to do between now and then, not the least of which is recover from my 10 year HS reunion, stop my mail, go to Ikea, celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary - and update my blog.
One down.
M.

Monday, July 28, 2008

To Vienna

Today, I love you publicly.

I love you on the internet, in front of my friends and total strangers.

I love you on a strange street, window-shopping; in a white-washed non-descript hotel; and eating alone. I love you reading a book in a cafe. I love your foreign office, bad cable and irregular German verbs. I love public transportation. I love those missed phone calls and my own stupid schedule. And time zones.

Today, I love you privately.

I love murderous butterfly kisses, running up the stairs and melty ironed rugs. I love the lies we told that ice cream clerk, just to get a free scoop.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I Prefer My Own Morals, Thanks

Two weekends ago, Megan and I headed up to Grand Forks to visit KD, who will soon be packing up her life to the great wilds of Wyoming. The drive itself takes the greater part of 6 hours, but we managed to hit an enormous thunderstorm and wall-to-wall traffic, so it took us a little longer.

A while ago KD posted on her pet peeves, namely, dogs being left tied up in the their front yards, essentially neglected. On this drive, my pet peeve kept slamming into my eye-line every thirty or so miles. That is, billboards with overt and stupidly obvious moral directives. As if I was going along my merry way and a billboard reminded me to be a good person. OH! If the BILLBOARD says it....!

It should be said that an inordinate number of billboards just so happen to be pro-life. Now, I don't have anything against the pro-life movement, but their ads are just so ridiculously dumb that, well, it's ridiculous.

For example:
  • Choose Life!
  • Pick Life!
  • Life rocks!
  • etc

Each one, of course accompanied by a baby in a flower pot, a baby wearing sunglasses, a baby giving the thumbs up, a baby riding a motorcycle, blah blah blah. (As a side note: why don't they ever have photos of babies projectile vomiting? Or screaming their lungs off? I hear they do this much more often than riding motorbikes).

Again, I must emphasis that, even though myself I am pro-choice, I have no beef with the pro-life movement. It's just that their message is so ridiculously OBVIOUS. I mean, what would the alternative billboard say: Kill Your Bastard Spawn Today?

It kind of reminds me of the line in the move Juno, where she calls the clinic and says, in complete deadpan irony: "Hello. I'd like to procure a hasty, painful abortion please." I mean, come ON, I'd like to believe that no one enters into that decision lightly, much less be swayed by a billboard.

This is not a pro-life rant. I only pick this example because they have somehow so proLIFErated along the highway that they are hard not to miss. My other favorite is the billboard outside of Sauk Center that showed a sillohuet of a man thinking, and a bubble coming from his head saying "What if I swore less?" I used to always give that billboard the finger.

Megan, a soon to be pastor, brought up a point I'd never thought about. As someone who makes it her lifes work to comfort and counsel others, she felt that these moral directives were kind of insulting. While trying to encourage "good" deeds, they were also distilling (and distorting?) her art form down to a simple catch phrase.

The other thing that gets me on these is that I have no escape. I HAVE to drive on that highway; it's the only way to get home! In essence, I'm tricked into seeing someone else's moral vision for my life because I can't NOT look at the road.

Hmm...How about a sign that says "Stop reading billboards?"

The last thing that gets me is the assumption that I'm NOT already doing those things. I've never had an abortion, nor do I swear all the goddamn time, so why do I need a reminder? It just seems so....assumptive. Assumptive to the point of invasive.

Anyway, it just annoys me that whoever has enough money can spew their moral directives my way. Advertising is one thing, but I prefer my own moral highway, thanks.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Home

I'm up at the farm this weekend - visiting an old friend who's moving away. It so happens that my parents are away, so I'm the only one staying at the house.

At times, I've had considerable doubts about my decision to move back to Minnesota. I was really angry and miserable the first three months - mostly at the weather but also through sheer exhaustion. Now that the weather has gotten warmer, it's easier to appreciate the lower cost of living and pollen-and-excessive population-free environment.

But I'm only truly grateful for my move when I make the drive north, to my parents farm and my childhood home. I'm grateful that I have the chance to visit with my favorite uncle, kiss my beautiful, sassy and rapidly ageing aunt and visit with my best friend's parents. I enjoy a walk on the prairie, for no reason other than that I'm HOME. I am grateful that my childhood room is basically unchanged, the well-water still tastes sweet and that basically, things change very slowly in rural America.

I am so. grateful. to have these things.

Of course, I'm fortunate (and sometimes unfortunate) that my mother instilled a proper amount of nostalgia and empathy in me, so that I crave being around things that remind me of my past. Also, this draw really only works for places that you've never moved from - places that your parents chose, settled and stayed in for over 40 years. And places where the memories ARE sweet, or atleast bittersweet, so that you want to relive those feelings again.

Tonight, I'll be home along in my folk's place, but this doesn't creep me out. I love the silence here. I love this kooky old place. (I love they have cable!) And if Iget into trouble, I know where the shot guns are...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hallelujah!

I love, love, love days like today.

