Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I am Vincible.

Normally, my body has no problems with travel. Cram me into the smallest seat, feed me the scariest looking food, blast me with air conditioning, steam me with humidity - I typically take it like a champ. Due to my upbringing near the edge of the universe and multitude of hours spent at the mercy of tedious church sermons, I have a preternatural ability to hibernate with my eyes open. And, for the most part, I have been lucky. My body can generally bounce back.

Unfortunately, I knew my luck had to run out eventually. What I didn’t know was that my luck would run out ALL at ONCE, creating Job-like suffering (see mom, I was paying attention) that has hilariously, lasted nearly my entire trip to Rwanda.

First came the cold. The morning I was to get on two trans-continental flights, I woke with a face full of goo. I loaded up on Dayquil, Nyquil, extra soft travel packages of Kleenexes and steeled myself for the hateful glances. No one likes to sit next to Typhoid Mary on the plane; I knew I wouldn’t be making any friends.

But oh, the pain.

Takeoff wasn’t so bad, as I remembered to take Dayquil. But you tend to forget how many hours have passed, and I failed in my timing of the second set of pills (also – does one take Nyquil as it’s 12am at your starting point, or Dayquil, because it’s 6 am at your landing? You tell me). I gave up around the time I was delirious with pain and opted just to cradle my face in my hands. When we finally landed, the nice Ethiopian guy across the way put his hand on my shoulder and said “Would you like a Dayquil?”

Yes, please.

A long hot shower in Amsterdam made me feel human again, as did fishing out the rest of my cold medicine and taking a double dose. I managed to make it to Rwanda without popping an eye.

Three days later, while crouching on the toilet at 4am trying to read an expose of the American Funeral industry (no lie), I would think fondly of that pain. Having emptied my stomach of all its contents, I was at the point where throwing up felt good. At least then I could crawl back to bed and get twenty minutes of sweaty rest before it started all over again. This was not exquisite pain; it was knife-slicing, from my sternum to colon.

I have had food poisoning before, so I knew it was only a matter of time before the worst would pass. So, each time the pain washed over me, I kept calm, counted the seconds and tried to move as little as possible. I made it to 5:00am, and finally fell asleep. I woke up two hours later, knowing I felt better (because hey, at least I rested longer than twenty minutes), but still with intermittent pain. Luckily, it was raining – and Saturday – so I had nothing else to do. The rest of the weekend was dry toast and juice and bad movies, with a healthy dose of antibiotics - which had been waiting at the bottom of my medical kit, blissfully unexpired.

As if that ordeal weren’t enough, I woke up yesterday plagued with bug bites. There’s no bug net to speak of in my hotel room, and I didn’t think much of it, until I realized that due to my earlier illness(es), I had forgone taking any malaria pills (why poke an already upset stomach?). As a result, I may be able to add malaria to my list of ailments. Or bed bugs.

Oh please, don’t let it be bed bugs.

So, right now I sit, covered with cortisone cream and Benadryl, ready to get on a plane for home. I am kind of half expecting another minor calamity; perhaps locusts to fall from the sky, or more realistically – lice from airplane pillows. On the other hand, things come in threes - and I feel like I've met my quota.

Never again will I feel cocky about my ability to go anywhere, eat anything. I get the message, Universe. I am not invincible. As it turns out, I am very, very vincible.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

About Skin

Today, I had a series of conversations with a Rwandan colleague regarding our skin anomalies. I've appreciated getting to know this colleague, and I believe we've reached a level of candor that proves she trusts me, and vice versa. Nonetheless, it's been a learning experience for both of us.

Colleague: Do you have a mosquito net?
Me: Yes.
Colleague: You should use it. Your face looks like it was bitten.
Me: Ah, no, That's a pimple.
Colleague: A pimple?
Me: Yes, a pimple.
Colleague: But you have another one, here (points to forehead).
Me: Yep, that's a pimple, too.
Colleague: Oh.
Me: That's the problem with white skin. Everything shows up. Look at these. (I show her the moles on my arms)
Colleague: Ooo what are those?
Me: Moles
Colleague: Can you put lotion on them and make them fade?
Me: No, not really.
Colleague: (pauses while she thinks about my pockmarked, zit-filled and moley-skin)
Me: (trying not to show her the skin tag on my neck, too)
Colleague: (Thoughtfully) Yes, nothing really shows up on dark skin.
Me: Can we trade?
Later on, in the car, I notice a nickel-sized scar on her arm.
Me: (touching her arm) What happened here?
Her: I got cut.
Me: You got cut?
Her: Yes, during the genocide.
Me: .......Oh.
Her: Many people were cut, like on their heads and other places.
Me: (kind of wishing we were still talking about my pimples...)
Her: I am lucky.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Killer Lake = a Killer Weekend

