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Rudolph in Red-Earthed Africa

Monday, December 21, 2009

“I can see the wind is disturbing your hair,” the driver says. “It’s no problem,” I reply. My hair, now a knotted mess tied loosely behind my head, is indeed being disturbed. The blowtorch hot wind slaps against my face as it rips and torments my hair. The African sun pierces my exposed skin through the open window. The radio blares techno versions of Christmas songs as we fly down the red-earthed road. The pickup jostles over bumps and swerves in violent bursts to avoid the crater-like potholes. “Do you know this song?” I ask, “Rudolph, he’s a red-nosed reindeer.” “A reindeer with a red nose?” he asks curiously. He turns up the volume. We careen past bicycles that seem to be moving in slow motion, weighed down by oversized loads and small children. Somewhere in the world children are fast asleep tucked under heavy warm blankets. It is snowing in the dark of night. The moon reflects off the crisp white snow, illuminating pine trees littered with decorations. But here, there are no pine trees. The blue sky is vast and unending. It’s as though we could drive for days and the landscape would never change. We are almost airborne now as we chase towards the sun faster and faster in hopes of an endless day. I lay my head against the back of the seat. “Then one foggy Christmas eve...” rolls around in my sun scorched head. It all feels neither normal nor abnormal. It just is.

Anywhere but Bubbles

Friday, December 11, 2009
"Anywhere but Bubbles" my friend requests. I ask around and get a few recommendations. They all seemed very Bubbles-ish. I had heard that the Kabalagala district could be really fun. I had also heard that it could be dangerous late at night. I was told not to go alone, be careful, etc., etc. It's a popular area for picking up sex workers. People occasionally get shot. That's OK, I think, as long as it's not me getting into trouble.

We meet at Capital Pub. (www.capitalpub.com) It's a huge bar, with three different levels. It is a little after 7pm. The bar is totally dead. There are maybe ten people scattered about. We have a beer, play an embarrassing game of pool (well, embarrassing for me) and then decide to go eat.

I want to try a Belgian place across from the US Embassy, so we decide to check it out. My friend seems to know where we are going, so I just follow along as we walk farther and farther up a relatively small, busy and very dark street. Finally, "OK, here's the Embassy." We're at the back. We need to be at the front. Why would it be on a desolate side street behind the embassy? The only way to the other side is back the way we came. "I am not supposed to take boda bodas," I say as we stand at the side of the road starring, but not moving, in the direction from which we came. "I know you're not." A boda boda pulls up. We look at each other.

Dinner was good, although I'm not sure what makes it Belgian. The Italian wine? The African king prawns? The fat drips over the top of my uncomfortably tight jeans. I know I shouldn't eat so much, but it isn't rice and beans and all things starchy and white and I just can't help myself. I know I shouldn't drink so much, but I'm having fun pairing celebrities with the wine - it's fresh, fruity and crisp like Zooey Deschanel - and I loose track of how much I've had.

A few beers and a bottle of wine later, we're back at the Capital Pub via an undisclosed mode of transportation. It is now who knows what time and the bar is packed. We are the only muzungus. We look around unable to tell who the prostitutes are and who's just out for a night on the town. We finish our beers and decide every woman must be a prostitute. "I like generalizations" my friend says, "and pop music." "You must be able to at least appreciate the Back Street Boys, right?" No, I think, but now the confessions are flowing as easily as the alcohol. I start to discuss phallic doughnuts. We've already plotted a money-making mass suicide cult.

The clock reads 4:44, but that surely can't be right.

At 9:30am a large white SUV pulls up to my gate. The back door opens. I get out. The guard is chatting with my co-worker out front. No one is ever out front. They look at me curiously. I think about trying to explain myself. Then I remember the more you protest, the guiltier you appear. I smile and walk inside. It's possible I had an early meeting. ...wearing the clothes I wore yesterday. ...alcohol and smoke emanating from my every pore.

I walk out of my bedroom and sit down at my desk. Same shirt. Fresh skirt. It's now 9:45. I am an hour and 45 minutes late. "Good Morning!" she says as she flips off her shoes and glides over to my desk. "Are you busy working?" She is smiling. Is it a sly smile, I wonder. "It's not as bad as it looks," I want to say. But, instead, "You look pretty today". And, she does look pretty. "Thank you." Another smile. Fingers tap my desktop. I look up and smile innocently.

Yes, I think to myself, Kabalagala is very dangerous...all kinds of people getting into all kinds of trouble.

Bed Bugs: Part II

Monday, November 23, 2009
My day started around 1:30am with men pounding on my door. I hadn't really been asleep, as I was constantly awakened by the sensation of being bitten. I was sure that couldn't be the case, however. I was just being paranoid. I had switched beds and loaded on the bug repellent. And, not just any bug repellent - the good stuff. The stuff with "how to store pesticides" information on the back label. The stuff that burns through plastic. Yet, I kept feeling something on my leg.

Then, loud knocking.

I ignore it.

More loud knocking.

Go away!
I silently scream.

"Kristy!?" KRISTY!?"

Are you fucking kidding me?

More knocking, more name yelling.

“YES!?” I yell back.

“Kristy, hello! Do you know where Tom is?”, it’s Jerry yelling through the door.

“NO! I have no idea!”

“OK, thank you. Sorry.”

For fuck’s sake, I think. Why would I know where Tom was? Did they think he was in here with me? How insulting.

Tom and Jerry’s real names are not Tom and Jerry. I’ve changed their name for anonymity. And, because I can’t remember what their names really are. I met them earlier in the day at the pool. The tiny pool was way over capacity at 8 people sitting around the edge. As much as I tried to ignore them and read my book in peace, it was a bit hard when we were elbow to elbow.

tiny pool photo, as requested

“Kristy, do you learn through reading or through life?” Jerry asks.

“Uhm, both?” I say.

