Thursday, July 12, 2012

Greetings from Ottowa

Chicago to Ann Arbor, Michigan, Pittstop in Toronto, rest in Ottowa... I slept in today till 10 and only really got up to answer the phone from an unknown number that I ignored all day yesterday. It turned out to be a "wrong number" and likely cost me five bucks due to international roaming charges.

I'm visiting a friend that I met in Botswana, a "Quebe-coi" who came to New Xade to do research. She lives here now with her boyfriend and their cat and are by far the most hospitable, nicest young couple I've ever met-- and I've me quite a few. While they are out doing their normal adult-day things, I am wandering around Ottowa and I am ashamed to say, I've seen the Canadian Supreme Court and Parliament even before I'd ever laid eyes on my own country's capital buildings. Ottowa is impressive... and old. Not that America isn't old, or Africa isn't old. But the buildings in Africa are so new and ugly, laid in concrete and brick. Ottowa has stone, and wood, and cobblestone walkways with francophones, asian tourists, and Canadian business men saying "eh?" over the phones as I walk by. Photos of Queen Elizabeth are everywhere (Why? Canadian history is completely lost on me) and oh, they put maple syrup on everything! I'm just kidding about the last one, I wish they did though.

This morning, I went for a run along the Ottowa river, where I was stopped by a local news anchor who asked me to run up a ridge holding a fake Olympic torch made of construction paper and a black pepper grinder (Look for me in a montage of fake olympic runners on the local Ottowa news in August!), then I helped a father carry his daughter's bike away as first aid technicians carried his daughter off on a stretcher ("Murphy's Law" he explained to me, surprisingly calm), later on, I saw a very old man taking a walk without his pants on. Incidentally, it's not his pants that I noticed first, it was the very happy smile on his very wrinkled face.

Everyone in Canada is nice, but I can't help but think that they think I'm an idiot. I walk funny, my car is full of shit, and I can't drive worth beans. Every time I enter a neighborhood I don't know, and this happens every time I enter a neighborhood, I can swear that everyone behind me is glancing at my PA license plate, smacking their foreheads and looking for ways to pass me as they mutter french expletives under their breath. I try not to speak to cashiers because I expect that they'll start laughing at my American accent as soon as I say "Hi." But then I dont want to remain too mute or else they'll think I don't speak english. (Already in Ann Arbor a clueless bartender tried to explain to me what a Margarita is, "It's made of this thing called tequilla and it tastes like tequilla") Same goes with taking pictures. I passed by a chinese girl taking "artistic" photos of Seagulls, and, as she tossed bread onto the pavement, she asked her family why they aren't afraid of people. First, seagulls? Second, feeding seagulls? Then I passed by another chinese family explaining to their tour group how they found McDonalds. They talked excitedly in-between big bites of yellow-wrapped hamburger and pointed animatedly toward one of many roads that house one of many McDonalds. 

Not to diss Ottowa, but why are these asian tourists coming here? And taking so many pictures! What's so amazing about the North American seagulls? The Ottowa senate? The McDonalds?? (Before you jump to the conclusion that McDonalds is a North American tourist destination, let me just say that I've been to China and there are a lot of McDonalds there, the only difference between their McDonalds and our's is that their Happy Meals have Hello Kitty toys). Everywhere the asians go, it's click click click click click flash! "OOOOOH ha soo!" Peace Sign. GONG!!! Whenever I see tour busses full of asians pulling up to the side of the road, I power-walk away as fast as I can lest a tour guide come out and kidnap me.