God bless the internet, it lets me keep in touch with all the great people I've met from around the globe. A woman I met in Sri Lanka two years ago has recently relocated to Rwanda, and we've reconnected while I'm here. In fact, she kindly extended an invitation for me to join her and some friends a Lake Kivu this weekend. Let's hear it for making awesome friends!

Lake Kivu sits between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. "Kivu" actually means Lake, so the lake is effectively called "Lake Lake" (much like East Timor is really called "East East"). There's some remark to be made hear about duplicity in English naming conventions, but I'll let it lay. I'm not sure how big (on what scale) size-wise it is in the world, but it's quite deep and holds the 10th largest island.

But that's not the coolest part - according to our friends at Wikipedia, Lake Kivu is one of the worlds "exploding lakes" . Because it sits on one of Africa's seismic hotspots (the Rift Valley), Lake Kivu is sitting on enormous amounts of volcanic gas - mostly made up of methane and CO2. Scientists are afraid that triggers, such a landslides or seismic shifts, can upset the delicate balance of CO2 in the lake, causing it to reach saturation point and one day release enormous clouds of the stuff into the air. (It's happened two other times - in different lakes). As we've learned from climate change 101, massive amounts of carbon dioxide, of course, are suffocating. So far, nearly 2,000 people have died from other lakes - the time is ticking on Lake Kivu (which has many, many more people living around it).

Luckily, none of this happend while we were there. But still, the concept of a killer lake is pretty cool.

There are may points on the lake for visitors, but we chose to stay in Kibuye. The drive from Kigali is about two hours, on good - but windy and mountainous - roads. We left the capital city and found our way north-west, past mud homes chiselled into the hills, scraggly maize plants fighting for height, and streams of pedestrians. The weather has been hazy, with intermittent showers that kick up pollen (causing my nose to go haywire), but the sun peeked out now and again, welcoming us up north.

The lake itself is a deep teal, and surrounded by steep hills (much like all of Rwanda!). I hear there are beaches in Gisenyi, another point along the lake, but in Kibuye the shores are rocky, and covered in what looks like white-washed volcanic stones. The weather is cloudy, grey, but still warm - and still better than Minnesota.

We arrived mid-afternoon at the Bethane Presbyterian Lodge. For $10 a night, we each got a lockable room, twin bed, commode toilet, clean towels and a mosquito net. While waiting out (another) intermittent (and hardpouring) rainstorm, we had a late lunch (fish kebab and chips) and some enormous Primus beers. After the rain lifted, we wandered down to the shore and hired a boat to take us out to Amhoro ("Peace") Island, where we met Mama Josephine, and had sundowner beers on the beach. (I also got chased by a cow).

Dusk fell like a fleece blanket, warm and comforting. Too cloudy for stars, we hung on to the receding sunset, chatting and thinking about life. After the last light had leeched from the day, we headed back to the Bethane, lulled by the dull roar of the outboard motor.

More beer and some public readings of "Auntie's Guide to Being an Obedient Wife" left us in stitches until bedtime (some highlights include: 'don't mess with Rastas' and 'All young women are shameful'.) In the morning, we had continental breakfast on the terrace (during another intermittent rainstorm). After breakfast, we explored the other areas around the Lake and had lunch at the Cormoran Lodge. We were back in Kigali in time to catch some late afternoon weekend sun at the (normally non-lethal) pool.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rwanda part deux

This will come to no surprise as avid readers, but I'm back in Rwanda. I kind of stopped posting about my travels, mid-to-end of last year - when my life stopped resembling a 'life" and more like a pinball machine of the African continent.

Although its had its ups and downs, my job continues to surprise and invigorate me - as well as as frustrate and abuse me. I guess it's not unlike any other long-term relationship; there are hard times, but you stick it out because overall, it's a stable, mutually beneficial relationship.