He gives me a smug look.

“You don’t think you can do both?” I say.

“I like to learn out there” he says as he waves his hand around.

“So, you’re not much of a reader?” I say condescendingly.

Another smug look.

What? What was that about?

Then Tom offers me a beer, almost as if to apologize for his friend. “What are you reading, Kristy?” he asks.

This is the begining of a series of questions that last until about 10:30pm. (I met them at around 3pm, mind you.) Tom and Jerry are Indians serving as UN Peacekeepers in Goma, DRC. They and their friends are on holiday in Uganda. Jerry is a civil engineer who I eventually found to be quite…civil. Tom has no idea what he wants to be, but is reading self-help books to find his way.

One thing I’ve found with many Indians is they ask a lot of questions. A lot of questions that Americans would typically not ask. Or, not immediately and in rapid succession anyway.

What’s your name? Are you married? Why not? How old are you? And, not married? Why? What does your father do? What does your mother do? How many brothers and sisters do you have? How old are they? Are they married? What do they do? Why are you not married? Do you want to get married? Do you have a boyfriend? Why not? Do you want a boyfriend? But, you don’t have one? Why not? Where are you from? Do you live with your parents? Why not? How often do you talk to them? How much money do you make? And on and on and on...

All the questions are asked in such a way that you can actually see them putting together a mental picture of who you are and what they think of you based on your marital status and the profession of your parents. You are being interviewed. It’s as though they are sizing you up for themselves, their brother, their son, whoever…

It can be very exhausting. However, I did have much else going on so I talked to them throughout the afternoon. And, I eventually went for an early evening walk with Tom and Jerry. They were pleasant enough company. We walked through a poorer shanty neighborhood up to richer larger walled houses higher on the hill.

Tom slapped backs and shook hands with everyone he saw in uniform. Maybe it’s some secret camaraderie among security-types, because the guys in uniform didn’t seem as annoyed with the whole thing as I did.

Jerry continued to ask questions that seemed to be designed to annoy me.

“It’s common knowledge that women cannot read maps. Do you find this to be true?”

This was shortly before Tom asked for direction back to Chili’s (complete with back slapping through the taxi window) as Jerry and I stood and waited for him under the big sign that said “Red Chili’s Hideaway” with an arrow.

When we got back Tom and Jerry invited me to go out with them later. They were going “discothèque hopping”. I was hesitant, but decided that it could be fun. So, I agreed.

I showered and got ready, planning to meet up with them and their other friends a bit later. When I opened my door to leave I found Tom standing right in front of me. Even then I was wishing he didn’t know what room was mine.

“Kristy. Hello.”

“Hi, where are your friends?” I ask, looking around.

“They are waiting for us at the bar.”

Oh, good, I thought.

“So, Kristy. If you were to take me somewhere, just you and me, where would you take me?”

Oh, not good, not good at all.

“Uhm, Bubbles, the Irish bar” I said, trying to think of somewhere he would hate.

“Oh, Bubbles, yes, we have been there. We shall go to Bubbles.”


So, we walk in to the Red Chili’s lounge and his friends are sitting around the bar. Tom hands his room key to a friend and then starts speaking in Hindi as everyone stares at me. Fantastic.

“OK, Kristy. Let us go.” Tom says as he quickly starts walking out of the bar.

I’m speed walking along behind him firing questions.

“What about your friends?” “Are they coming?” “Do they know where we’re going?” “Shouldn’t we tell them?” “Yes, let’s go back and tell them.”

Finally, Tom reluctantly follows me back into the bar.

“Let’s go – Bubbles!” I say to Jerry, waving him out of his seat.

He stands as if he’s coming, but quickly his smile turns and he sits back down. I turn around to see what Tom is doing. He’s standing innocently behind me.

Fuck. I really don’t want to go out with this guy alone. It’s not that I think he’s going to try something…OK, I think he’s going to try something. However, I don’t find him threatening, just annoying.

On the taxi ride there he’s bear hugging the driver from behind asking him if he knows where Bubbles is. (Everyone knows Bubbles, by the way. And, no idea where the name Bubbles O’Leary came from.) The driver gives me a look. I’m up front with him. I had sidestepped Tom holding the back door open for me. The driver seems to have sized up the situation in about two minutes. And, I think he’s wondering what I’m doing. So, I am, buddy.

The driver pulls up to Bubbles and Tom gets out. “How much, my friend?”


Tom hands him a dollar through the window and asks “do you have change, my friend?”

“That’s one dollar!” I say. (Note: although you can pay for things in dollars, 1,900 shillings is approximately $1.)

Tom’s still waving the dollar in front of the driver, who looks at me like “seriously?” but says “$10 or 15,000 shillings.”

Tom’s still waving the dollar. I’m still saying “that’s one dollar.”

Finally I pay in shillings and give the driver a look that I’m hoping says “Gun it! Quick!” But, his foot remains on the break until I get out.

Bubbles is dead. We have a pleasant talk over beer (me) and juice (him). I feel a little bad for not wanting to come initially. However, it annoys me that his friends conveniently never showed.

Then he says, “I like you. You’re simple. And, homely."

That’s really nice. Thanks. I make it clear that I have a strict bedtime of 10pm. And, luckily the bar closes at 10 on Sundays anyway.

At 10:01, after everyone else has left and the chairs are being stacked, Tom finally goes in to close the tab. All I can see from the patio is an annoyed bartender and a waving one-dollar bill in front of him.

“Language barrier,” Tom says as he comes out much later.

“I think it’s a math barrier,” I say under my breath.

We taxi back to Chili’s where people are still up and drinking. Sadly, I have that 10:00 bedtime and it’s already 10:30. Sorry, Tom, I really must get my beauty sleep.

As he’s veering off of the path to walk me to my door I quicken my pace. I know he doesn’t have his room key. It’s with his friends, and they’re long gone. “Goodnight! See you in the morning” I say as I practically start sprinting for my door.