1) Saturday
2) Sunny and gorgeous (if, a little stuffy in my apt).
3) waking up to the sun on my face
4) whole weekend in front of me
5) did I mention the weather is gorgeous?
6) having time to clean my apartment
7) coffee shop round the corner
8) library opening at 10 - my book on hold is here!
9) shopping with my sister
10) clean laundry

I am a ridiculous nerd, I know. But there is something about being wide awake early on a sunny Saturday morning, with the weekend stretched before you that just.....sigh. Puts me in a good mood.

Now I'm going to go enjoy it!
M.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blurghhhh.

Look, there's no reason for me to feel like an enormous crab today, but I just do. OK?

I woke up this morning to a beautiful day - and I was psyched because today was the day I promised I was going to bike to work! Hooray!

Normally, I love biking. I mean, ridiculously, love biking. I should've drawn this conclusion, when, even as a second-grader, I biked the five miles from my farm into Megan's house just for fun. Without telling my mom. Barefoot.

So, for all intents and purposes, I should've been in an awesome mood today. Save the fact that I just wasn't.

The bike ride wasn't the greatest - uphill most of the 10 miles - and I had woken up stiff and sore from my new "latin-hip-hop" dance class anyway (I can see you cringing now, Kate, and you'd be right to do so). Not only that, but I had a bunch of crap to deal with at work today that I didn't really want to do, which didn't exactly make the ride zip by.

That, and I'm just kind of.......blurrrghhh.

I don't know if it was the shitty coffee, the so-so bike ride, the middling work, PMS or what-EVER, but today is just one of those days where I shouldn't have gotten out of bed.

I am a lump. A lump of luke-warm human fleshwad that slips through your fingers and melts in your lap - probably in between your thighs and the couch, leaving a nice brown stain where you need it most (it's chocolate - I swear!)

Luckily, Scarlett O'Hara said it best - "Tomorrow is another day". Therefore, I'm officially pressing the re-set button and going to bed.

Good night.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Baby-Ho's are a No-No

After spending some time roaming around the internet on this one, I'm not sure that I have much to add. However, I recently picked up a book at the library called "The Lolita Effect: the Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It." I'm only a couple of chapters in, but so far, it's a fairly interesting read. (I can't wait to get to the part on what we can do about it - lock them in the basement? Poke their eyes and ears out? Subscribe only to Highlights?)

If you haven't seen a magazine cover, television show - or even the morning cartoons - in the past ten years, then you probably won't understand the premise. But for the rest of you, it's pretty cut and dried: the media sends mixed messages. Young girls wear hip-huggers, lipstick and tube-tops at younger and younger ages. Pre-pubescence is the new hotness.

I'm on board with the messages in this book, especially since I was in Pamida this weekend, wasting time (god bless small towns and their thriving five-and-dimes..) and I wandered down the toy aisle to come face-to-navel with THIS:

Yes, that is an enormous "baby" doll, wearing a string bikini and a BJ face. I can't find the photo at the moment, but there was another doll that advertised having "designer diapers."

Um...?


If you're curious, there's already alot of angry mom vomit all over the internet about these things, which is why I say I really don't have anything more to add. (If you're really interested, check out these postings: Is it Just Me, Or is Everything SHIT?, Her Bad Mother, and this is the best one because it's an open letter to Target and it made my laugh till my sides hurt: Mama Drama)


One thing I like about the book I'm reading, is that it doesn't deny that everyone - yes, even children - have sexuality. While admittedly, the idea of putting the words of child and sexuality together in the same sentence makes me feel gross, I do agree with this premise. However, (and admittedly, I'm only a few chapters in), I'd argue that a child's sexuality is just that - childlike. Underdeveloped. So densely fogged that these seemingly overt messages are blunted by their own minds.

Sigh. There are so many things to be afraid of for my (future) daughter. So many things I'd like to tell her to watch out for, to be strong for and laugh at. I want her to know right off the bat - something that took me years to understand - that no matter what you use on your face, you'll never look like Alicia Silverstone, and that's ok.

Also, I want her to know that sex is not a toy.

But, while I would argue that letting kids play with sexy babies is not the _best_ way to encourage their personal growth, it also isn't the end of the world. So rather than get up in arms, I'm going to have faith in the literalness of my (yet forthcoming) children:

Sometimes a doll is just a doll.


......Here's hoping.















Screw You, Citibank

I've been sitting on this for a few weeks now. I just can't seem to get myself to spend _more_ time in front of a computer after I get home from work. However, I feel others should be forewarned.

I called Citibank a few weeks ago. I happen to have quite a bit in student loans from them, and I was following up on a phone call I made back in January, wherein they told me to call back in May.

Interest rates are low low LOW right now. I've been lying in wait, trying to capitalize on these low rates by consolidating the few loans I have left that are unconsolidated (which are now at a whopping 7.22%). The current student loan rate is 3.5%.

So yes, that's quite a savings.

I call them up and say "Hey, I'd like to consolidate these loans!"
And they say, "No can-do, Ma'am."

I'm sorry, - wha?

I get the manager on the phone, who tells me the same thing. "I'm sorry ma'am, but as of May 1, we no longer offer that service."