I'm enjoying Ottowa. What I'm not enjoying is being so far from family and friends so soon after coming home. Even though I'm only a few miles away, it literally feels like a different country (because it IS, dum dum). I already have a credit card charge to dispute, I dont understand the currency, signs are in a different language, people talk funny here, and oh, no data plan! no texting! international roaming fees! When I walked into a coffee shop today, I thought I'd be clever and pretend to be a French-Canadian. But instead of saying "Ou est le toilete?" (High School French) I nearly said, "A go na di toilets?" (Setwana). Panicked, I forgot my english, gunned it towards the bathroom sign, and when I accidentally made eye contact with the barista, I screamed deliriously, "Toi-ath-room?!?" (Asian Tourist)

Speaking of... one just walked in wearing a red bucket hat and a burberry cash wallet wrapped around the front of her neck... she ordered an ice water and sat down with her laptop. (Free Wifi)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Spa Life

Today I went to the city, visited my old workplace, saw some old friends, noticed the things that were new, the things that were old, and things I never noticed before. I was reminded of my life back in the states, the things I did, the things I aspired to, the issues I left behind. I was on the westside of Chicago, where previously, I had been too scared to walk through, very privileged to work in, and completely enamored by. My first day at work, I was stopped on the way to the train and warned by a local passerby, "You be careful walking around these streets," he said. I was simultaneously terrified and secretly thrilled. Today I walked down the same street but it had been transformed. Gardens in the empty plots, children walking down the street, men in neon green patrolling the parking lots, and no one pulling me aside to warn me to be careful.

I know now I didn't need to move abroad to be challenged, to be awed. I think that's what the people I worked for were trying to tell me. Today someone suggested to me that I deny myself the high paying salary and security of a big shot job. I didn't have the heart to tell him that he was preaching a mute point. I think no matter what I will end up doing something community based and public oriented, it's what I'm inspired by. Ironically, I no longer see poverty the way I used to. Poverty alleviation is no longer just "the right and honorable thing to do." When I worked in Lawndale, I saw poverty as an injustice, the clinic as a savior. I saw people in poverty as special and the world as unfair. Now I see people as people and poverty as merely a characteristic. I find myself saying over and over again, "it is what it is." No need to judge every situation as good or bad, it just is. Everyone's situation is different. There are perks and cons of being rich, there are perks and cons of being poor. The human condition is universal. Poverty will always exist, greed and malice, jealousy, pain, anger, and sorrow. All I can do is take care of my little piece of it and enjoy what happiness, mercy, grace, gentleness, and joy I can find. Poverty and illness suck, but they give me a job and a reason to be inspired. For that I am, in a way, thankful for the poor of the world. Maybe that's what Jesus said when he said, "God bless the poor."

When I left Lawndale, I went downtown. I left my car with a valet, I took an elevator to the 4th floor of a glass and chrome tower, I was led into relaxation room, offered a chaise lounge and strawberry/cucumber water, got rubbed down, massaged, moisturized, exfoliated, and led to a 15th floor hotel room where I took a hot shower in a stall with glass walls. Then I strolled 3 blocks down and had a beer, a chicago hotdog, and an order of cheese fries.

Tonight, instead of lying on the ground under the stars, I will sip a cocktail under the bright lights of the city.

Life is a strange thing.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Home Sweet Home

It was a long trip, but a week later i'm sitting at my brother's place snuggling with his dog drinking a good beer eating chipotle after a small shopping spree, a pedicure, and a haircut. Didn't used to enjoy these things so much but now, It feels pretty gosh darn good. I'm not a fan of materialism, but today, i drink to America! CHEERS!

Saturday, June 9, 2012


It feels surreal to be home, like everything has changed yet is still pretty much the same. I'm afraid that I'll slide back into my usual lazy bad habits if I dont get out of NJ soon.

I've been keeping a mental list of everything that is weird and different to me. I'm not going to post them now cause the first thing on my list is how pervasive technology is here and I want to keep my computer time to a minimum, less I get sucked in. 

I went for a run this morning at 6 and watched the New Jersey deer come out for their breakfast. The first time I saw one I panicked and that it was a Botswana dog. A large Botswana dog...