He and his friends are leaving at 8:00am tomorrow morning. I’ve said that I will probably see him before he goes. But, frankly, if I don’t make it up, I don’t make it up.

That was why I was so annoyed that later his friends are banging on my door thinking he would be in my room with me! Seriously? It reminded me of someone in India who warned me once that “men here, they see American women in movies and they think they are very loose.” Lovely.

So, back to my late night wake up knock. After Jerry and friends leave, I can’t even pretend to sleep. I get up, switch on the light and look down. BUG BITES! NEW bug bites – all over my legs! How could that be? Well, there’s no way I’m getting back in bed now. I pick up my BlackBerry; the red light is blinking. One new email at 12:43. It’s Tom; he wants to be my Facebook friend.

I ignore the request and Google “bed bugs”. Wikipedia tells me everything I need to know about bed bugs, including photos. After an hour of research, I’m convinced that the whole room, including my suitcase is swimming in bedbugs. They’re everywhere. And, I’m trapped in my room. I can’t leave. Tom is out there somewhere, wanting to be my friend.

So, I stand in the middle of the room. For approximately four hours. Doing nothing. Just standing. It is the most minimum contact with the surroundings I can think of.

It’s now 5am. I move to sitting on the small side table. It’s wicker, and sags dramatically as I’m sitting.

5:30am. I awaken suddenly. A bed bug! I jump up. OK, it’s just a chip in the wall paint. I risk it and sit on the floor. I research new hotels – the more luxurious the better – on my Blackberry.

6:00am. I go through my luggage, picking up each piece of clothing. I scrutinize each piece, looking for any sign of bugs.

7:30am. I’m so freaking tired. I lay down on the cold hard concrete floor using a recently inspected pair of dirty jeans for a pillow. I’m cold, but wearing clothes seems dangerous. I finally fall asleep.


Are you fucking kidding me!!?

I stay silent.


Go away!

More knocking, more yelling my name. It’s Tom this time.

So, first of all, my room is 10’x10’. Second, the window is open and the door is about 1” thick. And, third, you can tell if someone is in the room or not by how it’s locked. So, clearly I’m there. Clearly, I’m ignoring him.

After MORE name calling and knocking, finally I think he’s given up.

“Excuse me, miss? Yes, miss, will you please come here for a moment?” I hear him say.

“Yes?”, it is one of the housekeepers.

“Yes, thank you. Hello. Will you please knock on her door and ask for Kristy?” he says.

What the FUCK!?

“She must be there. She’s sleeping, I think. Don’t you think she’s sleeping?” the very reasonable woman says.

“But, it’s 8:15, she needs to get up,” Tom says.

WHAT!?” I scream.

“Hello! Kristy! Yes, are you sleeping?”, Tom says.


“Are you getting up now?”


“Are you still sleeping?”


“OK, will you come out for a moment?”


“Come out for a moment.”

“I’m sleeping! What?”

“Ah, I see you through the window. What are you doing on the floor?”

What!? Get the fuck out of my window.

“What do you want?” I ask.

“I am leaving.”


“Will you get up?”


“I am leaving.”


He stands outside for another minute at least and then leaves.

I hear the housekeepers snickering.

Am I a complete bitch? Yes. Is he fucking insane? Yes.

9:00am, I’m up and ready to check out.

I walk straight into the ‘private’ managers’ office.

“I need my credit card run. I would appreciate my last two night removed from my bill as I was eaten alive in my sleep,” I say as I shove my hideously disfigured arm in the manager’s face.

He recoils. I imagine a scene where I scream “You did this to me! Look at it! Look at it!” while pulling up my shirt and forcing him to see my bite riddled back. Unfortunately, it was unnecessary as he silently removed the nights from my bill.

My mood improves a bit as my taxi winds its way up through the hills. I call out roads I know like a crazy person. “This is the road Mercy Corps is on.” “Oh, that’s the corner my boda boda driver left me at.” “Hey, Tank Hill Road! I’ve been here!” In my defense, my driver seemed equally excited that I knew where we were.

Finally, at twelve noon, we pull up to a beautiful hotel overlooking Lake Victoria and Kampala. At $95 a night it’s totally out of my budget. I don’t care. That is why there are credit cards. For stupid people like me.

“You got here quickly,” the receptionist says with a smile.

“Yes, I was just at Red Chili’s when I called,” I say without thinking.

“Oh, I see.”

What does that mean? She knows! She saw the bites on my arms. She knows I’m riff raff. If I were a cartoon I’d have swarms around me like Pig Pen.

I am disgusting.

She smiles again and pulls my contaminated luggage down the hall to my room. It’s a beautiful room with…my own bathroom! As the door closes behind her, I sigh with relief.

I take everything out of the suitcase and put it away in the closet. Then, I take the hottest shower I can stand. I shave for the first time in weeks. I throw my on swimsuit and stand in front of the bathroom mirror. My entire back is covered it red welts. SO gross.

I put a ridiculous outfit on: Long sleeves. Pants. A scarf. It says, “hey, this 95 degree weather is pretty chilly, yes?”

It’s 1:30pm. I’m walking to the full size swimming pool. I lie down on a cushioned chaise lounge in the shade. I make eye contact with no one. Slowly, I start to feel human again.