Not only was I TOLD to call back in May (fed rates usually change July 1, so I wanted to call closer to that date) but I was NOT informed that Citibank would "no longer be offering this service as of May 1."

How come I wasn't notified?

"We're not required by law to do that, ma'am."

Durrrrrrrrrr...

This makes me so angry. It's not my fault that Citibank stock is languishing; that for a bank that manages money, they're not so good at managing their own. I think the thing that makes me the most angry is that, while they take liberties to inform me of just about every other g__d__m service they DO provide, my legal friend (who writes BOOKs on this stuff) believes that they are not legally required to inform me when they stop.

How. Aggravating.

Now, my master plan is to find another lending institution that will buy out my current loan and replace my interest rates with something, shall we say, more favorable. However, easier said than done. I may talk a big game, but I'm thus far only ankle deep in my adult finances and I suspect this will take longer for me to figure out that just a ranty blog post. Although I have faith in my ability to figure it out, this might be a tough one to do alone.

Anyway, consider yourself notified.

And SCREW YOU, Citibank.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

It's Over Already?

It's tough to come off a weekend like this one. The HMF was here and we had a FANTASTIC time. On Friday evening, we saw The Fall - a cinematic smorgesborg of color, texture and imagination that was filling, but not overwhelmig. If I could paint that film and do it justice, I would.

Saturday it was supposed to rain, so imagine our surprise when it was sunny and humid. We were going to check out the MN History museum, but the weather was so unbelieveable, that we had brunch with friends and left immediately for outside. We borrowed a bike from my co-worker and biked across Ford bridge to Minnehaha park, down to Lake Nokomis, to the bandstand at Lake Harriet where we listened to big bands and ran into old friends, had ice-cream on Lake Calhoun (where we ran into MORE people we knew!) and then home via the newly paved Midtown Greenway bikepath on 27th street (which I didn't even know existed! Talk about a magic discovery!). We arrived home four hours later, pooped, but smiling.

After that, we showered and headed to Punch in Highland park. By that time, it'd been 6.5 hours since we'd last ate, so the pizza and wine were terrific! We got ambitious and rented a movie for the couch, where we promptly fell asleep after the first 15 minutes.

Needless to say, there's a void to fill today - and every day until I see him over the 4th of July. It's nice that we've traded our day-to-day errands for only fun stuff when we see each other, but it's like having ice cream for every meal.

Anyway, I'm glad the weather cooperated. This week, I'm excited to have volunteering and volleyball to look forward to, otherwise it would be bleak.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More Photos from Sarajevo

Emira and I get caught up...

An Orthodox church and old men playing street chess

A filled in "mortar shell rose" in the sidewalk

A fantastic trip!

Photos from Dubrovnik, Croatia

The view of Old Town Dubrovnik from the outer walls

Emira and I at the water's edge on the island of Lubron


My new camera is awesome!

Supermodel pose in the island of Kolocep

Francescan Monestary on the island of Lubron

Photos from Bosnia

Thanks for the fun times, Emira!

Emira and I eating spinach pies with yogurt in Sarajevo

The main square in the Old Town part of Sarajevo where we were eating the spinach pies (above)





Beautiful beautiful Bosnia



Me with Emira's students in Trajvnik, the former capital of Bosnia



Friday, May 23, 2008

Vacation?

After almost a full twenty-four hours of traveling and/or sitting in various European airports, I arrived safely yesterday evening to a city in full summer glory. The lilacs are blooming, the bicycler's are out and the neighborhood has come alive. It's not exactly sipping cappucino's and wandering cobblestone streets, but it's the more familiar, more comforting US version. I am home.

Upon reflection, it's tough for me to label the last week as a straight-up "vacation". I will never again underestimate traveling in a former war-torn country. That's not to say that I took it lightly before going, but Bosnia and it's history is so complex, it's easy to get in over your head quite quickly. Even "normal" conversations rapidly turn political, and there is still a seething unrest over the Dayton Accords which leads to mixed reviews of Americans, who lead the talks.

That said, this trip was a rounding success. I believe that travel is not necessarily about escaping, it is about discovery as well. Good travel challenges your world views, educates and leads to self-reflection and rumination. While not always relaxing, and usually conflictingly uncomfortable, I am definitely a more well-rounded individual for having made the effort in the first place.

Now, time for Memorial day!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

EuroSong

Once a year, each European country sends a song to compete in that Euro-awesome tradition known as "EuroSong". You in America may remember this from a few years back when this band from Finland won with "Hard Rock Hallelujah". Big news in the US, mostly because they looked like the undead version of Battlefield Earth cast-members.

Anyway, last night Emira and I watched the first semi-finals, which included Bosnia's song "Attempt". The English version can be found here, although Emira cautions that the Bosnian version is much better. Plus, the performer usually has chickens on stage....

For me, the best song of the night either had to be the turkey puppet from Ireland, OR Estonia's dudes dressed in the Estonian flag with women flopping all around them. No wait, Azerbaijan had people dressed as devils and angels flying about - THAT had to be the best.

Mostly this just justifies to me that television is crap everywhere. I will no longer feel ashamed of "The Biggest Loser" or "So You Think You Can Dance?" because really, television is universally stupid.

The End.