I was kind of on the fence about coming back to Rwanda this time mostly because a) last time was so ridiculously stressful, and b) I'm kind of over the hard-work thing. But then I land here and I deplane - right onto the tarmac just like in the movies - and the rainy fog envelopes me, rich and heady with the smell of lush greenery. I'm hooked, again. I'm a user. I'm addicted to - travel? Africa? I'm addicted to something, because I keep finding the energy to come back.

I'm not sure if I'm world-weary (or even old enough to be world weary?), but I'm certainly not as excited about things as I used to be. The bloom is off the rose, so to speak. I hate that that would be the case, because life is so fully of interesting and unique experiences, who am I to grow tired of them? But I am. I'm tired of those crappy airplane meals, working out in hotel rooms and not being what anyone every expected of me - and not what I expected of myself.

These feelings keep coupling with the thought - when will my life start? Today, I walked onto the verandah during a massive downpouring rainstorm, and watched people struggle uphill getting soaked, thinking "Where is the beginning? When does my story begin? When will my life have meaning?"

I admit, this probably sounds ridiculous to most people. From the outside, I'm sure it seems like my life has taken a roaring jump. And, even in writing it, it sounds like something a person of privelige (and anxiety) would thing about. But I can't shake this sense that I'm still waiting around for something.

I don't know. I don't know when life becomes habit. I'm not sure where my biographer would pick up my storyline - if at all. I am happy with my life here, now. I have interesting friends. I go interesting places. I do interesting work. I don't see what the "more" might be - but it's out there, lurking. And for now, I don't know what I'm waiting for, but I'm a bit bored for it to show up.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Some General Observations

Some general observations about being my current age:
  • being comfortable in my own skin
  • being painfully aware of the "should's" - be married/have kids/house/career
  • old enough to get drunk with South African miners...
  • smart enough to leave before things get rowdy
  • young enough to remember child-like joy, only now over a delicious cup of coffee
  • young enough not to have been anywhere when Kennedy was shot
  • old enough to realize the new Kennedy question is where you were on 9/11
  • old enough to remember when the most sophisticated thing on a computer was "Word Munchers" and "Oregon Trail"
  • young enough that my mom expects me to know how HTML
  • old enough to suspect that everything I'm going through is only new to me
  • realizing the universe will more me forward anyway, just like it has everyone else
  • having time only for really superb people
  • forgetting about people who aren't
  • wearing sunscreen
  • eating lucky charms and watching cartoons on Saturday morning
  • while simultaneously rebalancing my retirement portfolio online
  • remembering to check the air pressure in my tires
  • worrying about my parents age
  • being able to dance until dawn but realizing, There Will Be Consequences
  • paying my own way
  • having "my drink"
  • fielding embarassing, inappropriate questions. All the time.
  • really, really, really empathizing with Bridget Jones
  • laughing continously, mercifully and un-, at myself
  • having people wonder what is wrong with me
  • half-heartedly wondering myself
  • wise enough to value time sitting still
  • while still itching to keep moving, growing, learning and conquering

Thursday, January 20, 2011


My friend Julia gave me a one-a-day desk calendar for Christmas. It has inspirational quotes. She has the same one; the idea being that when we would read the daily quote, we'd not only feel inspired, but also think of each other. Nice, huh? She's like that.

Anyway, so far it's worked. However, something happened on Tuesday morning which made me pause for more than thought. Tuesday's quote was:

"Failure is Impossible" ~Susan B. Anthony.

No offense to Ms. Anthony, but I was not inspired. In fact, I immediately thought of cases where failure itself was not only possible, but giant, flame-loads of it had come shooting out of my ears. Some work assignments I've had this past year. That time I moved to Japan. My last relationship.

In fact, sometimes, I'm pretty sure I'm walking around with a big FAIL on my forehead.

Then I thought about it awhile longer: perhaps that failure was only IN my head, not on it. When I reflected on my percieved failures, I see upsides. I _love_ Japanese food. Because of my year, I have earned an ease with chopsticks and sushi houses that amazes (or intimidates?) a string of terrible dates. I've learned a slew of things that, without failure, would've never known.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the times I've truly failed, were actually, kind of, WINS. I guess I can see what Ms. B is driving at - failure IS impossible depending on your perception.

So, while I still disagree, perhaps her quote just needs to be tweaked a little bit:

"Failure is necessary". ~Mtanga.

////Tomorrow I'm hoping for a less thoughtful, more instructive quote, such as "Don't eat that entire jar of pickled asparagus." In which case, though, it might be too late.