Plans for a Sunny Saturday

Saturday, November 21, 2009
It is a glorious glorious day in Kampala. I'm not sure if it's summer or winter here... we're slightly north of the equator, so I guess that makes it winter. Regardless of the official season, I'm deeming it a beautiful summer day. The sun in shinning through blue skies, the breeze is cool and someone is singing in a rhythmic melodious tune that reminds me of prayers from a mosque. Perfection. Well, almost. It's hot and sunny and putting on clothes and shoes just seems wrong. I long for the beach culture of wearing as little as possible pretty much anywhere and anytime. But, alas, I will wear clothes. And, I'm sure my neighbor appreciates that. We were siting outside discussing his dissertation on the history of HIV/AIDS in Africa. It might have been awkward to discuss condom use and the Pope with me in my underwear. Anyway, I have no intention of going anywhere. That just seems hot. No, I intend to sit in the shade of the sweet smelling honeysuckle and read my novel and then lie in the intense African sun until my skin can't take another second and plunge into the tiny pool. That's the day's grand plan.

Wishing you warmth and blue skies where ever you are.

Happy Weekend!

Withdrawl Symptoms

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I’m trying to wean myself off of eight cups of coffee a day. I’ve only had one cup of instant coffee. No thick rich Ugandan coffee in a French press today. Sadness.

Too much coffee was making me a bit…crazy. But, not enough coffee is making me a bit…bitchy. It’s a delicate balance.

Yesterday I walked around looking at crafts, drinking coffee, looking at crafts, drinking coffee, shopping at the most expensive Woolworths I’ve ever seen and then going home.

My eyes itch, my throat stings and my nose is runny. Yet, not runny enough to avoid the smell of burning trash.

Every morning I am greeted by a little surprise in the toilet from someone who has not discovered the flush lever. It taunts me from across the room while I try to shower.

The internet is slow as fuck. 18 download hours remain on the one episode of Dexter I have been slowly downloading over the past 5 days.

My skin feels disgusting with a layer of thick sunscreen and toxic bug lotion over a tight sunburn.

The dog lying under my feet keeps farting.

The 800lb hog standing outside my room was making threatening gestures at me this morning.

Holy fuck, now it smells like someone’s manufacturing rubber next door. I’m glad I turned in my recalled water bottle tainted with 0.00001% BPA before I left. I wouldn’t want anything toxic in my system.

OK…that’s all I can think to bitch about at the moment. Which, actually, reminds me that things really aren’t that bad.

I just need some coffee.

Taking Risks

Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Today started off a bit gray and cloudy, with sad news from home in my inbox. I so wished I could transport myself across the continents with the blink of an eye...if only just to give a hug or two.

A hot shower and several cups of filtered Ugandan coffee did nothing to wipe away the haze. And, after a confusing conversation at the bar, I set off for a meeting with the Mercy Corps country director. I had thought that I was discussing my destination with a special hire (a non-shared taxi) driver. However, after gathering my things I walked quickly through the mist-slowly-turning-to-rain only to discover... I was taking a boda boda. A boda boda is a motorbike for hire. They are known for being very dangerous. And, although occasionally the driver wears a helmet - you don't. Women are supposed to ride side-saddle, but I didn't and I think it's OK for Mzungu (foreigners). Anyway, as I was riding along I was thinking two things: one, thankfully I have emergency evacuation insurance and, two, can you effectively use an umbrella on the back of a motorbike? No, would be the answer to the latter. Anyway... We were going fast. They roads are terrible. We were weaving in and around traffic. And, did I mention that it was raining? Then we ran out of gas and I was left at the side of the road. Twice. The driver promised to come back, which he did. But, for 10 minutes I stood on the corner in the rain having no idea where I was while everyone starred curiously. Of course, the second I got to the offices the rain stopped. But, it was too late; I managed to look somehow both totally windblown and drenched. As usual, I really know how to make a first impression.

Anyway, the meeting with the Country Director went well. I was just hoping for some advice; but, wound up with a job offer of sorts. He was planning to hire an intern to help with writing and editing reports and PR pieces. Perfect. I can do that. And, I just so happen to already be here. He just needs to get final approval from HR at headquarters back in Portland. It sounded like he had already tentatively asked about having volunteers and they said it was "discouraged", etc., etc., but didn't actually say no. So, that's promising. Taking the risk and coming anyway might have actually paid off.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Then, of course, there's the job in Rwanda. Part of me feels bad; but, that part is for the NGO in Rwanda only. I don't feel bad about backing out on the woman in the UK. She still wants me to pay an additional almost $600 to complete the placement. Plus, I have to pay for housing and a plane ticket there and back. Ridiculous. And, it's not as though I've been working towards this placement for a long time - it was a total fallback. Yeah, that's what I'm telling myself. No guilt. But, I was supposed to meet up with the executive director today sometime. I don't have confirmation from Mercy Corps one way or another yet. But, you know what? I just went for it. I emailed the Rwanda people and told them sorry, I couldn't afford it. Which is totally true. I am beyond broke. Plus, as I was wandering about agonizing over the situation, I saw a flyer for an American woman looking for a roommate for $100/mo. And, I thought, hey, even if Mercy Corps doesn't work out, there are plenty of other organizations. I can just get a cheap room and hang out. Whatever happens, it will be an adventure, right?

And, I'm all about adventures, remember? Yep, that's why I'm sitting in the bar watching Benny and Joon.

Yes? Can I help you with something?

I got this look right after I caught him eating a wicker chair.

(I'd post more, but this took about 20 minutes to upload)

Weekend Assignment

Saturday, November 14, 2009
Friends, I have a few simple tasks for you this weekend:

1. Turn on your computer, open MS Word and type the following:

Dear (supervisor's name),

Thank you for the wonderful opportunity you have given me at (company name). However, it has recently come to my attention that life is short. Too short to spend the next 20 years sitting in a (cubicle/office/bulldozer). Therefore, I regret to inform you that I will be resigning my post effective immediately.


(your name)

2. Print, address, stamp, send

3. Sell all possessions (well, keep underwear and a few outfits and maybe some DVDs)

4. Rent / Sell house

5. Buy airline ticket to Africa

Done? OK, good. See, that was easy. Just 5 simple steps.

I will pick you up at the airport and we will start our road trip around Africa. What? Oh, right, volunteering. Fuck that. The world is hopeless. Why bother giving back?