The travel home was chaotic, but peppered with lots of friendly people. On the flight to Dubai, a man had a seizure so we had to stop in  Dar Es Salaam for a while. Dar Es Salaam is cursed in my opinion. As they were refueling, they found something wrong with the fuel nozzle and we got stuck there for over 3 hours. Just enough to make us 30 minutes late for our connecting flight to JFK. 3 PCV's eager to return home from 2 years abroad landed in Dubai at 3:30 in the morning and were told that they wouldn't be able to go home together. Lucie, Paco, and I had to split up at a moment's notice. I was to leave in 3 hours, Lucie in over 20 or so hours, and Paco had to find the quickest way back to New Mexico so he could catch his sister before she left. I entered the Dubai airport alone, tired, and confused, only to be confronted with an airport crowd of people from all different cultures and nations all with smart phones and ipads taking photos of each other and the airport, speaking language that i could not understand or speak. I was so frightened, I couldn't buy anything or consume anything. I had a panic attack and wandered around looking for a phonecard so I could call home and panic out loud to someone. 3 hours passed in such a fashion.

My layover in Madrid was eventful. I got sent to the ticketing desk for Emirates Airline to check on my luggage, which meant i had to leave the airport and come back in. The lady said that the luggage attached to my ticket had different numbers, but that they would organize some way of making sure it gets on the plane. She confirmed with the folks downstairs and told me, it's all good. So I went back into the airport only to be stopped by security for the 2 bottles of amarula I bought for my brother. They took it. I cried some more. I went to the airport, got to my gate, and was selected for a "special security check." they made it sound like i had won the lottery. For a second there i thought, "Oh god! finally something good has happened!" then i realized what it ACTUALLY was, and i started laughing, then crying onto the shoulder of the lady next to me. 

At JFK, "my" baggage arrived. That is to say, 2 bags arrived with my name on them, but they were not my bags. They are coming today, I'm told. I'm really hoping everything is safe and sound and happy. 

I miss Botswana. I do. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

That's Why it's Called a "Cross" Stitch

One of our volunteers, Patti Koenig, went home early for medical
reasons. Right after she went home, she sent me box full of art
supplies and cross stitching kits for the school. I have to admit,
when I got the box, I thought, "What the heck am I going to do with
this?" Nearly a dozen cross stitching kits from cross-stitch christmas
cards to cross-stitch miniature rugs to cross stitch pillows.
Nonetheless, I brought the box of goodies to the school and showed
them to our practicals teacher who got excited. "You can come and
teach the kids!" she said after I mistakenly told her I used to do
these kits myself when I was little.

Months went by and the bag of goodies lay untouched locked in the
office file cabinet. I just as much assumed that the bag was
re-appropriated for other purposes. Last week, as I informed my
friends and coworkers that I would be leaving soon, Mma Wabobi said,
"When are you going to come in and do the cross stitching? Let's do it
next week... Thursday."

So after a bit of hesitation and months of procrastinating, I showed
up at the school unprepared and 20 years rusty in my cross stitching

I'm not the world's best teacher. In fact, I'm not a teacher. (I use
that excuse a lot here when teachers ask me to cover their classes for
them). Into the library came 22 students and moseyed 8 teachers.
Little kids talking, chatting, crowding around me until I was bent
backwards over a table, big teachers talking, chatting, chewing gum,
and playing with their cell phones. We had around a dozen little cross
stitching kits of various ability. I decided to split the kids into
groups of 2 and start with the simple patterns.

I scavenged needles from every packet until I had 12 little needles,
then started the "demonstration" consulting the paper and looking
pleadingly at the teachers for help along the way. Finally, we sat the
kids down and gave them 1 piece of cloth, 2 pieces of thread, and....
needles? My needles were gone, and as I looked over the teachers,
gathered in the corner, for help I realized what had happened. As soon
as I removed the needles from the packet, the teachers scooped them up
and were practicing stitching on their own. HEY!!!

