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.