There was a couple here last night that I totally fell in love with - and not just because she was cute and he was tall, dark, handsome and tattooed. They are driving around Africa in their pretty red Land Cruiser/Rover/Something. How awesome would that be??! I totally wanted to hide in the back of their truck.

In all seriousness, I really think it would be an amazing experience. And, it would be very affordable. And, soooo fun. I just need a few co-conspirators.

So, what are you waiting for? Come on! Let's go road tripping across Africa!!!

Travel Blogging, Day 2: Failure

Friday, November 13, 2009
I slept from 8:30pm to 12:30am. The rest of the night I spent lying in bed completely awake, thinking about increasingly weird things, slogging to the toilet five times, staring out my window at the tiny pool, photographing said tiny pool, laughing at tiny pool photos, and then going back to weird thoughts.

I know I'm supposed to be travel blogging...but, I'm not very good at doing what I'm supposed to be doing. Besides, I have nothing travel related to report. I'm so insanely tired. I can barely read my computer screen - I have the font set at "85-year-old cataract patient". It took me 5 minutes to remember the difference between cataract and cardiac. My coffee did nothing. It looks stormy out. And, it's Friday the 13th. I could likely be struck by lightening - or a truck. I think it's best if I just stay in the compound and do exactly what I did yesterday afternoon: read (if my eyes will focus) and stand in the tiny pool.

OK, it is thundering loudly and absolutely pouring out. I'm really not going anywhere. Excellent excuse. Thank you, Mother Nature.

So, since I have nothing better to do, I will share with you some of the odd thoughts from last night. A look into the inner workings of my brain: an exciting and scary tale for Friday the 13th.

I was wishing that I had a USB port in the side of my head so that I could download thoughts from my head directly into my computer. I thought someone should really invent that. I could invent that. I have great inventive ideas. One of which is the corner dishwasher. Think about how great that would be for tight fits in small kitchens. It would look like a lazy susan, with circular turning dish racks and a 90-degree folding door. I've actually given this a lot of thought. The thing that excites me the most is not the fame or fortune that will come from revolutionizing the dishwashing industry, it's the factory. The factory will be designed to look like a giant corner dishwasher. Similar to the basket factory that looks like a giant basket. That exists, right? I remember it from Architectural History class. Or, maybe I dreamed it while asleep at the back of Architectural History class. I can't remember. Anyway, I even have drawings. (Do I have drawings for the $450,000 piece of bare land I've been siting on for 2 years? No. Do I have drawings of a giant corner dishwasher factory? Of course.)

From there I thought about how the more tired I am, the more brilliant I believe my ideas to be. I still remember an all-nighter a friend and I pulled in high school. We were entering the State Championship for some science fair. Our project was on cryogenics. I can only assume my friend teamed with me because I'm fun and creative, not because I had any knowledge or interest in the science behind cryogenics. My only interest was in actually being cryogenically frozen - the sooner the better. (An interest that lasted until the Austin Power movie came out and ruined it for me.) Anyway, it was 2am the day of the fair, we were tired, and we hadn't even started our display. At first we were worried. How would we ever finish? Then, around 4am our lack of progress became hilarious. How funny would it be that we had the worst display on display? Then, when we finally loaded the project into the back of my mom's car at 7am, we were convinced we were brilliant. How could we not win? Of course, once the sleepless haze wore off, we realized the display was crap.

This was around the time last night that I turned my attention to the tiny pool. Why was it so tiny? Was it someone's brilliant 4am idea? Did the architect write the wrong scale on the construction drawings? Did the owner see a photo in a magazine and not read the notice that said "actual size"? Did they run out of money halfway through pool construction? As I stood in the tiny pool yesterday afternoon, I realized I had exaggerated its size only slightly. It's about 8'x12' and the 'deep end' is 4' deep. It did feel really nice, though. And, there were monkeys playing in the trees, so the experience includes entertainment.

All of which brought my thoughts back to travel blogging. In the tiny pool, watching the wildlife, I was acutely aware of the huge cement wall that separated me from the 'real world'. If I wasn't out there, why was I here at all? I could have stayed in Portland, renewed my 24hr Fitness membership and stood in the shallow end of their pool each afternoon...saving time and money. Maybe they'd even paint monkeys on the wall for me. Brilliant idea.


Saturday, November 7, 2009
I'm trying to keep my bag under 15kgs. I can pack four novels or one book of poetry. My beloved Complete Works of Pablo Neruda weighs 2.2 lbs. So, along with all my other Portland friends, I will have to say goodbye to Pablo.

I spent a good part of the afternoon reading over my favorites: Solitude, Suburbs, Love Poem 20, To The Traveler... But, maybe this is most fitting to share with you:


Goodbye, goodbye, to one place or another,
to every mouth, to every sorrow,
to the insolent moon, to weeks
which wound in the days and disappeared,
goodbye to this voice and that one stained
with amaranth, and goodbye
to the usual bed and plate,
to the twilit setting of all goodbyes,
to the chair that is part of the same twilight,
to the way made by my shoes.

I spread myself, no question;
I turned over whole lives,
changed skin, lamps, and hates,
it was something I had to do,
not by law or whim,
more of a chain reaction;
each new journey enchained me;
I took pleasure in place, in all places.

And, newly arrived, I promptly said goodbye
with still newborn tenderness
as if the bread were to open and suddenly
flee from the world of the table.
So I left behind all languages,
repeated goodbyes like an old door,
changed cinemas, reasons, and tombs,
left everywhere for somewhere else;
I went on being, and being always
half undone with joy,
a bridegroom among sadnesses,
never knowing how or when,
ready to return, never returning.

It's well known that he who returns never left,
so I traced and retraced my life,
changing clothes and planets,
growing used to the company,
to the great whirl of exile,
to the great solitude of bells tolling.