Once settled with their cross stitching patterns, one of the teachers
wisely told them to practice stitching in a line, forget the patterns.
I wandered around the class patting kids on the back, encouraging
those who had succeeded to try something new, and demonstrating the
"cross stitch" to kids who covered their faces out of embarassment at
the attention. One girl finally "got it" and I reached to pat her on
the back and she ducked out of the way, smacked her head on the table,
and then laughed at herself. She though I was going to hit her.
Corporal punishment is not uncommon here.

All in all, a lesson I had looked to with dread turned out to be quite
fun. The kids enjoyed themselves, some even started to stitch little
patterns into the cloth, look up at me expectantly, than squeal when I
told them they did a good job. As annoyed as I am with those kids who
like to visit me at home and never leave, overall, I'm probably going
to miss the little buggers. I have had opportunities here that I would
never have had at home, and I owe my thanks to the amazing teachers at
K'Joe for that.

Friday, May 25, 2012

PCV Guilt

I've been running. Can you believe it? I have asthma and I live in a
desert with sand as deep as I am tall, but I've been running. Slowly
at first. And now... still slowly, but for longer periods of time. I
can run! I'm super excited... which means that as soon as I got home
from my run today, I went online and browsed all the fun cool
accessories that a "runner" can buy. I'm looking at shoes now. Shoes,
beautiful shoes. Barefoot shoes. Trail running shoes. Road shoes.
Lightweight shoes, Ankle support shoes. One shoe, two shoes... Red
shoes. Blue shoes. Lo and behold, I have found my perfect shoe.
I want to buy it. I want to buy it badly. But I feel stupid. I just
gave away nearly 5 pairs of shoes (granted 3 of those pairs were $5
flipflops from Old Navy) and watched kids fight over an old sweatshirt
whose sleeves no longer have elastic and whose elbows have holes
burned into them... and i want to buy $100 shoes online? The angel on
my shoulder is pouting, if you have to buy them, can't you wait till I
at least get home? But the devil has a point. You want them. And you
want them now.

PCV Guilt.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Gods Must Be Crazy

Before I came here, I didn't watch the Gods Must Be Crazy (1980). I've only just seen it now. It's good. It's like an Adam Sandler movie. Funny, but with heart. I can't believe it's 32 years old. Everything in it is almost exactly like it is now. Of course there are some differences. Mainly, Botswana is a lot more flat and a lot less fertile, and the Batswana don't wear the kind of clothes they wear in that movie... and now the Bushmen drink a lot and no longer have the life they used to live... but other than that it is very accurate. Especially the trucks that don't have brakes and will stall if you let them and drive through puddles and get stuck in ditches, and the endless amount of rickety wooden gates that you have to stop and open on hot dusty roads, and the smiles. oh the smiles. The smiles of the people here will melt your heart and make you want to laugh and dance. I'll miss the smiles of the old men that see me at the clinic.I wish I could go "door to door" (except many of them don't have
doors...) and say bye one by one. But I don't know if they know who I am. Or if I have the energy for that, cause to be honest, when it's time to go, I'll be more than ready. in fact, I think my brain has
already left.

I have mixed feelings about this movie. I like the ideas in it. Ownership begets jealousy begets fighting begets evil. I understand it, I feel it. But unfortunately, we live in a world where ownership is necessary for survival. I see now why people here can't seem to get on their feet. Why they fight a lot. Why they drink a lot... ownership is something they don't do. We've already corrupted the world with our materialistic ways, it seems inevitable that the San should join us... or perish. Lest we stick them back into the reserve and let them fend on their own like a rare sort of animal, but that hardly seems fair. Nothing seems fair nowadays. I bet that's what these little girls are thinking who just left my house. They followed me home, babbled something to me in Setswana, grabbed my rake, cleaned up some poo, and five minutes later, came storming in here asking for money. I may not speak much Setswana but I do understand something that girl said as the other urged her to leave, "I'm going to get money from this lekhoa."

Now I smell like children and my arms are covered in something sticky. Not that I don't like children. I will love my own children, but they will smell like roses and will always be clean.