-Pablo Neruda

Decisions, Decisions

Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I don't make decisions well.

It's not the little decisions with which I have problems. I can handle a decision about sushi versus Indian. Because, even if I have sushi tonight, there's always an opportunity for Indian tomorrow. It's the big decisions. The life changing ones.

Sure, you could argue that sometimes one little decision - like where to eat - can significantly change your life. The man of your dreams is alone at the sushi counter; but you'll never meet him because you're being rushed to the hospital after tainted tandoori chicken. Those are the unseen possibilities. I'm talking about the decisions we make when we consciously know what we are giving up.

The easiest example is romantic relationships. When we commit ourselves to dating one person, we give up the right to date everyone else. And, that can be scary to a lot of people. (This can also be a part of a larger phobia I have dubbed "The Grass is Always Greener Complex" and have done much research on it with friends, ex-boyfriends and mortal enemies.) But, of course, when you don't commit to one person you are also giving something up. You give up all the great benefits and comforts of being in a relationship.

Now, the flip side is having no choices. Would that make life easier? If we grew up in a culture where arranged marriage was the norm would you really be satisfied? Or, would you just think you should be satisfied?

And, what about the people who get so overwhelmed with all this that they make no choices. That's essential a choice. And, then you're really giving everything up.

So, can we really have it all? No, of course not. And, why do we think we need it all? Is that the curse of American culture? We are so bombarded by choices - usually presented as needs - that we can't make decisions about anything.

It's sometimes hard to distinguish between what other people - whether the media, friends or family - think you want and what you really want. I guess the key to successful decision making is just really listening to your instincts and recognizing when something feels right. And, hopefully, you won't even miss all the things you gave up along the way.

Did that make any sense? Well, it made me feel better anyway.

Dear Paris,

Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I'm sorry I won't be seeing you again. I was truly looking forward to it. I know I wasn't the best guest the last few times I visited. I said some horrible things about you. And, for that I'm sorry.

You were nothing but kind to me. Feeling vulnerable in the dead of night, you showed me safety. You showed me sun when my own skies were dark. You showed me beauty when all I could see was ugliness.

I didn't appreciate you. I blamed you. I wanted to step through your gates and start fresh. I wanted you to make me over new. But, every time I turned a corner you reminded me of who I used to be and who I had become. I wasn't that different than the lonely 15-year-old girl who had wandered your street so many years ago. She was just starting to realize how disappointing the world can be. And, there I was - almost two decades later - having allowed that utter disappointment to push me down.

I cursed you. It will be better somewhere else I thought angrily as my train sped out of your city limits. But, the cool blue salt water of paradise only stung the wounds you'd helped reopen. I realized if I covered them up and kept running they would never heal. So, I laid on the sharp rocky shore and exposed them to the scorching sun. Then I dove in again and again and again. Each time deeper than the last. Until, finally, it didn't sting quite so badly.

Photo from ESI

I wanted to show you that I'm healing quite nicely. This time, I wanted to walk your streets with my head held high. Alone but not lonely. Confident and composed. Light and free.

And, I wanted to say thank you. Thank you for showing me hospitality. Thank you for showing me truth and possibility. Thank you for showing me true beauty. You're so much more than a glossy postcard would have one believe.

Until we meet again, Paris.

A Call to Action

Sunday, October 18, 2009
There has been a lot of recent controversy over whether Obama deserved his Nobel Peace Prize. Some felt that it was too soon; he hasn't done anything yet. Others saw it as a call to action. I, too, was shocked by the announcement. But, not because of what Obama has or hasn't done. I was shocked that, once again, I was passed over. Every year I wait for the announcement: I've won the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer, the $25 in free Trader Joe's food... And, every year it's a huge disappointment.

True, I have only written five sentences of my Pulitzer prize winning novel. And, OK, I don't even fill out the Trader Joe's tickets. But, if getting two arguing people together to drink beer in your backyard is the kind of peacekeeping that gets you a Nobel prize... I could legitimately be in the running. Next, Obama, I would send a fruit basket to Iran. But, not just any fruit basket, one of those cute ones with the fruit dipped in chocolate and arranged like flowers. OMG, Ahmadinejad is going to L-O-V-E it.

Anyhoo. Speaking of world peace... Friday night I went to hear Nicholas Kristof speak on his new book (written with wife Sherly WuDunn) Half the Sky. Six hundred Portlanders filled the Bagdad Theater for the talk. Kristof, who's from Portland, is a compelling speaker. He's very knowledgeable and obviously passionate about the topic of women's empowerment. (He could probably have a proficient conversation with a Mercy Corps donor.) I was moved by his stories and his call to action.

He didn't just tell depressing stories. He didn't just tell stories of overcoming odds. He talked about the reality of the world we live in. He talked about the little things we can do to make real change. He told of how one goat transformed an illiterate little girl into a college graduate.

OK, you know what? This is why I will never win an award. I'm already tired of writing this post. I don't have skills of persuasion. But, I might very well have Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. I drifted off thinking about how the girl/goat story would make an excellent children's book. Then I was winning the National Book Award for Janati and the Goat. And, what do you know, I'm on The Daily Show again... "It's always fascinating to have you on the program, Kristy," Jon gushes. "Thank you, Jon; I always try to squeeze you into my busy speaking schedule," I'd say as I nervously readjusted the strap of my new $250 shoes made by a young girl in Bangladesh for 50 cents.

So, yeah. Read the book. Be inspired. Do something meaningful.

The Littlest Bird

Wednesday, October 14, 2009
The crispness of fall has taken a turn toward just plain cold. The rain is pelting my window. Somewhere in the city a Hawaiian Airlines billboard is going up. And, yes, it's time again for this little bird to fly south.

I'll let someone else speak for me today.

The Littlest Bird
song by The Be Good Tanyas

Well I feel like an old hobo,
I'm sad lonesome and blue
I was fair as the summer day
Now the summer days are through
You pass through places
And places pass through you
But you carry 'em with you
On the souls of your travellin' shoes

Well I love you so dearly I love you so clearly
Wake you up in the mornin' so early
Just to tell you I got the wanderin' blues
I got the wanderin' blues
And i'm gonna quit these ramblin' ways one of
these days soon
And I'll sing

The littlest birds sing the prettiest songs...

Well it's times like these
I feel so small and wild
Like the ramblin' footsteps of a wanderin' child
And I'm lonesome as a lonesome whippoorwill
Singin these blues with a warble and a trill
But I'm not too blue to fly
No I'm not too blue to fly cause

The littlest birds sing the prettiest songs...

Well I love you so dearly
I love you so fearlessly
Wake you up in the mornin' so early
Just to tell you I got the wanderin' blues
I got the wanderin' blues
And I don't wanna leave you
I love you through and through

Oh I left my baby on a pretty blue train
And I sang my songs to the cold and the rain
I had the wanderin' blues
And I sang those wanderin' blues
And I'm gonna quit these ramblin' ways
One of these days soon
And I'll sing...

The littlest birds sing the prettiest songs....

I don't care if the sun don't shine
I don't care if nothin' is mine
I don't care if I'm nervous with you
I'll do my lovin' in the wintertime

Ramona Falls

Monday, October 5, 2009
The sound of the wind rustled through the moss-covered trees of the Mt. Hood wilderness. The trail was soggy. The air was cold. And, there was...snow. The first weekend in October and just before the falls we encountered a fresh covering of snow. A lovely fall hike. Beautiful scenery. And, a bit of sadness. The thought that I won't be here for winter snow.

Friday Afternoon

Saturday, August 15, 2009
It's just been one of those days. The kind of day where the weather matches your mood. It's not that I'm in a bad mood, just a little cloudy. I sat down on the patio to drink a cup of tea and suddenly three hours have passed. I'm scanning design blogs for decorating ideas I'll never implement and planning my next adventure using the Mercy Corps website as if it were a travel guide.

Anyway, I came across this quote and thought I'd post it. (You know how I love Thoreau.) It's nothing new, but it's inspiring nonetheless.

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams - live the life you've imagined." -Thoreau

Flying high in northwest India

Sometimes it Doesn't

Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The breeze blew across the river's calm.  It creating a hint of a ripple as is picked up the crisp coolness that blew through my window and across my sleeping body.  It was almost as sweet as waking to a gentle kiss on my bare shoulder.  My eyes fluttered open and scanned their surrounds.  Briefly confused and then, 'oh yes' I remembered.  I was alone in a big king size bed with clean white sheets.  Waking to company is always lovely, of course.  Depending on the company.  But, I was relishing the freedom of being sprawled out dead center.  

I rolled out of bed and quietly pattered upstairs and out to the rooftop patio.   It looked as though it hadn't had company in quite some time.  The plants sat sun scorched and thirsty in their pots.  The once bright red Adirondack chairs had faded to a dull shade of loneliness.  I carefully brushed them off and moved them to the side.  I rolled out my yoga mat and began to go through the motions, careful not the break the morning stillness.   Even the low hum of the morning commute seemed distant.

As effortless as the river below me, my body flowed through Surya Namaskar.  I repeated it again and again until my muscles responded and awakened.  In my final stretch I held mountain pose.  My mind focused on the strength of the bridge in front of me.  A literal mountain was barely visible below its massive steel arches.  The mountain seemed quaint in the wake of the Himalayas in which I had perfected these moves.  It all seemed attainable.  Conquerable.    

Flopping my then limber body into one of the chairs,  I let my eyes flutter back shut.  The sun's rays had finally reached my quiet haven, warming my already flush cheeks.  Orange and red dots danced across my eyelids.  I sighed deeply.  Ah, Portland, it's good to see you again.

hotel maya: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Saturday, August 1, 2009

All Natural Skin Exfoliation: FREE!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I’ve never had any sort of exfoliation treatment at a spa, but I imagine they generally try to leave one or two layers of skin attached to your body.   The ocean’s free treatments, however, are not that kind.  I’ve visited the ocean for spa-like treatments before.  Once, while surfing in Hawaii, I unknowingly signed up for the “Washing Machine” package deal.  Your body is twisted and turned into all kinds of amazing yoga moves right before you are scraped across the ocean floor.  The sand nicely removes the top layer of layer of skin leaving you smoother and more evenly toned.  The added bonus is, when you are finally violently tossed ashore, you are left with a rejuvenating ‘yey, I’m still alive’ feeling.  However, treatments take on a bit more sadistic feel when the ocean bottom is coral. 

You could argue that it’s my own fault for snorkeling through a coral bed covered by a mere three-feet of water.  But, I think the blame is really on the ocean.   It lured me in with promises of easily accessible sea life viewing.  Anyway, as if I didn’t already hate the way my legs look in a bikini before ‘coral exfoliation’, they are now attractively spotted with red gashes surrounded by bruises in lovely shades of yellow, green, blue and purple.  My favorite is the one on my upper outer thigh.  Since it’s a bit swollen, it both calls attention to and accentuates my saddlebags.   Oh, and did I mention that I had borrowed the snorkel gear from an attractive man who was reading on the beach chair next to mine?  Yep.  He either was too nice to say anything or didn’t notice the blood running down my legs as I returned the equipment.  Another amazing first impression.  Terrific.

Koh Tao, Thailand

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Goel’s Chicken World (A Poultry Oriented Unit)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009
After an evening of laughing a bit too hard at all the incorrect attempts at English translations on our dinner menu (a bootle of beverage anyone?), we came across this place.  Or, I should say, we came across this unit. 

Of all the hilariously random signs in India, it is my favorite.

Afghani Chicken Violence

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Explosions.  Violent explosions.  I had spent the entire night/early morning lying on the bathroom floor vomiting Afghani chicken and butter naan into a large plastic bucket.  I had loved them both so… and this was how they treated me?  To say relations were strained was an understatement.

Getting What You Asked For: India

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Remember how I was bitching about rain, wishing for sun and heat and dreading monsoon season? Well, one of the 42 million Hindu gods must have received my letter of complaint. The sun is out and it is HOT in India. Too hot. Sweat in the shade hot. Wishing for rain hot.
I arrived in India Saturday morning at 3:30am. It really could have been any time on any day. I left Croatia on a Friday morning, flew to Paris where I spent a few days before flying to London. In London I spend half an afternoon and half a night waiting for my last minute flight to San Francisco. In San Francisco I conferred with homeland security, applied for and received my visa, bought a new bag, sent my old bag home, drank more Starbucks in three days than I have in my whole life and then flew back to London. After 12 hours in London I got back on the plane to Doha and then on to Delhi. At one point I remember touching down and for a few moments I had no idea where I had just arrived. But, the strangest thing of all is, as I sat in one of the many airports I realized I was enjoying myself. The only negative part of all the travel was my heavy carry on. If not for that, I could have just kept going.
Of course, I didn't keep going. After one final ride into the mountains on a “plane-let” (small two propeller plane), I arrived in Palampur, India. India is just as I imagined it. I know people talk about having 'culture shock', but nothing has really surprised me yet. Traffic is insane. There are cows in the streets. Lots of stray dogs. Lots of poverty. Lots of trash. Delhi was not a place I'd want to live - it's chaotic and felt like about 150 degrees. But, the mountains are a bit slower pace and so beautiful. The markets are still busy and not 'clean' by U.S. standards, but I'm loving them.

Palampur is known for its tea production; but, our compound is actually surrounded by rice fields. I think we are at around 5,000 ft in elevation. The Himalayas jute up behind us and are truly breathtaking. They make the Rockies and Cascades look like foothills. A few people have been hiking in the mornings and have been finding stunning views just a few minutes up from our compound. I have yet to be able to drag myself out of bed at 6:00 to join.
And, the food is SOOOO good. Even in the intense heat (did I mention it was hot here?) I've been eating a ton. "This is the best I've even had," comes out of my mouth a lot. Good thing for the expandable Hammer pants.
I am required to wear a traditional Salwaar Kameez: long tunic, MC Hammer pants and scarf. I have only bought one so far - in Delhi - and the whole outfit was $30. I'm having the rest made here in Palampur, because it's much cheaper (yep) and I could pick out my own fabric. They feel fantastic in the heat and lack of A/C. Just standing I can feel the streams of sweat pouring down my back. And, sitting? Yeah, that's the lovely feeling of having just wet yourself.

Thoreau again

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth."

- Henry David Thoreau

Thinking about Thoreau

Monday, May 25, 2009
I saw Thoreau's name in passing a few days ago.  I had been feeling the desire to sit outside of society and place judgement.  I thought of Walden and how lovely it would be to sit lakeside and dream and ponder and wish for better things in the world beyond the trees.  I, too, wish life were simpler.  I wish we could slow down and enjoy the little things.  I wish we had time to think about what we wanted and who we wanted to be.  And, I wish we had time to stop and think about not just ourselves, but our friends and even those who aren't our friends.  We live in a society marred by convenience.  We want to fill our lives to the extent that we never have time to sit and contemplate and look around.  What if we all just stopped for a moment.  Would we like what we saw?   Or, would we really see anything different than you might see lakeside?  We are a part of nature, afterall; we are just animals.  And animals are instinctually self preserving.  Nature is just as cruel and selfish as civilized society.  It just has an air of simplicity and dignity we seem to have lost.

As I was walking around thinking about this, I was also thinking about how nice it would be to have a giant to-go coffee in my hand...and how much more I could see and get done if I could just jump in my car...and how much I missed Trader Joe's ready-made pretty much anything.  So, really, I was missing the U.S. for all the reasons I so often complained about.  Apparently, even Thoreau walked into town on a regular basis for a little convenience. 

Trust and Balance

Monday, February 16, 2009

I spent my day Friday recovering from Thursday night and Friday night recovering from Friday day.

And, my favorite thing to do on a Friday night at home is to watch Bill Moyers on PBS. Yes, you heard me correctly. Anyway, this Friday he had on the poet Nikki Giovanni. She was amazing. I was so moved by everything she said and loved her poetry. Her latest book is called Bicycles. During the interview, Bill Moyers asked her why bicycles:

“Well, when I grew up, you learned to ride a bicycle by getting on a bicycle. Which means you're going to fall off. And love and life and bicycles are about trust and balance. It's about riding it and believing that this thing that doesn't make sense for you to be on, can move.”

Trust and balance. If I were searchable and had keywords, those would be mine.

…OK…well, I was going to expand on that, but my evening is starting earlier than expected. When faced with blogging vs. showering, I’ll go with showering.

I recently dated this guy who used to irritate me by saying “because I’m a Cancer…” bla bla bla. So, I’ll be irritating and leave you with this: Obviously trust and balance is important to me, because, after all, I’m a Libra.

Here's one of my favorite poems by Nikki Giovanni:


If i can't do

what i want to do

then my job is to not

do what i don't want

to do

It's not the same thing

but it's the best i can


If i can't have

what i want . . . then

my job is to want

what i've got

and be satisfied

that at least there

is something more to want

Since i can't go

where i need

to go . . . then i must . . . go

where the signs point

through always understanding

parallel movement

isn't lateral

When i can't express

what i really feel

i practice feeling

what i can express

and none of it is equal

I know

but that's why mankind

alone among the animals

learns to cry

-Nikki Giovanni